Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The evolution of attraction
Those of you ladies out there who are in relationships, have you found your gaze lingering a bit too long on an especially beautiful woman? I think we all probably have. It's not just because of her perfect hair or "toothpaste commercial teeth" though. It's because of evolution.
That's what psychologists at Florida State University recently discovered. They measured how long it takes a person to avert their eyes when they see a really attractive person of the same sex, and concluded that we have an innate reflex of looking just a little bit longer at someone who appears to be "competition" for our mate, compared with when the interloper is just average-looking. And, if you're straight and you see someone of the opposite sex who's really attractive, it generally takes longer for you to avert your eyes too; you are literally mesmerized.
When I talked a little longer to lead study author John Maner, he revealed some other really interesting tidbits about the effects of evolution on how we choose our mates. It turns out beauty isn't really just in the eye of the beholder, as they say. In fact, it has generally objective parameters that are driven by evolutionary motivations. Study after study proves that our biological need to procreate leads most of us to pick mates with the same specific types of physical features over others. At the end of the day, most of us tend to latch on to people whose features suggest their own high potential for reproductive success. How unromantic!
Men look for women with a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7, and a face with a high forehead, good skin, and big eyes because it means you're youthful - all signs of good childbearing potential and healthy future offspring. Meanwhile, women look for men with strong square jaws and other macho features that suggest high testosterone levels (big muscles, etc.) because the more dominant they are, the more likely they will provide resources and status for the woman. But when a woman wants to cheat, she usually looks for someone who's got really symmetrical features. That's because symmetry is something we tend to associate with having good gene... so in the end, even when we cheat, we're looking for good procreating prospects.
Monday, October 29, 2007
How far is your teen going?
Every week I call my grandma and fill her in on what I've been working on. At 87, she is quite Internet savvy and reads most of what I post online. Last week, I was in Southern California covering the devastating wildfires. She knew before I even told her.
But today I am really praying that Grandma and the gals at the retirement community are caught up in a wild game of "hand and foot," because I'm reporting on oral sex and teens. Don't think I will be mentioning that during our next conversation.
We've been asked to look into the sex lives of teens for a special "Out in the Open" tonight at 8 ET. Rick Sanchez is interviewing Genarlow Wilson, who was released from prison on Friday. In 2005, Wilson, a high school honor student and football star, was found guilty of aggravated child molestation after having consensual oral sex with a female classmate at a motel-room party. Wilson was incarcerated for more than two years. On Friday, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction. (Full Story)
Teens and oral sex. It's amazing how the topic can turn even the most mature group of adults into a gaggle of giggling sixth-graders. When I was a kid, only the "slutty" girls did that (or at least admitted it.) In my small Ohio town, what we knew about oral sex came from watching "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" at slumber parties while our parents slept upstairs.
But things seem to have changed. According to a 2005 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, slightly more than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex. Boys and girls report having similar levels of experience. It appears more teens are doing it now than 20 years ago. In the 1980s, a study found roughly one-fifth of 13- to 18-year-olds surveyed said they had ever had oral sex.
So what do you think? Do you think kids are engaging in oral sex at higher rates than they did in previous generations? Do you think oral sex is the same as intercourse? Do you talk to your kids about it?
Friday, October 26, 2007
Take THAT cancer!
Jillian Pasley is one of the coolest people I've ever interviewed. I met Jillian, who's funny, smart and sassy, earlier this year as I reported a story about African-Americans, cancer and bone marrow donations. (Full Story) Jillian is one tough cookie. She has beaten cancer THREE times.
Did I mention that Jillian is only nine?
In the short time we spent together, the crew and I really bonded with Jillian and her family. By the time we left, Jillian was planning a trip to visit us in Atlanta. Hugs were exchanged. We headed home, looking forward to the next time we would see Jillian and her family.
Weeks later, an e-mail from her mother, Jessica, popped up on my computer screen.
Jillian had cancer... again.
I closed the door to my office and cried.
Jessica has set up a wonderful blog to update family and friends. Recently, she posted a letter Jillian wrote to "Cancer." Jillian agreed to let me share it with our readers.
You are not very nice.
You are wasting your time because one day you're going to be extinct.
You are definitely wasting your time on me because each time I beat you.
Even if I do feel sick and throw up, I still feel good. I'm still happy because I know I'M winning.
