Friday, December 4, 2009

Bisphenol-A: Too Profitable To Be Banned?

With a host of health risk recently uncovered in studies relating to its use in the food industry, is the use of Bisphenol-A or BPA in the global food industry just too profitable to be banned?

By: Ringo Bones

As one of the ingredients in polycarbonate-based plastics used to line tin cans and as a food-grade plastic container, its ubiquity in the global food industry is hard to deny. But in recent studies, funded by U.S. President Barack Obama’s 30 million dollar stimulus research grant to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration– Bisphenol-A or BPA like its pthalate-based chemical cousins – has been proven to cause adverse health risks. With its relatively low cost, ease of manufacture and lack of a viable safer – from a health standpoint – replacement, will Bisphenol-A prove to be too profitable to be banned despite of being a carcinogen?

Bisphenol-A, like its pthalate-based chemical cousins which are often mixed together to make food grade containers and tin can linings for the global food industry had been recently found to pose a health threat. Bisphenol-A or BPA has a chemical structure that acts as a hormone mimic when it enters the human metabolic process. By mimicking the biological function of the hormone estrogen, BPA in high enough concentrations has been found to arrest the male sex organ development in laboratory animals under test. Sex hormone imbalances due to hormone metabolism problems in humans can trigger some of the most common forms of cancer. As one of the chemical hormone mimics that constitute almost all plastics in our daily use, Bisphenol-A is an out-and-out carcinogen and teratogen – i.e. has a potential to harm developing embryos and fetuses.

Bisphenol-A seeps away from the plastic used to hold drinking water and other foodstuffs especially at elevated temperatures. Recent testing of a number volunteers who are long-term inhabitants of the industrialized West have shown elevated levels of BPA. People with higher BPA concentrations in their bloodstream tend to show increased liver enzymes that could increase susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and liver damage. And could even trigger cancers. In higher concentrations, BPA have caused sterility, brain damage, and cancers in later life of the higher primates under test.

Recent studies have shown that 50 micrograms per day per kilogram of body weight is the daily safety dose limit of BPA. This means for someone weighing 50 kilograms, they should only be ingesting 2,500 micrograms of Bisphenol-A in order for their bodies to safely metabolize the stuff without undue health problems. Sadly, despite of its negative effects to our health, BPA use has been increasing on an annual basis of 8%. Not only that, dentistry epoxy resins contain BPA too – which make it as a health concern together with the metallic mercury content of tooth fillings.

Even if Bisphenol-A used in food containers are banned immediately most of us have been using BPA-containing polycarbonate-based plastics continuously in our daily lives for the past thirty years or so. From CDs, i-Pod housings, to bullet-resistant glass, and even those plastic cups that we used for drinking for almost forever. And these BPA-containing plastics emit 55 times more BPA when heated risking bloodstream absorption just by casual contact or inhalation. To minimize ones BPA intake, it could be as easy as using those good old drinking glasses and ceramic cups – if you are willing to overcome the minor inconvenience that these drinking vessels break when you drop them on the floor.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Hidden Dangers of Coumarin-Containing Products

As the inherently toxic white crystalline lactone that gives cinnamon its distinctive aroma, does coumarin-containing products pose a health risk to consumers?

By: Ringo Bones

Thankfully, its chemically distant cousin – vanillin – which is the crystalline phenolic aldehyde that is the chief fragrant component of vanilla used in flavoring and perfumery is yet to be proven as a health hazard. But coumarin, the toxic white crystalline lactone, which in higher purity smells like newly-mown hay, found in cinnamon and mostly manufactured synthetically for use in cosmetics and perfumes. Has been deemed hazardous by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment since 2005. In lower concentrations, coumarin is the active component that gives cinnamon and related flavorings their distinctive aroma. Because recent studies have shown that some products – especially cosmetic creams that contain high concentrations of coumarin – results in unfavorably elevated liver enzyme values. And in some cases resulted to jaundice and liver damage. Coumarin is also toxic to the human kidney in sufficient amounts thus making it a definite no-no to those taking cholesterol lowering medication.

Erring on the side of caution, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment had urged cosmetic and foodstuff manufacturers to indicate whether their products contain coumarin or not since 2005. Making them probably the first in the world to do so. The established dose limit of coumarin has been set at 0.1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. So a person weighing 75 kilograms should keep their daily intake of coumarin at below 7.5 milligrams. Although studies are still ongoing whether taking coumarin via the gastro-intestinal tract can result in increased risk for liver damage as opposed to via skin absorption through cosmetic creams.

