HEALTH & FITNESS

Cancer alarm in the Punjab cotton belt
Dr Rajesh Kochhar
T
he cotton-growing Malwa region of Punjab, comprising the southwestern districts of Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot and Mansa, has been reported to show a high incidence of various cancers. Since the region consumes three-fourths of all pesticides used by Punjab, cancer has been assumed to be caused by pesticides.

EYESIGHT
Take care, crackers can injure your eyes
Dr Mahipal S. Sachdev
C
an you think of Divali and Dasehra without crackers and children playing bow and arrow? Every festival and major event we celebrate with crackers. Crackers add brightness and joy to our celebrations.

Ayurveda & you
Eat nuts and be healthy
Dr R. Vatsyayan
F
or thousands of years nuts have been an important part of human diet. They are little packages of proteins, oils, vitamins and minerals essential for growth and maintenance of the body. Though modern research often gives contradictory and confusing reports about their good and bad effects, ayurvedic seers in their own way have studied and evaluated them. Here is a brief description of the health benefits of some of the important nuts.

Health Notes
Free drug samples influence prescriptions

Washington:
A survey conducted in the US shows that one in three doctors admits to being influenced by free drug samples while prescribing a particular medicine to patients.

Psychiatric disorders: genetic history can’t help
Dr Divay Mangla
T
he genetic studies have shown that like many other physical disorders, some of the psychiatric disorders can also have genetic base. Genes of specific mental disorders can pass on to the next generation.

 

 

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Cancer alarm in the Punjab cotton belt
Dr Rajesh Kochhar

The cotton-growing Malwa region of Punjab, comprising the southwestern districts of Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot and Mansa, has been reported to show a high incidence of various cancers. Since the region consumes three-fourths of all pesticides used by Punjab, cancer has been assumed to be caused by pesticides.

In the absence of any systematic study of cancer or of pesticides, such a conclusion may be premature. In view of the fact that various types of cancers are prevalent, it is likely that a combination of factors is at work. Apriori linking of cancer with pesticides to the exclusion of other causes hampers science, fudges the issues, hardens positions, shifts the focus from human beings to chemicals and detracts from the misery of cancer patients and their families.

A field study has been conducted by the PGI, Chandigarh, on behalf of the Punjab Pollution Control Board. The report submitted in February 2005 has not yet been made public, nor a scientific paper based on its findings published. Whatever is known about its contents comes from newspaper accounts and the Internet.

An important conclusion of the PGI study thus is that the Bathinda cancer rate is higher than Ropar’s by as much as 50 per cent. (It should, however, be noted that Talwandi Sabo’s consumption of pesticides (17.5 litres per acre) is more than 30 times higher than that in Anandpur Sahib (0.5 litres) which is presumably about the same as in Chamkaur Sahib.)

The PGI report records that 80 per cent of the villages in Talwandi Sabo have water pollution as compared to only 20 per cent in Chamkaur Sahib, and goes on to speculate that the “cancer cases and deaths are higher in Talwandi Sabo probably (Italics added) due to more use of pesticides, tobacco and alcohol”. As the use of the word “probably” implies, the conclusion is tentative.

A Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has found high pesticide content (0.3701mg per litre) in 20 blood samples randomly drawn from people in four different villages: Mahi Nangal, Jajjal and Balloh in Bhatinda and Dher in Ropar. However, since the sample size is very small, the CSE study cannot furnish separate figures for Bathinda and Ropar.

The PGI report’s reference to the pesticides as the probable cause of the cancers has elicited a rather sharp response from Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana (PAU), as a body. PAU is reported to have “suggested to the state government to undertake an in-depth study of the causes of cancer deaths in some villages of Punjab and not to jump to the conclusion that these were caused due to the indiscriminate use of pesticides”. PAU has suggested arsenic as a probable cause.

In another independent scientific study, briefly reported in the Press, geo-physical investigation of ground water in four villages in Bathinda district shows that the levels of fluorine, nitrates, sulphates and sodium are “higher than desirable”.

Clearly, the studies so far have been haphazard and inconclusive, and not subject to the crucial professional scrutiny by other scientists. The following four-fold strategy is suggested so that the phenomenon can be understood and, more importantly, help rendered to those suffering from cancer or likely to suffer from it in the near future.

lA public campaign should be launched to correctly enter the cause of death in the government records.

lA population-based cancer registry (PBCR) should be established in the region in consultation with and with support from the Indian Council of Medical Research. It is noteworthy that at present there is no rural cancer registry in the whole of North India.

lAt the same time, but independently of the above, a systematic study of contamination of ground and surface water by agricultural (and industrial) activity as well as due to geological reasons should be undertaken.

lOnce reliable and independent data are available on cancers and on water in the Malwa belt, the question of the causes of cancers should be addressed.

