Beware of the New Year Hazards

December 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, HEALTHCARE

Sorry, I don’t want to be such a spoilsports and dampen your holiday spirit. But studies have shown that a lot of accidents happens at certain time of the year, especially around the 4th of July in the US and during the holiday season. Here are the reasons why


Drinking alcohol is all part of the New Year’s celebrations. And we all know that drinking and driving do not mix. According to Dr. Thomas J. Esposito, a trauma surgeon at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., as interviewed by the New York Times:

“Any degree of alcohol increases the chances your judgment or coordination can be impaired, whether on New Year’s Eve or any other day. Alcohol is associated with 50 percent of the injuries we see in the emergency rooms.”

However, it is not only the drivers who should pay attention to their blood alcohol levels. The NYT report continues to point out that pedestrians should take care as well. In fact, a study have shown that

“January 1 (New Year’s Day) has more pedestrian crash deaths on average, plus it has the fifth largest number of deaths per day overall, also due to alcohol impairment.”

The NYT report gives the following safety advice to inebriated pedestrians on New Year’s Day:

  • Stay and drink in one place. Avoid moving from one place to another.
  • Call a cab or get a ride with a “sober” driver.
  • Walk with a “sober” buddy.
  • Walk in a large group.
  • Wear lightly colored clothes to make you visible to drivers. Reflectors are especially useful.


If you are celebrating in the northern hemisphere, you know how the weather is at this time of the year. Even a sober driver can have problems with icy streets and snowstorms. For pedestrians, icy streets are fall hazards. Combined with alcohol, it can be fatal.

Now, if you are celebrating in the tropics or in the southern hemisphere, you have to deal with other climate hazards. In Australia, barbecue parties are very popular during the holidays but the risk of bush fires is rather high at this time of the year.

In addition, alcohol and heat can be a fatal combination that lead to drowning, heatstroke, as well medical conditions such as cardiovascular events.


We eat more than we are supposed to at this time of the year. It is only expected that some adverse effects can come with it.

We’ve tackled this topic many times on this site so I don’t want to say much more. Too much fat, too much calories, and too much sugar can wreak havoc with our body. However, aside from these usual culprits, foodborne outbreaks caused by such nasty bugs like Salmonella and Campylobacter have been reported during celebrations with severe and sometimes fatal consequences.

In addition, a high incidence of food allergies also needs to be reckoned with at this time of the year.


In many countries, fireworks are part of the New Year’s celebrations. However, fireworks can be very dangerous if not handled correctly. Injuries due to fireworks are widely reported the world over, with the highest in the age group 5 to 14 years of age in India. Injuries were serious, even fatal. In the US,  a study released in 2006 reported the following:

“An estimated 85800 pediatric fireworks-related injuries were treated in US emergency departments during the 14-year study period. Injured children had a mean age of 10.8 years, and 77.9% were male. Fireworks users accounted for 49.5% of the injuries, whereas 22.2% of the injuries were to bystanders; however, user status could not be determined in 28.3% of cases. The overall fireworks-related injury rate decreased significantly during the study period, but subgroup analysis did not indicate consistent declines among all ages and types of fireworks. Injuries were most commonly caused by firecrackers (29.6%), sparklers/novelty devices (20.5%), and aerial devices (17.6%). The most commonly injured body sites were the eyeball (20.8%), face (20.0%), and hands (19.8%), and the most common injury type was burns (60.3%). Approximately 91.6% of all children with fireworks-related injuries were treated and released from hospital emergency departments, 5.3% were admitted, and 2.3% were transferred to another institution. Bystanders accounted for 13.3% of admitted cases and 20.6% of transferred cases.”

Despite all these warnings, I wish you all a Happy New Year and as the Germans say ” a safe and smooth slide” into the New Year.

Photo credit: stiock.xchng

Dirty is healthy: how bugs prevent allergies

December 31, 2009 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Really? With the current hype about hygiene and disinfection to prevent the spread of the pandemic flu, this statement may sound bizarre. But recent studies reveal  that dirty can indeed be healthy and bugs can even be helpful. Let’s take a look at two of these studies.

Study 1:

A team of American researchers report that bacteria normally found on the skin can trigger something that actually repents inflammation and infection. Thus exposing children to bugs may actually be good and healthy. The bacteria  Staphylococcus, for example, block the pathway that lead to inflammation.

Study 2:

Exposure to allergens starts in the womb. So does the protection. German researchers report that when pregnant mice are exposed to environmental bacteria, a mild inflammatory response occurs that can later provide protection allergies to offsprings after delivery.

Both studies support that accumulating evidence that increase in allergy incidence is linked to our supersanitized environment. A theory called the hygiene hypothesis states:

“Exposure of young children to environmental microbes conditions the developing immune system to tolerate microbes and allergens later in life.”

As an example:

“… children raised on farms, which teem with microbes, developed fewer allergies than those raised in cities or non-farming rural regions. But it may not be the kids’ exposure that counts; children of farming mothers are also less susceptible to allergies regardless of their own exposure. But the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon were a mystery.

The two studies described above may just shed a light to this mystery. The German researchers demonstrated that pregnant mice exposed to barnyard bugs that are inhalable produce offsprings which are allergy-resistant.

“The exposure triggered a mild inflammatory response in the moms, characterized by the increased expression of microbe-sensing “Toll-like” receptors (TLRs) and the production of immune molecules called cytokines. The maternal TLRs were essential for transmitting protection, but how TLR signals translate into allergy resistance in the offspring is not yet known.”

