Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Do You Have Alzheimer's? Your Nose Knows

news you may not know


Makes Me

Think Of Home...

It was Saturday mornings "back in the day" and you had just turned eight. You remember the thrill of waking up in a panic, thinking you were late for school, and then - Ah... sweet relief, as the wonder of the weekend swept over you like a breaking ocean wave, plummeting you deep into your pillow for a few more dreams of long summer days, picnics in the park and the nighttime dances of flickering fireflies.

Then, in the best wake up call known to man, you'd catch a faint hint of aroma drifting up from the kitchen. With one eye now peeking at the world beyond the covers, you'd roll over and concentrate all your energy on the olfactory - a long, lung-filling breath and, yes! Bacon and eggs, maybe some waffles as well, you knew there'd be orange juice, and toast and jam, and maybe...

Your nose drawing you along, you'd stumble from bed and make a beeline for the kitchen and the start of a perfect Saturday morning. Life just didn't get any better...

The smell of bacon and eggs still brings those great memories back to life. Or, at least, they did. Lately, you just can't quit place the aromas like you used to. And, when the aromas started to disappear, so did the memories.

Can our sense of smell really indicate if we have Alzheimer's disease?

Recent studies reported by Rush University Medical Center indicate the loss of olfactory abilities may be predictive of Alzheimer's disease. The study utilized a 12-item Brief Smell Identification Test (SID) to assess the olfactory abilities of study participants. The SID assesses the ability to identify twelve familiar aromas, including banana, chocolate, cinnamon, gasoline, lemon and onion.

Researchers postulate the loss of smell is associated with the buildup of "tangles" within the brain, which typically appear in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Interestingly, the loss of smell is also associated with other disease processes, including Parkinson's and Schizophrenia.

Should you be alarmed if your sense of smell is diminishing? Well, first - try some nasal spray. You may quickly find your zest for both breakfast and the act of reminiscing has returned. If not, then - maybe. Though the research is ongoing, it appears the earliest indicator of Alzheimer's may be as close as, well, the nose on your face...

To learn more about Alzheimer's disease, including symptoms and treatments, see this from the Alzheimer's Association.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Handy Tool to Assess Your Medical Symptoms

resources to rely on

What Elephant?

Do you love the thrill of the hunt? Does the idea of the unknown being unmasked send shivers down your spine? Do you - OK, enough questions - let's get to it.


You awake one morning to find your left hand has an odd tingling sensation. You imagine you simply slept in an awkward position and give it little thought. But, reaching for the toothbrush in the bathroom, you find your right hand has also joined in the I-want-some-attention morning parade. Hmm... Come to think of it, you noticed a little tingling a few days ago at the park.

Being a health conscious, middle-aged husband and father you choose the responsible course of action: you ignore the symptoms, feeling quite confident your failure to think about them will cause them to lose interest and disappear. You grab a quick breakfast, jump in the car and buzz off to work. Cranking up the radio for a little added distraction, you settle in and let your mind wander with the beat of... What? What's wrong with your foot? Last week it was a rhythmic tapping fool, but - where did this numbness come from?

Yes, of course - the reasonable course of action would be detour to your doctor's office and find out what's going on with your belligerent body. But, barring the revelation of reason, there is a tool that may help guide your initial steps.

Mayo Clinic provides a Symptom Checker that allows reluctant patients to assess their medical condition from the privacy of their computer. The interactive tool allows patients to enter a set of symptoms and settle upon a possible cause. Patients may then more fully explore the condition, its underlying causes and symptoms, and the available treatment options.

Had our husband and father checked his symptoms, he would have found possible causes of Peripheral Neuropathy, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Pinched Nerve, Football Stingers and Stroke. If he had sustained no recent injuries he could probably eliminate the Pinched Nerve and Football Stingers. If his activities require no repetitive motions, Carpal Tunnel could also be discarded. Now, with just a couple of conditions with which to deal, he may stand a fighting chance of discovering something of value.

