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Lyme’s disease is not just part of living in the woods

August 16, 2013

trilliumI was flipping through channels and saw Martha Stewart on David Letterman the other night. Dave was revealing that he had a ‘bull’s eye rash’–the stand-out characteristic of Lyme’s disease associated with exposure to ticks. Martha Stewart was completely dismissive, telling him she’d had it numerous times and it’s no big deal, just part of living in the woods. Basically, she told him she didn’t want to see his rash and to take some antibiotics and get over himself.

It is fortunate that Martha Stewart has not had any severe long-term and chronic conditions associated with having had Lyme’s disease. But many others are not as fortunate. For one, they do not display the ‘bull’s eye rash’ and the test for the condition is not very effective, so many people will not be correctly diagnosed. Many others may assume that it is no big deal after hearing Martha Stewart proclaim as much and fail to get care. She does say that antibiotics are needed, meaning that she does get care when she has the condition. So let’s not lose sight of that message. If you think you have been exposed, and if you have a bull’s eye rash most especially, see your doctor immediately and get on those antibiotics. Hopefully, you will have the same outcome as Martha and be fine after doing so.

In the meantime, become better informed than Martha appeared to be. Skim some of the highlights at this site:

Uncertainty, mammograms, and iodine–what do these things have in common?

August 10, 2013

IMG_3213As I looked at my grandson splashing about in the lake, I thought about the upcoming annual mammogram appointment. Last year, I had to go back for follow-up. That turned out to be an ultrasound and the ‘all clear’. More than ten years ago, I had a follow-up that required a needle biopsy but also worked its way to the ‘all clear’ signal. Because it had been so long ago, I wouldn’t say that I took my screening outcome for granted, but I didn’t feel uncertain about it the way that I did this year because of last year’s ‘call-back’.

I did a little research to settle my uncertainty while the days passed and I waited for my appointment. I searched for published science about what causes breast cysts. In one word, I came upon research linking iodine deficiency to breast cysts and a whole lot of other issues summarized by a physician in this Psychology Today article:

Here is an example of one of the published research studies related to iodine deficiency and breast cysts: 

I will be asking my primary care physician this week if I have iodine deficiency. In the meantime, while the technician took an additional x-ray picture at the screening, I did not get a call-back, and I did get a letter from the mammography site giving me the ‘all clear’ based on the screening.

It is interesting to ponder if this is a case of unintended consequences associated with communicating about the danger of consuming salt, which has been iodized to compensate for iodine deficiences noted in the 20th century.

Don’t forget sunblock…for you and your dogs

July 19, 2013

 caity and lucyScorching heat everywhere. Water. Water. Water. Stay hydrated. This was first reinforced for me when I was collecting my thesis data in Tucson, Arizona one summer and saw one patient after another come in with heat exhaustion.

And don’t forget the sunblock. Not just for you but for your furry family members, too. Turns out they need sunblock on their paws and sunscreen on nose, ears, anything ‘pink’–like belly. Use children’s and avoid paba in case your dog likes to lick.

What is popcorn lung and why should we care?

July 5, 2013

beth garden lizard

Who knew that the vapor from butter flavoring for popcorn would turn out to cause lung disease? The irreversible illness mostly affects workers who breathe the vapor of butter flavoring, or Diacetyl. The scientific name of the condition is bronchiolitis obliterans.

Popcorn lung disease or popcorn workers’ lung is most commonly found in employees of microwave popcorn plants. This illness is frequently misdiagnosed by physicians as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema.


One more reason to air pop your popcorn and forget spraying on the butter flavoring.

CESAR–Center for Substance Abuse Research: High school students’ use of nonprescribed prescription drugs

June 24, 3013

bicyclyingYou can sign up to receive a weekly fact sheet called CESAR FAX in your email. Go to The May 6th, 2013 issue asked 3,884 U.S. high school students why they use prescription drugs without a prescription. The number one reason given by 18% was ‘to help me relax’ followed by’16% who reported  ‘to have fun’. If you add in the 13% who said ‘to help me forget my troubles’ and the 11% who said ‘to deal with pressures and stress of school’–you have 42% using prescription drugs that were NOT prescribed to them to deal with anxiety and stress.  We truly need to find creative programs to help high school students deal with their daily lives–programs that do not include prescription drugs that were not prescribed for the students using them.

Bite your tongue–but not literally

June 17, 2013

IMG_1188[1]Ahh, the things we do to ourselves and our health. I had a dental check-up. Cleaning. Routine. Or so I thought. But then the dentist came in and said that there was a growth under my tongue that he was worried about. He showed me in the mirror. I really couldn’t see it very well. The dentist made an appointment for me to see an ear, nose, and throat surgeon right away. The surgeon said that it indeed needed to come out. So surgery was scheduled. And it came out. And it was studied. And it was pronounced a ‘ hemangioma’–explained to me as a ‘nest of entangled blood vessels bound up in tissue.’

