Friday, June 28, 2013

End to Project X

About 20 years ago, I cowrote a screenplay on animal rights. Mind you, I am not a screaming PETA freak--I do not think a dog is the equivalent of a boy (although my dog Jim argues this).

But I do think chimpanzees, despite their less than desirable behavior as pets, are creepily close to humans and should not be fed poison and operated on willy-nilly.

Now-- the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it would retire most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research.

Francis S. Collins, NIH Director said that in the coming months, all but 50 of the animals will be transferred to sanctuaries. According to the NIH, the closest relatives of human beings “deserve special respect."

In the wild, human encroachment has led to dwindling numbers of chimpanzees that used to prosper in their native habitat. Less than 300,000 now remain. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources reported that since 1900 more than a million chimpanzees have disappeared in the wild.

I would say those may have been shot out of trees so their babies can be sent to labs.

The NIH started phasing out funding on research chimps two years ago but at present, 400 chimpanzees are still housed in a number of facilities scattered around the United States. The 50 animals that the agency will keep are on retainer and will be involved only in future crucial studies that cannot be done using alternative methodology.

On retainer--sounds like they are lawyers.

How can this be done? They have other ways to test the drugs and do the research.

Chimps are 98% the same as humans. I know people who are not 98% the same as humans!

As for the cost of a decent retirement for these guys--chimp change.

For more on one emerging chimpless testing techniques, check out my creativity site at

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Finding a doctor

Now that people are going to be strong-armed into purchasing health insurance, they will need a primary doctor, even for plans with sky-high deductibles they may never use. Gotta get those "free" tests!

Time was, you could ask a friend which doctor they went to. Now--the doc recommended may not be in "your" network--may not be someone you can go to.

If you do find one in your network that's nearby or otherwise meets your needs, you may not be able to check past records on your state medical board site. Arizona has an easy way to check--not all states do. But even Arizona's is only the past five years.

If the doc is clean there, you can check on Angie's list for "reviews." But Angie's costs.

Or Yelp...Yelp is hard to search.

Or Google--put in the doctor's name and the word complaints or review.

Sometimes you get interesting stuff. I think I wrote about this a few years ago, but one review I remember was: "Go after lunch--he takes his anti-depressants after lunch."

Then you can call for an appointment--a friend told me this morning that an endocrinologist she finally landed on did not want her--he didn't treat plain old thyroid stuff anymore.

Could you scream?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hot is hot--don't deny it

Phoenix is known for inhuman heat. People were not meant to live in the desert--but millions do anyway. It's going to be 107 here today.

People even chance sneaking into the country via the Sonoran Desert--and don't bring sufficient water. If they can't find watering stations, they die. Stone hot dead.

The Walmart near us used to have a sign saying, "Do Not Touch Door Handle." People went in anyway.

People out here carry hotpads in their pockets to open car doors.

I have lived here 17 years and still, even inside, with the air at 81 degrees, can get woozy or VERY tired by afternoon. I am dehyrdrated! I should know better, but I am. I don't know better.

In summer in a warm area, if you start to feel crummy--figure you need a big glass of water or two!

Crummy means getting dry mouth, feeling thirsty (you might not, though), tired, dizzy, or headachy. Babies and children can cry with no tears, not wet a diaper for more than 3 hrs, look kind of sunken, run a fever, be listless or irritable. Water! They need water!

If you don't perk up with some glasses of water--you may be heading for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

You don't want these.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Parents--Be careful in discussing weight with teens

Don't do what we did in my family. Everyone was normal weight but me. My father was an obsessive runner before the term jogging was invented. My mother was a nutritionist. Can you see this one coming?

We never had a calm discussion about weight. It was a 15-year horror show. I was fat then and still am.

So it's not a shocker to me to learn that the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics says that conversations between 'rents and teens that focus on size and weight lead to more unhealthy eating.

The study by University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, researchers also found that overweight or obese adolescents whose mothers engaged in conversations that were focused only on healthful eating behaviors were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight-control behaviors (UWCBs).

For this study--dieting is a negative.

The study used data from two linked population-based studies and included surveys completed by adolescents and parents. The study’s final sample consisted of 2,348 adolescents (average age, 14.4 years) and 3,528 parents.

Among overweight adolescents whose mothers engaged in healthful eating conversations compared with those whose mothers did not engage in healthful eating conversations, there was a significantly lower prevalence of dieting (40.1 percent vs. 53.4 percent, respectively) and UWCBs (40.6 percent vs. 53.2 percent, respectively), according to the study results.

