When beauty sees a beastIn our appearance-conscious...

Healthwatch

June 30, 1992|By Universal Press Syndicate

When beauty sees a beast

In our appearance-conscious society, almost everyone feels insecure about his or her looks at times. But for a few thousand adults, imagined cosmetic "defects" create a disabling obsession. American psychiatrists are just now addressing this problem, which they call body dysmorphic disorder, and the best treatment thus far is drug therapy. People with the disorder agonize over features that most others consider normal. In their minds, large noses, thinning hair or big mouths become grotesque eyesores. These people feel so unbearably ugly that their work and relationships suffer. They may seek cosmetic surgery, hole up at home or become suicidal. Katharine A. Phillips, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said the most promising treatments so far are psychiatric drugs.

Staying out of hot water

When tap water comes out scalding hot, most people simply adjust the spigot. But young children, the elderly and people with disabilities can't always manage this. Tap water causes up to 17 percent of all severe childhood scald burns. There is a safety valve that prevents scalding by automatically shutting off the water before it gets too hot. The state of Washington has found that another approach works, too. In 1983, the state passed legislation capping the maximum setting for new water heaters at 120 degrees, which is up to 20 degrees lower than settings allowed elsewhere. This tactic appears to be working: In a recent study, doctors at the University of Washington School of Medicine and various Seattle hospitals have shown that Washington residents have had fewer and milder burns as a result.

Bran news for breast cancer

Women who consistently pass up desserts like chocolate cake for high-fiber treats like an apple may be lowering their risk of breast cancer. Researchers have long known that eating a fatty diet appears to increase the risk of cancer by cranking up blood estrogen levels. For years the search has been on for something that could keep estrogen levels under control. That something, according to an American Health Foundation study, supported in part by the Kellogg Co., may be wheat fiber. Sixty-two post-menopausal women ate enough wheat, oat or corn bran to double their daily dose of fiber -- to about 30 grams per day (the rough equivalent of 1 cup of wheat bran, 4.5 cups of corn bran, or 2.3 cups of oat bran) -- while they continued to eat the same amount of fat as before. After two months on this diet, the women eating corn and oat bran showed no change in blood estrogen. But those on wheat fiber had lowered their blood estrogen levels significantly, and presumably improved their odds against breast cancer.

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