Sunday, December 28, 2008

FDA Will Reexamine Potential BPA Bottle Risk

The issue of whether water and other bottles made from the plastic bisphenol-A (BPA) is dangerous to humans isn't quite settled yet, as far as the FDA is concerned. The FDA has decided to reconsider the potential risk posed by the material after its own advisory group accused the agency of "failing to adequately consider research about the dangers of bisphenol-A," according to an article in The New York Times.

A number of animal studies have linked BPA to risk of disease, including some by federal government agencies. BPA is used in many types of plastic bottles (including baby bottles) and in plastic containers, as well as other containers used for food.

Scientific American featured an article in April discussing what it saw as the reasons for suspicions surrounding BPA.

One study has found that the chemical is released more quickly when boiling water is placed in a container made from BPA, but says it's unclear what addition risk this might pose to humans.

The Canadian government is said to have restricted the use of certain products containing BPA, and to have banned baby bottles made with the chemical.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Health Myths Debunked, and Top Health Stories of 2008

The holiday season is a time of overindulging in food and fun, and of looking back on the past year. WebMD has articles covering both aspects of the season. First there's a quick look at some long-held myths about the holidays and wintertime. Does eating lots of sugar really make children hyperactive? Is it true you lose most of your body heat through your head? Is there really an effective hangover remedy? This article sets the facts straight.

Food and health issues were in the news a lot this year, from tainted tomatoes to the fact that more Americans have HIV than was previously thought. WebMD surveys the top 10 health news stories of 2008, with a number of links to relevant articles for each topic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lean Cuisine Recall: Details on Specific Products Involved

Close to 900,000 pounds of Lean Cuisine frozen chicken meals are being recalled because they may contain small pieces of hard blue plastic. Nestle, the owner of Lean Cuisine, issues the recall after receiving a half dozen or so complaints from consumers.

An article on WebMD lists the products involved in the Lean Cuisine recall and gives the toll-free phone number to call with questions (800-227-6188). Lean Cuisine has also set up a Web site,, with updates on the recall.

The affected products are listed below, but not all of these products are being recalled; check the Web site to see which product codes are involved in the Lean Cuisine recall.

LEAN CUISINE Café Classics Pesto Chicken with Bow Tie Pasta
LEAN CUISINE Spa Cuisine Chicken Mediterranean
LEAN CUISINE Dinnertime Selects Chicken Tuscan

Monday, November 17, 2008

Burlington, Vermont Named America's Healthiest City

Burlington, Vermont has been named the healthiest city in the United States in a study conducted for the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Both towns are home to colleges and both have mostly white populations, but beyond that there are more differences than similarities. Burlington's citizens are younger, wealthier, and better educated than their counterparts in Huntington. Eight percent of Burlington's population lives at the Federal poverty level; in Huntington, the figure is 19 percent.

Vermont is home to skiing and other winter sports, of course, but Burlington residents are also enthusiastic participants in activities such as bicycling, hiking, and walking. And there are groups in the town that encourage maintenance of parks, walkways, etc.

At the University of Vermont you can find students eating the traditional college fare of pizza and snack foods, but Burlington, like many places in Vermont, also has plenty of healthier options such as organic and vegan food.

Burlington has been getting good press for other reasons, too: it was the focus of a recent Wall Street Journal article that detailed why the city has become popular as a destination for retired people to settle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Study Shows Statins Benefit Low-Cholesterol Patients

A new study has shown that common cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can dramatically reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events in patients who already have low cholesterol.

The study, called Jupiter, examined about 18,000 healthy men and women who had normal cholesterol levels but higher-than-normal levels of a type of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance that's a marker of inflammation in the bloodstream, and which has been linked to heart disease.

Jupiter used the commonly used statin drug Crestor, was planned as a four-year test but was stopped after less than two because of the remarkable results. The study, which was funded by the maker of Crestor (Astra-Zeneca), was presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association and appears in The New England Journal of Medicine (Nov. 20th issue).

The significance of the study is that many heart attacks (as many as half of them) take place in people who don't have high LDL (so-called "bad") cholesterol levels or other risk factors for heart disease.

But some experts caution that Crestor and other statins have side effects, and that people should try to lower their risk for heart disease through other means such as diet and exercise before going on a medication that can be expensive and which they may need to take the rest of their lives.

In light of the Jupiter study, WebMD has prepared an article with Crestor questions and answers.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Toni Braxton's Microvascular Angina: Questions and Answers

Many music fans and TV watchers were surprised to learn that 40-year-old singer Toni Braxton, a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," has a heart condition called microvascular angina. What exactly is this condition, how common is it, and what is the prognosis for sufferers like Braxton? WebMD has a good Q&A article on Toni Braxton's microvascular angina, which is also known as cardiac syndrome X.

Braxton has had cardiac problems before; in 2004 she came down with a case of pericarditis, an inflammation of the pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart. Does this previous problem have anything to do with her current bout of microvascular angina? WebMD asked that question, too, in its article.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Plastic Chemical Bisphenol A Linked to Health Problems

It seems that bisphenol A, the controversial chemical used in plastics, is not off the hook for health problems just yet. BPA, as it's known, is found in items including baby bottles and those ubiquitous water bottles used by hikers, and WebMD is reporting that for the first time that bisphenol A has been linked to health problems including diabetes and heart disease. The WebMD article above has more details on the study findings and the problems associated with bisphenol A.

Bisphenol A is used in polycarbonate plastic, a type of hard plastic that can be found in the lining of some canned goods as well as the water and baby bottles. The findings were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association and were presented Sept. 16th at a public hearing on bisphenol A held by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA took a lot of heat for concluding that BPA was safe and ignoring safety concerns that had been brought up, according to a report on the FDA meeting from WebMD.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Accutane Side Effects Being Debated in Courts

Accutane is a powerful drug that can clear up severe cases of acne. But as with many other potent drugs, the side effects can also be powerful. Accutane has been claimed to cause suicidal thoughts or behaviors in rare cases, but a more frequent complaint about the drug is a variety of gastrointestinal disorders.

Accutane (generic name: isotretinoin) should only be used for severe instances of acne, and when other treatments have failed. Accutane side effects are noted in an article on severe acne from the American Academy of Dermatology, which notes that some people should not take the drug at all because of its adverse effects.

The article notes possible Accutane side effects including "Severe pain in the chest or abdomen; trouble swallowing or painful swallowing; severe headache, blurred vision or dizziness; bone and joint pain; nausea or vomiting; diarrhea or rectal bleeding; depression." And Accutane can cause severe and life-threatening birth defects, so females of childbearing age are required to sign a pledge to use birth control, according to

Numerous lawsuits related to Accutane side effects are in the works, says Forbes magazine. It notes that "A Florida jury awarded $7 million in 2007 to a man who had most of his colon removed after suffering from a disease apparently caused by Accutane," an award that the article says the drug's maker, Hoffmann-La Roche, is appealing. The article also says that a jury in Utah awarded $10 million to a woman who contracted IBD, saying that the manufacturer "downplayed the drug's risks."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Health News: Knee Surgery, Natalie Cole's Hepatitis C, Kids and "Snurf"

A quick roundup of some of the health and medicine topics that are making news this week:

* Arthroscopy has become a very common type of surgery for all kinds of knee problems, but new research shows that it may not have any effect on reducing knee arthritis. Also, here's an in-depth guide to knee pain.

* "Snurf" pills (herbal, over-the-counter drugs that create feelings of euphoria) are becoming a growing health problem with teens.