The study also found that adolescents whose fathers engaged in weight conversations were significantly more likely to engage in dieting and UWCBs than adolescents whose fathers did not.

The bottom line? Pardon the pun. You may wish to talk about healthful eating--for better skin, more energy, variety, cuter duds, and so on, rather than shaming or insulting or namecalling. My father once said I looked like a baby elephant.

I am an old lady now and never forgot that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Does the color of your fork or plate matter?

According to a story in Flavour, a professional journal, the appearance of cutlery can affect what you think a certain food tastes like.

If eaten off a knife, food tastes saltier. Use a light plastic spoon and an item seems denser and more expensive.

According to this, the crockery also has an effect, according to researchers at the Univ of Oxford.

A beverage in a cool-colored glass seem more refreshing.

The weight of a plate can make a food seem denser or tastier.

The lighter the spoon or fork, the denser the food seems.

White yogurt from a white spoon--sweeter, better tasting. Pink yogurt from a white spoon--less so. 

Cheese from a knife, spoon, fork or toothpick--the knife tasted best. (Who eats from a knife--I once cut myself that way.)

Dr Vanessa Harrar and Prof Charles Spence, who performed this study, explain, "How we experience food is a multisensory experience involving taste, feel of the food in our mouths, aroma, and the feasting of our eyes. Even before we put food into our mouths our brains have made a judgment about it, which affects our overall experience."

So what--you say? I dunno, just interesting. They say it could affect whether people add salt to their meals. I used to wonder about that china with the dead pheasants on it--painted on...but I guess that is a different subject.

Also--who has white and black spoons--aren't most silvery?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The fat disease

The American Medical Association has declared that our friend obesity is an official disease. They say this will mean more insurance companies will have to pay for accepted "cures" such as surgery. How about nutritionists? Life coaches?

Those health plans will be a-robocallin'. Come get your waist measured.

I know people who went on those soy-based diets (soy shaped like food) and needed rah-rah coaches to keep them inspired. Then they gained back.

I gained back from every diet I ever tried. This started when I was about 14--with the ever-popular amphetamines (popular then, anyway, now we spell it Adderall).

So now that we are officially blighted, people can shun us without fear (not that they are afraid to now).

Come on, docs--even if someone wants to try yet another diet, you just say eat less, exercise more.

It's not that easy.

Just the other day, by the way, there was a study that showed most people believe weight loss advice from a fat doctor more than from a thin one. See? Didn't work for them, either! But I believe what they say.

It's not that you are offered a great pill with no anal leakage--and refuse to take it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Motion sickness baffles scientists

I get it! Ba-ARF! Everyone from the US Navy to NASA is studying it, though, so not to worry.

Sumath Reddy writes about this in the WSJ, June 18, 2013. Apparently 25-40% of us get it. The symptoms are nausea, actual vomiting, dizziness, and headache. Sounds like inner ear to me.

That would be the vestibular system monitoring movement and balance. Near as researchers can tell, motion sickness is a mismatch between that and vision.

The inner ear tells our brain we are moving, but our eyes say we are not. Ba-ARF!

Another theory ties this to "body sway," the amount we move.

Women are more likely to get it--the same for migraines--could they be related? Migraine sufferers do tend to get motion sickness more. Children over 2 also suffer from it.

But what can we do about it--ginger is being studied. Apparently getting a ginger capsule before moving helps. Dramamine is also recommended--but it makes me sleepy and maybe a little queasy, too.

Another thing you can do is be the driver--the driver does not get it, usually. Failing that, sit in the passenger seat.

Also do not attempt to read. That really throws your brain for a loop.

Try to sleep.

But keep an empty grocery bag or receptacle at hand. In our family, we called it the "spit pan," because my mother could not bring herself to say vomit.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hey hey hey--Avoid picnic poisoning

Nothing like a big mayo-laced bowl of mac salad sitting in the sun to lay low a whole family.

Yet, summer is prime time for dining al fresco. So just think a little before you sicken everybody.

The Institute for Food Technology has some tips.

When purchasing produce try to go local--get to know the farmer at the farmer's market. Is it a quality operation?  Be sure fruit and veggies are free of mold and bruises where pathogens can enter or flourish.

Before preparing food, wash your hands thoroughly in warm water and soap. At least 20 seconds!

Make sure countertops and cutting boards are clean.

Wash fresh produce before cutting into it--the only exception is prebagged salad. Sandy veggies should be soaked in water.