The American study reports:

“…the harmless bacteria did this [prevent inflammation] by making a molecule called lipoteichoic acid or LTA, which acted on keratinocytes – the main cell types found in the outer layer of the skin. The LTA keeps the keratinocytes in check, stopping them from mounting an aggressive inflammatory response.“

The next step is to determine whether this exposure – protection effect also applies to food allergens.

Aging and body temperature

December 30, 2009 by  
Filed under AGING

What is the normal body temperature?

It was originally thought to be exactly 37.0 degrees C (98.6 degrees F), according to the pioneering work in clinical thermometry by Carl Wunderlich. However, it’s actually lower than that, at least according to oral measurements back in 1992. The average measurement at that time was 36.8 degrees C (98.2 degrees F). It can also vary due to a lot of factors.

Different devices and different body areas

Since then, new devices for measuring body temperature have been developed. More recent studies report the following ranges:

The most common method of measuring body temperatures are:

  • Oral temperature
  • Rectal temperature
  • Tympanic (ear) temperature
  • Axillary (under the arm) temperature
  • Field forehead temperature
  • Temporal (temple) temperature

Studies revealed that different devices and methods of measurements vary considerably. The US National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends the use of rectal temperature as the criterion standard for recognizing exertional heat stroke or hyperthermia for indoor as well as outdoor sports.

Different times of the day

Aside from variability due to different measuring techniques, body temperature can vary at with the time of the day, with low values in the morning and high values in the evening.

Other factors that cause variations

Physical activity increases body temperature. Women have generally slightly higher temperatures than men. The 1992 study reported a “trend toward higher temperatures among black than among white subjects.”

Temperature and age

Finally, several studies reported that body temperature changes with ages. It seems that there is a noticeable drop in body temperature with each decade of life lived. This drop in temperature can have some consequences in the treatment o of elderly patients. Fever caused by infections, for example can go unnoticed. A study by Turkish researchers reported:

The mean age of the subjects was 77.2, SD 7.3. In the 133 older subjects, the mean axillary temperatures ranged from 35.1 to 36.4 degrees C (95.3-97.6 degrees F). The mean temperatures for those aged 65-74 was higher than in those aged 75-84 (p < 0.001) and those aged 85 and older (p < 0.001) at 6 p.m. but not at 8 a.m. or 2 p.m. We concluded that older people have mean axillary body temperatures lower than the reference point of 36.5 degrees C (97.7 degrees F)… When assessing body temperature, it is important to take the age of the patient into consideration. Also, the reference point of 36.5 degrees C is inappropriate in older people, especially when diagnosing a febrile illness.

 Photo credit: stock xchng

Nutritional supplements for osteoarthritis evaluated

December 29, 2009 by  
Filed under ARTHRITIS

The 2009 Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) was held in Philadelphia in October. One of the main subjects of the research studies presented during the conference was advances in the management of osteoarthritis as featured in this Medscape report.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis characterized by the breakdown of cartilage around the joints. Some of the symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness, and impairment of motion and function. It affects the joints of the hands, knees, hips or spine. Although the causes of osteoarthritis are poorly understood, studies have identified the risk factors as:

  • old age
  • female sex,
  • high BMI or obesity
  • previous trauma
  • malalignment
  • genetic factors and
  • biochemical changes in aging joint tissues

During the ACR meeting, several investigations of nutritional interventions for osteoarthritis were presented. Some of the nutritional therapies are summarized below.

Glucosamine for Knee Osteoarthritis

Glucosamine is a common nutritional supplement used for the management of degenerative joint disease. It is available over the counter. At the ACR meeting, the results of the Joints on Glucosamine (JOG) trial that evaluated the effect of glucosamine on knee osteoarthritis were presented, with disappointing results.

“…no differences were observed in the progression of cartilage lesions between the treatment and placebo arms over the 24-week study. Moreover, glucosamine did not reduce levels of urinary type II collagen fragments, a biomarker for cartilage turnover. Taken together, these data suggest that glucosamine does not inhibit structural progression in knee OA, although this study is limited by its relatively small sample size and short follow-up, especially in light of the fact that OA lesions develop and progress over several years. “

Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) for Hip Osteoarthritis

The nutraceutical made from Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) is a popular osteoarthritis pain remedy especially in Europe. It is made from extracts of avocado and soybeans.  Results of a 3-year trial that investigated the efficacy of ASU to prevent progression of hip osteoarthritis indicated a weak benefit that needs to be confirmed by more studies.

At 3 years, no differences were observed between the placebo and ASU-treated groups in the primary outcome, which was change in joint space width. However, a statistically significant 20% reduction in progression, defined as > 0.5 mm reduction in joint space width, was observed in the treatment arm. No effects were observed on patients’ symptoms and ASU was generally well tolerated. Interpretation of the findings from this study is limited by the high patient dropout rate from the study of 41% and a failure to observe a significant difference in the primary outcome. Additional studies are needed to conclusively determine whether ASU has structure-modifying benefits in hip OA and could delay the need for joint replacement procedures.


Antioxidants are very popular supplements against cardiovascular diseases. But do they have beneficial effects in inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis? Unfortunately, years of study haven’t answered this question. One study reported at ACR meeting

“Higher intake of the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamins E and C, and selenium were not associated with a reduction in the incidence of severe OA. Surprisingly, an association between high selenium intake and knee and hip OA was observed. This intriguing observation, which could influence how one counsels patients on the use of antioxidant supplements, needs to be confirmed with additional studies.”

News from the flu front, December 29

December 29, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

Researchers find human protein that prevents H1N1 influenza infection
A light at the end of the flu tunnel? Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute may just have found a way to prevent H1N1 flu infection. They identified a naturally occurring human protein that blocks the replication of the H1N1 flu virus. But it doesn’t even stop there. The same protein also blocks other disease-causing viruses, including the deadly West Nile virus and the dengue fever virus. The protein is a member of the Inducible Transmembrane (IFITM) protein family.

