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

November 16, 2010

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


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!

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.

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)

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)

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
.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

Vol. 16 March 1, 2010 What’s Good for Your Heart? Less Salt, Less Fat…or NOT?

March 1, 2010

Modest reductions in dietary salt could substantially reduce cardiovascular events and medical costs
and should be a public health target” (1)
– New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 18, 2010

.“The human body is very adaptable. When you drink water and ingest salt your kidneys
keep what you need and excrete the rest.” (2)
– Nathan Talbot, MD, 1969, Harvard Professor of Pediatrics,
expert  in research in life-raft survival physiology

“Whether or not salt is bad for your health is still controversial. One camp says that salt is part of eating healthy.
The other says that salt causes high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Both may be right.”
– Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky, Penguin Press, 2002

First known warning that salt could lead to high blood pressure and  a stroke: 600 AD, “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” (3)

Date that American Medical Association Newsletter cautioned that the “average American consumes two to three times the recommended amount of salt”: Dec. 24, 2007

Average salt consumption per day of American men and women in 2005-2006 respectively: 10.4 grams / 7.3 grams

  • “Eating that much salt is not a problem for people with healthy kidneys. The research supporting a reduction in salt [to reduce cardiovascular disease] is far less consistent than that supporting weight loss, smoking cessation, and exercise.” Hillel Cohen, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine (4)

Daily intake of salt recommended for healthy adults by U.S. government:  5.8 grams (a little over 2 teaspoons)

Recommended salt intake limit for adults over 40, blacks, or people with high blood pressure: 3.8 grams (about 1 1/2 teaspoon)

“Ideal” limit of daily salt intake according to the president of the American Heart Association because “everyone is at risk for heart disease”: less than 1/2 teaspoon (4)

Estimated amount of reduced annual health care costs in U.S. if salt intake was reduced by 3 grams ( about 1 teaspoon) a day: $10-24 Billion (5)

Number of big, basic assumptions that this figure is based on: 2

  1. salt reduction lowers blood pressure
  2. lower blood pressure lowers risk of stroke and heart disease

Per cent of salt in the U.S. diet that comes from added salt at the table: 20%

Per cent of salt in U.S. diet that comes from processed food: 80%

Year that Morton Salt Company added magnesium carbonate to salt to make it pour more easily: 1911

  • Who can forget that little girl under the umbrella? “When it rains it pours.”

Year that a book boosting sea salt reported that salt companies REMOVE magnesium from salt to make it flow more freely and to make money selling the magnesium: 2005 (6)

“There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is independently associated with an increased risk for heart disease… Specific nutrients used to replace saturated fats may not reduce, and may increase, risk of cardiovascular disease. More data is needed to elucidate those effects.” (7)

Number of studies/subjects/years of followup reviewed by this mega-analysis to support the above quotation: 21 studies / 347,747 subjects / 5-23 years  (7)

Number of grams of sugar and calories in a cup of LOW-FAT fruit flavored yogurt: 46 grams sugar / 233 calories

Number of same in a cup of WHOLE MILK yogurt (contains fat) with unsweetened frozen berries: 24 grams sugar / 230 calories (8)

1.Projected Effect of Dietary Salt Reductions on Future Cardiovascular Disease, NEJM 362;7, Feb. 18, 2010, 590-599
2.Personal communication from the “Chief” to us pediatric residents
3. Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky, Penguin Press, 2002
4. The Salt Shake, Kenneth Weintrub, Boston Globe, Feb. 1, 2010, G 4
5.Compelling Evidence for Public Health Action to Reduce Salt Intake, Editorial, NEJM 362;7, Feb. 18, 2010, 650-652
6.Sea Salt’s Hidden Powers, Jacques de Langre, PhD, 2005
7. Am J Clin Nutrition 91:535-546, March 2010, R. Krauss, et al.(online Jan 2010)
8. Boston Globe, Feb. 24, 2010, A. Boomer, G21

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