Monday, August 31, 2015

New non-invasive test may replace angiograms

More than 16 million adults have coronary artery disease in this country. This occurs when a buildup of plaque (sludge) narrows the blood supply to the heart, causing chest pain or in severe cases, a heart attack.

Blockages that reduce blood flow a small amount can be treated with cholesterol-lowering drugs of aspirin. More severe blockages require a stent or bypass surgery.

The measure of blood flow is call fractional flow reserve (FFR). Before now, checking this required a big-deal procedure in which a thin tube was inserted in the groin artery, pushed all the way to the heart, a thin wire then put in the blockage and a sensor measured the FFR.

But now, a test has been developed by HeartFlow Inc and approved by the FDA, which basically uses CT scan technology to measure FFR from outside the body.

The CT scans create a 3D model of the arteries and computer programs simulate blood flow to those arteries to see how blocked they are.

"This is a game changer," says cardiologist Mark Rabbat, MD, of Loyola. the Loyola University Medical Center is the first to offer this.

Will other hospitals be far behind?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hypoallergenic parks? Really?

On the face of it, this sounds nutty--parks that don't make people's allergies and hayfever worse.

But it is not nutty--a professor of botany at the Univ of Grenada, Spain, is studying how trees in green spaces contribute to or cause allergies. (J of Environmental Science, special section)

She and all her siblings suffer from allergies. They are immersed in this subject. The city of Grenada is her lab. It has one of the highest pollen counts in the world.

They classified all the trees in Grenada's parks and green spaces. They recorded the type of pollination, the length of the pollination period, and the potential of each tree for causing allergies.

Surprise--many of the most common trees were the worst offenders.

They also learned that allergies were never considered in designing these spaces.  In the future, she says, urban green spaces can be "comfort islands." Not only would they not cause or make allergies worse, the could even clean pollutants out of the air.

So maybe it sounds nutty to try to make the out-of-doors allergy-free, but this woman said, hey, why not?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kids eating fewer fruits and veggies since new regs came in

Kids! They can be perverse.

Congress is about to vote on reauthorizing the healthier lunch regulations--and a new study in Public Health Reports (online), Aug 25, found students were putting more healthy stuff on their trays but consuming less of it, increasing waste by 35%.

The researchers at the Univ of Vermont looked in the trash bins--kids were taking whole apples and then tossing them. They took digital pix of trays as they left the cashier, then estimated what was tossed.

When kids selected, they preferred processed fruits and veggies, such as the tomato paste on pizza. Or 100% fruit juice.

Some ideas to prevent this?

--Cut up veggies and serve them with dip or mixed into the meal.

--Slice fruits rather than serving them whole.

--Get kids involved with gardening or Farm-to-School programs.

--Public health programs that push fruit and veggies at home.

The biggest hope is kindergarteners who enter school under the guidelines...They will know no other way.

But will even that kid peel an orange?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Depression isn't catching

I have wondered if my usual "pragmatic" (read glass half empty) self may be bringing others down. I really don't want to do that--but it's not my nature to be all chirpy, say things like "it's all good," or just generally lark around like Pollyanna on crack.

I expect the worst, imagine it, plan for it--and if something good happens, it's unexpected and wonderful. If not--at least I was correct.

I wouldn't call this mindset depression, but when I read about this study, I felt better.

Some British researchers at the Univ of Warwick Medical School says at least among teenagers, kids with a "healthy" mood can help prevent depression among those so inclined--without becoming depressed themselves.

Friendship among adolescents should be encouraged!

They looked at more than 2,000 adolescents in a network of US HS students. They tracked "low mood" and "healthy mood" across the group. (Proceedings of the Royal Society)

--The mathematical model they used showed that kids who have five or more mentally healthy friends have half the probability of being depressed, compared with kids with no mentally healthy friends.

--Teens wtih 10 healthy friends have double the probability of recovering from depressive symptoms compared to kids with only three healthy friends.

My thought was why would 10 healthy people want to hang around one buzzkill? But you know how skeptical I am.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

MouthLab--All in one vital signs taker

You know how tiresome it is in the hosp or doctor's office when they have to take your vitals?