When it comes to cosmetics and toiletries, coumarin-containing creams pose the most risk because they are not readily rinsed off giving higher concentrations of coumarin ample time to be absorbed by the skin. Unlike soaps which are rinsed right away, while perfumes are only applied to the skin’s surface at lower concentrations. Baby products containing coumarin are a definite no-no because a baby’s skin easily absorbs oil-based chemicals and their liver can’t readily process elevated amounts of toxins. So it’s better to err in the side of caution when it comes to coumarin because even in its natural concentration it hardly qualifies as a poison. But due to larger quantities made possible to industrial scale synthesizing of the chemical, products containing coumarin should carry warning labels.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Of Adjuvant and Swine Flu Vaccines

Given the recent row in Germany over the reservation of adjuvant-free H1N1 vaccine doses for Germany’s “more useful” citizens, are adjuvant-added H1N1 vaccines really dangerous?

By: Ringo Bones

From the Aryan Nation-leaning paranoid fear-mongering of American right-wing conservative media darlings Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to the German government reserving the “supposedly safer” adjuvant-free swine flu vaccines for their soldiers, politicians and other “more useful” citizens. It seems that the public at large are starting to demand that the H1N1 / swine flu vaccine doses intended for them must be adjuvant-free. Will this be exploited by unscrupulous health insurance providers if and when swine flu becomes a flue pandemic, thus making true the excesses that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor and the late, great Senator Ted Kennedy spent their entire careers fighting against? Lets just hope it won’t come to that. But what is an adjuvant anyway and what role does it play in H1N1 / swine flu vaccine doses?

According to Webster’s dictionary, an adjuvant is something that enhances the effectiveness of a medical treatment and is often found in vaccine doses and chemotherapy cocktails. An adjuvant is usually agents or substances added to a typical vaccine preparation or dose to allow the recipient’s immune system to respond with higher levels of effectiveness. A typical adjuvant can include various forms of aluminum and are typically used with other vaccines in the United States, including vaccinations for hepatitis-A and B, diptheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine preparations and Heamophilus influenzae type b or Hib. In flu vaccine doses, the adjuvant would be a proprietary water-oil mixture. By using them in various vaccines, doctors hope to reduce the amount of the vaccine itself that is needed.

According to Dr. David Fedson, formerly a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and former medical director for the pharmaceutical company Aventis Pasteur, an adjuvant reduces the amount of antigen needed in a typical vaccine to initiate an immune response to its intended recipient. For example, a typical bird flu vaccine contains 90 micrograms of antigen – i.e. a flu virus’s “signature” that allows for an immune response. Adding an adjuvant reduces this to 3.75 micrograms, effectively enabling 24 times more doses. By adding an adjuvant, you gain what is known as an antigen sparing effect, according to Dr. Fedson. While flu vaccine doses typically use 15 micrograms of antigens, adding an adjuvant could decrease the amount of antigen required significantly. Which Dr. Fedson readily points out that being able to produce 4 times as many vaccine doses is a huge advantage in terms of public health management.

Ironically, no flu vaccine that is FDA-approved for use in the United States has ever contained an adjuvant because the country had never experienced a widespread flu pandemic in modern times. Thus the need to manufacture adjuvant-treated flu vaccines in America never arose. Although there are still some folks who say that the extent of side effects a typical adjuvant can manifest has never been thoroughly studied. But fortunately for some, all 2009 flu season H1N1 / swine flu vaccine batches being dispensed in the US to protect her citizenry against the H1N1 virus are all adjuvant-free. So far, the latest WHO and CDC studies conducted on adjuvant-added H1N1 / swine flu vaccine doses show no side effects.

But what does this all mean? Given that the majority of people – especially those who gravitate more towards demagoguery than science – tends to have the loudest voices when it comes to griping about this subject. Remember the fears over the mercury-based preservative thimerosal being used in vaccine preparations intended for infants? I’ll bet the loudest voices that griped over that issue are more concerned over obtaining effective “cheat codes” for their game consoles than making informed choices and decisions over the long-term health and well-being of their loved ones. Who knows that the adjuvant in swine flu vaccine issue might gain similar overly sensational media coverage and hype that surrounded the Gulf War Syndrome incidences – thus making scientifically valid investigations very difficult - back in the 1990s.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The US Healthcare System: Desperately Seeking Reform?

Given the overwhelming resistance from the entrenched – and moneyed – “corporate right”, will US President Barack Obama’s proposed healthcare reform ever see the light of day?

By: Ringo Bones

The recent anti-healthcare reform outbursts at various town hall meetings across America reminiscent of 1989 neo-NAZI Oi! Scene punk rock parties whenever the King of Pop’s name is mentioned, I for one also wonder if the proposed American healthcare system reform is fast becoming a political – rather than a health – issue. Is the corporate side of America’s healthcare system being run by white supremacists groups given that those vehemently disrupting the town hall meetings to clarify President Obama’s healthcare reform proposals bear an uncanny resemblance of neo-NAZI youths from 1989? If this is true, then maybe South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson should find a better excuse for his recent outrage at the president’s recent congressional address other than “Aryan Nation former head honcho Richard Butler made me do it”.

