Monday, October 30, 2006

Vampire Bats - A Stroke of Genius?

news you may not know

Out Of

The Shadows.

A spokesperson for Bela Lugosi confirms the late actor has indeed rolled over in his grave. The iconic portrayer of Dracula is said to have been both shocked and delighted at the news that Vampire Bats were contributing to advances in the treatment of stroke victims. Interviewed at his private mausoleum, Lugosi said, "This news makes me very thirst, I mean, very happy. Would you like to join me for a nightcap?"

Vampire Bats, while not fully stepping into the sunshine, are certainly finding their way out of the shadows thanks to modern medicine. Researchers worldwide are studying the effect of the bat's saliva on stroke victims. Initial results are impressive and the scientists believe the natural anti-clotting properties of the saliva holds great promise for early use with stroke victims.

The current standard for early intervention, tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), has limitations that scientists hope to address with the bat saliva derivative. TPA must be administered within three hours of a stroke and takes up to an hour to administer when given intravenously. The bat saliva derivative is administered by injection in just a minute or two and, most significantly, can be administered up to nine hours post-stroke. The additional time available for intervention is crucial, as only about three percent of stroke victims receive hospital treatment within the first three hours.

Will Vampire Bats recover from the centuries of disdain and scorn? Doubtful. But, neurology residents are anxiously awaiting the new drug's approval. They are, of course, hoping to be the first to use the new drug to treat a stroke victim. It's unclear, however, if their enthusiasm stems from the drugs efficacy, or the potential of being the first to shout, "Get the bat - stat!"

For more on the new drug, see this news item from Ohio State University Medical Center.

To see where the clinical trials are occurring, see

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Deconstructing The Decaf Myth

tidbits that tantalize

I Asked for


Researchers recently rushed nervously about town sampling decaf coffee from local coffee houses. Their findings sent a shock wave of panic through the usually demur decaf crowd. It seems, contrary to all sense of fair play, the dedicated decafers are getting more than their fair share.

A study, conducted by researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, found caffeine in all decaf samples, with one notable exception: Folger's Instant was found to be truly caffeine free. The decaffeinated coffees contained between 3 and 15.8 milligrams of caffeine per cup. By comparison, a caffeinated specialty coffee drink typically contains about 190 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

While the caffeine content is small, consumers should be aware that, as in the world of politics, true meaning is often in the innuendo. So, next time you saunter up to a Starbuck's counter and say, "Could I get a decaf mocha latte?" don't be surprised if the barista answers, "That depends on what your definition of decaf is."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stay High to Keep Blood Pressure Low

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Life Is


A thousand little details careen about your cranium as life rushes at you in full assault mode. Your ears are buzzing, your eyes are bleary and your belly bemoans that midnight panic-snack of pickles and parfait. No need for a doctor to diagnose your troubles. You're stressed!

What's the best medicine to keep your blood pressure under control? According to the latest study, the best medicine is no medicine at all. A positive attitude is directly related to maintaining low blood pressure.

A group of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston studied 2,500 adults with an average age of 72.5 years. Each participant completed a questionnaire, rating their degree of positive emotions on a scale of 0 to 12. The results were striking. Those with the most positive emotional outlooks had the lowest blood pressures. Hmmm...

It appears our elders may be on to something. Next time you feel the press of life overwhelming you, consider taking a page from their playbook. Take a deep breath, gaze out across the landscape and muse, "Slice me a piece of that cake - and pass the pickles."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Medicine Meets Miniaturization

tidbits that tantalize

There Must Be

A Better Way

Like some modern day Alice in Wonderland, medical imaging technology races further down the rabbit hole of miniaturization. What previously would have been ludicrous to consider even in our dreams is quickly becoming reality.

The latest advance, announced in the current issue of Nature by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, is the Spectral Encoded Miniature Endoscope - a bit of a mouthful, to be sure, and will henceforth be referred to by its acronym, "SEE." A significant advance in endoscopic technology, first developed over fifty years ago, SEE improves on both size and image quality. Endoscopes are long, narrow tubes with both lights and lenses attached that allow physicians to look inside the body without making an incision.

Current miniature endoscopes utilize a bundle of optical fibers and are typically about one centimeter, approximately four-tenths of an inch, in diameter. SEE uses a single optical fiber and is about the size of a human hair. Not only is the size remarkable, the images are first class. Previous imaging sensors have allowed for high-quality, two-dimensional images. SEE again ups the ante, pushing the imaging capabilities to three dimensions - in high definition.

Potential applications include fetal and pediatric procedures, as well as adult procedures requiring minimally invasive technology, such as exploration of the salivary ducts or the fallopian tubes. Scientists believe the reduced size of the SEE may allow safe access to areas of the body that were previously unreachable.