While not perfect, and certainly not a substitute for medical treatment, the Symptom Checker is a valuable tool in the self-assessment process. So, go ahead, enjoy yourself - click on to the Symptom Checker site and let your imagination go wild. Get all those pent up conditions, real or imagined, out of your system and onto the Internet where they belong.

Come to think of it... you may want to start with the Carpal Tunnel symptoms and treatments. By the time you're done clicking away your multitude of ills and aches, you're sure to develop a case worthy of treatment...

To start your neurotic exploration of all conditions real and imagined, visit the Symptom Checker.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What is the State of Our Nation's Health?

tidbits that tantalize

Take A

Deep Breath...

Do you love health statistics? If so, the 2006 National Health Interview Survey is a must read. If, on the other hand, statistics bore you silly, you may want to keep a copy at your bedside table for those nights you have difficulty sleeping - if this doesn't put you to sleep call your doctor immediately.

The early release of the survey provides an interesting look at 15 health parameters for the first 6 months of 2006, with comparative data from 1997 through 2005. Among the areas reported are Lack of Health Insurance, Usual Place for Obtaining Care, Current Alcohol and Smoking Data, Obesity and Serious Psychological Distress. The survey reports on data collected from over 40, 000 respondents.

A quick preview:

-14.5% are uninsured - this compares to a range of 14.2 - 15.4% in the prior 9 years. Hmm...

-86.7% have a "usual" place to go for medical care. While this usual place is defined as excluding the emergency room, no details are given as to the actual setting. So, if you usually go to your mother's house for medical care, well - you're in.

-5.5% of those needing medical care failed to do so because of cost. This represents an increase from 4.2 % in 1998.

-25.6% of adults over 20 were obese. Wow - this represents a 7% increase since 1997. This is, pardon the pun, a Huge health problem for our country.

Alcohol consumption has varied little and, on a positive note, cigarette smoking has seen a consistent decline.

OK - if you're still awake, the diagnosis is no longer in question: you have a sleep disorder. On the other hand, if you awake shortly to discover a bit of dried drool staining your oddly creased face, you know what to do. Throw away those horrible sleeping pills, print out a copy of the 2006 survey and get ready to enjoy the best night's rest you've had in years.

To access the full survey results, see this from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Best to Stay Focused When Swallowing Swords

tidbits that tantalize

When Professional

Sword Swallowers

Get Distracted...

Researchers studying the safety issues surrounding the art of sword swallowing are still in a state of shock. How could it be? The results are not in the least what they expected to find, but... There is that whole thing about the scientific process. You know, letting the results speak for themselves, not performing extraneous extrapolations ad infinitum, protecting the integrity of the scientific community.

What has the scientists so baffled?

Researchers found sword swallowers are more likely to sustain injury when distracted. Hmm... A group of researchers in Britain enlisted 46 sword swallowers to participate in the study. The sword swallowers, members of the Sword Swallowers Association International (SSAI), reported a variety of medical complications directly attributable to their craft.

Their maladies included sore throats (19), lower chest pain (many), perforation of the pharynx and esophagus (6) and a "brush" of the heart (1). [As an aside, the reporting of "many" by the researchers for the occurrence of lower chest pain has called the entire report into question - critics contend the scientists should have demonstrated the necessary skills, even if occurrences numbered well above 25, to accurately tally the yes responses.]

The scientists found the injuries occurred when the swallowers either used unusual or multiple swords or when they were distracted. One sword swallower reported a misbehaving macaw precipitated his distraction and subsequent injury. This, of course, is to be expected, as many macaws are brash, scene stealing showboats.

Having calmed themselves with a soothing spot of chamomile tea, the scientists feel they are ready for their next intriguing round of research. Safe driving habits are on the agenda. Specifically, they will explore whether it is safer to drive with both eyes wide open, with either the right or left eye closed, or with both eyes blindfolded.

Ah - better brew another pot of tea...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Unsure What to Eat? Ask an Ape.

tidbits that tantalize

Feel Like Bananas

For Lunch?

