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Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(5):733

“But Doctor, my foot pain can't be caused by old age—my other foot is just as old, and it doesn't hurt at all!” According to a report from the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS), foot pain is not a result of the natural aging process. Even so, many seniors accept the myth that getting older means having to live with painful feet. The ACFAS wants seniors to know that there are effective treatments to alleviate foot pain—and that their condition is not caused by advanced age. At least that isn't the sole cause.

“Gimme a break.” Diabetics who need a break from pricking their finger several times a day to check blood sugar levels may soon have a pain-free way to monitor glucose. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a wristwatch-like device that checks sugar levels every 20 minutes by sending tiny electric currents through the skin. Already available in Great Britain, the GlucoWatch Biographer could be available in the United States by 2002. It will only be available by prescription to diabetics 18 years and older.

If the risk of heart disease isn't enough to convince patients to stay away from high-fat foods, perhaps this news will help. UCLA researchers have found that a high-fat diet can reduce bone density and bone mineral, at least in laboratory animals. Researchers found a 43 percent decrease in mineral content and a 15 percent decrease in bone density in the femoral bones of mice who had been given a high-fat diet for seven months. They also found a 35 percent decrease in mineral content in the vertebrae of mice fed the high-fat diet. The results of this study suggest that high cholesterol associated with a fatty diet may play a significant role in the development of osteoporosis.

From the “don't throw it away—you never know when you might need it” file: a case study published in The Lancet profiles a 42-year-old man whose death was attributed to alcoholic cirrhosis, liver failure, pneumonia and Parkinson's disease. Five years after the man's death, his family questioned the accuracy of the diagnosis. Subsequent DNA test results indicated that the man died as a result of Wilson's disease, not Parkinson's. The post-cremation DNA sample used for testing didn't come from the man's ashes. Instead, it came from tissue samples found in his electric razor. According to the family, he was the only person who used it before or after his death. Relatives said the shaver had been kept by a family member for “sentimental reasons.”

A cup of tea a day will keep the dentist's drill away. Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry shows that polyphenols in tea can slow plaque growth and can also lower plaque's ability to stick to teeth. Plaque, a compound of more than 300 bacteria that bind to teeth, turns the sugar in food into acid that causes cavities and gingivitis. Researchers caution that regular brushing and cleaning are still the best way to remove plaque.

“Mom was right. Watching too much TV is bad for you.” A book, Aging With Grace, and a report published in the Proceedings of the National Anatomy of Sciences show that lifestyle plays a role in a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Both publications report that mental work and challenging leisure activities create a reserve of healthy nerve cells that may make the brain more resistant to Alzheimer's. Active pursuits such as reading, gardening and walking may prevent tangles and plaques from developing in the brain.

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Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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