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Alcoholism Research Neglects Women

September 25, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Research into alcohol abuse has neglected to focus on the disease's effects on women and, as a result, has frequently failed to distinguish the important behavioral differences between the sexes on this problem, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Most studies have concentrated on male alcoholism with the subsequent data then incorporated into similar treatment programs for both men and women. Yet, recent research has found that females respond differently to alcohol and have different motivations for abusing the substance, the article states.

An overview of what is known about alcoholism among women was discussed in the report by Dr. Sheila B. Blume, a professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

For instance, alcohol-related diseases may develop more rapidly in women than in men even after accounting for differences in body weight. Some of these illnesses include liver damage, hypertension, obesity, anemia and gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Blume also found that women alcoholics have a higher mortality rate than the general female population and higher than that of males suffering from alcoholism.

The physical effects of alcohol on the body also differ according to sex. The blood alcohol content in women can vary significantly due to menstrual cycles, with the highest levels having been found in the premenstrual phase. Men are less likely to demonstrate variability, according to Blume.

One of the few commonly known differences is fetal alcohol syndrome--a condition resulting after women abuse alcohol during pregnancy and thus increase the risk of permanently damaging their newborns.

As for motive, Blume reported that women are more likely to begin problem drinking after a stressful event related to health or family. Men, on the other hand, often point to job-related situations as precipitating the onset of abuse.

Another trait that appears to be more prevalent among females is the use of alcohol to relieve shyness in social situations. Blume recommends that educational programs concentrate on debunking the belief, particularly among the young, that drinking enhances an individual's ability to function socially.

Life-Saving Capsule--In the past year, medical relief efforts in underdeveloped countries have enlisted an important tool in fighting child mortality and blindness: Vitamin A.

Several programs in both Africa and Asia reported recently that significant reductions in child death rates were found after regular distribution of the nutrient, according to the World Development Forum, a newsletter from the San Francisco-based Hunger Project.

One such effort in several northern Sumatran villages in Indonesia reduced the prevalence of child mortality by 35%. A Johns Hopkins Medical Institution official familiar with the project claimed that the rate could have been reduced even further, but not all the children targeted actually received the vitamin supplement.

A similar project on the island of Java in Indonesia not only found a reduction in child deaths, but also reported evidence of a reduction in xerophthalmia, or dry eye, which can lead to blindness.

Further proof of Vitamin A's importance in children's physical development was found in Tanzania. In a study there, researchers examined two groups of children hospitalized for serious cases of measles. The first group was given traditional treatment for the disease. A second group received two Vitamin A megadoses, in addition to regular care. The program found that the mortality rate for those receiving the supplements was half that of the children who did not receive the vitamin.

Manufacturing a Donation--One company's novel approach to dealing with Southern California's hunger problem resulted in a near-record contribution to Community Food Resources, a food bank that supplies charitable agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

Officials at Van de Kamp's Frozen Foods asked company employees to volunteer time a recent Saturday to help the firm manufacture frozen dinners, which would then be donated to an organization involved with feeding the needy. More than 100 people throughout the company enlisted, and their efforts yielded 7,200 of Van de Kamp's Cheese Enchilada Dinners.

The 600 cases of frozen product were recently delivered to Community Food Resources for distribution to neighborhood feeding centers. The donation is one of the largest ever received by the food bank, which channels edible contributions to about 350 agencies that serve meals to a total of 475,000 people.

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