* Singer Natalie Cole has hepatitis C, and this article answers some questions about the disease: how hepatitis C is contracted, how to treat it, and more.

* And with the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks tomorrow, the Mayo Clinic offers some tips for coping with reminders of grief.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How Alaska Governor Sarah Palin Stays in Great Shape

With the surprise pick of Sarah Palin as the Republican VP candidate, people are buzzing about her policy stands, political strengths and weaknesses, and the like. But I have a feeling that upon seeing photos of the Alaska governor today for the first time, many Americans are asking themselves another question, too: "How does someone in her 40s who has had 5 kids stay in such great shape?" And since this is a health blog, we're more interested in the health and fitness issues than the political ones anyway.

As it so happens, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Sarah Palin about her unusual fitness routine and workout regimen for the premiere issue of its new WSJ Magazine.

While you might not eat mooseburgers or caribou meat as Governor Palin does, you may learn something from her experiences about how a very busy person manages to keep fit and healthy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cervical Dysplasia: Not Always a Cause for Concern

A diagnosis of cervical dysplasia may be disturbing to women, but it's not necessarily an indication of cancer. Dysplasia simply means abnormal growth in an organ or in cells, but a woman who is diagnosed with cervical dysplasia will want to keep an eye on it because this condition can later turn into cancer.

Cervical dysplasia, also called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), is considered a pre-cancerous condition. The Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia looks at the causes, symptoms, and risk factors for cervical dysplasia.

The Women's Health Channel takes a deeper look at symptoms, diagnosis, and staging of cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.

The Mayo Clinic also has an overview of the subject.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bernie Mac Dies of Sarcoidosis at 50

The rumors that Bernie Mac is dead are actually true now: the 50-year-old comedian has died in a Chicago hospital from complications due to pneumonia. While it may seem strange to hear of someone dying of pneumonia in this day and age, it's not that uncommon, especially when one has an underlying disease such as AIDS or, in the case of Bernie Mac, sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosisis a relatively rare immune system disease, the formation of small, grain-like lumps called granulomas. The granulomas can clump together to form larger lumps, which become inflamed. Though the granulomas can occur in different organs or in the lymph nodes, almost 90% of people with sarcoidosis are affected in the lungs.

Bernie Mac became ill in 2004 and the next year announced that he had sarcoidosis, according to a profile in the Chicago Tribune.

The Mayo Clinic has more on the causes, complications, and treatment of sarcoidosis.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Questions and Answers on Christina Applegate's Breast Cancer

Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer can be a shock at any age, but it's even more surprising when it happens to someone young, as it did to 36-year-old actress Christina Applegate. It's unusual to hear of someone getting the disease at that young an age, but it does happen. A good friend of mine from college was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s, but unfortunately by the time it was caught it was too far advanced. She died at age 35.

The good news is that Christina Applegate's breast cancer was caught early and she has a very good prognosis. WebMD has put together an FAQ (frequently asked questions) on Applegate's breast cancer, so women can learn from her experience.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Dr. Oz Green Drink and "You: Staying Young," an Anti-Aging Guide

After the runaway success of their first few books, doctors Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz are back with a new guide to staying health and living longer.

You: Staying Young is the latest book from Oprah Winfrey's favorite doctors, who are also the authors of You: The Owner's Manual, You: The Smart Patient, and You: On a Diet.

In the book, doctors detail their claim that many of the effects of the aging process are not just preventable but even reversible with lifestyle changes, such as the Dr. Oz green drink recipe that they mentioned on the Oprah show. (The Dr. Oz green drink recipe contains ingredients such as spinach, parsley, ginger, and cucumber, which sounds very healthy... wonder how it tastes?)

Winfrey has in the past featured the two, and maintains a Web page for the "Dr. Oz diet" on her Web site.

You: Staying Young is also the name of the TV show Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen have created for the Discovery Health channel. In the TV show the doctors take an overweight middle-aged couple and help to put them on the road to better health with their recommendations. Presumably they couple got to sample the now-famous Dr. Oz green drink recipe... don't know if they liked it, but according to the stats provided by Dr. Oz, the couple improved their health dramatically after a couple of weeks following the guidelines of You: Staying Young.

Learn more about Dr. Oz's anti-aging detox tips.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Medical Wikipedia to Be Launched

Inspired by the success of Wikipedia, a team of medical professionals has decided to create Medpedia, an online medical reference.

Medpedia seeks to be a medical version of the popular online encyclopedia... but unlike the original, the articles will not be written by any Tom, Dick, or Harriet. In fact, the articles will be written by doctors and Ph.D.s, and will focus on explaining conditions, drugs, procedures, and similar topics. (NOTE: the Medpedia site currently just offers a preview of what the site will look like. The home page says the full site will launch at the "end of 2008.")

According to the above article in Computerworld, Medpedia has the support of medical authorities inlcuding the Harvard Medical School, the Stanford School of Medicine, and the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health.

Among other things, these institutions will provide content and encourage their employees to sign on to be Medpedia editors.

Also unlike Wikipedia, whose authors and editors are usually anonymous, Medpedia will offer editor profiles that provide details such as their background and areas of expertise.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Study Compares Mediterranean, Low-Carb, and Low-Fat Diets

WebMD reports on a new long-term study that directly compared three leading diets: the so-called Mediterranean Diet, a low-carb diet (based on the Atkins Diet), and a traditional low-fat diet.

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed that people could lose weight on all three diets, and that the plans offer other health benefits as well, including improvements in participants' levels of blood fats and blood sugar.

You can read the entire article on the weight-loss study at the NEJM's Web site.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Volumetrics and the Volumetrics Eating Plan

Volumetrics is a way of losing weight through eating, but it's not really a "diet" as such. Instead, it focuses on eating foods that are low in calories but that leave you feeling full because they contain water and fiber (fruits, for example). Created by Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., Volumetrics is based on substituting high-calorie foods with "high-volume," low-calorie alternatives.

For example, she notes that a handful of grapes has the same number of calories as a much smaller quantity of raisins, yet the grapes will be more filling and satisfying because of the water and fiber in them. You can find a more detailed look at the principles of Volumetrics at this good article from WebMD.

The Nutrition Department of Northwestern University also gives a quick fact sheet on the Volumetrics plan.

In the book The Volumetrics Eating Plan (below), the creator of Volumetrics, Barbara Rolls, puts together menu and meal plans that make it easy to put the principles of volumetrics into effect so you can lose weight safely.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Proteus Syndrome: Beyond the Elephant Man

Proteus syndrome, also known as gigantism, is best know because it was the condition suffered by Joseph Merrick, the subject of the book, play, and film "The Elephant Man." Proteus syndrome causes the overgrowth of skin on the body and also deformed bone growth. The result can be club feet and hands (which is where the "Elephant Man" identification came from), as well as on the head and other areas of the body.

Proteus syndrome is a congenital disorder that can involve many different body systems, and besides the extreme disfiguration it causes, it presents some very serious health risks. Proteus syndrome is, fortunately, quite rare: it's estimated that only 100 to 200 people worldwide have it (or have been diagnosed with it, anyway).

You can find a good layman's overview of Proteus syndrome at the Web site. The Proteus Syndrome Foundation also features a lot of information, including definitions, symptoms, criteria for diagnosing Proteus syndrome, and a glossary of terms used.

For the more scientifically oriented reader, you'll find details and further reading at the Web site of the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

All About Food: Lose Weight with Red Wine, the Big Breakfast Diet, and Sweet News

A number of food-related developments in health news have gotten my attention in the last few days. So here's a quick summary with links:

  • Red wine has gotten another boost as a healthy ingredient of one's diet. Already linked to potential heart and cancer-fighting benefits, it has been mentioned in a study as having benefits for losing weight, too.

