July 15, 2019


The prevalence of electronic media has spawned a number of pediatric studies of video gaming, use of smartphones, effects of media on learning, etc. A recent small study of 37 toddlers being read to by a parent using 3 book formats (print, basic electronic, and enhanced electronic – included animation and sound effects) showed some differences in interactions between parent and toddler. Parents showed twice as much dialogue with the child while reading print books than basic electronic. Interestingly the use of the enhanced electronic books came in third. Toddler book-verbalization was slightly higher when being read print books. (1)

These study result is certainly no blockbuster, but the authors opined that reading print books slightly increased “positive interactions between child and parent” and slightly decreased negative directions (“don’t touch that button”). With electronic media parents commented less about the story line and read the text out loud less often. At least one reading specialist I know and discussed this study with plans to continue her own reading on Kindle (even though she easily loses track of the book’s title) and will continue to use electronic media in her reading recovery work with elementary school children.


HPV (human papilloma virus) is the leading cause of cervical cancer and is sexually transmitted. The HPV vaccine (Gardasil), if administered prior to sexual activity, can prevent the asymptomatic, silent infection by HPV that can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts later on. The vaccine has not been around long enough to show a lowering of actual cervical cancer rates, but a Canadian study showed a 83% decrease of HPV presence among girls aged 13 to 19 since 2006 when the vaccine was introduced. the authors consider this result as “a first sign that vaccination could eventually lead to the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem.


A  Harvard study gave fitness trackers to 16.000 women over 62 yrs. old, counted the number of their steps for 7 days, and then monitored their health for 4 years. Those walking 4,400 steps a day had a lower “premature death” rate than those walking 2,700 steps a day. Those walking more than 4,400 steps only had a moderate additionally decrease in death rate and there was no advantage for taking over 7,500 steps. Where did the 10,000 steps a day target come from?— a 1960 marketing campaign by a Japanese pedometer manufacturer that recognized that the Japanese character for 10,000 resembles a man walking! (2)


IBM is developing a flavor-identifying device (“e-tongue”) which when dunked into a glass of liquid will analyze the composition of the liquid using an array of electrochemical sensors. The data is then sent via the cloud to an artificial intelligence program that compares the composition to a database of known liquids. It is currently able to accurately distinguish between different brands of water, identify counterfeit wines and whiskeys. 

The speculation about the potential medical use for dealing with unsavory biological fluids reminds me of the old, old story about the medical school professor showing the class how to diagnose a diabetic by tasting the sugar in their urine. After demonstrating by dipping his finger into the cup of urine and tasting it, he instructed the class to come up one at a time and do the same, so they would learn how it worked. It was only after the entire class did so that the professor revealed that the demonstration had nothing to do with diagnosing diabetes, but was actually a lesson about careful, accurate observation. “I dipped my forefinger into the urine, but tasted the third one.”


The number of pedestrians deaths was 50% higher in 2018 than the 2009 rate, even though the overall rate of traffic deaths decreased for the second year in a row in 2018. Analysts blamed the proliferation of SUVs with their greater weight, higher bumpers, and diminished visibility, but anyone who has ever driven in a city might alternatively speculate that it is the increased number of “oblivious” pedestrians crossing the street while listening to, talking on, or even texting on their smart phones.


Research by Nielsen found that americans aged 35 to 49 used social media 40 minutes more each week than millennials. Middle aged americans were more likely to pull their phones out at the dinner table and spent more time than millennials on every type of device—phone,computer, tablet. Millennials do win the prize for the most use while driving. Obligations of work and the ease of maintaining friendships and social connections after the kids have grown up are cited as “reasons” for these findings. But, a researcher interviewing elementary school children uncovered a lot of complaints from the kids about prying their parents away from their screens. “Parents”, she sighed, “are the worst.” (3)


Just send $500 to Cohda  for a Komoru ( Japanese for “ to seclude oneself”)  which is a miniature Zen garden bowl of “sand-like” nickel-coated microspheres that block electromagnetic signals from reaching the buried phone. The microspheres won’t scratch the phone nor enter into any ports. (4) It will be ready for distribution just in time for Christmas for “those who have everything else.”

