Wednesday, December 24, 2008

peace on earth

Merry Christmas


Happy New Year...

Normal blog entries will resume on 1/5/09

Monday, December 22, 2008

Health Help for Those who Hide Behind Heredity

outlook on healthy habits

Is This Really Your Best Choice?

My thanks to guest contributor Sarah Scrafford. Sarah regularly writes on the topic of Radiology Technician Classes. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address:

If there’s one thing that frustrates me in my marriage, it’s that I’m a health freak and my husband is exactly the opposite. I’m not sure if there’s a word to describe such a person – even the term couch potato seems too tame. If there was ever a person who hated exercise in any form more than my spouse, I’ve yet to meet them. I’ve heard the wildest and most inane of excuses being used to get out of a morning walk or a visit to the gym.

His favorite one (and the one that brings on my most incredulous look) is that he’ll end up putting on more weight when he suddenly has to stop exercising for some reason or the other. I want to respond with “why talk of stopping when you haven’t even started?” but I know I’m wasting my breath, so I say nothing.

When people ask about his almost rotund shape (invariably by comparing it to my tall and shapely body), he coolly dismisses them by attributing it to his genes – his dad and mom are on the heavier side, and therefore, so is he. But he seems to be forgetting the fact that he was not always like this. In fact, there was a time when he used to be a regular at the pool and on the tennis court. And this reminds me that he’s forgetting to mention another gene that he certainly didn’t inherit – the one called laziness.

I’ve seen this kind of attitude in other people too, the ones who claim that exercise does not benefit them in any way because their genes are biased against them in the first place. I know they’re just finding a reason that sounds convincing enough to hide the fact that they’re just plain lazy.

Little do they realize that they’re not fooling anyone but themselves. Health is a fickle companion – it stays with you when you’re young, but as you grow older, it leaves you slowly and steadily, unless you take the necessary precautions to make it stay with you. And so you have to bribe it, with the right kind of food and a sensible exercise routine. If you don’t, you’re likely to spend most of your time at healthcare facilities with some complaint or the other.

Remember, your genes may have made you a certain way, but it’s your will that decides how you turn out. So stop blaming heredity for your ills and do yourself a big favor by helping yourself to become healthy today.

To learn seven ways in which exercise benefits your life, see this from the Mayo Clinic. To find ideas on a healthy and natural diet, see this from The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Young Doctors and Long Hours May Spell Trouble

news you may not know

Just Another Twenty-Seven Hours?

It's a bit of a catch-22. You want the very best care when you're sick, so you go where the best doctors are. So do the best-doctors-in-training. That means you all end up at a cutting-edge teaching hospital, staffed with exceptionally bright residents who will be exceptionally skilled physicians-if they survive their residencies.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-profit organization that provides advice to policymakers and health care professionals, recently issued recommendations for limiting the number of hours worked by residents. At least partially.

The IOM did not recommend a change to the 80-hour limit per workweek currently in place for residents. But, they did recommend shortening the number of consecutive hours residents can work from 30 - sort of. The IOM recommends residents work no more than 16 consecutive hours without a break for sleep, which they think should be for five uninterrupted hours. The remaining hours of their shift should be used for transitional duties, such as shifting patient care to others in an efficient manner, and for education.

Currently, residents can work 30 straight hours, while admitting patients during the first 24-hour period. The remaining six hours are then used for transition and education.

There are other changes as well, dealing with limiting the number of consecutive days a resident may work, and assuring that all moonlighting hours - not just internal moonlighting hours, but those worked elsewhere as well - are counted against the maximum 80 hours in a given week.

The issue, of course, is safety - for both the patient and the resident. And, while we certainly want these exceptional doctors-in-training to forge brilliant medical careers, there's only so much risk we're willing to take.

So, in a world filled with catch-22s, let's step back and take a new look at residents' excruciatingly long hours. Better yet - let's sleep on it...

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the non-profit organization that issued these recommendations, see this from the Institute of Medicine.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's in a (Drug) Name?

news you may not know

Yes - Names Are a Bit Pricey ...

Names are important. That's why we have public gushings of, "Oh, what a great name" paired with private proclamations of, "Can you believe they named her that?!" So, yes-we bless or curse our children while they are still too feeble to retaliate, hoping that somehow the goofy moniker will grow on them before they reach their growth spurt years.

But, should a name matter when it comes to medications?

The answer appears to be no-or yes, depending upon whom you ask.

The debate over name brand and generic medications is long and bloody. The most recent certainly won't settle the issue, but it does appear to be good news for cardiovascular patients. An analysis of 30 studies, dating back to 1984, found no difference in name brand and generic medication outcomes when treating heart related illness.

The study assessed a wide array of cardiovascular medications, including beta-blockers, statins, calcium-channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors.

