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Health: Sound Eating Habits Promise Longer Life Expectancy

Washington, 15 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- This week's health file features reports on another reason why doctors believe American-style fast food is unhealthy, why a Mediterranean-style diet might be the most healthy of all, and a major international study on blood pressure.

Study Says Fast Food Clogs Arteries Faster

Washington -- A new research report contends that the American-style fast food restaurants that are multiplying throughout Europe are not only serving up ample amounts of fat, it's the kind of fat that can speed up the development of heart disease.

In a report provided by the American Heart Association, researchers from the U.S. Veterans Administration Medical Center in the Pacific coast city of San Francisco looked at the effect of oxidized fats on arteries.

Most fast foods -- hamburgers, fried chicken, pizzas and fried potatoes -- are loaded with animal fat and cholesterol, the substance that can build up in arteries and block the circulation of blood. Senior researcher Ilona Stapans said that when these kinds of foods are processed by heating and drying, a chemical reaction takes place that changes ordinary animal fat into the gummy form known as plaque that coats the insides of arteries.

The researchers tested their theory on rabbits, feeding them a diet containing relatively small amounts of processed foods, eggs and dairy products. After three months, the rabbits fed the "fast food" diet had twice as many plaque streaks on their arteries as the other rabbits in the test group.

In a statement, Stapans said, "western diets contain high concentrations of oxidized cholesterol products, and our results suggest that these foods may be a risk factor for arteriosclerosis," -- the narrowing of the arteries that can impede and even stop blood flow to the heart. Stapans said that, "with the popularity of fried foods and the widespread fast-food industry, oxidized fats are common in the Western diet and could contribute to heart disease."

Traditional Mediterranean Diet May Be Healthiest

Washington -- While most health experts don't find much to recommend fast foods, they are generous in their praise for the dietary staples of the Mediterranean region -- fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish.

A report in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine says the so-called Mediterranean-style diet may lower a person's risk of cancer. The traditional Mediterranean diet consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, grains, and the valuable type of fatty acids found in some species of fish. The diet is low in meat and saturated fats and includes moderate amounts of red wine.

Two French doctors compared the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet with the effects of another low-fat diet program on two groups of about 300 volunteers at two hospitals in France. The doctors reported that people following the Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to die of heart disease or to develop cancer. The doctors said the Mediterranean diet group members were less likely to die of all causes, and more likely to live longer.

The researchers noted that Mediterranean-style diets supply ample amounts of both fiber and antioxidants, which appear to lower cancer risk. The diet is also relatively rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and some lab studies suggest these fatty acids can retard tumor growth. Finally, the Mediterranean diet is low in omega-6 fatty acids, a different type of fatty acid that may enhance tumor growth.

Doctors Recommend Even Lower Blood Pressure

Washington -- A major international study contends that millions of lives could be saved every year if patients at risk for heart attacks and strokes lowered their blood pressure even further than currently recommended. In a report from London last week on the Hypertension Optimal Treatment (HOT) study, researchers claimed to have found "a clearly defined blood pressure target based on sound and scientific evidence, and one that can be achieved in the vast majority of patients."

The researchers looked at more than 19,000 people in 26 countries over a six-year period. The study concluded that a pressure reading of 83 was the ideal diastolic pressure. Most of the patients who participated in the study had an average diastolic pressure of 105.

Blood pressure is the force that blood exerts on the walls of arteries as it travels through the body. It is measured in millimeters of mercury and expressed as two numbers. The higher is called systolic pressure. The lower number is the diastolic pressure. Some experts think the lower number is a more important indicator of potential danger.

An average good blood pressure level is 136/75. The average level of most of the study participants was 170/105. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and North America.

The study said that, "patients who had their blood pressure reduced from the average level of 105 millimeters of mercury at the start of the study to 83 millimeters of mercury had a 30 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack and stroke."

First Private Hospital In Hungary

Washington -- The current issue of the British Medical Journal reports that Hungarian investors are nearing completion on the country's first private hospital. The journal says the hospital will cost almost $6 million to finish. It will have 50 rooms and 100 beds. The hospital, according to the journal, is intended to be used by wealthy Hungarians and foreign nationals, "who enjoy hefty corporate perks." The hospital is near the village of Telki just west of Budapest.

Backers of both projects are betting on Hungary's expected economic growth and the emergence of private health insurance. Hungary currently has only one health care insurer, the state social security system, but the government is expected to open the health insurance sector to private competition.

The Telki Hospital is being built by a group of individual investors, including two Hungarian doctors, an unnamed foreign organization, and the Hungarian investment firm Bankar Holding Limited.

The journal quotes Gabor Diossy, Bankar's director of corporate finance, as saying that in addition to rich Hungarians and Westerners, the hospital hopes "to attract rich people from Ukraine, Romania, Russia, and other parts of central and eastern Europe where they don't have such hospitals." He says the hospital will meet Western standards, but with fees lower than those of private clinics in Austria or Germany.