1.  Pediatrics.2019;143 (4)
2. JAMA Internal Medicine 2019 May 29
3. Wired magazine, April 2018
4.  http://www.cohoda.com/projects/komoru/

Vol. 86 March 15, 2013 Papal Medical Fun Facts

March 15, 2013

popesign1Now that Francis I has succeeded Benedict XVI we should expect some early spring sprouting of stories about Benedict’s medical issues. We already know he had a cardiac pacemaker implanted before he was elected Pope, and that it was “recharged” or “replaced” in a “secret surgical procedure” three months before he retired. He had arthritis (so much for the positive energy of red shoes), a stroke in 1991, and maybe another in 2009 when he fell and hit his head (Oh, NO, one of those currently dreaded “concussions” maybe). Francis I has his own past medical issues, of course.  One of his lungs was removed due to a lung infection in his youth. We will, I’m sure, hear a lot more about both of their medical histories.

A more compelling medical speculation surrounded the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978. His death just 33 days after his election spawned several conspiratorial scenarios  including links to Chicago (“where Al Capone used to rule”) and the Sicilian mafioso (linked mostly by shared bankers). The non-smoker Pope took medicine only for low blood pressure. He was found sitting up in bed with reading material in his lap the morning after sharing a simple meal with others who drank the wine. He drank only water. He was discovered in bed by a nun which, of course, added to the intrigue. Actually she had delivered his morning cup of coffee every day for forty years. His personal physician examined him in his bed, declared him dead of a ‘heart attack”, and a hurried, “poorly supervised” autopsy was performed. John Paul I was not the shortest-lived Pope. Urban VII (1590) died only 13 days after election, but everyone seemed to agree that malaria killed him.

The medical question I have not been able to answer despite my extensive, exhaustive research (at least an hour on Google) is:  Which Pope had the ulnar nerve palsy?
The classic hand gesture of the “Papal Blessing” or “Papal Benediction”, despite erudite analysis by reverent writers on the religious symbolism of his hand and fingers, is, in fact, the result of a nerve palsy of the hand. Even the Vatican tourist guides know this.

There is disagreement over which nerve palsy the originating Pope had. You can find reasoned arguments that it was a median nerve palsy, not an ulnar nerve palsy. Either one results in the curved 3rd and 4th fingers with straight 1st and 2nd ones. The median nerve palsy would result in the gesture if the Pope were trying to make a fist. The ulnar palsy would create the gesture as he tried to wave keeping all fingers straight. The early centuries of the papacy were filled with intrigue, plots, poisonings, warfare, and murder, but somehow I can’t picture the Pope blessing the people with a raised, clenched fist. I vote for him attempting a royal wave, and so align with the ulnar palsy school.

Pope Clement I (92-99 AD) was the third or fourth Bishop of Rome, consecrated by St. Peter himself, and one of his portraits shows him with the classic papal hand gesture.But his portrait was painted at a much later date, so the painter was probably just giving Clement I the “sign of the Pope”. Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 11.48It doesn’t mean that Clement originated it. For some reason in the back of my brain, the name of Urban keeps peeking out, but there were VIII of them so I couldn’t narrow it down. A more learned source attributes the original gesture to Pius V (1566-1572). Others have noted that the gesture historically has not been restricted only to Popes, and has been depicted in photos and portraits of lots of other clergy.

Cardinal Bishop Fulton Sheen of New York and TV

Bishop Fulton Sheen of New York and TV

One of the oddest elements of a papal election is the use in the conclave of the Sedia Stercoraria (pierced chair) as described by a learned source, a “creative club of independent Rome tour guides”.

 “In 855, some scholars believe a woman named Joan dared to falsify her gender and was nominated as Pope John VIII. As the story goes, no one was aware of her “double identity” until her death when one of the doctors examined her body and discovered that not only she was a woman but a pregnant woman! Scandal was in the air, so to prevent any kind of misleadings the cardinals came up with a very simple method to make sure that pope is a man. After the election the new pontiff needed to proof that he had…we’ll say, the proper equipment to be a pope. The newly elected Pope has to sit on the chair, while one of the cardinals would examine the situation by placing his head under the chair. As the story goes, if everything was ok the cardinal would say “He has two balls, and they are well hung” bringing a cheerful smile on other cardinals’ faces.” 

