Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly

"The helpful microorganisms overwhelmingly outnumber the harmful ones," says Jack Brown, PhD, a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. "Removing a large proportion of the good bacteria gives the bad germs a chance to increase and potentially become harmful."
So what do you need to worry about?

Dirty Door Handles
The bathroom-door handle on the public restroom is the germiest place.

Unclean Office Objects
Claim: Your office desk is way dirtier than a toilet bowl.

Filthy Floors
You can get plantar warts and athlete's foot from walking barefoot on the gym floor.

Scuzzy Sponges
Washing a sponge in the dishwasher removes germs.

Unsanitary Kitchen Sinks
You need to clean the kitchen sink every day with bleach

Bunking with Bacteria
If you've had the same pillow for years, you're bunking with billions of bacteria

Bedbug Elimination
You must wash your sheets every week in hot water or you'll get bedbugs

Toothbrush Trouble
Every time you flush the toilet, your toothbrush gets sprayed with bacteria

Bathroom Bacteria Buildup
Wash your shower curtain, tiles, and tub once a week to prevent an overgrowth of bacteria.

Laundry Mildew
Letting wet clothes sit in the washer allows mildew to form

Contaminated Makeup
Your makeup is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Dirty Money
Money is by far the germiest stuff around.

Should You Use Antibacterial Products?
Not unless someone in the house is sick. A recent study found no difference in infectious disease rates in 228 households that used antibacterial items (hand-washing soaps, cleaners, laundry detergent) versus those that used regular products. Plus, there's a potential drawback: A number of studies have suggested that triclosan, an ingredient used in many antibacterial items, may actually foster resistance to many germs. The researchers concluded they're useful only if someone in your home is ill or has a skin or gastrointestinal ailment. Otherwise, Larson says, alcohol- and bleach-based products work best at killing germs without promoting the growth of dangerous "super bugs."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No more Blinds thanks to stem cells

Here's something that people with poor or no vision will be excited about: three patients had their sight restored in less than a month by contact lenses cultured with stem cells.

All three patients were blind in one eye. The researchers extracted stem cells from their working eyes, cultured them in contact lenses for 10 days, and gave them to the patients. Within 10 to 14 days of use, the stem cells began recolonizing and repairing the cornea.

Of the three patients, two were legally blind but can now read the big letters on an eye chart, while the third, who could previously read the top few rows of the chart, is now able to pass the vision test for a driver's license. The research team isn't getting over excited, still remaining unsure as to whether the correction will remain stable, but the fact that the three test patients have been enjoying restored sight for the last 18 months is definitely encouraging. The simplicity and low cost of the technique also means that it could be carried out in poorer countries.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

About video games addiction

If asked to define "video game addict," most of us would reply that a video game addict is someone who likes to play a lot of video games. But that definition is as close to the truth as the definition "someone who likes to inject a lot of heroin" is an accurate portrayal of a heroin addict.

Addiction is a psychological disorder that affects the way the brain functions by impacting chemical processes related to motivation, decision making, learning, inhibitory control, and pleasure seeking. Behavioural addictions like gambling and sex are forms of psychological dependence; addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol are forms of both psychological and physical dependence.

Video game addiction is still a newcomer to the field of psychology and is not yet medically recognised as a proper addiction due to the lack of research conducted into its causes and effects. So, while it's common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of drug, alcohol, gambling, sex, and other addictions, it is not common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of video game addiction.

The cases most often cited include a South Korean man who collapsed in an Internet cafe after playing Starcraft for 50 hours; a man in China who died after playing online games for 15 days consecutively; a 13-year-old boy from Vietnam who strangled an elderly lady with a piece of rope because he wanted money to buy games; and a number of cases in the United States involving angry teenagers murdering family members over games and consoles. The fact that the latter cases have more to do with displays of deep mental instabilities rather than addiction was not mentioned in the reports, an omission that no doubt has contributed to the public's widespread confusion about what video game addiction really is.

The last five years have seen a progress in the recognition of video game addiction as a real addiction, with more research dedicated to studying its scope, causes, and effects.
There is currently insufficient research to definitely label video game overuse as an addiction. However, the report's authors used several case studies and surveys to find evidence of video game addiction, arguing that symptoms of time usage and social dysfunction/disruption present in video game overuse also appear in other addictive disorders, and, despite its reluctance to name video game addiction as a definitive mental disorder, the CSAPH recommended that the AMA strongly encourage the inclusion of video game addiction as a formal diagnostic disorder in the upcoming revision of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).


Thursday, March 5, 2009

How could we get a better sleep?

