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


Vol. 18 April 1, 2010 APRIL FOOL’S ISSUE

April 1, 2010

APRIL FOOLS DAY (according to one theory that ignores the 13th century literature references to “april fools”) was created around 1582 when the Gregorian calendar moved the first day of the New Year from April 1 to January 1. Those who persisted in calling April 1 “New Year’s Day” were often sent phony invitations to  New Year’s parties. Other pranks to fool people, usually performed in the morning, were soon added to the phony party invitations. Someone who pulled a prank after noontime on that day was also called a “fool”.


The NH discovered an error in its formula for calculating Body Mass Index  (BMI), a widely used standard of obesity which is posted on their website. The calculation error results in a grossly overstated BMI which negates decades of provocative research on obesity. The White House spokesperson for Michelle Obama declined comment by saying, “We have other more important health care issues on the front burner right now”. The NIH regrets any inconvenience that this may have caused, reassures researchers that study grant funds will not be reclaimed,  and states, “Hey, we can’t be right about everything.”

In a related study, and a timely one at that, two researchers studied 52 paintings of the Last Supper and concluded that the size of the main course in the paintings had increased by nearly 70% over the centuries. Plate size increased by 66% and bread size by 23%. The authors of this study published in the International Journal of Obesity just in time for Easter speculate that the increasing sizes reflect the increasing abundance and affordability of food over the years. (Apparently there is nothing new about “Super Size Me”.) (1)

The Government Accounting Office (GAO), the federal government’s premier watchdog agency, reports that the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic efforts created more of an economic stimulus than the bank bailouts. The amount of money pumped into media outlets by the educational efforts was exceeded only by the amount paid to pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing and distribution of the vaccines, now readily available in excess supply due to underuse. More importantly, much of the trickle down economic benefits occurred in the offices of pediatricians, internists, and family physicians; our lowest income bracket health care providers. When asked by the GAO for comments, the CDC replied, “Hey, we can’t be right about everything.”

Army recruits with a history of prolonged play on video games have better success records as tank commanders and drone pilots than the valedictorians from the same schools. The study speculates that the better hand-eye coordination and enhanced perception of spatial relationships of the video game players accounts for the large discrepancy in skills between the two groups of students. The study authors speculate that these findings could be generalized to include endoscopic, laparoscopic, angioplastic, and other “minimally invasive”  procedures. “Perhaps it is time we altered our application standards for medical school and post-graduate clinical training.”

Organic vegetables are suspected of  lowering the IQ in young children by at least 10 points. This result of a study of children in Western Massachusetts, Southern California, Oregon, and other tree-hugging communities surprised the authors who had received funds for the study from the National Association of Vegetable Investors (NAVI). A parallel study in rabbits revealed that carotene (the color in yellow and green vegetables) has a strong affinity for nerve synapse proteins in the brain. The carotene  binds tightly with the nerve protein, slowing the response time, EXCEPT in the occipital lobe which is responsible for vision. (Your grandmother was right after all. Eating carrots can help your eyesight.)

This small study revealed no change in vision between children who removed their galoshes while in the movie theater and those who did not. The study authors concluded that “Mothers and grandmothers can’t be right all the time, either”, but admitted that the study result was weakened by its small size since they had trouble finding enough kids who still went to a movie theater to watch movies.

“You just have to drink enough of them” say the study’s authors.

Lobbyists for bankers, business groups, hedge funds, insurance firms, Wall Street brokers, and others in the  financial sector are poised to reclaim their historical position as the number one group in expenditures to influence Washington policy now that the health care bill has been passed. The Committee for Truth in Politics, its membership and financing still a secret, has already spent $5 million in advertising opposing proposed financial reforms. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks spending by lobbyists, speculates that the financial sector lobbyists want to get back to its spending level of the past decade of $3.9 Billion. (2)