The grunts were confusing - at first. Then, slowly, they began to come into focus. Your instructor was a great help, with his hand gestures and acrobatic pantomime movements - full of enthusiasm, a real take charge type who made sure everyone was right there in the thick of things. Still... it was going to take a while to get used to the after dinner grooming routine and, admittedly, your chest thumps were weak and lacked the rhythm of the more advanced students.

In an odd evolutionary throwback, it appears the apes may have much to teach the humans about a healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to diet. Researchers at King's College Hospital in England recently participated in a study at the Paignton Zoo. Nine volunteers - yes, people really volunteer for this type thing - agreed to live in tents next to the ape house and share the ape's dietary habits for twelve days.

The diet consisted of raw fruits and vegetables, as well as honey, nuts and water. The purpose of the study was to assess the impact of diet on key health related parameters: cholesterol and blood pressure. In England, 50% of the coronary heart disease deaths each year are related to high cholesterol.

Volunteers ate "lavishly," consuming up to 11 pounds of raw fruits and vegetables each day. The diet was devised to eliminate modern day dietary evils - processed foods and saturated fats - and to mimic the diet of the ape, our closet relative. Ah, just imagine what you could do with 11 pounds of bananas each day...

The results of the short experiment were striking. One volunteer, a 36-year-old man, had led a devout veggie-phobe lifestyle. However, after being convinced that fruits and vegetables actually were consumable, he succumbed to the menu at the Banana Bistro and found his life quickly transformed. In a mere two weeks he trimmed over 12 pounds off his 266-pound weigh-in heft, reduced his blood pressure and lowered his cholesterol by an amazing 20 percent. Asked about his experience with bananas he stated, "I just never realized those skinny yellow things were food."

Zoos around the world are hailing the study as a major breakthrough in dietary science. They pledge to continue to study the relevance of animal diets and will soon be offering weeklong packages for dieters. The apes have also come out in favor of the trend, saying they look forward to spending some quality time with their homo sapien cousins - they do, however, forewarn that certain minimum standards of chest-thumping proficiency will be enforced.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

When High Tech is a Pain in the Neck – and Back and Thumbs…

news you may not know

A Future Day

Spa Devotee...

It’s 2 a.m. and, though he promised he’d be home hours ago, he’s in a real spot. Nothing new, he’s been here many times before. It’s deep into the season and injuries are just a part of the game. As he tosses the Injured Reserve List (IRL) aside and turns his attention to the chalkboard, Bob Cranston has an epiphany. Day Spas! Of course, why hadn’t he thought of it before?

He grabs the IRL and runs down the list: Peters, Blackberry Thumb - Ortega, Tech Neck – Enslow, Programmer’s Shoulder - yeah, all these workers could benefit from a day at the spa. Heck, by next week’s regional conference they should be back up to playing speed, emailing, texting, instant messaging and programming with the best.

Cranston closes his laptop, grabs his Blackberry, taps out a series of messages and, ouch! The pain shoots through his thumb, across his wrist and up his arm. He sends one last message, adding himself to the Day Spa reservation list…

Treatment of high tech related “injuries” is the latest trend at Day Spas. The hours of text messaging, straining to read the computer screen and slouching over the keyboard have proven to be a bonanza for high-end spas. Maladies that were unknown just months ago are now routinely treated at rates ranging from $95 to $225. Specialty treatments are even available to treat the skin irritation caused by overuse of one’s cellphone.

The office’s Injured reserved List more closely mirrors the company roster with each passing day.

Doris Baxter’s New York Day Spa offers a specialized treatment for Tech Neck, which often presents itself with the following telltale symptoms:

-Occipital tightness

-Tingling “pins and needles” in the fingers or forearms

-Strained pectoral muscles

-Tension in the temples and forehead

-Migraine headache

What’s to be done?

Bob Cranston has a plan. He got online – yes, he re-injured his Tech Neck – and ordered a gross of letter-sized notepads and several dozen pens and pencils. He also hired a retraining specialist: a second grade schoolteacher. He figures if his daughter can learn to write using nothing more than her own hand and fingers, so can he and his employees.