I doubt that they still use that chair, what with inexpensive rapid DNA testing available.

The Italian bishops were surprised that the Bishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, was not elected, and much to their embarrassment they prematurely released a report that he had been. I, too, was very disappointed that Angelo Scola did not get elected because we all could have called him Pope Scola. … don’t get it?  Re-read that last sentence out loud.

Vol. 78 November 15, 2012 The TWO Oldest Professions

November 16, 2012

A recent visit to Greek/Roman ruins ringing the Eastern Mediterranean Sea reminded me again about how much has changed, and how nothing has changed.

Every guide in Pompei takes their group to see the brothel. On its walls are the best preserved and most colorfully restored frescoes in this Roman town buried under 30 feet of Mt. Vesuvius’s volcano ash in 79 AD. Since most Pompei residents, and certainly the visiting sailors and merchants, could not read nor write, the services offered were depicted by pictures. The picture of each sexual position was marked with its relative price; one, two, or three hash marks. The route to the brothel in this city of crisscrossing streets was clearly marked by a street stone carved with  a graphic phallus and scrotum and a left-pointing arrow showing the way.

At Ephesus, a Roman city in Turkey that rivaled the size of Rome in 100 AD, there are no restored brothel walls. Its most striking restoration is the facade of the Celsus Library, one of the largest if not the largest library of its era. Every guide there gleefully points out the secret tunnel that led from the library to the brothel.  A stone block carved with a single serpent entwined around a winged staff, the sign of a physician(1), rests on the approach to the Celsus Library facade. (That’s a traveling bag from the Duffy Health Center for the Homeless perched on top of the stone.)

In both Pompei and Ephesus one of the temples was used as the gathering place for ill people to be ministered to by special priests. The “admitting process” to these “hospitals” started with an examination of the patient to determine how near death he or she might be. The priests were quite protective of their hospital’s reputation and did not want it to be known as “the place to go to die.” If a patient was considered near death or even with a questionable chance for cure, the patient was instructed to go back home, pray to the Gods for relief, and return in a few days.

This triage process is strikingly similar to the one described to us by the guide at the temple of Amenhotep, Egypt, which we visited on a previous trip. Hippocrates (the “father of medicine”) and later Galen studied at the temple of Amenhotep, and acknowledged the contribution of ancient Egyptian medicine to Greek medicine. The earliest known surgery was performed in Egypt around 2750 BC. The wall hieroglyphics there documented all kinds of easily recognized forceps, cutting tools, clamps, and other surgical instruments.The floor carvings and pictographs in this temple were less formal, but still understandable, and are thought to be the work of “patients” waiting in the gallery to be admitted or to be sent home after “triage” by their priests.

So, generals still fall because of beautiful women, hospitals still worry about their mortality rates, and “how best to die” is still a public issue for discussion, BUT now-a-days the hieroglyphics are electronic (2).

1. The caduceus with TWO serpents entwined around a winged staff, now considered the physicians’ sign,  was actually the sign for merchants, commerce, and the god Mercury.
2. The Telegraph (UK) reported that the FBI had 20,000 – 30,000 pages of communication, mostly emails, between General Allen and Ms. Kelly.