  • Another study has found that having a big breakfast can help people lose weight. Of course, what the study considers a "big breakfast" is a 600-calorie meal that has ample carbohydrates and protein, not a Denny's Grand Slam with bacon, eggs, and toast, all fried and smothered in butter and bacon grease. But people following the "big breakfast diet" "lose more weight long term than eating a modest breakfast and following a lower-carb eating plan," according to a WebMD article. The reason seems to be that folks having a bigger, heartier breakfast don't fee as hungry before lunch, or the rest of the day.

  • And finally, the American Medical Association has determined that there's no scientific proof that high-fructose corn syrup deserves the blame for the country's obesity epidemic—at least not any more than sugar or other sweeteners. High-fructose corn syrup is often accused for being worse for a person's health than other sweeteners.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert Dies of Coronary Thrombosis - What Is It?

[UPDATED] TV newsman Tim Russert died today of what his doctor has said was a coronary thrombosis (it was originally reported as a coronary embolism)... so what is a coronary thrombosis?

A thrombus is a clot that can be made up of blood, cholesterol, and other material that forms in a part of the body and stays there (as opposed to an embolus, which migrates through the bloodstream). Thrombosis occurs when a thrombus creates a blockage in an artery, and in the case of a coronary thrombosis it's one of the coronary arteries that's blocked.

Since the coronary arteries supply blood to the heart. if the blockage is not cleared up the heart will be starved of oxygen, causing the death of heart muscle—what's known as a myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack.

Russert's internist has explained that cholesterol plaque had ruptured in an artery, causing sudden coronary thrombosis. He also said that an autopsy showed that Russert had an enlarged heart, according to NBC. And the doctor said that Russert had been diagnosed with asymptomatic coronary artery disease, and was taking medication and engaging in exercise to control it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"Dry Drowning" a New Summertime Worry for Parents

Last week parents got a new hazard that may befall their children this summer: a little-known phenomenon called dry drowning. The condition burst onto the public's mind recently when it was reported that a 10-year-old South Carolina died more than an hour after being in a swimming pool.

It may sound unlikely that a person can drown on dry land, but that's exactly what happens in dry drowning. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that 10 to 15% of drownings can be classified as dry drownings. (You can find a CDC fact sheet on drowning here.)

Even a small amount of water in the lungs after swimming can cause illness and even death, as reported in an article on WebMD. The article examines how dry drowning happens, what the signs and symptoms are, how long after water exposure dry drowning is a danger, and more.

As with many illnesses, dry drowning can be prevented if noticed and treated early. So before you head off to the pool or swimming hole with the family, learn the signs of drowning, dry and otherwise, and be safe.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lorenzo Odone (of "Lorenzo's Oil" Fame) Dies at 30

Lorenzo Odone, whose struggle against a rare disease led his parents to be activists portrayed in the movie "Lorenzo's Oil," has died at age 30.

His parents fought to save him from the metabolic nerve disease adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) despite the fact that they had no scientific background. Lorenzo Odone died at home on Friday at his home after coming down with pneumonia from getting food stuck in his throat.

You can learn more about ALD at Web sites from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, including a fact sheet, and more technical information from the National Center for BiotechnologyInformation. You can find advocacy information from the ALD Foundation.

Lorenzo Odone ended up living 20 years longer than doctors had predicted. He was diagnosed at age 6 with adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD.

The movie "Lorenzo's Oil" starred Nick Nolte as Augusto Odone and Susan Sarandon as his wife Michaela.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stomach Bug C. diff Causing More Illness... and Death

A new strain a common stomach bug is becoming more widespread in the U.S.... and is becoming more deadly as well. Clostridium difficile, commonly called C. diff, is making more people sick all over the United States, and an article on WebMD notes that the mortality rate has double among those who come down with the illness.

Diagnosed cases of C. diff in American adults more than doubled from 2000 to 2005, a new study reports. And another group of researchers warned last year that the rate of death from C. diff had been jumping by 35% per year. This has scientists calling C. diff the latest "superbug," and even using the "e" word —epidemic —when discussing C. diff.

C. diff is one of those bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract of many people, and does so without causing any harm. (It also is widespread all around us... in the air, soil, etc.) Like other bacteria, though, it can cause problems with certain harmful strains develop, or when sickness or other reason causes the usually harmless bacteria to grow unchecked and become too prevalent.

As the WebMD article notes, C. diff can still be killed with existing antibiotics... though the dangerous new strain is less susceptible to them. What's more, patients who get sick from C. diff may become ill from it a second time, and sometimes more.

You can learn more about C. diff signs and symptoms, causes, and treatment in this article from the Mayo Clinic. C. diff symptoms can include diarrhea, dehydration, and abdominal pain.

The study reporting the increased incidence of C. diff appeared in the June 2008 edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Compare Health Care Choices at

Americans looking to make more sense of the maze of hospital choices facing them have a new tool to help them, called Hospital Compare at The site attracted a lot of attention when the U.S. government first launched it, and now it will get a lot more notice thanks to a new ad campaign that began today.

WebMD says that the Department of Health and Human Services is spending $1.9 million to publicize Hospital Compare. According to WebMD, Hospital Compare sizes up "about 2,500 U.S. hospitals according to how often they meet 26 performance measures, based on Medicare data." It notes that the site was first created in 2005 and relaunched a second time a couple of months ago, using data from patient satisfaction surveys.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obstetric Fibula Gets Attention in "A Walk to Beautiful"

Obstetric fibula is a tragic disease that claims the lives of many women, but what makes it worse is that it is totally preventable. An award-winning film called "A Walk to Beautiful" sheds light on the obstetric fibula, following the lives of five women in Ethiopia. While the film may not have gotten a large viewing as a full-length documentary, it is now getting new exposure in a shortened version being shown as part of the PBS network's "Nova" series.

Obstetric fistula occurs when a hole in the birth canal is caused by prolonged labor (which can sometimes last several days). The World Health Organization has called fistula "the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth," and says that there are more than 2 million women living with fistula worldwide. Many of these cases are due to inadequate obstetric care, the film's Web site says.

You can find out more about obstetric fistula in a United Nations document and at the Web sites of the Fistula Foundation and End Fistula.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kawasaki Disease, a Children's Disorder of the Blood Vessels

Kawasaki disease (also called Kawasaki syndrome) is a childhood illness that involves inflammation of the blood vessels. It affects the mucus membranes, blood vessels (particularly the walls of the vessels), lymph nodes, and the heart, according to the Medline Plus medical encyclopedia.

Kawasaki disease is relatively rare and was first discovered in Japan, which is still the country where it occurs most frequently. In the United States, Kawasaki disease is seen most often in children of Japanese or Korean descent, though it can be found in children of all ethnic groups.

Medline notes that Kawasaki disease is "the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children." Inflammation of the coronary arteries can potentially lead to an aneurysm. The good news is that Kawasaki disease is treatable and the child can make a full recovery is the disorder is recognized and treated early.

The disorder is mainly seen in children under age five. The most common symptom of Kawasaki disease is a high fever (around 102 degrees Fahrenheit or more) that lasts at least five days. But to reach a diagnosis of Kawasaki disease, a number of other symptoms must be present.