If you suffer from Blackberry Thumb, there’s help. The American Physical Therapy Association has devised a series of hand exercises to help alleviate the pain. You may view the instructional video at Exercises for Hand-Held Users.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Alcoholic Mice Hold Clue to Sobriety

news you may not know

My Apologies

To The Rats...

It's an image carved into our collective consciousness. James Cagney, larger than life on the silver screen, sneering and twitching with disdain. Then, as his eyes narrow and the corners of his mouth tighten, he delivers the line that sums up the national disdain felt toward all members of the rodent family, "You dirty rat!"

Though not an accurate quote - in the 1932 movie Taxi, Cagney actually says, "Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" - it still sums up the overwhelming national dislike of rats. But, with all rats contribute to the common good, are they receiving a bad rap? Hmm... that would make it a bad rat-rap?

Scientists from Australia recently reported on studies, using the aforementioned rats, into the underlying cravings for alcohol. They report the production of the hormone Orexin within the brain's hypothalamus may be the key. Orexin, initially found to be involved in the regulation of food intake, appears to play a critical role in producing the euphoric effect experienced following the use of alcohol and illicit drugs.

In the study a group of rats - rodents, not men - were intentionally addicted to alcohol. They were then treated with a drug that blocks the effects of Orexin and the results were quite dramatic. One group of rats that had alcohol readily available to them simply chose not to imbibe. A second group, who had undergone a detox program, did not relapse into alcoholism when reintroduced into an environment associated with alcohol use.

Further studies are planned, pending approval for longer inpatient stays by the rats' HMO.

The researchers anticipate the same approach may ultimately be utilized with eating disorders and obesity.

To further their cause, scientists at Melbourne's Howard Florey Institute are soliciting suggestions for phrases that cast the reputation-challenged rats in a more favorable light. The leading entries so far are, "Rats Rule!' and, "Rats - not as big and ugly as you think." Visit the Florey Institute website for entry details.

To read more about this and other ongoing research, visit the Howard Florey Institute.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

For Better Health Take Your Black Tea, Well... Black

tidbits that tantalize

I'd Like A

Second Opinion...

Black tea has once again thrust itself into the scientific limelight and, except for the Brits, it's really quite good news.

Researchers in Germany have shown drinking black tea is beneficial in fighting cardiovascular disease. The scientists studied a group of sixteen postmenopausal women, who were given either black tea, black tea with skim milk or, as a control, boiled water. As an aside, the women all felt the flavor of the boiled water was somewhat lacking.

Both before and following the tea drinking sessions, the scientists measured the Flow Mediated Dilation (FMD), the ability of the blood vessels to relax when blood flow increases. FMD was greatly enhanced after the women drank black tea - however, its positive effect was totally blocked when milk was added to the brew.

The ability of the blood vessels to efficiently relax and expand is a critical component of cardiovascular health. As blood vessels become less pliable, patients are prone to hardening of the arteries, peripheral vascular disease and other cardiovascular ailments. The finding that black tea helps keep blood vessels flexible is good news - except, of course, for the Brits...

In England, as tradition would have it, the only proper way to drink tea is with a dash of milk. However, the recent study found the caseins in milk inhibit the beneficial effects of black tea and leave you with nothing more than a good spot of tea. Scientists believe the milk caseins bind with the tea's beneficial catechins, decreasing their concentration in the tea, and thereby eliminate the tea's beneficial effects.

What is to be done?

Well, as tea-drinking tradition is quite strong in England, it appears there may be only one option - move to Germany.

To read more about the study, see this from scenta.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Does Black Tea Calm the Nerves?

tidbits that tantalize

Relax - Your Tea

Is On The Way...

What should you do if you narrowly escape a car accident - not your fault, of course - and find your heart pounding at the rate of a small alien creature attempting to escape? What if you're embroiled in an argument - again, absolutely not your fault - with a movie rental store that burned down and now, finally relocated, claims you owe them 87 days in late fees? What should you do when your wife claims - once again... OK, so this was a bad choice of examples - simply repeat your "Yes, dear" peace mantra, apologize and move on.