First the sadistic blows-itself-up BP cuff that crushes your arm like a 300-lb bouncer, then the rub on your head thermometer where you feel like a baby, then the pinchy finger oxygen checker, and maybe even the EKG, where they spend 10 mins sticking stickers on you.

What if they had a "check engine" device that did it all?

Researchers at Johns Hopklins have designed a battery-powered, handheld device that uses a mouthpiece and fingertip device to collect this data. (Annals of Biomedical Engineering-Sept)


This doodad--regrettably still only in prototype--measures heart rate, BP, temperatuire, breathing rate, and blood oxygen. It also takes a basic electrocardiogram.

People will be able to use this at home with no training, in addition to the hosp, doctor's office,  and emergency response uses.

Because it monitors signs by mouth, it will be adaptable to detect blood glucose levels, kidney failure, and oral, lung, or breast cancer.

The MouthLab has a small, flexible mouthpiece like those SCUBA divers use. This connects to a small unit the size of a phone receiver. Some data comes from the mouth, the rest from holding the device.

Blood pressure is recorded by measuring the changes in the upper and lower lip indicating how much blood volume is reaching them.

Right now all this info is being shipped to a laptop, but follow-on versions will have their own readout.

So how soon can we have this? Get going!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Don't burn up the baby

Tsk tsk--you aren't listening...
As I have said before, think of the sun as a big nuclear reactor spitting out radiation. When you take a toddler to the beach, they run around and you see the sun on them and remember to lube them up with sunscreen every so often or take them out of action and plunk them in the shade.

But a baby? An infant under 6 mos? Usually this little one is in a carseat or carrier, dressed, and you think he or she is pretty protected.

But sun can also get to tender babes.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the dressing is good--long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, sunglasses...

But the best way to protect the tiny ones is to keep them in the shade.

Sunscreen use for those under 6 mos should be avoided.

Six months and older--you can apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 to exposed skin. But keep them in the shade anyway--and covered in clothes.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Miamai, only 14.6% of parents asked knew all this.

Eighty-three percent said they did seek shade for the baby. Less than half put on a hat. Forty percent routinely covered the child in clothes.

And 29% said they have used sunscreen for kids under 6 mos!

Not only that, but a third reported they tried to raise the child's tolerance for the sun by gradually increasing exposure.  Three percent let the child get a sunburn in the first 6 mos of life.

You are not doing the kid a favor by increasing their tolerance, as these participants put it.

Note: Most in this survey were African-American or Hispanic--everyone needs protection, people with darker skin are no exception.

So..there you have it. White or light-colored, lightweight baby clothes.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Redheads are a breed apart

Until 2000, no one even knew how we got redheads. Then they figured out a gene we all have--melanocortin 1 receptor protein--mutates and sometimes causes reddish hair, pale skin, and light eyes.

Redheads may be only 1-2% of the world's population.

Among other weird aspects of this mutated gene, come:

--More sensitivity to painkillers--meaning redheads need a smaller dose.

--More sensitivity to temperature changes--they speak up more often.

---The need for more anesthetics during surgery--and more novacaine during dental work. As a result, they tend to avoid the dentists more than people with other hair colors.

--Ability to produce their own Vitamin D. Northern Europe has the highest concentration of redheads--when people migrated out of Africa, their skin lightened over time because of less exposure to the sun. People with darker skin did block more sun rays, but also produced less Vitamin D.

--Increased risk for Parkinson's (twice that of those with darker hair). Also more likely to get a melanoma. Apparently the mutated gene does not bind to the PTEN gene, which is known to prevent cancer in some cases. When a redhead's skin is exposed to the UV rays, the PTEN breaks down quickly, developing into cancer.

--Unlikelihood of going gray. Their hair tends to be thicker and retain pigment longer.

--And, finally, redheads tend to have more sex--they are more noticeable--and "red" promotes arousal.

I do know some women disdain "gingies"--redheaded men. I lived with one--but alas, he is now bald and we have long since parted.

And that has nothing to do with this.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Check out your doctor

We have a pretty decent online checking system for physicians (MDs and osteopaths) in Arizona. But it only goes back five years in terms of whether a doctor has been disciplined for unethical or dangerous actions.

Doctors can leave one state, get licensed in another, and usually you can't find out. The state database will only have disciplinary actions in that state.