After seeing Dr. Andrew Weil’s recent interview on Larry King Live, I think Dr. Weil did properly point out some aspects of President Obama’s proposed healthcare reform still didn’t tackle the root causes of those continually spiraling costs – especially systemic problems that dates back to the Reagan Administration. Especially the lack of education and information campaigns tackling the root causes of lifestyle-related health problems like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Which can easily be avoided by preventative changes of unhealthy lifestyle choices.

Another bone of contention is that an overwhelming majority of healthcare providers – especially those in the pharmaceutical industry – has too many vested interests when it comes to the profit making side of the American healthcare system. By being too reliant on technological-based – therefore expensive – treatment regimens, it is no wonder why America’s healthcare system has been continually spiraling in cost since Ronald Reagan ruled the “free world”. Though this is to be expected since Dr. Weil is no friend to the pharmaceutical industry.

In short, blame could be mostly directed to the profit-driven healthcare providers – especially the major pharmaceutical industry with their consumer-directed medical ads that had been slowly ruining America’s healthcare system. Pfizer paying 2.3 billion-dollar payout to the US Department of Justice over the pharmaceutical company’s BEXTRA fiasco is probably just a tip of the iceberg. Not to mention the prevailing culture of the current form of the American healthcare system that denies coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition. Something the late, great Senator Ted Kennedy was campaigning passionately against.

The promise of an American universal healthcare has been a political campaign cause célèbre as far back as then US President Woodrow Wilson’s presidential campaign days. But during the Reagan Administration, an extremely radicalized greed-based interpretation of the Protestant Work Ethic had deemed universal healthcare as a Socialist ideal that is just “too Marxist” for Americans. Thus relegating America’s existing healthcare system to be in par with that of Serbia.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Michael Jackson’s Health Issues: The Price of Fame?

After “fighting tooth and nail” to be crowned as the undisputed King of Pop, did Michael Jackson’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune eventually took a toll on his health and well being?

By: Ringo Bones

Even though I’m but a casual fan in comparison to the more dedicated Michael Jackson fan that I’ve met over the years, I can’t help myself but to think that most of us will never probably get over the untimely passing of the eternally reigning King of Pop. Though most of us have seen Michael Jackson’s private struggles from the prism of supermarket tabloids, it was probably his tell-all interview with Oprah that everyone of us eventually found out that Jackson’s “unhappy” childhood is probably what we perceive is the root cause of his “eccentricities”. Nonetheless, Michael Jackson will probably go down in history as a case study for celebrity health in America.

Growing up with a less-than-ideal childhood in the supposedly child-friendly society of post-World War II America is probably the consensus explanation on why Michael Jackson eventually spent countless millions of dollars to recapture his lost childhood via the Neverland Ranch. While the primary suspected reason of his untimely passing last June 25, 2009 is blamed on Jackson’s chronic prescription painkiller abuse that started after that fateful accident while shooting a Pepsi commercial back in 1984.

Michael Jackson’s personal doctor, which he hired just recently back around May 2009, is now the prime suspect of his death and could face charges of negligent homicide. Dr. Conrad Murray, more a close personal friend than a physician, is now seen by investigators as an “enabler” – i.e. allowing Michael Jackson access to prescription painkillers to which he became chronically addicted over the years. And authorities investigating the untimely death of Michael Jackson became even more concerned when Dr. Murray enabled Jackson to receive doses of the anaesthetic propofol / diprivan – which is reserved only for operating room use during surgery.

The diprivan use in a domestic setting is probably the last straw that eventually made Dr. Conrad Murray the prime suspect in the untimely and suspicious death of Michael Jackson, given that the doctor should have been exercising his Hippocratic Oath in the first place – i.e. first do no harm. Diprivan was probably administered to Michael Jackson - according to the investigators – to enable him to sleep by subjecting him to a narcotic coma that supposedly reduces the stress of jet lag as the singer does his upcoming concert tour through different time zones.

Being addicted to strictly controlled pharmaceuticals is not the only malady suffered by Michael Jackson during his relentless pursuit of fame and fortune. His “unhappy” childhood is probably the primary cause of his “eternal dissatisfaction” with his own physical appearance. The scores of cosmetic surgery, which the King of Pop endured through the years - is a case in point. Michael Jackson is indeed an artist who suffers for his work. Despite of his relatively short and tortured life, Michael Jackson’s legacy lives on through his underwriting of philanthropic causes to help sick and needy children; Not to mention his musical legacy, which the long-time fan and the newly-initiated never seems to get enough of.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who’s Afraid of Swine Flu?

Even though it did create a somewhat irrational-leaning panic since the mainstream press reported it, but does the rest of the world be concerned over the swift spread of swine flu?