The unexpected discovery could lead to the development of more effective antiviral drugs, including prophylactic drugs that could be used to slow influenza transmission.

1 dose of H1N1 vaccine may provide sufficient protection for infants and children
Here’s another piece of good news. One dose of the vaccine may actually be enough for protecting infants and very young children from the H1N1 flu, according to a recent study by Australian researchers at the University of Melbourne. The current guidelines of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices require two doses of the vaccine for children under 9 years old.

The authors state:

“Our findings suggest that a single dose 15-microgram dose vaccine regimen may be effective and well tolerated in children, and may have positive implications for disease protection and reduced transmission of pandemic H1N1 in the wider population.”

2/3 of Australians unlikely to get vaccinated against swine flu
However, it’s not all good news from down under. Skepticism about the H1N1 flu vaccine has spread to the southern hemisphere. According to Research Australia, a survey revealed that about 65% of the population are unlikely to get vaccinated against the swine flu in the coming year. This unwillingness to get vaccinated among Australians is causing concerns among health officials who are bracing for a major outbreak in the coming winter months. Even among people with high risk profile, the rate of vaccination is rather low.

The poll found that, in terms of people at higher risk, only 33 per cent with asthma or lung disease, 45 per cent with diabetes, 28 per cent with reduced immunity, and 40 per cent with heart disease had been vaccinated.

FDA Approves High Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for People Ages 65 and Older
It’s not only the H1N1 flu that’s causing frenzy in the pharma industry. The US FDA approved last week the high dose seasonal flu vaccine called Fluzone High-Dose. The shot is an inactivated influenza virus vaccine indicated for people ages 65 years and older to prevent disease caused by influenza virus subtypes A and B.

It’s been a while since I brought you some news updates from the flu front. Here’s one just before the end of the year.

Voluntary Non-Safety-Related Recall of Specific Lots of Nasal Spray Vaccine for 2009 H1N1 Influenza
There has been a voluntary recall of specific lots of the nasal spray vaccine for H1N1. However, the CDC emphasizes that teh recall has nothing to do with unwanted side effect but is part of a routine quality assurance checks, especially for stability and shelf-life.

Blood pressure monitoring and sleep

December 28, 2009 by  

Which one would it be – blood pressure problems or a good night’s sleep?

The so-called ambulatory blood pressure (BP) monitoring technique measures BP 24 hours a day. It assesses the variations in BP during daytime and at night. Sleeping BP, i.e. BP measured during sleep is a good indicator of risk for heart attack and stroke. Normally, BP is lower at night compared to that measured at daytime. When sleeping BP doesn’t “take a dip”, then the risk for cardiovascular problems is much greater. To continuously measure BP, patients are equipped with adevice called actiwatch or a wristwatch actigraph, which is the size of a wristwatch and is worn like one.

However, how do this widely used test and the device affect the sleep of the patients? A recent study reveals that the BP monitoring device can actually disturb the patients’ nighttime rest, thus questioning the validity of the measurements.

According to Dr. Rajiv Agarwal of the Indiana University and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Indianapolis

“Blood pressure (BP), measured during sleep correlates better with heart attacks and strokes compared to blood pressure measured in the doctor’s office. However, if blood pressure measurement disturbs sleep, then it may weaken the relationship between ‘sleeping BP’ and these cardiovascular events.”

The study followed up 103 elderly patients with kidney disease equipped with actiwatches. The results revealed that

  • the BP monitoring device disturbed most of the patients
  • the participants spent, on average, 90 minutes less time in bed
  • the participants spent less time sleeping and slept less efficiently
  • some participants awoke at night

According to the researchers, the dip in night time BP measurements is due to sleep. However, if a patient cannot sleep due to whatever disturbance, then night time BP may be abnormally high.

The researchers are therefore warning about jumping into conclusions about interpreting the results of ambulatory BP monitoring.

Dr. Agarwal continues

“Thus sleep quality should be taken into account when interpreting blood pressure during sleep… Whether similar results will be obtained in younger people remains to be seen.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Cracking down on confusing food labeling

December 28, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

Do you understand the labels on the food products that you buy? If not, then you are not alone. Not understanding food labels is the rule, not the exception according to a survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). This is according to the health group’s online survey of 1,454 parents aged 16 to 64 years old and have children under the age of 16. This confusion about the labels are, according to researchers, due to inaccurate and sometimes misleading information intentionally given by the food manufacturers. As an example, BHF CEO Peter Hollins cites “distracting health-like claims to market breakfast foods and lunchbox snacks.” Unfortunately, the same breakfast foods, especially cereals can contain too much sugar, fat, and salt.

Hollins continues:

“Smoke-and-mirror tactics means that foods targeted at children and high in fat, salt and sugar are being disguised with partial health claims suggesting they’re a healthy choice. Regularly eating these types of foods could have serious implications for kids’ future health.”

The BHF is calling for a single, front-of-package label as well as banning all junk food ads on TV before 9 p.m

The UK is not the only country cracking down on erroneous food labeling. A Canadian study in 2007 revealed that “there are a significant number of products which have values on the label on the carton which are not correct values.” Although variations in the values may occur, which, Canadian regulations allow, could be up to 20%, many of the products surveyed exceeded this legal variation limit.

To counter the unclear food labeling, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest wrote a letter to Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq proposing better regulation of food labeling, including:

  • A traffic-light color coding that would alert consumers on certain undesirable contents in the products, most especially sugar and trans fats.
  • Disclosure of caffeine content per serving
  • Easier-to-read information on the packaging.

