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Health Headlines - August 22

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Sen. Harry Reid Recovering After Mini-Stroke

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada suffered a brief mini-stroke Tuesday which left no complications, his aides disclosed Friday. According to the Associated Press, the 65-year-old Reid felt lightheaded Tuesday evening in his hometown of Searchlight, Nev., and that night saw a doctor in Las Vegas who diagnosed a transient ischemic attack.

"There are no complications or restrictions on his activities," press secretary Tessa Hafen told the AP. "He has undergone evaluations this week, and his doctors have recommended that he take advantage of the summer congressional recess for some down time." Hafen said news of Reid's condition was delayed till Friday because of "the tests and the evaluations that they were doing. We wanted to make sure we knew what we were announcing."

Reid is not hospitalized, but did cancel several public events scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Nevada. He remains in Las Vegas with family.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a transient ischemic attack is a minor stroke lasting a few minutes, occurring when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted. Symptoms can include weakness and dizziness, usually disappearing within an hour but sometimes persisting for up to 24 hours. Mini strokes do raise risks for full-blown stroke.

California Battles FDA Over Tuna Warning

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this week cautioned California officials that moves by that state to slap mercury warnings on tuna ran counter to federal law.

On Friday, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer shot back, claiming the letter's aim was to stop a lawsuit filed by the state against tuna companies over the disputed warnings.

According to the Associated Press, the FDA letter, written by agency commissioner Lester Crawford Aug. 12, argues against the warnings, which he say "frustrate the carefully considered federal approach to advising consumers of both the benefits and possible risks of eating fish and shellfish." Warning labels on packaging may needlessly scare consumers who could benefit from tuna away from the food, the letter says.

But Lockyer's office disagrees. "The federal government has no authority to prevent California, or any state, from reuiring warnings that provide truthful, important information," Lockyer's spokesman Tom Dresslar told the AP.

A year ago, Lockyer launched a suit against the nation's three top canned tuna producers -- Tri-Union Seafoods (maker of Chicken of the Sea), Del Monte (maker of Starkist), and Bumble Bee Seafoods -- citing a 1986 state law requiring businesses to provide "clear and reasonable" warnings that inform consumers of the presence in food of reproductive toxins such as mercury. The trial is scheduled to begin in a San Francisco court Oct. 19.

The FDA considers advisories targeted to doctors and the media a better approach to informing the public of these toxins.

Virus Scare Spurs Quarantine of Arkansas Pet Distributor

The Arkansas state Department of Health and Human Services on Friday ordered the quarantine of a pet store distributing company, Midsouth Distributors, after suspecting that some of the company's rodents were infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which can be dangerous to humans.

According to the Associated Press, LCMV infection was linked to the recent deaths of three organ transplant recipients in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. All of the recipients received organs from a single donor, who had owned a hamster bought from Midsouth Distributors of Ohio LLC. That company has common ownership with Midsouth Distributors of Arkansas, state health officials explained.

Tests conducted by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that two hamsters arriving from the Arkansas facility tested positive for infection with LCMV.

LCMV is typically carried in the saliva, urine and feces of mice, hamsters, rats and guinea pigs, Arkansas state epidemiologist Frank Wilson told the AP. Pregnant women who become infected with the virus are at special risk, since the virus has been linked to serious birth defects and miscarriage.

Coretta Scott King's Condition: Partial Paralysis

Coretta Scott King is mostly paralyzed on the right side of her body from a stroke suffered earlier this week and faces a long, difficult recovery, her doctor told the Associated Press on Friday.

The 78-year-old widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. can't walk and has difficulty speaking. The stroke affected the left side of her brain, which controls speech, the wire service said.

Her personal physician, Dr. Maggie Mermin, said King would remain at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital for at least another week. Mermin appeared to counter statements made earlier in the day by King's children that she was expected to recover fully.

"I'm not certain she'll have a full recovery . . . We certainly hope for that," Mermin told the wire service.

King, who was admitted on Tuesday, was listed in fair condition early Friday and was being given blood thinners to prevent more problems, said cardiologist Dr. Charles Wickcliffe. He said a blood clot had moved from King's heart and lodged in an artery on the left side of her brain, causing the stroke.

Nearly 2,000 People Believed Sickened at New York Water Park

Nearly 2,000 people have contracted a gastrointestinal illness that appears to have been spread at a New York state-run waterpark, the Associated Press reported.

At least 1,738 probable cases across 20 New York counties have been tallied, the wire service said. On Tuesday, state health officials closed Seneca Lake Park's "Sprayground" for the summer as a result of the outbreak.

At least 13 cases in four different counties have been confirmed as cryptosporidiosis, a contagious waterborne disease that causes symptoms that include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever. Symptoms could last for weeks, the AP said.

The state Health Department has detected the bacterium responsible for the illness in two storage tanks that supply water to the park. A nearby beach was allowed to remain open when tests revealed no trace of the germ, the wire service said.

To prevent the illness from spreading, the Health Department advised the thorough washing of hands after using the bathroom, or coming in contact with child fecal matter in any way, the AP said.

