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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(4):1084

Don't let patients get carried away by the zinc bandwagon, warns Family Practice News. It seems that some people who use zinc lozenges for the common cold are ingesting such huge amounts of the metal, they're risking zinc toxicity. Although studies suggest that sucking on zinc lozenges might shorten the duration of cold symptoms, people who get several colds per winter might easily end up taking in more zinc than their bodies can safely handle. Zinc-induced copper deficiency can result in neutropenia.

Hospitals are finally giving new moms a break. Following a public outcry over declining hospital stays after childbirth, the average stay for a new mom inched up from 1.7 days in 1995 to 2.1 days in 1997, according to the latest statistics from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. This upward trend began even before a federal law was passed requiring insurance coverage for a 48-hour hospital stay following delivery.

USA Today reports that new company drug plans may allow workers to choose from expanded formularies, but this freedom of choice might also cost the insured person up to half the price of the medication. Many of the leading HMOs are offering three-tier plans, allowing the insured to choose generic drugs from a limited list for as little as $5 per prescription, brand-name drugs from a limited list for about $10 to $20, or any brand-name drug for the highest payment rate. Employers are hoping that their workers will be willing to pay a little more to obtain a wider choice of medications.

It used to be apples, but now it's “a tomato a day keeps the doctor away.” High consumption of tomatoes and foods containing tomatoes appears to reduce the risk of stomach, lung and prostate cancer. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports that people whose diet is high in tomatoes, both fresh and processed, have a 40 percent lower risk of developing these cancers. Lycopene, a carotenoid and antioxidant, may be the reason for the perceived anticancer effect. Apricots, watermelon and pink grapefruit are also sources of lycopene. Bring on the salsa!

Does a healthy mouth mean a healthy heart? It might, according to preliminary study results reported by the American Academy of Neurology. The findings showed that the subjects (mostly older persons) with the most severe gum disease also had the thickest carotid plaques. It is theorized that bacteria from diseased gums enters the bloodstream and irritates epithelial walls, triggering an immune response that damages the epithelium and gives plaque a place to grow.

If more and more of your patients are coming to you with questions about something they've read, here's one possible reason: USA Today reports that almost 70 percent of people who have surfed the Web have researched a disease or a medical condition. The most common conditions researched are depression (19 percent of surfers), allergies or sinus problems (16 percent), cancer (15 percent), and bipolar disorder (14 percent). Other common areas of interest are arthritis/rheumatism, high blood pressure, migraine, anxiety disorder, heart disease and sleep disorders.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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