Organization blasts administration on conscience protections

Family Research Council has blasted administration on conscience protections A Christian organization promoting traditional family values has criticized President Obama for plans to relax the enforcement of the amendments that protect healthcare providers’ right of conscience.

The Family Research Council (FRC) has said that a move against the enforcement of the Church, Coats and Weldon Amendments would be a huge blow to religious freedom and First Amendment rights.

"[For the president to do so would] open the door to discrimination against the choice of healthcare workers who do not want to be complicit in abortion or other controversial practices," Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council wrote in a statement.

He added that relaxing the conscience protection regulation would "result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual."

This is not the first interest group that has expressed criticism of the new administration’s moves on civil liberties.

In recent days, the National Shooting Sports Foundation responded to a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the administration would consider banning semi-automatic rifles by saying that it would have no effect on reducing crime, but would violate gun owners’ constitutional right to own the firearm of their choice.

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Greenspan: Banks need capital for recovery

Alan Greenspan thinks the economy could turn around next yearAlan Greenspan may be currently taking some heat as the man whose policies enabled financial institutions to lend irresponsibly, but he has faith in the U.S. market to recover within the next year – as long as banks receive the capital they need.

In an editorial on the Economist website, the former Federal Reserve chairman blamed the market depression on "fear not experienced since the early 20th century."

To help rebuild the market, Greenspan suggested that "temporary public capital injections" into financial institutions are needed and would be far more effective than "conventional fiscal stimulus."

As investors see more capital on banks’ books, their fear will subside and they will feel confident enough to begin lending to them again, he suggests.

Greenspan also predicted that over the next year, home prices will stabilize, helping banks to accurately judge the relative value of their toxic assets, which will in turn aid economic recovery.

"Human nature being what it is, we can count on a market reversal hopefully within six months to a year," he concludes.

Other economists have not been so hopeful in their forecasts for the U.S. economy, suggesting it could be years before it picks up again.
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Melamine found in cocoa products

Melamine has been uncovered in some cocoa productsThe FDA may have stated that melamine is safe in small doses, but food manufacturers seem to be playing it safe and recalling tainted products.

Melamine, a toxic chemical that has been linked to kidney problems, was discovered in G&J Gourmet Market cocoa products, according to parent company Dorsey Marketing Inc.

The items, which are sold in the U.S. at Big Lots and Shopko, have not caused any known injuries, the firm stated in a news release on the FDA’s website.

"No injuries have been reported and only a few samples have, in fact, been found to include melamine," the statement reads.

The products in question include G&J Hot Cocoa Stuffer, G&J His and Hers Hot Cocoa Set and certain flavors of G&J Cocoa.

Earlier this year, melamine was responsible for sickening and killing babies in China who were consuming the chemical through their baby formula.

There have also been trace amounts found in U.S. baby formula, but the FDA insists that doses are too low to cause any harm to infants.
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Could we be facing another Great Depression?

The economy needs to turn around fastInternational economists are warning that unless the U.S. economy sees signs of a turnaround in the near future, the country could be headed for a deeper recession – or even a depression.

The IMF’s top economist, Olivier Blanchard, told French newspaper Le Monde that the next few months are likely to be "very bad."

"It is imperative to stifle this loss of confidence, to restart household consumption, if we want to prevent this recession developing into a Great Depression," he said, according to Agence France Presse.

His comments come after the U.S. government announced that the country’s economy contracted by 0.5 percent in the third quarter.

If the GDP contracts during the fourth quarter as well, it will embody the traditional definition of a recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth. There is little doubt that this criteria will be met.

During the third quarter of 2008, personal consumption fell by 3.8 percent, while exports and imports stalled and the construction industry suffered losses.

Gross domestic purchases, which reflect purchases made by Americans for all goods and services regardless of where they were made, also decreased by 1.5 percent, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
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MRSA found to be common among ER workers

Nurses have one of the highest rates of MRSA infectionTwo recent reports reveal that the rate of MRSA positivity among emergency room workers is more common than previously thought.

The findings, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, indicate that the proportion of ER workers testing positive as MRSA carriers is higher than that of the general population, Reuters Health reports.

In one study, researchers at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Illinois collected nasal swabs from ER personnel and found that 15 percent tested positive.

The other research study, at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Emergency Medicine, discovered that 31.8 percent of nasal cultures were positive for the bug Staphylococcus aureus, while MRSA was present in 4.3 percent of those tested.

Nurses, nursing assistants, and radiology and respiratory technicians were most likely to test positive.

"The varying prevalence among the different healthcare workers was unexpected," lead researcher Dr. Brian P. Suffoletto told the news provider.