Indian Fry Bread Sparks Health Debate

When you first see it, plopped down on a paper plate in all its caloric bliss, the round, doughy treat is so appealing, so alluring it's hard to believe this wondrous sight can cause anything but delight.

But fry bread, that fluffy concoction American Indian women lovingly make in their kitchens and people line up for at powwows and western fairs, has come under attack as a hazard to health.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Muscogee Indian, wasn't trying to cause a debate. She just was exhausted with yet another one of her relatives dying of diabetes. She zoned in on fry bread as a culprit and whipped out a January column for Indian Country Today declaring it junk food that leads to fat Indians.

She made a New Year's resolution to abstain from fry bread. Then she did something some Indians consider insane: She asked them to give it up, too.

Word spread through Indian Country. Outrage! The nerve of Harjo! What started as a woman's disdain for the yummy delicacy suddenly became the great fry bread debate. Ask any Indian about it and you'll either be greeted with rolled eyes -- or sparkling, hungry eyes.

After all, fry bread is synonymous with Indian culture. South Dakota has just made it the official state bread. And many Indians don't want anyone coming between them and their hot, greasy skillets.

"It's like giving up turkey at Thanksgiving," said Gayle Weigle, an Anishinabe Indian who runs a Web site celebrating fry bread stories and recipes. "It is a tradition."


Indian women like Margarita Gonzalez on the Tohono O'odham reservation here rise before dawn to start making fry bread. Gonzalez makes four dozen each morning and makes her living selling them in an empty lot in Sells.

"It's like a craving you get for it, the aroma of it. You have to try to keep yourself from it," she said, taking a break from serving the lunch crowd.

To say fry bread is tasty isn't doing it justice. It's scrumptious, sweet, and puts a crazy spell on anyone who craves it.

But it's loaded with pesky calories -- at least 700 for one paper-plate size piece -- plus a whopping 27 grams of fat, according to a nutritional analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Those things are awesome," tribal police officer Mario Saraficio said, getting excited at the thought. "It's bad, but it's good. If the doctor told me I had to give it up, I'd say probably not."

Fry bread came to be by necessity. When the government moved Indians off their land and onto reservations in the 1800s, they were kept from their traditional foods such as elk, corn, deer and rabbit. In their place were rations of flour, salt and lard, and Indian women did what they could with it, creating the wonderful fry bread that would become part of their culture.

Ingredients vary today, but the main ones are still white flour, salt, sugar and lard. Some call it a popover, and options are endless for how to eat it. There's the Indian taco, fry bread with red chili and beans, or the extra sweet version with powdered sugar or honey on top.

In Phoenix, there is the popular Fry Bread House restaurant, where you can get fry bread pretty much anyway you want. The most sinful? Fry bread topped with gooey chocolate syrup and oozing with butter.

Sure, folks there talked about the fry bread flap, but it didn't seem to make much difference.

"They're still in line," said restaurant owner Cecelia Miller.

Fry bread is so embedded in the culture many Indians can't imagine going without. T-shirts declare "Fry Bread Power Forever!" or "FBI -- Fry Bread Inspector." There's an entire Web site dedicated to warm, fuzzy memories about fry bread.

So Harjo's column was the equivalent of taking spray paint to sacred petroglyphs.

Harjo, who heads the Morning Star Institute, an Indian rights group, compared fry bread to a "lead Frisbee" and even likened it to "hard-core porn. No redeeming qualities."

"It's the connecting dot between healthy children and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, dialysis, blindness, amputations and slow death," Harjo wrote, deeming it, quite simply, "Rotten stuff."

On the national radio show Native America Calling, the fry bread furor was one of the most popular topics this year. One man boasted that he downed 12 pieces in one sitting. Another man said he was desperate for fry bread and couldn't find any.

"Anytime you say fry bread, people smile. Except Suzan Harjo," Weigle said. "It's almost sacred. It just makes you happy."

Weigle originally started her Web site to talk about a benefit concert for the homeless children she worked with in Minneapolis. Why that name? To her, fry bread means comfort. Soon, she was posting fry bread recipes, pictures and heartwarming stories. She's thinking now of a recipe book.


Not every case of obesity and diabetes among Indians can be blamed solely on fry bread, of course. But Harjo has a point.

Among Indians, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes -- the most common form -- is more than double what it is in the general population. Fueled by obesity, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, Type 2 diabetes is occurring a full decade sooner in Indians, when people are between 20 and 29 years old.

Many believe the diabetes rate began to skyrocket when Indians stopped living off the land and began using government rations. For decades, researchers with the National Institutes of Health have been studying the Pima Indians in Arizona, who have the highest incidence of diabetes in the world, to determine if there is a genetic reason they are more susceptible to the disease.

Here on the Tohono O'odham reservation near Tucson, more than half the 14,000 residents have diabetes. A $4 million dialysis center is under construction, necessary to serve all the people who have developed kidney disease from diabetes.

At the Sells hospital, it's unusual for doctors to see a tribal member who doesn't have diabetes. It is so prevalent, doctors and nutritionists struggle to convince Indians they can help prevent it.

