Health Scan: Israeli doctors are nation's newest tourist attraction

Smoking and organ ageing; new book on fighting junk food; the link between soft drinks and gout.

jp.services2 (photo credit:)
jp.services2
(photo credit: )
Israel offers many pluses to foreigners who want to undergo operations or rehabilitation, receive medical treatment or get diagnosed - excellent medical facilities, staff who speak a wide variety of languages, significantly lower prices than in Western countries, a welcoming climate and high-level tourist facilities. But busy as they are with taking care of Israelis, many hospitals, clinics and other facilities haven't paid much attention to the profitable overseas market. Now the Health and Tourism Ministries have produced Meditour, a colorful 40-page English-language guide to medical tourism in Israel. It is being distributed directly by the ministries to travel agencies, journalists and hospitals, and at international medical conferences held here. The first issue, with a cover featuring photos of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, personal connections between doctor and patient and a heart shaped by four hands, gives contact information about all the country's medical centers, both public and private, and information about services such as Yad Sarah available to tourists with special needs. One article stresses that Israeli experts have more experience performing fertility treatment (in-vitro fertilization) than those in almost any other country, and charge much less. In the US, for example, a single IVF treatment cycle can cost between $16,000 and $20,000, while the rates here range around $3,250. Israeli plastic surgeons also offer relatively inexpensive surgery. Then there are the incomparable Dead Sea spas and medical centers for treating a variety of skin disorders such as psoriasis, and to relieve heart, joint and respiratory diseases. The magazine also lists tourists sites where patients can go during breaks in their treatments. SMOKING CAUSES ORGAN AGEING Many people can pick out smokers by the premature wrinkles in their skin - but the body's inner organs also deteriorate due to smoking. Now two separate studies published in the American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine and the American Journal of Physiology explain the connection. Toxins in tobacco smoke neutralize a gene that helps protect against premature ageing, the University of Rochester (New York) reports. Dr. Irfan Rahman of the university's lung biology and disease program discovered the role of the gene, called Sirtuin (SIRT1), in lung disorders. Rahman investigated how the 4,700 toxic compounds in tobacco smoke attack lung tissue. SIRT1 belongs to a class of genes that regulate chronic inflammation, ageing and cancer, he wrote, but environmental factors such as cigarette smoke or pollution can decrease its production in the lungs. He discovered that the gene not only slows aging, but that if it it is neutralized, the lungs are exposed to destructive inflammation and diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer. The researchers are now looking into how the antioxidant resveratrol, which is extracted from red grape skins, affect the gene. BOOK TO FIGHT JUNK FOOD Getting kids to eat nutritious rather than junk food is a difficult task, given all the temptations on supermarket and kiosk shelves and in friends' homes. Serving as a model of healthful eating is one way. Giving the child a colorful book on the subject can also help. Such a book has been released by the Oranit publishing house. Written in Hebrew by Raheli Baharal, the 24-page, NIS 48 hardcover volume is called Lo Rak Mamtak (Not Only A Sweet). The mother of two sons, Baharal is also a teacher who has written two previous books for kids. The story is about Daniel, a red-headed little boy who is "not thin [and] not fat" but always feels hungry. When his mother offers a meatball or an egg, he refuses on the grounds that he wants his food the way he wants. Apricots have pits; lettuce is full of leaves; grapefruit is too big; peas are too small; broccoli is too green; and the orange is too round, Daniel complains. He tells his mother that he learned from TV commercials that chocolate contains milk, other snacks have peanuts and ice cream has fruit. His mother responds that the ice cream never met a strawberry and the peanuts are chopped and have "forgotten" when they were harvested. Eating fresh produce and whole grains, she says, is preferable if he wants to be big and strong. So she cuts these healthful things into geometric shapes to create puzzles and objects like cars and animals, and Daniel agrees to eat. His mother concludes that sweets and snacks are not totally forbidden, but can be eaten in small amounts, but only after one finishes a nutritious meal. MAKE GOUT GO OUT The more sugary soft drinks men consume, the more likely they are to develop gout, a joint disease that causes severe pain and swelling of the toes and other parts of the body, according to the British Medical Journal. The disease, most common in men, is caused by excess uric acid in the blood that leads to crystals collecting around the joints. The US incidence of gout has doubled recently, showing that environmental factors are involved, and the study showed it coincided with an increase in consumption of soft drinks and fructose (a simple sugar and the only carbohydrate known to increase uric acid levels). Until now, gout sufferers or those having it in the family have been advised not to drink alcohol or eat a lot of meat, but they were not told to restrict their soft drink intake. The researchers followed 46,000 middle-aged men with no history of gout. A detailed dietary survey was filled out. After 12 years, 755 of them had gout, especially in those who consumed a lot of soft drinks. The risk was much higher with an intake of five to six servings per week, and 85% higher with two or more servings a day. Diet soft drinks did not increase the risk. Fruit juice and fructose-rich fruits (apples and oranges) were associated with a higher risk, but as these can prevent chronic diseases, their consumption should be balanced against the risk of gout.