Friday, March 02, 2007
A 'crackberry' intervention
I have a confession. I have an addiction -- to my Blackberry. It started innocently enough, checking and responding to e-mail in between tasks outside work, but soon, the little black machine controlled my life. Friends would be over. It would vibrate, and even though I knew it wasn't anything urgent, I HAD to check it. I couldn't relax. My mind was always at work. It was my crack. Soon, I was "using" while driving. I almost hit an empty school bus. A few months ago, I "bottomed out" at church. My "crackberry" went off during the sermon. My sweetie gave me "the look." Game over. The time had come for an intervention. The conversation was a blur, but I do remember he used the words "respect," "being in the moment" and "sledgehammer."

Recently, I've been thinking about e-mail and mental health. I decide to call time-management expert Peter "the Time Man" Turla (www.timeman.com) for advice. Peter says many people he advises complain that there is a lot of activity in their day and not a lot accomplished. He puts much of the blame on useless e-mail. He says many people use it as an escape. "It's like stomping on ants instead of going after elephants," says Peter. He has a number of great suggestions, which you can find on his Web site. Here are a few.

1) KEEP YOUR BUSINESS E-MAIL AS LEAN AS POSSIBLE -- Create folders for different topics. For example, if you are on a newsletter list, make a file for newsletters. Or if you have a colleague that overdoes it on the e-mail, make a file for messages from him or her. That way, you can look at them on your own time.

2) COLOR CODE INCOMING MAILS --Use specific colors for mails from certain people.

3) ESTABLISH REGULAR TIMES TO CHECK YOUR E-MAIL -- You might check it, for example, first thing when you get into the office and respond to the important ones, then check it every couple of hours for the rest of the day.

4) HAVE E-MAIL FREE FRIDAYS -- This isn't one of Peter's, but it's something we've started to do around our office. On Fridays you can send and respond to e-mails only if it's urgent. Otherwise, you should pick up the phone (what a novel idea!) or set your e-mail to "send" it on Monday. It's made a huge difference in my life.

E-mail isn't going away. But we can "manage" it, not have it "manage" us. I am curious - do you share my frustrations? What do you do? I look forward to reading your response, when I check my e-mail ... on Monday.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
STDs and the single girl (and guy)!
CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and I have been impressed with all the response we've received regarding our story on dating with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). (Full Story)

So many people have commented on Jennifer's bravery and the fact that by telling her story, they no longer feel alone. It is our hope that her honesty will lead to an authentic and substantive conversation about STD's and dating (Watch Video)

We've also received a few emails saying there is much more to discuss. We agree, but unfortunately, there is only so much time on TV.

That's the great thing about the internet. We open the forum to you. .... What is it like to live .. to date ... with a STD?
Stinky vegetable stinks at lowering cholesterol
One of my favorite studies this week found that "garlic stinks" at lowering cholesterol levels. At least that's how the Stanford press release put it. Having grown up near Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed "Garlic Capital of the World," I have fond memories of the early morning fragrance at harvest time, and I know that garlic is big business. A U.C. Davis publication says that each person in the United States ate an average 2.6 pounds of garlic in 2004, and that U.S. garlic exports exceeded $21 million in the same year.

Garlic's supposed health benefits have been widely touted, including claims that it lowers blood pressure, fights cancer, prevents heart disease and has antifungal properties. Unfortunately, many of the results have been produced only in animals and in Petri dishes.

The Stanford study sought to test in humans whether any of three different forms of garlic would lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels at least 10 points in people with moderately high LDL levels. Participants were fed sandwiches and tablets for six months, and they were required to maintain their weight and keep food logs, so that lower cholesterol couldn't be attributed to weight loss. They got the equivalent of one clove of garlic six times per week for six months. Some received placebos. After six months on the regimen, none of the garlic produced significant effects on LDL levels.

Senior study author Christopher Gardner said he was both surprised and disappointed. Had he proved that garlic lowered LDL, he imagined, he'd have been given the key to the city of Gilroy and proclaimed "garlic king" with a vanity license plate. He hasn't ruled out conducting clinical trials to study other medical uses for garlic - perhaps its power on blood pressure, cancer, or heart disease.

For now, Gardner says we shouldn't give up garlic-laced hummus, pesto or Asian stir fry. He notes that garlic can be part of basic healthy eating. It simply doesn't seem to lower your cholesterol.

I'm not giving up garlic, and I am not giving up on Gardner's dream of getting the key to Gilroy.
Have you tried garlic as a health supplement? Did you feel any benefits?
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Tackling cancer with a vaccine is a good thing, right?
If you are like most people, you have probably seen television advertisements for a new vaccine called Gardasil. It is being prescribed to prevent cervical cancer, and according to the FDA, it works pretty well. It works by preventing four strains of a sexually transmitted virus, known as human papillomavirus, from ever taking hold. It is these four strains that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. The message: Take the vaccine early and dramatically reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

As we have been reporting this story, however, I have seen more questions than answers emerge. Let me try and tackle a few. One of the big areas of concern is the age at which girls should get the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for girls 11 and 12 years old, but it can be administered to girls as young as 9. That's young, for sure. But, the research tells us that girls between the ages of 14 and 19 account for 25 percent of all of these infections, which are almost always transmitted sexually. That was a bit of an eye opener for me, a father of two girls. So, the age started to make more sense. What about boys? That was another question. Well, it turns out that a vaccine may be approved in the future for boys as well. The thinking is that if you prevent boys from getting the infection, they are less likely to pass it on to girls, which in turns reduces a girl's chance of cervical cancer.

