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Rules shift on water, salt intake

By Wire services
Published February 12, 2004

A report by the National Academy of Sciences Wednesday rejected the widely repeated advice that people should drink eight glasses of water a day, saying that the vast majority of Americans will be amply hydrated if they simply let thirst be their guide.

Taking on another contentious dietary issue, an expert panel assembled by the academy also said that 95 percent of American men and 75 percent of women consume too much salt. To help cut rates of high blood pressure, which afflicts an estimated 90 percent of Americans as they age, the panel also urged consumers to reach for more fruit, vegetables and other foods rich in potassium while drastically cutting back on salty, processed food and other fare high in sodium.

Thirst is the main determinant of how much fluid people need, the report noted. On average, most adult men need about 16 cups a day of fluid, while women require roughly 11 cups per day. National food surveys suggest that about 80 percent of daily fluid intake comes from beverages. Water in food provides the remaining 20 percent.

Where the report departs from conventional wisdom is in noting that all beverages, including coffee, tea and even alcohol, contribute toward meeting the total daily fluid intake.

Some previous studies have suggested that because caffeine and alcohol can increase urine production they actually cause water loss, the report concluded, noting that these effects "may be transient in nature." For this reason, such beverages "can contribute to total water intake," the report said, noting that "no one source is essential for physiological function and health."

Study finds that famine leads to storage of fat

A legacy of malnutrition has left the developing world with an obesity time bomb as new generations increasingly take up an urban lifestyle, according to research released Wednesday by the United Nations.

The study by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that reducing malnutrition in pregnant women could prevent their children from becoming fat later in life and ease the impending worldwide crisis in obesity.

The research pulls together growing evidence that suggests hunger during pregnancy sets up babies to get the most out of the limited nutrition while they are in the womb by laying down fat and programs them to expect famine in the outside world.

London charity patents a breast cancer gene

A British medical research charity announced Wednesday it had secured a Europe-wide patent on a key gene that causes hereditary breast cancer, saying cancer researchers across Europe would have free access to the crucial information.

The move is part of a wider battle between researchers working for publicly funded projects and those in private companies, which want to secure the patents for commercial gain. In the United States, the biotechnology company Myriad Genetics of Salt Lake City, Utah, has patents on the gene.

The idea of patenting genes is contentious, and some scientists believe that the stuff of life itself should not be exploited for commercial interest.

Publicly funded research groups say they apply for patents as a defensive tactic, to pre-empt companies from monopolizing DNA for profit to the detriment of world health.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 01:00:30]

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