‘Have seen a similar thing in patients who were in auto accidents where they bit their tongue really hard. Or other events where the tongue got bitten. Don’t know what caused yours.’

Yikes. I do. I had developed the habit of literally biting my tongue. I placed the tip at the back of one corner or my mouth and kept quiet during times when I knew I should keep quiet. But I didn’t want to keep quiet. Broke that habit in one moment. How many other bad habits affecting our health could we stop in an instant if we only knew what they were doing to us?

21st century work-related health outcomes–bone spurs in the neck

June 15, 2013

me and john at raystown 2013 sojourn If you’ve read my book, ‘Talking about health,’ you may remember the narrative about physical therapy as an alternative to drugs and surgery. The story relates to having bone spurs in my neck. And one of the strategies I learned in physical therapy to deal with it and the pain they cause–support the neck. Always. So elbows on the table–not rude, pain-saving. Elbows on arm rests in the car, on the plane, any and everywhere–pain-saving. Even here, as we wait to launch our kayaks. There you see it. Elbows on my hips. And where did these bone spurs come from, you might ask. Too much time leaning into the computer without a break. Yes, the 21st century technology has its own ‘factory-worker’ like syndrome. Try to avoid it with frequent breaks and moving your neck around. If it’s too late, support your neck, lift it off the painful spot and give yourself support to relieve the pain…

Why are bugs sometimes a good thing when it comes to our rivers, streams, and health?

June 12, 2013

lewistown bridges 2013 sojourn Just returning from the annual Juniata Clean Water Partnership river sojourn. This picture  was taken in Lewistown, Pennsylvania after lunch yesterday as we started to get back on the water to continue our journey. We are near Memorial Bridge with a railroad bridge beyond that. As always, the sojourn was recreational and educational. For example, in listening to the Partnership’s director talk after one of the educational sessions, I realized once more how important visual communication can be. We had been learning about the importance of having insects as a source of food for fish in the water and the sign of a water’s health being in danger when there are no insects and then no fish. Mike told me, “It is much easier to get folks enthused about water quality when you hold up a mason jar of river water that is thick and orange. It is much harder to make your case when the water appears to be relatively ‘clean’.”

Among the chemicals in river water that cannot be seen are arsenic, mercury, and benzene. Exposure to these chemicals is linked to cancer, developmental disorders and reproductive disorders. Arsenic is tasteless and odorless, and you can’t see it. Arsenic comes from natural rock formations into the river water but also comes from mining, smelting, and other human activities.  Mercury is found in many electronic devices and is part of many industrial activities. Mercury is often released into the air and falls to the rivers in rain. For a comprehensive but nontechnical summary about benzene, this paper from the CDC is useful:


Soy products and nutrition and cancer: Conflicting messages

June 6, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my granddaughters is allergic to cow’s milk. I saw effects of such allergies decades ago when a nephew was born with severe allergies to cow’s milk and used goat’s milk. My granddaughter used goat’s milk for awhile but seemed to develop an allergic reaction to it as well. Not as severe as cow’s milk but not waiting around to make that happen…

What about soy milk, my son asked. I have read some of the research and debate surrounding soy and phytoestrogens and cancer. But I never read anything specifically about infants. So I searched and read a number of pieces written. I want to recommend this one written by a pediatrician:

In a nutshell, the author notes various deficiencies in soy milk that need to be address, such as its lack of B12, and the importance of buying whole soy milk to obtain the fats necessary for brain development, and the importance of having soy milk that is fortified with vitamins A & D, as well as calcium.

The pediatrician does not address the phytoestrogen controversy directly but observes that there is no research linking adverse outcomes to children.

Another alternative is coconut milk. While I could not find any research or pediatrician discussing this as an alternative, I did find a site with a pretty complete discussion by moms, including moms who used coconut milk for multiple kids who are into adolescence now and still drink it. Coconut milk has they say a lot of good fats in it but lacks calcium and protein.

My son asked specifically about Asian diets rich in soy and the health benefits. I have worked closely with Asian graduate students over the past two decades and have come to understand that how they consume soy is quite different from what we think of. Our grocery stores offer tofu and soy milk as mainstays in soy products. Soy in Asian diets takes on different forms and is often fermented in miso, tempeh and natto. Soy milk and tofu are highly-processed soy products. So it appears that one part of the conflicting messages relates to the form that soy takes. More processed forms, as with so many food products, do not offer the same health benefits as less processed.



HPV and throat cancer message from Michael Douglas

June 5, 2013

trillium                                                                                                                                                                                                      Michael Douglas has been in the headlines because he talked about the connection between throat cancer and the human papillomavirus–HPV. There is a rather complete discussion of the issue here:

As with Angelina Jolie and BRCA mutations and breast cancer, Michael Douglas’ celebrity gives him a platform to increase public awareness about cancer causes. I appreciate his willingness to discuss it and to get a conversation going about an increase in throat cancers, particularly for men, related to the HPV.

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