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Archive for the ‘health’ tag

Glaxo Drug Faces More Scrutiny

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Follow up on the NYT article on GSK and their drug, Avandia that we blogged about recently

18th Street El Stop

A Senate report that revives concerns about a GlaxoSmithKline PLC diabetes drug’s link to heart attacks is putting pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to make changes to its drug-safety program.

People familiar with the situation say agency leaders held calls over the weekend to discuss how to address complaints from Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who released a new report Saturday on the Glaxo drug, called Avandia.

The FDA is trying to assemble a timeline of what the FDA knew of risks associated with Avandia, these people say, and plans to call a meeting of an outside advisory committee in the next few months to look at recent information on the drug, which Glaxo reported as having global sales of £771 million ($1.2 billion) in 2009.

According to a two-year investigation by the Senate Finance Committee, Glaxo knew about data linking Avandia to elevated risk of cardiovascular events for several years, but played down the information and tried to suppress doctors who raised concerns. Starting in 1999, Glaxo executives complained to superiors about researchers who questioned Avandia’s safety, the report says.

[Click to continue reading Glaxo Drug Faces More Scrutiny – WSJ.com]

and the FDA is certainly not blameless in this mess

Some critics of the FDA cited the Avandia report in renewing calls for an independent safety unit at the agency to track problems with drugs after they go on the market. Currently the section that does “post-market surveillance” is subordinate to the division that approves new drugs. As a result, there is an inherent conflict of interest because the approval officers are judging their own previous decisions, critics say.

The question is: will public outrage be sufficiently heated to force some structural changes in the FDA? Jury is still out…

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2010 at 8:27 am

Teaching Children to Drink

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Written about Great Britain and Ireland, but could apply to the US as well

Cocktail hour redux

Do we go on pretending, like every deluded boozer, that alcohol is a habit we’ll kick someday soon? Or do we accept that it’s as much a part of our culture as wearing clothes or driving cars? If we do decide that we have to live with alcohol, then we need to figure out how, collectively, we can best handle it. Before we start teaching our kids how drink can be accompanied with most pleasure and least damage, we need to know those things ourselves.

Real discussion about alcohol tends to get lost between two competing – and equally unrealistic – kinds of discourse, one utopian, the other dystopian. The first is medical. Doctors believe that alcohol is a public health problem, equivalent to a disease, and they are trained to believe that all diseases are, in principle, eradicable. They tend to see drink as a social illness that will one day be cured. Even when they’re saying sensible things, this attitude makes it hard for them to connect with the majority of people for whom a few pints or a bottle of wine represent, not an illness, but a temporary relief from the symptoms of modern life.

The other discourse is legal. Governments don’t want to hear what public health officials have to say. Alcohol consumption can be reduced by raising the price and banning advertising. Since one upsets voters and the other annoys powerful industries, governments prefer to talk about the law – better regulation, punishment for drink-fuelled rowdyism, the enforcement of the rules aimed at stopping young people doing what young people have always done. While the doctors dream of a perfect future, the politicians see themselves as soldiers in a low-level but eternal war.

But what if drinking is neither primarily a medical nor a legal issue? What if it’s actually, at heart, a cultural question? In a striking piece in the current issue of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that the evidence from anthropology, sociology and psychology is that what matters most is not how much people drink but how they drink it. The social context – the rules a particular culture imposes and the rituals through which it reinforces them – determines the way we behave as drinkers.

People in different cultures behave very differently when they’re drunk and the same drunks behave in different ways on various occasions. As one writer has snappily summarised the findings of Drunken Comportment: “A single species (Homo sapiens), a single drug substance (ethanol) and a great diversity of behavioural outcomes.” Depending on the context, boozers can feel elated or depressed, slobberingly sentimental or savagely violent. It is not, after all, the drink that does it. What matters is the culture around drinking. McAndrew and Edgerton concluded: “Since societies, like individuals, get the sorts of drunken comportment that they allow, they deserve what they get.”

Gladwell suggests that “culture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics or the law” and that what young people need is not more admonition but “a positive and constructive example of how to drink

[Click to continue reading Don’t heed the prohibitionists – we should teach our children to drink | Fintan O’Toole | Comment is free | The Observer ]

The US has a third kind of discourse, the Christian Taliban, but we should ignore them whenever possible. They really aren’t interested in being part of our society anyway, just at imposing a kind of theocracy on the rest of us.

