Friday, December 30, 2011

Epigenetics - We Are More Than Just DNA

Most of us are familiar with the idea that DNA is the template for our body and that our DNA is made up of many genes (sections of DNA that code for specific traits). We understand that our DNA (and therefore our genes) contains the genetic code that created all of our features - our eye color, hair color, ear shape, or any of the other myriad traits that differentiate us from each other. We also understand that our DNA is passed down from our parents, and part of our DNA then gets passed on to our children. One thing we all felt sure about was that our genes could not change during our lifetime and that the only genetic changes that ever took place only happened during conception (or in cancers). As genetic research has advanced, we now understand that this was a simplistic and incorrect view of the way our genes function. The real story is more complicated and yet turns out to also be a lot more interesting.

As often happens in science, our initially simplistic ideas must be updated to incorporate new research and knowledge. A fascinating new area in genetics research (called epigenetics) is now overturning most of our previous assumptions. While we once thought that environmental factors like diet, exposure to toxins, or even our emotional reaction could not change our genes - we now know that they can. Our genes (or at least our “epigenes”) can be changed and how we lead our lives is what determines these changes. Amazingly, some of these epigenetic changes can even be passed down to our children! We can no longer just blame our diseases on our genes. How we live our life may well determine whether our genes hurt us or help us in the long run.

So let’s look at what this new field of epigenetics means for you and your family and how you can use it to your advantage.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What you do in the name of "health" may not be so healthy

The most recent issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine (Winter 2011) discusses many of the ideas we have been discussing in our posts. Diet, food allergies, soy, antibiotic resistance, soap, over the counter medications, exercise, and dietary supplements are all fair game in this sweeping look at things that both Allopathic medicine and CAM practitioners get right and wrong.

So let’s look at what Johns Hopkins had to say...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 crew lifted off on a mission to orbit the moon. The astronauts reached their destination on Christmas Eve (December 24, 1968) and as they returned from their first orbit from the dark side of the moon, Earth was a spectacular vision. The three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell & William Anders, being the first humans to orbit the moon, broadcast live this message back to the people of Earth.

We wish you all a happy holiday season and a healthy new year.

The Problems With Replicating Science

At Dr. Rebecca’s Healthy Planet we strive to bring you information that is unbiased and based on well documented scientific principles and knowledge. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to ferret out the most valid and helpful research. We covered a number of these problems in our article on the corruption of science but an issue we did not cover is the fundamental problem of replicating scientific research. Unless research experiments can be replicated, and the results reproduced by independent researchers, then it is very hard to draw any real conclusions from the research.
We’ve all heard news stories about people tampering with data to fit a pet theory or manipulating results because they don’t match what the person funding the work wants to hear. Replicating studies in a world where science is evolving and developing so fast is very difficult for many reasons, but why should we care?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dietary Fiber - The Lost Nutrient

Fiber - we have all heard of it. It seems that whenever we hear recommendations about how to achieve a “healthy well balanced diet” that getting enough fiber is always mentioned. Food companies have tried to take advantage of this and so we often find food packages touting that they have lots of fiber.

In our last couple of posts we discussed the value of fiber for both increasing the absorption of key nutrients (e.g. magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus) and also as a way to help remove toxic substances through the gastro-intestinal tract. I thought that it would be helpful to look at fiber in greater depth in order to help you choose the right type and amount of fiber for your health.

So what exactly is “dietary fiber”, why is it necessary for health, and what are the best choices to keep you healthy?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bone Health - Osteoporosis and Nutrients for Bones

Osteoporosis and bone health are in the news and pharmaceutical companies are hoping you are worried. A new class of drugs called biphosphonates (Fosamax, Boniva, etc.) have become the “go to” drugs for Allopathic Medicine physicians in treating older patients with decreased bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis). But are these drugs safe? And if they are not, what can we actually do to keep our bones strong and healthy?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Detoxification - An Essential Process

Detoxification is a buzzword we hear more and more recently, especially in Complementary and Alternative Medicine circles. But what does detoxification actually mean and is it even worth your time to think about it?