By: Ringo Bones

News of the relatively rapid spread of the H1N1 virus – also known as swine flu – did somewhat ruin the festivities slated for President Obama’s 100 days in office. Or maybe it was that April 28, 2009 breaking news live coverage of CNN when the World Health Organization spokesperson Gregory Hartl announced the raising of the Threat Level of the H1N1 / swine flu “pandemic” from Threat Level Three to Threat Level Four, there are six global pandemic threat levels by the way as established by the WHO. Which the WHO had taken into effect, especially when the suspected death toll throughout Mexico reached 152. Although this was later proven to be an exaggeration because three weeks later it was verified that the death toll in Mexico due to the H1N1 virus or swine flu now stands at 101. Given that seasonal flu death toll of the previous years are magnitudes greater in comparison to current swine flu deaths, why is everyone “deathly” afraid of swine flu?

Compared to the H5N1 virus a few years back, the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu is 800 times less – I and every molecular biologist on the planet can attest, repeat 800 times less – virulent in comparison to the bird flu virus. The problem is that the swine flu virus managed to spread very quickly in a very short amount of time. As cases of the H1N1 virus were reported on every major metropolitan city within the airline route of Mexico City. Thus everyone unfamiliar with the mechanisms of how viruses reproduce and spread to new hosts tend to err on the side of caution – namely switch on to a mode of irrational panic.

Given that the H1N1 virus’s 800 times more virulent cousin has yet to kill over a billion people, the most sensible way to err on the side of caution is to follow the WHO guidelines of avoiding catching the virus - namely covering your nose and mouth as you sneeze to avoid unintentionally spreading the virus. Plus avoiding unnecessary travel to the H1N1 virus’s point of origin, which can be a bummer if you are on a global personal crusade to kick-start the ailing global economy via tourism.

When the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 happened, humanity still hasn’t known a single iota about flu viruses – let alone had seen one. Electron microscopes were still a few years away. This was still before a UN-based WHO was established. It was still known as the Health Organization, an agency of the League of Nations formed during the Treaty of Versailles of 1919-1920. Even though the influenza pandemic eventually died out, it managed to kill over 20 million people around the world back then.

So far, it looks like the specter of a global pandemic rivaling that of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 won’t be repeated this time by the lowly H1N1 virus, which just so happens to have crossed the species barrier to manage to infect a few hundred souls while killing just over a hundred. Maybe it is by luck or if fate is on our side, let’s just hope that what we currently know about flu viruses can protect us from another global pandemic like that of 1918.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Of The Gulf of Aden Anti-Piracy Campaign and Gulf War Syndrome

Even though the rumored hazardous toxic waste dumps in the Gulf of Aden are yet to receive press attention, are the anti-piracy campaigns in these waters a veritable occupational hazard?

By: Ringo Bones

Ever since the extensive press coverage of the dramatic rescue of the Maersk Alabama’s skipper Capt. Richard Phillips from the clutches of bloodthirsty Somali pirates by a US Navy SEAL team highlighted the growing danger of piracy on commercial maritime traffic on the Gulf of Aden. The world’s press had yet to highlight another serious – yet relatively underreported threat – lurking in the waters off the Somali coast. Namely the menace posed by illegally dumped hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes.

United Nations envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said there is “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are illegally dumping hazardous toxic chemical wastes, including radioactive wastes, off the Somali coastline. Which could explain why a majority of the Somali pirates are former fisherman who can no longer eke-out a living from their regular fishing grounds due to the environmental destruction caused by the illegal dumping of these toxic chemical and radioactive wastes.

Even though the evidence of this illegal dumping can be traced as far back as 20 years ago, it was the tsunami of December 26, 2004 that literally dumped the evidence of such illegally dumped toxic chemical and radioactive wastes on the beaches of northern Somalia. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of illegally dumped toxic chemical wastes on the shores of Puntland.

UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall states that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than a decade. The bad news is, is that the UNEP cannot simply send a team of scientists to evaluate and report on the extent of toxic chemical and radioactive waste contamination on the shores of Puntland in Somalia because of the on-going conflict. And the team of scientists could easily be kidnapped, taken hostage then held for ransom by lawless elements running free in Somalia.

Conflict zones and areas with on-going civil war are an attractive site for cheap illegal hazardous toxic chemical waste dumps by highly organized transnational criminal gangs because of the breakdown in the rule of law. The Lebanese civil war of the 1980s has literally mounds of evidence of illegally dumped toxic wastes across the countryside brought there by transnational criminal gangs with enough money to bribe underpaid and overworked government officials to look the other way. These criminal gangs usually charge around US$2.50 per tonne to dump someone’s hazardous waste illegally without questions asked. Given that it costs on average US$1,000 per tonne to legally dispose off hazardous wastes, its no wonder why these criminal gangs are literally making a killing in disposing hazardous wastes in the world’s ungovernable conflict zones.