But, what about the other upsets? Is there a way you can bring yourself back to earth for a soft landing in a reasonable period of time? Well, if the Brits are to have their say, the solution is the proverbial "spot of tea."

Researchers at the University College London studied the physiological effects of black tea on a group of 75 young adults. It's one of the first double-blind studies to scientifically assess the ages-old claims of teas calming influence. In a vindication of both history and tea drinkers, the study found that black tea indeed has a significant calming effect following stressful situations.

The study participants drank a tea-like concoction four times each day, with the control group's drink being devoid of any real tea. Both study groups were then subjected to stress inducing situations and cortisol levels, blood pressure and other stress-related factors were monitored.

Significantly, both groups responded in similar manners to the stress, exhibiting increased blood pressure levels and increases in the stress hormone cortisol. But, the actual tea drinkers recovered their pre-stress levels of calm more quickly. Not only did their physiological levels of stress related readings decrease more rapidly, they also reported greater degrees of relaxation following the stressful encounters.

The scientists have joined forces with the Spot On Tea Company to develop the On The Spot Emergency Tea Service Set. Their goal is to reduce stress levels in Britain by 27% in the coming year. Eventually, as spontaneous tea parties erupt across the world, they hope the power of the ubiquitous middle-finger will replaced by the civility of the gently curved pinky as it clasps the calming cup of cordiality...

To read more about the study, see this from the University College London.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Your Body Knows: Gives Cortisol Boost After a Sad Night

news you may not know

Are You

Lonely Tonight?

Growing older is a rough and tumble business. Just ask Pete Johansson, a 63-year-old lumberjack living in British Columbia. His is a tale of eager young love mellowing over the years into constant companionship and, finally, the daily struggle against a disease that would not be silenced. After 39 years of love and laughter, peace and peril, trials and tears - after 39 years of sharing his very soul with his true love, he laid his Emma to rest a year ago November.

The nights come faster now and the cold seems more brutal than in years past. Nights of conversation in front of a soothing fire have given way to unspoken thoughts, unrealized dreams. The comforting creak of Emma's rocker no longer echoes about their simple home, food has lost taste and Pete can't remember when he's felt so tired all the time. He's always been fit and active, but now...

Pete is not alone in his loneliness - millions of aging adults find themselves in similar situations. But, exactly how does being sad or lonely or overwhelmed affect us physically? Researchers at Northwestern University recently found the body "knows" when you're feeling sad at night and compensates the following morning by increasing the amount of cortisol in your system.

Cortisol is the stress hormone that regulates the body's response to both physical and psychological stressors. Produced by the adrenal cortex, cortisol is critical in the regulation of blood pressure and blood sugar levels. The body also secretes additional cortisol to deal with short-term needs, as in the fight or flight response.

In the case of loneliness and other negative emotional experiences, scientists suggest the additional boost of cortisol in the morning prepares both the body and the mind to meet the challenges of a new day. Though not yet fully understood, it appears cortisol and emotional experiences interact in a unique interplay. Negative emotions result in higher levels of cortisol the following day - the higher levels of cortisol ease the stress and, as a result, the cortisol levels fall. The following day, the interplay begins anew.

Researchers hope their studies will offer insight into the impact of emotions on physical wellbeing. The research cannot progress rapidly enough for Pete Johansson and the others...

While the scientists go about their complicated task, there is no lack of work to be done by the less scientifically adept among us. There are telephone calls to make, pies to bake and lazy strolls to take. Science may one day find a magic pill that will curb the curse of loneliness. In the meantime - it's up to us...

To read more about this study, see this from ScienceDaily.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mind Reading as Medicine: Do You See the Future?

tidbits that tantalize

I See an MRI

In Your Future...

2012 - Big Top Retirement Home

Shady Acres, Montana

They needed the space. Most retirement homes locate in the city, close to groceries, shopping and other essential services. But, few retirement homes have to deal with pet horses, camels and elephants. Throw in the Big Top, the safety-rigged geriatric trampolines and the occasional mini car race among the clowns and the wide-open spaces of Montana seemed perfect.

