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.