If insomnia is derailing your sleep, a prescription sleeping pill may not be the best cure. Here are some options to explore:

Practice good "sleep hygiene." This does not mean making sure your bedding is clean! It means following good sleep habits, especially ensuring the bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. Among experts' recommendations: Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex; keep regular sleep and wake times; eliminate afternoon caffeine; banish pets (and snoring partners) from the bedroom; ensure the bedroom is a dark, cool, quiet place; and get computers and TVs out of the sleep environment, because they stimulate the brain and their light tells the body "it's daytime," disrupting the internal clock.

Break the rules when necessary. While experts' common-sense recommendations about sleep hygiene should be the first line of defense against insomnia, selectively breaking them can sometimes help, too. TV isn't recommended, for example, but a DVD or show (make it a boring one) may put some people to sleep. "Listen to experts' rules; don't throw them out," says Gayle Greene, 65, a lifelong insomniac who has learned to cope. But "bend them, make them work for you."

Develop a pre-bed relaxation ritual. "Adults need these rituals, too," says Meir Kryger, director of sleep research and education at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn. "You'd be amazed at how helpful they can actually be." To develop a nonstimulating evening ritual, you might recall what your parents did when you were young to get you in sleep mode. Or try taking a hot bath or sipping a warm cup of chamomile tea; either will raise your core body temperature, which leads to a drowsy feeling as you cool down, says Lisa Shives, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill.

Try not to self-medicate. "I personally don't recommend that people just go out and treat themselves with over-the-counter medications," says Kryger. "They never solve the problem; they'll just help you get through." Pharmacies certainly offer lots of sleep remedies. There are antihistamines, like Benadryl, which have a sedative side effect. (The ingredient that causes drowsiness is also found in products like Tylenol PM and Advil PM.) But those medications can induce next-day grogginess—what some patients call "sleep hangovers"—and they can actually have an alerting or a disorienting effect on the elderly, says Shives. Other OTC options include melatonin supplements and valerian extracts, although evidence of the effectiveness of either is slim, a National Institutes of Health insomnia consensus panel concluded in 2005. And, as Shives says of melatonin, valerian, and similar substances, "Nobody's regulating this stuff."

Don't drink to sleep. Sure, sloshing down a little Pinot Noir will put you to sleep, but as the alcohol is metabolized by the body, it fragments sleep, which tends to cause nighttime awakenings and next-day tiredness. "People have the misconception that alcohol helps," says Ralph Downey III, chief of sleep medicine at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. "It doesn't."

Create a barrier between work and sleep. You want to have some sort of break from the day's stress before sleep, advises Lawrence Epstein, medical director of Sleep HealthCenters in Boston and coauthor of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep. If you know you're going to bed at 10:30, stop your day at 10:15, or sooner if you can. Shortchanging that break can be a recipe for insomnia. Write down all the things you need to worry about on a piece of paper, and do your best to leave them behind. Whether asleep or awake, there's likely nothing you can do about them until tomorrow, anyway.

Don't "catastrophize." People who can't sleep tend to compound the problem by fretting about the consequences of their sleeplessness, like the possibility that they'll do a bad job at work and get fired. Catastrophizing a sleep problem, however, tends to further engrain it, says Shives. "I try to get [people] to calm down," she says. "But that's kind of like telling a depressed person to perk up."

Retreat to a "safe room." Don't stew in bed. Create a "safe room" to retreat to when sleep escapes you, Downey advises. If awake for more than 20 minutes after your head hits the pillow, get out of bed and go to that room. Don't turn on a light, don't go on the Internet, don't read a book; just relax, he says, for 20 minutes, or until sleepy. Repeat as necessary, all night long. This process is called conditioning. You want to prevent your bedroom from becoming associated with frustration. If you live in a dorm or a studio apartment, Downey says, use a screen to carve out a sitting nook away from the bed.

Exercise. While experts advise against vigorous exercise too close to bedtime, a morning or evening workout can be beneficial. "We know that it promotes the slowest waves of sleep," says Mary Susan Esther, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Not working? Talk to your doctor. Everybody may have episodes of sleep trouble. But if insomnia persists for several weeks, especially if it's disrupting your daytime activities, discuss it with a doctor or ask to be referred to a sleep specialist. (A survey released this week by the National Sleep Foundation found that only 32 percent of Americans who have sleep problems discuss them with their doctors.) Some people may be physiologically susceptible to chronic insomnia, says Epstein, while others may bring it on by developing bad coping habits. If an underlying psychiatric condition isn't to blame, says Downey, untreated insomnia could end up contributing to one. "Jump on [insomnia] within six months or you [may] end up treating depression, anxiety, and [other psychiatric] disorders" later, he says. Prescription medications may be explored but are usually a last resort, says Kryger. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people unlearn bad behaviors, is another possibility.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

You can live longer if you drink tea

Tea, whether black or green, caffeinated or decaffeinated (herbal teas don't count), has spectacular antioxidant capabilities owing to large amounts of substances called flavonoids. In addition to preventing oxidation, flavonoids may have an anticlotting effect.