I'm already healing.
You are wasting your time on so many people.
You are not much of a threat anymore.
As I say - you're just a teeny weeny ant and I step on you - SPLAT!
You have taught me that life really is too short.
Learn to LIVE.
Learn to NOT be afraid.
I know kids hate chemo, stinky milk (formula for ng tubes), transplants or even lots of surgeries. But after it all, it's like a new beginning. It's like you're reborn. It's like - WOW - I'm starting over with my life and it's wonderful. That feeling of a new life is wonderful.
Going through all the drama - throwing up, diarrhea, surgeries - when you come through it, it's a miracle.
It's never worth it to have cancer, but once you survive it, it just feels good.
I have had AML 3 times and osteosarcoma just recently.
I have been dealing with cancer since I was 1.
I am 9 years old, have had two transplants and will be 10 in December.
My friend, Jillian:
Keep fighting, continue living life to its fullest.
"Cancer" has no idea who it's messing with.
I look forward to seeing you in Atlanta soon.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Mixing science and Buddhism
He has written a book, called "The universe in a single atom." It was in that book that he introduced what some call a revolutionary concept. He wanted to truly blend together the most advanced scientific teaching with ancient Buddhism. By his own admission, he encountered significant resistance from many monks who worried this sort of exposure might lead to a more nihilistic view of Buddhism, and even the world itself.
Not so, said the Dalai Lama when I asked him about those concerns. He was amazingly candid about everything from the recent events in Myanmar to the Beijing Olympics. I asked him about the recent protests sparked after his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal. He laughed and said "that's now almost routine."
Once we returned to the topic of science, I showed him footage of brain surgery. He had never seen anything like it before. I asked him how he felt after looking at the physical embodiment of something he had studied for so long, the mind.
A larger question loomed though, and his holiness thought about it for some time. Does science threaten Buddhism or can the two support each other? I'm curious as to what you think.
Monday, October 22, 2007
My mother is one of twenty women in her neighborhood who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. And when I mean neighborhood, I'm talking about a two block radius. The women who lived next door, the lady up the street her friend in the corner house were all were affected by the same illness. Some have been fortunate and survived, like my mom. Others have passed away. But the question remains; how is it possible that so many women can come down with the same condition in such a small area? County and state public health officials investigated. Environmentalists came out to their homes... even the National Institutes of Health sent a crew to survey the area. Why breast cancer and why so many? They've never come up with a theory.
The CDC defines a cancer cluster as "a greater than expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people, in a geographic area, or over a period of time. A person may suspect that a cancer cluster exists when several loved ones, neighbors, or coworkers are diagnosed with cancer." But the agency warns that many times what appears to be a "cluster" may actually reflect the normal number of cancer cases expected in a particular area. That's because cancer is a common disease. I would imagine that everyone knows at least one person who has been diagnosed with some form of the illness. Also, the term cancer can refer to a lot of different forms of the disease; a cluster usually refers to one form of cancer. And a cancer cluster may be due to chance alone. The CDC finds most cancer clusters are likely to consist of one type of cancer, a rare type of cancer or a form of cancer that is not usually found in a particular age group.
So in my mom's case, there were twenty women of different ages, different races, and different family backgrounds all with breast cancer in a tiny stretch of land. Sounds like a cluster to me.
A lot of health experts say cancer clusters are caused by the environment. For example, according to the National Cancer Institute, one in seven women living in parts of Long Island have a chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. New York State 2000 Cancer Registry data indicates that 500 women living in Nassau and Suffolk counties will be diagnosed this year alone. Geographic variation in breast cancer rates has been well documented, and researchers and the public are increasingly turning to environmental exposures to our air, water, soil and food to look for explanations for these pockets or clusters.
In many cases, if health officials look hard enough they can sometimes find the cause of the cancers. In Tom's River, New Jersey, 103 children were part of the nation's largest cancer cluster. State workers eventually found that 4,500 drums of toxic liquid were dumped at a nearby landfill. Federal investigators discovered in the famous "Love Canal" cancer cluster in Niagara that thousands of toxic chemicals were buried on the site 20 years before homes were built.
As I mentioned, in my mother's case, they never found the source of the problem. Officials did discover her housing development was built on an old turkey farm. Perhaps pesticides and chemicals were used on the birds, eventually permeated into the soil her home is now built on. It's difficult to say. But the problem exists.