The writer is a former Director, National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies. New Delhi

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EYESIGHT
Take care, crackers can injure your eyes
Dr Mahipal S. Sachdev

Can you think of Divali and Dasehra without crackers and children playing bow and arrow? Every festival and major event we celebrate with crackers. Crackers add brightness and joy to our celebrations.

But we want to have joys and obviously not the sorrows. If we don’t take proper care while enjoying the crackers one may get injured. Inspite of all precautions told and said every year we are getting a lot of eye injury patients in this season.

The eye is one of vital organs of the body and even a small injury is of concern to everybody.

After an eye injury one may have complaints like poor vision, redness, watering and inability to open the eye. The injury may present with a lid tear, a tear in cojunctiva, sclero-corneal tear with protrusion of eye contents or blood in the eye.

Ocular trauma because of crackers can present in different forms like foreign body entry in the eye, burns on face, blunt injury and perforating injury. These, in any form, may lead to traumatic cataract, retinal edema, retinal detachment, infection or total disfigurement of the eye.

Injuries should be taken seriously. Even a small injury may be vision threatening. Prevention is always better than anything. Basic knowledge about primary care will make the treatment easier and faster.

A few don’ts:

Avoid playing crackers alone. It should be a group activity.

Avoid synthetic clothes and use cotton clothes.

Avoid bow and arrows.

Avoid burning crackers in tin/glass.

What should be done once injury has occurred ?

1. Do not disturb the injured area/do not rub the eye.

2. There should be no eye washing if cuts are present.

3. Don’t use any eye ointment.

4. Don’t put any eye bandage if sterile pad is not available.

5. Do not try to remove an object in the eye.

Rush to an eye specialist as early as possible if any injury is present. One should consult a specialist even if any redness and watering is present.

We have seen children losing their eyesight because of eye injuries during these festivals despite full treatment being given in time. Many times the eye ball is disfigured and, in spite of treatment, the child has a sunken eyeball which is cosmetically disturbing.

So use your crackers with utmost care.

The writer is Chairman and Medical Director, Centre for Sight, New Delhi. E-mail: msachdev@bol.net.in

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Ayurveda & you
Eat nuts and be healthy
Dr R. Vatsyayan

For thousands of years nuts have been an important part of human diet. They are little packages of proteins, oils, vitamins and minerals essential for growth and maintenance of the body. Though modern research often gives contradictory and confusing reports about their good and bad effects, ayurvedic seers in their own way have studied and evaluated them. Here is a brief description of the health benefits of some of the important nuts.

Almond: Though a native of Europe, almond has always been a mainstay for health-conscious people around the world. A good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and vitamins, especially vitamin E, 100 gm of this delightful nut contains 18 gm of protein. Ayurveda has described almond as hot, unctuous and heavy in effect. While enhancing kapha and pitta, it alleviates vata and is considered one of the best general tonics which also has aphrodisiac effects.

Almond is famous for its oil having immense therapeutic value. It nurtures the brain and the nervous system and is a restorative health aid. Almond oil improves the texture of the skin and acts as an anti-aging agent. It is of great help to the elderly as taking half teaspoonful of it with warm milk not only renders antioxidant benefits but also acts as an intestinal lubricant and relieves stubborn constipation.

Walnut: Called akhshot in Sanskrit and akhrot in common parlance, walnut was used by early Greeks and Persians for its oil and as a thickening agent in the desserts. Hot in effect, walnut improves the blood circulation and is a known brain tonic. Considered as a good astringent, in folk medicine the ash of walnut shell is used as a manjan to strengthen the gums.

Walnut contains a host of important vitamins, minerals, proteins and antioxidant ingredients, including the omega - 3 fatty acid, the importance of which has been amply stressed by diet experts. Due to its hot effect, excessive consumption of walnut can result in mouth ulcers and skin rashes. For better compliance walnut can be eaten after being soaked overnight in water.

Cashew: Originated in South America, cashew was introduced in India by the Portuguese. Nowadays it is a major agriculture yield along the western ghats and the southern Indian peninsula. Hot in effect, it has a chemical structure close to that of sweet almond. But unlike the almond oil, cashew oil has an irritant effect on the skin. Cashews have more saturated fat but are a great source of calcium.