Alice would be proud.

To learn more about the SEE, visit

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Flu Shot Foibles

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We're Coming,

We're Coming!!

Shouts of glee were heard in nurseries nationwide upon receiving news of a delay in this year's flu shots for children under three.

Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of FluZone, the injectable flu vaccine for children, announced much of this year's supply would be delayed by three weeks. The delay is due to the difficulty Sanofi is having in fine-tuning the vaccine to treat this year's newest strains of influenza. Each year the flu virus mutates and vaccine manufacturers are forced to adapt existing vaccines to address the latest mutations.

CDC officials indicate that, while the greatest benefit is derived from early inoculation, the vaccine will arrive in time to treat children prior to the height of the flu season. Though moms may already be casting a wary eye toward sniffling children, the most active months are December through March.

Tom E. Toddler, infant spokesperson, said his coalition supports the delay and will protest any attempt to speed up the delivery process. After conferring with colleagues, through a rather confusing series of grunts and chortles, Toddler had this to say of the rumors that delivery times may be shortened: "We intend to get their bottom before they get to ours."

For more about flu shots, see this children oriented discussion at KidsHealth.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Doctor Trouble?

resources to rely on

A Look Behind

The Mask

How good is your doctor? How do you go about finding a specialist, especially when the medical need is rather urgent and time is short? If you're like most Americans you rely on the advice of family, friends, neighbors and, occasionally, total strangers. But, is that really the bedrock upon which you want to base your future medical care?

Probably not.

Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization, has added an additional arrow to the quiver of physician selection tools. A recently completed study sheds light on the availability of public information regarding physician disciplinary actions. The primary responsibility for physician discipline rests with state medical boards. Public Citizen assessed both the medical boards and, for the first time, included information garnered from outside sources - hospitals, insurance company malpractice payouts and criminal conviction records.

The results? If you live in North Dakota you may want to visit your cousin in New Jersey when you need medical care. New Jersey ranks first in terms of providing information on physician discipline and malpractice issues. North Dakota, to its credit, did receive points for providing physician names and addresses - now, if they'll throw in the telephone numbers, they'll be well on their way to having their own white pages...

To learn more, see the Public Citizen Summary.

To see where your state ranks, see the Public Citizen Survey.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bariatric Surgery: Top to, uhm, Bottom...

tidbits that tantalize

Is This Going

To Hurt?

Context is everything when setting the threshold for how much information is too much. Your aging parents experimentation with Viagra - low threshold. Details of a recommended surgical procedure - high threshold.

And, yet...

Consider the latest advance in Bariatric (weight loss) surgery. In an alternative to the stomach-stapling surgery now employed, surgeons are developing a new form of scalpel-free surgery. Think of it. No incisions mean lower costs, fewer complications and quicker recovery. It's a potentially revolutionary development, but it does beg a rather fundamental question. If there are no incisions, how do they get in there?

An emerging technology, known as Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery (NOTES), is the key. This procedure utilizes specially developed surgical instruments, incorporated within slender tubes, to gain access through the patient's mouth. While endoscopic procedures are commonplace, NOTES pairs the "no incision" technique with the ability to perform complex surgeries that previously required direct access. The elimination of the trauma associated with more invasive surgeries is a significant advance.

Should the patient have a complication in the lower portion of the intestinal tract, then the orifice of choice is the...

On second thought - sometimes a little mystery with our medicine yields just the right amount of information.

To learn more about NOTES, see the Natural Orifice Surgery Consortium for Assessment and Research (NOSCAR).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fake Blood? Orlock says Count me Out.

news you may not know

Count Orlock,

Circa 1922

Gone are the glory days of furtive skulking in the dead of night. In times past, Count Orlock could virtually swagger down dark and desolate streets while sizing up the juicy jugulars of the unsuspecting. Today's nocturnal neighborhoods are not so forgiving. Have you been to Vegas? Add the danger of blindness inflicted by the flash of camera-phones and the life of the modern-day vampire suddenly looks less appealing. And now, in the grandest of insults, they want to use FAKE blood??

It's true.

PolyHeme is a blood substitute being studied for use in emergency treatments. It is a temporary fix, designed for use in trauma cases in which large volumes of blood have been lost and transfusions are not readily available. PolyHeme is a synthetic derivative of hemoglobin, the protein in the red blood cells of humans that transports oxygen. A major advantage of PolyHeme is its compatibility with all blood types, allowing emergency paramedics to carry a single supply of "blood" to treat all patients. Additionally, it has a shelf life of twelve months.

So, what's the rub?