Even if you are not eating the skin or rind, cutting it can carry germs inside, so wash first.

Always marinate meat in the fridge--never on the counter or outside.

Grill to a temp: 145F fore steaks and fish, 160F for pork, hotdogs and burgers. 165F for poultry.

Use different plates for different meats.

If you are going to Jellystone Park, transport lunch meats and raw meat, cheeses, and condiments in coolers wil gel packs.

Try not to open the cooler too much.

Put the sodas in a separate cooler!

Toss uncooked leftovers--don't take them home.

Bon appetit! And, as ever--hope you live!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ugly plants--ugly symptoms

According to Robert Valet, MD, assistant prof of medicine and an allergist at Vanderbilt, the uglier a flower or weed, the more allergy-inducing pollen it produces and sends into the air.

Ragweed, mugwort, plantain, and pigwood--best examples and worst offenders.

Rayweed produces up to one billion pollen grains per plant--75% of those allergic to pollen are allergic to ragweed.

Why is this? Well, Ma Nature had a logical plan--the prettier the flower, the more bees and pollinators, so the less likelihood the pollen had to be airborne.

Allergy season begins with trees--oak, maple, walnut, pecan, and hickory. The flowering trees--the pretty ones--the pollen is carried by bees.

Late spring and early summer, grasses.Timothy-grass, rye grass, and Kentucky bluegrass--and of course our friends Bermuda and Johnson grass.

Late summer and fall--weeds. The aforementioned and some others.

The doctor recommends trying over the counter allergy meds and taking an anithistamine before yard work and a shower after, before going to the doctor.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's get serious about stopping pain

Everyone I know has pain, day in day out, every step, every entry to the car, even turning over in bed.

In some cases, the big drugs became habit-forming--and this was a hassle. And they make you sick and stop you up.

The heck with boner meds--let's find a non-addicting pain drug that doesn't give you a heart attack or ruin your kidneys or liver.

The Neuromodulation Society of America is looking at non-drug approaches--yay!

These are implantable devices that stop pain signals from getting to the brain and other mechanisms.

Digital drugs!

Since the first spinal cord stimulation system was installed in 1967, every aspect has been tweaked and improved--electrical leads, mainiaturization, battery capacity, you name it.

There is also a tiny wirelessly powered device inserted with a syringe, not an incision.

If you want to read more, go to

Go, docs!

I need to quit moaning and groaning and saying I need a demerol drip to get up from my desk. No one gets me one!

Friday, June 14, 2013

"I'm boooored"

What parent has not heard that? Sue Shellenbarger (WSJ, June 12, 2013) says today's parents take it more to heart than those of yesteryear.

I seem to remember my mother saying, "Well, go outside and play." And we did. Kids "played"--found things to do, ran around, went over to see if their friends were home, built a sheet fort, tried to trap a chipmunk under a box with a pencil and string (don't worry--it's impossible), ran through the sprinkler, something.

Now, these hyper parents jump to attention--bringing out the clay, the paint, driving to the amusement park, the pool, whew...

A 2012 study showed that kids who said they are bored are in a tense, negative state. They can't focus...

How about a martini?


Let the kids find their own solution, psychologists say. For "bored" kids time drags on endlessly.  They may not know what to do, so they say they are bored.

When a kid comes up with the bored routine, don't immediately call him or her lazy. Don't jump in with solutions--maybe just say, "The dog could use a walk."

Don't drag out toys right away--let them make up toys--a big carton or a jar of paperclips.

I like this one! Suggest a horrible chore that will make everything else suddenly very inviting.

Now that is parenting!

A father in the story also makes the kids drop down and give him ten. Bored? Time for calesthenics. I like it.

Or how about stuff we liked--a piece of clothesline for a jump rope? Or jacks! The other day, a 10-year-old neighbor asked me if I played jacks? Did I! Kids today don't know what they are missing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Surfer workout

The WSJ (Jen Murphy, June 11, 2013) talks about champion surfer Carissa Moore's on-land workouts preparing her to run the pipeline.

She used to spend her time catching waves, but realized her upper bod strength was lacking. Now, she works on that, and her emotional strength to stay focused. Also-flexibility. Picture surfing, that weaving of the body back and forth.

She works on both fast twitch muscles (quickness, speed) and slow twitch (endurance). Jumping jacks, pushups with a jump to the side, etc. She also leaps up bleacher stairs like a frog.

After a surfing competition, she goes easy the next day. Her diet is protein (salmon, turkey), protein powder, salads. No bread after noon. Her BF finishes her sweet treats such as Oreos and ice-cream.