Now, the Federation of State Medical Boards has replatformed its checking system and opened it free to everyone.

Seventy state medical and osteopathic boards feed info into this.

The url is

Enter your doctor's name and you can learn:

Whether the doctor has been discplined by a state medical board

States in which the physician is now licensed.

What medical school he or she went to

Location of the practice

And specialty accreditation

I tried a few docs and found this skimpier than the Arizona one--on undergrad schooling, for instance. But it does go back more throughly on discplining.

You'd be amazed at what you can learn--a doctor paid a judgment or maybe more than one, he or she got a warning letter--and you can find out the reason.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why you like a food and someone else hates it

My daughter hates peas! I can take them in a pot pie or soup--no strong opinion. But she will even see a pea in the sink and cower.

Taste is something we experience everyday, according to Robin Dando, PhD, assistant prof in the Dept of Food Science sat Cornell.

Eating triggers all five senses, he points out. Taste is influenced by smell, vision, and sound of the food--and touch receptors in the mouth tell us how pleasing the texture is. The brain puts all this together and votes up or down.

Each person has different sensitivities to tastes and smells. If you were brought up in a home with spicy foods, you are more likely to enjoy them.

People's tastes also change over time. Children are sensitive to bitterness---which is one reason they don't like veggies as much as adults do. Children also like intense levels of sweetness, sourness, and saltiness. As people get older, they prefer combinations of these rather than just intense sweeetness, for example.  Then, as people get even older, they lose taste buds and are less sensitive to all tastes.

Taste is also governed by outside influences. a steak tinted blue might "taste" different to someone. Hormones can influence taste.

Still, I don't get my kid's pea aversion. Rice yes--she once threw up tainted Chinese food. But peas?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Poison-resistant head lice--oh, barf!

Every parent of a school kid knows the "pain" of head lice. The inspections, the sending home, the bedding washing, the trips to the drugstore to get remedies, what a disgusting nuisance.

And NOW comes the fabulous news that in 25 states, the vermin are getting immune to the usual remedies recommended by doctors. This gem is being explored at the current American Chemical Society meeting.

They tested 109 lice populations (what a job) and 104 were immune to pyrethrins.

Apparerntly this has been coming on since 2000.

The researchers gathered samples from 30 states. Yup--the "little creatures" as one scientist chartiably called them, were thriving on pyrethrins in most cases.

What's left? Prescription remedies.

My daughter once did a science fair projecton head lice. She drew huge "hairs" and pasted seed pearls on to be the eggs. The judges were not amused.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Drinkable Book (TM)

Drinking bad water causes millions of deaths around the world each year. But now some creative types have invented The Drinkable Book.

Each page is impregnated with anti-bacterial silver and copper nanoparticles with killing capabilities--killing of bad flora and fauna, not people.

They tested it at the Univ of Virginia on simulated "bad water" and then on "real" contaminated water in Africa.

Even with the worst contamination, the "pages" of the book, with their silver and copper-nanoparticle paper, filtered out 99.9% of the dangerous stuff.

Each page of the book is printed with water safety instructions, both in English and in the target country's language.

A page cleans 26 gallons--and the whole book would last an individual 4 years.

Cool, huh?

Friday, August 14, 2015

How hospitals can get better patient ratings

Johns Hopkins investigators sent questionnaires to CEOs and medical personnel at 53 hospitals--and identified some best practices that give patients a sense of satisfaction. (Published in Medical Care)

Everyone wants to be patient-centered these days. There is more to it than saying that in a brochure.

Consistency, personal interactions, and involvement with caregivers at all levels. These came up again and again.

Not just doctors and nurses, but from the guy who wheels you around to the CEO.

Responsiveness is a key element. This means proactive nurses rounds--a check in every so often and not just in response to a beeping alarm or a call from the patient. The best hospitals have a list of questions they ask.

At the highly rated hospitals--even the CEOs ducked in and talked to patients sometimes.

Patients also responded positively when people sat down and made eye contact--and did not hover over them, one foot out of the door.

I have some experience as a hospital patient--I like to feel safe--like someone will help me if I need it.

I like to think they are looking at heart monitors that feed into the nurses' station. The hospitalist (doc who takes care of you in the hospital) needs to speak decent English and not avoid patient contact.  I like to see someone clean up the floor sometimes--maybe once a day--all those scraps of packaging and so on. Handwashing.