Given that the war risk insurance and kidnap coverage premiums issued by insurance brokers to maritime shipping firms plying in the Gulf of Aden recently rose by tenfold due to the increase in pirate activity. Shipping firms plying in the Gulf of Aden are now facing risks on two fronts. From the obvious occupational hazards and risks posed by pirates and the other less obvious – but nonetheless grave threat – the occupational health hazards and risks posed by the hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes being illegally dumped in the Gulf of Aden.

Various military personnel policing these waters could face occupational health risks comparable to that faced by allied troops in Operation Desert Storm of 1991. The world’s navies policing the Gulf of Aden could suffer a 21st Century version of the Gulf War Syndrome, especially if their operations involve swimming without any protective gear in these waters. Maybe Capt. Richard Phillips and the US Navy SEAL team who rescued him needs to be examined for toxic chemical waste and radioactive waste exposure since they swam a number of times in the waters of the Gulf of Aden with nary a protective gear. Especially for radioactive cesium 137 which is the most common illegally dumped radioactive waste.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lasik: An Eyeglass Eliminating Miracle Cure?

Ever since the medical procedure became widely available to anyone, does Lasik fulfill the promise of freeing each and every eyeglass-wearers from the tyranny of their own eyeglasses?

By: Ringo Bones

In our contemporary vanity obsessed society, it seems like it was only a matter of time before another everyday necessity was deemed to be as useless as a Victorian-era whalebone corset by the more-money-than-common-sense fashionistas. Their latest consensus-casualty: eyeglasses. Given that the hype behind contact lenses waned faster than everyone’s interest on the Iran-Contra affair of the late 1980s. Medical science has thus been given another impetus with a far greater motivational factor than a multi-million dollar grant in order to divert everyone’s navel gazing about how not everyone of us is born with perfect 20 / 20 vision. Thus making the Lasik surgery the latest elective surgery novelty since Botox treatments.

Lasik or laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis is a type of refractive laser surgery performed by ophthalmologists for correcting the 3 most common forms of eye defects due to a misshapen cornea that necessitates the wearing of eyeglasses to enable the afflicted to see normally in 20 / 20 vision. These eye defects are myopia or near-sightedness, hyperopia or farsightedness, and astigmatism. The first patent for Lasik was granted by the US Patent Office to Dr. Gholam A. Payman, M.D. on June 20, 1989 as US Patent # 4,840,175; “METHOD FOR MODIFYING CORNEAL CURVATURE”. Lasik became the most popular elective procedure in Asia since it was made available. At the Asian Eye Institute in Manila, for instance, about 1,000 people avail of the procedure every year jut to abandon the use of their eyeglasses. And the number of people who had the procedure had been growing at a rate of 20% annually.

Even though the procedure is far from risk-free, Lasik is nevertheless somewhat ingenious in its simplicity. The procedure starts by opening the anaesthetized eye, then the surgeon marks the cornea with soluble ink as a guide in cutting and repositioning of the flap. A suction ring provides an increased pressure in the eye so that it becomes firm thus making it easier to cut cleanly. Next, a motorized blade slices the cornea. The surgeon then lifts the flap, exposing the inner surface of the cornea that will reshaped by a cool laser. Then the patient’s corneas are reshaped depending on the kind of eye defect the patient has. Those with near-sightedness are corrected by flattening the center of the cornea. Those with farsightedness are usually fixed by removing a ring of tissue around the center of the cornea, thus making the cornea steeper. While those with astigmatism, the misshapen oblong-shaped cornea is reshaped to make it more spherical.

Even though Lasik has a high-rate of success in comparison to other procedures, it is not for everyone and you could be designated a poor candidate once your ophthalmologists checks your eyes. Especially if you have severe vision problems, have glaucoma, cataracts or retinal problems, is still under 18 years of age, is currently pregnant, or your corneas aren’t thick enough for safe Lasik surgery. Also, Lasik is no panacea against age-related macular degeneration or those vision problems that come with old age.

Even though ophthalmologic surgeons are highly regulated by law – even as far back as ancient Babylon circa 1,000 BC. Where the fees of eye surgeons were rigidly fixed by law and were quite generous. At the time when the state of the art in eye surgery was the ultra-sharp obsidian scalpel – instead of today’s femto-second pulse laser for eye surgery – a successful operation on a rich freeman costs 10 shekels of silver, as much as a chariot mechanic makes in a year. The same operation on a slave was priced at 2 shekels. However, the life of the surgeon – though financially rewarding – was not without it’s own hazards. If the wealthy freeman lost the sight of his eye in the operation, the surgeon’s hand was cut off; if the slave was blinded, he or she has had to be replaced by the doctor.

