February 2005 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.

Craving Valentine's chocolates? Enjoying a hot treat may be better for your health 

Thinking of indulging in that delectable box of Valentine's chocolates or grabbing a chocolate candy bar in the grocery line?

How about drinking a cup of hot cocoa instead?

Chocolate, ingested in small quantities, may actually help keep your heart healthy, said Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Chocolate or cocoa - in its pure form - may improve cholesterol levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. But that's before processing and manufacturing, and the addition of sugar, milk, butter and other ingredients that give chocolate its irresistible appeal - plus its fat and calories.

Made from cocoa beans, pure chocolate is rich in flavanol, an antioxidant that may help protect arteries from damage and fend off heart disease. Dark chocolate contains the highest levels of flavanol, with cocoa powder containing significant amounts as well.

"Research suggests that drinking a cup of dark hot chocolate can be equated with drinking a glass of wine in protecting the heart," Ms. Sandon said. "Chocolate by itself may provide some health benefits. It's what's added to it that's not so good for us."

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

To keep a healthy heart, worry less about stress - think diet, exercise, cholesterol, obesity

When it comes to heart health, whether or not your job is stressful isn't what you should be worried about, according to doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Diet, exercise and risk factors like high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are what contribute to a person's chance of having a heart attack.

"In my opinion, executives tend to be very organized and disciplined and often work exercise into their schedules," says Dr. James de Lemos, assistant professor of cardiology. "They do not have more heart attacks than the rest of the population. People with less-stressful jobs are just as susceptible to heart attacks."

Media Contact: Katherine Morales

Seniors: You can make an impact on constipation - walk!

Constipation, often considered a taboo topic of discussion, affects about 2 percent of Americans. It's a common complaint among senior citizens and women.

Causes of constipation include stress, a lack of water, fiber, or exercise, a disruption in your daily routine, overuse of laxatives, and some medications.

Exercise is a key solution. "If people are sedentary this should help," says geriatric specialist Dr. Craig Rubin, professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "Reduced physical activity can contribute significantly to problems of constipation. Physical activity, like walking 20 minutes a day, may reduce or eliminate the need for laxatives."

Relief also can be found by eating more fruit, especially the skin because it contains the most fiber. Vegetables, legumes, whole-grain bread and bran cereal also can help.

Laxatives should not be used for more than two weeks. If constipation persists, consult your doctor.

Media Contact: Kara Lenocker

With children around, stay vigilant in keeping away poisonous, dangerous items

Children, especially toddlers, can be particularly susceptible to poisoning by common household items often inadvertently left within easy reach by family members, says Dr. Kathleen Delaney, toxicology specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"One thing we do see is children who take medications that are in the day-of-the-week pillboxes - often in grandparents' homes." Dr. Delaney says. "The pillboxes aren't childproof, so they need to be out of reach or locked away."

Caregivers, she said, should also make sure that after social gatherings, all cigarette butts and alcoholic drinks should be cleared away. Both of these can be toxic to children. "Small children may eat the cigarette butts; the nicotine can make them very sick," Dr. Delaney says. Alcohol may lower their blood sugar to dangerous levels.
She says mouthwashes often contain alcohol and need to be removed from children's reach or put in cabinets with child-safety locks, just like medicines and household cleaners. Parents should also keep children out of the garage, where dangerous cleaners or solvents are frequently stored.

"If a child ingests any foreign substance or medication, the best thing is to do is call a poison control center immediately," Dr. Delaney advises.

Media Contact: Katherine Morales

Consult physician on use of pain relievers

In the recent wake of Vioxx being taken off the market and heart-risk concerns for Celebrex and Aleve, people with osteoarthritis who use over-the-counter pain relievers may be unsure and afraid of what to do next.

Dr. David Karp, UT Southwestern Medical Center chief of the Division of Rheumatic Diseases and associate director of the Harold C. Simmons Arthritis Research Center, says the actual risk of ulcers or heart disease from such medications is small. However, it is magnified by the large number of patients taking these drugs worldwide.

"Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and should be treated with both non-medical and medical therapy," says Dr. Karp. "There is good evidence that weight loss and exercise have significant benefits with regard to both pain relief and physical function. Other non-drug treatments include the use of accupuncture and assistive devices such as canes, walkers or braces."

For osteoarthritis sufferers seeking non-prescription medications for relief, acetaminophen can help in some cases, but users should be careful not to take too much or drink alcohol. Older anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen and ibuprofen can work, as well as newer drugs such as Celebrex. Generic prescription drugs like etodolac and diclofenac are also available.

Regardless, Dr. Karp says osteoarthritis patients taking over-the-counter pain relievers should consult their physicians and stick to the lowest effective dose on the label.

"There are many drugs that can treat the pain of osteoarthritis, but none of them is a cure for the disease," says Dr. Karp. "Each patient who is taking these drugs on a chronic basis should talk to their physician about the risks of the medication and steps they can take to minimize those risks."

Media Contact: Scott Maier


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