Well yes, it probably is because the world we live in is so filled with toxicants (commonly called “toxins”) that even the strongest and healthiest among us are being assaulted every day with chemicals that our bodies must cope with (detoxify and remove) in order for us to survive. If our load of poisons is more than we (or each of our particular genetics) can handle, then this toxic exposure will eventually make us sick or could eventually even kill us. Our bodies, through normal operation, produce a base load of toxins that we need to process to keep functioning. We do have a capacity to detoxify more, but even if you happen to be extraordinarily careful and try to avoid every toxin in the world, there will come a time when you are accidentally exposed to a dose of some kind of toxic substance. Your body must detoxify all of these toxins in order for you to maintain your health.

Fortunately, our bodies have ways of handling foreign contaminants, primarily through the liver and kidneys. Clearing out toxic substances is known as detoxification, and our bodies are pretty good at it most of the time. But, there are some cases when your body needs just a little bit of help.

How can we help our bodies to detoxify and is it worth the bother?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sugar Alternatives

In our last post, we talked about the dangers of eating too much sugar. Diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other problems, pretty clearly, are associated with eating too much, or the wrong types of sugars. But if you want to avoid sugar, but don’t want to give up sweet tasting foods, the different alternatives to sugar can be confusing.

Equal, Sweet’n’Low, Splenda, Stevia, and dozens of others are all “sweet” alternatives to sugar. At a restaurant or coffee shop, you might get a choice between 3 or 4 of them, in different brightly colored packages, and you probably have one you instinctively reach for. But do you really know what’s inside that package and what it does when it goes into your body.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sugar - Not So Sweet After All

I love sugar and practically any food that is sweet. Unfortunately, like most of us, I don’t do well if I eat sugary foods or too many carbohydrates. It took me many years of trial and error and a lot of research before I came to understand that my sweet tooth was making me unwell. I now understand that sugar is a particularly insidious culprit in many chronic illnesses of modern society. Diabetes, heart disease and almost any disorder that is caused or aggravated by inflammation will develop or be aggravated by eating too much sugar.

If you have ever been confused by the news reports about sugar, sugar substitutes and their safety, you are not alone. We are going to try to demystify this challenging topic with several posts covering the different issues involved. In this first post, we will look at the way sugar affects our bodies.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Fragrance" And Its Hidden Chemical Dangers

Two weeks ago, I bought a bathrobe from a major department store in Los Angeles. I found that the bathrobe had an odd chemical smell when I put it on at home. I tried washing it... twice. I tried putting it outside in the sun, multiple times. And yet, it still stinks. The bathrobe has some kind of fabric coating that feels slippery to the touch. The fumes coming off of it while I wear it irritate my eyes and throat. I believe that the robe is “off-gassing” (reacting with the air and giving off) volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can cause a wide variety of health problems from asthma to cancer. Needless to say, I am returning the robe.

Coincidentally, two new research articles about the dangers of exposure to VOCs came to my attention this weekend, so I thought this is a great opportunity to discuss these reported risks and dangers. It turns out that "fragrance" is just a nicer word for VOC. As we discussed in previous posts,volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are dangerous and, can lead to a number of chronic illnesses including asthma and cancer. Obviously, it is important to avoid them as much as possible. So what do we need to avoid and how?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Out of This World Perspective

This Thanksgiving, we should all take a moment to be thankful for our marvelous home, Earth. No matter where you live, we are all connected by the ground beneath our feet. At Dr. Rebecca’s Healthy Planet, we talk a lot about issues surrounding the environment and the health of the planet, as well as the people who live here.

This video gives us an opportunity to see our home, Earth, from another perspective. For the best effect, you should watch this video in HD full screen.

