For Americans, fat content is the most important part of a food label TO YOUR HEALTH

FITNESS CLINIC

March 02, 1993|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,Contributing Writer/ United Feature Syndicate

The government will no longer require manufacturers to list the vitamin content of foods. The National Academy of Sciences recommended removing vitamin information from foods after surveys showed that even Americans suffering from hunger are not at risk for the types of vitamin deficiencies that are seen in Third World countries. Most doctors today have never seen a case of pellagra caused by lack of niacin or beriberi caused by lack of thiamine.

Listing vitamins only serves to take attention away from the diseases related to excess food intake that really affect Americans, such as heart attacks, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Fat content is the most important information on a food label.

The government still recommends that manufacturers list vitamins A and C, but not because of any concern about deficiencies. These vitamins are anti-oxidants that appear to play an important role in helping to prevent heart attacks and cancer. You should try to eat foods that are rich sources of vitamins A and C, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.

Most scientists discourage taking large doses of vitamins through supplements. You should get all the vitamins you need in the food you eat.

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Q: My doctor told me to exercise on a stationary bicycle. My balance isn't very good, and I'm not comfortable on the seat. Can you help?

A: A recumbent bicycle will solve your problem. A recumbent stationary bicycle has a comfortable contoured chair and pedals attached at the same height as your hips. You sit in the chair and pedal with your feet horizontal to your pelvis. Pedal against slight resistance at a comfortable rate until your legs feel heavy or hurt. Do this every other day until you can pedal for 10 to 20 minutes.

Many older people and most people with neurological and muscle diseases have extraordinarily weak hip and upper leg muscles. Pedaling a recumbent bicycle strengthens these muscles and can help you to walk more efficiently.

Even a person who has had a stroke or is partially paralyzed can use a recumbent bicycle, as long as they can sit in a chair. Toe clips on the pedals keep the feet in place, so you can pedal even if you can only use one leg. People with muscle or nerve injuries that make them uncomfortable on a bicycle seat will be able to use a recumbent.

Virtually every healthy person over 60 who does not exercise should be using a recumbent exercise bicycle. Whatever your age, try a recumbent bicycle before you buy a standard one. You can get the same workout, and you will probably prefer the comfortable seat.

Q: I'm overweight, and a friend told me I should take thyroid pills. Will they help me lose weight?

A: Most people who are overweight have a slow metabolism. Your thyroid gland secrets a hormone that increases your metabolism, but taking thyroid pills when you don't need them can harm you.

Several recent studies show that taking thyroid hormone when you don't need it can cause osteoporosis, a weakening of bones that markedly increases their chances of breaking. On the other hand, if you need thyroid replacement and you don't get it, you will be at increased risk of becoming obese and suffering from a heart attack.

RTC All people who are overweight should get a blood test for thyroid function. Until a few years ago, doctors measured just the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. But they failed to diagnose many people who had low thyroid function and

who could have benefited from taking thyroid pills.

Doctors now know that a person can have low thyroid function and still have normal levels of thyroid hormones, as long as levels of TSH, the hormone produced by the brain, are high.

When blood levels of thyroid hormone drop, the brain releases a hormone called TSH into the bloodstream that causes the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Then, when your thyroid gland releases thyroid hormone, it keeps the brain from producing too much TSH.

In rare cases, high levels of TSH can be caused by a brain tumor, but usually people who have high levels of TSH and normal levels of thyroid hormone do not have enough thyroid hormone and should take thyroid pills.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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