Vol. 62 March 1, 2012 Technological Diseases, or NOT

March 1, 2012

“Diagnosis: bicycle face
A Brief History of Technological Diseases That Weren’t
A quick tour through these long-vanished ailments is a gentle reminder that whatever problems technology causes, sometimes a disease says as much about our anxieties as it does about our gadgets.”
– Latif Nasser, Boston Globe Ideas, Feb 12, 2012


. For example: bicycle face, “an expression either arduous, irritable, or at best stony”  in the 1890s. Today we might call it  “joggers face” (have you ever seen one with a smile on their face?). No less an authority than Scientific American magazine warned against elevator sickness in 1892 caused by “the movement of internal organs during the sudden stopping of the elevator.”  In 1906 bicycle face seems to have been displaced by automania, “dreams of speed,  intolerance of police officers, and a facial expression verging on the satanical” according to the JAMA.  In the 1950s JAMA  began cautioning people, particularly teenagers, about television neck caused by craning one’s neck to see those small screens “which could lead to  permanent inflexibility”.   Television legs, “lack of flexibility below the waist”, became a separate spin-off diagnosis. A more recent technological non-disease is “phantom ring” or “ringxiety” as described by the NY Times in 2006. This condition develops in the person who is so highly conditioned to hear their cell phone ring that they pick it up when it does not ring. What current diagnoses might we look back at as non-diseases with the bemused wisdom brought on by the passage of time?

A major study of nearly 360,000 cellphone users in Denmark found no increased risk of brain tumors with long-term use. The investigators noted that the design of the study focused on cellphone subscriptions rather than actual use, so it is unlikely to settle the debate about cellphone safety. A small to moderate increase in risk of cancer among heavy users of cellphones for 10 to 15 years or longer still “cannot be ruled out,” the investigators wrote. (1) “Many stones have been lifted, but little has been found. While there is little reason to expect anything to be found beneath the next stone, some uncertainty remains.”
In 2006 World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that it believed cell phones were a “possible” carcinogen, putting them in the same category as diesel fumes, dry cleaning fluid, talcum powder, and coffee. “They are making a mistake.”

“Recently installed at the New Look store in London’s Westfield Stratford mall, Bodymetrics’ scanning booth looks like a change room, but instead of mirrors inside you’ll find a set of eight PrimeSense 3D laser sensors. As the lasers scan up and down your body they make a hundred different measurements which are then processed by the company’s body shape analytics to provide recommendations on what style and size of jeans will fit you the best. The scanning booth is said to be “a fraction of the cost of previous body scanners”.
“I don’t think I’d mind the TSA’s own full body scanners if they let me know I was safe to fly and would look great in a size 32.”
So, airport body scanners, NO! Retail clothing store scanners, OK!
And wouldn’t you know it, but “there is an App for that”!  Don’t waste your time linking to it because the reviews call it ridiculously stupid by merely replacing cell phone pictures you take of friends with stock pictures of other unclothed people, plus I couldn’t run a demo of it in iTunes.

A 2009 expert panel review (2), described as being the most comprehensive to date, delved into the possible adverse health effects of those living close to wind turbines. Their report findings concluded that wind turbines do not directly make people ill. The academic and medical experts who conducted the study stated that they reached their conclusions independent of their sponsors.  The study did allow that some people could experience stress or irritation caused by the swishing sounds wind turbines produce. “A small minority of those exposed report annoyance and stress associated with noise perception… [however] annoyance is not a disease.” The study group pointed out that “similar irritations are produced by local and highway vehicles, as well as from industrial operations and aircraft.”
“You can’t control the amount of cars going by and wind turbine noise is generally quieter than highway noise”.
“The power of suggestion, as conveyed by news media coverage of perceived ‘wind-turbine sickness’, might have triggered ‘anticipatory fear’ in those close to turbine installations”. (3)

Most recently, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection found that “there is no evidence for a set of health effects…that could be characterized as ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.” The supposed health impacts pushed by wind opponents include mental health problems, heart disease and vertigo. The Department’s Panel was comprised of independent experts in a range of fields associated with the possible health impact of exposure to wind turbines. They explored scientific literature, reports, popular media and public comments and concluded that there was no scientific basis for claims about Wind Turbine Syndrome.
“Wind turbines consist of three main parts: a fan, a gearbox and a generator. Our cars have fans, gearboxes and generators and we are much closer to those, much more often, than we are to wind turbines. How many of us believe that our cars are making us ill?”

