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The chemical in turkey fabled to cause drowsiness may relieve symptoms of MS

Scientists have discovered that tryptophan-the chemical in turkey fabled to cause Thanksgiving drowsiness-may relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

A study published in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Science found that tryptophan metabolites, the molecules formed when the body breaks down the amino acid, alleviated paralysis in mice with MS-like symptoms.

The researchers cannot say whether eating turkey and other tryptophan-rich foods will alleviate the symptoms of MS in humans. But co-author Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University says the study provides even further evidence of the benefits of healthy eating: "The bigger message here is that diet and immunity are inextricably linked."

Do-it-yourself genetic screenings

Over the past few months, A Colorado company has introduced a do-it-yourself DNA test in pharmacies and grocery stores for the growing number of people who want to know their medical history before it happens.

Sciona's Cellf Genetic Assessment kit analyzes a handful of genes that influence how the body processes nutrients. For about $100, the buyer gets two CSI-style cheek swabs, a diet and lifestyle questionnaire, a prepaid mailer, and eventually a diet plan for reducing the risk of certain diseases based on the information stored in the person's genes.

The fact that eating healthy reduces the risk of certain diseases should not surprise anyone, genetic tests notwithstanding. As a Newsweek reporter who took the test put it, "spending $99 on some running shoes rather than a DNA test might have had more health advantages." But the emergence of a genetic test onto the retail market-similar tests were previously available only on the internet-shows how badly consumers want to learn their bodies' destinies, even if they cannot control them.

The number of genetic tests available has risen since scientists set out to map the human genome in 1990. Unfortunately, treatment for genetic disorders has not kept up. People who test positive have limited options that often include extreme measures, such as having a mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.

Still unanswered are questions about what happens when employers and insurance companies learn about the positive test results. Bioethicists raised their eyebrows this fall when the Chicago Bulls traded a player who refused to undergo a genetic assessment of his risk for a fatal heart disorder. Doctors said Eddy Curry, who had experienced an irregular heartbeat, was OK to play, but the team wanted more.

The team was prepared to cut Mr. Curry but continue paying him $400,000 a year if the test were positive. For Mr. Curry, though, the test itself was not worth the risk of losing his career.

Full disclosure

Sperm banks in the United Kingdom are rethinking their marketing strategies in response to recent regulatory changes that make donation less attractive to young men. Until this past spring, college students strapped for cash made the majority of sperm donations in the UK. Clinics typically paid them about $26.25, with no strict limit on how often a person could donate.

In April, a new law ended anonymity for future sperm donors. Another regulation under consideration would relax the limit on how many children a sperm donor can parent.

Dr. Jane Stewart of the Newcastle Fertility Centre said last week that the number of young sperm donors has plummeted since anonymity came into question. She suggested clinics should now refocus on recruiting older men with families.

"Since it appears they are likely to offer help for altruistic purposes, we must continue to work to increase public knowledge of the need for donors up to the age of 40," Dr. Stewart told the BBC.

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Border run Federal regulators are showing hints that they will lighten up on gray-market medicine sales from Canada. This follows Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's speculation that Congress will soon adopt legislation allowing importation. So far, five states have joined the bandwagon, offering residents tips for buying prescriptions from across the border. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Dakota, ­Minnesota, and Rhode Island already have websites pointing people across the border for medications. A similar proposal passed the California assembly late last month. A few governors have even considered ­suggesting that consumers turn to Great Britain as an alternative to Canada. Some U.S.-based ­pharmacists have fought importation, saying that Canadian prices for some drugs are actually higher. Others are about the same, once shipping costs are added, and still others are only available ­domestically. The FDA still officially opposes importation, but has taken no action to date against people who fill their ­prescriptions in Canada. Some complain that the extra demand may cause shortages in Canada. One trade group, the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy, claims more than 40 percent of the drug supply for the western Canadian province was diverted across the border last year. Teaspoon of trouble Amid America's diet crazes, experts say people still consume too much salt. Even as the carbohydrates or fat go down, sodium intake tends to stay up. Too much salt is traditionally linked with hypertension, and the standard recommendation is that a person should eat no more than about one teaspoon per day. Food labels list a heaping teaspoon (2,400 milligrams) as a daily serving, but recent findings recommend only 1,500 milligrams per day. (By comparison, the Burger King Whopper contains 1,450 milligrams of sodium.) Yet the average person eats about twice the proper amount, according to Tulane University physician Paul K. Whelton. He co-authored a study that found high blood pressure on the rise among American children and ­adolescents. Americans tend not to pay attention to salt because, unlike calories and carbs, it doesn't affect weight gain. Food producers also say that strict salt restriction is ­unrealistic for many people. Another problem is that much salt is hidden in packaged food and restaurant meals. According to the Institute of Medicine, three-quarters of Americans' daily salt intake comes from these sources, not from salt shakers. Vital Signs • The controversial anti­depressant Serzone is going off the market as it faces mounting concerns over alleged liver failure. Manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb blamed declining sales, not safety risks. Serzone was linked to dozens of cases of liver failure and injury, including at least 20 deaths. • There is no evidence that vaccines preserved with thimerosol cause autism, according to a new review by the Institute of Medicine. The panel cited studies that tracked thousands of children since 2001 and found no link between the disorder and the once-common mercury-based shots. This contradicts a previous finding that found the connection medically plausible. • Two critically ill patients last month received experimental artificial hearts that use no wires or tubes that stick through the skin. The device, implanted as part of an FDA trial, is about the size of a softball and runs on batteries. The manufacturer, Massachusetts-based Abiomed, says candidates must be ­ineligible for conventional heart transplantation or other treatments-and likely to otherwise die within 30 days. • Men have a tiny risk of breast cancer, but one study found that obesity may increase the odds. The number of cases in the United States climbed by 26 ­percent between 1973 and 1998, according to findings published by the American Cancer Society. Since ­obesity is on the rise-and linked to several other cancers-experts suspect a possible connection.

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