Hopefully, this holiday season, we can all share in the beauty and wonder that is our planet and think about what we can do to help protect our world and make it a healthier place to live. Have a healthy and happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

LED Light Bulbs - A Bright Idea Whose Time Has Come

My lights at home have been annoying me lately. I have dimmers on most of my lights, but I get a high pitched buzzing that is very unpleasant whenever I actually use the dimmers. Last week, I had another problem. The light bulb that is part of my bathroom fan died and I needed a replacement. Without thinking about it, I bought the compact fluorescent bulb size that matched the fixture only to discover that the new lamp’s color was far too yellow, which makes my bathroom look weird.

Coincidentally, I also happened to read a book about the health effects of light. In the book, there was a discussion about the value of full spectrum lighting (lights that mimic daylight) and the book explained that most indoor lights give off too much light in the red/orange range while having too little light in the blue range. This is compared to natural outdoor light which is the healthiest and has a more balanced proportion of all colors. As I looked into how to solve my lighting problems, my research turned up a lot of useful information that I thought I would share with you.

What I found is that if you happen to be looking for ways to reduce your energy usage, help the environment, and save money all at the same time, it turns out that changing your lights from the old style incandescent light bulbs for newer technology is a great place to start. But how do you choose which type is right for your home and your health?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Acute and Chronic Inflammation - More Than Just A Pain

If you’ve ever stubbed your toe really hard, suffered an accidental cut, or sprained your ankle, you probably know almost all of the symptoms of inflammation without even realizing it. Pain, redness, and swelling are the immediate and lingering response to injuries like this. It’s no secret why we call the area “inflamed” because an injury like this feels hot and painful.

Inflammation is a critical first step in repairing damage in your body, be it from injury or illness. We are self healing organisms and without inflammation we would be in trouble. On the other hand, research is now finding that excessive and prolonged inflammation is associated with many serious diseases including cancer, asthma, heart disease, and even obesity.

Preventing and controlling an excessive inflammatory response may be crucial to your staying healthy. So where do you start?

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Natural" and "Organic" Foods - A Tale of Labels

You’ve probably seen commercials for several new brands of “natural” food. Natural food sounds wonderful. The phrase conjures up ideas of clean, healthy food, the way nature does things. Several polls done recently have confirmed that when people hear “natural”, it makes them feel better about food than even the “organic” label. And lots of money is spent on advertising designed to further trick you into thinking that “natural” foods are somehow better for you. But are they?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ulcers and Other Stomach Acid Related Problems

With the holiday season upon us, you may be all to familiar with the prospect of digestive problems like heartburn or stomach pain. While stomach pain and heartburn may only be due to a simple case of overeating, they could be indicative of a more serious problem, like acid reflux or gastrointestinal ulcers. Based on the sales of drugs that treat these symptoms, it is clearly a widespread problem that affects millions of people.  

When we feel stomach discomfort, there are now so many over the counter preparations available to decrease stomach acid and promise you relief that it is easy to just pop a pill and ignore the possibility of a more serious underlying problem. Unfortunately, approaching stomach pain or digestive problems by simply masking the symptoms can lead to increasingly severe problems. Furthermore, are these medications even safe to use?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chickenpox Lollipops - A Dangerous Scam

It has come to my attention that there are people out there selling “Chickenpox Lollipops” to parents who wish to expose their children to the virus. In the past, some parents made their children (often unknowingly) attend "chickenpox parties" to help their children get sick.

As children get older, the potential symptoms of the chickenpox increase dramatically. If a child manages to grow up without contracting the chickenpox, it can be a life threatening illness as an adult. Parents obviously want to protect their children from the dangers of infection later in life by exposing them at a younger age, but is ordering “infected” lollipops over the Internet really the answer?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Preventing and Treating the Common Cold and the Flu

The rhinovirus, microscopic view and magnified
plushy view.
Cold season is in full swing here in the United States, so I wanted to discuss what we can do to prevent and treat this annoying and sometimes dangerous illness. Since the common cold (the rhinovirus), is the single most infectious disease on the planet, it is not easy to avoid. The reason this particular virus is so infectious is because it can mutate quickly, often allowing dozens of variants to develop and co-exist at the same time. The influenza virus (the flu) also mutates and this is the reason that there is a different flu vaccine every year. Vaccine manufacturers are basically trying to guess which influenza variants are most likely to strike this year. Unfortunately, the common cold mutates so often and there are so many different strains that vaccinating against a cold is essentially useless.