The cost ramifications are significant. Brand name medications can be scores of times more costly than the generics, often making an already difficult medical situation intolerable. But, prior to reports such as this, many patients-and many doctors-have been hesitant to use generic medications.

To put it in some perspective, consider this. Over 65 percent of the medications dispensed annually in the United States are for generics. Yet, this represents a mere 15 percent of the annual expenditure on all medications. Yes-this is a huge issue.

So, while it's certainly no time to set up your own little basement pharmacy to shave costs, you may want to take a serious look at generics. If you're dealing with a cardiovascular issue, the results may be pretty much the same.

Oh, yes-please let the counter arguments commence...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about generic medications, see this from the U.S. Office of Generic Drugs.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Television Might Really Not be Good for Kids

news you may not know

Maybe We Should Rethink This...

In what could be considered the least surprising scientific research to hit the airwaves in recent months, researchers find that excessive television might not be healthy for kids. Strike that-the airwaves reference is totally inappropriate, particularly since the findings were announced in a written format. A format, it seems, which may indeed be more suitable to raising healthy, well-adjusted children.

The researchers, from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Yale University and the California Pacific Medical Center, analyzed over 170 studies completed since 1980. It's one of the most comprehensive looks at the impact of the media on the health, and the behavior, of children.

The results of the study are striking. Three out of four studies found watching more television (some studies also assessed film, video games and computer use) resulted in poorer health. They also found children who watched more television were more likely to be obese - and to be a cigarette smoker, and to start having sex at a younger age...

Even toddlers suffer negative outcomes, with three-year-olds watching more than eight hours of television per week more likely to be obese by the age of seven.

So, what's the good news?

Well, the best news is that the remote control is a dual function device-it has both an on and an off capability. So, take that radical step, and click the television remote to the off position. Then pray for wisdom. The silence may be deafening, but your kids are worth the effort. And, after a bit of turmoil, even the kids will begin to see there's more to be had from life than observing it from afar.

Stay posted-rumor has it a team of researchers will soon announce that broccoli (!) is good for you...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about helping your kids lead a healthy lifestyle, see this from Australia's

Friday, December 12, 2008

Remarkable Trachea Stem Cell Transplant

news you may not know

Yes - It's Absolutely Stunning...

It appears Columbia is on the move. No longer satisfied to have their national identity tied to international drug cartels - or, in best case scenariois, to the caffeine devotee Juan Valdez - Columbia decided to take the worldwide medical community by storm.

It worked.

Claudia Castillo may very well become the new face of Columbia. The thirty-year-old Columbian woman sought medical help after tuberculosis destroyed part of her trachea. The trachea is the small section of windpipe that connects to the lungs.

Doctors in Spain, at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, performed a radical new procedure on Castillo. They first harvested stem cells from her bone marrow. They then seeded her stem cells onto the framework of a donor trachea - which had been stripped of the donor cells. This allowed the scientists to create a hybrid organ that Castillo's body would recognize as being her own.

This breakthrough technique means Castillo will not be at risk of rejecting the transplant, and won't have to take anti-rejection drugs. When using stem cells obtained form another source, the use of anti-rejection medications is a lifelong requirement.

Castillo has done remarkably well, with the new tissue being indistinguishable for her original tissue. Prior to the revolutionary surgery, Castillo had breathing difficulties, and was prone to infections. Now, she is enjoying an active and healthy life once again.

So, next time you think of Columbia, think of Claudia Castillo. International drug cartels are so yesterday.

To read more about the surgery, see this from Reuters. To learn more about stem cells, see this from the National Institutes of Health.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is Fast Food Ban Good for Kids?

news you may not know

Changes May Take Some Getting Used to...

Sure, kids need a little prodding and poking sometimes. OK, so that may be a bit of a simplification. As most parents know, the task of raising children is a steady stream of prods, pokes, shoves, and nudges. But, when they look at you with those puppy dog eyes and plant a slobbery kiss on your cheek - well, it all seems well worth the effort.

But, how far is too far - especially when it comes to basic freedoms. And, of course, what is more deeply ingrained in the American culture than the right to watch telvision - and, of course, the rights of advertisers to entice you with their wares as you watch?

Well, this is where it gets a bit sticky. Think sticky bun sticky.

New research indicates banning fast food commercials on television would reduce childhood obesity by as much as 18 percent. That's a big number and, despite the concerns over heavy-handed restrictions, something that can't be easily dismissed. Several countries, including Sweden and Norway, have already instituted just such bans.

Is it really that serious? Well, the statistics are rather startling. Kids watch an average of 40,000 television commercials each year. That's 40,000 missed opportunirties to be doing something physical. And, of course, obesity in America continues to explode. Almost 14 percent of children between 2 and 5 are overweight, and the numbers simply rise as they grow older.