If you think you might be a part of a cancer cluster contact your local or state health department or state cancer registry (See links here and here). These agencies provide the first level of response and have the most current local data.
Have you or someone you know been part of a cancer cluster? What did they find? Let us know.
Friday, October 19, 2007
The low down on MRSA
Over the past week, I have received more questions about MRSA than just about any other topic. MRSA has also been called the "superbug". At its most basic level, MRSA is a type of staph bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. This is a bacteria that is normally found on all of our skin. Yes, if you were to take some skin scrapings right now and look under a microscope, you would probably find some of the staphylococcus bacteria. The problem arises when that bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. That's when it becomes "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus" or MRSA.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind. While the bacterium is resistant to Methicillin, there are other more powerful antibiotics, such as Vancomycin, which can still be effective. The key is to make the diagnosis early and to complete a full course of antibiotic treatment. That can get rid of the bacteria entirely. Some clues that you might have it include wounds that aren't healing - usually more than one at a time. These are obviously wounds that don't seem to get better even with normal antibiotic treatment.
A larger issue may be whether or not we are developing new antibiotics fast enough. There is no question that antibiotic resistance develops as a result of our increased and sometimes inappropriate use of antibiotics. So, there is a real need for new antibiotics. The problem is these new antibiotics are incredibly expensive to develop and take years of clinical testing before they are approved. After that, doctors will only prescribe them in rare cases, when other antibiotics don’t work. That makes drug companies less enthusiastic about developing the new medications.
There in lies a dilemma. Obviously, it would make sense for society to do everything possible to prevent antibiotic resistance. As we learned, however, that ship may have already sailed. There were around 90,000 cases of MRSA in 2005 and almost 19,000 deaths. And, we are already starting to hear of infections resistant to all the antibiotics that exist.
How will we take care of antibiotic resistant infections if there are no new medications in the pipeline? Keep in mind, this is not a theoretical question -- this is starting to happen already.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
New test for HPV
If women have latched on to anything from the onslaught of TV ads for the cervical cancer vaccine, and now for a special genetic test for human papillomavirus versus (HPV) , it's the idea that the chances of getting the disease depends a lot on the individual.
Consider, HPV causes most cervical cancers.
Of all the women in the U.S. with cervical cancer, 60 percent had never been screened, or hadn't been screened in the last 5 years, according to the American Cancer Society. That's why women should be diligent about getting their Pap tests. It's the gold standard for detecting cell changes in the cervix that could be caused by HPV.
But now, there's fresh interest in a different kind of test - a DNA test for HPV, a swab done during a regular pelvic exam, that its supporters say is better than the Pap, and may even muscle it out as the cervical cancer screening method of choice.
So, many women will ask - "Do I need an HPV test?"
The New England Journal of Medicine features a pair of studies extolling its virtues.
One, a Canadian study looking at more than 10,000 women, found the HPV test correctly found 95 percent of the lesions that could develop into cervical cancers; while the Pap test found only 55 percent.
Most women would take those odds, but it's not that simple.
First, the HPV test is only for women 30 years old and older. Think of it like this - virtually everybody who has sex is exposed to HPV, but the vast majority of HPV infections just flush out of a woman's body. So the test is only used on women 30 and older to reduce the number of transient infections.
And what exactly does it mean if you test positive for HPV? The HPV test has shown to be more sensitive than the Pap, but it's also less specific - so it can have a slightly higher false positive rate.
So a positive result could mean you need a follow-up test 6 to 12 months later. If that test is positive the HPV could have been hanging around awhile, putting you at risk for cancer.
Or it could mean nothing at all. There's concern too many people taking the test would test positive for HPV and get unnecessary treatment as a result.
Another issue - and not a small one - is that the HPV test isn't widely available and it is not always covered by insurance.
For now, the American Cancer Society says women should be screened using the Pap test, or Pap plus the HPV test if she chooses, because the HPV test does offer added benefits over the Pap alone. At this time, women can only get an HPV test along with a Pap test; it's not FDA approved as a primary screening test.
A benefit of double screening if both the HPV and a Pap test are negative is that doctors say you won't need another screen for three years, so it may save you a trip to the OB/GYN.