The issue is consent. The patients who require treatment with PolyHeme are unable to give informed consent, due to their being unconscious following a traumatic accident. The Food and Drug Administration is currently being criticized for allowing the developer of this product, Northfield Labs, to treat these trauma patients under the provisions of a consent waiver. Northfield, and other proponents, argue the waiver is necessary to both test and prove a product with enormous promise. Iowa Senator Grassley, however, disagrees and has asked the U.S. Secretary of Health to establish a committee to evaluate the issue.

Count Orlock, meanwhile, was recently seen exiting a designer eyewear shop in London. Sporting a retro-gothic set of super dark sunglasses he is said to be considering taking a day job. A trip to the manicurist may be in order as well.

To read more about PolyHeme, see this discussion at Wikipedia.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

China: Leg Lengthening the Latest Luxury

tidbits that tantalize

Gimme Just a

Smidge More...

What do breast enhancement surgery in China and record levels of diabetes in India have in common? They are the inexorable signs of progress. Developing nations today find they are facing the health dilemmas that plagued the United States fifty years ago. As affluence spreads so does excess. This shared human frailty, that transcends borders and language, predictably leads to lifestyle related illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension, and to elective surgeries like breast enhancement.

But, what about those stubby little legs?

Not to worry. In China, the latest trend for the trendy is elective leg-lengthening surgery, the modern day equivalent of the torture rack. The process, first used in Russia to treat dwarfism, involves surgery in which the lower leg bones are intentionally broken, secured with surgical pins and then systematically pulled apart. Using an external cage-like bracket that may be extended by the turn of a screw, patients coax their leg bones apart by about one millimeter a day. The body magnificent takes it from there, efficiently filling the void with new bone growth and, after two or three excruciating months confined to a wheelchair, you are ready for... three to six additional months in the wheelchair, with continued physical therapy, to allow the new bones to strengthen.

But, you'll be two, or maybe even three, inches taller. Gosh - seems like such a small price to pay.

To read more about this procedure, see this from Medline Plus

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fish Oil: Is it What The Doctor Ordered?

news you may not know

...When in Rome.

If you have a heart attack in Tucson, you'll likely be placed on medications to treat high blood pressure, lower cholesterol and, in more serious circumstances, may be advised to have a defibrillator implanted. If you have the same setback in Tuscany, the first recommendation may be a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Sound a little fishy?

Patients in Italy are routinely prescribed fish oil following a heart attack. Not so in the United States. The disconnect in medical practices appears to stem from the lack of double-blind clinical trials to prove the efficacy of treatment with omega-3 fatty acids. While both anecdotal evidence and basic sentiment within the medical community support its use, the Food and Drug Administration is unlikely to act without more definitive studies. In Italy, however, where their history is "soaked" in a Mediterranean diet rich in fish oils, there is little resistance to its use in medical treatments.

If a move to Tuscany is not in the offing, you still have some good options available. Fish oil supplements are readily available and, of course, the grill on the patio is always eager for a workout. When selecting fish, or oil, pay attention to issues of purity and mercury.

For more, see the International Herald Tribune article: Fish oil: A heart drug in Europe...

See the American Heart Association's recommendations at: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fire Alarms: No Match For Mom

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"Listen to your mother," the oft used threat of nurturers nationwide, may in fact be a directive that is hardwired into children's brains.

To test children's response to fire alarms, researchers in Ohio staged a battle of unbeaten household icons. In the white trunks, or sometimes a shade of beige, is Smoke Detector. Weighing in at under a pound, Smoke Detector is dependable, lightning fast and throws ear-splitting blares with the best. In the heather hiking shorts with light gray accents, weighing in at "Don't even ask," is Mom. Fiercely protective and stunningly brave, she's been defending children since the caveme, uhm, cavewom... the cave-people days.

At the final bell... It's Mom in a knockout!

Researchers found sleeping children respond both more often and more quickly to their mother's voice than to a smoke alarm. The smoke alarms and the mom's voice were broadcast at 100 decibels, about four times louder than the typical smoke alarm, to 24 children. All but one of the children, 23 of the 24, awoke to their mother's voice, while only 14 awoke to the smoke alarm. The 24th child apparently had no interest in the study and awoke to neither.

It is believed the study was originally devised when a researcher's mother directed him to prove people are happier and healthier when they listen to their mother.

...Here's to you, mom.

To read more, see the CNN article: Study: Kids who slept through...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Healthology Portal: Mega Resource

resources to rely on

Chew On This!

Cue film noir music. Begin voice over...

"Heels blazing, you speed toward a meeting with a five-cent stick of chewing gum.No time to dawdle or dillydally - there's serious chewing to be done before the sun falls behind those beat up buildings that look as bleak as your soul. You careen around the corner and, wham! You're smacked upside the head by a sight so gorgeous you almost forget how sore your eyes have been - and for how long. Fine linen and all the trimmings. Your head spins and it's all confusion and jumbles for a minute but, then it hits you.Who needs a five-cent stick of gum when there's a five-course meal that's got your name written all over it?"

