Friday, 25 May 2007

China goes bananas: rumor puts halt to eating the popular fruit

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Spreading like a virus across China, text messages warning consumers not to eat bananas from China's Hainan Island have created a quite a scare. The messages -- purely unsubstantiated rumor, according to health experts -- claim that the bananas carry a SARS-like virus and anyone who eats them risks falling ill.

Though no human has ever contracted a plant virus, the banana industry in China is taking a hard hit due to the scare, losing up to 20 million yaun a day ($2.6 million U.S.) After the melamine fiasco and the recent news that toothpaste out of China was contaminated with a different toxin, it appears Chinese consumers aren't putting a lot of faith in their food safety inspectors.

Pedal while you work

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Maybe the treadmill desk idea isn't for you (who can blame you!) but if the idea of getting a workout while working still sounds appealing have you thought of trying the Pedal Exerciser? It's a simple enough concept -- just a set of pedals that you put under your desk so you can "bike" your way to fitness while typing that business proposal. Or you can put it on top and get an upper body workout also, how versatile!

The idea isn't all bad, but it makes me laugh because I picture a business man in a suit huffing and puffing and all sweaty at his desk and nobody knows why. But in all seriousness, for those people who just can't find the time to get out of the office for exercise this could be a real lifesaver.

Working towards exhaustion

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Like Maggie hit on earlier, many workers these days seem to be exhausted. Are working citizens being overworked, you say? Perhaps, but it should not be surprising. The amount of work to be done can be overwhelming, and it can lead to being exhausted.

With many workers and others being tethered to work through BlackBerries (I don't have one) and other portable devices, many of us never "leave" the office -- an unhealthy fact. When we're away from the office, we're still connected (that can be emotionally draining). When we're at work, we're overworked. Hence, injuries, stress and overwork ensue.

Think it will get better? With more companies competing on a global level, think again.It does take effort (oddly enough) to make sure you're not really "exhausted."

Healthy Recipe: Couscous with summer vegetables

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couscousIs the summer bug biting you like it is me? I have barely gotten over my springtime glee and the excitement of impending summer has me dancing. What do I love about summer? The warm and sunny weather, the leisurely pace and the gads of fresh local produce.

Cooking Light and WebMD published a healthy recipe to kick off summer right, and I have even thought of some fun variations.

Couscous with Summer Vegetables, Greek Olives and Feta sounds like a winner already, doesn't it? It calls for fresh peas, yellow squash and ripe tomatoes, all tossed in a vinaigrette with Kalamata olives, feta and fresh oregano.

But what if you replaced the couscous with quinoa? It has more protein and is gluten free, and contains essential amino acids. What a boost.

And to me, this recipe is just screaming for some wilted spinach to be mixed in. Spinach with the olives and feta? Oh yeah.

Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper and fresh parsley have me drooling, just imagining them as additions to this already wonderful summer recipe.

What other fun and healthy variations on this recipe come to mind?
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Sunny vacations bad idea for hopeful fathers

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Especially during the summer months, many couples will take a relaxing vacation when trying for a baby. However, recent reports from fertility experts suggest this may be the worst thing a hopeful father can do.

According to Australian researchers, too much heat can not only reduce sperm count, but also slow down those that survive.

They began their research after doctors at assisted conception clinics have recently noticed what they've come to believe is a "season effect" on men's sperm counts, but as far back as the 1950s some believed that men could take regular hot baths as a means of contraception.

That said, this report was conducted in England, a country infamous for its long months of cold, rainy weather. As noted by a UK fertility expert: "If there was a major effect, I think we would see people having problems conceiving in every country in the tropics.

But, he adds, "it's worth being cautious."

Dogs: the latest cancer detection tool?

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Dogs have been proven to be useful in a variety of health-related situations. They guide those with vision problems, provide therapy in many different situations, and even help out those who may have mobility issues at home. But a small non-profit group called Pine Street Foundation claims to have trained five of their dogs to detect lung and breast cancer by smelling a patient's breath. During the study that followed, the group claims the dogs were 99% accurate in detecting lung cancer and smelled breast cancer 88% of the time, even if the patient had just smoked a cigarette or ate a meal.

Researchers aren't surprised and say the group's study looks to be sound, though further research needs to be done. Dogs noses are powerfully strong, and experts say it's now up to technology to catch up and develop a process that can detect disease just as efficiently.

Workaholic city-dwellers suffer urban fatigue

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A recent UK study finds that city-dwellers who work through the weekend, and never get out of the city are likely to suffer "urban fatigue." It's believed that many of these workers could be putting both their physical and mental health in jeopardy because they're overworked, stuck in a monotonous routine, and never get a change in environment.

