hneMen manufacture sperm constantly. The process takes place in the testicles and lasts 70 to 80 days. Because sperm enter and leave the assembly line continuously, a healthy man may have 2 to 3 billion in the works at any moment. You don’t need a calculator to see how even a small problem can create millions of factory rejects.

And nowadays, keeping your sperm up to par may actually require some effort. Studies show that the typical 1990s man produces about 66 million warriors per cubic centimeter–a little more than half the number his 1940s counterpart was capable of creating, possibly due to environmental factors.

What qualifies sperm as healthy? Doctors consider three factors. First, the sperm count. Fall below 20 million and you’re considered infertile. Second is motility. You want sperm who are Olympic-caliber swimmers. Last comes morphology, or structure. Properly shaped sperm have straight tails and oval heads. In a fertile man at least 40 to 50 percent have a normal structure.

Lifestyle can affect any or all of the above. Of course, most men don’t think about their sperm until they’re planning a family. But maybe we should. A new wave of research shows that minor alterations in lifestyle today may stave off fertility problems later. And even if children aren’t on your agenda, these changes can keep the rest of your body well-tuned, too. After all, our sperm are our advance men in the gene pool–we want them to represent us in the best light, even if they never actually strike a deal. Here are some simple lifestyle changes that will keep those little tadpoles ready for action at a moment’s notice.

Feed them zinc. Zinc increases sperm production and may also protect sperm from vaginal bacteria, explains Curtiss Hunt, M.D., of the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center in North Dakota. Dr. Hunt’s study also found a link between the mineral and the volume of a man’s ejaculate. As zinc intake fell from above 10 milligrams per day to just above 1 milligram, the amount of ejaculate dropped by nearly one-third. That can’t be good for fertility, says Dr. Hunt. His prescription: “Be sure to get the RDA of 15 milligrams of zinc every day.” If you don’t take a mineral supplement that contains that much zinc, you can easily get it at dinner with some lean beef, crabmeat or oysters.

Protect them with vitamin C. Vitamin C also helps keep sperm strong by protecting them against the ravages of free radicals. A by-product of the body’s natural metabolism, free radicals can kill sperm, making them cling together in immobile dumps, or alter their DNA. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, can neutralize free radicals before sperm damage occurs. A 1991 report on vitamin C-deficient smokers showed that daily vitamin C supplements of 250 milligrams improved sperm motility and morphology.

Pump them up with exercise. Regular workouts will keep your sperm, and the rest of you, in good form. Don’t overdo it, though, if you and your partner are trying to conceive. Highly demanding and intense exercise can harm sperm structure and motility. (We’re talking about extreme training here, not 30 minutes a day on the stair climber.) Two studies at the University of Connecticut last year tracked different categories of athletes: runners (both 65 miles and up a week and 35 miles or less) and weight trainers. While weight lifters and moderate runners remained fertile, men who ran over 65 miles weekly had weakened sperm, says Mary Jane De Souza, Ph.D., professor of reproductive physiology and exercise at the university’s health center. De Souza suspects that not eating enough during intense training may decrease the number of healthy sperm. If you insist on training hard, be sure to up your intake of high-carbohydrate and vitamin-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.

De-stress before you undress. A 1992 study followed 84 couples through fertility treatment. When treatment began, only two men produced abnormal sperm samples. But as treatment progressed–and stress levels rose among those who’d not yet conceived–11 men turned in samples with abnormal sperm. Although doctors don’t know what links stress and sperm production, they say it’s clear there is a relationship.

Use them or lose them. Just like the rest of your body, your testes gear up to meet the demand placed on them and slack off when not exercised. Some men think that abstaining from sex will make them more potent, but since sperm have a short lifespan, sperm motility begins to plummet in men who abstain from sex for four or five days. Extend the celibate streak for a few weeks, and the ejaculate may be next to worthless.

Don’t pollute yourself. You know those warnings on beer bottles for pregnant women? New evidence suggests that it may be more critical that the soon-to-be-father watch what he drinks, eats, smokes. Data gathered on 15,000 newborns by the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill show that a father’s excessive drinking and smoking habits increase the risk of birth defects. In Britain, nuclear power plant workers exposed to low levels of radiation fathered higher-than-average numbers of children with leukemia.