It is plausible in 2007 to state that there is no association between use of diagnostic ultrasound during pregnancy and childhood cancer, reduced birth weight, impaired childhood growth, or neurologic development in childhood. There is, at present, one poorly understood statistically significant association between B-mode ultrasound during pregnancy and non–right-handedness among male subjects.  Some experts do not believe that this statistical association can be a true effect of ultrasound exposure during pregnancy. We pediatricians-in-training during the 60s and 70s wondered about the safety of the increasing use of ultrasound on newborns, both in utero and in the neonatal ICU after delivery. WE aren’t concerned anymore. Perhaps some people may be concerned about producing too many left-handed (same as non-right-handeness?) boys.

1) Frei P, Poulsen AH, Johansen C, et al. Use of mobile phones and risk of brain tumours: update of Danish cohort study. British Medical Journal 2011
2) W. David Colby, Robert Dobie, Geoff Leventhall, David M. Lipscomb, Robert J. McCunney, Michael T. Seilo, Bo Søndergaard. “Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review”, Canadian Wind Energy Association, December 2009.
3)  Hamilton, Tyler (15 December 2009). “Wind gets clean bill of health”Toronto Star (Toronto): pp. B1–B2

Vol. 56 December 1, 2011 Two Holiday Myths: 1 True, 1 False

December 1, 2011

-Acts 20:35

-Everyone in my family

Is it better to give than receive?   Yes, according to moral teaching.

Does it make us FEEL better? Yes, according to the fMRI and biochemical laboratory.

A study of 19 subjects playing a computer game for money while being monitored by a functional MRI device (fMRI) that detects which parts of the brain are activated by specific situations had certain brain areas “light up” with activity when they won money. Those same areas of the brain lit up when they donated part of that game money to charity. Those brain areas are associated with good feelings like love, sex, and accomplishment, and  causes release of the chemical Dopamine, the “messenger of happiness and reward”. A particularly  large donation during this fMRI monitored game activated the area of the brain that releases Oxytocin, an essential chemical of male-female attraction, also called the “the cuddle or love hormone”. (1,2)

” …the mesolimbic reward system is engaged by donations in the same way as when monetary rewards are obtained. Furthermore, medial orbitofrontal–subgenual and lateral orbitofrontal areas, which also play key roles in more primitive mechanisms of social attachment and aversion, specifically mediate decisions to donate or to oppose societal causes. Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.” (3)
(This will NOT be on your final exam.)

In an even more shocking fMRI study, 20 healthy heterosexual couples showed that women had their reward areas of the brain light up when they were able to hold the hand of their boy friends while he was receiving painful electric shocks.  Presumably the woman was not happy to have her boy friend shocked, but she felt better when she could give him support by holding his hand. If they weren’t holding hands these reward-related brain areas did not light up. (4)

So giving is better than receiving, and can make you FEEL better .

Does eating turkey make you sleepy? No more than eating chicken, pork chops, lamb chops, or salmon.

This myth has developed around Thanksgiving dinner because most of us nap after dinner, and there is tryptophan in turkey. But many other foods have more tryptophan per portion than turkey, and they are not accused of making us drowsy. If we say the amount of tryptophan in 1 gram of turkey meat is a value of 24, egg white is a 100 and soybeans and pumpkins seeds are a 59.  I searched in vain to find out if the white meat and the dark meat differed in tryptophan levels. We, of course, don’t eat as much of those other things as we do of turkey on Thanksgiving day. We also eat lots of carbohydrates, and that is the real enabler of our drowsiness.

Tryptophan is metabolized by us into serotonin which is a building block of melatonin, the “sleep promoter”. The “sleep promoter” effect is, of course, on the brain, and tryptophan has a harder time than other amino acids in getting from the blood into the brain. Think of it as a bunch of shoppers on Black Friday trying to get through a store’s front door all at the same time. Tryptophan loses that competition with the amino acid crowd. Carbohydrates enhance insulin production and insulin causes amino acids other than tryptophan to leave the blood and go quickly into muscles. This makes the amino acid crowd at the blood/brain barrier door much smaller and more of the tryptophan successfully gets through. So, turkey meat has some tryptophan, but it is the wine, mashed potatoes, rolls, and that piece of pie at the end that lets it do its work in the brain.