While psychologists interviewed for the study note that many people still take an annual holiday, they feel it's far better to take more frequent mini-breaks -- rather than one, long vacation, where you try to do all your relaxing in one or two weeks.

It should be noted that the research was conducted by an auto insurance company that's encouraging drivers to escape city life using their cars. However, the research makes sense. Working yourself into the ground -- wherever you live -- will only make you less productive in the long run. Plus, for those that do live in hectic urban environments, it can be incredibly relaxing to be someplace where you're not constantly surrounded by people.

However you get out of town -- car, train, bus or otherwise -- a little alone time is a great way to recharge the batteries.

Smoking ban taking over private homes too

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It seems that restaurants and other public places aren't the only ones starting to ban smoking: more private households than ever before are following suit. Utah leads the nation with 9 out of 10 homes forbidding smoking, and the national average is lower but still pretty high at 3 out of 4.

I'm sure the smokers out there are feeling the pinch as they start getting shooed out to the patio not only at restaurants but now at their friends houses too. I do have sympathy since it's not an easy habit to break, but I'm also glad. I think the less everyone accepts smoking the easier it will be (in small ways) to quit, and the less people will get started in the first place.

How not to stay fit while walking your child

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I know this is a little silly, but it's a good example of how hard some people will work to avoid exercise. As Debbie has noted in her Working in the Workouts posts, the simple act of pushing your baby in the stroller is a good way to get some physical activity into your day. Plus, as Jessica pointed out, there's even cool gadgets like the Strollometer, that let you track your speed, distance and mileage.

I have no idea who this woman is, or why she's chosen not to walk -- but barring some kind of injury, this is really pretty ridiculous. Finding time to exercise is difficult enough as it is without going out of your way to avoid it.

Television linked with diabetes?

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If your child is a diabetic, do you let them watch quite a bit of television or do you encourage more physical activity? Watching TV (a sedentary activity) can lead to a tougher time controlling blood sugar for diabetic children, according to a study of of Norway. Surprise? Most likely, no.

The research made it a point to say that the suggestion of children watching no more than two hours of television per day still stood as valid.

One interesting note to the study was that diabetic children with higher blood sugar levels may be too ill to do much beyond watching television (a sad fact).

For more information on diabetes control, please visit The Diabetes Blog.

Man stays awake for 11 days

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Around here, we're pretty big fans of sleep. We know that getting enough proper sleep can prevent disease, lower stress, improve immune function, and support good health. But Cornish man Tony Wright disagrees. He argues that different areas of the brain require different amounts of rest and claims to be able to switch to the more alert parts of his brain when he gets tired. To prove it, he recently broke the Guinness world record of days without sleep (though the group no longer technically has a record for the class, due to safety concerns) and stayed awake for 11 days.

I can't argue with his determination, because...WOW...that's a long time to be awake. But I think I'll stick to my eight hours snooze every night; it seems to be working for me so far!

Suncreen myths

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I thought I was on top of summer skincare -- both for my self, and for my 3-year-old daughter. But then I learned that producers of well-known sunscreen brands are currently facing a class action lawsuit, alleging that their claims about protecting against UV rays and preventing skin cancer are misleading.

So what have they been lying about? This Health magazine article outlines the top five myths about sunscreen, and what you should do to make sure you and your family are properly protected this at the beach this summer.

1. Sunscreen is all you need to stay safe. Even with sunscreen, there's still a 50% chance you'll burn.
2. The SPF measures levels of protection against both UVB and UVA rays. While several ingredients in sunscreen do block UVA rays, the SPF only applies to UVBs.
3. Sunscreen can protect all day. It actually needs to be reapplied every two hours.
4. Some sunscreens are waterproof. There's no such thing as "waterproof" sunscreen. Some are "resistant," and others are "very resistant," which means they continue to work after some water exposure, but you should always reapply after swimming.
5. Sunscreen provides total sunblock. Even SPF 50 only stops 98 percent of UV rays.

For more detailed explanations of why these common misconceptions are inaccurate, and what you should do in response, see the full article.

Spray-on Viagra?

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Men who take Viagra may soon have another option. According to a recent article in the Belfast Telegraph, Wallace Dinsmore, the doctor that originally created the drug for male potency, has now created a new, spray-on version. Says Dinsmore, it gives men "five times the staying power."

It's called Spray and Stay, and is currently in the trial stages of development. The treatment could be made widely available within a year.

If the drug makes it through the third and final phase of trials, and is indeed released to the public, it could benefit millions of men around the world, says Dinsmore.

No word on whether the drug may cause similar side-effects to Viagra -- which include sneezing, headache, dyspepsia, blurred vision and prolonged erections. Presumably, however, the same warnings for men who are at risk of stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular problems will apply.

