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Health Highlights: Oct. 22, 2006

Organ Transplant System Lacks Strong Oversight Chefs Serve Portions That Surpass Government Guidelines Egg Salad Recalled in 17 states for Possible Contamination Chinese Moss Eyed as Alzheimer's Treatment Governments Target Phony Diabetes Cures

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Organ Transplant System Lacks Strong Oversight

The group that monitors the nation's organ transplant system rarely fixes problems at the centers it oversees, according to a special investigation reported Sunday in the Los Angeles Times.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) also tends to keep any findings secret when it does investigate a suspected problem, leaving affected patients and their families in the dark about potential dangers that have included unacceptably high death rates among transplant recipients. The newspaper uncovered the trend after reviewing confidential UNOS documents and interviewing past and present board members.

"It seems like the UNOS is often a day late and a dollar short," Dr. Mark Fox, a former chairman of the UNOS ethics committee and associate director of the Oklahoma Bioethics Center, told the Times. "Most people are kind of shaking their heads and saying, "Who's minding the store?'"

In the past year, the group has been surprised by potentially life-threatening problems at hospitals under its purview, including two California programs that abruptly closed after the Times uncovered problems there, the newspaper reported.

In response, UNOS recently voted for reforms which include publishing the names of transplant centers that are on probation. And UNOS Executive Director Walter Graham acknowledged that a "sense of outrage has grown in the transplant community," and told the newspaper that changes were underway.

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Chefs Serve Portions That Surpass Government Guidelines

Most restaurant chefs pay scant attention to calories when they decide how much food to put on a plate, a survey of 300 professional cooks in the United States finds.

Instead, USA Today reported Sunday, taste, presentation and customer expectations shape the size of an individual meal, and that serving is typically three to four times larger than what the U.S. government recommends. It also tends to be 60 percent more than what is usually served at home. Each American bought an average of 209 meals outside the home last year, the newspaper reported.

The survey results were presented Saturday at the Obesity Society annual meeting, in Boston.

Portion sizes have increased steadily since 1971, and there has been a spike in obesity rates during the same period, survey leader Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor who specializes in obesity research at Pennsylvania State University, told the newspaper.

In other research presented at the meeting, two of the largest and longest studies done on weight gain among college students found that while most freshman are more likely to pack on 5 to 7 pounds rather than the widely believed 15, they also tend to continue to gain weight in their sophomore year. The Brown University researchers also found that males gained significantly more weight than females, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

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Egg Salad Recalled in 17 states for Possible Contamination

Ballard's Farm Sausage Inc. announced Saturday that it has issued a 17-state recall of its egg salad because of possible contamination, the Associated Press reported.

Some company tests produced mixed results for Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children and the elderly, and miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women, the wire service said.

The company has stopped making the egg salad until it can determine the cause of the contamination, Ballard President David Ballard told the AP. Meanwhile, consumers in the affected states can return the egg salad for a full refund.

The states involved in the recall are Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, the wire service reported.

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Chinese Moss Eyed as Alzheimer's Treatment

The National Institute of Aging is conducting a national clinical trial to see if a plant commonly used in China for cognitive problems might work against Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, the Associated Press reported Saturday.

Chinese club moss is already sold in the United States as a nutritional supplement, but researchers give patients in the trial either a placebo or a dose of an alkaloid extract from the plant that is larger than what is currently available in stores. After the first phase of the trial, all patients take the extract for eight weeks and have the choice to continue taking it if they think it is helping them with their memory problems. Researchers also test the cognitive function of the volunteers during the course of the trial, the AP said.

The trial is one of several federally funded studies that will try to ascertain the effectiveness of alternative therapies for various health conditions; the National Institutes of Health has earmarked $300.5 million for such research in the 2007 budget year.

"That kind of data is completely missing today from most nutraceuticals," trial investigator Dr. Daniel Kaufer, a neurologist at the University of North Carolina, told the AP.

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Governments Target Phony Diabetes Cures

American, Canadian and Mexican government agencies have launched a campaign to stop Internet advertisements for fraudulent diabetes cures and treatments.

About 180 warning letters and other advisories have been sent to online outlets in the three countries.

"The Internet can be a great source of information, but it also is a billboard for ads that promise miracle cures for diabetes and other serious diseases. Our advice to consumers: 'Be smart, be skeptical' when evaluating health claims online," Lydia Parnes, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), said in a prepared statement.

As part of the crackdown, the FTC has sent warning letters for deceptive ads to 84 American and seven Canadian Web sites targeting U.S. consumers. It has also referred an additional 21 sites to foreign governments.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to 24 companies that market dietary supplement products touted to treat, cure, or prevent diabetes.

The FTC also has launched a new campaign to educate consumers on how to avoid phony diabetes cures. The American Dietetic Association will help distribute the information.

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