If you doubt this, go ahead and have salmon at your next Thanksgiving dinner and see what happens.

1. Gramza, Joyce. “Tis Bet­ter to Give than Receive.” Sci­en­Cen­tral Video. 10/17/2006 NINDS and NIH. 2/20/2007
2. Ratey, John J. A User’s Guide to the Brain. New York: Vin­tage Books, Copy­right 1994
3. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences October 17, 2006 , Jorge Moll et al.
4. Tristen K. Inagaki, Naomi I. Eisenberger. Neural Correlates of Giving Support to a Loved One. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2011

Vol. 55 November 15, 2011 Why is Blue the Color of Child Abuse?

November 15, 2011

The Penn State fans in the stands for the Nebraska football last weekend shed their traditional “all white” dress and showed up in “all blue”. The color guard carried large blue flags. Players tied on blue ribbons. Was this in protest of the firing of the coaches, one of whom was recently arrested for alleged sexual abuse of young boys years ago, or was it in support of the most successful coaching staff in collegiate football, or was it in support of the victims?

According to Wikipedia: A Blue Ribbon Campaign against child abuse originated in the spring of 1989 when Bonnie Finney of Virginia tied a blue ribbon to her car antenna, as tribute to her three-year old grandson, Michael Bubba Dickinson, who died at the hands of his abusive father. The blue color of the ribbon symbolizes the color of bruises. Blue became the symbol of awareness against child abuse.

Blue is also the representative color of 16 other awareness campaigns, including 10 medical conditions from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (symptoms can mimic depression) to Osteogenesis Imperfecta (eyeballs can have a bluish tint).

Blue, according to many surveys, is the favorite color of a majority of Western hemisphere people. We love blue skies. First prize is always a blue ribbon. There are 18 names of blue in English. We used to affectionately refer to IBM as “Big Blue”.  “One of blue’s essential characteristics in western color symbolism is it doesn’t  make waves, but is calm, pacified, distant, almost neutral.” (1)

Yet, we fear the “dreaded blue screen”, and how did blue get associated with depression and Mondays?

In the days of deep water sailing ships if a Captain or another officer was lost at sea during a voyage the ship would fly blue flags and paint a blue band along the entire hull when arriving in her home port. The 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms by John Russell Bartlett associated blue with “gloomy and severe” especially as applied to Presbyterians! Depressed people actually associate their mood with the color gray.

Blue was not used in any paintings before the 12th century (probably due to the expense and scarcity of the dye) when “out of the blue” the Virgin Mary began to appear in blue clothing, and blue became her color. In the 13th century there were no “blue knights”. Red knights were “evil”; black knights were “important”, not bad; green knights were “youthful and insolent”; and a white knight, of course, was the “good guy”, often the “older protector”. Blue knights didn’t appear in paintings until the 14th century and represented “courageous, faithful, loyal, but secondary figures.”

In 1853 Levi Strauss, stuck with a surplus of canvas meant for tents for the gold rush boys in San Francisco, started making trousers out of canvas imported from Genoa (jeans = canvas from Genoa)) and dyed them with indigo. In 1865 he replaced the stiff canvas with a cotton twill and continued to dye them, so “blue jeans” were created. (1)

Reports of abuse and neglect of children increased 134% from 1980 to 1993 from about 10 in 1000 children to 23 in 1000. 91% of the abuse or neglect was by a parent, a relative,  or a domestic partner of a parent. Since 1993 child abuse and neglect reports have DECREASED about 26%. The largest percentage decrease has been in sexual abuse. This “improvement” may be a true decrease in incidence that could probably reflect the increasing awareness of the problem brought about by blue ribbon campaigns, educational, legislative, and judicial efforts, OR just  decrease in reporting due to fear of the consequences of public stigma and intense media attention on the victims.