The fear, the pain, the yuckiness--almost worse than whatever you have.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why zombies are so necessary to us

I didn't happen to latch onto the THE WALKNG DEAD, but I know people who did.

Why did rotting corpses with an insatiable appetite for human flesh get so popular?

Chris Hansen, an independent filmmaker and chair of Baylor's film and digital media department, thinks he knows.

Fear, he says. We fear the unknown, and the future is always unknown. He says we could imagine a world flattened by nuclear war--but this terrorism thing is coming from within. We have turned against ourselves.

Zombies are a release valve--we can funnel our anxieties into them. We can fulfill a fantasy of how we could cope.

A new show is coming, FEAR OF THE WALKING DEAD--this is before the zombies have taken over. How do people come to terms with what is happening.

In other words, we will watch the breakdown of society.

Do we need zombies for that--or are the icky ones a manageable, almost campy version of the breakdown that we can stand?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

FDA recommends child flow restrictor

Kids do the darndest things--such as helping themselves to more yummy grape cough syrup when Mom turns her back.

That stuff, in particular, is loaded with acetaminophen, which is surprisingly toxic if taken in higher doses. Surpisingly because it's in many, many over the counter preparations--including Tylenol itself.

Now the FDA has approved and will recommend (though not require) a flow restrictor--this prevents tots from squeezing plastic bottles or sucking out medicine.

Apparently scientists at the FDA has been urging this since 2001.

Some of these devices are better than others. Family Dollar has a store brand that is very effective.

Will these come equipped on bottles? That is up to the manufacturers, apparently. But this move by the FDA sends a strong signal--do it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Put your mettle to the pedal?

The University of Iowa is apparently worried about desk potatoes and provided workers with portable pedaling devices that fit under the desk, providing them with a way to exercise all day long. (Sedentary jobs have risen 83% since 1950.)

Those who pedaled a lot were more likely to lose weight, had improved concentration and fewer sick days.

The key is each worker needed his or her own device and one that was easy to pedal.

An essential component was privacy--put an exercise bike in the hall and no one will use it. Usually only the fittest people use the office gyms.

They did a 16-week study. People pedaled 50 mins a day on average.

At the end, 70% of the participants opted to keep their little device.

Oh--and the scientists sent them three emaiols a week reminding them to sit up straight, stand up sometimes, and so on.

OK, Mom.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Where does US stand on slurping down sugary drinks?

My daughter brought me a Coke the other day--I realized I had not had one for six months or more. It wasn't a big woo.

Some scientists at Tufts reported in PLOS ONE that of the three beverages--sugar-sweetened drinks, fruit juices and milk--consumption of all three was lowest in East Asia and the consumption of the sugar-sweetened ones highest in the Caribbean.

The younger adults tended more to the sugar-sweetened stuff, the older adults toward milk.

OK--on sugar-sweetened drinks:

--Globally, highest in men 20-39---more than an 8 oz serving a day.

--Women over 60--a third of  an 8 oz serving a day.

--In the Caribbean, for both, more than 2 servings a day.

--East Asia--a fifth of a serving a day.

Fruit juices:
--Highest in women, a fifth of an 8 oz serving a day

--Consumption went up by income level

--In the US, adults drank a fifth of a serving a day--21st out of 185 countries


Women over 60--2/3s of a serving a day

Men 20-39--half a serving

--Wealthier countries--more milk consumed

--In the US--2/3 of a serving--64th out of 187 countries

So? I see people in wealthier countries able to afford more milk and juice.

Is this interesting? Give me another Coke and I will think about it. For one thing, I bet the sugar-sweetened Caribbean drinks contain some rum...

Friday, August 07, 2015

ARFID may be affecting your child

We have all heard of anorexia (trying not to eat or not eat much) and bulimia (eating and purging), but now the book of mental disrorders has a new entry: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

This is an eating pattern that persistently fails to meet nutritional and energy needs.

This can lead to significant weight loss or lack of expected weight gain. Nutritional deficiencies can also develo;. The child may need tube feeding and this whole thing can interfere with life and be a marker for future depression.

They are studying this at Penn State Hershey.