One study found that among people who'd had heart attacks, those who drank 14 or more cups of tea a week were 44 percent less likely to die in the 3 1/2 years following their heart attacks than those who didn't drink any tea. In another study people who drank about 1 1/2 cups of tea daily had roughly half the risk of heart attack of those who didn't drink tea. An added bonus: A cup of black tea has less than half the caffeine of coffee; green tea has even less. Some tea tips:

Bag it. When Consumer Reports tested the antioxidant punch of 15 brewed, bottled, and instant teas, it found most teas brewed from tea bags scored highest in antioxidant content. In fact, the magazine reported, "Brewed tea appears to have more antioxidant action than almost any whole fruit or vegetable -- and more than most commercial fruit or vegetable juices, too." But iced teas from mixes and bottle are a decent second choice; they contain a "good deal" of antioxidants, according to the magazine. Just watch the sugar content.

Dunk the bag. Continuously dunking the tea bag as the tea steeps seems to release far more antioxidant compounds than simply dropping it in and leaving it there.

Add lemon. One study found that the addition of lemon to plain tea increased its antioxidant benefits. That makes sense, since lemon itself contains antioxidants.

Brew a batch. To make a day's supply of iced tea, bring 20 ounces of water to a boil, then remove from the heat. Drop in three tea bags, cover, and steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and refrigerate.

Try green tea. Because it isn't fermented, green tea has even more antioxidant power than black tea does. It also has less caffeine. And it may provide some protection against certain cancers. Experiment with brands until you find one you like. Don't let green tea steep for more than a couple of minutes or it may become bitter.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

To call or not to call

How can you tell the difference between a problem that will go away on its own and one that should be attended to as soon as possible? Here are six symptoms that you should call your doctor about.

1. Persistent Headaches
Everybody gets headaches now and then. If you've had the same pattern of headaches for years, chances are that it's going to continue that way for years more. But if your headaches are so severe that you miss work or social gatherings, or if over-the-counter painkillers don't help, see your doctor. There are new treatments now that work well, even for disabling migraines.

If you have an unfamiliar type of headache that's persisted for three days or longer and is associated with vomiting or visual changes, it could indicate an abnormality in or near the brain, such as a blood clot. If you have an unremitting headache on only one side of your head, near the temple or above the ear, it may be a condition called temporal arteritis. It can be cured it with cortisone or steroids, but, left untreated, it can lead to blindness. The most important thing to remember: Any new or extremely painful headache should prompt you to call your doctor.

2. Chest Pain
Colds and respiratory infections often result in inflammation of the cartilage next to the ribs, which can cause chest pain. Pneumonia or pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs, can also lead to chest or rib pain. So if your chest hurts, don't panic, but do look into it.

Chest pain can indicate something as simple as a gas bubble in the stomach, or it could be a heart attack. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the two. When a nerve near the heart (called the vagus nerve) becomes irritated because of a heart attack, it can cause stomach symptoms. If the pain goes away with an antacid, it's less likely to be related to the heart. Most times, it's probably not a heart attack, but if dull, pressure-like chest pain comes on for no reason, call an ambulance and get to an emergency room.

Why an ambulance rather than your neighbor? For two reasons: Many ambulances now come equipped with sophisticated monitoring equipment, and emergency personnel are trained to administer necessary medication at a time when every minute counts. A number of doctors also recommend that you take an aspirin to protect your heart from a blood clot while the ambulance is on its way.

3. Abdominal Pain
All of us suffer abdominal pains occasionally, and their causes are many. In fact, there are entire medical textbooks on how to evaluate this particular type of pain. In most cases, it's something that can be easily cured. Abdominal pain that occurs before meals and is relieved by food can indicate an ulcer. Treatment is generally simple, so why suffer? If the pain occurs when you eat, it might mean gastritis (an inflamed stomach), or a problem with the gallbladder or pancreas. The pain related to each of these conditions has somewhat different characteristics, so your doctor will probably ask such questions as where does the pain radiate, what eases it, what makes it feel worse, and whether the pain comes on when you lie down.

