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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK


Gas, injection or potato?

Anaesthetists 'should take diet into account'

Meals eaten days before surgery may alter the way the body reacts to anaesthetic, scientists have discovered.

Doctors have long been puzzled by the large variations in patients' reactions to many anaesthetics and muscle relaxants.

Now researchers have found that different types of food may change the way the body breaks down anaesthetics.

[ image: Potatoes may alter body chemistry]
Potatoes may alter body chemistry
The research suggests eating even small amounts of natural substances found in potatoes, tomatoes and aubergines significantly delays the metabolism of common anaesthetics, thus prolonging the effect of the drug.

These foods contain compounds called solanaceous glycoalkaloids (SGAs), which act as natural insecticides, protecting plants from the animals, insects or fungi that attack them.

Research director Professor Jonathan Moss, of the University of Chicago, said: "Our results bring us one step closer to understanding why patients vary so widely in their sensitivity to certain anesthetic drugs.

"We now suspect that much of the variability may be due to diet."

Dose size varies

Anaesthetists base the size of the dose given to patients on a range of factors, including age, weight, height, and liver and kidney function.

But Professor Moss believes these factors only give "part of the picture," and that diet must also now be taken into consideration, alongside genetic factors.

He said. "Only then can we predetermine the best dose of drugs to prevent pain and anxiety during an operation, but leave the patient awake and alert soon afterwards."

The need to ensure that patients receive the optimum dose of anaesthetic is becoming increasingly important as more operations are being carried out on a day case basis - giving patients only a few hours to recover before they are sent home.

[ image: Professor Strunin: more research required]
Professor Strunin: more research required
Professor Leo Strunin, president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists, said the findings were based on a small scale, preliminary study, and needed further investigation before a firm link could be established.

He said: "There is an interaction between certain foods and some drugs, but I would need to see much more information before one could draw a definite link.

"Most drugs when given in certain doses work for most people, but there are always some on whom it does not work at all, and others on whom it has a much bigger effect than is normal."

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