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Fixing What Ails You ... With Food By Carol Sorgen (MSN)

Chicken soup for the sniffles? Ginger to quell a queasy tummy? Sometimes those olds wives' tales and folk lore contain more than a grain of truth. And researchers are discovering that certain foods really can help, or hinder, your health.

Pop a cold pill or sip a cup of mom's chicken soup? You may have scoffed all these years at that old-fashioned remedy, but research is now showing that mom may just have known best after all. Chicken soup's just one "food fix" that may be just what the doctor ordered. Take a look...

Sniff, Sniff

The suspected benefits of chicken soup were reported centuries ago when the Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher Moshe ben Maimon (also known as Maimonides) recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms. His 12th century writings were based on earlier Greek writings. Fast forward to 1993 when Stephen Rennard, MD, conducted an informal laboratory study and submitted the results mostly on a lark. Seven years later, Rennard's chicken soup research was published in the Oct. 17, 2000, issue of CHEST, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. Rennard, Larson Professor of Medicine in the pulmonary and critical care medicine section at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, found that chicken soup -- whether prepared from scratch or bought in a supermarket -- seems to inhibit or reduce the movement of neutrophils, the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection. The soup may also improve rehydration and nutrition in the body, as well as providing psychological and physical comfort if you're feeling ill.

A Day Without Orange Juice ...

Is a day when you might not be reducing your blood pressure, says Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, associate state nutrition specialist and coordinator of the Nutrition Communications Center at the University of Missouri. Increasing both potassium and calcium in your diet will lower your blood pressure, says Hemmelgarn. Choose OJ that is calcium-fortified and not-from-concentrate. Another good source of potassium -- bananas.

A Taste of the Grape ...

Juice, that is. Drinking a cup a day of 100% purple grape juice contributes to a healthy heart, says Jane E. Freedman, MD, assistant professor of medicine and pharmacology at Georgetown University, and lead researcher in a study published last year in Circulation. The study showed that drinking grape juice not only has a direct effect on important functions like blood clotting, but also appears to increase the levels of valuable antioxidants while decreasing free radicals. Purple grape juice has three times the antioxidant power of grapefruit, orange, tomato, and apple juices. (An added bonus: preliminary studies have shown that compounds in purple grape juice were as effective as those found in cranberry juice for preventing urinary tract infections.)

And speaking of those UTIs ...

One glass of cranberry juice or one ounce of dried cranberries a day will help stave off infection, says Amy Howell, PhD, research scientist at the Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research at Rutgers University. The compounds found in cranberries prevent certain bacteria from making the foot-like processes that they use to attach to the walls of the urinary tract.

Blue on Blue...

Blueberries for those blue veins, says Luis Navarro, MD, founder and director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York. According to Navarro, blueberries are good for circulation. Foods that contain flavonoids -- such as blueberries -- help increase the tone and strength of veins and reduce the fragility of capillaries. And the proanthocynanidins and anthocyanidins -- big words that give berries their blue-red color -- help improve the strength of the vascular system overall. "The best time to start taking care of your legs is before they become a problem," says Navarro. "Eating the right foods gives legs the energy and strength they need to ward off varicose veins."

See Your Way Clear...

If you want to lessen the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration -- a disease that causes irreversible blindness in people over the age of 65 -- eat your veggies, says ophthalmologist Robert Abel, MD. Lutein, a nutrient found predominantly in dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens, promotes eye health by acting as a light filter, protecting the eyes from some of the damaging effects of the sun, and as an antioxidant, protecting the eyes from the damaging effects of aging, says Abel, a member of the Lutein Information Bureau Advisory Board. Because the body is unable to naturally manufacture lutein, you have to rely on your consumption of lutein-rich foods (or lutein supplements) to maintain optimal levels of lutein in the eye. There isn't an official Daily Reference Intake for lutein, but a 1994 Harvard University study showed that 6 milligrams -- equal to about one-third cup of cooked spinach -- is likely to have beneficial effects. If you're not going to get that amount daily, it won't hurt to add a multivitamin that includes lutein, says Abel.

You've Got a Terrible Headache...

