It's not that hard to relaxTaking a...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's not that hard to relax

Taking a nice hot bath or a long walk appears to give you just as much relief from stress and anxiety as any fancy meditation technique. So says a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences. Report contributor Gerald Davison, a psychologist from the University of Southern California, found no evidence that meditation techniques, which generally involve the repetition of a key word or phrase called a mantra, reduce stress or blood pressure any better than taking a walk on a regular basis or simply "hanging out" at home. Whatever relaxation method you choose, be it listening to music or deep breathing, be sure to practice it regularly. The benefits associated with meditation may be due, more than anything else, to the fact that its adherents practice it twice daily.

The dirt on clay-eating

At a loss for dinner ideas? How about a nice bowl of clay? This may sound peculiar to you, but people have been eating clay for centuries. Both the Pomo Indians of California and natives of Sardinia, Italy, mixed it with acorns to make bread. In this country, clay-eating now takes place mostly among African-Americans in the South, who sometimes prefer to eat it straight out of the ground.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that physicians view clay-eating as abnormal, interpreting it as a symptom of a metabolic problem. But two Canadian doctors have just published information that may change medical attitudes. Dr. Timothy Johns and Dr. Martin Duquette, of McGill University in Quebec, say that eating clay can provide significant amounts of calcium, iron and other nutrients. Clay also neutralizes bacterial toxins and harmful or foul-tasting ingredients in other foods, such as the tannic acid in acorns. Dr. Johns and Dr. Duquette believe that clay-eating "plays a useful role . . . and should be appreciated as a normal human behavior."

Before you consider rustling up a side order of the stuff, however, bear in mind warnings from nutritionists who say that ++ clay may form a filter in your stomach that can actually keep nutrients from being absorbed. Also, be warned that anything taken from the ground -- especially but not exclusively in urban or industrial areas -- can contain lead and other toxins.

Magnesium for PMS

Suggested treatments for premenstrual discomfort have ranged from eating pasta to taking the blood-pressure drug clonidine. This time, the promising remedy of the hour is the mineral magnesium. Research shows that women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) tend to have low blood levels of magnesium. This has led scientists to wonder whether magnesium deficiency might explain many PMS symptoms. Doctors in the Italian cities of Pavia and Modena tested this idea in a double-blind study with 32 PMS sufferers, half of whom received about 1 gram of magnesium per day -- about three times the RDA -- over a period of four menstrual cycles. The women who received magnesium throughout the study reported that their normal premenstrual symptoms, including pain and bad moods, lightened up considerably. Thus, it appears that magnesium supplements could provide a safe, effective treatment for premenstrual symptoms. But be warned that excess magnesium from high-dose supplements has been linked chronic diarrhea. It's best to get your magnesium from food sources, which include nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark green vegetables, seafoods, chocolate and cocoa.

Eat less, live longer

You can eat all the bee pollen or green algae you want, but there is no known "health" food that will help you live longer. The one way to eat for longevity is simply to eat less, if research with animals is any indication. The latest study on this looks as promising as the rest. The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University monitored 136 age-related tissue changes in 1,100 mice, half of which were kept on a nutritious but low-calorie diet. The rest ate as much as they wanted. Nearly every one of the normal signs of aging, such as the formation of tumors, was postponed in the lean mice. They lived 15 percent to 50 percent longer, remained livelier and looked better. Scientists have theorized that eating less reduces the genetic damage that accumulates over time, thus slowing the rate of aging. Of course, what's good for mice isn't always good for men. But these benefits affected every organ in the animals' bodies -- a good sign that humans can also eat less to live longer.

Night belongs to older drivers

Two friends, one 50 years old and the other 22, offer to drive you home from an evening concert. Which offers the best chance for a safe trip? The older one, says this study, even if both are sober and alert and competent drivers. Young adult drivers are four times more likely to have nighttime accidents than older motorists, and youthful recklessness isn't the only reason. Toronto ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Fejer screened 380 his patients and discovered that almost 40 percent of those under 25 years old had a condition called night myopia -- that is, they were nearsighted in the dark. Night myopia blurs the vision in low-contrast surroundings such as darkness, fog and rain. In this kind of lighting, the muscles that enable your eye to focus tend to relax, causing the eye's lens to bulge forward and throw things out of focus. Older people don't tend to get the condition because the lenses harden with age. But lenses do cloud with age, making it much harder to see in dim light. It should be noted that Dr. Fejer did not actually test older drivers for this study. For those with noticeable night myopia, an eye doctor can provide glasses to correct the nearsightedness.

Slow talkers catch up fast

Some parents get upset if the neighbor's kid is reciting nursery rhymes at age 2 while their own child is still at the mama-dada stage. Occasionally a child who doesn't speak "on schedule" turns out to have a serious problem like a hearing impairment, autism or mental retardation. More often than not, however, late talkers turn out to be just fine. The average 2- to 4-year-old can use sentences of at least three words and knows about 350 words in all. Kenneth M. McRae and Eric Vickar of the Child Development Clinic at Children's Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba, identified 38 children in this age range with less-than-average vocabularies -- each spoke from zero to 10 words. But when the researchers checked on the children's progress two years later, every one had caught up with his or her peers and showed normal speech and psychological development. If your child is slow in starting to talk, first rule out any serious problems by checking with your doctor, and then try to just be patient.

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