Adults who suffer from mental retardation, including Down syndrome, have a higher risk of physical diseases involving hearing, digestion and the cardiovascular system than people who don't, according to an international study headed in Israel by a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researcher. Dr. Muhammad Murad of the family medicine department in BGU's Health Sciences Faculty, working in cooperation with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, collaborated with researchers around the world who studied 5,000 people over 40 with mental disabilities. The older such people get, the higher the risk for vision, skeletal and respiratory problems as well. Down syndrome victims have an extra Chromosome #21, which is responsible for these physical disabilities as well. Israeli adults with mental disabilities were found by Murad to have more skin and neurological problems and a higher risk of endocrinological and digestive problems, as well as infectious diseases. Israeli men with mental disabilities had a higher risk of these problems than their female counterparts. But cardiovascular problems in middle age were less common in Israel than in a similar New York group. According to the study, Down syndrome victims are 43 percent more likely to suffer from skeletal problems as they get older, and twice as many have endocrinological problems compared to those not born with Down syndrome. Murad said his conclusion from the international research was that those with mental disabilities should go frequently after their 40th birthday to their family doctor for screening. He concluded that the researchers want to monitor the success of such interventions through a followup study. BELT UP PREGNANT BELLIES A new study at the University of Michigan predicts that many fetuses around the world could be saved if their pregnant mothers properly buckled their seatbelts every time they got in a car. The study has been published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Prof. Mark Pearlman said in the US alone, 200 of the estimated 370 fetuses that die in car crashes there each year could be saved. Many pregnant women feel uncomfortable wearing seat belts even where it is required by law, but the research debunks a long-standing myth that it's unsafe. "This study shows that seatbelts clearly protect the fetus," he notes. As a result of the study, Pearlman encourages health care providers to remind all pregnant patients about the importance of using seatbelts, and has initiated a campaign called Safe Babi (Seatbelts Are For Everyone - Buckle All Babies In). He and his team studied data from 57 severe automobile crashes involving pregnant women. The study, the first of its kind, performed detailed crash analysis, including crash severity, restraint usage and pregnancy outcome. Among the six improperly restrained women, the unborn children of three (50%) died or suffered severe complications. Among the 10 unbelted women, the fetusus of eight (80%) died or suffered severe complications. If the women were properly restrained women, only 29% of their fetuses died or suffered severe complications. GRAPE SKINS helpAGAINST DIABETES DAMAGE The complications of diabetes that affect the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and other organs can be minimized by taking resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins, red wine, seeds and peanuts, according to a study at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, England. According to the study, published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, this chemical can protect diabetics against damage to blood vessels caused by high blood sugar. Dr. Matt Whiteman, who headed the study, wrote that high blood sugar causes micro- and macrovascular complications by damaging the energy-producing parts of cells called mitochondria. When harmed, mitochondria can release electrons and produce oxygen free radicals that cause body tissues to break down and age. "Resveratrol or related compounds could be used to block the damaging effects of glucose, which in turn might fight the often life-threatening complications that accompany diabetes," Whiteman said. "It could well be the basis of effective diet-based therapies for the prevention of vascular damage caused by hyperglycemia." Resveratrol is sold in pill form, but Whiteman didn't say whether pills are effective, and if so, how high a dose one should take.