If you suffer from migraines, you may have trigger foods that you can't eat. Common migraine triggers are dairy products, chocolate, eggs, citrus fruits, meat, wheat, nuts and peanuts, tomatoes, onion, corn, apples, and bananas, says Neal Barnard, MD, author of Foods That Fight Pain. Ironically, if a migraine does hit, some of those triggering foods may just provide relief as well. Caffeine, for example, may cause migraines in some people, but ease them in others, says Barnard. If caffeine is not a problem for you, drink one to two cups of strong coffee at the first sign of a migraine. You may also find relief from starchy foods such as toast, crackers, and potatoes, which can reduce the headache or nausea and may even shorten the attack.

On the Deep Blue Sea...

Or on a plane, a train, or in a car. If you suffer from motion sickness, you may be tempted to stay home. Not necessary, says Barnard. In studies, ginger was shown to reduce the nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, and was found to be more effective than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), which is commonly used for motion sickness. To calm the stomach, says Barnard, take one-half to one teaspoon (one to two grams) of powdered ginger. Health food stores often carry gelatin capsules containing the powdered ginger so you don't have to grind it yourself. Take two capsules about 30 minutes before your trip.

Nuts to You...

A handful -- just two ounces -- of almonds may help you avoid the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that the vitamin E in almonds is an antioxidant, which can reduce age-related deterioration in the brain.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD, April 15, 2002

Why Do We Have to Get Old? Martha Brockenbrough (MSN)

For most of my life, looking young has been something of a curse. For example, I once got a chance to interview the comedian Mike Myers. After our session was over, but while my tape recorder was still running, he said, "God bless you, you look like you're 12."

At the time, I was 26. I played Myers's comments over and over again, because it's not that often that a celebrity you had a secret crush on tells you that you look like a sixth-grader. Ouch.

Six years later, I no longer have that problem. I recently renewed my driver's license and was shocked to discover that the picture smiling back at me looks just like my mother. Worse, my hair has started turning gray--something that didn't happen to my mother until she was in her late 40s.

What happened in those six years to turn me from a sixth-grader to my mother? It's simple: I had a child.

I'm only partly kidding here. I recently read a book where the authors, two experts on aging, claim that the price we pay for reproduction is death. (I'll explain more about that later.)

Meanwhile, I am left to wonder why my hair is turning gray, and why the wrinkle between my eyebrows--caused by repeatedly making my "concentration face"--now never leaves, even when I'm relaxed.

Gray hair and wrinkles: getting to the root of the problem

Although many of us at one time or other have wished we looked older, almost no one really wants gray hair and wrinkles.

That said, anyone who ever started smoking cigarettes in order to look older has done exactly the right thing. Smoking is associated with accelerating the onset of gray hair and wrinkles. One study found that smokers were almost five times as likely to have wrinkled faces than nonsmokers.

Scientists also believe that smoking makes you go gray (or bald) prematurely because your blood vessels are constricted from the absorption of chemicals such as nicotine.

Smoking is known as an environmental cause for outward signs of aging. But even if you never smoke, you might get wrinkles and gray hair simply by living long enough.

As you get older, the cells in your body divide more slowly than they did when you were younger. Cell division is how old cells are replaced, so this means you aren't seeing as much fresh, new skin as you did before.

The science behind aging

Although it might seem like the most efficient life form would be one that lived forever, this isn't really the case. Earlier, I mentioned that reproduction kills us. And while being a parent is brutally hard work, it's not the chores I'm talking about.

In their fascinating book The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging, S. Jay Olshansky and Bruce A. Carnes explain that "the price for sex is death."

While this is an extremely complicated scientific theory, here's the condensed version: The human body is designed to live long enough to reproduce. It would take a lot of resources to keep a creature alive indefinitely. In an ever-changing environment, the variation that you get from passing along genes shuffled by sexual reproduction is a better way of keeping the important thing--the genes--alive. Moreover, any disease that appears after you've reproduced doesn't matter from an evolutionary perspective. You've had your offspring and done your job.

What's amazing to learn is that for 130,000 years, the genetic information that makes us human has been more or less the same. And for that time, the human life span has been much shorter than it is today.

Evolutionarily speaking, living longer than it takes us to raise children is a little bit like commuting to work in a Humvee. It might be fun, but unless you're a soldier, it's a waste.