In the US, the FDA is also on the lookout for mislabeling in food products. In October this year, health officials questioned certain logos carried by some products. One of these is the so-called Smart Choices check mark, which according to critics, has rather lax standards. Other products carry a red heart logo, giving the impression that they are heart-healthy. Aside from the logos, unfounded claims can also be found on many product labels. Examples are:

In October the FDA issued a letter to the food industry on Front of Package Nutrition Label. The new guidelines require “directed, standardized, comprehensive front-of-package food labeling program and icon system by the FDA with unified criteria based upon the best available science and consumer research.”

X’mas stress and depression: tips for prevention

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under DEPRESSION, Featured

`Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la… But the holiday season can bring not only good mood and goodwill but stress and depression. The holiday season in the US starts can start as early as November at Thanksgiving until New Year. In Europe it starts from early December till 6 January, the feast of the 3 Kings. In an Asian country where I was born, Christmas starts when the month’s name ends with “-ber”, e.g. as early as September! It goes without saying that the holiday season can become too long and although many of us start off quite happy and gay, we get burned out towards the end of the season, what with too much shopping, too much cooking and baking, too much wining and dining, too much celebrating. It puts a burden on us financially, physically, as well as emotionally. It can cause strain in our personal relationships, our professional life, thereby tipping over that ever precarious life-work balance. It is no wonder that the holiday season can end in stress and depression. Fortunately, there are ways and means to prevent these. Health experts at the Mayo Clinic give us some good advice.

The first step is to recognize the most common holiday triggers that lead to a meltdown and immediately try to diffuse these triggers. The second step is to take control of the holidays and not let the holidays control you. The Mayo Clinic experts give us some 10 concrete steps to avoid stress and depression this holiday season

Photo credit: stock.xchng

How to avoid food allergies at Christmas time

December 24, 2009 by  
Filed under ALLERGIES

Christmas time is feasting time. Unfortunately it can also be allergy time. As we attend one party after another, trying out food we normally we do not eat at home, we are exposed to allergens in the food that can trigger allergic reactions. According to WebMD, the eight most common foodstuffs associated with allergic symptoms are:

  • Eggs
  • Cow’s milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shrimp and other shellfish
  • Salads & fresh fruits

It is most unfortunate that a lot of these food stuffs are actually healthy stuff. I mean, have you ever heard of allergies against things we shouldn’t eat? Anybody with allergic reaction to sugar? To fat?

However, another source of allergy is food additives, e.g. food preservatives and colorings that may be present in any processed food that we eat.

But you may ask, what is the big deal about food allergies? Well, allergic reaction doesn’t only bring mild symptoms like rashes, sneezing or tummy aches. It can bring about anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that includes swelling of the throat, cutting off the airway, difficulty in breathing, and eventually cardiopulmonary arrest.

However, people with allergies need not miss out on the fun and feasting at Christmas time. What is needed is proper planning and preventive measures.

So what should we do at Christmas time, or any time for that matter, when we have to dine out or attend a party, knowing we are potentially allergic to certain foodstuffs? Here are some tips:

Avoid the Food Allergy Trigger. Avoidance of exposure is always the key to avoid serious allergic reactions. Read the labels in the food products you buy. Inform your host/hostess, your waiter about your allergy. They can then advice you as to what dishes you should avoid.

Bring the party at home. When you do the cooking or hire a caterer, you have more control over the menu/ what goes into the food. In case of a potluck party, remind your guests about your allergy.

Inform your friends. The more people know about your allergy, the more people can watch over you, and can help you check out the food.

Have your anti-allergy medication ready and within reach. You should carry your antihistamines on your person. Tell your friends where it is so they have access to it in case of emergency.

Talk to your doctor about allergy shots. Check out whether you are qualified for anti-allergy shots. Your doctor can tell you more.

New developments in heart bypass surgery

December 23, 2009 by  

When blood vessels that supply the heart get clogged up, they need to be replaced to restore the blood supply to the heart and prevent heart attack. This replacement is done through a surgical procedure called a heart bypass. In many cases, blood vessels from the patient’s legs are removed and use as replacement blood vessel in a surgical procedure called heart bypass. However, some patients do not have suitable blood vessels for replacement so that surgeons have to use artificial blood vessels. Currently, artificial blood vessels are made from synthetic materials that unfortunately increase the risk for blood clots. This is why patients who have had a heart bypass need to take blood thinners to prevent blood clots.

New advances in biotechnology indicate that the procedure of heart bypass will soon undergo a major revolution.

Using proteins to regrow blood vessels

Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine have developed a protein-based injection that can induce blood vessels to regrow and thus eliminating the need for open heart surgery. The researchers have tested the protein-based therapy in mice with very promising results. Blood vessel regeneration occurred within a weeks and got integrated into the circulatory system. According to researcher Dr. Britta Hardy:

“Our technology promises to regrow blood vessels like a net, and a heart that grows more blood vessels becomes stronger. It’s now imaginable that, in the distant future, peptide injections may be able to replace bypass surgeries.”

Using bacteria to grow new blood vessels

Single-celled organisms called bacteria can be our friend or foe. They can cause infections that can be mild or life-threatening. They can, however, be harnessed to produce life-saving products such as insulin. In a latest advancement in biotechnology, a species of bacteria is being harnessed to produce artificial blood vessels.

Swedish researchers report that about a technique using bacteria to synthesize new blood vessels. The bacterium Acetobacter xylinum can produce blood vessels made from cellulose that is strong enough to withstand blood pressure and is compatible with the human body’s own tissue. In addition, blood vessels made from cellulose seem to have a lower risk of blood clots compared to the synthetic blood vessels currently in use.

