Don't Take Off On An Empty Stomach

A snack and a beverage prior to boarding an airplane could do much more than just steady your nerves: It might also help prevent a heart attack or a loss of consciousness while in the air.

A study of 12 volunteers in a low-pressure chamber used to train pilots in Japan's air force found that those who hadn't eaten beforehand suffered a drop in blood pressure and a decrease in oxygen saturation in the brain and peripheral arteries. Eating and drinking before the tests boosted the heart's output and the blood flow to the brain, while oxygen levels in the brain and other organs also rose sharply.

Medical emergencies occur as often as once in every 800 flights, and more than half involve heart attack and loss of consciousness. The study, by Dr. Makoto Matsumura and colleagues at Saitama Medical School in Japan, was undertaken because of concern about the effects of low cabin pressure on airline passengers. Matsumura doesn't know exactly how much passengers might want to eat or drink before boarding their flights, as very heavy meals could strain the heart in people with heart disease. The volunteers in the study drank a 16-ounce soft drink and a modest lunch. Future studies will explore what effects different lunch menus have.

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