Vol. 33 November 15, 2010 More Things That Threaten or Kill…or NOT

“When good things go bad,
and vice versa.”

 

CELL PHONES DON’T CAUSE CANCER- (1)
Despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary much buzz continues about cell phone usage causing brain cancer. Why is that ? A recent review in Scientific American magazine points out how hard it is to prove a negative. I am reminded about the story of the English farmer spreading purple dust over his fields last year. When asked why he did that he replied “To keep the lions away”.  The questioner pointed out that there had been no lions in England for at least four centuries. “Works pretty well doesn’t it,” was the proud rejoinder.

A $24 million study (2) of 12,000 regular cell phone users, half of whom already had brain cancer, found no correlation between cell phone use and the two most common brain tumors. A recent article in Skeptic magazine stated that the non-correlation was because,  as my oldest son the engineer often says to me, “It’s just physics.” X-rays and gamma rays can cause cancer because their radiation energy can disrupt chemical bonds inside cells, about 480 kilojoules per mole (it’s just a physics energy term). A cell phone generates radiation of less than 0.001 kilojoules per mole. Whatever kilojoules per mole are, it is clear that cell phones don’t generate very much of them; no where near enough to disrupt chemical bonds. The article’s author notes that probably the only way to hurt someone’s brain with a cell phone is to throw it at his/her head. I would add that since HPV (a virus) is associated with cervical cancer and is more apt to be present in sexually active women, I guess you could cause cancer with a cell phone by sexting!

ALCOHOL EVERY DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY (3)
Italian researchers (God bless those guys) have shown that two or three alcoholic drinks a day reduces heart attacks or strokes by 25% in men who have already undergone cardiac by-pass surgery. Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers found that women who consume two to four drinks daily in mid-life may have better health at age 70 than those who didn’t imbibe.

At last the definition of “too much to drink” has been quantified. For decades the definition of “drinking too much” was “drinking more than your doctor”. Now moderate drinking has been defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. “One drink” is a shot and half of liquor, or 5 oz. of wine, or a 12 oz. glass of beer. One of the reasons that people drink too much is that they are unaware of how much they are becoming “addicted”. Recent data from a Boston Medical Center study (4) suggests that just by having people complete a questionnaire of a dozen questions they become aware that maybe they have an addiction. Fully a third of those “screening positive” on the self-administered questionnaire were voluntarily abstaining from alcohol and drugs six months later.

Of course, if you leave the country your alcohol problem may get worse. What? The alcohol consumption of college kids twenty-one or older DOUBLED their alcohol intake when studying abroad. For those under twenty-one, their alcohol consumption actually TRIPLED.(5) Hopefully that means that they went from one beer a day to three which doesn’t sound as bad somehow.

NATURAL FOODS AND HERBS ARE ORGANIC, BUT CAN BE HARMFUL
Of 40 herbal supplements tested by the federal Government Accounting Office 37 contained trace levels of at least one hazardous compound. Presence of steroids and other active pharmaceuticals were also found. The FDA has been “regulating” dietary supplements since 1994, but this new report from the GAO suggests how loose that regulation of a $14.8 billion industry (2007) is. Even pure supplements can cause more trouble than expected. Review of  nine clinical trials involving 118,000 people using Vitamin E revealed that those taking Vitamin E had a 22% higher risk 0f hemorrhagic strokes. (6)

EVEN DRUMMING CAN BE DANGEROUS…AND NOT TO JUST YOUR EARS
A 24-year-old woman came into MGH with belly pain and shock and spent 61 days in the hospital with the diagnosis of intestinal anthrax. As you might imagine, the state health department (two actually) and the CDC were soon joined by the FBI in pinning down the source of the anthrax. It turned out that she had recently participated in a drumming event in New Hampshire. Cultures from the site and two of the animal skin drums grew out anthrax. Presumably drumming of the anthrax-contaminated hides produced an aerosol of anthrax particles which she swallowed. (7)

References:
1.Scientific American, October 2010, p.98, Michael Shermer
2. Internat Jour of Epidemiology, “Brain tumor Risk in Relation to Mobile Telephone Use”
3. Am Heart Assoc conference, reported in Boston Globe, Nov 15, 2010
4. MASBIRT, reported in Boston Globe , Nov. 15, 2010
5
.Findings, Harper’s Magazine, December 2010, p.84
6. Scientific American, August 2010, p. 24
7. New Eng Jour Med, August 19, 2010, p. 766

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