You can find those signs and symptoms, as well as information on diagnosis, treatment, and complications, in articles at a number of helpful Web sites, including,, and the American Heart Association.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Krabbe Disease: Signs, Symptoms, Prognosis

The recent Powerball lottery win by a Minnesota couple has put the rare disorder Krabbe disease in the spotlight. The win for Paul and Sue Rosenau came five years to the day that a two-year-old granddaughter of theirs died of Krabbe disease, a disorder of the nervous system.

The couple says it has been working to make testing for Krabbe disease part of routine medical screening for newborns.

Krabbe disease, which is also called globoid cell leukodystrophy, is a degenerative disorder caused by a deficiency of an enzyme involved in the growth and maintenance of myelin, a substance that acts as a sheath or protective covering around some nerve cells in the body, similar to the way the plastic coating on electrical wire helps protect the wire and enable it to transmit electricity.

For a clear layman's explanation of Krabbe disease, check out the entry from the Medline Plus medical encyclopedia.

According to the U.S. government's Genetics Home Reference Web page on the disorder, Krabbe disease usually is seen by the age of one in babies, with symptoms including fever, irritability, muscle weakness, and difficulties in feeding. You can find more information at that Web site, as well as at another government Web page from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which defines the illness, gives signs and symptoms, and describes treatment and prognosis.

The Web site has a more scientific look at Krabbe disease, for readers with a more thorough understanding of medicine.

Economic Woes Are Easing the Nursing Shortage

In the every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining department, it seems that the current economic downturn is actually helping to ease America's nursing shortage. Today's Wall Street Journal reports that many nurses who had given up the field are returning to work. The article suggests that falling home prices and rising costs of gas and food are sending people back into nursing. Some of these nurses are seeking income to compensate for the wages of a spouse who lost a job.

The Journal says that hospitals are reporting that part-time nurses are picking up additional shifts, and that nursing schools are finding more people interested in refresher courses.

This easing could be temporary, of course; one hospital administrator quoted in the article notes that as soon as the economy picks up, nurses could leave the field again.

In any case, this easing of the nursing shortage will help a strained health care system, and it would be wise for government and industry leaders to use the time to devise some long-term solutions for the nursing shortage.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Syphilis Rates On the Rise After Years of Decline

Syphilis is one of those diseases that has been around for centuries, but had been brought under control recently, with rates declining in the U.S. A recent article on Medscape notes that infection rates in America have been on the rise in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

While HIV/AIDS usually gets most of the coverage when the press covers sexually transmitted diseases, syphilis is a potentially deadly disease that can have many devastating effects on the sufferer. Not helping matters is the fact that the signs of syphilis mimic those of many other skin disorders.

And speaking of HIV/AIDS, when that illness co-occurs with syphilis the symptoms and treatment can become even more complex. You can find out a lot more about syphilis at Medline's Web site.

Patients who have had syphilis for many years may develop neurosyphilis if their condition is untreated or is improperly or inadequately treated. Neurosyphilis is a life-threatening infection of the brain or spinal cord. Because neurosyphilis is characterized by an infection of the cerebrospinal fluid, diagnosis may be made by a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

See Medline's article on neurosyphilis for more information on this disorder.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Gastric Bypass Surgery Helps Cure Diabetes

Many people have had gastric bypass surgery to overcome obesity, but scientists have discovered that the operation can have another, unexpected benefit: obese patients who had diabetes no longer have the disease soon after they have the surgery. In some cases, the diabetes goes into remission immediately.

And as a report on the April 20th "60 Minutes" details, gastric bypass surgery, or bariatric surgery, can have a positive effect on obesity-related cancers, too.

Scientists interviewed in the report said that the diabetes remission might be due to the fact that part of the small intestine is removed during gastric bypass surgery, and that portion of the intestine may play a role in causing diabetes.

You can find out more information at the Web sites of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and the Diabetes Surgery Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DASH Diet Can Cut Strokes, Cardiovascular Disease

Eating a low-fat diet full of fruits and vegetables is not only good for the heart and for high blood pressure, it can also decrease women's likelihood of having a heart attack and stroke.

As reported by WebMD and other sources, women following the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) have been found to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease than women not on the diet. The study showing these results was in the April 14th issues of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The DASH diet is not really a diet per se, but rather a method of eating that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, along with reducing intake of fats and sodium.

The DASH diet has been recommended by the American Heart Association. The book The DASH Diet for Hypertension, first published in 2001, outlines the basics of the DASH diet and offers recipes and menu plans for following the diet.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Healthy Dining Finder

People are trying to eat healthier foods these days, and one of the biggest obstacles to doing this is finding healthy foods when dining out. With so many meals being outside the home, a Web site called the Healthy Dining Finder seeks to make it easier to find dining options that offer healthier choices.

Go to the Healthy Dining Finder "Find Restaurants" page to locate restaurants near you serving healthier food. The page lets you search for dining options by price range, and even looks for healthy foods for takeout, catering, and delivery.

I've tried it a couple of times, and was surprised that it came up with many chain restaurants, and even fast-food places like Burger King. The Healthy Dining Finder FAQ offers some explanation: "... Restaurants that choose to participate in Healthy Dining Finder pay a fee, which covers the costs related to operating and publicizing this website and program. Many of the restaurants that have enrolled in the program early on are the larger chains, and that sometimes means fast food restaurants."

The good thing about Healthy Dining Finder is that clicking on a restaurant's logo in the results will pull up nutritional information for some of the location's menu items, enabling you to size up the offerings of a number of different restaurants from one Web site.

Healthy Dining Finder has a good idea, but to be really valuable it will need to include many more local restaurants, and restaurants that specialize in truly healthy foods.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Perfect" Teen Dies of Malignant Hyperthermia After Surgery to Correct Inverted Areola

A popular teenage cheerleader died of a rare condition called malignant hyperthermia after having reconstructive breast surgery for asymmetrical breasts and an inverted areola.

The woman, 18-year-old Stephanie Kuleba, was captain of the varsity cheerleading squad at West Boca High and died on Saturday of complications from the surgery. Her friends described her as "perfect," but apparently she wanted to be more perfect by having the cosmetic surgery. Asymmetrical breasts means that one breast is somewhat larger than the other, or is a slightly different shape; an inverted areola is when the nipple or the colored area around it points inward instead of outward as usual. Neither condition is unhealthy or requires correction.

Malignant hyperthermia is a relatively rare condition that is often a reaction to certain types of anesthesia used in surgery. Malignant hyperthermia an inherited genetic condition that usually only becomes known in cases such as this, when a person has an adverse reaction to anesthesia. There is an antidote to reverse the effects of malignant hyperthermia, but the condition has to be recognized quickly and the antidote administered within a half hour or so.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Heparin: A Common Drug That's Getting a Lot of Attention

Heparin, a blood thinner, is one of the most common drugs used in health care today. Tonight's "60 Minutes" led off with the story of actor Dennis Quaid and his wife, who saw their twins almost die from a ten-thousand fold overdose of Heparin.

To be technical, Heparin doesn't really "thin" the blood but prevents it from coagulating (clotting). The Quaid twins were supposed to be treated with Hep-Lock, a drug used to flush out catheters and other medical equipment, and instead were given Heparin... and the adult-strength Heparin is 10,000 times stronger than Hep-Lock.

Heparin, whose main manufacturer is U.S. drug maker Baxter International, has also been the subject of a recall by U.S. authorities due to a number of deaths it is believed resulted from contamination at the Chinese source of one of the main ingredients of Heparin. The Quaid situation is another Heparin-related headache for Baxter, notes an article in the Wall Street Journal. The problem is said to have results in 19 deaths in the U.S.