In the midst of the scientific controversy about whether or not the low-level radio frequency (RF) coming from cell phones can cause brain tumors, one study has unexpectedly shown an increase in the birth rate in those women using the cell phone more than an hour a day. The mechanism of enhanced fertility is not known. “We compared the actual time spent on voice calls, texting, twittering, and Facebook and found no fertility differences among them, so we don’t think it is associated with just an increase in social intercourse. Likewise, we found no differences between heavy daytime users and heavy nighttime users.” Dr. Siegal Sadetski, a researcher at Israel’s Gertner Institute, stated, “Scientifically speaking, we don’t have proof yet, but as a public health concern, I’m saying we definitely should adopt precautions.” (3)


1. Believe or not, this fun fact is actually true. Wansink and Wansink from Cornell and VWI are the authors. Look it up!
2. Actually some of these names and amounts are true. Check out Center for Responsive Politics website.
3. This quote is true too, but is wildly out of context. 

Vol. 7 October 15, 2009 – Flu Vaccine Adjuvants

October 14, 2009

the Egyptian government
After decreeing that all pigs in Egypt should be slaughtered in the mistaken belief that it would prevent the spread of swine flu, the garbage that used to be collected and fed to pigs has piled up window high on the streets of Cairo.
May be the  “Biggest Unintended Consequence of the Year”

Number of adjuvants in this year’s seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines: 0

  • An adjuvant is a piece of protein or other molecular tidbit that enhances your immune  response by “alerting” certain of your immune cells that a “foreign body” (antigen) is around, so that they quickly start producing antibodies to it. The antibodies provide your immunity to the disease targeted by a vaccine. (1)

Year that scientists (a orthopedic surgeon, no less, was one of the first! ) began to have evidence that bacterial extracts enhanced the body’s immune response: 1881

Year that alum and oil/water mixes were added as adjuvants to vaccines to increase their effectiveness:  1930

Year that interest in adjuvants faded because of local redness and inflammation at injection sites:  1940’s

Year that appearance of new viruses that were difficult to immunize against renewed the interest in vaccine adjuvants: 1980’s

Year that the mechanism of how adjuvants alert the immunity-producing cells was understood: 1997

  • The effective size of the bits of protein that alert the immunity-producing cells have been made smaller and smaller which greatly reduces local inflammatory reactions while the vaccines’ effectiveness is greatly boosted.

Amount of  reduction of “foreign body” (antigen) in a flu vaccine made possible by using an adjuvant: 2/3

Number of vaccines against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Flu using adjuvants approved and in use in Europe: 6

Number of months that seasonal flu vaccine manufacturing was started before H1N1 composition was known, resulting in two separate vaccines:  3

  • If H1N1 flu composition had been unraveled three months earlier we would have had a single “2009 flu vaccine” containing all flu strains rather than two separate vaccines, and perhaps less controversy about and an easier time accepting it.

Number of adjuvants in this year’s seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines: 0

  • Can you imagine the hoopla if a “novel vaccine”,  i.e. one with adjuvants to increase its effectiveness, was being recommended against the “novel virus”,i.e. the swine flu which turns out to be not so novel at all? The conspiracy theory people would be having even a bigger field day than they are enjoying right now!

Number of children’s deaths due to seasonal flu in U.S. since September 2008: 68  (2)

Number of children’s deaths due to H1N1 flu in U.S. since April 2009 : 76

Per cent of parents who plan to have their children vaccinated against H1N1 flu:  40 (3)

Number of vaccines and number of proteins ( usually perceived by the body’s immune system as “foreign”) in non-flu vaccines in 1980:  7 vaccines / about 3,041 proteins

Numbers of same in non-flu vaccines in 2000:  11 vaccines / 126 proteins.

  • The difference between 1980 and 2000 is due in part to advances in the  genetic manufacturing of vaccines.

Total amount of claims against vaccine makers for alleged injury after 1976 flu vaccine inoculations: $100 million   (costs were assumed by the federal government)

Number of companies making vaccines of all kinds in 1970:  25

Number of companies making vaccines in 2004:  5  (4)

Year that the SAFETY Act granting immunity from liability to companies making antibioterror vaccines was passed:  2002


1. Scientific American, October 2009, Boosting Vaccine Power, Garcon and Goldman
2. CDC report October 7,2009
3. University of Michigan national poll
4. Scientific American, October 2009, Too Little Too Late, Perspectives

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