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Ukraine: Researchers Study Diet To Protect Children Of Chornobyl

Washington, 13 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- This week's health file looks at researchers on two continents trying to develop a diet that will protect the "children of Chornobyl", a report on the U.S. that says depressed men are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack then more even-tempered cohorts, and a new anti-smoking effort that warns of permanent damage from cigarettes.

Diet Sought For Chornobyl-affected Children.

Sydney, Australia -- Australian and Belarusian scientists plan a study to develop a diet that might reduce radiation-related risks of genetic defects in children affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine. In Sydney, Michael Fenech, director of the human nutrition research group at the Australian Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, says scientists from the Institute of Genetics and Cytology in Belarus are to send blood samples from children affected by the Chornobyl accident.

Fenech says researchers will use the latest microbiological technology to identify damaged chromosomes -- the tiny bodies that carry human genes. They then plan to determine the correct levels of folic acid and vitamin B12 in the hope of minimizing further damage.

Folic acid deficiency is associated with anemia and a higher risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and genetic defects.

Experts say the incidence of thyroid cancer in children exposed to the Chornobyl radiation accident is ten times the average, although scientists are uncertain about exact causes. Fenech said one of factors may lie in nutrition. He said the study of blood samples would take three months and results will be available early next year.

Depression Linked To Heart Disease In Men

Washington -- A study published by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Washington concludes that men who have suffered bouts of clinical depression are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who have not.

The researchers followed their subjects for up to four decades and discovered that 132, or about 12 percent, of the 1,190 male medical students in the study had suffered clinically diagnosed depression and that they were twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who were free of depression.

A total of 153 of the subjects died during the study, 34 of them from cardiovascular disease. Several hundred others suffered from some type of heart disease. Researchers also said depression was linked to a greater overall risk of death, although it was not found to be associated with a higher risk of stroke. The study appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a journal published by the American Medical Association.

The study said that while the men suffering depression drank more coffee than those free of the illness, the two groups did not differ significantly in respective levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, cigarette smoking, physical activity, obesity or family history of coronary artery disease.

Anti-Smoking Advocates Contend Some Damage Lasts After Smokers Quit

Washington -- The American Council on Science and Health says it is never too late for anyone to stop smoking. However, it also warns that some effects of smoking may be permanent.

The council, a non-profit consumer group, says in a new report that smoking for as little as five years damages virtually every organ in the human body. It has issued a booklet that details some of the damage done by cigarettes -- damage that does not go away when a smoker stops.

The council's president, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, said quitting is always healthier than smoking, but research indicates that smoking does permanent damage to the lungs, heart, eyes, mouth and throat, digestive organs, genital tract, and skin.

The council hopes the information will dissuade people, especially young people from ever starting to smoke.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say most smokers -- 80 percent -- start before they are 18. Smoking is blamed for 500,000 deaths every year in the United States, where an estimated 25 percent to 30 percent of the population smokes.