The Journal has previously run articles about how the main ingredient in Heparin is obtained from the intestines of pigs, and it has noted unsanitary conditions at at least one facility in China.

Medline Plus, a Web site from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, has a good layman's article on Heparin, how and why it's used, and the recent problems with the drug. has good question and answer page about Heparin.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CDC Finds "Alarming" Rise in Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Girls

One out of four teenage girls in the U.S. is infected with at least one type of sexually transmitted disease, including the killer cervical cancer, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data in the survey, which was released March 11th, are from 2003 and 2004, so it's not known if the problem is worse now or about the same. The CDC found that more than three million girls aged 14-19 are infected with the leading STDs:
* bacterial chlamydia (4 percent)
* trichomoniasis, a common parasite (2.5 percent)
* herpes simplex virus (2 percent)
* human papillomavirus (HPV, 18 percent)

HPV can cause cervical cancer and genital warts, among other things. The infections from these and other agents can cause problems ranging from pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy, a potentially fatal occurrence in which a woman's fertilized egg grows outside the womb, often in one of the fallopian tubes, and continues to grow there.

Fifteen percent of the women surveyed had more than one STD.

Black teen girls had the highest infection rate: 48 percent. The rate was 20 percent for whites.

CDC: "Choking Game" Is Killing More U.S. Youth

Monday, March 10, 2008

Drugs in Drinking Water Throughout U.S., Studies Say

A broad range of prescription drugs has been found in drinking water all over the United States, new studies have found. The drugs found constitute a mind-boggling pharmacopoeia that give a clue to the conditions facing modern society: anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs, antibiotics, anti-convulsants, heart medications, sex hormones, painkillers, and the mood-stabilizing drug carbamazepine, as well as over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen.

The Associated Press study found prescription drugs in the water supplies of 24 states, and they say that at least 41 million Americans are exposed to these drugs. In addition, traces of sedatives and more than 15 other drugs or their by-products have been found in New York City's drinking water.

The upstate New York sources of NYC's drinking water have been found to include drugs such as "the heart medicine atenolol; anti-seizure drugs carbamazepine and primidone; relaxers diazepam and carisoprodol; infection fighters trimethoprim, clindamycin, and sulfamethoxazole; pain relievers ibuprofen, acetaminophen and codeine," and cotinine, a by-product of nicotine metabolism. Cotinine is the substance that shows up in urine when a person is tested for use of or exposure to nicotine.

While the concentrations of these drugs is very small, and the water utilities insist that their water is safe, scientists caution that combinations of certain drugs, even at low levels, can have an adverse impact on wildlife and on human body cells.

This problem is actually not new; back in 2000 an article in Science News noted that pharmaceuticals were found in many European lakes and rivers, and that the problem was also occurring in the U.S.

Of course, humans aren't the only source of the drugs in drinking water: livestock are fed an array of hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals to ward off disease and fatten them up, and these make it into the water supply.

Adding to the problem is that it may not be possible to get these chemicals out of drinking water. When people take medications, their bodies absorb some of the drug and the rest is excreted, and ends up in the sewage system and eventually into the water supply. Current water-treatment techniques may not be able to eliminate these substances from water.

Think you're OK if you drink bottled water? Not really... most big bottle water producers use ordinary municipal water supplies, often without treating or even testing it.

The AP article notes that over the last five years "the number of U.S. drug prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Skin Tags, A Common Problem with a Simple Solution

Skin tags are little flaps of excess skin that form on the body as we get older. They are often found on the neck, armpits, trunk, and folds of skin on the body. Known in medical terminology as acrochordons, skin tags are almost always harmless and there is no need to have them removed. While they are benign and not painful, they may cause discomfort if clothing continually rubs against them, or if they are located where another part of the body may rub against them.

If you do choose to have skin tags removed, either because they are causing irritation or for cosmetic reasons, you'll find that the process is simple and generally painless. Skin tags are removed either by freezing them off (cryotherapy) or by burning them off (cautery).

For more information on skin tags (acrochordons), you can read these articles on MedicineNet and the U.S. Government's MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.

Friday, March 7, 2008

TMAU, a Rare Disorder that Causes "Fish Odor" Body Smell

ABC did a special that looked at a rare metabolic disorder that causes bad body odor, which can range from what is described as a "fish odor" smell to a feces or urine odor or a smell of garbage.

Wikipedia says that TMAU "causes a defect in the normal production of the enzyme Flavin containing monooxygenase 3 (FMO3). When FMO3 is not working correctly, the body loses the ability to properly breakdown trimethylamine. Trimethylamine is consumed through the diet and when not properly broken down ... builds up and is released in the person's sweat, urine and breath, giving off a strong fishy odor." (The Wikipedia article has links to articles for more information.)

As you can imagine, people with the disorder, called TMAU (short for trimethylaminuria), have had their lives turned upside down, and are desperate for information and solutions. The article noted above gives a list of frequently asked questions about TMAU, which is sometimes called fish odor syndrome or fish malodor syndrome. And you can also find a first-person account from a sufferer online. There's also an old article from Science News (1999) that has more information on TMAU.

According to the ABC article, TMAU has both genetic and environmental components. Digestion and metabolism of certain foods, for example, can cause various body odors (as well as breath odors).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pancreatic Cancer: A Brutal Disease with a Grim Prognosis

Actor Patrick Swayze announced through his representatives today that he has pancreatic cancer, but his doctor has said, "Patrick has a very limited amount of disease and he appears to be responding well to treatment."

I hope that's true, because pancreatic cancer is a brutal disease with a grim prognosis. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer is rarely detected in its early stage and spreads quickly, which are why it is one of the most deadly cancers. The article has information on signs, symptoms, risk factors, and more.

Pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 5%, according to the National Cancer Institute. The disease has killed a number of well-known people, most recently the opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. The actor Michael Landon also died of pancreatic cancer, and the disease has claimed a number of family members of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, including his brother. In fact, Carter did a commercial for the Lustgarten Foundation, a pancreatic cancer research organization, several years ago.

The NCI has a good fact sheet on pancreatic cancer, with lots of links for more details. The NCI also provides a page of epidemiology facts on pancreatic cancer, which reports that in 2007 37,170 men and women will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 33,370 men and women will die of it. That gives an indication of just how deadly the disease is: it kills more people each year than become sick with the disorder.

For Swayze's sake, I hope that the disease was caught early when it can still be treatable.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Remote Area Medical Provides Free Health Care

With health care one of the most talked-about issues in the U.S. presidential campaign, I was interested to see tonight's "60 Minutes" story on a group called Remote Access Medical. It's a team of volunteer doctors and other medical professionals founded to provide free health care to people who couldn't afford it in places like the Amazon region of South America.

Now, because of the shortage of health-care coverage in the U.S., Remote Area Medical is conducting its free medical services in this country. You can see the "60 Minutes" story here and read a transcript of it. From what the story says, these free medical sessions that Remote Area Medical conducts are often having to turn away hundreds of people each time, because there are only so many volunteers and so many hours in a day to provide care to patients.

It's great that Remote Area Medical offers this service, but it's a shame that so many people have little or no medical health coverage and have to take advantage of its services.

This topic is obviously of high interest to lots of people: "Remote Area Medical" is tonight one of the most searched-for terms on Web search engines, and the story on the "60 Minutes" Web site has 150 viewer comments, even though the story aired just over two hours ago.