More serious causes of abdominal pain can include problems with blood vessels that nourish the intestines or with the aorta (the artery that distributes oxygen-containing blood from the heart to other parts of the body), gallstones, obstruction of the intestine, an infection, or cancer. Whatever the possible cause, have the pain checked out.

4. Bruising and Bleeding
If you bump into something and get a bruise, it generally turns blue-purple over a day or two and then slowly fades to yellow over the course of another four or five days. That's normal and is nothing to be concerned about. In addition, many of us develop mysterious bruises from time to time and don't remember bumping into anything. But if you develop spontaneous recurrent bruises in places that aren't prone to being bumped, it could signify a disorder of blood clotting. It could also be because you're taking medications that predispose you to bruising, such as warfarin, which is a blood thinner, or aspirin.

If you cut yourself or brush your teeth too vigorously, you'll start to bleed. Put an antiseptic on the cut or ease the pressure on your toothbrush and you'll be fine. However, if you notice any rectal bleeding, any vaginal bleeding after menopause, any blood in your urine, or any blood when you vomit or cough, make an appointment with your doctor to find out the cause. It might be a simple problem, or it might possibly be serious.

5. Breathing Problems
If you have a cold, sinus problem, or allergies that cause nasal congestion, you may find it difficult to breathe. A cold will generally clear up on its own in a week, and you'll be back to normal in short order. But if a sinus problem or allergies continue to distress you, call your doctor for an appointment. A simple medication will often do the trick, and you'll be smelling the roses soon.

People who are out of shape certainly find strenuous activity more difficult than those who exercise regularly, so difficulty breathing on exertion can be a sign that it's time to start exercising. But it could also raise a red flag that indicates lung problems, heart problems, asthma, or even anemia. Also, if you become short of breath when you're lying down and have to prop yourself up on two or three pillows to sleep comfortably, it might signal heart failure. Call your doctor.

6. Sadness
I don't know a single person who hasn't felt blue or sad from time to time. These feelings are a normal component of human emotion and deserve attention and recognition, but not necessarily medical intervention. So if you're blue because a friend moved away or someone close to you is ill, that's unfortunate - but it's not a reason to call your doctor.

If you feel sad or irritable most of the day for at least two weeks, however, and you take less interest in activities that once gave you pleasure, then it's time to seek help. You could be suffering from depression, which is a painful and disabling problem. Other signs of depression include crying spells for no apparent reason, unexplained aches and pains that won't go away, difficulty in making decisions, an inability to concentrate, and a feeling that the future looks grim. Many people believe that persistent feelings of hopelessness are part of aging. That's not true. So by all means talk to your doctor. Fortunately, depression is treatable. Nobody should have to suffer from it, and nobody should have to live with it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sometimes you cure cancer and end up preventing diabetes

Two cancer drugs prevent, reverse type 1 diabetes, study shows
Medicine & Health / Medications
Two common cancer drugs have been shown to both prevent and reverse type 1 diabetes in a mouse model of the disease, according to research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco. The drugs – imatinib (marketed as Gleevec) and sunitinib (marketed as Sutent) – were found to put type 1 diabetes into remission in 80 percent of the test mice and work permanently in 80 percent of those that go into remission.

The findings may offer a new weapon against this autoimmune disease, formerly called juvenile-onset diabetes, for which few drugs have been developed to address the underlying causes, the lead scientists say.

"There are very few drugs to treat type 1 diabetes, especially after disease onset, so this benefit, with a drug already proven to be safe and effective in cancer patients, is very promising," said Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, director of the Diabetes Center at UCSF and an expert in the study of autoimmunity. "The fact that the treated mice maintained normal blood glucose levels for some time after the drug treatment was stopped suggests that imatinib and sunitinib may be 'reprogramming' their immune systems in a permanent way."

Bluestone is the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor of the Diabetes Center at UCSF and a senior author on the paper.

Both drugs treat cancer by inhibiting a small subset of the more than 500 tyrosine kinases, which are enzymes that modify cells' signaling proteins through a simple biochemical change. Kinases are ubiquitous agents of cell growth and proliferation, and are also involved in many diseases such as inflammation and cancer. In the immune system, tyrosine kinases are thought to be key to nearly every aspect of immunity, from the signaling that initiates a response by the immune system's T and B cells to later stages of inflammation that can cause tissue damage.

Because type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune response that destroys insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas, the scientists sought to determine if one or more of the tyrosine kinases blocked by the two cancer drugs might also be responsible for the destructive inflammation in the pancreas. If so, the drugs might be promising candidates to treat diabetes.