If alcohol was just a simple part of meals, enjoyed in moderation, I bet there would be a lot less binge drinking among teenagers.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 22nd, 2010 at 8:01 am

Posted in Food and Drink,health

Tagged with

Generic Drugs and the FDA

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In other corrupt-Washington-business-as-usual news, the pharmaceutical corporations have successfully protected their profits against generic drugs by convincing Washington to underfund the department of government regulators who approves generics. If they have no staff and no budget, generics can’t be brought to market, causing consumers and Medicare to spend more on non-generic drugs.

American consumers are waiting nearly a year longer for government regulators to approve new lower-priced generic drugs than they did in 2005.

The delays, caused by a growing backlog of applications at the Food and Drug Administration, may be costing consumers and the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars a year as they continue in some cases to pay for name-brand drugs even after their patents expire, industry analysts said.

[Click to continue reading New Generic Drugs Facing Longer Waits for Approval – NYTimes.com]

Currently, approvals are taking over 2 years to wade through. Obviously, this office of the FDA is not a priority.

With lawmakers preparing to meet at the White House next week to discuss ways to give more Americans access to health insurance, generic makers say that underfunding of the F.D.A.’s generics office is denying consumers access to more affordable drugs. The agency’s office of generic drugs has a budget of $51 million for fiscal year 2010, up from $41 million in fiscal 2009.

Executives at the generics meeting joked that government was spending less per year on reviewing applications for new generic drugs than the New York Yankees spend on the payroll of the left side of their infield. (Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter between them earned $54.6 million last year, according to ESPN).

but if Washington was serious about being cost-sensitive and fiscally responsible, they’d act already. Ultimately, delaying generic drugs ends up costing taxpayers more money

While accounting for the majority of drug prescriptions in the United States, generics represent just a fraction of the total cost of drugs. Generics accounted for 70.4 percent of the 2.9 billion prescriptions in the United States last year, according to IMS Health, a health information company. But they accounted for only about 15 percent of the $300 billion spent on prescription drugs in this country last year, IMS said.

The slowdown in new generic drug approvals ultimately hurts consumers — and government payers like Medicare — because prices stay higher when there are no or only a few generic alternatives to a branded drug, industry analysts said.

Sad state of affairs: almost as if pharmaceutical corporations like GlaxoSmithKline set national policy. Hmmm, maybe they do?

Written by Seth Anderson

February 20th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Diabetes Drug Avandia Harms the Heart

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Speaking of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, GlaxoSmithKline wants to protect its drug profits at the expense of hundreds of deaths a year.

Hundreds of people taking Avandia, a controversial diabetes medicine, needlessly suffer heart attacks and heart failure each month, according to confidential government reports that recommend the drug be removed from the market.

The reports, obtained by The New York Times, say that if every diabetic now taking Avandia were instead given a similar pill named Actos, about 500 heart attacks and 300 cases of heart failure would be averted every month because Avandia can hurt the heart. Avandia, intended to treat Type 2 diabetes, is known as rosiglitazone and was linked to 304 deaths during the third quarter of 2009.

“Rosiglitazone should be removed from the market,” one report, by Dr. David Graham and Dr. Kate Gelperin of the Food and Drug Administration, concludes. Both authors recommended that Avandia be withdrawn.

The internal F.D.A. reports are part of a fierce debate within the agency over what to do about Avandia, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. Some agency officials want the drug withdrawn because they believe there is a safer alternative; others insist that studies of the drug provide contradictory information and that Avandia should continue to be an option for doctors and patients. GlaxoSmithKline said that it had studied Avandia extensively and that “scientific evidence simply does not establish that Avandia increases” the risk of heart attacks.

[Click to continue reading Diabetes Drug Avandia Harms the Heart, Studies Find – NYTimes.com]

Nancy Reagan - Just Say Yo

GSK is more interested in resurrecting their cash cow:

Driven in part by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, sales [of Avandia] were $3.2 billion in 2006

despite the US Senate suggesting the process itself was/is flawed:

Just Say No Drugs

In a letter sent Thursday to Dr. Hamburg, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Mr. Baucus and Mr. Grassley asked “what steps the F.D.A. has taken to protect patients in the TIDE trial” and said the trial’s patients had never been told about the concerns raised by the agency’s own safety officers.