According to the story, Remote Area Medical operates on a shoestring budget and relies on private contributions, often small amounts from ordinary people. If you want to find out more about the group, their Web site is Remote Area Medical is accepting financial donations as well as volunteers, and they still perform missions overseas, often in dangerous regions of the world.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Baxter's Heparin Recalls Expands as More Reactions Reported

Drug maker Baxter International is expanding its recall of heparin, a blood-thinning drug, as the medication is suspected in more patient deaths.

Heparin, one of the most widely used medications, has been suspected as the cause of 21 deaths and close to 450 "adverse events," and almost 400 of those events involved heparin made by Baxter (ticker symbol BAX).

Baxter makes half of the heparin used in the U.S., but authorities don't expect a shortage of the drug. The company APP Pharmaceuticals, which makes the other half of the U.S. supply of heparin, has increased its output to help make up the shortfall from Baxter.

An article in today's Wall Street Journal says that the FDA has found quality control lapses at a plant in China that makes the active ingredient used in heparin, but haven't yet identified the precise cause of the adverse reactions.

Facts About Ricin, Made from Castor Beans

The highly toxic poison ricin is back in the news after the news reported that it was possibly found in a Las Vegas hotel room. Police were summoned to the Extended Stay America Motel on Thursday after a package was found there. Authorities say, however, that they don't believe the substance was intended to be used in terrorism.

Ricin can be made from the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis), and while it does have some medical benefits, it is mainly known as one of the world's most toxic naturally occurring poisons. The CDC has a good, plain-English fact sheet explaining what ricin is, what forms it can take as a poison, signs and symptoms of ricin exposure, and how to tell if you might have been exposed.

In general, symptoms begin within hours after being exposed to ricin and include abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea (sometimes bloody). Within several days victims may experience severe dehydration, a decrease in urine, and a drop in blood pressure.

For a more scientific explanation of how ricin acts as a poison, this article from Cornell University explains its mechanisms of action and more. It notes that just one milligram of ricin can kill an adult, and one seed of the castor bean plant can kill a child.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fatal Familial Insomnia

Yes, this is another syndrome that was featured on "20/20," but it's a fascinating illness (and thankfully rare), so I thought readers might want to know more about it. You can find an article from ABC that pretty much sums up the "20/20" feature here.

For a more scientific explanation, you can read an article from the University of Michigan. As it explains, the disease is caused by degeneration of a certain region of the mind, the thalamus. As the article notes, "Sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, body core temperature and hormone flow are all affected by the interruption of the body's circadian rhythms which is a direct result of the degeneration of the thalamus in this disease."

Symptoms of Fatal Familial Insomnia can include an inability to feel pain and poor reflexes, and the lack of sleep can cause the sufferer to experience hallucinations and eventually fall into a coma.

Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS)

It sounds like something made up in one of those medical disease-of-the-week TV shows, but Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome in women is a real disorder. (As far as TV goes, it was actually part of the plot of a recent episode of the show "Grey's Anatomy." And by no small coincidence ABC, which broadcasts "Grey's Anatomy," featured a special on Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome on an episode of its newsmagazine "20/20.")

If you haven't heard of Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome, it's probably because it was only recently recognized as a syndrome, and because a relatively small percentage of women suffer from it. Of course, that doesn't make the women who have it feel any better.

For more information the Web site has an article on Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS) that discusses the distinguishing features of the syndrome and gives several case histories.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects about one in 10 women of childbearing age, but for those who have it, it can feel like a curse. It's an disorder of the endocrine system and can affect everything from the menstrual cycle to the cardiovascular system and one's ability to have children.

Women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome may have high levels of androgen hormones, may miss periods or have them irregularly, become overweight, develop acne, and may have numerous fluid-filled cysts in their ovaries (which is where PCOS gets its name). One common problem women with PCOS may have is unfortunately a very noticeable one: growth of hair on the face.

In fact, this topic came up on the Feb. 19th "Oprah" TV show when an audience member asked Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah's regular medical consultant, what she could do to eliminate the hair that kept growing on her chin. (Dr. Oz suggested to the woman that she might want to check into taking pills to regulate her hormone levels, but he noted that she didn't have all the typical PCOS symptoms.)

A good resource for learning about polycystic ovary syndrome is a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

You can find more reputable information about polycystic ovary syndrome here from:

The Mayo Clinic

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quicker Trasylol Recall Could Have Saved 22,000 Lives, Researcher Says

A medical researcher says that 22,000 patients could have been saved from preventable death if U.S. regulators had been quicker to remove from the market Trasylol, a clotting drug used to stop bleeding during open-heart surgery.

Trasylol was withdrawn in November 2007 after the Food and Drug Administration requested that it be pulled after a study linked it to kidney failure. The kidney failure was severe enough to require dialysis and it increased the likelihood of death by the patients who received it. Sales of the drug were suspended worldwide by its maker, German pharmaceutical manufacturer Bayer AG, following the FDA decision.

The researcher, Dr. Dennis Mangano, was interviewed on "60 Minutes" Sunday, Feb. 17th. Trasylol was used for many years and Mangano's study suggests that it was administered to as many as one-third of all U.S. heart bypass patients at the peak of its usage.

Mangano said that 22,000 lives could have been saved if Trasylol had been pulled from the market when he first published his study in January 2006.

Mangano said in the interview that Bayer didn't disclose to the FDA dangers with Trasylol that came up in its own studies.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ethical, Legal Questions Dog Those "Bodies" Exhibitons

Bodies: the Exhibition is one of several popular exhibits that clearly reveal the workings of the human body by using plasticized bodies: real human bodies in which the fluids are replaced with a plastic liquid, which preserves the body and allows visitors to view its inner workings.

Bodies: the Exhibition and Body Worlds are two of the exhibitions have come under criticism because of accusations that at least some of the bodies may be of people who did not give permission for their remains to be used in this manner: namely, executed or tortured prisoners, including political prisoners.

The head of Body Worlds has said he would no longer use cadavers (corpses) from China because he said he had to destroy some of the bodies he got from that country because the bodies' injuries indicated they might have been victims of execution. Dr. Gunter von Hagens, who founded Body Worlds and created the process that creates the plasticized bodies, told ABC News that he wouldn't use bodies from China anymore.

A company called Corcoran Laboratories based in Traverse City, Michigan is a supplier of cadavers and body organs to one of the "bodies" exhibitors. Corcoran Laboratories has also licensed a company called Eternal Preservation Incorporated to apply the process of plasticization to the embalming of funeral home customers.

Anatomy Pop Quiz: What's the Longest Bone in the Human Body?

The truly remarkable human body has 216 bones, with an incredible range between large structural bones and tiny, delicate bones with specialized functions. So what are the largest (and longest) and smallest bones in the human body?

The largest bone is the thigh bone, the femur. It starts at your pelvis (hip bone), where it connects with a ball-and-socket joint to give your legs the remarkable range of motion, and runs down to your knees, where it connect to the larger of your two lower-leg bones, the tibia.

The smallest bone in the human body is the stirrup bone in your inner ear, which is part of the delicate mechanism that translates sound waves into signals that your brain recognizes as sound.

It really is amazing how all these different anatomical parts function. Unfortunately we usually don't realize how wondrous these parts are until something goes wrong with them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CDC: "Choking Game" Is Killing More U.S. Youth

More and more young people in the U.S. are dying of what's called the "choking game," the CDC has reported. Basically the game involves choking another person, or oneself, around the neck to achieve a state of euphoria or giddiness as a result of hypoxia (reduced blood flow to the brain).

The CDC said that between 1995 and 2007, at least 82 American children and adolescents died as a result of playing the choking game. The deaths were of young people between the ages of six and 19; the average of of the victims was a little over 13 years old. More than 95% of the deaths occurred while the victim was alone. The CDC announced the findings in its Feb 15th edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The choking game (which goes by other names including the "pass-out game" and "space monkey") is usually done by choking with the hands, but electric cords or other items can be used.

