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VOA HEALTH BRIEFS 3: Benefits of Zinc; Dangers of Decaf; Strategies to Avoid Height Loss


Zinc supplements are safe and can reduce illness in HIV-infected children. That's the finding of a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Lead author William Moss is assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. He says it had been theorized that zinc would speed up replication of the HIV-virus, increasing the so-called viral load. We found that over six months of zinc supplementation, there was no increase in HIV-viral loads in children receiving zinc supplements, he says and adds, We also did not observe any decline in CD4 cell count, which is a marker of a degree of immune suppression.

Some 2.3 million people under the age of 15 are living with AIDS. More than 70% of the 700,000 who are born HIV-positive die before age one. Antiretroviral therapy - which prevents HIV transmission from mother to child - is not readily available in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the need is greatest. William Moss says zinc is cost-effective and a safe intervention for HIV-infected children and provides the same health benefits that it does for non HIV-infected children. "We also observed that the number of episodes of diarrhea that the zinc supplemented group had was lower than those receiving a placebo," he says, "and there was a trend for reduction in the number of episodes of pneumonia."

Ultimately the therapy can help reduce illness and death from these conditions. Dr. Moss says efforts are underway in some parts of the world to enhance supplements in food and to distribute zinc in health clinics. He says it is safe to go ahead with mass supplementation programs in regions where high HIV is prevalent without concern that the zinc will adversely affect HIV-infected children.


A new study reported at a meeting of the American Heart Association says that decaffeinated coffee could increase the risk of heart disease. Robert Superko is lead author and chairman of preventive cardiology at the Fugua Heart Center in Atlanta. What this study found was that decaffeinated coffee, but not caffeinated coffee, increases a certain type of blood in your fat, he says. That is the same type of blood that goes up when you get fat or obese, and that's the energy or fuel that drives the production of cholesterol.

The study compared caffeinated and non-caffeinated coffee drinkers with those who drank no coffee at all. The decaf group showed an 8 to 10 percent rise in blood fat, a risk factor that can trigger production of LDL or so-called bad cholesterol. Dr. Superko says no increase was shown in the other two groups. "The good news about this is it is not the caffeine that does it," he says and explains, "It probably has to do with the different types of beans. By and large, decaffeinated coffee is made from a different bean than caffeinated, and that bean has different chemicals and different fats in it, and that's probably what causes this effect."

Dr. Superko says the study results are most relevant to people with high cholesterol that drink between three and six cups of coffee per day. According to the American Health Association, it is still unclear whether caffeinated coffee is a factor in heart disease, but moderate coffee drinking does not seem to harmful.


We shrink as we age. By the time we are 70 we can expect to lose between 5 and 7 centimeters in height. That loss is attributed to thinner bones, lower estrogen levels in women and lack of regular exercise for both men and women.

The December issue of the Harvard Health News Letter looks at the phenomenon of old age shrinking. Editor-in-chief Anthony Komaroff says it is not inevitable, provided you exercise. And he ppoints out that there are lots of ways to be more active without going to the gym. "I think exercise is deciding to climb three flights of stairs, rather than take the elevator, or to walk from the parking lot to your office rather than take a shuttle bus," he says.

Dr. Komaroff suggests one-half hour of regular exercise - like a brisk walk - five times a week. He says if you stick to it you can reap enormous health benefits -- and keep your height. "It dramatically reduces your risk of developing diabetes. It dramatically reduces your risk of heart disease and strokes, and it probably also reduces your risk of several kinds of cancers," he says, adding, "a little willpower and not a prescription is the best preventive medicine."