So what else can you do to fight off a cold or the flu?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Food Poisoning - You May Not Want To Be What You Eat

Food poisoning is an illness you can’t predict or really prepare for. You just have to eat something that was somewhere it shouldn’t be for as little as a few seconds in order to get ill. Before you even really know what is happening, you feel sick (nauseated, dizzy, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea) and may not know what is happening or what to do next.

The nausea and vomiting you may experience is your body recognizing that there is a problem and trying to find a solution (in other words finding a way to get the “bad stuff” out).  For some kinds of food poisoning, you may experience diarrhea as the primary symptom and/or in addition to nausea and vomiting. Both symptoms are simply a means to an end, so to speak; that is, getting the offending piece of food (and accompanying poison) out of your body, usually as quickly as possible and by the nearest exit. Obviously, our first instincts are to stop our unpleasant symptoms as quickly as possible, but this is usually not be best idea in the long run; usually, the best way for your body to rid itself of the problem is to let nature take its course.

The real risks of food poisoning are not that you feel awful or that you spend a lot of time in the bathroom, the problem is the secondary complications. Some complications are obvious - you can get dehydrated from too much vomiting or diarrhea. Hence the deadly nature of cholera which causes diarrhea that is so severe that the accompanying dehydration is often fatal, especially in younger children. Other complications that are serious and potentially life threatening have to do with the type of microbe or poison that caused the food poisoning in the first place.

So what to do to protect yourself if you are unfortunate enough to suffer food poisoning?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Organic vs. Conventional Farming - The Rodale Institute's 30 Year Study

The Rodale Institute released a remarkable long term study comparing conventional farming practices to organic. As you probably know, this is a very controversial topic with much hype and confusion from both sides of the argument. Until now, there has not been any credible experiments or studies to really answer this question in its entirety.

The Rodale Institute farm in Pennsylvania hosted the study.
In most cases, this controversy pits large agribusiness corporations against organic farmers. Agribusiness argues that the products they sell (pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizer, genetically modified seeds) are essential for farmers and are necessary to increase a farmers “yield per acre” (that is they grow more food on a given area of land). On the other hand, organic farmers argue that these claims are not true and that they can actually produce more food per acre, healthier food, and protect our environment, all at the same time.

Previous studies, from both sides of the issue, presented only small parts of the big picture. In this long term experiment (30 years long) the Rodale Institute measured almost every conceivable factor, including pesticide use and cost, transportation costs, fertilizer use and cost, yield per acre, as well as so many other variables that are too long to list here.

So what exactly did the Rodale Institute find?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sound and the Human Ear

Once in a while, someone makes a great video explaining very clearly how something works. This video goes into great depth on the subject of the human ear and its seemingly impossible ability to not only perceive sound, but also filter it into meaningful signals that our brains can use. It's a little fast paced, but very information dense, so you may end up watching it more than once to get the gist. In any event, it's a fun look at our sense of hearing. I found the video helped to give me a better understanding of what we hear without even realizing it. Hope you enjoy...

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Genetically Modified Organisms (part 2) - Monsanto's Misfits

As you may have realized from my last post, I try to avoid eating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) because, among other things, they scare me. We are altering our food without adequate or rigorous testing. The companies that develop, patent, and sell GMO seeds have assured the public (and the FDA) over and over that these foods are safe. Unfortunately, this may not be the case. Once you realize the paucity of decent research done to establish their safety, you might just be afraid to eat them too.