According to researcher Helen Fink, a molecular biologist at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden:

There are hardly any blood clots at all with the bacterial cellulose, and the blood coagulates much more slowly than with the materials I used as a comparison. This means that the cellulose works very well in contact with the blood and is a very interesting alternative for artificial blood vessels.”

What causes premature skin aging?

December 22, 2009 by  
Filed under AGING

Millions of people, especially women, spend lots of money each year to counteract the effects of aging, most especially on the face. But what causes premature aging? According to researchers, about 40% aging-related changes are due to non-genetic factors and can be attributed to environmental factors.  Researchers have identified several factors that cause the skin on the face to age faster and these include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Being heavier
  • History of skin cancer
  • Not using sunscreen
  • Air pollution

In this post, we discuss two of these factors.


According to study by researchers at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, long-term exposure to the sun without sunscreen causes physical and structural changes to the skin, the so-called skin photodamage. This kind of damage to the skin differs from natural skin aging. While natural aging of the skin produces fine wrinkles and skin growth, photodamage of the skin is characterized by coarsely wrinkled skin, spots of extra or lost pigmentation and dilated blood vessels. The findings are based on a study conducted on 65 pairs of twins who participated at the 2002 annual Twin Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio.

According to the authors:

“The Twins Days Festival provides a rare opportunity to study a large number of twin pairs to control for genetic susceptibility. Among the most important results is that a history of skin cancer and photodamage are highly associated in a population that shares genetic commonalities. The relationships found between smoking, weight, sunscreen use, skin cancer and photodamage in these twin pairs may help to motivate the reduction of risky behaviors.”

Air pollution

In a video clip, CBS 2 reports on the effects of air pollution on the skin particularly the face. People living in big cities like New York are especially exposed to high levels of air pollution. Air pollution causes premature aging as dirt and dust build up on the uncovered part of the body, most especially the face. This build up creates some sort of barrier on the face skin, reducing the effects of moisturizers and face creams. The dirt build up also causes structural damage to the skin cells which then interferes with skin’s ability to regulate moisture. In addition, it depletes vitamin E in the skin, the vitamin that helps prevent lines and wrinkles.

Meaningful Christmas Shopping Part II: Presents that are Safe, Green, and Fair

December 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured, HEALTHCARE

Many of us are still struggling with our list of Christmas gifts to be bought while world leaders are discussing Climate Change in freezing Europe. So where’s the link?

Every Christmas, our carbon footprint spikes up as we consume more electricity for Christmas lights and cooking , use up more fossil fuels as we travel more by car and by plane,  produce more rubbish, and use up more resources. Healthcare costs spike up as more people are getting ill from overindulging and over imbibing. I am currently reading John Grisham’s book Skipping Christmas. The book is hilarious but it also highlights the excesses of Christmas.

That doesn’t mean to say we have to completely do without Christmas. I think it is still the best holiday of the year ever and it’s fun to celebrate. However, we should take measures to minimize wastefulness, reduce our carbon footprint, and avoid compromising our health. That’s why I am giving you a couple of Christmas shopping tips.

Here are some questions you need to ask before buying something:

Is it safe?

TOYS. Time and time again, toys are recalled due to safety issues ranging from high lead content to choking hazards. This holiday season’s most popular toys, the Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters, supposedly contain high levels of the toxic chemical antimony. Other toys can contain more than the allowable limit of certain chemicals. For a list of toys that have been recalled for safety issues, check out

COSMETICS. The EWG has a large database on cosmetics and body care products which have been tested for carcinogen and other toxic chemicals called Skin Deep.

GADGETS. Electronic gadgets are very popular presents for adolescents and adults. When giving cell phones, be sure to check for radiation emission levels. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Cell Phone Radiation Report.

FOOD. The US FDA regularly issues warnings and alerts on food recalls. The recent warnings concerned hazelnuts. For regular updates on food safety and food recalls, check out

Is it environmentally friendly?

Products I consider green or environmentally friendly are those which are made from recycled materials, are biodegradable or are recyclable.

There are CHRISTMAS CARDS made from 100% recycled paper.

TOYS, GADGETS, and APPLIANCES: Are they energy efficient? Why not go for toys that run on renewable energy, e.g. solar or mechanical energy?

FOOD. If you are the organic consumer type, know whether your organic food is definitely organic, e.g. free from pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals.

Is it socially responsible?

I think we should look at the products beyond their appearance and packaging and think of the people who worked hard to produce them. Was the product produced in a sweat shop, by small children? What is the manufacturer’s policy on corporate social responsibility?

The number of products carrying the FAIRTRADE labels is increasing as consumers make their wishes heard about fairness and social responsibility. Check out for a list of FAIRTRADE products.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

CT scans and cancer risk

December 21, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

Over the years, the diagnostic technique of CT, short for computed tomography imaging, has enabled doctors to detect tumors and save lives. The CT technique uses special x-ray equipment in order to obtain cross-sectional images of the body. The images provide detailed images of organs, bones, and other tissues and enable doctors to view structures not easily visible with traditional X-rays. Unfortunately, this advancement in diagnostic imaging technique comes with a price – exposure to higher X-ray radiation and thereby increased risk for cancer.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco that newer CT scanners may produce better images but also produce variable levels of radiation that is very much unregulated. Concerns are especially expressed because

The ease and convenience of CT scans make clinicians perform the procedure more frequently than before.

More and more CT scans are performed in healthy people for screening purposes that may not be necessary.

Newer models of scanners are much faster in taking pictures, again often leading the clinicians to take more scans than needed.

According to lead investigator Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a professor of radiology at UCSF:

“In day-to-day clinical practice, we found significant variation in the radiation doses for the same type of computed tomography procedures within institutions and across institutions. Our results highlight the need for greater standardization because this is a medical safety issue.”

