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Say 'Aaah' | Your Health Online

Sites Fight Disease With Info

May 17, 1999|Marla Bolotsky | Marla Bolotsky is managing editor and director of online information for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She can be reached by e-mail at marla.bolotsky@latimes.com

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a Web site called "The Daily Apple" (http://www.thedailyapple.com/) may help keep you healthy as well. I learned about the site when I asked readers to suggest Web sites for review in this column.

"The Daily Apple," started by a doctor in Marina del Rey who realized the potential of the Internet for providing medical information, tackles difficult topics with an evenhanded approach.

Take vitamin C, for instance, a subject on which there is a lot of conflicting information. Instead of adding another one-sided opinion to the mix, the site's "Lifestyle & Nutrition Center" section summarizes a variety of views, describes the research and acknowledges that there is still a lot we don't know.

One thing I learned was that vitamin C causes abdominal cramps and diarrhea in some people. So it's not a great idea to take aspirin and vitamin C at the same time--something I've done during cold and flu season.

"Cabin Fever" was another gem of an article, which I found in the "Lifestyle & Nutrition" and "Men's Health" sections. While most people know that you're more likely to catch colds and flus if you are a frequent air traveler, this article explains why. It says that your risk of contracting a bug is less in an older plane than a newer one. Newer planes are designed to conserve fuel by recirculating old air. But the cabin air in planes more than 20 years old is replenished every three minutes. Even so, that information still won't sway this traveler: Bring on those spanking new planes!

Other features include sections on diseases, children's health, senior health and a discussion forum. I liked this site for its eye-catching layout, attractive but simple graphics, and the no-nonsense style of its writing.

L.A. Free-Net: This is a great community-oriented site (http://www.lafn.org) put together by a group of volunteers in Southern California. It is a giant set of links that should help even the newest transplant get grounded.

There's more than just health care here. You can find up-to-the-minute traffic and weather reports, local event listings, direct access to local, state and federal government sites, and voter registration information. You can even draw up various legal documents online, such as a will or a lease, and find your election polling site.

This information-rich, culturally diverse site also includes health information. From the "Health and Medical Center" you can learn about a particular disease, link to the government's "Healthfinder" site and other search engines, or browse through a listing of clinical trials taking place in the region. Clicking on "History of Medicine" took me (very slowly) to Florence, Italy, and the Institute and Museum of the History of Science.

The "Consumer Health Resources" page provides links to a wide variety of sites, including resources for people in managed care health plans, online guides to Medicare and Social Security, and hospital ratings.

The hospital ratings site can tell you how your community hospital rates compared with others in treating patients with heart disease and certain other illnesses. (Don't expect to find ratings on all medical conditions.) The ratings are based on mortality data that the hospitals are required to report to government agencies. They are adjusted to take into account the fact that some hospitals--academic teaching hospitals, for example--tend to treat sicker patients than other places.

Nutrition News Focus: Though more streamlined than the Daily Apple, Nutrition News Focus (http://www.nutritionnewsfocus.com) aims to help you make sense of the conflicting information on nutrition. I enjoyed this site for its straightforward writing on timely issues and its utilitarian design. The daily tips, available by e-mail and online, are brief, interesting and easily understandable, I've been reading the tips every day since discovering this site. The site is updated every two weeks, so be sure to sign up for the e-mails if you want the most current news.

Another helpful feature of this site is its archives. If you can't read the daily news briefs, the stories are conveniently listed and stored back to Sept. 21, 1998. You can also do searches by topic.

Finally, "A Doctor in Your House" (http://www.adoctorinyourhouse.com) merits a brief mention because, hey, this is Hollywood, after all. If your computer has the right software, you can listen, watch and hear celebrities talk about their battles with illness (Larry King on heart disease, Jill Eikenberry on breast cancer, etc). It's fun, maybe even inspirational, but I'd go elsewhere if you're looking for detailed health information.

I thank everyone who responded to my request for suggestions on Web sites to review. It was tough to choose. I tried to focus on those with a Southern California connection. Because I'm always scouting for interesting new sites, please keep sending your recommendations. They may end up in my column sooner than you think!

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Your Health Online runs every other Monday in Health.

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