If  Dr. David Ludwig from Children’s Hospital is effective in his recent efforts the incidence of child abuse and neglect is about to take a major tick up. He is one of the nation’s leading crusaders against childhood obesity and has suggested that “placement of the severely obese child under protective custody” be considered as an alternative to bariatric surgery. As a research endocrinologist he is alarmed by the rising incidence of childhood obesity and feels it is “a fight that we can not afford to lose”.  (2) Removal of a child to a foster home by the state is authorized by child abuse and neglect laws so any such children would be counted as “abused or neglected”.

The problem, of course, is that a significant part of obesity is biological, if not genetic. Dieting in one study caused an increase in hormones increasing appetite and a decrease in hormones promoting satiety and energy expenditure. (3) Therefore, people who are overweight may be constantly in a hormonal environment that makes them hungry and burn less energy during exercise. (4) Hormones are regulated in part by genes.

Who knows, in the near future we may be talking about a new and different kind of “blue genes.”(5)

Finally, as a gesture toward balance and gender neutrality, I must note with sympathy that Evelyn Lauder, past CEO of Estee Lauder Cosmetics, died this past week at home from ovarian cancer at age 75. In 1992 she and Alexandra Penny, editor of Self Magazine, created the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness.


1. Blue: The History of a Color, Michael Pastourneau, Princeton University Press, 2001
2. Boston Globe Magazine, October 30, 2011, p.21
3. N Engl J Med 2011 Oct 27; 365:1597, Sumithran, P et al.
4. Journal Watch Pediatrics and Adolescents, Nov. 15, 2011, vol.33, 22; p.180, Anthony Komaroff
5.”Blue Genes”, Nature Neuroscience 8, 701-705, 2005, Stephan Hamann: “Healthy carriers of a gene variant associated with depression have different brains.”

Vol.45 May 15, 2011 Surprising Medical Fun Facts

May 15, 2011

“Scientists constantly change their minds.
Science is not about immutable laws but provisional
explanationsthat get revised when a better one comes along.
Scientists’ readiness to change their beliefs to align with data
is a source of great strength, not weakness.”
– Daniel Willingham, Prof. of Psychology, Univ. of Virginia
in Scientific American May 2011

Does cranberry juice prevent bladder infections?
 according to a study of 155 healthy college women in Michigan (the state that produces the most cranberries) who drank two glasses a day of cranberry juice for 6 months after having a bladder infection. The cranberry juice swillers had a recurrence rate of 19% which was lower than the expected recurrence rate of 30%, BUT the control group that drank two glasses a day of a cranberry-like placebo also had a lower than expected recurrence rate at 15%. (1) The study was done to find out if proanthocyanidin, the suspected preventative ingredient in cranberry juice, really worked. The problem is that “tiny little berry that continues to defy science” contains over 200 active substances and several organic acids.Proanthocyanide apparently is not THE one.

Walk fast and carry a big stick .
A study of 35,000 community-dwelling adults with a mean age of 74 showed that life expectancy increased about 12% for each 4 inches per second faster one could walk. A threshold for “higher risk of early mortality” is suggested as “being unable to walk 20 feet in 10 seconds”. (2) In a separate study of 2900 community-dwelling Australian men, 40% of those who were 70-74 years old  reported being sexually active.  43% of those reported having sex less than desired. (3)

The umpires refused to be tested.
Dr. Daniel Laby, a Harvard Professor of Ophthalmology and eye doctor to the Red Sox, reports that the average baseball player’s vision is 20-12. That means they can see at 20 feet what we can’t see until its 12 feet away. The normal standard is 20-20, of course, and the very best a human eye can see is 20-8. He states that seeing the seams on the moving ball is one of the key factors in successful hitting. Dr. Laby offered Major League Baseball the same service for the umpires.  MLB did not respond. (4)

Are they sleeping on the job?
31% of employed Americans take a nap every day, but 39% of UNemployed Americans do too. (5)

Is drinking during pregnancy bad for the baby?
Children born to light drinkers (1-2 drinks a week) were less likely than children born to abstainers to have behavioral problems at 5 years of age and more likely to have higher vocabulary and picture similarity scores. (6)

What about drinking if you are diabetic?
According to “Healthy Eating for Type 2 Diabetes” published by Harvard Medical School, drinking alcohol reduces the risk of diabetes by up to 43%.  It also states that drinking coffee reduces the risk of diabetes by 42%. It does NOT endorse the newly popular Red Bull and vodka cocktails. (7) It does go on to say that losing 10% of your weight is really the best way to reduce your risk of diabetes.