The CDC reports that between 1995 and 2004 the number of reported deaths from the choking game were no more than three per year. It's thought that the choking game has become more widespread because the Internet makes it easier for young people to learn about it, and to even view YouTube videos of other young people apparently feeling a "high" from doing it.

The choking game is similar to autoerotic asphyxiation, defined by the Columbia University health advice service Go Ask Alice as "cutting off the blood supply to the brain through self-applied suffocation methods while masturbating to orgasm." The site notes that besides the giddiness and lightheadedness of this practice, it can also give the person performing it a sense of danger that can increase his or her sexual pleasure.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Migraine Blog from the New York Times

Migraine headaches are a big concern for many people: they can strike like a bolt out of the blue and cause crippling pain. Worse yet, people who don't have migraines may dismiss them as just everyday headaches and wonder why they are such a "big deal" for sufferers.

The New York Times has now started a blog devoted to migraine headaches, called Migraine: Perspectives on a Headache. Contributors examine migraines from both professional and personal perspectives, seeking to give sufferers medical advice and insights as well as the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others who have migraines.

Migraine Blog from the New York Times

Migraine headaches are a big concern for many people: they can strike like a bolt out of the blue and cause crippling pain. Worse yet, people who don't have migraines may dismiss them as just everyday headaches and wonder why they are such a "big deal" for sufferers.

The New York Times has now started a blog devoted to migraine headaches, called Migraine: Perspectives on a Headache. Contributors examine migraines from both professional and personal perspectives, seeking to give sufferers medical advice and insights as well as the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others who have migraines.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Neti Pots: WebMD Takes a Look at Their Effectiveness

Nasal irrigation has gotten a lot of press lately as a way to shorten the length of colds, clear up sinus infections, and even eliminate some headaches. The main method of nasal irrigation has been a device called the Neti pot, which looks like a cross between a teapot and an Aladdin's lamp.

WebMD takes a look at the Neti pot to see how effective it really is and how safe it is to use. Overall, the WebMD folks find that the Neti pot is a pretty useful tool, is safe when used properly and kept clean, and is very affordable.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Transcendental Meditation (TM) - What It Is

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), died the other day at the age of 91. TM became widely known in the 1960s when the Beatles became followers of the Maharishi, and many ordinary people began using TM over the years. So what exactly is Transcendental Meditation?

The focus of TM is what's called "restful alertness," sitting quietly with the eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day. The person concentrates on a mantra, a word that they repeat over and over in their minds. The focus of TM is what's called "restful alertness," sitting quietly with the eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day. The person concentrates on a mantra, a word that they repeat over and over in their minds. (You can learn more at the official Transcendental Meditation Web site.)

Studies have shown meditation to have a variety of benefits, and Transcendental Meditation continues to be practiced by many people today. Transcendental Meditation was even featured on the cover of Time magazine back in 1975, and at the time TM was practiced daily by nearly one million people worldwide, more than half of them in the U.S.

Over the years Transcendental Meditation has attracted many celebrities as practitioners, including Clint Eastwood, Howard Stern, magician Doug Henning, Sheryl Crow, and Sting.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Studies: Babies Absorb Phthalates from Common Products

There's new concern about the toxins that babies ingest after a new study has suggested that infants can absorb potentially harmful chemicals called phthalates from a variety of products.

The study, reported online today in the journal Pediatrics, indicates that these chemicals can be found in products such as baby lotion, baby powder, and baby shampoo.

The problem may be in the products themselves, and in the containers in which these products are sold. Phthalates are chemicals that are use to make plastic products more flexible, such as to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more pliable, and they are also used to stabilize fragrances used in products.

One of the study authors told Reuters Health that there is "a large body of animal studies to suggest developmental and reproductive toxicity (from phthalates) and a few human studies with changes in health outcomes as well."

An article on WebMD tells more about phthalates, and features some health experts weighing in on the issue and how harmful (or not) they may be to babies.

American manufacturers are not required to list phthalate on product labels. The use of some phthalates is restricted in the European Union for children's toys.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

New MDR Staph Infection Spreading in Gay Communities

We've all heard about MRSA, the drug-resistant staph infection that's been found around the U.S., most often in young school athletes, but now there's an even more dangerous spinoff that's been appearing.

As a recent article details, health officials in the U.S. are tracking a new version of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is even more drug resistant than MRSA. The new strain, which is called multiple drug resistant staph (MDR staph), has been appearing mostly in gay and bisexual men. The cities where MDR staph has been found most often are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York.

But health officials are worried that because Staphylococcus aureus infections spread so easily, it will spread to the larger population rather than being limited to the gay community. As the story notes, MDR staph has already been found in an elderly woman in New York City.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Stress Eraser (StressEraser): Is It For Real?

I've only recently heard of the device called the Stress Eraser (StressEraser), which claims to help alter a person's breathing in order to reduce stress. The Stress Eraser Web site says that it can reverse the effects of "ergotropic tuning," which it says is "a biological process that changes the way the nerves in your body respond to stress." The idea is that their device can give a person feedback on how to adjust his or her breaking to reduce ergotropic tuning, and thus stress.

Although I'm not familiar with this device, it reminds me of another device that claims to help lower blood pressure by helping the user adjust breathing rate. That device, called the RESPeRATE®, is a small, portable electronic device that guides the user to lowering the number of breaths they take per minute, which is said to lower blood pressure naturally. The RESPeRATE Web site has positive comments from the Mayo Clinic and from Dr. Andrew Weil. According to their Web site, the RESPeRATE breathing exercises work by "relaxing the constricted muscles surrounding the small blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow more freely and yielding a significant and lasting reduction of blood pressure." RESPeRATE has been approved by the FDA.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tay-Sachs Disease: Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis

Tay-Sachs disease is a fatal genetic neurological disorder that usually develops in children (and rarely in adults in their 20s or 30s). While babies can seem to develop normally at first, but then mental and physical abilities deteriorate over time. Eventually the child loses sight, hearing, and the ability to swallow; muscles atrophy; and paralysis results. There is no cure or treatment.

Tay-Sachs disease involves a problem with the storage of lipids (fats) in which harmful amounts of a particular fatty substance accumulates in tissues and nerve cells in the brain.

An article from the U.S. National Institutes of Health discusses what happens in Tay-Sachs disease, how it progresses, symptoms, treatment of symptoms, and prognosis.

Another article, from the National Human Genome Research Institute, offers a list of frequently asked questions about Tay-Sachs disease. And examines Tay-Sachs screening, who's at risk, prenatal diagnosis, and more.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Uremic Poisoning: Causes and Symptoms

The kidneys are one of the main gatekeepers responsible for ridding the body of waste, and when they don't function properly a person can end up with uremic poisoning. And uremic poisoning is much more than just a kidney problem, because kidneys that aren't functioning properly can allow toxins to build up in other organs of the body, potentially creating a deadly situation if not noticed and treated quickly.

Uremic poisoning and related kidney problems can result from food poisoning and other illnesses even years after the those illnesses have come and gone, scientists have said in speaking to the Associated Press. The article notes that "E. coli and certain other foodborne illnesses can sometimes trigger serious health problems months or years after patients survived that initial bout." And with food poisoning cases being seem more often, researchers are concerned about the possible long-term health risks these people may face.

The article mentions cases of high blood pressure, kidney damage, and even complete kidney failure as long as 20 years after a person suffered from the initial illness.

