Health Notes

Safeguard yourself from anthrax

This autumn’s terrorist attacks on America left government officials and ordinary citizens wrestling with the same horrifying and unanswerable question: Are we prepared to face and survive biological warfare?

Of course, we can’t be prepared for every assault the terrorists may devise. So my advice is to take this situation very seriously but remain calm. There are some things you can do.

First, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of anthrax. There are three different forms of infection, all of which are characterized by unique ailments.

Skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite. After one or two days, the bump will become an open sore with a black area in the center.

Inhaled anthrax infections, in the early stages, resemble a common cold or flu, with aches, chills, cough, fever, etc. After several days, these symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems.

The intestinal form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated meat. Initial signs include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever. These symptoms are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea.

Government spokesmen are telling you that the antibiotic Cipro is the treatment of choice for anthrax. But research has shown that similar antibiotics can also effectively treat anthrax. Even the FDA has conceded that two other widely available antibiotics-doxycycline and penicillin-can save a person exposed to anthrax from developing the disease.

Actions to take:

(1) Ask a doctor to give you a prescription for amoxycillin (a form of penicillin) instead of Cipro, which is vanishing from druggists’ shelves. Get a bottle of 100 500-milligram capsules for each member of the family. I doubt that Cipro is any better than amoxycillin. Anthrax is a gram-positive rod-a big, blue boxcar thing, when seen under a microscope. Gram-positive organisms, such as anthrax, respond well to penicillin.

So why are authorities pushing Cipro? Well, let’s see, it costs roughly $6 per tablet. Amoxycillin costs 43 cents per capsule. I am not saying you shouldn’t buy Cipro, but keep in mind that you may not be able to find it, and even if you do, a bottle of 100 capsules will set you back about $600.

(2) Buy some cloth face masks for every member of the family. I think these items will become commonplace, so you won’t have to feel ridiculous wearing them in public. The Japanese have done it for years. I’ll never forget an experience I had on safari in Africa. I was in the Rift Valley, a very dusty place. A van filled with Japanese tourists drove by us, and they were all wearing face masks. It was comical, but you had to admit it was a good idea.

(3) If the number of anthrax cases continues to mount, you might want to consider opening your mail in the fresh air. If you find any powder residue, close the envelope, seal it in a plastic bag, leave it outside, wash your hands immediately, dial 911, and start taking your amoxycillin or doxycycline.

“FDA Pushes Anthrax Drug Options,” Associated Press 10/18/01

Lutein shows power to prevent heart disease

The antioxidant lutein is joining vitamins A, C, and D as a fighter of heart disease and cancer.

We’ve known for some time that lutein has a significant effect in slowing the onset and severity of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), a disabling eye deterioration that threatens everyone who lives long enough. Lutein, because of its antioxidant ability, offers hope for at least slowing down the process of ARMD, which is currently the leading cause of blindness among older Americans.

But it looks certain that lutein’s benefits go far beyond helping those suffering from macular degeneration. As a potent antioxidant, lutein is capable of preventing cell mutation that can lead to cancerous growths. Lutein also appears to have a positive effect on all the arteries in your body.

Researchers at the UCLA Medical Center reported their findings in the June 19, 2001 issue of Circulation, an American Heart Association publication. They studied blood levels of lutein in 480 middle-aged men and women. Dr. James H. Dwyer and his colleagues found that participants with the highest blood levels of lutein showed virtually no artery-wall thickening at the end of the study. Patients with the lowest lutein levels showed increased artery thickness.

The UCLA researchers studied their subjects for only 18 months. It’s hard to believe that significant changes would be seen in such a short study period. But that’s what they reported, and now a longer study, with more subjects, needs to be done.

Action to take:

If you don’t want to wait for the longer study, take lutein-6 milligrams twice daily-not only for eye health but also for cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. For more information on macular degeneration and nutrition, see the article on page 6.

Circulation 2001; 103: 2,922-2,927

CLA for weight loss: I’m not quite convinced

As you know, I wholeheartedly support eating animal products-since they are the staff of life. But even so, I am far from convinced by the latest buzz in the medical research community that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), the fatty acid found exclusively in food from animal sources (meat and dairy products), may be an effective weight-reducing agent.

In two separate studies, researchers reported that CLA aids weight maintenance for those patients who have lost weight, helping them to avoid putting it back on later. One of these studies also observed that those patients taking CLA who did regain weight were more likely to regain it as muscle rather than fat.

Researchers at Purdue University also threw their hat in the ring, with a study examining CLA’s effects on diabetes. They observed that patients “seemed to show” improvements in their insulin levels. “Seemed to show” is not good enough. So that supposition will have to “await further study,” as we skeptics like to say.

Action to take:

CLA is safe to take. If you are on a weight-reduction program, take it as directed on the label and report back to me in six months.

American Chemical Society Conference, 8/27/00

Supplementing with iron can be dangerous

While living in Finland, I met a young attorney who remarked to me that he was slightly anemic. He gave me the lab numbers, and I agreed that he was indeed borderline anemic. “What have you done about it?” I asked. He said his doctor had put him on iron pills.

Since he was a vegetarian, subclinical malnutrition was the likely source of his anemia. However, I pointed out to him, his doctor was only guessing if he didn’t check to see if the anemia was caused by a bleeding ulcer or cancer.

The point of this little story is that blindly prescribing iron to patients can be futile and even dangerous. I first reported on the dangers of excessive iron in one’s diet in 1987 in Health Freedom News, the journal of the National Health Federation. And, more recently, an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a typical Western diet results in high iron levels-not iron deficiency-in elderly white Americans.

Strong evidence suggests that excessive dietary iron can promote infection, cancer, and atherosclerosis.

Actions to take:

(1) Check the labels on the processed food you buy. If a label says “enriched,” you are getting iron you don’t want. Most of this enrichment is in processed grains used for bread, macaroni, corn grits, and the like that have been stripped of most nutrients. Adding iron to these junk foods only makes them worse.

(2) Eat plenty of liver and rare meat, and you will never have to worry about nutritional anemia. RH


“Iron, Chickens and Hyperfermia,” Health Freedom News 1987

“Iron Status of Free-living Elderly Individuals,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001; 73(3):503-504