Research Shows that Monsanto’s Research is Wrong

New research out of University College in Cork, Ireland reexamines the original Monsanto studies that “demonstrated” that these 3 varieties of GM corn are “safe”. Unfortunately, there are a number of serious problems with Monsanto’s studies and conclusions.

The first and most obvious problem is that Monsanto’s original research was conducted only on rats and only over the course of 90 days. Shockingly this is the longest single study of its kind to establish the safety of GMOs on animals (that includes humans).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Genetically Modified Organisms - What's For Dinner?

In my next two posts, I want to discuss an issue that has confused and concerned me for some time. You may not be aware, but Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are now a huge part of our food supply. If you live in the United States and/or eat any kind of packaged or processed foods, then even if you try to avoid GMOs, you may find it practically impossible. GMOs have infiltrated our food supply in surprising and insidious ways and, shockingly, in the United States there is absolutely no requirement that foods containing GMO’s be labeleled in any way. The big question is whether or not GMOs are even safe for us to eat. Furthermore, are they safe to feed the animals we later consume for food? Do they live up to the claims made by their Agri-business creators, as somehow posing an advantage to the farmers growing our food? In other words, are GMO’s safe for your health and our planet’s health?

You may not be aware of the raging worldwide controversy concerning GMOs, but many countries including some in the European Union are so concerned about their safety that they have completely banned the growing or importation of GMOs. These countries have chosen to abide by the “precautionary principle” in science; until there is sufficient evidence to establish the long term safety of GMOs, they simply will not allow them to be grown and/or sold. Recently, peasant groups in Haiti are finding themselves in the news because they are burning any seeds they suspect are GMOs. These peasants want to eliminate and avoid GMOs so much that they have announced that they will continue to burn any seeds that they believe “may possibly be GM”. This is happening even despite people starving in Haiti in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

So the real question is whether these types of concerns are justified or are whether these worries are overblown. The huge Agri-business companies who create and sell GMOs would have us believe that concerns about any GMOs are simply the “unscientific anxieties of the uneducated”. This has been a complicated and confusing problem to decipher and I have spent years being totally confused myself. I hope these posts will give you the facts and information you need in order to decide for yourself.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rumors of this bird's extinction have been greatly exaggerated.

After being believed to be extinct for 150 years, DNA testing confirmed that the New Zealand Storm Petrel is not quite as extinct as previously thought. Though spotted a few times since 2003 by bird watchers, this is the first verified evidence of the tiny bird’s return. Very little is known about where the birds have been breeding and living during all this time or even how many of them are alive, but flocks of up to 40 birds have been seen every mating season since the first (re)sighting. Unfortunately, this species lives at sea for most of the year and only returns to shore to mate. The location of the mating site remains a mystery, despite use of radio transmitters attached to the birds.

BirdLife International donated $20,000 to the group that rediscovered this thought to be extinct species to continue to search for enough evidence to put the bird onto official Department of Conservation programs for endangered species.

Have a great weekend!

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bacteria on the Beach - The Seagull Menace

Antibiotic-resistant super-bugs aren’t just a problem in hospitals anymore. Unlike the antibiotic resistant bacteria we discussed previously, antibiotic misuse may not be the culprit. But, spending an afternoon at the beach may give you more than you bargained for.

Wired Magazine’s blog reported on a study that tries to determine what is causing the rapid and unpredictable spread of multiple-antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria in Miami Beach, Florida. The answer may give us clues as to how resistant bacteria spread world wide.

Apparently, seagulls are becoming carriers (literally) of drug resistant strains of E. coli. Let’s face it, seagulls will eat just about anything. Just driving through a coastal city, you can see seagulls dumpster diving for a meal, fighting over scraps of trash to eat, and that’s just what we see. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine that they could eat something contaminated with E. coli. Once they get E. coli inside of them, the bacteria can mutate or simply “learn” resistance to antibiotics from other bacteria. Then, not only are they carrying this highly antibiotic resistant strain everywhere they fly, but they also drop off little colonies of them everywhere they go (in the form of poop).