The re4searchers estimated the radiation exposure of patients in connection with the 11 most common types of CT procedures used in US clinical practice and the potential cancer risk associated with each type. Their results revealed:

  • 1 in 270 women and 1 in 600 men who underwent a CT coronary angiogram at age 40 years will develop cancer due to the procedure.
  • The estimated risk for a routine head CT at the age 40 is 1 in 8,100 for women and 1 in 11,080 for men. The risk doubles in patients having the procedure around the age of 20 years.
  • In some patient populations, the risk for cancer of certain CT procedures can be as high as 1 in 80.

To put things into perspective, the researchers compared CT radiation exposure to other imaging procedures. They found that the median effective dose delivered through a single CT scan can be equivalent to doses used in 74 mammograms or 442 chest x-rays

The researchers are calling for more regulation in the use of CT scans in the US. They have identified three key practices necessary to improve the safety of CT procedures and the associated radiation doses:

•Reduction of unnecessary studies and studies thought unlikely to influence clinical decisions.

•Standardization and utilization of low-dose and lower-dose protocols for every CT scanner.

•Standardization of radiation doses across patients and facilities through federal legislation and FDA oversight stipulating how CTs are to be safely performed.

Swimming: good or bad for asthma?

December 21, 2009 by  
Filed under ASTHMA

It’s been freezing outside for days and the kids have eventually lost the enthusiasm for snow games. Now, what can we do in terms of exercise? The answer is swimming in indoor, heated swimming pools.

Aside from being a well-rounded physical exercise, swimming has been proven to be beneficial for those with asthma. An article in the journal Respirology reports that swimming is an effective non-pharmacological intervention against asthma for children.

The study by Taiwanese looked at school children aged 7 to 12 years old who were suffering from asthma. The study participants were split into 2 groups – one group received regular pharmacologic asthma treatments, the other underwent a six-week swimming program on top of their routine treatments.

The study results showed that

  • There were significant improvements in symptoms, hospitalizations, emergency room visits and school absenteeism the study participants.
  • There were also improvements in severity of asthma, mouth-breathing, snoring, chest deformity, self-confidence and general feelings of disadvantage among the participants.

According to lead author, Wang Jeng-Shing from the Taipei Medical University:

“Unlike other sports, swimming is unlikely to provoke asthma attacks. In addition to improving asthma, swimming promotes normal physical and psychological development, such as increasing lung volume, developing good breathing techniques and improving general fitness.”

“Not only is swimming an excellent form of exercise for children with asthma, the health benefits reaped continued to be observed for at least a year after the completion of the swimming program.”

However, swimming is not without its risks. Another study revealed that babies who start “swimming” before the age of 6 months are at an increased risk for developing asthma in childhood.

The Norwegian study looked at the data of about 30,000 participants of the Norwegian Mother and Child Study (MoBa) at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). The study revealed that:

  • 25% of children in the study started baby swimming between the age of 3 and 6 months.
  • There were differences observed with respect to lower respiratory tract infections, middle ear infection (otitis media) or tightness and wheezing in the chest between babies who went swimming at before the 6th month and those who did not.
  • A significant difference was found among children of mothers with asthma or allergies. 47% of these children who went swimming before the age of 6 months had tightness or wheezing in the chest compared to 44% who did not go swimming at such an early age.

I myself had enrolled my twin boys in a baby swimming program when they were aged 3 months. One of them developed wheezing a couple of months later. I do have a family history of asthma and allergies but I don’t know whether the swimming caused my child’s problem or not. However, my boys participated in a regular swimming course at age3.5 years and I definitely noticed and improvement in my wheezing son’s respiratory health. Again, I can’t be sure whether it’s swimming or other factors that caused the improvement.

So what is the link between swimming and wheezing?

Earlier studies indicated that there can be a link between baby swimming and airway infections in children. It has been suggested that indoor environmental factors (airway irritants) such as volatile chlorination products for indoor swimming pools can affect lung epithelium and contribute to the development of respiratory illnesses like asthma among children.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Heart(y) News, December 18

December 18, 2009 by  

Some heart(y) updates for you on the weekend before Christmas…

Artificial heart patient who received dual transplant celebrates 1st Christmas at home with 2-year-old son & fiancée
Because a successful dual heart and kidney transplant earlier this year, 46-year old Chuck Besen can finally celebrate Christmas at home with 2-year son Dylan and his fiancée Jenniferworldnews Hokanson. Last Christmas, he was still Total Artificial Heart while waiting for a matching donor heart and kidney.

“Today, I just thank God I’m alive. The Total Artificial Heart not only saved my life, but allowed me to get strong enough to undergo my dual transplant”

FDA advisory panel votes in favor of broadened rosuvastatin indication
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee voted earlier this week for the expansion of rosuvastatin indication. Rosuvastatin (Crestor) to patients with normal LDL-cholesterol levels but nevertheless are at low to moderate risk for cardiovascular disease based on elevated levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). The favourable decision was mainly based on results of the JUPITER study which showed that rosuvastatin can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality by 44%. Crestor manufactured by AstraZeneca.

Scientific Panel Evaluates Soy Formula Safety
An independent panel consisting of 14 scientists met last December 16 to evaluate the most current research evidence on soy infant formula to determine whether exposure is a risk to human development. Soy has always been thought to have cardiovascular benefits. However, it contains high levels of isoflavones such as genistein, daidzein, and glycitein. These isoflavones are naturally occurring phytoestrogens that mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen. There have been reports of these phytoestrogens adversely affecting development. The panel is convened by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).

