Schizophrenia on home videoThe next time the neighbors...

Healthwatch C

February 18, 1992

Schizophrenia on home video

The next time the neighbors invite you to watch their excruciatingly painful home movies, don't tell them you've got to change the oil in the garbage disposal or vacuum the tomato garden. Go. Watch those movies. And look carefully for telltale signs of schizophrenia! In a recent study detailed in Men's Health magazine, researchers found that early indications of insanity could be gleaned by watching children in home movies. The observers sat through about an hour of footage for each of the families studied, then tried to guess which of the children would later develop schizophrenia. They guessed right 85 percent of the time. Giveaway signs are reduced emotional responsiveness, lack of eye contact, clumsiness and frequent "heh, heh, hehs."

Touch tones:

Virtual Reality, the new electronics frontier which enables people to slip into sensor-lined gloves and helmets and transport themselves into a computerized environment, poses boggling implications: to play tennis, to strum a guitar, to fly, without ever getting up from a chair. And to make love? Given human nature, Virtual Reality sex is inevitable, probably in 30 years, M magazine predicts in its March cover story. The magazine envisions you slipping into a lightweight body suit lined with tiny tactile detectors, plugging your whole sound-sight-touch telepresence system into the telephone and dialing up your partner, say, 1,000 miles away. You will whisper in your partner's ear, feel your partner's breath on your neck, and on the other end of the line, an array of effectors will convey your touch. And if you don't like the way the encounter is going, you will simply flip a switch and in a whir and a blip, step out of your Virtual Reality birthday suit.

Painful choices:

A University of Utah study concludes that you may have to choose between a Whopper with fries and good sex. The study, reported in Men's Health magazine, finds that fatty junk foods curb the production of testosterone, the hormone which is to the sex drive what guacamole is to nacho chips. Four hours after pigging out on milkshakes, the testosterone levels of participants in the study plummeted 30 percent.

A deafness gene:

A gene responsible for about 3 percent of childhood deafness has been identified, which could lead to a genetic test and possible intervention, according to two studies published last week in the journal Nature. But more intriguing, the gene could also help unlock mysteries about how the embryo develops. One of the studies' authors, Dr. Aubrey Milunsky, director of the Center for Human Genetics at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in an interview, "This gene belongs to a group of genes responsible for the architectural layout of the body. This gene has a fundamental role in early embryonic development." The gene causes Waardenburg's syndrome, which in its most serious manifestation causes deafness.

Verifying gender:

When is a female athlete a female? Organizers of international competitions have been worried about men posing as women to compete in women's events. A genetic test to determine gender was instituted in the 1960s, after concerns were raised about the humiliation of female athletes parading nude in front of physicians for a physical exam. But the test has not been totally reliable, since in rare cases, women have male chromosome patterns and vice versa, and in others, individuals may have undergone a sex change. In last Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, members of the International Amateur Athletic Federation reported the group adopted a new policy of an exam to determine sex based on genitals. But to the International Olympic Committee, a female athlete is a female only based on genetics. The committee says it will continue to use a gene test.

Dyes for cardiac pictures:

In a line of research becoming more common as concern grows about rising health care costs, two studies compare dyes used in making pictures of cardiac arteries, one nearly as much as 10 times more expensive than the other. The conclusion in last week's New England Journal of Medicine: The costlier dye is safer, but not so much so that it should be the first choice for all the 1.2 million such procedures done each year in the United States to diagnose heart disease; it should be reserved for patients at highest risk for serious reactions. According to one of the studies, one drug costs $8 per use and the other, $170. But Dr. John Butterly, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Lahey Clinic Medical Center, said the matter was not just one of toting up cost and serious side effects, but also of comfort. His lab used to use the less expensive dye, but "some patients would scream in pain," Dr. Butterly said. About five years ago, the lab switched to the more expensive one. "I don't like to see people in pain. I think that's worth a lot."

MSG is everywhere:

Anyone sensitive to monosodium glutamate, or MSG, won't--

want to hear this. MSG, once thought to be confined to Chinese foods and canned soups, now shows up in almost everything, warns Alfred Scopp of the Northern California Headache Clinic. Restaurant foods, particularly sauces, soups and salad dressings, as well as many of the canned, frozen and prepared foods found in your local supermarket, often contain this flavor enhancer. To make matters worse, you can't tell what it's in simply by reading labels. Each of the following ingredients contains large amounts of MSG: hydrolized vegetable protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, natural flavor, flavoring, seasoning and Kombu extract. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require that MSG be listed separately when these ingredients are present. Mr. Scopp believes that because of its growing presence in American cuisine, MSG is a much more important, widespread trigger of headaches than is currently recognized.

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