Mr. Grassley said the internal agency battle showed that the agency needed to be restructured to give more power to safety officials like Dr. Graham and Dr. Gelperin over their counterparts who approve medicines and deal more directly with drug makers.

“It doesn’t make any sense to have these experts who study drugs after they have been on the market for several years under the thumb of the officials who approved the drug in the first place and have a natural interest in defending that decision,” Mr. Grassley said. “The Avandia case may be the most alarming example of the problem with this setup.”

The question of when and how to communicate possible drug risks has long bedeviled drug makers and regulators. Hints are common that drugs may cause injuries; thousands of drug injury reports pour into the Food and Drug Administration every week. For example, Avandia ranked first among all prescribed drugs in the number of serious, disabling and fatal problems — including 304 deaths — reported to the agency in the third quarter of 2009, according to an analysis done by the Institute for Safe Medication Practice, a drug safety oversight group.

The Senate investigation — the result of years of digging through more than 250,000 internal company documents — concludes that GlaxoSmithKline and by extension the F.D.A. delayed far too long in this process.

Don’t forget that the FDA’s coziness with the pharmaceutical corporations is part of the problem too. Unless there are some drastic structural changes in the FDA, these sorts of issues are going to come up repeatedly.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 20th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

US asks Supreme Court to Review Tobacco Company RICO Ruling

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Wouldn’t this be funny, if the tobacco giants suddenly had to cough up $280,000,000,000? Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations sounds like an apt description of Altria and others, actually. Their business model was always pretty obvious: convince consumers that cigarettes weren’t all that bad for you, and especially that Brand A was better than Brand B.

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Friday to review a 2006 federal fraud racketeering conviction against the tobacco industry and to authorize the district judge in the case to require tobacco companies to give up as much as $280 billion in “ill-gotten gains.”

In the 2006 decision, nine tobacco companies and two trade organizations were found to have deceived the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and so-called light cigarettes, and to have manipulated the nicotine levels in cigarettes.

The companies “have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs,” Judge Gladys Kessler, of the Federal District Court in Washington, wrote in a 1,653-page opinion after a nine-month trial.

The case was filed by the Clinton administration in 1999 under a civil statute normally used for organized crime.

Although the industry lost the case, it avoided crippling monetary damages. Judge Kessler had originally agreed to consider requiring the tobacco companies to give up profits if they lost the case, but she was overruled after the industry filed a pretrial motion with an appeals court.

[Click to continue reading U.S. Asks Justices to Review Tobacco Company Ruling – NYTimes.com]

I doubt the Roberts Court would allow such a drastic outcome of course, but might be a good time to short some tobacco stock, no?

Written by Seth Anderson

February 20th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Overuse of antibiotics for ear infections

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Hard to argue with a crying child, but often doing nothing for in earache is just as beneficial as anti-biotics. Also, avoiding antibiotics avoids side effects, plus all the superbug -drug resistant strains – fears.

Critical Mass July 2008 with Chopper

When Latonia Best’s teenaged kids were little, doctors always prescribed antibiotics for their ear infections. But when her youngest son, 5-year-old Justin, was diagnosed with one recently, she heard something new: The pediatrician asked if she wanted to try waiting a few days to see if he would get better on his own.

Ms. Best, a mental-health aide who lives in LaGrange, N.C., opted to hold off on the drug, since her son wasn’t in pain and the doctor promised to phone in a prescription if needed. Two days later, he was fine. “I’d rather it heal itself,” says Ms. Best. She’s concerned that overuse of antibiotics will lead to powerful bacteria that resist the drugs, she says.

Ear infections are a rite of childhood, affecting more than three-quarters of kids before the age of 5. They’re also one of the most common reasons for visits to pediatricians, as parents seek relief for their crying, fussy young ones. But doctors and parents are deeply divided about how to treat them.

Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians say that many patients, except the youngest and the sickest, can safely go without an antibiotic. Still, American doctors continue to prescribe the drugs very broadly for ear infections—to 84% of the kids they diagnose with them, according to a new analysis published in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics.

A growing number of studies have shown that most children with ear infections recover well without antibiotics, with little risk of more serious complications. Research in the journal BMJ in June even suggested that children who got antibiotics might be more likely to have recurrent infections.

[Click to continue reading When the Best Rx Is No Rx – WSJ.com]

Again, hard to argue with a crying child, and a worried parent, not to mention a healthcare system that rewards doctors for prescribing drugs.

Why do children get so many ear infections anyway? Is it all the milk they drink? Or why? Seems like an evolutionary flaw if such a large percentage of children consistently get infections in this orifice.

Still, some doctors say that when they explain the options to parents, many opt to wait on antibiotics.

Allan S. Lieberthal, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles who is chairman of the current guidelines-writing effort, tells parents that the chance of a child getting better within a few days without an antibiotic is about 80%, while with the drug it is around 90%. If parents decide to hold off, he gives them a prescription that they can fill if the child has a high fever or worsening pain after 48 hours.

He also suggests they treat the pain with ibuprofen, following the current guidelines to use painkillers in children with earaches.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 17th, 2010 at 9:44 am

Posted in health

Tagged with ,

Soda tax and Corn Subsidy

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There is talk of soda and other sugary drinks being publicly identified as being a culprit in our nation’s worsening health

Storing Corn - Agfa Scala 200

In their critics’ eyes, producers of sugar-sweetened drinks are acting a lot like the tobacco industry of old: marketing heavily to children, claiming their products are healthy or at worst benign, and lobbying to prevent change. The industry says there are critical differences: in moderate quantities soda isn’t harmful, nor is it addictive.

The problem is that at roughly 50 gallons per person per year, our consumption of soda, not to mention other sugar-sweetened beverages, is far from moderate, and appears to be an important factor in the rise in childhood obesity. This increase is at least partly responsible for a rise in what can no longer be called “adult onset” diabetes — because more and more children are now developing it.

[Click to continue reading Is Soda the New Tobacco? – NYTimes.com]

Dance of the Devil Corn

So what to do? Well, in the best Washington manner, the answer is to tax the offending party and hope this changes behavior:

A tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform (the Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that a 3-cent tax on each 12-ounce sugared soda would raise $51.6 billion over a decade), and President Obama told Men’s Health magazine last fall that such a tax is “an idea that we should be exploring. There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.”

Small excise taxes on soda are already in place in Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, and Chicago imposes a 3 percent retail tax on soft drinks. Soda taxes were proposed in at least 12 other states in 2009, though none were approved. Mississippi is considering legislation that would tax the syrup used to sweeten soda; the mayor of Philadelphia is weighing a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks, and Gov. David Paterson of New York has indicated that he will recommend a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages in his 2011 budget.

The penny-per-ounce tax, favored by Dr. Brownell and others, would produce a significant increase in retail costs: the 12-pack of Coke on sale for $2.99 would go for $4.43 and a 75-cent can would rise to 87 cents. These increases, Dr. Brownell estimates, would reduce the annual per capita consumption of soda by more than 11 gallons, to 38.5 gallons. “And the revenue,” he says, “could be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, fund obesity prevention programs for children and home economic classes in schools, and more.”


A couple of points in response. One, I’ve heard the 50 gallons per person a year claim before. That’s a hell of a lot of soda. Especially when household’s like my own are considered. Even if you add in cocktail ingredients like tonic water, ginger ale and tomato juice, we probably drink ten 12 ounce containers, which is 1 gallon a year in our entire household. But the oft cited average is 500 12 ounce containers annually, or nearly 1.5 cans a day. That’s a lot, and of course, this is only the average person.

Two, Mark Bittman’s article doesn’t mention a topic that Michael Pollan and others have argued quite compellingly, namely that the US Government is complicit in soda remaining so cheap because of the Federal Farm Subsidies to high fructose corn syrup producers like ADM and Cargill. On the one hand, the government gives tax money to agribusinesses to grow corn, and on the other, the government taxes products like soda made with the byproduct. Of course, PepsiCo and other cpgs1 depend upon cheap ingredients as part of their business model, so they cannot talk too loudly about the injustice of it all.