The specific resistances of the bacteria in this study are called “extended-spectrum ß-lactamase” (ESBL) resistance. This mutation allows the bacteria to resist most of the commonly used antibacterial drugs. While E. coli itself is usually not deadly (with the exception of the O157:H7 strain), the spread of the resistant genes in any bacteria is cause for concern.

The dangers of a highly mobile (thanks to the seagulls) multi-drug resistant strain of bacteria are pretty clear. The more places these bacteria are “deposited”, the more likely it is that the antibiotic resistant genes will work their way into other local bacteria through the process of horizontal gene transfer. Suddenly, communities could face outbreaks of several different bacterial infections that are untreatable by most antibiotics.

A quick review of the literature shows that this is not just a local phenomenon in Florida. The very same resistant strains of E. coli have popped up around the world, documented in places all over the world like Sweden, Alaska, France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. In most of these cases, birds were suspected to be the culprits responsible for the unexpected spread of resistant bacteria. Drug resistant bacteria has been linked to birds (chickens) before, but seagulls are far more mobile than chickens and so present a much bigger problem.

This research sheds light on how antibiotic strains of bacteria spread around the world. Hopefully, we will be able to learn how to prevent widespread resistance to our antibiotic arsenal. Drug resistance is a worldwide problem and hopefully, this research will help to battle against the superbugs.

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Greener Roofs Are... White?

On a hot day, a large city like Los Angeles can be up to 5°F hotter than surrounding suburbs. Cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago create what are called “heat islands”. Heat Islands are literally, areas of heat that resemble islands when compared to rural surrounding areas. Within these cities areas develop that are considerably warmer than their surroundings, called “hot spots”. This stems mainly from the fact that buildings, concrete, and roads tend to retain heat better than rural countryside.

If you take a bird’s eye view of most cities, you will find that a large percentage of surface area is dark colored. Between asphalt roads, parking lots, and dark roofs, there is a lot of space that is exposed to the sun, essentially soaking up heat energy all day from the sunlight that hits it. Most of the roofs in the world (including over 90% of the roofs in the United States) are dark-colored, typically made of a dark composite material consisting of tar and small rocks.

On very hot days, people often joke that it’s so hot that you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. That may not be far from the truth! In the heat of the full sun, a dark surface (like roofs or asphalt) can increase in temperature as much as 120°F, easily reaching temperatures of up to 150-190°F. That heat usually has nowhere to go. Some of the heat will radiate away in the air, but most of it will simply get stored in the “thermal mass” of the material in which it is generated. For roads, this heat can last well into the evening, basically giving off heat during the hottest parts of the day. For roofs, the building absorbs the heat and basically becomes an oven, forcing you to use air conditioning to get back to a comfortable temperature.

Air conditioning is an expensive solution to the heat generated this way. It’s also an expensive solution in general, both in terms of money, environmental impact, and also energy use. What if there could be an easy, low cost solution to this problem? How about if it could not only help solve the problem for you, but also for the people around you? What if it helped the environment without you having to do anything on an ongoing basis? Does that sound too good to be true?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Posture and Pain -

Pain is a tricky sensation. Whether chronic or acute, it can greatly impact our productivity, mood, and even our health. Pain is a very complex sensory event that includes both a physical (physiological) and a psychological component. The link between mind and body is still a big mystery and how this relates to pain is not yet fully understood.

You can almost always tell when someone is in pain because of their body language. For most people, the primal response to a lot of pain is to “curl up into a ball” or “double over” in pain, considered “submissive” postures. A headache is greeted by putting your head in your hands. An old injury or sore spot can make you cringe and hunch over to nurse or rub it.