The attitude is, "I'm going to get it anyway," Dr. Paul Weintraub said. "And to some extent, it's true. They will get it."

Gloria Maldonado has lived with diabetes for 22 years. Her mother had it, so does her brother and her 24-year-old daughter.

"I figured sooner or later I would get it," she said as Weintraub examined her.

Fry bread didn't get Maldonado, 53, in this situation by itself, of course. She struggles to give up junk food and doesn't exercise. But she has switched from cooking fry bread in lard to dipping it in oil.

"It isn't the culprit that has made Indian people heavy," said Tammy L. Brown, nutrition consultant with Indian Health Service's diabetes division. "It's the fast foods, the sugary drinks. It's the overall diet."

But, if fry bread gets Indians talking about health, then that's fine by Brown and Harjo.

"Just because it was food that was forced on us doesn't mean we have to keep embracing it," Harjo said.

For a long time, Indians have made fun of commodities and even refer to an overweight person as having a "commod bod." Jokes are tossed around that fry bread has killed more Indians than the federal government.

But artist Steven Deo, a Creek and Euchee Indian, said laughing is a way Indians have dealt with obesity and diabetes.

"At some point, we have to confront that," he said. "We have to prepare the next generation to come out of that poverty, to strive for bigger and better things."

Deo created a series of public service announcement posters, and debuted his first one -- a picture of a big, tan piece of fry bread with the words: "Frybread Kills" -- at a show in New Mexico last year.

"It has stirred some controversy," Deo said. "But at least we're talking about it now."


It's mid-day at the Health O'odham Promotion Program, or the HOPP, and the step class is in full, sweaty swing. Health lessons are postered around the gym, reminding Indians to get their five fruits and vegetables a day and that white bread and rice convert quickly to sugar. Music is blaring, the treadmills are filling up and Mashone Antone, 36, is on her second trip to the community gym today.

Last October she took a hard look at her life: She was overweight and so were two of her three children. They stayed in the house a lot, ate fast food, indulged in fry bread and barely thought about health.

But Antone, a juvenile probation officer, wanted to change that, for her children and for herself.

Now she's up every day at 5 a.m. for a two-mile walk, then hits the HOPP before work and again after work. She's shed 30 pounds and wants to lose 50 more. Her daughter often joins her at the gym, and now the family takes walks and plays basketball.

Soda is out, fruits and vegetables are in, and fry bread is now only a rare treat.

"When I think about it, that was my downfall," Antone said. "I don't miss it."

Harjo would be proud.

But getting someone with Antone's enthusiasm is a challenge for the gym's staff. Nutritionists estimate 80 percent of the Tohono O'odham people are obese. They hold a weight loss challenge, fun runs, offer nutrition counseling, even teach people how to shop for healthy food and host a camp for children at risk for obesity and diabetes.

"I do get a lot of resistance from people who say they want to change their eating habits, but don't want to change the way they cook," said dietitian Dolores Galaz.

Another attitude Galaz encounters: Indians not wanting to be thin, for fear they will be the odd one out in their overweight families.

In her column, Harjo had some parting advice: "The next time you find yourself swallowing some leftover news du jour or get that suicidal urge for fry bread, just slather lard all over the magazine or television listing and apply it directly to your midriff and backside. That way, you can have the consequence of the rotten stuff, without having to actually digest it."

The gym staff isn't as harsh; they're just hoping to change eating habits little by little. All the better if the fry bread controversy jump-starts that.

"People want to change because they see what's happening to their elders and their parents. I just think they haven't known how to go about changing," Galaz said.

That means losing the lard and white flour in fry bread and trying wheat flour and canola oil, something tribal Chairwoman Vivian Juan-Saunders has started doing.

"I like to eat fry bread, but instead of eating the whole pie, I eat half," she said.

Food Fact:
Rejoice, cocoa nuts!

Choose the right chocolate treat, and you can have all the flavor you savor with next-to-no fat. Three tablespoons of cocoa powder (the equivalent of 1 oz. of chocolate in flavor intensity) has only 1.5 grams of fat. By comparison, a 1-oz. square of premium unsweetened chocolate has 16 grams of fat. In addition, cocoa's main fat, stearic acid, may be heart-healthy. Our bodies convert it to a monounsaturated fat. Limit any chocolate that adds "hydrogenated oils," which add cholesterol-raising fats to the mix.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Prestretch routines.

Do you know the one thing you should always do before stretching? To prevent injury you should perform at least 10-15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (walking, biking) prior to stretching. Never stretch a "cold muscle" -- one that does not have sufficient blood flowing through the tissue to be stretched.

FAQ of the day:
Does variety in exercise matter?

Steve Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research says: I advise exercisers to engage in at least one aerobic activity and do some resistance exercise for musculoskeletal fitness, along with stretching to maintain joint flexibility. If there's one routine you like to do again and again in each category, that's OK. If you like to do different aerobic and musculoskeletal exercises at different times, all the better. What really counts is to find the exercise program you like enough to stick with over time. Keep it up, and you'll reap the incredible benefits that come from a fit, active way of life.
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