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Some cough and cold meditations contain PPA, a chemical suspected of raising the risk of strokes.

Risk From Cold Cures
Popular decongestant linked to strokes

Bad case of the sniffles? No one thinks twice about reaching out for cough mixtures and cold remedies. But it may be time to take a closer look at the list of active ingredients the next time you pick up a box of medication from the local pharmacy. A five-year study conducted by Yale University in the United States has linked a commonly used decongestant to higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in the brain. The disputed chemical called phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, is also found in some appetite suppressants.

Researchers at Yale's medical school studied more than 2,000 people, including 702 who were hospitalized due to a stroke, and whether they had PPA within the previous three days. According to the findings, patients who took the chemical in cold medication were 1.23 times more likely than control subjects to have a stroke. Those who took diet treatments containing PPA faced even higher chances of getting an attack.

These results have prompted an expert panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to urge that the drug be classed as "unsafe." The agency is now considering a final decision on the experts' warning. Ironically, the Yale study was funded by a drug industry group, which is now attacking the findings. U.S. drug regulators have been keeping an eye on PPA, which is found in many over-the-counter remedies in the country, for over a decade because of stroke suspicions.

In Hong Kong, PPA medications are sold through pharmacists and doctors' clinics. According to a health department spokesperson, about 20 of more than 100 prescription cough and cold remedies contain the suspect chemical. But until there is more conclusive data, he says, "consumers can express their concerns to doctors and pharmacists if they want to avoid PPA." Remedies containing the chemical available in Hong Kong include Antiflu Forte, Coritab, Dime-Time, Dimetapp, Febricol, Neozep, Robitussin CF, Sinutab, Tripe 'P' Cough Syrup and Uni-vasin

Dr. Lawrence Wong Ka-sing, an associate professor of neurology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believes consumers need not be too concerned about the decongestant. "It is much more important to control high blood pressure," he says. But physicians such as Dr. Ray Woosley, pharmacology chairman at Georgetown University in Washington, call for caution. Why take the risk when there are safer alternatives, he asks. Good question.

In Brief
Pungent Protection Count Dracula was no fan of garlic, but lovers of good food are. And so are those who look after their health. The pungent bulb is said to deliver many benefits, including cleaner blood. Now specialists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that garlic can protect against stomach and colon cancer.

Dr. Lenore Arab and his colleagues evaluated 18 studies that looked at garlic eaters. They found the results suggest that high consumption of raw or cooked garlic decreases the risk of colorectal cancer by 10% to 50%, and lowers the risk of developing stomach cancer by 50%. Garlic supplements had a less significant impact. How much garlic is enough? The average intake among the biggest fans was about six cloves a week.

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