  1. consumer package goods []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 14th, 2010 at 9:55 am

Beer Drinkers and Bone Raisers

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Books and Beer

Apologies to ZZ Top for misappropriating their title

Researchers from the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California, have found beer is a rich source of silicon and may help prevent osteoporosis, as dietary silicon is a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.

These were the findings after researchers tested 100 commercial beers for silicon content and categorized the data according to beer style and source.

Previous research has suggested beer contained silicon but little was known about how silicon levels varied with the different types of beer and malting processes.

“We have examined a wide range of beer styles for their silicon content and have also studied the impact of raw materials and the brewing process on the quantities of silicon that enter wort and beer,” researcher Charles Bamforth said in a statement.

The study, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, found the beers’ silicon content ranged from 6.4 milligrams per liter to 56.5 mg per liter. The average person’s silicon intake each day is between 20 and 50 mgs.

The researchers found there was little change in the silicon content of barley during the malting process as most of the silicon in barley is in the husk, which is not affected greatly during malting.

They found pale ales showed the highest silicon content while non-alcoholic beers, light lagers and wheat beers had the least silicon.

[Click to continue reading Study toasts beer as being good for your bones | Reuters ]

House of Beer

So quaff a couple of pale ales this evening, for health reasons only.

I’m sure the real science is more complex and nuanced, but hey, beer! Billy Dee Williams would approve…

This Establishment is Billy Dee Williams Approved

Written by Seth Anderson

February 11th, 2010 at 10:51 am

Posted in Food and Drink,health

Tagged with , ,

Food Allergy False Positives

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So the common test of determining food allergy has questionable results, why is it still being used then? I always suspect the profit motive – pediatricians need that second condo in Aspen too…


Grayson Grebe started getting eczema on his cheeks when he was just 4-weeks-old. At 6 months, he was diagnosed with allergies to wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts, oats, rice, barley, chicken, pork, corn and beans; his mother, who was breast-feeding him, had to stop eating them all. At 10 months, doctors cut out 20 more foods, including all fruits and vegetables, and put Grayson on a hypoallergenic formula. Even so, his eczema was so bad that his parents put him in mittens, long-sleeved shirts and long pants so no skin was exposed. “Otherwise, he’d scratch himself until he would bleed,” says his mother, Amy Grebe of Albuquerque, N.M.

At wit’s end, the Grebes took Grayson to National Jewish Health, a hospital in Denver that specializes in allergies and respiratory diseases. Doctors there suspected that his food allergies might not be causing the eczema—and that some might not be food allergies at all. After carefully supervised “food challenges”—giving him tiny amounts and monitoring him closely for signs of a reaction—a number of foods went back in his diet. “We came home with 12 foods he could eat,” says Amy Grebe. “It’s made so much difference in our lives.”

For parents of children with food allergies, this may be both welcome and unsettling news: Many kids whose allergies were diagnosed on the basis of blood or skin tests alone may not be truly allergic to those foods, experts say.

Blood tests measure the level of antibodies, called immunogloblin E (IgE), a body makes to a particular food. But having IgE antibodies doesn’t mean that a person will actually have an allergic symptom when he encounters it.

The only way to know for sure—short of encountering the food in real life—is with a food challenge test in a doctor’s office or hospital. But those can be time consuming, expensive and nerve wracking, especially for parents who have seen a child encounter an anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening reaction in which multiple organs quickly shut down.

[Click to continue reading When Is Your Kid’s Food Allergy Really a Food Allergy? – WSJ.com]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link to read the whole article]

Big Pot of Smiley Faces

Not that doctors are being malicious, they just are erring on the side of caution, using tools that are notoriously imprecise, responding to worried parents.

“Are these blood tests being overused? Possibly. Misinterpreted? Absolutely,” says Robert Wood, director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who is part of a task force writing guidelines for diagnosing and managing food allergies. “A lot of these kids truly have food allergies, just not to all the foods that they are being told they have allergies to.”