A tasteful look at chocolate BY DEBRA HALE-SHELTON AP

My day at the Field Museum started with a slice of flourless chocolate cake the Queen Mother is said to adore. It ended with two exotic truffles a princess would have treasured.

In between, I saw a replica of a yellow, melon-like cacao pod, learned about the history, culture and science of chocolate, and even took in some interesting trivia: Americans eat an average of 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year, for example.

It's all part of ''Chocolate,'' a traveling exhibition that opened on Valentine's Day and runs through Dec. 31.

Well, most of it anyway. Visitors will get to sample some chocolate, but the cake was part of a one-day media event featuring chef Wolfgang Puck.

''Maida Heatter told me the Queen Mother eats it every day. The good thing is she doesn't smoke,'' joked Puck.

England's Queen Mother Elizabeth is far from alone in her love of chocolate. Legend has it that Casanova ate chocolate to enhance his lovemaking. And letters prove the Marquis de Sade asked his wife to send him chocolate in prison.

The allure of chocolate and the love affair people have with it are what made chocolate stand out as a topic worth an entire exhibition, said Virginia Trice, project administrator.

The show will travel to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Feb. 14 through May 11, 2003, then to the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, June 14 through Sept. 7, 2003.

It's only fitting that exhibition visitors get to sample some chocolate. After all, said Trice, ''It's hard to say the word without tasting it.''

So, should the museum be concerned? Is chocolate truly an aphrodisiac? Some people think chocolate gives them the same sensation as being in love, Puck said.

An exhibition plaque takes a more serious approach to the question. It says chocolate contains the chemical phenylethylamine, ''the same substance created by the human brain when a person experiences love. However, there is no conclusive evidence that chocolate stimulates the libido.''

The exhibition is as much about the culture of the people who have harvested, sold and devoured chocolate over the centuries as about chocolate itself.

It includes agricultural tools, pre-Columbian ceramics and ritual objects, European silver and porcelain chocolate services, 20th century cocoa tins, advertising signs, decorative chocolate molds, old recipe booklets, a vending machine where people once could buy Hershey candy bars for one cent each--even a brightly covered package that once held chocolate cigarettes.

Who first sampled the cacao seeds that would ultimately become the chocolate of Halloween treats, Easter bunny creations, Valentine's Day candy and even military rations?

It may well have been the monkeys, rodents and birds living near the rain forest trees. They break into the football-size pods growing on tree trunks, eat the sweet pulp and spit out the bitter seeds.

As for humans, research indicates the ancient Mayans of Mexico and Central America made cacao into a spicy drink sometime between 200 and 900 A.D.

The event is not recorded, but it's thought the Mayans let the cacao seeds ferment, then dried, roasted and crushed them before adding water and spices and drinking the frothy mixture.

''Human beings are tinkerers,'' says Jonathan Haas, an anthropology curator at the museum. ''We like to try things. And when most of your diet comes from corn, you're going to be looking for variety.'' The Aztecs later picked up on chocolate and, between the 13th and 16th centuries, treated it as a drink served to the elite in lavishly decorated vessels. They also used the valuable cacao seeds as money.

Chocolate didn't get sweet until the 16th century, when the Spanish mixed sugar with cacao to get rid of the bitter taste.

By 1700, London had almost 2,000 chocolate houses--similar to today's coffeehouses--before they turned into men's social clubs. In Italy, chocolate was the preferred drink of 18th century Roman Catholic cardinals, who had it brought in while electing a new pope.

Chocolate became less expensive to produce and therefore more accessible after a Dutch chemist in 1828 invented the cocoa press, which extracts cocoa butter from chocolate and leaves the powder known as cocoa.

Forty years later, the first box of chocolates and later the first Valentine's Day candy box hit the scene.

Pastry chef Jacques Torres, who left New York's Le Cirque restaurant to open Jacques Torres Chocolate retail shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., last year, calls chocolate ''a magical product,'' so versatile it can be made into cakes, ice cream, drinks, cookies and more.

''Chocolate is like a diamond,'' he said recently. ''It has a lot of different faces.''

Puck, who eats a little chocolate every day, believes it makes sense to have an exhibition about chocolate at the Field Museum, better known for its dinosaur collection.

''Food and history go hand in hand,'' says Puck. ''Show me what you eat, and we'll show you how you live.''