However in our contemporary society, for an industry that promises clarity and transparency, many eye centers – especially those in Asia where the Lasik is relatively new - have kept their patients in the dark about the risks and realities. Governments are more than likely of no help either because there are still no restrictions on who can buy medical instruments and equipment. But most government and private hospitals insist that doctors have some form of medical accreditation before they are allowed to perform eye surgery. Though there are still no high-profile medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits involving Lasik, it is still seen by the “Old Guard” in the medical community as a “Wild West” in terms of costs versus benefits.

Good as the procedure really is, many patients find the post-operative consequences of Lasik a little bit hard to live with before they vanish over time. Like light sensitivity and night-vision problems. Which could spell bad news for astronomers and working military and law-enforcement snipers. Plus additional surgery has to be done as follow-ups / touch-ups when the results fall below expectations. And the jury is still out over the long-term effects on patients who had undergone Lasik surgery. If you can live with these caveats and you had recently grown to hate yourself wearing eyeglasses, then Lasik might be for you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Did Our Prehistoric Ancestors Practice Acupuncture?

Given it’s long history, is there a possibility that the practice of acupuncture pre-dates its formal use in traditional Chinese medicine?

By: Ringo Bones

When the mummified remains of a 5,300 year-old “ice man” was discovered in the warm summer back in 1991 in the Niederjoch Glacier, above the Ötz Valley in the Tyrolean Alps. Little did the first responding archeologist knew the impact of their discovery would create on what we then assumed so far of what we supposedly knew of our prehistoric ancestors. It was only nine years after the discovery of Ötzi – named after the place in which our 5,300 year-old mummified “ice man” was discovered – that two Austrian physiologist found out that Ötzi’s people might be practicing a form of acupuncture. One that even pre-dates the one established in traditional Chinese medicine by a few centuries.

After archeologists had concluded that Ötzi’s possessions were of Early Copper Age in origin via various dating methods, they became curious about Ötzi’s strange ornate tattoos. When the tattoos were examined by Max Moser, a physiologist at the University of Graz in Austria, together with his collegue Leopold Dorfer. The two became curious when Ötzi’s tattoo patterns resembles those of traditional acupuncture points used to treat backache and stomach upset. Ötzi’s back, right knee, and left ankle were adorned with 15 groups of short, bluish-black lines closely resembling the various meridian-points of traditional Chinese acupuncture. Injecting wood ash through the skin via a bone or wooden needle was probably how Ötzi’s tattoos were made.

The two Austrian physiologists even became more curious because Ötzi lived some 2,000 years before the oldest generally recognized evidence of acupuncture. Thus raising questions whether the now trendy form of alternative medicine – namely Chinese acupuncture – originally started in mainland Europe as opposed to China. Although the jury is still out, Max Moser thinks the history of acupuncture may have been more complicated than we currently assumed. He concludes that back when Ötzi was around, many various shamanistic cultures that lie between mainland Europe and China might have practiced it. But it was probably the one formalized by the practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine that managed to survive until modern times.

Given that the absence of our present-day “hazards” that lie between mainland Europe and China – namely less-than-democratic nation-states and undocumented anti-personnel mines – Ötzi could have easily braved the natural hazards of his day like wild animals and inclement weather. And might have been a frequent traveler between Europe and China, a few thousand years before Marco Polo’s famous trip.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Viagra: Beyond Impotence?

Marketed during the tail end of the1990’s as a revolutionary drug rivaling that of the birth control pill in importance, does Viagra have other uses besides curing male impotence?

By: Vanessa Uy

More commonly known to those who had come of age during the 21st Century as the most hackneyed subject of Spam e-mails, medical researchers around the world are finding out other uses for the wonderful – but controversial - drug sildenafil citrate, commonly known as Viagra besides curing male impotence. In the overly politicized theater of American healthcare policy, Viagra has for a number of years – if you’ll pardon the pun – a bone of contention in the court of public opinion. Especially during the height of the 2008 US Presidential Elections when the Republican / GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain failed to give a satisfactory disclosure when asked by a certain women’s interest group on why the Bush Administration subsidized Viagra prescriptions while there was none for hormone replacement therapy medications. Thus further reinforcing the public mystique of Viagra.

On the subject of the other newly found uses for Viagra, gastroenterologist Mauro Bortolotti – a professor of internal medicine at Italy’s University of Bologna – has demonstrated that Viagra can be an effective cure for achalasia. Achalasia is a digestive disorder in which the valve between the esophagus and the stomach fails to open regularly after swallowing. Achalasia causes frequent regurgitation, weight loss, and dangerously dilated esophagus. During the course of his research, Bortolotti found out that Viagra dilates and opens the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. According to the study, both functional impotence and achalasia are the physiological result of too little release of nitric oxide from the nerve endings – in which Viagra is used to amplify. Thus explaining the mechanism on how Viagra could be an achalasia cure.