And, it's a good life for retirees of circuses, sideshows and state fairs. Everyone seems quite happy. Everyone, that is, except Marvin - the mentalist.

Marvin has been in a funk since he read the news about the new mind-reading MRI device. He remembers the good old days. No fancy gizmos and gadgets, no scientific safety net. It was sideshow trickery at its best and, though he wished he had chosen a somewhat flashier name, Marvin the Mighty Mentalist wowed crowds across the upper Midwest and, once, deep into the hills and hollers of Tennessee. But...

With the new mind-reading scientific MRI gadgets popping up everywhere the future looks bleak. His son, Melvin the Magnificent Mentalist, has struggled to find audiences willing to accept less than a 99.87% accuracy rate and what's to become of his grandson, little Mervin? Little Mervin has been forced into medical school, where he'll be trained as a neurologist specializing in memory. It's a sad day...

Has science taken over where the Big Top left off? It certainly appears so.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a powerful magnetic resonance Imaging (MRI) device that may be capable of reading minds. The 9.4 Tesla device is revolutionary, in that it tracks the flow of sodium in the brain, as opposed to the more common tracking of the flow of water, the primary component within blood. This allows the device to track, in real time, the firing of individual neurons within the brain.

This ability to track the firing of individual neurons allows scientists to assess the precise formation of thoughts and to view the pathways they travel. What neurons fire when we catch a whiff of hot apple pie? Which pathway does the initial response follow as it triggers memories of summers at grandma's, afternoon swims under the hot sun and the wonder of shooting stars? Can the device determine if you are telling a lie?

...Marvin sighs as he looks across the stunning Montana landscape. He knows his glory days are long past, but he has a plan to rescue his grandson from the clutches of modern medicine. He figures that the 40-ton weight of the 9.4 Tesla scanner means it won't be hitting the road anytime soon. He turns his attention back to a disassembled microwave oven. His mind wanders as he makes his final alterations and he envisions himself sitting front and center as the ringmaster introduces his grandson, Mervin the Microwave Mentalist...

To read more about this amazing technology, see this excellent article at the Chicago Tribune.

(Free registration is required to access the article)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Don't Cut Daily Aspirin Therapy Short

tidbits that tantalize

We're Unstoppable -

Yes, We Are...

Wow, what a seminar! Dynamic speaker, fabulous PowerPoint presentation and, though you love your mother, the absolute best chocolate chip cookies you've ever eaten.

You amble through the hotel lobby, feeling great about yourself, great about life, great about - heck, great about everything! You haven't been this inspired since the seventh grade, when Sarah Dempsey asked you to the Sadie Hawkins dance. What a night that was, though, as you remember it, the cookies were less than spectacular.

You stop before a mirror and take stock of the new man you've become in a mere twelve hours, spread over two days, and including two lunches, six breaks and an after hours meet-and-greet at the hotel bar. You're impressed at... You wipe away a dab of chocolate clinging to your lip - now, you're impressed with what you see: A man of determination and vision, an unstoppable dynamo with an unquenchable will to succeed.

Your first task? Health! You can do it. Watch out 5am, here you come! You reach into your pocket for your keys and find your daily dose of aspirin, two little pills to help you ward off heart disease. Well, you won't be needing those any longer - it's early morning workouts, oatmeal breakfasts and steady living for you.

You toss the aspirin into the trash and waltz out the door...

Ten days later - you struggle for your life as an ambulance races you to the emergency room. A blood clot has developed and you've suffered a major heart attack...

Researchers from Turin, Italy recently reported that patients taking daily aspirin therapy should not suddenly stop taking their daily dose. The scientists reported such an abrupt stoppage of aspirin increases the risk of an adverse coronary event 300%, with the average time to the adverse event being ten days.

