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. 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. 31 October 15, 2010 Medical Astrology

October 15, 2010

The gravitational influence of the obstetrician is
much greater [on the baby]
than the gravitational influence of Mars.

– Carl Sagan, On the Pseudoscience of Astrology, 2008

The birth of my sixth grandchild on October 10, 2010 ( time of birth was 10:18 so he just missed a perfect “pentafecta”, 10:10-10/10/10) caused me to notice all the hoopla about 10/10/10 and to do a bit of web surfing among astrology and numerology sites. I was disappointed that I didn’t find anything too exciting or illuminating. One of the more popular sites (according to Google) noted that one of three things could happen on 10/10/10:  1) something really good, 2) nothing, or 3) something really bad, and that #2 was the most likely.

I did discover, believe it or not, a site devoted to Medical Astrology or “Iatromathematics” that, among other things, postulated that Carl Sagan’s death in 1996 was predicted by the alignment of the planets in 1994.

Number of E-cigarette distributors recently cited by the FDA for false health claims and for delivering liquid pharmaceuticals not yet approved in the U.S.: 5  (1)

Types of liquid drugs delivered by E-cigarettes: erectile dysfunction and weight loss

  • I guess that is the kind of cigarette you should light up BEFORE having sex.

Whatever happened to the swine flu epidemic and that H1N1 vaccine we heard so much about? (2)

  • Among 483,276 recipients of the vaccine in one study there were NO cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and NO deaths.
  • Another study showed that receiving the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine increased the chance of getting GBS by 0.7/100,000 person-years which is tiny and IDENTICAL to the rate of the usual seasonal flu vaccine.
  • Number of 10 patients with swine flu admitted to a Michigan ICU for ventilator support who were obese: 9 (3)
  • Number of the same 10 who were extremely obese: 7

Funny Graphs - How bad they thought it would be How bad it was

Per cent of people in the U.S. with antibody levels high enough to protect them from getting mumps:  90%

Per cent of immune people necessary to provide “herd immunity” (the protection of unimmunized people) :  92%  (4)

Per cent increase in risk of seizures in 400,000 children within 3 days after a diptheria-tetanus immunization:  ZERO (5)

1. Pediatric News, Clinical Rounds, September 2010, p.42
2. Adriana Weinberg, MD, Report given at 2010 Pediatric Infectious Disease Conference, Pediatric News, September 2010, p.11
3. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr July 7, 2009
4. J Infect Dis 2010 Sept 1; 202:667
5. Pediatrics 2010 Aug; 126:263

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