Tag Archives: Health

New guidelines suggest fewer blood pressure meds – and the fight is on

A multidisciplinary panel of medical experts agreed recently to raise the blood pressure limits for people over 60 and people with kidney disease. Instead of 140/90 the new top limit is 150/90 for people over 60.  For people with diabetes or kidney disease it’s changed from 130/80 to 140/90. The result is your doctor has more leeway for diagnosing you as an individual.

Yes, it says raise the limit. Shocking, eh? The trend, as seen so clearly with the cholesterol meds, has been to keep lowering the “desired” limit – and thus end up forcing more and more people to take medications. Wonder what happened here?

English: A jar for keeping medical leeches, on...
English: A jar for keeping medical leeches, on display in Bedford Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, hey, the fight is not over. Five of the panel’s 20 experts dissented. That is, they disagreed with the majority, just as happens with our Supreme Court. Only the thing is, when judges dissent, the majority decision becomes law anyway. That doesn’t happen in medicine.

Rather than the majority ruling settling the issue in the medical world, the opinions of the minority nay-sayers become the news story instead. Witness the article in the March, 2014 issue of the AARP Bulletin. It focuses on the dire warnings of the dissenters who claim that changing the guidelines will nullify the advances that have occurred in lowering risks.

The result is that patients have little clarity about where they really stand. Which is why it is so very important to find a doctor you respect, who sees you as an individual human being and who respects you for your own “medical mind.”  (see my other posts on using your medical mind).

Just remember. At one time doctors were certain that applying leeches to the patient’s skin was a cure for sickness. And – unlike the occasional pharmaceutical purveyor – the leeches weren’t offering any incentives for the doctors to use them.

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Nanoparticles can damage plant DNA

We eat radishes. "Radish Roll" (Photo credit: ulterior epicure)

It’s not good news, but it’s also not unexpected. Recent experiments with adding engineered nanoparticles to plants’ diets determined that the plants started gradually shriveling up and dying.

Specifically, the plants being experimented with were radishes and two ryegrass ground covers that grazing animals commonly eat.  Researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) wanted to learn:

…whether nanosizing cupric oxide [a reactive chemical that removes electrons from other compounds] made the generation and accumulation of DNA lesions more or less likely in plants. If the former, the researchers also wanted to find out if nanosizing had any substantial effects on plant growth and health.

They found out. The radishes absorbed twice as much cupric oxide and developed twice as many DNA lesions when the mineral came in smaller nanoparticles versus those bigger than 100 nanometers. And the results on the radish seedlings were definitively destructive.

Although the DNA of the two ryegrasses was not as dramatically affected, in all three plant species, growth of both roots and shoots was significantly stunted. Next up for these researchers will be similar testing with “titanium dioxide nanoparticles — such as those used in many sunscreens — on rice plants.”

This report’s conclusions stick strictly to the science and don’t project anything about how the effects of this experiment might apply to human beings being injected or otherwise treated with medicines or protocols involving nano-sized particles. It’s reassuring, at least, to know that high-level researchers are working to test the safety of nanoparticles for living systems. Let’s hope this series of experiments is the first of many that will lead to new, strict standards for nano-sized development.

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How dogs tell sickness – can technology help us learn?

nose to nose
Image by pixieclipx via Flickr

Dogs can smell seizures, low blood sugar and heart attacks, and doctors are working to see if they can be trained to detect other diseases such as cancer. A recent study suggests we humans may soon begin to emulate their powerful scenting abilities—with technology, of course.

New hope for early diagnosis comes from an electronic nose, a version of which is already in use in the food, wine and perfume industries. It generates a pattern, or “smell print”, in response to a given odor, then researchers analyze and compare that pattern with stored patterns. They’ve developed one that can tell from a person’s exhaled breath if that person has pneumonia. Now they’re studying the e-nose in the hope they can one day make it detect ashtma and some versions of lung cancer. A test of an e-nose has already been done to detect malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of lung cancer.

I X Key _ 59 Pr
Image by I X Key via Flickr

So that’s how they can keep producing winning smells in food, wine and perfume! And here I thought it was magic—the way I used to think that music composition was the most wonderfully mysterious art of all, because I had no idea how they did it until I studied music. I remember the article in Time magazine a few decades ago that contained a dozen gorgeous abstract paintings—and explained that they’d been generated by numerical equations plugged into a computer.  It blew my mind to realize that math and art were not only not radically different but were merely two different ways of looking at the same thing.

Even as we begin to discover more and more ways to heal the human body using the gentle tools of the universe such as stem cells, rather than violating the body with cutting, assaulting tools such as surgery and chemotherapy, we can take comfort, too, in the idea that many of the mysteries of the earth might one day be translatable to and from mathematical equations.

