Finding truth in advertising
In the Food and Drug Administration's first victory against deceptive labeling, Kraft General Foods has agreed to pull the "90 percent fat-free" claims pasted across some of its product boxes. It's a meaningless claim. As the FDA points out, all it means is that 90 percent of a product's weight is fat-free. But many foods contain lots of water, a rather heavy substance. So a food can be 90 percent fat-free by weight and still get 90 percent of its calories from fat. The FDA has also warned that companies that continue to slap a "cholesterol-free" label on products containing vegetable oils, like cookies and crackers, will be penalized. Only animal fats contain cholesterol. Far more important is the amount of saturated fat a product contains. Palm oil, coconut oil and hydrogenated oils contain saturated fat. The FDA's crackdown, initiated by its new commissioner, David Kessler, drew strong praise from a consumer advocate who has been one of the FDA's most outspoken critics.
The latest wrinkle:
Two dermatologists in Beaverton, Ore., have finished a study that explains why African-American women tend to have fewer wrinkles than white women. Put simply, they wrinkle less because dark skin is better able to resist sun damage. The dermatologists compared the facial skin of 19 black and 19 white women and found that the cells in black skin are not only less susceptible to damage, but they also repair themselves more efficiently when damage does occur. This doesn't mean that African Americans are safe from the sun. The study also found that black women who spent lots of time in the sun had many more wrinkles than their sun-shy sisters.
No treatment works best:
Most sexually transmitted diseases should be treated immediately, if possible. An exception may be genital warts. Why wait -- when the virus that causes these warts is thought to cause cervical cancer? Because most cases of genital warts would be better left alone, say researchers at Northwestern University Medical School. In a study of 128 women with genital warts, the researchers found that those whose warts were treated with laser surgery were almost twice as likely to develop precancerous lesions as those who weren't treated at all. Even more alarming was the finding that these lesions grew faster in the laser-treated women than in the control group. The researchers aren't sure why this happens, but they noticed that skin cells left undamaged by the laser tend to accelerate their growth in an attempt to heal the cervix. Maybe, theorize the researchers, such cells are particularly vulnerable to any papillomavirus that might be left behind. These findings are so mind-boggling that the researchers have already made plans to repeat this study on a larger group of patients. In the meantime, if you have genital warts, you might want to ask your doctor to track them through regular checkups rather than try to remove them. According to the researchers, the warts had completely disappeared in three out of four of the untreated women within one year of their initial diagnosis.
Weight down, cholesterol up:
Dieters who lose weight rapidly are often surprised when they see their cholesterol levels increase. Unsympathetic doctors have often interpreted this as a sign of sneaking rich foods. But this phenomenon is what happens when people who have been eating lots of fat sharply cut their intake, say doctors at the University of California at Davis. The doctors took fat cell biopsies from six obese patients who were following a very low-calorie diet (400 to 600 calories a day) for four to seven months. For the first four months, regular cholesterol testing registered no changes. But the fat cells, which had been shrinking steadily, finally could no longer contain the cholesterol stored within them. The cholesterol that was eventually squeezed out entered the bloodstream, forcing up each patient's cholesterol level. The good news is that when the rapid weight-loss program ended and patients were put on a more moderate maintenance plan, their cholesterol levels improved considerably and showed lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the undesirable form) and increases in HDL cholesterol (the desirable form).