July 2004 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Outdoor food preparation can be as risky as it is appetizing

Summer's heat brings thoughts of hamburgers and hot dogs sizzling on the grill. It also offers challenges in safe food preparation and storage.

According to a recent national survey, 56 percent of outdoor chefs don't know the proper temperature to grill meats to, ensuring they are cooked thoroughly. In addition, a third leave perishables outside, unrefrigerated in hot weather, for more than two hours, creating a perfect environment for bacterial growth.

Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, offers the following summer food safety tips:

  • Make sure grilled meats are cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Purchase an inexpensive meat thermometer for your grill.
  • Pack plenty of ice in coolers to store raw and leftover foods. Leftovers should be refrigerated within an hour of cooking during hot weather.
  • Wash hands before digging into the picnic basket. If there's no running water, bring along moist towelettes or antibacterial hand sanitizer.
  • Use color-coded coolers and utensils to keep raw meats separate from cooked meats and other prepared foods.

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Herbal supplements can damage kidneys, liver

Even with the recent banning of ephedra, consumers should remain cautious about trying other herbal supplements.

According to doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, substances such as bitter orange, germander, jin bu huan and usnic acid - ingredients in weight-loss products - have been associated with kidney and liver problems.

"A number of herbal preparations have been implicated in causing liver damage, some even leading to the need for a liver transplant or to death," says Dr. William Lee, professor of internal medicine and an expert in digestive and liver diseases. "Herbal products are not under any specific supervision by the Food and Drug Administration, so there is no quality control, no proof of efficacy and no tests of safety."

The ban on ephedra, which had been linked to more than 150 deaths and dozens of heart attacks and strokes, was the government's first for a dietary supplement. New manufacturing and labeling regulations for dietary supplements are expected later this year, according to the FDA.

"The herbal industry is largely satisfying a need for self-remedies for patients who are unwilling to seek conventional medical attention or are wary of doctors," says Dr. Lee. "Most supplements are indeed harmless and only injure the pocketbook. Many people, however, take these compounds in any amount, never limiting themselves to what is advised regarding dosing."
Media Contact: Scott Maier

Unpasteurized cheeses and pregnancy are a dangerous combination

Feta, brie, goat's milk cheese and Mexican-style cheeses such as queso fresco are common ingredients in many gourmet dishes and traditional Hispanic cuisine.

But the cheeses in their unpasteurized, or raw, form are a delicacy that could be dangerous to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, says Dr. Kevin Magee, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Unpasteurized cheese and other raw dairy products and meats could be contaminated with listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious infections and complications during pregnancy.

"Don't think that just because you use the cheese at home that it's safer. It's not," Dr. Magee says. "We recommend that our patients wash all raw vegetables, thoroughly cook all meat products and avoid any unpasteurized cheese or milk products.

"Finally, if you plan to eat leftovers, thoroughly heat them."
Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

Reading to baby is still the best way to teach language skills

Educational TV programs, instructional videos and even some computerized games claim to help children develop language skills. But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say there's only one tried-and-true method to help infants speak and understand language: Read to them.

"When parents come to me with a child who has delayed language skills, the first thing I do is ask them how much they read to the child," says Dr. Paul Bauer, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. "Many times helping a child understand language and helping them develop speech is a matter of taking time to read to them."

In fact, parents should begin reading to their children as young as 6 months old, Dr. Bauer says. While infants don't know the meaning of many words, hearing the sounds helps their brains develop critical language skills. It enhances a child's pronunciation of words, expands vocabulary and begins programming the brain for more advanced speech and reading.
Media Contact: Steve O'Brien

Outsmarting jet lag in three easy step

Taking a trip overseas or across the country? Don't let jet lag get in the way of your time away from home.

Travelers should follow three easy steps to help reset their bodies' clocks after a dramatic time change, says Dr. John Herman, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and director of the Sleep Disorder Clinic at Children's Medical Center Dallas .

  • Take 6 milligrams of melatonin when it is 11:30 p.m. in the time zone of your destination.
  • Get outside in the sunlight as soon as possible when you arrive at your destination.
  • One hour before bedtime on the night of your arrival, take another 3 milligrams of melatonin.

"The combination of melatonin and bright light is the most powerful method of resetting your biological rhythm," Dr. Herman says.

For the trip home, repeat the formula with your hometown as the destination.
Media Contact: Donna Hansard

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