So, let the debates begin. Or, if you're not the kind who enjoys the daily fights, take the alternate route - grab your kids, pack a lunch and head to the park. It won't help settle the debate, but you won't care - your kids will be having a great time working up a healthy appetite and you, well... You'll be waiting for that next slobbery puppy dog kiss to land.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about healthy exercise habits for kids, see this from

Monday, December 08, 2008

Is Sleep a Cancer Fighter?

news you may not know

That's it - Fight the Good Fight...

It's a tough choice. Especially during an election year. Dave, Jay, and the other late-nighters are on a tear, with no political personality being off limits. But, are the laughs worth losing sleep over?

Researchers say definitely not. Sleep, it seems, not only soothes the souls, but offers terrific protection against a myriad of diseases, including cancer.

A Maryland study, reported at the American Association for Cancer Research, followed the health of just under 6,000 women. The women were between 18 and 65. The scientists were especially interested in the effect exercise plays in health. But, when they compared health variations among only the most active portion of women, they found some surprising results.

Sleep. Those women who not only exercised regularly, but also got adequate sleep, had a significantly lower risk of devolping cancer. In fact, women who slept less than seven hours each night, had a 47 perecnt higher risk of developing cancer.

The scientists speculate the body is more susceptible to cancer when it's deprived of adequate rest, though the underlying mechanism is unclear. But, in light of recent trends, the news is disturbing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Controal and Prevention reports more Americans are sleeping less than six hours per night now than in 1985.

Past research has also shown chronic sleep loss correlates with numerous health difficulties, including obesity, diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and poor lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking.

So, while the late night laughs may be great fun, don't push it too far. When it comes to your health, don't let the last laugh to be on you.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about getting a good night's sleep, see this from the National Sleep Foundation.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Does Group Therapy Help Cancer Patients Live Longer?

news you may not know

Come on - Let's Give the Group a Try...

This is where it gets tricky. Research has consistently shown that group therapy is beneficial in helping people overcome psychological problems. There's something reaffirming about knowing you're not alone, knowing that others also share your problem-and in seeing that others have been successful in changing their lives. It gives you hope. But...

What if you have cancer?

Yes, this is exactly where the tricky part comes into play.

The idea of group therapy being beneficial, on a physical level, has stirred controversy for many years. Well, put on another pot, because a new study is sure to rile things up.

Barbara Andersen, of the University of Ohio, studied over 200 women with breast cancer. About half of the women participated in a year-long group therapy program, while the other half did not. Andersen then compared their outcomes at the end of 11 years.

There was a huge difference. The women who participated in the therapy sessions were 56 percent less likely to die of breast cancer during the period. They were also 45 percent less likely to have experienced a return of their breast cancer. That's a significant difference. Stunning, really.

So, was the outcome due to the group therapy - or due to the health decisions the therapy participants made? Good question. The therapy participants were encouraged to eat healthier and exercise more. They also learned coping techniques to help them reduce stress and to deal with their illness in a positive manner. Some suggest it's these choices, including a boost in the immune system from lowering stress, that is really at the heart of their better outcomes.

Possibly so. The real question seems to be whether it matters. Revisit those figures: 56 percent lower death rate; 45 percent lower recurrence rate. Does it really matter whether it was the chatting or the choices that caused the improvement?

So, go ahead - you know what to do. Start talking...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the benefits of a positive attitude, see this from the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Music Plays the Heartstrings

news you may not know

Music - Good for Both Heart and Soul...

Maybe the iPod generation is on to something. After all, you rarely see a frown on the face of someone who's absorbed in their favorite tune. While many talk through their day as if there's a dentist lurking around each corner, the iPoders seem virtually oblivious to the impending whine of the drill. What gives?

Well, according to recent research, the iPoders may simply be more relaxed. And, that's not relaxation in a metaphorical way, but relaxed in the true Bidenesque manner - literally.

Dr. Michael Miller, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and his team found that music has a clear physiologic impact. When people listen to their favorite music their blood vessels dilate, effectively reducing their blood pressure and allowing blood to flow more freely. "I was impressed with the highly significant differences both before and after listening to joyful music," said Miller.

The effects are the same patients experience when taking statin medications to reduce cholesterol. Or, when they laugh. Or exercise. It's really quite an amazing finding. When blood vessels open up, the entire body benefits. The blood pressure drops, the blood flows more freely and is less likely to form into life threatening clots. This reduces the risk of both stroke and heart attacks.

"The active listening to music evokes such raw positive emotions likely in part due to the release of endorphins, part of that mind-heart connection that we yearn to learn so much more about," said Miller. "Needless to say, these results were music to my ears because they signal another preventive strategy that we may incorporate in our daily lives to promote heart health."

Wow. What a concept - add a little daily music therapy to your heart healthy lifestyle. And, for the iPoders? Hey, just keep on keeping on...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about the use of music as an active health care therapy, see this from the American Music Therapy Association.