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Health Headlines - February 19

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Chocolate Makers Target Health Food Market

Recent reports that flavanol antioxidants in dark chocolate might boost heart health are leading U.S. candy companies to produce a line of premium (and pricey) bars aimed at the health-conscious, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Mars, Inc. -- which makes the Milky Way and Snickers bars -- plans to roll out its new CocoaVia line of flavanol-rich dark chocolate next month. The products will also be enriched with vitamins and injected with cholesterol-busting plant sterols.

Chocolate "is the number one flavor ingredient in the world," Mars' vice president of marketing, Jimmy Cass, told the AP. "Heart health is the No. 1 concern of adults over the age of 40 in every civilized nation. Putting those two together is automatically a big idea."

Not so fast, some nutrition experts say. "CocoaVia's benefits are still unproven," said researchers at University of California-Berkeley, who published their own analysis of CocoaVia in the university's Wellness Letter. "Eat it only if you like it and are willing to pay the premium price," they advised.

Mars isn't the only company jumping on the choco-health bandwagon: the Hershey Co.'s Extra Dark bar, introduced last fall, highlights its high level of flavanols on the label.

Clinton Pushes for Use of Low-Cost AIDS Drugs

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton on Saturday urged public and private groups to buy HIV-suppressing medications from low-cost manufacturers to help ensure more poor children get access to the lifesaving treatments, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking on Saturday while on a private trip to India, Clinton noted that his own HIV/AIDS-centered foundation has saved money by buying generic versions of AIDS drugs from makers in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The strategy has allowed the Clinton Foundation to use its resources "wisely and be more cost effective," said Clinton, who toured a production plant run by generics maker Cipla in the southwestern Indian city of Goa. "We've had a three-year partnership with Cipla," he told the AP, "and because of them an enormous number of HIV/AIDS-infected people are alive."

Clinton said his organization hopes to distribute anti-AIDS drugs to 60,000 HIV-infected children in the developing world this year.

France, India Report First Bird Flu Cases

Health officials in India and France reported their first cases of H5N1 avian flu among fowl on Saturday, with India planning to cull over a half million domestic birds in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, the Associated Press reported.

The French case occurred in a wild duck found dead in a bird reserve in the town of Joyeux, 20 miles northeast of Lyon. Officials there have ordered that all domestic fowl be kept indoors or vaccinated against the disease.

"There's a little bit of panic because we don't know what to do," Joyeux resident Madeleine Monnet, 60, told the AP. "Here everybody has a little bit of fowl -- chickens or ducks -- for their personal consumption."

In India, over 30,000 chickens have died in the area around Navapur, in the state of Maharashtra. Anees Ahmed, the state's minister for animal husbandry, told the AP that police have cordoned off the area around the affected poultry farms. Authorities plan to kill 500,000 birds to help stem the spread of disease. All poultry not killed will be vaccinated against the H5N1 strain, Ahmed said.

So far bird flu has failed to mutate to human-to-human transmission, the step needed to spark a deadly worldwide pandemic. Cases of bird-to-human transmission have so far killed 91 people in Asia and Turkey.

Merck Wins Another Vioxx Lawsuit

Pharmaceutical giant Merck is batting .666 with a victory in federal court Friday concerning its controversial pain-killing drug Vioxx.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a jury in New Orleans U.S. District court found that Merck & Co. did not have any responsibility in the death of a Florida man who had a heart attack after taking Vioxx for only a month.

This was the second time around for the family of Richard "Dicky" Irvin. His widow sued Merck after Irvin, 53, suffered a fatal heart attack. Vioxx and other prescription pain-killers, known as cox-2 inhibitors, had come under medical scrutiny after evidence surfaced showing there might be an association between their use and increased heart attack and stroke risk.

Merck had voluntarily pulled Vioxx, used for severe pain, from distribution in the autumn of 2004. Even though an FDA panel narrowly recommended its use in 2005, the drug has remained off the market.

Since the medical evidence became public, thousands of legal actions have been filed against Merck. Last year, Merck lost a multi-million dollar suit in a Texas court, but it won a similar case in New Jersey. The New Orleans case is the first federal case to be concluded.

Ebola Vaccine Passes First Safety Test

Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Friday that a vaccine aimed at protecting against deadly Ebola virus has passed its initial safety test, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking at a microbiology meeting in Washington, the research team said 21 people received the experimental vaccine, which is made of DNA strands encoding for three Ebola proteins.

The volunteers were given increasing doses of the vaccine and began to produce Ebola-specific immune antibodies, providing "some confidence that the vaccine is having an effect on the immune system," according to lead researcher Dr. Gary Nabel. The scientists also noted no side effects from the vaccine.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is highly contagious and kills between half and 90 percent of those infected within days. The disease has so far been confined to Africa, but officials worry that the virus might be used as a bioterror weapon.

Nabel stressed that the vaccine is still in the very early testing phase. The next step, he said, is to see if the volunteers' immune systems reacted similarly to those of monkeys already immiunized against Ebola by the vaccine.

Food Fact:
No-fry zone.

Potatoes can be a dieter's secret weapon -- if you know how best to prepare them. Keep them away from the deep fryer or high-fat toppings, and they're excellent choices. On its own, a cooked medium-size potato has only about 200 calories, and it's very filling. Top it with yogurt and a sprinkling of chives -- you'll never miss the sour cream. Potatoes are rich in protein, iron, potassium and, if you eat the skin, fiber. They also contain glutathione, an antioxidant that may help protect against cancer. Never store potatoes in the refrigerator -- it makes them turn dark when cooked. Keep them in a cool, dark, ventilated place. Trim away any green spots before cooking.

ness Tip of the day:
If the shoe fits...

Choosing the right type of shoe for your activity is only a start to avoid foot pain. A good fit is essential to providing comfort and preventing injury. When buying shoes, look for knowledgeable salespeople and be sure to have your feet measured -- size and width can change over time. For the best fit, try on shoes after you've exercised and your feet are at their largest, and be sure to put on the socks you normally wear.

FAQ of the day:
What are the best fruits for vitamin C?

The best fruit sources of vitamin C are apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi, mango, orange, pineapple, plum, strawberry, tangerine and watermelon. Apricot, cantaloupe and mango are also rich in health-protective carotenoids, including the beta-carotene our bodies make into vitamin A.
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