Watching the World

Vitamin Supplements and Cancer

A review of 14 studies involving 170,000 participants suggests that vitamin supplements do not protect against cancer of the throat, stomach, liver, intestines, and pancreas. According to the medical magazine Deutsches Ärzteblatt, the antioxidant supplements beta carotene and vitamins A, C, and E not only have no beneficial effect but could even slightly increase the cancer risk. Dr. Richard Sullivan of Cancer Research UK explains: “There are no shortcuts to prevent bowel cancer. If you’re taking vitamins to protect yourself against the disease, you’re wasting your money.” He adds: “The best way to lower the risk is to eat a healthy diet and not smoke.”

 Worried About Germs?

“The fantasy of a germ-free home is not only absurd, but it is also largely pointless,” says an article in The New York Times. “Unless you share your home with someone very old, very young (under 6 months) or very ill, the few hundred bacteria on a countertop, doorknob or spoon pose no threat” to your health. True, perishable food that is left out on a counter for a number of hours can become contaminated with bacteria and cause food poisoning. To prevent that from happening, store perishable food items in the refrigerator. As for protecting yourself from bacteria, there is no need to use antibacterial products. “Just wash your hands with soap and water a few times a day, and leave it at that,” says the paper.

Trust on the Decline

“The majority of Spaniards have little or no trust in most of the institutions that govern their lives,” reports El País newspaper of Spain. According to the Center for Sociological Research, just over half the 2,500 people who were interviewed said they mistrust the government, 56.2 percent mistrust banks, and 57.7 percent lack trust in trade unions. In a land where nearly 75 percent of the population describe themselves as Catholic, over 61 percent said that they have “little or no trust in the Catholic Church.” Commenting on this, an editorial in the newspaper Diario 16 said: “Most Spaniards clearly consider themselves Catholic, but the great majority do not practice this religion or share its beliefs.”

Reading Boosts Memory

How can you improve your memory? “Don’t hope for a miracle,” says Brazil’s Folha Online. “The secret is to put your head to work.” One of the best ways to stimulate your brain is by reading. How so? Neurologist Ivan Izquierdo says: “The moment a person finishes reading the word ‘tree,’ all the trees that he has ever known during his lifetime pass through his mind in hundredths of a second.” According to Izquierdo, “all of this happens unconsciously.” He believes that this type of mental activity makes our brain less susceptible to diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Neurologist Wagner Gattaz, of the Research Center for Memory Disorders, in São Paulo, Brazil, says: “The more we use our memory, the more we preserve it.”

Text Messages on the Rise

“Worldwide, more than 360 billion text messages are sent annually,” reports the International Herald Tribune. “That’s roughly one billion short messages each day.” Short message service, or SMS, is finding ever more uses. More and more companies are sending text messages to potential clients’ mobile phones to sell their wares. Subscribers, for instance, can now receive the pope’s prayers on their cell phones. Police in the Netherlands send SMSs to stolen mobile telephones to alert possible buyers to the fact that the phone has been stolen. And some countries where religious law allows a man to divorce his wife after declaring three times “I divorce you” have authorized divorce by SMS.

Internet Use in the Netherlands

“One out of every 5 children between 11 and 12 years of age has been harassed with sexual insinuations by a stranger while chatting on the Internet,” claims a study reported in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. According to questionnaires handed out to 660 parents and 220 children between the ages of 8 and 12, more than half the children who use the Internet have had an occasional “unpleasant experience” by being confronted with “irritating mail (spam)” or with pornographic images or other inappropriate information. Most of the children reported the encounter to their parents. The study further notes that 8 out of 10 parents are worried about the dangers that their child may face by using the Internet, that nearly half the parents said they would like to give close supervision to their children as they use the Internet, that 60 percent of parents keep the computer in the living room to monitor their children, and that children average nearly an hour a day on the Internet playing games, sending electronic mail, and chatting.

The Advice They Prefer

“A survey has found that nearly two thirds of directors of leading companies prefer the advice of their spouse to that of another board member or colleague when facing a difficult challenge at work,” reveals The Times of London. Bob Arnold, whose consulting firm commissioned the research, says that what business leaders look for in their advisers is, not expertise, but trust. He explains: “Naturally, independence, objectivity and experience are sought-after attributes among the people advising board members,” but because trust is the most important, wives are the first choice.

Demise of Checks Foreseen

“Within a generation, checks are likely to be a rarity,” says U.S.News & World Report. Paying by check has declined sharply since the arrival of “cheaper and faster payment alternatives such as credit cards, debit cards, and online banking.” Other contributing factors are direct deposit and automatic bill payment, by which customers give creditors permission to remove funds from their bank account to pay recurring bills. The banking industry claims that eliminating paper checks will protect against identity theft. However, some consumer and fraud experts have expressed concern that the use of electronic checks will lead to increased invasion of privacy and fraudulent schemes.