Medicines Company recalls specific lots of CCB Cleviprex
The Medicines Company has announced a voluntary recall of specific lots of its calcium-channel blocker Cleviprex earlier this week. Cleviprex (clevidipine butyrate) is an injectable emulsion indicated for blood-pressure lowering in patients in whom oral medications are not feasible or desirable.

Free iPhone Application teaches Hands-On CPR
A new application for hand-held devices such as iPhone can help bystanders apply the life-saving procedure of CPR. The Hands-Only CPR App can downloaded for free at iTunes Similar applications will soon be also available for Blackberry, Palm Pre, and Android (Google) platforms.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Health care updates, December 18

December 18, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

healthcareA pre-Christmas round up of health care news for you…

HHS Announces $27 Million from Recovery Act to Help Older Americans Fight Chronic Disease
The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is allocating $27 million to help the elderly improve their health, thereby reducing health care costs. The funds are made possible through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

“This program is about getting money to communities to help seniors manage chronic conditions that threaten their ability to remain in their own homes. Through HHS’ national aging-services network which reaches into nearly every community in America, we are helping people living with chronic conditions and others better manage their own health,”

FDA Expands Presence Outside U.S. with Opening of Mexico City Post
The US FDA has recently opened a post in Mexico City. This is to facilitate cooperation with the body’s regulatory partners overseas, a move that is important in ensuring food and medical product safety in the US. According to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg

“The opening of this office represents an important step as we re-design our product safety strategy. We, like our partners in the Mexican Government, realize that prevention is the key. For example, more than a third of the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat come from Mexico as do a large amount of our medical devices. Having FDA experts located permanently there will be mutually beneficial to both our countries and respective citizens.

US National Survey Tracks Rates of Common Mental Disorders Among American Youth
A survey partially sponsored by the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on the prevalence of common mental disorders revealed that only about 50% of children and adolescents in the US who are suffering from some kind of mental disorders receive professional help. The specific disorders surveyed were:

The good news is that except for ADHD, these prevalence rates are lower than previously reported. The bad news is that only 32% of young people with anxiety disorder consulted a mental health specialist. This is especially true among African-Americans and Mexican-Americans compared to the white.

Interactive Timeline on H1N1: The Year in Review
US health officials give a summary of events surrounding the H1N1 2009 outbreak and discuss the next phase of the response to the pandemic at

Career and cancer: do they go together?

December 17, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

workCancer and cancer treatments come with severe symptoms that can interfere with a person’s private and professional life. Many years ago, cancer patients had to stop working during the time when they were battling the disease. Thus, a diagnosis of cancer could then mean the end to a career.  This, however, may have some long term effects on the patient’s well being as well as getting back into normal life after treatments.

Nowadays, about 60 to 80% of cancer patients continue to work or return to their jobs after treatment, according to studies compiled by Rutgers University researchers, as reported in this Boston Globe report.

Why would people want to work through cancer?

  • For many people it is a financial necessity.
  • It can improve quality of life. Work keeps the mind busy and off the pain and other symptoms.
  • It helps some people to heal faster.

Why is working through cancer more feasible now than before?

According to CancerCare Executive Director Diane Blum

“Twenty years ago, being treated for cancer was a full-time job. Now symptoms are managed better, treatment is outpatient. People are often able to live their lives with some semblance of normality.”

However, there are other factors involved as well. For one thing, the attitudes in workplace have changed.

The stigma that comes with being ill, at least with cancer, has lessened over the years. Employers and colleagues are showing more understanding and consideration to cancer victims and survivors. With the aid of technology, flexible working hours and home office are now commonly practiced and widely accepted. The US Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act provides people with severe illness protection from unrightful dismissal due to health problems.

This doesn’t mean that the cancer-work combination is easy. It is very difficult and highly challenging. But this challenge might just be the motivation that a patient needs to get back to his or her feet. However, as long it is medically feasible and appropriate supervised, and as long as the patients get support from the people around her or him, it can work.

According to Stacy Chandler, a social worker at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center:

“People who are living with cancer appreciate kind words and gestures from people, but they also appreciate opportunities to feel normal. Patients are trying to achieve a new normal. It’s a really hard thing to achieve.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Watching over our aging parents

December 17, 2009 by  
Filed under AGING

old woman gardenAs we approach middle age, our parents approach old age, and we are faced with the possibility that our aging parents will run into problems that comes with age. I lost both my parents years back. I come from Asia, where many countries have low life expectancy. I guess we were lucky that our Dad lived up to his 80s and our mom to her 70s. My husband’s family, like many European families, is family of mainly elderly people. European life expectancies are among the highest in the world. My husband’s parents in their 70s are both well and his grandma is approaching her 90th year with optimism. Uncles and aunts in their 70s are all healthy and active.

In Asia, it is tradition that the young take care of the elderly. In Europe, the elderly are more independent and tend to live alone. Initially, it was very difficult for me to accept this but I have learned to live with it.

However, I still believ we shouldn’t take for granted that our aging parents and grandparents can manage on their own all the time. Old age is something that the elderly people themselves may find difficult to accept. After all, old age can mean loss of independence and mobility. It is up to us to be vigilant about our elders’ health and well-being. The health experts at Mayo Clinic gives us some tips on what to watch out for as we watch over our aging parents:

Weight loss. When the elderly loses weight, this could mean a lot of things. Weight loss may be due to certain medical conditions. However, it could well be due to physical difficulties that may restrict the elderly from shopping or cooking. It could also be due to loss of sense of taste or smell that comes with the aging process. In any case, finding out the cause of weight loss is of utmost importance.

Physical appearance. We should pay attention to other parents’ appearance, their clothes, their grooming behavior, and their personal hygiene. Deviation from the normal or routine can indicate conditions that need to be investigated further.