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 2 million people contract an infection in a hospital each year, with around 90,000 dying as a result.
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McConnell to Congress: Take caution before spending taxpayers’ money

Congress has promised a quick stimulus packageSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned Congress not to rush plans for an early 2009 stimulus package, in order to avoid "wasting" taxpayers’ money.

His comments come after one of President-elect Barack Obama’s advisers said that the total cost of an economic stimulus plan could reach $775 billion.

McConnell suggested that instead of immediate consideration, any proposals should be considered for at least a week by Congress and the public due to its enormous price tag.

"As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayers, already stretched to the limit, deserve nothing less," he said.

Meanwhile, Representative John Boehner has also urged Democrats to be cautious about pork-barrel spending during these challenging times.

As an alternative to Obama’s plan to spend on infrastructure, Boehner has suggested increasing the child tax credit for families and cutting the capital gains, small business and corporate taxes.

Democrats said that a stimulus package will be a priority during Obama’s first 100 days in office.
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Natural remedy offers relief of common cold

Natural remedy offers relief of common cold In a climate where pharmaceutical drugs and traditional OTC medications can cause side effects and dangerous interactions, consumers are increasingly looking to alternative and natural products for relief of flu symptoms.

One such product, which is based on a pelargonium extract, has just been made available in the U.S.
Pelargonium sidoides is a medicinal plant native to South Africa that has a proven track record in treating upper respiratory tract infections.

The new product called Zucol is thus naturally safe and clinically proven to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of symptoms associated with the common cold.

Dr. David Riley, a clinical professor at the University of New Mexico Medical School and founder of the Integrative Medical Institute, says that given recent warnings about conventional cough and cold medications, the product provides an attractive alternative.

Side effects associated with some OTC cold remedies include rash, swelling, difficulties breathing, sleep disturbances, stomach bleeding and many other.

In recent months scientists have also issued a warning against using such medications in children under 6 years of age because they may cause dangerous reactions including hallucinations.

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Obama budget unrealistic, says RNC

Obama budget unrealistic, says RNCThe Republican National Committee has blasted the Democratic administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal as too lavish and based on unrealistic economic expectations.

Reminding Americans that President Obama promised to produce a budget that honestly accounted for the money the government would spend and would be free of gimmicks and deception, the RNC has set out to warn that the bill does not offer an accurate picture of the country’s financial situation.

Citing a wealth of research, the RNC claims that the economic forecasts in the budget are much higher than private forecasts.

In particular, it emphasizes that in order for the government to reduce the deficit to $600 million by 2012 the economy would have to grow by more than 4 percent a year.

However, most economists believe that it will fall by 2 percent this year and grow by between 2-3 percent during subsequent years.

The RNC also questions Obama’s predictions regarding the future direction of unemployment. While his administration assumes that it will stabilize at 7.9 percent in 2010, the committee cites expert opinions which suggest that it will far exceed 8 percent.

The Republicans have also expressed their dismay at the fact that the budget proposal will increase taxes on businesses and on individuals who make more than $250,000 a year.
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FDA approves drug from genetically engineered material

FDA approves a drug derived from genetically engineered animal milkThe Food and Drug Administration has issued its first approval for a medication that is produced using material from genetically engineered (GE) animals.

ATryn, as the drug is known, is an anticoagulant used for the prevention of blood clots in patients with a rare disease known as hereditary antithrombin (AT) deficiency.

It is formulated as a protein derived from the milk of goats whose genes have been manipulated by introducing a segment of DNA (called a recombinant DNA or rDNA) with instructions to produce human antithrombin in its milk.

Antithrombin naturally occurs in healthy people and prevents blood from clotting.

To preempt the expected criticism from the natural products industry, the FDA quoted scientists from the Center for Veterinary Medicine who said that based on their observations of seven generations of the GE goats they have not discovered any adverse effects from the rDNA or its expression.

According to the National Alliance for Trombosis and Trombophilia, about 1 in 5,000 Americans has AT deficiency, and these patients are at high risk for clotting during surgery and childbirth.

Until now, the only AT drug available in the U.S. was derived from human blood donors.

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Herbal supplement may lower risk of prostate cancer

Scientists investigate the potentially beneficial role of isoflavones in lowering the risk of prostate cancer Scientists suspect that isoflavones may be able to reverse the androgenic effects of a steroid synthesized in the human body and play a role in prostate cancer prevention.

Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health are looking into the role of isoflavones in countering the effects of DHEA, a steroid compound which stimulates the production of testosterone.

High testosterone levels are known to be adversely associated with prognosis in men with prostate cancer.