In some cases, the blood or skin tests reveal antibodies to a food that the child has already been eating without problems. It’s easy to dismiss those results. It’s harder to know what to make of IgE antibodies to foods a child hasn’t yet tried. Children with eczema, like Grayson Grebe, tend to have IgE antibodies to a large number of foods, and it can be difficult to sort out which really do pose problems.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 26th, 2010 at 9:18 am

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

Blame it On the Brain

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“Proust Was a Neuroscientist” (Jonah Lehrer)

Fat Blak n Happy

Jonah Leher, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist1 posits an interesting thought regarding will power, and cognition

The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Asking it to lose weight is often asking it to do one thing too many.

In one experiment, led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.

This helps explain why, after a long day at the office, we’re more likely to indulge in a pint of ice cream, or eat one too many slices of leftover pizza. (In fact, one study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that just walking down a crowded city street was enough to reduce measures of self-control, as all the stimuli stressed out the cortex.) A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.

[Click to continue reading The Science Behind Failed Resolutions – WSJ.com]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link]

Probably why during certain times of the year, like right now, when my brain is over-stimulated by work, I tend to keep my liver busy cleaning wine and other inebriants out of my blood stream. I knew there had to be a scientific reason.

In a 2002 experiment, led by Mark Muraven at the University at Albany, a group of male subjects was asked to not think about a white elephant for five minutes while writing down their thoughts. That turns out to be a rather difficult mental challenge, akin to staying focused on a tedious project at work. (A control group was given a few simple arithmetic problems to solve.) Then, Mr. Muraven had the subjects take a beer taste test, although he warned them that their next task involved driving a car. Sure enough, people in the white elephant group drank significantly more beer than people in the control group, which suggests that they had a harder time not indulging in alcohol.

The implications of this muscle metaphor are vast.…

In a 2007 experiment, Prof. Baumeister and his colleagues found that students who fasted for three hours and then had to perform a variety of self-control tasks, such as focusing on a boring video or suppressing negative stereotypes, had significantly lower glucose levels than students who didn’t have to exert self-control. Willpower, in other words, requires real energy.

  1. which I own, but haven’t gotten a chance to read yet []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 26th, 2010 at 12:06 am

Posted in health

Tagged with ,

Tap Water Is Probably Bad For You

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You are much safer drinking tequila than tap water, in the US that is.

Saying goodbye is harder than it seems

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

[Click to continue reading Millions Drink Tap Water That Is Legal, but Maybe Not Healthy – Series – NYTimes.com]

It is almost as if the US government doesn’t care about the health of its citizens, only about preserving corporate profits.

South branch of the river

If you are curious about your local water, the New York Times has made their findings public, and searchable.

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal. Examine whether contaminants in your water supply met two standards: the legal limits established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the typically stricter health guidelines. The data was collected by an advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group, who shared it with The Times.

[Click to continue reading What’s in Your Water – Interactive Feature – The New York Times]

For instance, Chicago tap water has 5 contaminants above health guidelines:
Alpa particle activity, combined radium, lead, Radium-226 and Radium-228, plus another 16 contaminants that are “within legal limits”1: arsenic, barium, chloroform, and so on. Yumm.

  1. but which should be filtered out, if possible []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Neckties Seen as Flu Risk

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Another reason to avoid the damn things like the plague they are probably carrying:

The list of things to avoid during flu season includes crowded buses, hospitals and handshakes. Consider adding this: your doctor’s necktie.

Neckties are rarely, if ever, cleaned. When a patient is seated on the examining table, doctors’ ties often dangle perilously close to sneeze level. In recent years, a debate has emerged in the medical community over whether they harbor dangerous germs.

Several hospitals have proposed banning them outright. Some veteran doctors suspect the antinecktie campaign has more to do with younger physicians’ desire to dress casually than it does with modern medicine. At least one tie maker is pushing a compromise solution: neckwear with an antimicrobial coating.

[Click to continue reading Nothing to Sneeze At: Doctors’ Neckties Seen as Flu Risk – WSJ.com]

Suited and Bored

Other than tradition, why the hell would anyone choose to wear neckties? They constrict your throat, and collect germs1 – for what? To conform to Renaissance fashion trends? We don’t wear bloomers anymore, either, or powdered wigs, so why cravats?

