Health Scan: Early care can minimize stroke damage

Lack of awareness spells disaster.

Strokes can disable victims for the rest of their lives. But if caught within three hours of the cerebrovascular event, treatment can minimize or even eliminate the disability. Neurologists say there are four tests that the layman can perform to know whether someone has suffered a stroke. Lack of awareness spells disaster. • Ask the individual to smile. • Ask him (or her) to say a simple sentence, such as "It is sunny out today." It must be coherent. • Ask him (or her) to raise both arms. • Ask the individual to stick out his tongue. If the tongue emerges to one side or the other, it is an indication of stroke. If the person is unable to do any of these tasks, get him to a hospital immediately, preferably an advanced medical center that has a stroke unit. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS MAY CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN Do you want to lose weight? It may help to pour that diet soda down the drain. Researchers writing in Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association, have lab evidence that the use of no-calorie sweeteners can actually make it harder to control body weight. Drs. Susan Swithers and Terry Davidson at Purdue University's ingestive behavior research center in Indiana theorized that by breaking the connection between a sweet sensation and high-calorie food, the use of saccharin changes the body's ability to regulate intake. Problems with self-regulation might explain why obesity has risen in parallel with the use of artificial sweeteners. It also might explain why scientific consensus on artificial sweeteners is inconclusive. Three different experiments explored whether saccharin changed lab animals' ability to regulate their intake, using different assessments - the most obvious being caloric intake, weight gain, and compensating by cutting back. The researchers also measured changes in core body temperature; normally when we prepare to eat, the metabolic engine revs up. However, rats that had been trained to respond using saccharin (which broke the link between sweetness and calories), relative to rats trained on glucose showed a smaller rise in core body temperate after eating a novel, sweet-tasting high-calorie meal. The authors think this blunted response led to overeating. "The data clearly indicate that consuming a food sweetened with no-calorie saccharin can lead to greater weight gain than consuming the same food sweetened with a higher-calorie sugar," the authors wrote. The authors acknowledge that this outcome may seem counterintuitive and might not come as welcome news to healthcare practitioners. What's more, the data come from rats, not humans. However, they noted that their findings match emerging evidence that people who drink more diet drinks are at higher risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome - a collection of medical problems such as abdominal fat, high blood pressure and insulin resistance that put people at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Why would a sugar substitute backfire? Swithers and Davidson wrote that sweet foods provide a "salient orosensory stimulus" that strongly predicts someone is about to take in a lot of calories. Ingestive and digestive reflexes gear up for that intake, but when false sweetness isn't followed by lots of calories, the system gets confused.