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Create your own nitric oxide to protect your hearts

Simplified diagram of the human Circulatory sy...
Image via Wikipedia

Exercise. Yeah I know. Do you really want to hear about another way exercise is good for you? Well, this appears to be a slightly new take. It’s about how nitric oxide (NO), a short-lived gas produced by the body during exercise, benefits the heart.

A recent study published in the journal, Circulation Research, says that voluntary exercise (as opposed, I guess, to sitting in some machine that moves your body for you) produces nitric oxide which then “turns on chemical pathways that relax blood vessels to increase blood flow and activate survival pathways [emphasis mine].” Exercise was found to boost “levels of an enzyme that produces nitric oxide (eNOS, endothelial nitric oxide synthase).”

So in short, you choose to exercise. Your body produces NO, then the NO is “stored in the bloodstream and heart in the form of nitrite and nitrosothiols,” which are then withdrawn from storage as needed. And even cooler, these reserves remain elevated for a week after exercise has stopped—“unlike other heart enzymes stimulated by exercise”—and don’t return to baseline until four whole weeks after exercise. So it seems we get a lot for a little effort.

I once had a book called Dr. Naglier’s Body Maintenance and Repair Book. He said, emphatically, that even five minutes of movement a day is so much better for your body than nothing, that you should never not do anything because you’re afraid you couldn’t possibly do all the exercise “they” recommend.

Score another big one for nitric oxide. It’s truly a health friend, and it doesn’t take much to put it to work for you.

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Nitric oxide: a magic bullet against infection?

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JUNE 02:  A lab technician ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife - Positive for infection

Nitric oxide (NO) is already known to block the growth of certain bacteria and protect the body against certain infections as well as keep some good substances from producing too much of themselves. Wow, a regular health watchdog.

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph sh...
Image via Wikipedia - Salmonella under the scope

“Nitric oxide is naturally produced in the nose and the gut and other tissues in the body to ward off infection,” says the author of the report on a new study. The study used salmonella to show that “nitric oxide’s antimicrobial actions are due to its interference with the metabolism, or energy production, of pathogens.” Inhibiting the bad guy’s ability to reproduce itself produces a condition called nitrosative stress—which starves the bad guys and is tough on bacteria but benign for the host organism.

It’s not exactly magic, but it might as well be, since it opens a new pathway for scientists. By “learning how the body naturally controls the energy supplies and growth of varied disease-causing organisms” they may be able to create antimicrobial drugs that perform similar actions and thus strengthen nature’s own natural defenses against infection. Read the article.

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Summer=watermelon=nitric oxide=lower blood pressure

Image via Wikipedia

Yep. Eating watermelon boosts your nitric oxide which in turn lowers your blood pressure, according to this report.  It’s not that watermelon introduces NO directly into your body. Rather, your body converts into nitric oxide a substance watermelon has lots of, L-citrulline.

The Emory University professor says this juicy fruit is also full of lycopene, the antioxidant carotene that tomatoes have been bragging about for years now. Good to hear, I guess. ‘Cuz I always thought the watermelon my parents served us out in the yard some hot summer nights was just a big messy excuse for spitting stuff out—an activity normally proscribed by good manners.

Reminds me of the time I discovered a new nutritional fact about one of my favorite vegetables, green beans. I’d wondered for years what the hell made these little guys so tasty since I couldn’t find any listing showing they had any  significant quantities of any known-to-be-valuable vitamins or minerals. And then scientists discovered flavonoids—and wow, turns out green beans promote the production of NO and are really good for us. I’m guessing the same thing may happen one day with other foods that people love but for which scientists haven’t yet figured out redeeming nutritional values.

Potato chips
Image via Wikipedia

I’m wishing potato chips would fall into that category one day.

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New marker for diagnosing heart failure

The illustration shows the major signs and sym...
Image via Wikipedia

If you find yourself not being able to breathe very well—gasping or huffing and puffing on slight exertion or on lying down—your doctor can go down a number of different routes to find out what the problem is. Since I know from personal experience they don’t necessarily go down the right road, even when they keep reaching dead ends on the ones they do pursue, this could be a good thing for you to know yourself.

If you already know you have heart trouble, your doc will probably look down that route first. And now there’s a way for even your internist to tell if your troubled breathing might be due to congestive heart failure rather than to a respiratory or other issue. A simple blood test for BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide) can tell whether you have much higher levels than someone who’s breathing trouble is lung- or other-related. Any doctor can read the test–doesn’t have to be a cardiologist. And even happier, the BNP test can be done quickly–as in emergency room speed–so docs can treat for the right thing right away.

Earlier treatment can vastly improve quality of life and potentially extend a patient’s lifespan. It can also mean savings in treatment costs over the course of the condition. So it’s good news for hospitals as well as for patients.

Well, I guess it’s never too early to  learn the truth if docs can give you medications to ease the symptoms. Plus, it gives you more time to decide if there’s anything you want to get done before your number’s up.

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