Bottom line: It’s time for us to begin to take responsibility for our fertility. With a few key adjustments, some of the estimated 1 in 14 American men with fertility problems may be potent after only a few months. Moderation is the rule. The above study linking booze to birth defects showed no problems for the offspring of one-a-day drinkers, for example. Even Hofmann likes to kick back and pop open an occasional beer. “No harm done,” he says.

Check Your Head!

cyhHow many times have you had one of those throbbing headaches and somebody says–”For Pete’s sake, it’s only a little headache. You’re just trying to get out of going to class. Take an aspirin.”

And how many times have you wanted to donate your headache to that less-than-sympathetic friend and see how he handles it?

Headaches are a common malady, but when you consider these facts, the “common” headache doesn’t seem like such a little thing. According to the New England Center for Headache:

* Ninety percent of all people in the United States get at least some kind of headache some of the time.

* Fifty percent to 75 percent of all teens report having at least one headache per month.

* Twenty percent of the population seeks medical help–80 million doctor’s office visits a year just for headache sufferers.

* People in the United States spend $500 million a year on over-the-counter headache remedies.

* The total bill for lost work time, health care, and medication comes to between $6 billion and $8 billion a year.

None of the world’s famous headache sufferers–Karl Marx, Lewis Carroll, Sigmund Freud, Frederic Chopin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Bernard Shaw–simply ignored their pain. Headache is a genuine disorder, and no one should feel guilty over complaining about the pain.

Not My Type

Headaches come in a number of different varieties, and the causes and treatments for each are different.

Headaches have been categorized into three types: tension, vascular, and organic. Knowing what kind of headache you have is important if you want to finmd the approach that works in relieving it.

Tension. Twenty-five million Americans endure frequent tension headaches (also called muscle contraction headaches), caused by the tightening of the muscles at the back of the neck and of the face and scalp. Anything that makes you tense can ignite it, even sitting round-shouldered at a desk for long periods of time. This most common type of headache comes in two varieties: acute, which comes on during or after a stressful time and lasts from two hours to several days; and chronic, which occurs from twice a week to every day.

A tension headache has tightening, pressing quality, as if you’re wearing an excruciating band around your head. Sufferers get relief from taking nonprescription medications like Tylenol or Advil. But frequent use of medications can actually causes headaches, because blood vessels become immune to them and don’t respond as quickly. Five over-the-counter pills a day is excessive, says Dr. Seymour Diamond, executive director of the National Headache Foundation, and can cause what is known as the rebound effect–you have to take more to get the same results. Catching a nap or just relaxing with either an ice pack or heat on the back of your neck often achieves the same results as an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Vascular. In a vascular headache, the blood vessels in the head swell, but the precise cause of this type of headache is unknown. What is known is that these two types of vascular headache–the cluster headache and the migraine headache–are extremely painful and frustrating for the sufferer.

For those who suffer from cluster headache a piercing or burning pain that bores into just one side of the head around or behind the eyes, often combined with nasal congestion and tearing from the eyes, are the symptoms. Ninety percent of all cluster headaches occur in men and happen most frequently in spring and fall. These headaches occur in groups, usually two to four a day at regular intervals. This may continue for weeks or even months, then disappears for months or years. The good news is that cluster headache is relatively uncommon.

The migraine headache, on the other hand, is a well-known ailment. The word migraine is derived from the Greek hemikrania or “half of the head” because the throbbinf pain is felt on one side only. A person who is about to have a classic migraine headache mayy first experience an aura, in which flickering points of light and/or jagged lines distort vision. In the case of the common migraine, there is no aura. In either case, when the pain begins, there is usually also nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine suffers, 70 percent of whom are women, may have one or more episodes a month or only a few a year.

There are two types of therapy for a migraine:

* Preventive, or abortive, medication is taken daily to reduce the likelihood that a headache will occur. The medication stabilizes the blood vessels so they can’t contract and expand so easily.