Wikipedia’s brief history lesson on these abominations:

The necktie traces back to the time of Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) when Croatian mercenaries from the Military Frontier in French service, wearing their traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs, aroused the interest of the Parisians. Due to the slight difference between the Croatian word for Croats, Hrvati, and the French word, Croates, the garment gained the name “Cravat”. The new article of clothing started a fashion craze in Europe where both men and women wore pieces of fabric around their necks. In the late seventeenth century, the men wore lace cravats that took a large amount of time and effort to arrange. These cravats were often tied in place by cravat strings, arranged neatly and tied in a bow.

  1. and food, occasionally []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 9th, 2009 at 9:00 am

Posted in health

Tagged with , ,

Cancer From the Kitchen

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Nicholas Kristof asks a question I’ve asked many times: what if our chemical-friendly lifestyle is directly linked to our increased death rates from cancer, and other illnesses? Especially since, in the US, toxins don’t have to be proven to be safe1 before they are used. I’d rather we used the European model, and mandated extensive testing before chemicals are allowed. The American Chemistry Council has too much power in this country.


What if breast cancer in the United States has less to do with insurance or mammograms and more to do with contaminants in our water or air — or in certain plastic containers in our kitchens? What if the surge in asthma and childhood leukemia reflect, in part, the poisons we impose upon ourselves?

Dr. Philip Landrigan, the chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai, said that the risk that a 50-year-old white woman will develop breast cancer has soared to 12 percent today, from 1 percent in 1975. (Some of that is probably a result of better detection.) Younger people also seem to be developing breast cancer: This year a 10-year-old in California, Hannah, is fighting breast cancer and recording her struggle on a blog.

Likewise, asthma rates have tripled over the last 25 years, Dr. Landrigan said. Childhood leukemia is increasing by 1 percent per year. Obesity has surged. One factor may be lifestyle changes — like less physical exercise and more stress and fast food — but some chemicals may also play a role.

[Click to continue reading Nicholas Kristof – Cancer From the Kitchen? – NYTimes.com]

and what to do? Simple answer is to make a few changes around your house:

I asked these doctors what they do in their own homes to reduce risks. They said that they avoid microwaving food in plastic or putting plastics in the dishwasher, because heat may cause chemicals to leach out. And the symposium handed out a reminder card listing “safer plastics” as those marked (usually at the bottom of a container) 1, 2, 4 or 5.

It suggests that the “plastics to avoid” are those numbered 3, 6 and 7 (unless they are also marked “BPA-free”). Yes, the evidence is uncertain, but my weekend project is to go through containers in our house and toss out 3’s, 6’s and 7’s.

Bill Moyers did a piece on this topic several years ago, including testing his own blood, and discovering tons of toxins, at levels unsafe.2

The “precautionary principle” – adopted by the European Union in 1992 as the basis for regulation of toxic chemicals –- holds that in the face of scientific uncertainty, government should err on the side of protecting public health and safety. In other words, if scientific evidence indicates there is a good chance that a chemical may pose a risk of irreversible harm, regulators should not wait for absolute proof before acting.

One of the major themes running through the internal chemical industry documents investigated in TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT is the industry’s opposition to the precautionary principle. It has used its wealth to win favorable treatment from politicians, sponsored surrogates to promote the industry point of view with the media, and now is quietly pushing legislation through state legislatures that will overturn many of the gains citizens believe they have made in their right to information about toxic chemicals.

  1. the so-called precautionary principle []
  2. I’ve blogged about it, but can’t find it at the moment []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 6th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Treatments for the Winter Blues

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Melinda Beck discusses a topic of keen interest to me, living as I do in The Big Potato1, where the sun sets around 4:40 pm.2

Fading Blues, Winter Light

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects an estimated 6% of Americans, causing depression, lethargy, irritability and a desire to avoid social situations. It can also create an urge to overeat, particularly carbohydrates. As many as 15% of people in the U.S. may have a milder version that includes only some of these symptoms. The incidence rises along with the distance from the equator: Roughly 8% of Canadians, 10% of Britons and as many as 20% of Scandinavians suffer from SAD this time of year.

Light therapy, using beams many times more intense than normal light, is the most common treatment. But a host of new therapies—from simulating dawn in your bedroom and changing your thoughts through cognitive-behavioral therapy to taking mega doses of vitamin D—are having success in some patients.

