Your Health

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Good News
Hard to believe, but cocoa--well, a defatted extract of it--may be good for the heart. In a study, rabbits were fed a cholesterol-rich diet along with 200 mg of the extract daily. After two months, the bunnies' blood vessels did a better job contracting and relaxing than the vessels of rabbits fed the same diet but deprived of the extract. Cocoa contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids that sweep up damaging molecules in cells. The rabbit news isn't license to drown in hot chocolate. But food companies are working on cocoa-extract supplements--and low-fat cocoa-packed drinks.

The FDA has okayed Zyvox, the first entirely new type of antibiotic in 35 years. With microbes becoming ever more resistant to antibiotics--including the drug of last resort, vancomycin--the FDA's nod comes just in time: Zyvox is approved for staph bacteria, pneumonia and other serious infections. Now if only docs won't overprescribe it, lest the bugs develop resistance to it as well.

Bad News
If you go to the emergency room with chest pains, will doctors know you're having a heart attack or just figure it's last night's burrito? A study shows that E.R. physicians correctly diagnose and hospitalize patients for heart attack and unstable angina fully 98% of the time. Still, that leaves 26,000 patients who are erroneously sent home. What's more, doctors are more likely to err in diagnoses of women under 55, African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

For years, doctors administered a powerful aspirin-like drug called Ticlid to prevent clots in angioplasty patients who had had tiny stents placed in their vessels. But after Ticlid was linked to a rare but frightening blood disorder known as TTP, which attacks nearly every organ of the body, they turned to a supposedly less toxic drug called Plavix. Now researchers report the same trouble with Plavix. So far 11 cases of TTP have turned up among Plavix users--and their illness seems harder than ever to treat.

Sources: Good News: Experimental Biology 2000 conference; FDA. Bad News: New England Journal of Medicine (4/20/00); NEJM (early release, 6/15/00)