Conventional guidelines call for patients on daily aspirin therapy to discontinue its daily use prior to surgery. However, the recent study calls this strategy into question for most surgeries. The possible exceptions are intracranial procedures and prostate surgeries. Even in these cases, researchers urge a quick resumption of the daily aspirin therapy, certainly prior to the ten-day marker.

What to do? Well, review your notes, stay motivated, eat your oatmeal and... take your aspirin. On your morning miracle walks, envision yourself as the perfect blend of muscle and medicine, willpower and willow bark derivative, unstoppable force...

One word of caution - don't tell mom about the chocolate chip cookies.

To read more about the pros and cons of daily aspirin therapy, see this from Mayo Clinic.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Does Spicing up Your Life Improve Health?

news you may not know

Take Two Cloves


Call Me In The Morning...

It seems rather surreal but, given their success, who are you to judge? Grandpa Henry has been looking great lately. Grandma Martha says his cholesterol is down, his energy is up and that nagging sore throat is a thing of the past. He's back to his old self, up at 5:30am, out for a brisk walk and back home for a hearty breakfast and the morning paper. He's even back to singing his favorite tunes from the twenties and thirties. Martha says she couldn't be more thrilled - well, she really could do without the singing.

Still, it's strange...

Grandma Martha and that hippie-looking gal from the health food store, out on the back porch for hours at a time, drinking herbal tea and passing around roots and bark and spices and... All the time laughing and chuckling and saying, "Oh, here - this will take care of his stiffness," and " Brew this up twice a day and his throat will feel great." You just don't know what's gotten into her. She used to be so much more sensible when Grandpa was sick all the time...

Is the future of medicine a return to the ways of the past?

Oddly enough, Grandma Martha and the "hippie-looking gal from the health food store" may have a great deal in common. They may also be on the cutting edge of a return to medicine's "roots." Researchers are showing growing interest in the medicinal uses of spices and herbs - something both grandmothers and modern day naturalists know a good deal about. Scientists, in an attempt to catch up with history, are setting about the task of quantifying the beneficial effects of spices and herbs in controlled studies.

In the meantime, here are a few commonly-accepted-non-double-blind-study medicinal uses of herbs and spices:

Cinnamon: Helps control blood sugar and lower cholesterol.

Ginger: Calms the stomach and alleviates motion sickness.

Garlic: A natural antibiotic, fights infection and helps lower both cholesterol and blood pressure.

Chamomile: Ah, a soothing cup of chamomile tea always calms the nerves.

Sage: Often used as a remedy for colds and sore throats.

Cayenne: Feel the burn! Aids digestion and improves circulation.

Turmeric: Antioxidant that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's - the lower incidence of Alzheimer's in India, where turmeric is widely used, has captured the attention of researchers.

OK - now you know what to do. Sashay back to the porch, pull up a chair in between Grandma Martha and that hippie-gal, and make your feelings known. Look your granny straight in the eye and tell her, "You know, I've been having this pain in my lower back for the last couple of months..."

To read more about the medicinal use of spices, see this from eSSORTMENT.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Cure for Heartburn Hazardous to Your Health?

news you may not know

I Can Get You Pills...

Maybe it's the stress. Or, it maybe it's the pizza, pasta, pretzels and peppermint schnapps. No matter. The food was fabulous, the friends fantastic and the cure close at hand.

You grab your cane - yeah, still hobbling a bit after that fall and hip fracture a few months ago - and you head across the street to your neighborhood pharmacy. You shake off the cold, smile and chuckle as a new clerk asks if you need help finding anything, "Me? Nah, I could find my way to the heartburn stuff with my eyes closed!" Hmm... Sounds interesting, actually. Deciding to give it a go, you take a quick look about to get your bearings, close your eyes and ohh... The flamethrower in your chest erupts and, now desperate, you abandon foolish games and make a beeline to aisle seven - your home away from home.

Aisle seven... Home to Prilosec OTC and just a hop and skip away from the pharmacy window where its cousins, Nexium and Prevacid, are available by prescription. You've been coming here for years. First, it was the occasional foray following a particularly stressful situation or an especially spicy sit-down. Then, though you can't really remember why, it became part of your routine, like picking up the laundry. Hey, it's no big deal, especially if it helps you feel better. Right?


Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, and other drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPI), are used by millions of patients worldwide. Because the drugs inhibit the production of stomach acid they are effective in combating the stuff of modern day living: indigestion, heartburn and GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease). A simple pill to calm life's ills - it would seem to be a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, recent research indicates the power of the pill may have a dark side as well.

A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine indicates that use of the popular PPIs significantly raises the risk of hip fractures. The study found that patients who used PPIs had a 44% greater risk of hip fractures than patients who were not using the drugs. In a world accustomed to interpreting single-digit differences, 44% is a big number. The scientists speculate the increased risk is due to the drugs reducing the body's ability to absorb calcium, a mineral that is vital to maintaining healthy bones.

What to do?

Well, the first step is to simply step away - from aisle seven. Find a quiet place, get comfortable and... listen. Your body's speaking to you. It's telling you it doesn't do well with the high-powered, push-it-to-the-max lifestyle and the spicy-is-special diet. It wants you to treat it with a dose of kindness instead of a dose of Pepto. Take it out - really out, as in the great outdoors. Take a walk, breath deeply - eat simply.

It may take some time, but it will be worth it. After all, it's the only body you have.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters Health.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Did You Become a Wimp Overnight? It May be Polymyalgia Rheumatica

tidbits that tantalize


Perfect Pairs?

It's Taco Tuesday and that means you should be at Tillie's.

Every Tuesday for as long as you can remember - which, admittedly, is really not much beyond last Thursday anymore - you've been down at Tillie's Diner with "The Gals." You, Emma, Ruby and Gladys, whom you all refer to as Glad on her "good days" and, well... it would be unkind to speak of her bad days' name with that young waitress hovering about.

It's the fiercest battle of Texas Hold 'Em you're likely to see this side of ESPN and it draws it fair share of fans. Not surprising. Everybody likes to be where the action is, rub shoulders with the big grey-haired dogs. But...

You just can't be seen in public like this. First, they'd call your bluff and then they'd laugh you right out of the diner. If only you could get your arms up there to where that blue-grey mop of hair is swirling recklessly about your head. What happened? Yesterday, you were fine, looking forward to teaching Glad a new trick or two - this morning you woke up stiff and weak and, no matter how hard you try, you can't get a brush within a foot of that frizz...

Have you lost your nerve? Doubtful. But, it could be Polymyalgia Rheumatica.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) is characterized by a rapid onset of muscle aches and pains. Common areas of involvement include the upper arms, neck, lower back and thighs. The pain is most significant in the morning and may lessen as the day progresses. It is not uncommon to have difficulty raising the arms above shoulder level.

Who gets Polymyalgia Rheumatica? Well, that would be folks quite like "The Gals." It's rare to see PMR in those younger than 50 - the average age at onset is 70 and many are first diagnosed while in their 80's. Though less well known, Polymyalgia Rheumatica is diagnosed more frequently in older adults than rheumatoid arthritis.

Blood tests that assess inflammation are utilized to diagnose Polymyalgia Rheumatica and treatment typically consists of low-dose corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Once treatment is initiated, the nagging symptoms often disappear as quickly as they materialized. The dosage is decreased after the symptoms are controlled and the prednisone may even be discontinued after two or three years. About 15% of those with Polymyalgia Rheumatica also have the more serious medical condition Giant Cell Arteritis, a condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the arteries.

Two Weeks Later:

Ah... You feel great. The rheumatologist confirmed your aches and pains were indeed the result of PMR and, a dose or two of prednisone later, you feel like your "old" self again. You check your hair in the mirror, grab your keys and head to Tillie's, anxious to catch up with The Gals. You think of Glad and hope she had a good day because, after you get done with her, her night is going to be looking very, very bad...

To read more about the diagnosis and treatment of Polymyalgia Rheumatica, see this from the American College of Rheumatology.