Our reaction to pain alters our posture, but can our posture also affect our reaction to pain?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lasers - Mending a Broken Heart

When most people think of lasers, many applications come to mind. Boring PowerPoint presentations aside, lasers are used for cutting, etching, and burning materials in industrial processes. With all the warning labels on most lasers about damaging your eyes, burning your skin, or otherwise injuring yourself, you might think that lasers are only dangerous instruments that cause harm when misused. For the most part, that is correct, but there are other uses with which you may not be familiar.

A different type of laser (non-cutting) is starting to show serious promise in several medical applications. Lasers are used in dentistry to both reduce the chance of an infection following oral surgery and even treat infections if they do arise. Low level laser therapy (LLLT), in many studies, significantly reduces pain and inflammation, heals wounds (surgical and accidental) faster and with less scarring, and can even promote healing in parts of the body well beyond the site of application. Laser light may even be effective in mending a broken heart...

Heart attacks occur when the heart is starved of oxygen rich blood. Usually one or more arteries that supply the heart become blocked leading to an area that dies in the heart wall. It is in this area that scarring occurs as the heart tries to repair itself. A promising new approach may lead to a remarkably effective treatment for those suffering heart attacks.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oakland's Plan to Remove Lead - Fish Bones?

The health effects of lead poisoning and long term exposure to lead are no secret and children are at the greatest risk. Understanding the severity of the toxicity of lead is part of the reason leaded fuels were phased out and eventually banned in the US in 1996. Lately, however, lead is showing up in lots of unexpected places. Lead contamination keeps making it’s way into the news, from toys and drinks for small children to jewelry and even e-waste (where it eventually makes it’s way into the soil). In fact, there is even still significant lead contamination left in our soils from the (70+) years of leaded gasoline use. Once lead made it’s way out of our exhaust pipes, it eventually settled, contaminating soils in every direction. Soils contaminated with lead are hardly healthy, especially when you consider that we grow our food on it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vitamin D - Sunshine in a Bottle

Vitamin D is a hot topic in the news lately. Research studies show more and more evidence that vitamin D possesses many important benefits. For example, emerging research suggests the possible role of vitamin D in protecting against cancer, heart disease, bone fractures, autoimmune diseases, influenza, type 2 diabetes, and even depression.

Vitamin D is absolutely essential for allowing us to absorb calcium into our bodies and create strong bones, not to mention maintain them. In medical school, they taught us about the risks of severe vitamin D deficiencies (namely Rickets and Osteomalacia). They also taught us that vitamin D deficiency is almost unheard of in the first world (probably because cases of Rickets and Osteomalacia are so rare).

It turns out that a deficiency of vitamin D in first world countries is much more prevalent than my professors suspected. In addition, vitamin D seems important for more than simply making and maintaining strong bones. My professors overlooked a couple of possibilities; patients may have only mild, yet symptomatic, deficiencies in vitamin D and that vitamin D may have other protective effects in the body against many other unrelated disorders.

Friday, August 12, 2011

DRACO - The Virus Hunter

Viruses invade our cells and force them to make copies of
the virus. (Grey represents a normal cell, Orange represents
changes made to the cell by a virus, in this case, HIV)
Scientists at MIT have developed a new technology that shows great promise for treating a wide variety of viral infections. DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers) mimics the body’s natural defense against virus infection, and improves upon it.

Why are viruses so difficult to kill?

As anyone who has suffered with the common cold (a rhinovirus) knows, there is no easy way to get well quickly. Unfortunately, because viruses have very unusual characteristics and like to hide inside our cells, they are very skilled at making us sick and the body has a really difficult time attacking them properly.

Unlike bacteria, viruses are tiny and are not capable of reproducing or surviving on their own. Some scientists wonder if they are even alive, but most think they probably are because they can infect cells and once inside a cell they can use the cell to reproduce themselves. This is something only living things can do.

Viruses are capable of reproducing themselves incredibly quickly. This allows them to mutate very fast and, much like how bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, mutant viruses survive our natural immune response and multiply, creating new strains. Every year or so, new flu shots come out because the influenza virus mutates slightly to resist our natural defenses (antibodies from the previous year’s strain).