I’m Bob Doughty with Phoebe Zimmermann, and this is the VOA Special English program, SCIENCE IN THE NEWS.
This week -- new American rules for food makers to tell if products contain a bad kind of fat ... New support for an unusual kind of treatment for heart attack victims ... And, the story of a man who finally spoke, almost twenty years after a car accident.
The United States Food and Drug Administration will require food companies to list the amount of what are known as trans fats in their products. The new requirement will not go into effect until two-thousand-six. But it is expected to push food makers to reduce the levels of trans fatty acids in their products before that.
Products that contain trans fats include many kinds of margarine, peanut butter, cookies, cereals, puddings, doughnuts and fried foods. Food producers use trans fats because they say food tastes better and stays fresh longer in stores.
Trans fats are most commonly found in what are called partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These are liquid oils that have been made into solids. Food products generally say if they contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. But public health officials say food makers have in a sense hidden the trans fats by not listing them separately.
Saturated fats from animals also increase the amount of bad cholesterol. So finding saturated fats and trans fats together in foods can be especially dangerous.
Some businesses in the United States are already trying to reduce the amount of trans fat they use. Last year, McDonald’s made news when it promised to use a new oil that would reduce the amount in its French fries, its fried potatoes. McDonald's has not yet made the change. Reports say tests continue.
Experts say healthier fats cost more than trans fats. But several food companies in the United States have already begun to use them. The statement "no trans fat" now appears on some products.
The Food and Drug Administration says knowing more about what is in foods will help people improve their health, and will also save millions of dollars in medical costs.
The American Heart Association has given its support to an unusual treatment for people who have just had a heart attack. The treatment involves cooling the person's body after the heart has been restarted. The heart association says a lowered body temperature can help prevent brain damage in at least some patients.
A heart attack causes the heart to stop pumping blood to the brain. Often, people who survive heart attacks that last longer than a few minutes suffer brain damage.
The cooling treatment aims to lower a patient’s body temperature to about thirty-three degrees Celsius. The American Heart Association says the cooling should begin as soon as possible after the heart has been returned to normal pumping.
Cooling heart patients is not new. For some time, doctors have lowered the temperatures of heart patients before operations. But, scientists say new studies show that cooling can also help patients AFTER their hearts have stopped.
Doctor Jerry Nolan of the Royal United Hospital in Bath, England, was the lead researcher of the advisory statement. Doctor Nolan is also a chairman of the Advanced Life Support Task Force of the International Committee on Resuscitation. That group and the American Heart Association jointly released the advisory. It appeared first in Circulation, published by the American Heart Association, a private group.
Doctor Nolan says the normal return of blood flow and oxygen to the brain causes a series of chemical reactions. This process can continue for as long as twenty-four hours, and cause swelling in the brain. Doctor Nolan says cooling the body slows the chemical reactions and limits the swelling.
Doctor Nolan and his team supported their statement with two studies published last year. One took place in nine medical centers in Europe. Researchers in Australia carried out the other study at four hospitals in Melbourne.
In Europe, medical workers placed patients on a special bed with a cover that blew cold air. Sometime they also used ice on the patients. The goal was to get a patient’s temperature to between thirty-two and thirty-four degrees Celsius within four hours of the return of a normal heart beat. Doctors kept the patient at that temperature for a full day.
The study in Europe involved more than one-hundred-seventy patients. Half were cooled, half were not. Fifty-five percent of those who were cooled had good brain activity six months after treatment. Only thirty-nine percent of the other half had similar results.
In Australia, emergency workers started the cooling before even they brought the heart attack victim to the hospital. The workers placed ice packs on the head and upper body. The use of ice continued in the hospital for twelve more hours. The ice lowered the patient’s temperature to thirty-three degrees Celsius.
The Australian study found that twenty-one of forty-three patients who were cooled had good brain activity by the time of their release from the hospital. This was true for only nine of the thirty-four patients without the treatment.
The advisory notes that the two studies involved only some kinds of patients. All had good blood pressure. There was detailed information about the time and length of their heart attacks. And, all had evidence of having gone into a coma after their attack.
The American Health Association says it is not known if cooling may help other groups of heart attack patients. It also says more study is needed to learn the best ways to cool patients and how long they should remain that way. And, the advisory warns of a small increase in the risk of bleeding, infection and abnormal heart rhythm.
Finally, Doctor Nolan warned people to resist what might be the natural urge to keep someone warm right after a heart attack. He says warming the person could do more harm than good.
A man in the American South has begun to talk again after nearly twenty years in a coma-like condition.
Terry Wallis of Arkansas is thirty-nine years old. He was severely injured in a car accident in nineteen-eighty-four. The crash injured his brain and left him unable to move below the neck. Last month, he began talking.
Doctors say Terry Wallis was in a coma at first. He was unconscious, unable to react to anything around him. Later, they described his condition as a persistent vegetative state. This is a situation in which a person is not aware of the environment, but his body continues to operate. The body may move and the eyes may open, but the person does not speak or obey commands. The patient may cry or laugh at times.
The National Institutes of Health says a coma rarely continues for more than two to four weeks. Vegetative states may continue for years -- but almost twenty years is extremely unusual.
Terry Wallis’s eyes have been open for years. He could eat. Sometimes, he communicated through sounds. For the past two years, doctors have been treating him with an antidepressant drug. They say it seems to have worked.
Now, his family is slowly letting him know him that many things have changed since nineteen-eighty-four. Two of his grandparents have died. His baby daughter is now nineteen. Family members say he is trying to learn about modern technology. He has seen a cell phone and a laptop computer. They say he has started to read. And, Terry Wallis says he also wants to learn how to walk again -- for his daughter.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver. Our producer was Cynthia Kirk, with audio assistance from Dwayne Collins. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.