Food For Thought

By Dr. Manoj Jain


Bone Health Starts in the Womb : Vitamin D, which is available in milk and dairy products, should be an essential part of our diet because it leads to the absorption of calcium required for healthy teeth, strong bones and muscle function. Many pregnant women have insufficient levels of vitamin D, leading to weak bones among their children.

In a recent study published in the January issue of the medical journal Lancet, the bone density of 198 children was noted and compared to the vitamin D and sunshine intake of their mothers when they were pregnant. The study found that at age nine, children of mothers who had taken Vitamin D supplements had greater whole-body bone mineral concentration and greater bone areas.

In addition to other supplemental vitamins during pregnancy, it is critical to maintain a daily intake of 800 units of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium. So don’t stop that daily glass of milk!

Green Leafy Vegetables Combat Anaemia : Women in the villages of India often complain of fatigue and light-headedness and are often looked upon as lazy or irresponsible. Rarely does anyone attribute their symptoms to anaemia or low blood count due to improper nutrition. An estimated 70% of pregnant women in rural India suffer from anaemia and 50-60% of young women are anaemic at some time in their life leading to poor foetal development.

A simple project conducted in the outskirts of Pune by the Department of Science and Technology (Dost) has led to powerful changes. For two years, Dr. Subash Roa and his team encouraged the consumption of green leafy vegetables in the everyday diet of women in the area. Thirty percent of the women had a haemoglobin increase of 1.2 grams. The programme is now being extended across the nation and recipes books in local languages will be distributed.

Anaemia is a chronic condition that can be treated by folic acid and iron tablets. But why bother with supplements if simple dietary changes will have the same effect?

Can Herbal Medicines be Harmful? : In nearly every Indian home you can find bottles of herbal medicines that claim to cure cancer, reduce blood pressure, or boost the immune system. As many as 8 of every 10 persons in India are dependant on herbal medicines, and while some of these medicines are actually helpful, often it is difficult to scientifically prove their benefits.

The New York City Health Department recently banned three herbal medicines due to their high lead and mercury content. Jambrulin, used for diabetes and made by Unjha Ayuvedic Pharmacy, contained 24,3000 ppm (parts per million) of lead, while state regulations limit food additives to contain no more than 1 ppm of lead. Lakshmivilash Ras (Nardiya), used for chronic fever, cold and cough and made by Baidyanath, contained 14,100 ppm of mercury, while state regulations limit food additive to contain no more than 2 ppm of mercury.

Maha Sudarshan, used for flu and body ache made by Arya Aushadhi Pharmaceutical Works, contained 2,190 ppm of mercury. High levels of lead and mercury can cause nervous system disorders and brain, kidney or intestine damage. Both minerals can accumulate in body tissues overtime and lead to chronic ailments. Lead is also hazardous to the foetus and children under three years of age. Be careful the next time you medicate yourself with a herbal medicine!

Moderate alcohol not beneficial for the heart : At parties where more alcohol was consumed than soft drinks, my physician colleagues often cited scientific studies that touted the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. In fact, a number of studies had shown that moderate alcohol consumption, which is 2-4 drinks per day, led to lower incidence of heart disease. Yet, last month my colleagues received some sobering news. Researchers from U.S.A., Canada, and Australia analysed 54 studies relating to alcohol consumption and mortality in the May 2006 issue of the Journal Addiction Research and Theory. The researchers found that the original studies were flawed because the researchers had included abstainers - people who had stopped drinking due to declining health, frailty, medication use or disability - among the non-drinkers, thereby increasing their mortality rate. When these abstainers were removed, moderate alcohol intake did not show any benefit.

Alcohol works as a good antiseptic yet the jury is still out on its benefits relating to the heart. So until the next better designed study reveals its findings, refrain from drinking if you don’t already drink, and reduce your alcohol consumption if you do.

Lower the fat and the risk of breast cancer : Over the course of a lifetime, one in 22 women in India will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The second most common cause of cancer in Indian women, breast cancer particularly afflicts those living in urban areas and those from the Parsi community.

The Journal of American Medical Association reported an eight-year long study of 48,835 post-menopausal women, half of who modified their diet by increasing consumption of vegetables and fruits to at least five servings and grains to six servings. Women who thus reduced their fat intake showed a declining trend of breast cancer. Though the decline was small researchers concluded that if the study was continued for a longer time and the women maintained their low fat diet, greater declines would be seen. Women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by engaging in regular self-breast examination and a mammogram, and by reducing fat from their diet.

Eat less and live longer : How much you eat may be related to how long you will live. It is not just genes but also diet that determine longevity. However, scientists have yet to agree that those who eat a very low calorie diet, less than 900 calories, live longer than those who eat a regular 2,000-calorie diet. The Journal of American Medical Association recently reported the findings of a pilot study of 48 patients placed on diets with varying calories. The study was conducted by Dr. Eric Ravussin from Louisiana State University, who found that extreme calorie restriction led to decrease in body temperature, insulin levels, and thyroid hormones, apart from DNA damage. Some of these signs are associated with longevity. (unclear – how?)

Though eating less can make you live longer, life can become miserable as a result of reduced calorie intake. One subject reported he was starving to death, had headaches, and was grouchy. A more comprehensive study is due to start in six months, and might reveal more about the connection between how much you eat and how well you live.




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