Safety. As our parents age, their mobility and physical capabilities deteriorate. Stairs that used to easy can eventually become a difficult hurdle. We should pay more attention to health hazards (e.g. things that increase risks of falls or other injuries, fire hazards, etc.) in the elderly’s accommodations.

Behavior and social life. We should watch out for mood swings and abnormal behavior in the elderly. This will include looking for signs of depression and looking into their social life. It is well-known that an active social life keeps the elderly fit and lowers the risk for dementia. Depression, on the other hand, can be indicative of underlying medical conditions.

Mobility. Loss of mobility becomes a big risk with age. This loss can mean loss of independence for the elderly and can greatly affect all of the abovementioned problems. The elderly sometimes are the last to admit that they have problems with movement. It is up to us to monitor them and watch for signs of loss of mobility.

By watching out for these problems related to aging, we can take action to prevent the problems to worsen. Mayo Clinic recommends the following course of action:

■Share your concerns with your parents.

■Encourage regular medical checkups.

■Address safety issues.

■Consider home care services.

■Contact the doctor for guidance.

 ■Seek help from local agencies.

Meaningful Christmas Shopping Part I: A Gift of Fresh Air and Clear Vision

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under VISION

Would you like to give something this Christmas that doesn’t come in a box? What about a gift of sight? A1161714_kids_under_tree gift of fun? A gift of fresh air?

The not-for-profit organization Fresh Air Fund is something special not only because it is focused on children but because it doesn’t give recipients material things. Instead, it gives children the gift of health – fresh air and clean vision.

The Fresh Air Fund’s philosophy is simple. City children need to breathe fresh air and be in touch with nature. And that is what the fund gives them – a summer of fun in the countryside in camps and host families in 13 states. The program has been going for more than 100 years.

Recently, the Fresh Air Fund initiated, in addition to their summer camps, something new – the gift of clear vision. Together with OneSight, free eye check ups were conducted in the camps each summer.

Sara Wilson, spokesperson for the Fund was kind enough to enough a couple of questions about OneSight.

Q. What exactly is OneSight? 

OneSight is a family of charitable vision care programs dedicated to improving vision through outreach, research and education. OneSight gives the gift of sight.For more information, visit

Q. Why isn’t vision loss in children diagnosed early? 

A lot of the children who participate in Fresh Air programs simply don’t have access to proper vision care.  Not all the children have vision insurance, which means that they cannot afford to visit an optometrist.

Q. Who conducts the eye exams at OneSight? 

Doctors conduct the eye exams, they work on a volunteer basis.

Q. How do kids cope with wearing eyeglasses?

The kids love it! They do better in school and in sports when they return back in September to their schools.

Q. What are the other projects that the Fresh Air Fund is involved in?

Our main focus is to provide free summer experiences to NYC children thru volunteer host families and stays at Fresh Air camps. We work year-round to provide the best experience possible!

Q. How can people help the Fresh Air Fund?

We are always looking for donations and volunteers – please check out to get involved.

glasses2Here are some facts and figures about the Fresh Air Fund and OneSight:

  • More than 1.7 million NYC children have benefited from their programs since the Fund was established in 1877.
  • 3,000 children attend one of the Fund camps each summer.
  • 10,000 children visit during the school year to get outside and enjoy our camps and take advantage of facilities like the environmental center, the planetarium, hiking trails, and the overall camp experience.
  • 3,295 eye exams were performed in the summer of 2009 by OneSight’s vision van: This included all campers and camp staff.
  • 2,300 acres cover the 5 camps, hiking trails, a nature center, woods, ponds, lakes at the Sharpe Reservation in the Hudson Highlands near Fishkill, NY.
  • 50 full-time staff members run the Fresh Air Fund plus hundreds of seasonal staff and volunteers in the summer.

Christmas is a time of giving. By giving to charities, we are giving something that doesn’t expire like calendars at the end of the year. We may be giving gifts that can affect somebody for life.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

TV time and asthma

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under ASTHMA

TV addictToo much “screen time” for children is not healthy. Many research studies have shown this again and again. Time spent in front of the TV or the computer screen is sedentary time and this lack of physical exercise has been shown to cause obesity and cardiovascular problems in children, adolescents and adults. Now here is another good reason to decrease “screen time” – TV time has been associated to increased risk of developing asthma. These findings are based on data of more than 3,000 children whose respiratory health was followed up from birth up to 11.5 years of age. This group of children is a subgroup of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), which has been following the long term health of 14,000 children and their parents in the UK.

The study monitored the respiratory health of the children, including symptoms of wheezing and asthma as well as lifestyle, including TV viewing habits.

The results of the study shows that

  • 6% of children who had no asthma at age 3.5 years developed the respiratory problem at the age of 11.5 years.
  • Children who spent more than two hours in front of the TV each day have double the risk of being diagnosed with asthma compared to those who had less screen time.

What is the link between TV time and asthma? The link is poorly understood but may be due to sedentary behaviour.

The authors believe that

the relationship between physical activity, sedentary behaviour and asthma is complex. But they point out that recent research has suggested that breathing patterns in children may be associated with sedentary behaviour, sparking developmental changes in the lungs and subsequent wheezing.

The results of the study are alarming especially since it only monitored for time spent watching TV. Since the study started in the 90s, screen time due to computer and video game use was not included in the study as they were not widespread then. However, with the rapid developments in technology, almost every adolescent in the developed world has a personal computer and/or a game console. Thus, screen time for children today is most likely more extended that it was 10 or 15 years. Unfortunately, more screen time means less physical activity, more sedentary time – and yes, more health problems. Obesity in children is on the rise. Asthma, too. Now we know why.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.