No blood donations from gay men still in effect

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Are you aware than a 1983 ban on blood donations from homosexual men was in effect? In order to prevent bloodborne ailments from HIV from being passed on through transfusions, this ban is now nearing 24 years in existence.

Is this a matter of discrimination or a true medical necessity? Can't HIV be detected before being used from any donor? Newer tests that can detect the presence of HIV in as little as 10 to 21 days after infection make a lifetime ban not needed, according to America's Blood Centers.

What do you think? Should a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay men still stay in effect or be replaced by a one-year ban only?

Not sure what to make for dinner? Magnet set can help

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As I was cleaning the refrigerator out this week, I found myself throwing away more produce that usual. Now, I don't mind putting out money for fresh, whole foods, but I do mind throwing those foods away uneaten. I'd stocked up on some specific items (like broccoli and spinach) because I was trying to get more calcium into our meals, but I'd obviously gone overboard. When it comes to cooking balanced meals for a family of four, meal planning is a must, but it's also something I'm admittedly bad at.

So when a reader emailed us a link to this cool-looking magnet set, I was intrigued. The magnets are color coded by food group and contain a surprising amount of information about each food. Not only are the bright colors attractive, I think they may be useful in meal planning or to help someone who is dieting keep track of their calories. They could also help someone like me keep track of key nutrients and to better plan balanced meals. And if there's a tool out there that can make that job easier...I'm all for it!

Losing weight might save your vision

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There are a number of reasons to keep your weight in check that you're probably already aware of -- like heart disease, joint problems, and even cancer; all of which are often linked to diet and exercise. However you might not know that many eye diseases are also influenced by physical fitness.

Obesity is thought to be associated with cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma -- all of which can be caused by weight-related issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and lack of exercise.

To combat these problems, it's important to be physically fit, and to make sure you're getting enough lutein (which protects the eye against macular degeneration) and zeaxanthin (which protects your retina from light damage) -- both of which are easily found in everyday foods, like egg yolks.

So take this as yet another reason that you should be eating right and staying active.

Coffee helps prevents gout

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A new study finds men can gut their risk of gout, a common kind of arthritis, by half if they drink four or more cups of coffee a day.

Within the first 12 years of the study, 757 of the 45,000 men were diagnosed with gout -- "considered one of the worst types of pain that human beings can experience," according to professor involved with the research. When they subsequently assessed the data -- comparing the dietary habits of men who were and were not diagnosed with the illness -- researchers were able to conclude that participants who regularly drank 4 cups of coffee per day lowered their risk of gout by 40%, while men who drank 6 cups lowered their risk by 60%.

The reason coffee had such a profound effect isn't entirely clear. Caffeine doesn't seem to responsible, as decaffeinated coffee had a similar effect to regular coffee. Scientists suspect, however, that an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid may be the source of the beverage's protective qualities.

Researchers hope, that with this information, they can create a drug that would replicate these health benefits.

Should the government regulate tobacco?

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Should the FDA regulate tobacco and nicotine levels in cigarettes? Right now, cigarette makers and other tobacco manufacturers are free to use the nicotine levels they want (that's the part that forms a physical addition).

Would the country be best served by having the product of a private industry regulated by the government? Opinions are bound to be all over the table on that one, and they should be.

It appears pretty clear to me that curbing tobacco use us a main concern for some agencies these days. While I'm a non-smoker, the right of smokers to smoke in private is a freedom that should continue, even with reduced and/or controlled nicotine levels. Is smoking heading towards oblivion? Hardly.

The 'spoon' body explained

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Are you shaped like a spoon? That is, mostly thin except for a a big round part -- your mid-section? You might be a 'spoon', according to this. Spoons are characterized by small upper bodies and excess weight on their lower abdomen and hips. I definitely qualify for this, though I don't call it 'being a spoon', I call it having a 'paunch' or a 'buddha belly'. Furthermore, spoons are typically weak in their upper body and excel at activities that use the lower body. Wow, it's like they wrote it about me. Because of their weak arms, spoons are at risk of developing osteoporosis there, but by working out their upper body, they can help prevent this.

To avoid the spoon shape, focus more on your upper body than lower when it comes to resistance and weight training.

Are you a spoon?

Kids' fingers indicative of test scores?

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Does your child have long fingers? If so, he or she may score better on verbal or math tests. Sound fishy? The results from a recent study in England showed different results for boys and girls on test scores when it came to measuring the ratio between index finger length and ring finger length.

It's interesting to see that with boys, a lower ratio was indicative of higher math test scores (no change on verbal scores). With girls, the opposite was true: the lower the ration, the higher the verbal test scores (but no change in match scores).

Interesting stuff here, as the researcher concluded that finger length is tied to prenatal exposure to the hormone testosterone. Let's all whip out that ruler!