During a NCCAM laboratory study, cell cultures were subjected to DHEA and an increase in testosterone production was noted. However, when they were treated with red clover isoflavones, the androgenic effects of DHEA were reversed.

"Something is happening in the prostate tissue microenvironment that is illustrating a potential cancer prevention effect from this supplement," says Dr. Julia Arnold, a staff scientist at NCCAM.

However, she cautions that more research needs to be conducted before the effects of compounds and their interaction with DHEA are fully understood.
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Association responds to GAO supplement guidelines

Council for Responsible Nutrition has issued a statement in response to GAO supplement guidelinesA recent Government Accountability Office report on the supplement market regulation has met with a mixed response from a leading industry association.

The GAO’s January 2009 report acknowledged the progress that has been made in the area of regulation of dietary supplements, but stressed that the FDA should take further steps to improve oversight and consumer understanding.

In response, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) has praised the agency for highlighting the positive developments such as the adoption of the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) which the industry itself advocated and promoted.

"These kinds of improvements in industry regulation are the cornerstone of producing safe, high-quality dietary supplements used by more than 150 million Americans each year," said Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN.

However, the association has criticized the report for its recommendations to submit all adverse event reports, and not just serious adverse effects under the current regulations, for FDA review.

"The agency is already overburdened and understaffed, and we are opposed to creating more bureaucratic paperwork that would not result in true benefits for consumer safety," added Mister.

He concluded by saying that the FDA should concentrate its limited resources on tighter enforcement with a view of ensuring that all companies live up to their commitments to protecting consumers and producing beneficial supplement products.
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CIA destroyed interrogation evidence, say government lawyers

Government lawyers have revealed that the CIA destroyed interrogation evidenceAs civil rights advocates fight for the release of the Bush administration documents related to the war on terrorism, a group of government lawyers has revealed the CIA has destroyed videotapes of interrogation proceedings.

They made the revelations in a letter to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein from New York who issued an order in 2004 to preserve the material.

A lawyer for the ACLU was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that this demonstrates a "systematic attempt" to cover up the mistreatment of suspects.

In responding to the news, President Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs said that under the new leadership the agency will have "the tools they need to keep us safe, but do so in a way that also protects our values."

Meanwhile, the ACLU has scored a victory in its attempt to obtain the release of records documenting the Bush administration’s policies regarding detainees in the so-called "war on terror."

The group filed a petition to that effect with the Justice Department last January.

On Monday, the department released nine secret memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that authorized some of the former administration’s national security policies. One of the memos was written by OLC lawyer John Yoo and argued the Fourth Amendment does not apply to military activities inside the United States, according to ACLU.

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Natural remedies may also be effective against high cholesterol

Natural remedies may be effective against high cholesterol These days, it is all too easy to rely on potent drugs to reduce cholesterol levels, but one analysis has pointed out that pharmaceutical companies do not always have all the answers.

Cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins have been shown to cause serious side effects and adverse drug interactions in some people. They include muscle fiber or liver damage as well as neurological and cognitive disruptions.

That research has prompted editors of Natural Solutions magazine to explore healthy lifestyle choices and alternatives therapies.

"Medical experts agree that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains is the key to keeping cholesterol low," says the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Linda Sparrowe.

She adds that although challenging at first, lifestyle changes such as exercise and healthy diet that includes supplements should be the first choice of patients facing high cholesterol problems.

The article concludes with suggestions for natural sources of low cholesterol and for cholesterol-lowering supplements, including niacin, omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and red yeast rice extract, many of which have the dual benefit of reducing LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, and increasingly the levels of the healthy HDL.
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Human studies to explore vitamin link to hearing loss prevention

Scientists will conduct tests on humans to explore the link between hearing loss prevention and vitamin supplementsScientists have demonstrated that antioxidants may shield animals from hearing loss due to noise exposure. Now they are trying to establish if this would also work in humans.

Researchers from the universities of Florida and Michigan have been building on earlier findings that hearing loss is caused not only by loud noises that tear the structures of the inner ear, but also by the presence of free radicals.

That is why they fed animals beta carotene, vitamins C and E as well as mineral magnesium, the latter used to preserve blood flow to the inner ear and aid healing.

They theorized that the antioxidants will prevent hearing damage by neutralizing the free radicals, and their theory was fully confirmed by subsequent results.

Now they have set out to study the effect of supplements in college students at UF who wear MP3 music players and noise-exposed military troops and factory workers in Sweden and Spain.

Positive results would enable researchers to produce a pill supplement for factory workers or a nutritional bar included in soldiers’ rations.