But Bortolotti also found out during his research that although this is good news for those suffering from achalasia, healthy people who use Viagra for sexual purposes are more likely to suffer mild esophageal symptoms. Despite of this, sexually active men around the world are unanimous in ignoring a little heartburn – given the rewards offered by Viagra. Looks like sildenafil citrate / Viagra not only belongs to the bedroom, but also in the dinner table as well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Allergically Clean?

Are we in the Industrial West breeding generations of allergy sufferers due to our overly hygienic lifestyle?

By: Ringo Bones

Loading one’s home with soaps, hand wipes, and antibacterial detergents has always been a sign of good parenting in the Western world. But ever since that somewhat controversial study on allergies whose data began to emerge near the end of the 1990’s showing that our modern overly hygienic lifestyle may actually trigger a heightened vulnerability to allergies – even to asthma – has sent shock waves across households of the affluent West.

Although some scientists have speculated as far back as the 1970’s that if the human immune system is not exposed to harmful pathogens during childhood, it may develop an over-active immune responses – hence allergies – to harmless plant pollen and mites. If this is true, then are we in the West guilty of breeding a generation of children with immune systems akin to white lab mice, unable to survive unaided in Mother Nature’s wild blue yonder?

A study conducted during the 1990’s by Paolo Matricardi, an immunologist working for the Italian Air Force, has finally found support for the hygiene theory of allergies. While looking for signs of exposure to the three most common food-borne pathogens – namely Toxoplasma gondii, Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis A – in two groups of 240 male cadets. During the course of the study Matricardi has found out that one group of cadets had elevated allergic responses, while the other did not. The data of the study also shows that allergies were extremely rare – even nonexistent – among those who had exposure to two or all of the food-borne pathogens during their childhood, while allergy incidences were very common to those who had not.

Basing on the results of his study, Paolo Matricardi believes that our body’s immune cells – especially those in the gut – are primed to respond when they first encounter invading bacteria or viruses. Without such “training” during infancy and childhood, our body’s immune cells may instead multiply in response to innocuous – even to relatively harmless – stimuli. Thus giving primary credence to the theory that the main mechanism behind allergies in the affluent West is an overly hygienic lifestyle.

Feelgood Foods

Given that both medical studies and anecdotal testimonials have proven the indispensability of “feelgood foods”, will they ever replace harmful drugs like heroin?

By: Ringo Bones

The unforeseen side-effects of the Bush Administration’s “War on Terror” has been the availability of cheap and almost clinically pure acetyl morphine – otherwise known as heroin – in most metropolitan cities across the Western world. And yet this problem has no plans of going away anytime soon. Nowadays it is often 600 times purer when compared to the smack that’s available when Black Sabbath’s Supernaut was still in continuous airplay in Rock FM across America. But for those who know better than to acquire a risky and unhealthy habit can always try feelgood foods as a safe way into a better mood.

Studies into feelgood foods first appeared in medical journals as far back as the early 1980’s when it was observed in various drug rehab clinics that some foods can lessen adverse drug withdrawal symptoms. Which also happen to be the same foods that can give us a good mood or a feelgood factor and the evidence had been accumulating over the years.

Gary Small, author of The Memory Bible used the data of on-going studies of feelgood foods – also known as comfort foods - in order to compile a list of foods that can improve our memory and recall abilities. Feelgood foods have been shown to have positive physiological effects on our brains by lessening the impact of brain aging and future memory decline in recent medical studies.

Omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in fish such as salmon, trout, anchovies, and even in shellfish has been found to improve neural communication between nerve cells by maintaining the fluidity of their cell membranes. While antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables helps our body get rid of free radicals – i.e. unstable oxygen molecules – agents that are the main cause of memory loss.

Choline found in eggs, milk, beef, liver, and peanuts are very helpful in improving our brain’s memory storage capacity. And may – under on-going research – improve the development of brain function of a developing fetus when imparted to an expectant mother’s dietary routine. Carbohydrates found in fresh fruits and whole grains are a safe way of increasing the brain’s serotonin levels without resorting to the use of illegal and highly dangerous psychotrophic drugs. They also increase blood sugar levels, which indirectly regulates a group of neurotransmitters associated with memory.

Alcohol – i.e. potable ethyl alcohol or ethanol – commonly found in wine and spirits, when taken in moderation, has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Even a single glass a day is enough to show significant benefits. And like alcohol – which used to be classified as an “indulgence” with nary a nutrient or health benefits, chocolates are now praised for their antioxidant content and the feelgood factor that they can contribute to our body and mind. With the conscientious choice of foods, you can have a feelgood mindset without resorting to the unnecessary and unwarranted use of psychoactive pharmaceuticals.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ginko Biloba: An Evergreen Wonder Drug?

With healing powers are well known to the practitioners of traditional / alternative medicine for perhaps thousands of years, is Ginko biloba still holds its own as a 21st Century wonder drug?