* Symptomatic, or prophylactic, medication is taken when an actual headache is beginning to prevent it from continuing. It works by shrinking the blood vessels in the head that dilate and cause the intense, pounding pain.

Organic. This serious headache is the one you’re least likely to have. An organic headache is caused when there is a problem with the sensitive structure of the head itself–for instance, a brain tumor or a blood clot. Less than 1 percent of all headaches are organic in origin; even genuine sinus headaches are rare. A headache related to a serious illness always follows other symptoms such as problems with vision or mental confusion. See your doctor if:

* your headaches are associated with disturbances of vision or speech, numbness, weakness, or partial loss of feeling or control in a limb

* you get a sudden, extremely painful headache, like nothing you’ve ever felt before

* you’ve had a head injury

* you also have fever, shortness of breath, severe vomiting, stiff neck, or memory loss and confusion

* you have frequent headaches that are interfering with your life or that have steadily increased in intensity, frequency, and the length of time they last.

What’s the Latest?

Scientists are continually researching the causes of headache pain:

* Researchers have discovered that serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain used to transmit information–such as pain.

* At least one new drug has been developed, Sumatriptan, which brings the level of serotonin back to normal in the brain, since low levels of serotonin are thought to be the root cause of migraine and cluster headaches. Sumatriptan will probably be available in the United Sates early next year.

* As a result of this increasing interest by scientists and researchers in clarifying the mechanisms that produce head pain, more doctors are coming to regard headache as a genuine biological disorder.

Staying Headache-Free

If you are experiencing frequent headaches that interfere with your life, see your physician.

If you have the occasional or even the frequent nagging ache, you can be your own best resource in keeping future headaches at bay. Here a few simple guidelines:

* Get plenty of aerobic exercise–30 minutes at least three times a week.

* Maintain a sensible diet. Don’t skip meals. Drink plenty of fluids. Experiment with which foods seem to bring on headache. Some common triggers include: cheese, processed meets containing nitrites (like hot dogs and bacon), chocolate, caffeine, and food containing preservatives.

* Stay on a good sleep schedule all week long. Don’t try to catch up on sleep on the weekends, because distrubances in sleep patterns cause serotonin levels to fluctuate too much. This makes blood vessels dilate and can spark headache pain.

* Try to keep stress under control. Find outlets for your feelings and don’t try to be Superperson. Take plenty of time for healthy activities that relax you.

* Watch your posture, especially while doing homework, reading, and watching TV.

* Avoid alcohol, smoking, and drugs–including over-the-counter diet pills. Be aware that other treatments, such as tetracycline (found in some acne medications), can cause headaches.

* Wear you glasses if they’ve been prescribed.

Don’t let a headache take you out of the action!

iofp“I woke up about 1 a.m. At first I thought I just had to go to the bathroom, but then the nausea hit. For the next six hours, I didn’t leave the bathroom. As I emptied out everything inside me from both directions, I broke out in a sweat from the cramps.

“I began thinking about food I had eaten that day. At 7 p.m. I had eaten the special at an Italian restaurant–Chicken Parmesan. I remember it wasn’t very hot when it was served, but it tasted great.

“The restaurant was very busy, and I assumed that was the reason for a messy floor and slow service. Now, I think the messy floor was probably an indication of a dirty kitchen.

“Lying in bed the next day, weak and dizzy, I was certain of the source of my food poisoning. I called the local health department to report the restaurant. I don’t ever remember having been the sick before, not even with the flu.”

This is a typical case of food poisoning. Using the chart below, can you figure out which type of food poisoning this unlucky victim contracted?

Hard to Diagnose

Like this person, most people recover from food-borne illness. But about 9,000 Americans actually die from these disorders each year. Those at greatest risk are infants, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems. Food-borne illness can also be deadly to unborn fetuses and persons with liver disease or sickle cel anemia.

We can only guess about the incidence of food poisoning because most cases are not reported. Estimates range from 6-1/2 million to 81 million cases each year. Some cases make the news. In the winter of 1993, 450 people in Washington state became ill after eating under-cooked meat from a fast-food restaurant. The meat contained E. coli, an intestinal bacterium, but thorough cooking could have prevented this outbreak.