Peanuts: Though supposed to be in the bean section, they look and taste like nuts and are named pea-nuts. They are described along with other nuts. One kg of peanut contains more protein that an equal amount of meat, and in the vegetarian section only soybean and yeast excel it in this regard. Due to its greater stability peanut oil is a preferred medium of cooking in many parts of the world. Peanuts are rich in vitamin B-complex, especially niacin , and are also plentiful in phosphorus and magnesium.

Caution

Nuts should always be used in moderation. Frying and adding salt to them can alter many of their basic properties.

The writer is a Ludhiana-based senior ayurvedic physician.

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Health Notes
Free drug samples influence prescriptions

Washington: A survey conducted in the US shows that one in three doctors admits to being influenced by free drug samples while prescribing a particular medicine to patients.

However, they believe that other doctors who are given free “gifts” by drug companies are likely to be influenced even more than them by the incentives.

In March 2003, the researchers surveyed 397 members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists about their relationships with the pharmaceutical industry, of which 217 responded to the questions asked.

They found that more than 90 per cent of the respondents did not consider accepting free drug samples from pharmaceutical company representatives unethical. — ANI

Drug to curb hunger pangs identified

Washington: A potent new brain molecule that induces the sensation of “fullness” could help in tackling the problem of obesity, a study in rats has revealed.

When injected into the brains of rats, the drug was found to induce feelings of satiety, insofar as the rats chose to eat less, and caused the animals to lose weight.

Some treatments already exist for the chronically obese, such as hormone injections, the drug sibutramine that makes people feel full, and orlistat which is a drug that blocks fat in the gut.

But these treatments have limited effectiveness and they cannot be taken for prolonged periods, reports NewScientist. — ANI

Gene that helps combat MS found

London: A gene that helps to stave off the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) has been discovered by scientists.

A Danish-UK team found that a known risk gene for MS, called DR2b, is always partnered by a twin gene - DR2a. They believe in the future the gene’s symptom-fighting features could be exploited for potential treatments.

The precise cause of the disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system, is unknown, but a range of genetic and environmental factors are being explored.

Two-thirds of MS sufferers carry the pair of DR2 genes, but carrying the genes does not necessarily mean a person will go on to develop MS. — ANI

Gene behind taste bud development

Washington: Scientists have identified a gene that controls the development of taste buds.

The gene, SOX2, stimulates stem cells on the surface of the embryonic tongue and in the back of the mouth to transform into taste buds, according to the researchers.

“Not only did we find that SOX2 is crucial for the development of taste buds, but we showed that the amount of SOX2 is just as important,” said Brigid Hogan, chair of the Duke University Medical Center Department of Cell Biology and senior member of the research team. “If there isn’t enough SOX2 present, or if there is too much, the stem cells will not turn into taste buds.” The researchers made their discovery in mice, but they believe the same process occurs in humans. — ANI

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Psychiatric disorders: genetic history can’t help
Dr Divay Mangla

The genetic studies have shown that like many other physical disorders, some of the psychiatric disorders can also have genetic base. Genes of specific mental disorders can pass on to the next generation.

But genes are not essentially the final fate. Even if there is no genetic history then also a person can develop psychiatric disorder. In a person having a family history of mental disorders, illness arises only if genes get a favourable environment to manifest.

Psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have found to have genetic determinants. As such, each individual has some risk of developing mental illness, but blood relatives of a person having psychiatric disorder are at greater risk. The risk is increased for the blood relatives, not for others.

Schizophrenia: If one of the parents is having schizophrenic illness then the chance of developing this illness in the son or the daughter is about 13 per cent. For the common man this chance is about 1.5 per cent. So, risk in the children of schizophrenic father or mother is almost 10 times more as compared to the general population.

If both parents have this illness then risk is almost 30 times more in their children. The real brother or sister of the person having this psychiatric disorder has a risk, which is about 6 times more. In the cousin brother or sister this risk is 2.5 times more.

Here, one should be clear that these are just the estimates, not the facts.

Depression: The risk of developing this illness in close blood relatives of a patient having major depressive illness can be up to 18 per cent which means almost two times more as compared to normal population. In homozygous twin-brothers or sisters the risk is about 24 times more.

Bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder): These are the mood disorders in which mood touches both ends of a pole. This means at one end the patient is overexcited and at the other he/she is low. The chance of developing this illness in close blood relatives is up to 9 per cent, which means almost eight times more as compared to the common man.

Many other psychiatric illnesses like anxiety disorder, social phobia and drug abuse have been found to have genetic components. Going through these figures may be difficult to understand at times. Therefore, instead of making own assumptions (which might be wrong), one should consult the psychiatrist in this regard to clarify the doubts.

The writer is a former psychiatrist, Government Medical College & Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh.

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