By: Ringo Bones

As a little medicinal herb that could is probably in use in traditional Chinese medicine to improve blood circulation that dates back centuries, Ginko biloba had been a subject of recent medical studies. With results pointing to the fact that Ginko biloba could also improve memory. While even more recent studies have shown that this herbal wonder drug can also improve the overall brain function in those suffering from dementia.

The 33 previously documented clinical trials of Ginko biloba – some dating as far back as 1976 - are now reexamined by scientists at Oxford University in order to reassess the previous results. The assessment of the previous clinical trials have shown that patients who took up to 200 milligrams of Ginko biloba herbal supplements on a daily basis for up to a year did better in standardized cognitive and memory tests. While further evaluation of the data obtained from past studies points to the possibility that Ginko biloba could slow down the on-going age-related degenerative processes of the brain.

Dr. James Warner, a senior lecturer at London’s Imperial College points out that there is a growing consensus of test results on the on-going medical research into Ginko biloba that it causes blood vessels to dilate, thus improving blood flow to the brain. Ginko biloba also makes blood less likely to clot due to its blood thinning properties. The herb is also high in antioxidants, which protects nerve cells against free radical damage.

With its blood thinning properties an overriding issue on the safety of its use as an herbal health supplement, Ginko biloba – like aspirin – should be prescribed under medical supervision. Also, patients should be mindful if their other medications will have adverse side-effects when taken alongside Ginko biloba herbal health supplements. Just because it falls under the purview of alternative medicine / traditional medicine / herbal medicine doesn’t make Ginko biloba 100% safe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tea: The Latest Miracle Health Drink?

Experts used to believe that the only good tea does to our body is its caffeine content that gives you that inexplicable feel-good factor, could they be in for a nasty surprise?

By: Vanessa Uy

Long dismissed as nothing more that a source of caffeine and hype – or worse – coffee’s poorer cousin. But the latest studies have shown that tea has far more undiscovered health benefits that were conveniently overlooked by medical experts during previous studies.

Back in 2001, a study conducted on a group of British women who drank one or more cups of tea a day have shown that they have denser bones in comparison to women who drank no tea at all. Some of the women in the study had one cup of tea a day, while others drank more than six cups a day. But the research findings have shown that drinking more than one cup of tea a day didn't contribute additional bone density increase. The study could serve as a basis for the further study of tea as a preventive for osteoporosis, not only for the elderly, but also for future space travelers with acquired osteoporosis after prolonged exposure to weightlessness.

Also a latter study by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has found out that tea is one of the richest sources of antioxidants. On-going studies of antioxidants have shown that they have cancer preventive properties. Antioxidants also play a role in maintaining overall cardiovascular health. On average, tea constitutes up to 36% of one’s average dietary intake of antioxidants. Both green and black tea have shown to be potent antioxidant sources. Looks like tea have finally matured from a fad supplement to a true-blue health supplement. Only time will tell of tea’s other health benefits.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cyber-Chondria: An Unchecked Epidemic?

Cyber-chondria or self-diagnosis via the Internet has been steadily growing since everyone learned of that “free clinic” on the Web. Will this “dangerous epidemic” ever be checked?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since surfing on the Internet for academic research became fashionable during the latter part of the 1990’s, anyone with a middle school-level grasp of the English language can – with the aid of relatively foolproof late 20th Century-era search engines – uncover relatively esoteric medical entries on the Internet. Thus the disease called cyber-chondria – also known as surf-diagnosis – was born.

The term cyber-chondria is a “cyberspace-era corruption” of hypochondria, which is an extreme depression of the mind often centered on imaginary physical ailments. Doctors had always advised us common folks against self-diagnosis, which is the frequent cause of hypochondriasis, especially those with very scant medical knowledge of one’s own anatomy and physiology beyond that of the soap opera General Hospital.

The perils behind cyber-chondria was lampooned in an episode of “The Simpsons” when Lisa Simpson tricked her dad Homer and her brother Bart that the two of them had contracted leprosy in order for the two of them to adopt a more "sanitary" lifestyle. In reality according to the latest research, on-line self-diagnosis / surf-diagnosis can usually lead to cyber-chondria when someone of scant medical knowledge and training manages to stumble into websites about exotic diseases whose symptomatology resembles their current condition. When in truth, they could have just mundane – even minor – health problems.

The problems posed by on-line self-diagnosis is not only when someone is bamboozled into purchasing on-line really expensive “miracle cures” that could treat their “imaginary illnesses”, but also, they could uncover diseases that require extremely dangerous medication in order to cure. Like being mistaken during the course of your on-line medical self-diagnosis that in order to get better, you should take arsenic and mercury-based medication. Which you have the unfortunate misfortune of having one still available in your medicine cabinet.