Brown-Bag Lunches to Holiday Meals

Maybe it has even happened to you, and you did not realize it. The chart indicates that symptoms can vary with the type of food poisoning, making it tricky to diagnose without extensive tests. If you have ever been ill after eating at school, you probably blamed the school cafeteria. Though this is possible, school cafeterias have one of the lowest incidences of food poisoning.

That brown-bag lunch you brought to school is a likelier culprit. Think about what happens to that lunch from the time it is made until you eat it. Did it get carried around in your book bag at room temperature all morning? Was it incubated in your locker? Does your lunch often contain foods with a high likelihood of harboring food poisoning such as meat, poultry, eggs, or cheese?

The problem with lunches is that it’s hard to keep them cold and you also can’t heat them. To prevent food poisoining, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Room temperature is the best environment for the growth of bacteria that caue food poisoning.

A lot of food poisoning occurs around holidays, often because families have turkey. They allow the unsliced bird to come to room temperature in the kitchen before the family eats dinner. Or some people foolishly stuff the raw turkey the night before cooking it; they allow the bacteria to multiply before cooking. Recent studies have shown that salmonella and campylobacter are found in 65 percent of raw meat and poultry. They can be killed by proper cooking.

Errors in Food Prep

Poor hygiene in the kitchen–home or restaurant–can also result in food poisoning. Some common errors:

* Not washing hands before and after handling food–especially raw meat

* Cutting raw meat on a cutting board, then using the same board, unwashed, to cut vegetables or other food that won’t be cooked

* Eating undercooked eggs

* Serving food on plates that held the meat when it was raw (common with cookouts)

Uncooked eggs have caused a number of outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning–so many, in fact, that New Jersey passed a regulation preventing restaurants from serving raw or undercooked eggs. Keep in mind that raw eggs may be found in some Caesar salad dressing and raw cookie and cake dough.

The three most common types of food poisoning–salmonella, campylobacter, and staphylococcus–produce gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Less common types like botulism produce a variety of symptoms. Botulism is a particularly deadly form of food poisoning. It disrrupts nerve impulses to the muscles causing paralysis and death. Home-canned foods are a common source of botulism.

The only way to know for certain which food poisoning you have is to be tested. Then, antibiotics can be given along with fluids to prevent dehydration. More serious cases may have to be hospitalized. So the moral of the story is to prevent food poisoning. The box on this page will give you some additional tips.

Now the answer to the story at the beginning of this article: This victim most likely had staphylococcal food poisoning, although salmonella was also a possibility.

smdcaaWouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill that would help you breeze through hard math problems and remember all those names and dates in your history book? Wouldn’t it be great to make straight A’s without really having to work for them? Many scientists think that drugs that can make a person “smart” may someday become a reality. But they also agree that the “smart” drugs, nutrients, and drinks currently being marketed probably don’t work.

Prescription “Smart” Drugs

A number of legitimate drug companies have already started designing and testing drugs they call “cognitive enhancers,” which someday may improve thinking ability. However, it will be a long time before really effective drugs are developed, and they must be thoroughly tested before they can be sold legally in the United States. There is no drug currently on the U.S. market that is approved for boosting intelligence in healthy people. Scientists who are researching these drugs, in fact, are outraged at the quacks selling smart drugs.

Some of these smart drugs are medications for treating mental disorders. Hydergine, which appears to help the brain use oxygen, is legitimately used to treat an age-related decline in mental capacity. Deprenyl is actually an effective drug for treating a crippling brain disorder known as Parkinson’s disease. Dilantin is widely prescribed to treat epileptic seizures.

Other smart drugs are medications legally available in foreign countries but not in the United States: Piracetam (Nootropil) is used in the treatment of certain learning disabilities and some types of memory loss. Aniracetam (Draganon) was developed to treat loss of memory in older adults and attention disorders in children.

Users of these medications believe that drugs for treating people with disorders affecting the mind can somehow make healthy people sharper. This might be a nice idea. The problem is that there is no scientific proof to back it up.