According to Colleen Le Prell, a researchers at UF, "ear plugs [are the best protection against] noise-induced hearing loss, but in those populations who don’t or can’t wear [them]… supplements could provide an opportunity for additional protection."
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Foundation criticizes government for gun control plans

National Shooting Sports Foundation has criticized the government for gun control plansIn response to a recent statement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the administration would consider banning semi-automatic rifles, an industry association has said a ban would be counterproductive and illegal.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation believes a ban would cause jobs to be lost, and have no effect on reducing crime. It would also violate gun owners’ constitutional right to own the firearm of their choice.

"These semi-automatic rifles are the most popular rifle in America today and they are largely behind the recent increase in firearms sales," said Steve Sanetti, president of NSSF. "This is a bright spot in our economy and has helped save jobs in our industry."

He also blasted Holder for erroneously calling this type of rifle an "assault weapon," and said that it is used by millions of law-abiding Americans for hunting, sport and personal defense.

On February 26, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the Obama Administration intended to reinstate a semi-automatic gun ban in the U.S.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association of the firearms industry and promotes, protects and preserves the shooting sports.
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Vitamin D deficiency ‘a major epidemic’

Health association sees vitamin D deficiency as a major epidemicThe American Public Health Association (APHA) has set out to raise awareness of vitamin D deficiency among children and adults alike, a phenomenon that it sees as a top public health issue in the U.S.

According to the association, 30-40 percent of American children and 40-50 percent of adults are at risk of the deficiency which stems mainly from low sunlight exposure, age-related decreases in vitamin D formation through the skin and a diet low in vitamin D.

"Maximal vitamin D production occurs in the summer months, and depending on the latitude, little or no vitamin D may be generated in winter months," says an APHA informational paper.

It adds that clothes can also play a big role, and gives an example of Saudi women who suffer from rampant vitamin D deficiency because traditional clothes completely cover their skin.

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, especially in children and older people, and various studies have linked it to lower risks of cancer and heart disease.

In addition to direct sunlight, other natural sources of the nutrient include butter, eggs, orange juice, and fish liver oils as well as milk and cereal.

Consumers who might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency may consider enriching their diet with supplements.

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Father sues utility in lead poisoning case

Father sues utility in lead poisoning caseA father of twins has filed a lawsuit against the Washington DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) accusing it of providing lead-tainted water that resulted in developmental problems in his children.

In the suit, filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, John Parkhurst of Capitol Hill is demanding $200 million in damages for the alleged poisoning.

It has left his 8-year-old twins suffering from a range of behavioral problems which adversely impact their attention, learning and executive functioning. The estimated costs of their therapy and medication are currently in the range of $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

According to the complaint, one independent expert has investigated the water contamination and WASA’s efforts to withhold the information from its customers and has called it perhaps "the largest environmental crime in U.S. history."

The lawsuit in Washington comes shortly after researchers identified a cluster of a rare blood cancer, called polycythemia vera, in the Tamaqua area of Pennsylvania and have found a potential link between the disease and environmental pollution.

The doctors confirmed that a large number of their patients live within close proximity to areas containing hazardous waste materials coming from waste-coal power plants and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites.

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No agreement on privacy implications of stimulus package

No agreement on privacy implications of the stimulus packageLike any piece of legislation the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was always going to provoke mixed reactions, and medical advocacy groups are it finding it hard to agree on the implications of its privacy provisions.

In a newly released statement, the American Psychological Association praises the part of the ARRA which deals with health information technology regulations, known as the HITECH Act. The organization stresses the bill will mandate standards for better privacy and security protection in the health care system.

"The HITECH Act is the most comprehensive HIT legislation introduced by Congress and represents a giant leap forward for psychologists and their patients, achieving strong patient records privacy and security protections," it says.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington-based Institute for Health Freedom, the stimulus package permits personal health information to be exchanged and sold for research and public-health purposes without patient consent.

The institute is also critical of the plan to convert the health records of each American into an electronic version by 2014 without allowing an opt-out.

Congress passed the economic stimulus package worth $787 billion on February 13. It includes $19 billion in spending on health IT as well as $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health.

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Stimulus package provisions for retirees

Stimulus package contains provisions that retirees can benefit from In the current economic conditions almost everyone could use an economic stimulus, and analysts have identified provisions that can benefit America’s retirees.

They include a one-time $250 tax-free payment, regardless of income, to Social Security recipients or an equivalent tax credit for those who do not receive benefits such as retired government workers.

Retirees (and others) may also be able to deduct sales or excise taxes on the first $49,500 of the sales price of most motor vehicles purchase before the end of the current year.