Some other tips for surfers, these from Holly Beck, who runs a retreat called Surf with Amigas (men can go, too) in Nicaragua. Her first tip is watch the waves, imagine where you would paddle out, study them the whole time you are at the beach.

If you are a beginner, look for someone more experienced who is smiling and ask for advice.

Stay on your board even in the white wash--the foamy part at the end.

Remember, Holly says--it's all about fun.

Even that frog thing?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dog park dangers

Nothing is safe--even taking the mutt to the dog park to run free.

Those places are hotbeds of parasites and viruses! Even some that jump into humans. Soil, water, air, dog kisses--you name it--potential horribleness.

Our guide for these canine-related delights is Dr. Susan Nelson, clinical associate prof at Kansas State's Veterinary Health Center.

Be sure your dog is fuilly vaccinated before a trip to the dog park.

Give the dog that flea and tick meds and heartworm pills--wear tight socks yourself.

Bring a water bowl (for the dog). Do not let Floppy drink from a communal bowl.

Watch the little devil--big dogs can kill little ones. Dirty little secret.

Do not let kids run barefoot in the dog park. The soil is full of parasite eggs.

Do not put toddlers on the ground to play. They love to eat dirt.

Oh, ish. Dogs are pigs--they eat barf and drink from toilets.

Bathe everybody in sanitizer and call it a day. Some fun.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kids get heartburn, too

"Mommy, I have a tummyache." Who hasn't heard that? Sometimes when you ask where it hurts, they point to their chest.

You don't have to be a fat, 45-year-old guy to get heartburn.

Wendy Anderson-Willis, MD, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says she sees more kids with this problem.

Plenty of kids like barbeque chips, extra hot Doritos, salsa, and other "hot" foods.

But other things can cause a burning feeling behind the breastbone in kids:

Mints and gum
Chicken nuggets, fries, fried stuff
Pop and energy drinks
Orange and tomato juice (acidic)

These can cause not only the pain, but nausea, scratchy throat, sour burps and night cough.

Stress and lying down after a meal can worsen this.

Don't give out OTC pills right away upon the first complaint. Tell the doctor how meals go at your house--off a plate or out of a wrapper? Veggies? Eaten in the car?

Children should not have to put up with this. It's your job as a parent to prevent it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What's up with grilling and cancer?

I love barbeque! But all over the net are creeping warnings about how charring food means carcinogens--cancer-causing stuff. Doom, gloom.

A nutritionist from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says you may not have to give up the summer treats, but should probably plan ahead.

High-heat grilling can convert proteins in red meat, poultry and fish into heterocyclic amines, which have been linked to various types of cancer. High temp changes the shape of the protein structure and makes it an irritant.

Another cancer-causing agent is found in smoke, which sticks to the surface of the meat.

To avoid the worst of this, choose  lean cuts of meat instead of ribs and sausage.

Trim excess fat and remove skin.

Use thinner marinades--the thick ones tend to char. Also look for marinades with vinegar and lemon, which provide a protective barrier.

Thaw meat first, limit time on the grill. Maybe grill kabobs, which mean less cooking time.

Partiually cook meat and fish in the microwave and discard the juices.

Flip burgers often to prevent burning.

Place food at least six inches from the coals.

Charred veggies are OK!

But--the nutritionist says--keep this in perspective. The risk of cancer from a summer picnic is pretty darn low.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Forty is not the new 30

It's so weird when, after decades of trying not to get pregnant, you want to.

I had a late-in-life kid at 38. It involved miscarriages (2) and using home-grown and store-bought sperm. TMI? Probably.

Anyhow, Sumath Reddy, WSJ, June 4, 2013, reminds us that the clock is ticking, ladies. Many OB-GYNs now bring this up--if you want a child, get going.

About 20% of American women wait until after 35. That is cutting it close. A healthy 30-year-old who is having regular sex has a 20% chance each month of getting preggers. A healthy 40-year-old has a 5% chance.

You can add all kinds of expensive tricks, such as In vitro, freezing eggs and embryos and this does not change the fact that the mean age of the first-time mother is 25.4 years, up just slightly from 24.9 10 years ago.

Our ovaries are aging at the same rate as 50 years ago.

Fertility, one doctor said, is a wild card.

You are well advised to get a reproductive game plan. And then pursue it--um, enthusiastically--the old-fashioned way.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

AA for teens

Good old Arizona has the highest rate of teens offered or sold illegal drugs--34.6%.