Sure, people who sell these drugs claim to have testimonials from people who say they feel sharper after taking these drugs. But responsible scientists have never considered testimonials to be reliable evidence for a product’s safety and effectiveness. Testimonials don’t tell us how many people didn’t feel any better after taking the drug. And feeling sharper isn’t the same as scientifically demonstrating improved memory or alterness.

To scientifically prove that these drugs make people smarter, studies would have to be done on large numbers of people. The studies would have to compare people who took these medications with those who took inactive pills called placebos. They would also have to use objective tests to measure memory or alterness. No recognized studies of this type have been performed with these drugs.

Some of these drugs can also have some unpleasant side effects. For instance, Hydergine and Piracetam can cause insomnia, nausea, and headaches.

Diapid can cause runny nose, irritable nasal passages, and stomach cramps. Vasopressin can cause stomachache, cramps, and belching. In fact, some smart drugs may have the opposite of the desired effect: They can make people forgeful and less alert. These side effects may be even worse if the drugs are taken in large doses, over a long period of time, or in combination with other smart drugs.

Amino Acid Supplements and Smart Drinks

Many health food stores and mail order companies sell amino acid supplements, claiming that they make people feel younger, more energetic, and mentally sharper. Health food bars also mix amino acid powders into smart drinks, with names like Power Punch and IQ Booster, which they claim can make people smarter.

Some people think amino acids boots brain function because they are the building blocks of the brain’s proteins– including neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals that help relay signals from one brain cell to another. The basic idea is that extra amino acids give the body more raw materials for making these neurotransmitters. Amino acids also supposedly have ant-aging effects to help the body repair damaged tissue. The most popular smart amino acids are phenylalanine, tyrosine, choline, pyroglutamate, L-carnitine, and arginine.

Again, there’s no proof that these amino acids actually do any good. And, even though the people who sell these supplements claim they’re natural and harmless, recent evidence suggests they can indeed be harmful.

One amino acid, tryptophan, was taken off the market in 1990 because tryptophan supplements were thought to be responsible for 28 deaths and about 1,500 cases of a serious blood disorder. Phenylalanine can cause irritability and insomnia. In people with phenylketonuria (PKU), phenylalanine can cause brain damage. Too much choline can cause digestive problems.

In a policy statement issued in March 1992, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that amino acid supplements were of no proven benefit, that their safety had not been established, and that they were “potentially harmful.” According to the FDA, the best way to ingest amino acids is through a well-balanced diet.

Protecting the Consumer

The FDA is the government agency responsible, among other things, for protecting the public from harmful drugs and drugs sold using fraudulent health claims. So, why does the FDA allow smart drugs and nutrients to be sold in the United States?

Prescription drugs that are not approved by the FDA can still make their way into the United States through a loophole in the FDA’s “personal use” policy. The FDA permits individuals to bring into the country small amounts of drugs that are sold in foreign countries but not in the United States–as long as it is for their own use. Some people have illegally abused this personal use import policy by bringing smart drugs into the country and then selling them for unapproved uses.

The FDA also prohibits makers of drugs and food supplements from making health claims on their labels unless these claims can be supported by scientific evidence. Traditionally, the FDA has not regulated dietary supplements. But now that the makers of these supplements are starting to make health claims about their products, the FDA considers them drugs. The people who sell smart drugs and amino acids have tried to sneak around these regulations by making these health claims everywhere but on the labels. On talk shows, in individual sales pitches, and in “health food” newsletters, these folks hype the benefits of their products.

Currently, the FDA is trying to find ways to crack down on the people who sell these questionable drugs without interfering with the business of honest sellers of medications and supplements. Until the sale of smart drugs is properly regulated, the smartest thing to do is leave them alone.

gh“Hold it! Don’t move him!” The shout came from a crowd of people that had formed at the site of an auto accident. Two men were about to pull a semiconscious man from his wrecked car. A teen emerged from the crowd with some excellent advice.

“There isn’t any danger here. The car isn’t smoking or in danger of catching fire, and traffic is under control. This man may have injured his neck or back. If you pull him out, you could do more harm.”