Not everyone who gets HPV will get cervical cancer. If you do get cervical cancer, though, it is one of the deadlier cancers. Yes, the vaccine does appear to be safe based on an average of 3.9 years of follow-up testing. It does not appear to adversely affect a woman’s fertility in the future.

Where it gets sticky is the call for mandatory vaccination. This may be the most controversial question of all. Perhaps, it is our rugged individualism that makes us question anything that is forced upon us. Perhaps, it is the concern about side effects down the road. Perhaps, it is that we don't necessarily want to have conversations with our 9-year-old girls about why they are getting the vaccine in the first place.

As a doctor, and parent, I would recommend the vaccine for my daughters. I feel the ability to protect them in any way, including from cancer, is my primary obligation. What do you think? Would you recommend or get the vaccine? What are the objections?
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Going after the Girl Scouts
It's Girl Scout cookie season again, but this year I'm probably not going to buy any. I still have a solid stash of Thin Mints in our freezer at home, right next to the Cherry Garcia, in the "I.C.E. box" ("in case of emergency" - it's just comforting to know they are there waiting for me). I've been buying the crispy, cool confections since college, when we'd descend upon the Brownie troop with its little stand at the video store parking lot.

That's why I initially laughed when I heard that the advocacy group National Action Against Obesity is calling for a boycott of Girl Scout cookies.

When I talked to the group's mother-turned-activist founder, MeMe Roth, this is the point she made: They do amazing work, but "is it OK to raise $700 million a year off cookies if you're a civic-minded organization like the Girl Scouts, in the midst of an obesity epidemic?"

After all, more than 18 percent of kids in the United States between ages 6 and 11 are overweight, according to the CDC. That's a lot of chubby little cookie-munchers. MeMe's solution is to gradually wean Girl Scouts off cookies as the group's main fund-raising tool, sometime over the next five, 10, even 20 years. Yipes! No more Samoas?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest seems to be of the same mind. The non-profit organization recently released a report about junk food fund raisers. Did you know that 67 percent of them use baked goods to help raise money for athletic equipment, field trips, and the likes? Instead, the CSPI suggests book fairs, walk-a-thons and other physical activity fund raisers, recycling events (cell phones and printer cartridges for money), and healthy food sales (granola bars anyone?).

Honestly, I'd be willing to consider replacing the school bake sales with some of those healthier activities, sure. But even Cookie Monster knows "a cookie is a sometimes food," so can't we just leave the Girl Scouts alone? I mean, they even cut out most trans fats from their cookies recently. Should we go after these girls as money-raising cookie-pushers? Or is that just downright un-American?
Monday, February 26, 2007
Air that you can see, smell and taste
Last night, a film starring former Vice President Al Gore talking about global warming won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. If someone would have told you six years ago that the losing presidential candidate would make people care about climate change through a film titled "The Inconvenient Truth," you would have probably thought it was a bad joke. Global warming has become a hot topic (pun intended) over the past few years due in part to Gore's efforts, but also because the effects can no longer be ignored. I am currently in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. It is one of the most polluted cities on Earth. It is a place where the inconvenient truth is painfully self-evident.

The air is thick here. It sticks to you. The temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit/32 degrees Celsius with 60 percent to 70 percent humidity. I can see a black, smoky haze as I walk on the crowded sidewalk. The layer of grime on the streets is proof that the pollution has caked into the environment and the people themselves. I begin to think of my own skin, my own pores. The bad air is slowly seeping through them. My lungs are acting as a filter for the exhaust fumes that surround me. The cars, jeepneys and trucks chug along spewing black coughs of smoke in the never-ending traffic jam.

The health effects of pollution don't affect only developing countries. The impact on health is well documented. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that women who live in cities with the most air particles, such as Los Angeles and New York, are at a 75 percent increased risk for fatal heart disease. Why women? According to the researchers, air particles are harmful to both men and women, but women may be more vulnerable, because they have smaller coronary arteries.

It doesn't stop at heart disease. According to scientists at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, rising carbon dioxide levels go hand in hand with a long list of ill-health risks, not to mention a large role in global warming. An increase in death rates from heart and lung ailments has been linked to high smog days. There are now stronger, longer, more virulent, allergy seasons. Did you know that mold attaches itself to diesel particles? The diesel/mold combination is deadly. The pair embeds itself more efficiently deep inside your lungs.

The Harvard researchers also point to dust clouds rising from drought-ridden African deserts making their way across trade winds. Those traveling dust clouds result in skyrocketing asthma rates, even in places such as the Caribbean, where asthma has never before been a problem. Coincidentally, asthma rates have quadrupled in the United States since 1980.

If there is one thing that Gore's film preaches, it is the interconnectedness of the planet. The United Nations reports that global temperatures will increase 3.2 to 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100. The main cause? Human activity - specifically, carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Last night, Gore told Hollywood and 1 billion television viewers to care about global warming because it's "not a political issue, it's a moral issue."

Do you care about global warming? Do you think you suffer any ill health effects from global warming and pollution? Do you have any tips on how each individual can fight global warming? Or do you think that global warming and it's impact aren't real?

Editors note: See "Gore defends energy saving efforts" on The Ticker blog for Vice President Gore's response to allegations that he wastes energy at his Tennessee mansion.
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