But, will HPV testing supplant Pap tests? Dr. Brian Slomovitz, Assistant Professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell believes we're in the cusp of a "revolution in cervical cancer screening" as we know it.
The American Cancer Society is quick to point out that questions remain.
The most recent research comparing these screening tests appears in the October 18 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Will you seek out the new HPV test in addition to a Pap test on your next doctor's visit? We'd like to hear from you.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The road to recovery for a footballer
I put miracle in quotes for a reason. As we investigated a little deeper, we found that Kevin Everett in fact suffered something known as a central cord syndrome. It's important to distinguish this from the types of spinal cord injury where people never walk again. This is the type of injury in which the central-most fibers of the spinal cord are damaged, but the rest of the spinal cord is intact. From some studies, we know patients under the age of 50 all recovered from central cord injury to the point of being able to walk. For patients between ages 50 and 70, the likelihood of walking was 69 percent (Full Report). So, in fact while Everett's recovery is terrific news for everyone, especially Kevin, it probably should not be considered a miracle or a result of super-cooling the spinal cord. It could be considered an expected part of his recovery.
There is no doubt Everett that still has a long road in front of him. Rehabilitation will be the name of the game. His hands will likely be most affected in the long run, and it is hard to say if he will recover to the point of running or playing football. But, Kevin, you have science on your side, which in this case is even better than a miracle. Please note, we've been in touch with the Buffalo Bills and Everett's doctors but they have declined our repeated requests for interviews.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Tips for taking OTC pain meds
Just because something is available over the counter doesn't always mean it's safe. Case in point: NSAIDs. Never heard of NSAIDs? Well, you have probably heard of some of the specific brands: Aleve, Motrin, Naprosyn and many others. NSAID is an acronym for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. About 14 million Americans take them on a regular basis, and get this, an astounding 60 percent experience some sort of side effect.
Many times, these side effects can be minor, but they can also be more serious. Significant gastrointestinal bleeding can result, as can problems with your kidneys or even your heart. Yep, just from taking simple over-the-counter medication. What's also problematic is that many patients never bother to mention that they are taking these medications to their doctors. And, that could result in even bigger problems.
It turns out that many of these medications can increase your likelihood of bleeding. Imagine that your doctor has scheduled you for surgery and thinks you are not taking any medications, but in fact you are on a blood-thinning medication such as aspirin or NSAIDS. You can imagine the type of complications that might arise. I have seen it firsthand.
There is no question that some people absolutely need their medications to ward off the aches and pains associated with arthritis. So, here are a couple of tips. Take the medication at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time. You could also consider a different class of medications altogether, such as Tylenol. Finally, you could take a medication to coat your stomach, if you are taking anti-inflammatories long term.
Have you ever had any trouble with NSAIDs? What did you experience and what did you do about it? What is your best advice?
Monday, October 15, 2007
Giving autism a voice
"These are his first words to us ever. This is the first time in his life that he has expressed a thought," said Tyler's father Clarence Lazaruk. "It's in there, but he just can't get it out. This is obviously how he's going to do it."
It's called facilitated communication and it's been used for some people with autism since the early 1990s. The method involves a facilitator who sits with a person with autism and holds his or her hand, wrist, arm or even simply touches a shoulder in order to help them type with a single digit. The theory is that the presence of a facilitator can help the person focus and target his or her neuromuscular abilities to type on the keyboard. It's controversial because critics say that the facilitator can be the one manipulating the typing rather than the autistic person.
I just returned from the "Autism National Committee" annual meeting in Edmonton, Canada. I saw many people using facilitated communication, or FC, effectively in various ways. In some cases, I was a bit more skeptical. For sure, it is amazing to hear the thoughts of people whose outward appearance (including no eye contact, repetitive words and physical movement) can seem vacant or nonsensical to most of society. But FC was just one part of the conference. People who fall into all categories of the autism spectrum disorders arrived from all over North America to listen and learn from other people with autism. I followed up with an autistic woman named Amanda Baggs, whom we profiled earlier this year. Amanda communicates with a keyboard without a facilitator. (Watch Video) She and many other adults with autism came to speak about living on one's own without a guardian. This conference's tag line summed it up, "Autism: Living Life to the Fullest." This event did not focus on treating or curing autism, but rather discussing the best ways to live and understand one's autism.