One of the most common mistakes made at the scene of auto accidents is moving the victims unnecessarily. It seems a lot of people have the idea that victims should be removed from their vehicles and placed on the ground before they can be given first aid.

Mishandling a person whose neck or back may be broken can cause permanent paralysis–even death. Unless there is immediate danger, such as fire, explosion, or falling debris, all victims of accidents should be kept as still as possible. The only time we break this rule is if the victim is in need of lifesaving first aid such as rescue breathing or CPR. Only then, if the victim’s certain death would occur if left unmoved or untreated, should the rule “Treat them where you find them” not apply.

Another way of thinking about dealing with accident victims is get help to the victim, not get the victim to help. This rule also applies to other types of accidents, including sports injuries, falls, or gunshot wounds, some of the most common causes of spinal injury. Until neck or back injury is ruled out, try to stabilize the spinal cord in the position in which you find the victim. But how do you know whether the victim has neck or back injuries?

Warning Signs

Damage should always be suspected in the following examplies:

a. finding a victim at the bottom of a ladder or flight of stairs

b. discovering a victim who has been hit in the head

c. noticing the victim is not wearing a seat belt and that the windshield is broken in the shape of a spiderweb

d. knowing that a victim who is floating in water, unconscious, has just tried to dive

If the injured person reports any of the following, suspect back injury:

1. loss of feeling and/or movement in the limbs

2. pain in the back or neck

3. a tingling sensation in the hands and feet

4. inability to move hands, feet, fingers, or toes when asked to do so, and there is no sign of a broken limb

5. difficulty breathing (may be due to damage to the nerves that control the diaphragm)

What to Do

As serious as neck and back injuries are, there are more life-threatening emergencies that must be dealt with before the paramedics arrive. Check for the following:

* Is the victim breathing? If not, open the airway, but minimize movement of the head and neck by lifting the chin without tilting the head. Sometimes the victim will breathe on his own once this is done. If he does not, then try rescue breathing. If your breaths will not go in, tilt the head very slightly and try again. This usually allows enough air to pass into the lungs to sustain life until help arrives.

* Does the victim have a pulse? If not, CPR is needed and must be given even though a neck or back injury could be present. A second rescuer could try to stabilize the head while you do CPR.

* Is the victim bleeding severely? Bleeding, especially in the arms and legs, can usually be controlled without moving the victim. Do not elevate the legs if you suspect a back injury, but direct pressure on the pressure points can still be used.

Once these life-threatening injuries are dealth with, you can turn your attention to immobilizing the neck and back. If the victim will lie still, all you need to do is cover the victim and stay with him until help arrives. If the victim is partly conscious and moving, you may need to stabilize the head with your hands.

The Fragile Spinal Cord

You might wonder why people who suffer damage to the spinal cord don’t heal and regain function. Spinal cord injuries aern’t like injuries to muscles and bones. The spinal cord is made up of a pencil-thin string of jellylike tissue that runs through the center of 33 vertebrae. the vertebrae are supposed to protect the cord. But when the vertebrae are broken or crushed, this can put pressure on the cord, even sever it completely. Unlike skin and bone, the spinal cord does not heal after injury. Therefore, if it is damaged, the route for messages to and from the brain is broken permanently. Injury to the cervical spine (neck area) can produce quadriplegia (paralysis of all four limbs). Injury farther down the spine can produce paraplegia (paralysis of the lower limbs). Each year, approximately 10,000 people suffer from this type of injury.

Prevention

In teens, the two leading causes of spinal cord injury are auto accidents and sports injuries, particularly diving.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Association offers good advice: “Feet First First Time.” When diving, the legs are a lot better at absorbing the shock of hiting the bottom than the neck and spine.

Many accidents that cause spinal cord injuries involve alcohol use. Alcohol clouds judgment, and people who drink may take unnecessary chances. Not using seat belts in auto accidents is a critical factor in spinal cord injury. Wearing a seat belt gives the spine support during a crash and cushions the person against the seat. Using helmets, preventing falls, and knowing and following the rules in sports and recreational activities can all help prevent injury.