BODY WATCH : A Bumper Crop, Medicinally Speaking

This health roundup was compiled by C.A. Wedlan from wire service reports,

Chemists are searching for a medicinal bumper crop. The National Cancer Institute is attempting to turn plants into drugs, testing as many as 20,000 extracts of natural products per year. Similar efforts have yielded the cancer drugs vincristine and vinblastine, from the rosy periwinkle plant of Madagascar, and taxol, derived from the Pacific yew tree. "Nature is still in many cases the most economical source for medicines," says Gordon Cragg, chief of natural products branch of the NCI. Cragg says 99.5% of the world's plants have yet to be investigated for their medical value. The remainder has provided about a quarter of all current pharmaceuticals. "You don't have to be a mathematician to predict that the remaining 99.5% of plant species will have something to offer," says Michael J. Balick, director of New York Botanical Garden's Institute of Economic Botany.

So Much for This 'Cure' for Colic

One of the most popular treatments for infant colic doesn't work, according to a new study. One longstanding theory of colic--the incessant crying of infants for reasons that can't be determined--is that the babies are suffering from intestinal gas. Although this has never been proven, doctors often advise frazzled parents to give their babies simethicone, an over-the-counter medicine. One popular brand is Mylicon Drops. A study in the July issue of Pediatrics compared babies given simethicone to babies given a placebo. The result: There was no difference in the babies treated with simethicone--even among the babies who showed "gas-related symptoms." So what to do? Sorry--the authors note that "the explanation for the excessive crying remains elusive."

Put Emergency Paperwork in Its Place--Done

The likelihood of kids getting hurt increases with summertime activities. You can speed treatment in hospital emergency rooms by doing some paperwork in advance. Santa Monica Hospital encourages parents to sign an "Authorization to Treat Minor" form. California law requires written parental consent before children under 18 can receive care in an emergency room. An authorization for treatment can also help anyone else who's looking after your children. The form is kept until the child turns 18. Call (800) 922-1002 to obtain the form. Briefly . . .

Doctors are making house calls again, with shopping bags in lieu of the traditional black medical bag to foil drug addicts . . . Arizona has been supplanted as the pollen-free turf by towns in middle Siberia, which have algae and lichen but no pollinating plants or dust mites . . . Cleveland Clinic counsels newlyweds to work out nutrition and healthy diets directly after the honeymoon to avoid square-meal squabbling later on.

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