Out here, a woman named Susan Rothery founded Teen Addiction Anonymous, which is now in 20 AZ high schools. It is also present in some juvenile detention facilities.

This is a 12-step program for kids. Since kids often like to outdo each other--participants don't detail what their addiction is.

Instead they learn addiction is not "them," does not define them. And it can be beaten. It's not about shame or blame.

The idea has been in operation for five years. They tracked 150 kids who attended six or more meetings. Eighty percent went more often than that. Of this group, 80% had no more behavioral referrals and their academic performance improved.

Teens are approached everywhere, on campus and off, to guy or use drugs or alcohol. Pot is almost an old issue--now it's who is using heroin.

Underage alcoholism is rampant.

Maybe you can get something like Teen AA going where you live.

Personally, drinking has been an issue in my extended family. Usually this comes to a head in the 30s or 40s--but earlier would have been great.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Old drugs beat new ones, with some exceptions

Wouldn't you want to take a "classic"?

The new health care whatsis establishes an independent institute (not the FDA, I gather) to assess the EFFECTIVENESS of drugs compared with all drugs for a given condition.

Could be the ones (new) delivering most profits will not be the most effective.

In 2011, a study of 984 drugs developed since 2001 showed that only 17 were "a real advance or better."

Still, dissenters say, Gleevec for leukemia, Incivek for Hep C, and Eylea for macular degeneration are truly advances.

In early years, drugs easily beat the placebo--usually 4.5 times more effective in such measures as lowering BP or changing mental illness. But as the years marched on, the effectiveness ratio went from 4.5 times to twice as good, to 36% better than placebo.

Maybe the big discoveries--the low-hanging fruit--have been achieved. Or maybe volunteers for clinical trials are harder to treat. Usually they are in a trial because other meds failed.

But researchers say "something is going on"--drugs are less effective.

The beat goes on.

Personally I think new modalities are entering in--matching treatments to genes or using the body's immunie system to fight.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Timing is everything when you go to the hospital

Patients with heart failure do better if they go to the hospital on Monday or in the morning.

Death rates and length of stay for these patients is highest if they are admitted in January or on Fridays and overnight.

Researchers presented these findings in Portugal at the annual meeting of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology.

Get admitted on a weekend or in the middle of the night--well, this can be bad.

They looked at 14 yrs of data involving 900,000 congestive heart failutre patients. The patients were in NY between 1994 and 2007.

We know from bitter experience over here that you want to go to the ER right after shift change in the morning--around 7 AM. The staff is fresh, close to alert, and have not gotten hassled and thrown up on yet.

Of course, sometimes you can't arrange this in true drop dead emergencies.

Bad choice of words.

We call weekends at the hospital "the black hole."

Monday, June 03, 2013

I am old, not stupid

Maybe I watch too much Fox, but good grief--leave me alone with the old people hard sell! And Fox is not the only offender--my mailbox is also depressing.

I get mail appeals to bury me at sea, fix my presumed inability to hear, carve up my eyeballs so I can see better, give me pain free catheters, leakproof diapers, a radio to wear around my neck, a way to take this house off my hands in exchange for payments now, gold and silver bars, drugs that “may cause sudden events such as death,” drinks that will nourish me as a cheeseburger can't, expensive life insurance for people who buy it late in life, and a rickety-looking chair to raise me upstairs with excruciating slowness.

If I were a guy, I would be more interested, but the other gender is treated to constant assaults on their sexiness. How can people get it on from separate bathtubs, anyhow? No wonder they aren't getting any. And who has two bathtubs side by side?

And doctors and health plans! They won' let up. I got a questionnaire from my health plan asking me could I get out of a chair. Now that you mention it....only with difficulty and a lot of old-lady noises, but it's not your business. I am not telling you. You might send drones I am too feeble to outrun.

I also went to an ear doctor because my balance was bad (probably due to my lost eyesight from another ill-fated doctor encounter)--and he gave me a hearing test and said, yup, you need hearing aids and if you wait longer, they won't "work." Well, I heard THAT! and left. I still have bad balance.

And how about servers and ticket sellers who automatically give a discount to "the young lady." Call me that once, by the way, and kiss your choppers good-bye (you can get implants in one day, I hear).

I read the govt is expecting a "datapalooza" from all the health info they pry from us under the coming health care train wreck. Heaven knows what will be coming in the mail.

 But that's OK--I can hardly get to the mailbox. Fifty feet is a lot. I would need two baths after.