The Web site of the American Association of Kidney Patients has an article explaining the symptoms of uremic poisoning, detailing the signs a person may notice when uremic poisoning affects the brain and nervous system, digestive system, heart and lungs, skins, etc.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Did Ambien Play a Role in Heath Ledger's Death?

While it's not yet known what killed actor Heath Ledger, the cause is suspected to be an overdose of one or several medications. Police said what medications were found by his side when they discovered his body on Tuesday, including sleeping and anxiety drugs. Police on Wednesday reported finding a rolled-up $20 bill in the room, but said no illegal drugs had been found. Ledger had said in interviews that he had been taking the sleep medication Ambien, one of the most widely prescribed sleep drugs.

He said that some of the grueling acting roles he had taken on, including in the upcoming Batman film and in "I'm Not There," left him sleeping only a couple of hours a night.

Ambien (the trade name in the U.S. for zolpidem) has come under closer scrutiny in some countries for some unusual side effects that have been documented, including bizarre episodes in which people taking Ambien got out bed and drove their cars, prepared food, and even had sex while partially asleep. These people were usually not able to remember doing these activities once they woke up.

In addition, some cases of hallucinations have been experienced with some sleeping drugs, and of course any such drug can be dangerous when taken along with other medications, depending on the type of drug and the dosage taken.

Did Ambien play a role in Heath Ledger's death? It's too soon to tell, but it's possible that some kind of mix of drugs in the wrong combinations or the wrong dosages was at least a contributing factor in his death.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Coffee Drinking Can Double Miscarriage Risk, Study Says

There are new questions about the safety of drinking coffee during pregnancy, with a new study finding that even two cups a day potentially doubling the risk of miscarriage. What this new research means for expectant women is not clear however: some doctors say pregnant women should avoid caffeine, while others say caffeine in moderation is OK.

According to an article on MSNBC, "the connection has been controversial, with some experts arguing that the research didn't account for morning sickness. The nausea and vomiting of morning sickness, caused by elevated hormones, is generally a sign of a reduced risk of miscarriage — and also can lead women to stop drinking their usual coffee or other caffeinated drinks." There was a concern that if women reduced their caffeine intake, it would create the impression that caffeine was associated with miscarriage.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Morgellons Disease, a Baffling Skin Disorder

Morgellons disease is one of those mysterious disorders that is so odd that experts don't even agree that it's a disorder at all. Some believe it is a distinct disease, others think it's part of an existing group of disorders, and others aren't sure it exists... or if it does, that it's in the imagination of the sufferer.

In Morgellons disease a patient experiences lesions on the skin, extreme itchiness, and a crawling sensation on or under the skin. Some patients have had fibers (which may be different colors) growing out of their skin.

The CDC announced January 16th that it was launching a study to investigate Morgellons disease.

An article on the Mayo Clinic's Web site answers some questions about Morgellons disease, including signs and symptoms, what researchers know about the disorder, why Mogellons is controversial, and how to manage the condition.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Zestra, the Female Arousal Drug

The over-the-counter drug Zestra has been called the "female Viagra," but it's hard to tell how effective it is. An article in MedicalNewsToday from November says that a study has shown promising results, but I'm not familiar with that publication, and there probably need to be further studies done. However, Zestra has been on sale in many drugstore chains so you would assume that at the very least it's not harmful. Whether it really performs as claimed is something for the consumer to judge .

Unlike Viagra, Zestra is a topical liquid that is applied during foreplay. According to the article mentioned above, Zestra "provides desire, arousal, and sexual satisfaction benefits for a broad, generalized group of women with sexual difficulties."

Vytorin and Zetia: Answers for Consumers

A new study shows that the much prescribed cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin doesn't slow the buildup of plaque in arteries any more than do cheaper statin drugs. This is the latest study sure to sow confusion among consumers taking these drugs, and their doctors, along with the Vioxx controversy and other recent episodes concerning pain drugs.

The study looked at whether a combination of Zetia and Zocor works better than Zocor by itself.

A USA Today article yesterday features a Q&A with two noted cardiologists, which helps to explain the situation. Vytorin itself contains a statin: Vytorin is a combination of two drugs, Zetia and Zocor, a popular statin. (Lipitor is another widely used statin, and one of the most-prescribed drugs in the world).

An entry in the Wall Street Journal's health blog examines the specifics of the study and the implications of the findings, that Zetia doesn't do anything to enhance Zocor.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy

Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathy, often abbreviated as HSAN, refers to as many as six different degenerative disorders of the nervous system that involve loss of feeling, particularly in the hands and feet.

HSAN is a rare genetic condition caused by the abnormal functioning of the sensory nerves that control responses to pain and temperature, according to an article in WebMD. In one type of HSAN, HSAN 1, sufferers may have a lack of sensation in their extremities, and may be unable to sweat from those parts of their body unless their body temperature becomes dangerously high.

Sufferers from other types of HSAN may have the opposite problems: they may have pain shooting up through their legs, and they may find that they sweat excessively.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

2008 NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo at the Washington Convention Center

If you'll be in the Washington, D.C. area this weekend, here's an even you'll want to check out. It's the 15th annual NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo, which will take place at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday, January 12th and 13th. The Expo is FREE and takes place both days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The 2008 NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo features everything from exhibitions from health-food companies to exercise equipment, as well as demonstrations on cooking, exercise, belly dancing, and much more; plus free health screenings and product giveaways.

You can climb a rock wall, take some shots at an indoor soccer field (for kids), even try out golf and skiing indoors.

Check the Web site for video clips on bone health, prostate exams, kidney disease screening, weight loss, and more.

The cooking demonstrations including everything from Caribbean chicken salad to gumbo, gluten-free snacks, and even chocolate mousse.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Veganomicon: A Book of Recipes from the Post Punk Kitchen

"Veganomicon": the word sounds like the name of a convention or or a disease or something, but it's actually a vegan cookbook. In fact, the book's subtitle calls it "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook."

A big claim? Maybe so, but authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero are pretty well known in the world of vegetarian and vegan cooking. They run the Web site and TV show Post Punk Kitchen and between them have written other cookbooks including "Vegan with a Vengeance" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World." (As you can tell by these titles, the authors bring a sense of humor to their subject.)

One review of "Veganomicon" notes that the recipes are open to adaptations, so readers can include animal products if they wish.

The New York Sun has a good article reviewing "Veganomicon" and several other vegan and vegetarian cookbooks.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Oprah Goes Green

Buying "green" products isn't just for people who want to "save the planet." There's growing evidence that environment-friendly products such as detergents and cleaners made without harsh, toxic chemicals are not only better for the planet, but are healthier for us to have around the house.

Oprah Winfrey got the religion of green products on her show of Friday, January 4th. The show looks at one family that has made a number of changes in its life to go green, surveys some of Oprah's own green products, discusses products and resources that can make it easier to go green, and offers a "Going Green 101" crash course to show what families can do today.

Oprah covers some of the major brands of green products, including Seventh Generation and Shaklee. She also tells how to get a starter kit from Shaklee, with savings of 33 percent on the Shaklee Healthy Home pack and 15 percent off other Shaklee products.

Considering how many powerful toxic chemicals are ingredients in today's cleaning and household products, going green can make a lot of sense.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

HPV Vaccine Succeeds Beyond Expectations

The new vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV) has been about 100% effective in preventing that disease. But the HPV vaccine has turned out to have effects in preventing other diseases, too.

This video and slide show from Medscape looks at the success of the HPV vaccine.