While possibly less "noirish," you're likely to have similar feelings of good fortune when first stumbling upon the Healthology website. The site contains articles and videos on a wide range of health topics presented by topnotch medical practitioners. The content is free to the public and includes links to additional resources on multiple health issues. You may browse content by general categories, such as Men's or Women's health, or explore by greater detail in the alphabetical directory of diseases and conditions.

Started in 1997, by two New York physicians, Healthology adopted the following guiding principle: "Only through the direct involvement of experienced health professionals can consumers feel confident they are receiving current, trustworthy health information." The assessment from 2006? A job well done.

Now, sit back, relax and click onto the Healthology site. Oh, and pull out that cinnamon flavored five-center you've been saving for a special occasion. Give it a good chew - you may be a while.

Visit the Healthology Information Library at: Healthology

Friday, October 06, 2006

Colds: Research Shows Why They're Common

tidbits that tantalize

...I Dare You.

Researchers have dealt yet another blow to the myth of the spotless hotel room. (Well, OK - it was more like the semi-tolerable, partially disinfected hotel room - but, a blow nevertheless) In their zeal to study common cold germs, they enlisted 15 contagious people and checked them into a hotel. Their job? Muck up the place a bit - talk on the phone, touch stuff, sniffle, cough, wheeze...

"Excuse me. I'd like an earlier checkout please."

The results? As expected, the afflicted left infection. The study showed rhinoviruses, responsible for the common cold, continue to thrive long after initial contact. After being left on door handles, phones and switches, the virus is still transmissible in 60% of the cases after a one-hour lapse. After a full 24 hours have elapsed, the virus is still being passed on 33% of the time.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Well, very little from coming into contact with the virus. But, with a little care, we can trim the odds we'll be reaching for the chicken soup and tissues. The best protection we can offer ourselves in this high-tech age? The same as it was 100 years ago: Wash Your Hands.

To read more about the study, see this summary by the University of Virginia Health System. For other tips on avoiding the common cold, see Welcome to Common Cold.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Aspiration Pneumonia: Black Pepper to the Rescue

news you may not know

Ah, Yes...

This Should Do The Trick!

What's in your wallet?

Well, if Japanese researchers are right, you may be toting a pack of Black Pepper Oil (BPO) sniffing strips on your next visit to Grandma's nursing home. A recent study shows elderly patients with swallowing problems respond favorably to inhaling the aromatic peppers prior to eating.

Aspiration pneumonia, common among elderly stroke patients, is caused by an inadequate swallow response and the subsequent introduction of liquids into the lungs. Researchers used BPO to stimulate both brain and swallow functions prior to meals with a group of geriatric patients in Japan. Over the course of the thirty-day trial participants showed an improvement of 75% in the initiation of swallowing. Pass the pasta!

There's certainly still work to be done. This small study is just the first step in the exploration of the power of the pepper. But, in the mean time, don't neglect the sensation of smell when you visit Grandma. A well-chosen fragrance, of flowers or food, can rekindle memories from decades past and bring them to life in vivid detail. Enjoy...

The study was originally reported in the September issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. For more details, see this summary article at Yahoo!News: Pepper oil aroma helps elderly with swallowing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nutrition Labels: A Must Read

news you may not know

Label Me


Ever vigilant, Food Patrol Man rushes through Union Station, his bullhorn blaring, the crazed look of a crusader painting his bloodstained eyes. "Read the labels, people. You have the power! It's basic math..." Then, a simple misstep and he's carried away by a hoard of marauding fifth graders plunging toward the Deep Fried Donut stand. A faint "You have the power" echoes as he tumbles, then disappears from sight - forever.

According to a recent study conducted by Vanderbilt University, Food Patrol Man may be a bit of an optimist. They found that close to one-third of study participants were unable to correctly interpret nutrition labels. Confusion comes in many flavors. The most common mistake is to misinterpret the serving size. So, for example, say a serving of soda is 100 calories. A serving - in this case, just 8 ounces. That means your 32-ounce Jumbo Jolt is a hefty 400 calories. Not such a bargain after all.

Consumers are clamoring for easier labels, more reflective of their actual eating habits. Why can't a two-pack of cupcakes list the calories for the entire package? Nutritionists fear adjusting the labeling to reflect larger portions will entice an already obese nation to abandon what little willpower it currently exercises.

While the battle rages, you may want to check out the Nutrition Facts information provided on Mayo Clinic's website. It's quite a fascinating graphic, fully interactive, that provides a decent primer on reading and understanding food labels. Alas - in the absence of our faithful friend, it may be the best we can do.

For more, see CNN's Serving size a pitfall for label-readers