Despite decades of study, experts still aren’t sure exactly what causes SAD, which is officially recognized as a form of major depression that remits in spring and summer. The seasonal and geographic patterns provide strong clues that it’s related to the diminishing daylight in the fall and winter. One theory suggests that the reduced light disrupts peoples’ circadian rhythms, the 24-hour biological clock that governs waking, sleeping and many other body functions. Another theory holds that the darkness wreaks havoc with neurotransmitters—brain chemicals that affect mood. Some experts believe the reduced sun exacerbates vitamin D deficiencies. It may also be that SAD has several different causes.

[Click to continue reading Treatments for the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder Now Exist – WSJ.com]
[non-WSJ subscribers use this link]

We bought a goLite Blue last year (Feb 2008)

“Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device” (Philips)

but there are cautions now being issued about degenerative eye problems. Yikes. Don’t know if the cautions are scary enough to get rid of the thing (seemed to help a lot last year), but perhaps I’ll have to curtail the device’s usage a bit.

A controversy is brewing over blue light, which some other experts believe can reset circadian clocks more efficiently than white light. Last year, Philips Electronics NV introduced portable models, the goLITE BLU, which uses shortwave blue light ($199), and the briteLITE, which uses white light with added blue spectrum ($230). A study of 18 moderately depressed patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, supported in part by the manufacturer, found that both types of lights used for 45 minutes a day for three weeks lifted depression in 82% of subjects. The study was published in September in a Scandinavian journal.

But some ophthalmologists worry that exposure to blue light could damage retinas and exacerbate age-related macular degeneration. Philips says the goLITE BLU is safe when used according to instructions, but anyone with eye disease should consult an ophthalmologist before using it.

Side effects to light therapy are usually minimal. Some users get headaches or mild nausea initially, and a few feel restless or have trouble sleeping. But the main downside is the time and daily diligence required.

so now what? I’ll have to look into the other treatments suggested by Ms. Beck: Dawn Simulation, Negative Air Ions, Vitamin D, Exercise outdoors, and others. Outdoors exercise is most likely to happen, but when the temperatures drop, we tend to stay inside more than we should. I’ll have to make a concerted effort to go on sub-zero photostrolls this year. Though, I don’t know what happens when the sun is hidden behind grey skies for weeks on end…

Golden Splashed Ice

  1. Chicago, duh []
  2. lovely grammatical construction, huh? Whatever, too pressed for time to write well []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 1st, 2009 at 9:16 am

Posted in health

Tagged with ,

Reading Around on October 5th through October 6th

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A few interesting links collected October 5th through October 6th:

  • Why I give marijuana to my autistic child. – Last spring, I wrote about applying for a medical marijuana license for my autistic, allergic 9-year-old son, J., in hopes of soothing his gut pain and anxiety, the roots of the behavioral demons that caused him to lash out at others and himself. After reading studies of how cannabis can ease pain and worry, and in consultation with his doctor, we decided to give it a try
  • Teen-Age Dope Slaves

    Teen-Age Dope Slaves

  • Have You Gotten Your Google Wave Invite? – Google Wave – Lifehacker – “So far the only people I know who’ve received their invites were people who were in the dev preview, people who were invited by someone at Google, and the rest of those who were part of the very early 100,000 invite pool. Which is to say, I don’t believe that anyone who’s been invited by another Wave user has gotten their invitation yet. I quickly sent out my Wave invites to my fellow Lifehacker editors as soon as I was in, but as of now none of them have received an invitation.”On a related note, I still have a couple unclaimed invites to Google Wave. I sent out several of the eight as soon as I signed up, but nobody has gotten their invite yet that I know of
  • iSinglePayer iPhone App Censored by Apple « LambdaJive – iSinglePayer available in the App Store Thanks everyone for raising this issue publicly. Over the weekend Apple approved iSinglePayer and it is now available for download in the Healthcare and Fitness section of the App Store. I am glad that the app got through, and I hope that Apple will not be rejecting any more applications because they are politically charged. Thanks again, all!

Written by swanksalot

October 6th, 2009 at 12:00 pm