The analysis conducted by CNNMoney.com also points out some novel provisions that reward energy conservation. Consumers may obtain tax credits for a range of eco-friendly home improvements such as solar-energy heating systems, geothermal heat pumps and wind energy systems.

Moreover, retirees who want to take courses at local colleges may be eligible for education credits, and high-income seniors in particular could benefit from a provision that shields more taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

Such benefits are especially timely given that a slew of recent reports has painted a pessimistic picture of the state of American retirement funds.

According to a recent survey by Pensions & Investment, the 1,000 largest plans lost almost $1 trillion in the year ended September 2008, their worst decline in 30 years.
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Study finds calcium may prevent cancer in women

Study finds calcium may prevent cancer in women In addition to supporting healthy bones, especially in menopausal women, a calcium-rich diet may also lower their risk of developing many types of cancer.

Scientist from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, analyzed data from 198,903 women focusing in particular on their dairy and calcium supplement consumption. They concluded that women decreased their risk of cancer with a daily intake of up to 1,300 milligrams of calcium.

Moreover, the researchers found that both men and women whose diet is rich in calcium have lower risks of cancers of the digestive system, especially colorectal tumors.

The authors explain this by pointing out that calcium, along with vitamin D and conjugated linoleic acid, all found in dairy products or available in the form of dietary supplements, are potentially anticarcinogenic.

Specifically, it has been demonstrated that calcium induces normal turnover among cells in the gastrointestinal tract and breast and reduces abnormal growth. It also binds to bile and fatty acids, potentially shielding the mucous membrane of the large intestine from damage.

The research results were published in the February 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
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Study describes role of omega-3 acids in obesity management

New study has detailed the role of omega-3 acids in obesity management While their overall beneficial effects on human health have been well documented, omega-3 fatty acids’ role in obesity treatment and management are only now being properly explored.

Obesity is frequently accompanied by liver problems and scientists now believe that the compounds play a significant role in protecting this vital organ from damage.

Consequently, doctors and dieticians are even more likely to recommend switching to omega-3-rich foods such as fish, flaxseed oil or meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals to people with a particular risk of dangerous liver complications and those who struggle to lose weight.

"Doctors are always looking for simple and easy ways to counter the harmful effects of obesity," says Dr. Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, adding that "the great thing about this study is that the information can be used at dinner tonight."

The journal published the study results in its online issue on February 23.

According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and is responsible for devastating and costly health problems including cancer, heart and liver diseases as well as muscoskeletal complications.
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Major multinationals among finalists of green company contest

British Airways, Coca Cola, Ikea, Verizon, Wal-mart and Whole Foods among the finalists for Green Choice Awards A popular healthy lifestyle magazine is set to honor the top green companies of 2008 in its May 2009 issue.

The Natural Health Green Choice Awards will celebrate multinational companies which have implemented significant green initiatives and have served as an inspiration to their peers.

The contest asked candidates to submit information about their company’s alternative energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, recycling, carbon footprint and LEED certifications. The 25 finalists include companies such as British Airways, Coca Cola, Ikea, Verizon, Wal-mart and Whole Foods.

The awards will be presented to ten winners by actor and environmental activist Ed Begley, Jr., during a cocktail reception at Tavern on the Green in New York City on May 5, 2009.

The magazine’s editor-in-chief Mary Bolster expressed her excitement with Begley’s participation by saying that "[he] has been the embodiment of green living and green ideas for the past 38 years and as the owner of Begley’s Best, a line of non-toxic household cleaners, [and therefore] he’s the perfect person to help us choose the best green companies of 2008."

Natural Health was founded in 1971 and covers a wide range of topics including fitness, health, wellness, beauty, travel, style and home.
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Ideas for managing wealth in a tough economy

Council says diversification is still the best investment strategyDuring the current recession everyone can benefit from a piece of sound economic advice, and one industry group is offering its own insights into managing wealth during turbulent times.

Dow Jones Wealth Management Advisory Council said that the optimal portfolio mix in the current conditions focuses on opportunities in liabilities instead of assets and makes allocations for the long term. As always, keeping the portfolios diversified is the best strategy.

"Our clients are making sure that their long-term risk tolerance is in line with their asset allocation," said Patricia Bell, senior vice president of investments for Merrill Lynch. "Where there is a disconnect there needs to be discussions."

Council members are also advising their clients to reduce exposure to risky investments and to focus on simple financial instruments. According to Mike Sawyer, managing director of investments at Citi Smith Barney, now is a good time to invest in fixed income, high-dividend blue chip stocks, well-managed funds and appropriate deposit vehicles.

The council is a group of top wealth managers dedicated to promoting the practice of wealth management, facilitating industry discussion and representing the needs and concerns of the profession.
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