Usually the child is considered a picky eater. Parents are told the youngster will grow out of it. But if by the time school starts, the child is still extremely selective in foods or does not want to eat, this should be looked at.

Usually these docs see kids when the kids are around eight. They won't swallow for fear of choking. They get stomachaches. They say they are not hungry. This is from underlying anxiety.

This can ruin dinner time for the whole family and result in malnourishment.  Kids with severe selective eating are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression later.

I once knew a kid who did not eat mushrooms--the word "mush" made him sick.

Should parents go with the "try three bites" deal? Maybe a therapist could answer that.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Could sleeping on your side help clear Alz crud?

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York State, say sleeping in the lateral position (on your side) rather than facedown or face up may remove more brain waste during the vital hours of maintenance known as sleeping.

They used MRIs with contrast to image the brain's glymphatic pathway--a complex system than clears wastes from the brain. Sleeping on one's side made this system work the most efficiently. (J of Neuroscience)

Of course, this was in ...rats..anesthetized rats.

This sort of makes sense to me--even for humans. The scientists say sleeping on one's side is the most popular position for humans and animals. And--many dementias do seem linked to sleep disturbances.

What do you think? They are turning now to checking this out in humans.

For now, it's an intriguing theory.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

When school starts, think nutrition

Food choices can slack off or change in summer--state fair grub, barbecue every night, ice cream, sugary drinks (hey, it's hot).

But come school time, parents need to remember that good solid nutrition is necessary for brain functioning and energy.

Now is the time to segue to fall food choices, says a nutritionist at Cincinnati Children's. Reboot good food and sleep habits at least a week before school opens.

The most important thing is a good start. Breakfast. It does not have to be traditional breakfast foods. The important thing is high protein, high fiber, and dairy or dairy substitute.

--Look for whole grain cereals with low fat milk.

--Yogurt and berries with low-fat granola.

--Whole wheat toast, eggs, fruit--kids also like hardboiled eggs.

--PB&J with low fat milk.

--Grilled cheese with 100% fruit juice.

--Whole wheat waffles with fruit and low fat milk.

Lunches are also important--in some places, this is the kid's only real meal of the day. There is a huge controversy over the White House lunch dictates. If your child "brings," this lunch can also be inspected for nutritional value, So keep that in mind.

The best guide is to keep foods varied--kids get locked into certain foods. Have them pack their own lunch--shop for their own items.

If your child has after school activities--he or she will need a boost of nutrition to keep going. Pack nuts, raisins, maybe some popcorn or a whole grain cookie or two.

And don't forget the water.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

All about dirt it's fit to print

A friend is getting some East Coast garden tomatoes today from a friend--yum, remember those, juicy, right in the garden row?

It's all in the dirt. In celebration of The Year of the Soil, the Soil Science Society of America is coordinating a year-long program to educate people about ...well, dirt.

"Healthy humans need healthy soil" is the rallying cry.

The calcium in broccoli--from the dirt. Proteins in wheat--from nitrogen in the soil.

Soil provides a structure for plants--to stabilize them. The soil is teeming with useful organisms.

Check out:

Remember hearing about crop rotation in school? I do. Or fertilizer runoff? Watch for these videos to better appreciate dirt!

And enjoy those succulent tomatoes.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Why do some people become addicted to drugs?

Not a great plan.
The best way to prevent drug addiction is to not take drugs.

But sometimes people need pain-killing opiates or for social or emotional reasons, get sucked into drug taking. Whether you get addicted or not can depend on how you take them, according to researchers at the Univ of Montreal.

The amount of drugs is a factor, they say, but the speed with which the substance enters and leaves the brain is also a factor.

For example, if you smoke a joint, the cannabis in the brain increases then decreases faster than the cannabis in a brownie. Increasing then decreasing quickly can lead to addiction--the wanting of more.

These researchers looked at a lot of the literature and dissected clinical results.

A drug (methadone, for example) can be addictive if smoked, but therapeutic if swallowed or administred by a skin patch (nicotine).

Injection and smoking are most likely to lead to addiction.

The brain adapts to what it gets--if it gets a big increase, it adapts to it.

These principles will be used to find a drug that counters cocaine addiction--so far, a toughie.

For now--the doctors say smoking or injection--you are more likely to become addicted. You heard it here first.