Fishing is more dangerous than being a fireman or policeman.
The U.S. Department of Labor 2009 statistics of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time workers showed a rate of 200 for “fishers and related fishing workers” and a rate of 13.1 for police and 4.4 for firemen. Non-fatal injuries or illnesses per 10,000 civilian workers that resulted in lost days of work averaged about 117. The police rate of 676 and the firemen’s rate of 512 were soundly topped by the bus driver’s rate of 892. (8)

What’s the cure for the common cold?
Echinacea ain’t it. (9)  Zinc might be. Use of zinc lozenges within the first 24 hours of symptoms reduced the duration of cold symptoms from 7 to 4 days and reduced coughing from 5 to 2 days. (10) BUT, different zinc remedies contain different dosages and different forms of zinc, and too much zinc by nasal inhaler can blunt your taste sense. 200 mg or more of Vitamin C daily will reduce cold symptoms in smokers or seniors, but it won’t prevent colds. (11)

My two favorite cold cures are:
The British cure – Take a cold shower, immediately go outside while still wet, and run around the house without any clothes on. You will probably get pneumonia and “any damn fool doctor can cure pneumonia.”
The Scottish cure – You need a four poster bed, a hat, and a bottle of scotch. Put the hat on the Southeast  corner post of the bed, sit on the bed, and sip scotch until you see two hats. Even if you are not cured, you won’t care.

Another cause of autism?
Researchers in California studied more than 300 preschool children with autism and found that their mothers were much more likely to live near a freeway, and just freeways not other major roads, when pregnant than 260 preschool children without autism. (12) The California real estate market has been hit hard enough without implicating every house within 300 meters of a freeway.

You’re not still worried about bad effects from H1N1 flu shots are you?
A study of nearly 90 MILLION doses of H1N1 vaccine given in China in 2009-2010 were associated with 11 cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS, ascending nerve paralysis). That is a rate of 0.1 per million doses which is lower than the normally occurring or “background rate” in China. (13)

Kids getting dirty may reduce later asthma and eczema.
Two studies in Europe showed that kids living on farms developed less asthma and had less eczema than kids living in a city. The kids on the farms were exposed to more bacteria and fungus and to many more types of those two “germs” than the city kids, and that exposure could explain the difference in the asthma rates. (14)

Unintended consequences of the “hot stuff”.
In a study of a 2008 epidemic of food-borne illnesses involving 1500 people in 14 states, 30 out of 35 restaurants (86%) of the associated restaurants were Mexican restaurants. Common ingredients included jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and raw tomatoes. Believe it or not, the CDC researchers were able to trace back the peppers through Texas distributors  to just two farms in Mexico. (15)

Some cars are greener than people.
Researchers in physiology at the University of Milan, Italy found that four men jogging produced MORE carbon dioxide emissions than a hybrid car driving them the same distance. (16)

1. Clin Infect Dis 2011 Jan 1; 52:23
2.JAMA 2011  Jan 5;305:50
3. Jour Watch Gen Med vol. 31 Feb. 1, 2011 p. 26
4. Boston Globe Jan. 22, 2010
5.Harpers Index September 2009 p. 13
6. J Epidemiol Community Health 2010 Oct 5
7. AARP Bulletin Nov. 2009 p.14
8. http://www.marketwatch.com, Ruth Mantell, Feb 2011
9. Ann Intern Med 2010 Dec 21;153:769
10. Jour Inf Dis March 2008, Meenu Singh, MD
11. Consumer Reports on Health March 2011 p.4
12. Environ Health Perspect 2010 Dec 13
13. NEJM 364;7 Feb 17, 2011
14. NEJM 364;8 Feb 24, 2011
15. NEJM 364;10 Mar. 10,2011
16. Scientific American May 2011 p.18

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