As for Tyler, he tried FC again the next day with a different facilitator. He had a far more difficult time, but was able to tap out with several typos, "Years of doing silly flaky behaviors are perhaps over." I couldn't help but ask his parents about the controversy. Did they believe these words came from their son? His father said, "Some people thought the facilitators were guiding the answers, and it's popularity has fallen off with the bad press. I'm telling you there is something to it."
Do you or a loved one have any personal experiences with autism? How much emphasis is there on curing or treating autism vs. living with autism? Do you think autism is on the rise?
Friday, October 12, 2007
I once worked with an alcoholic. Let's call him Jarred. A bright man, energetic, lots of fun. But he could never make it to work on time. He didn't keep appointments. Sometimes he would just disappear for days. Eventually we had to part ways. We just couldn't get any work done. I never saw him drink, but I knew he had an alcohol problem and there was nothing I could do to stop him. He had to do it himself.
So about six months ago, it was with great relief that I learned Jarred was now in therapy and taking a drug to curb his alcoholism. I had heard of therapy but not the drug. So as I did more research I found that there are drugs on the market being prescribed to alcoholics every day, helping them to curb or fight their cravings for a drink. Addiction experts say it's a baby step towards solving a big problem, but at least pharmaceutical companies are headed in the right direction.
Now a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that a drug usually prescribed to severe migraine sufferers or epileptics can actually help alcoholics curb their consumption within 14 weeks. (Link to CNN.com story)
The drug is Topamax. The study found that alcohol-dependent patients who received the medication had fewer heavy drinking days, fewer drinks per day and more days of continuous abstinence than those who received a placebo. In many cases patients on Topamax had a significantly higher rate of achieving 28 or more days of continuous non-heavy drinking and 28 or more days of continuous abstinence. But there were side effects.
Many patients had problems with concentration: They were very confused while taking the medication. Others complained of tingling, dizziness, itching. But a positive side effect was weight loss. Unlike the other drugs designed to treat alcoholism, Topamax actually caused the patients to lose weight. And that's important. Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Addiction Psychiatry Training Program and the Vanderbilt Addiction Center in Nashville, Tennessee, finds many of his alcohol-dependent patients are either overweight or diabetic because alcohol has a lot of calories. He feels any drug that can help them fight their addiction while keeping their weight down is a plus.
For now, Topamax has not been approved by the FDA for use in alcoholism, but that approval may be just around the corner. The manufacturer hopes the drug will help those heavy drinkers who would rather see their doctors to help them with their addiction, instead of going into expensive rehab centers. Physicians say these drugs bring new hope of fighting an addiction that at one time seemed hopeless.
I haven't heard how Jarred is doing since he acknowledged that he is an alcoholic. I can only wish that with therapy and the help of these new medications, he will be able to find peace and a new direction in his life.
Know of someone who's using therapy and prescribed drugs to help them fight their alcoholism? Tell us about it.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Mind body relationship and stress
As a neurosurgeon, I have long been fascinated by the real link between the mind and the body. I guess intuitively we have known for some time that there is an obvious connection, but now scientists are putting more energy and resources toward studying it than ever before. From time to time, I blog about things I've found particularly interesting in this arena, and a story today caught my eye.
There is a negative relationship between workplaces stress and your heart health. Ok, so you already knew that one. But, researchers in Canada decided to take it a step further. They studied nearly a thousand men and women who returned to work after having a heart attack. They were followed for the first six weeks after their return, and then again two years later. They found that people who reported chronic job strain were twice as likely to have another heart attack. Twice as likely! Now, in case you're curious (I was) as to what constitutes job strain, the researchers specifically defined it as high psychological demands with low decision control.
Adding more evidence to the link between workplace stress and heart health was another study that more heart attacks and cardiac events occur on Monday, as compared with any other day. And, apparently, it's not just the workplace that can have a negative impact on your health. While marriage can be good for your health, it is important to be more specific. It's more accurate to say a "good marriage" can be good for you health, and a bad marriage can be awful for your heart. In fact, another study showed hostile, angry relationships can boost the risk of heart disease by 34 percent, as compared with people who are on good terms with their spouse.
No question, stress and the associated effects of cortisol and high blood pressure can be a killer. We are seeing more evidence than ever about this relationship. On the other hand, being able to mitigate stress and the perception of stress can be significantly advantageous. Do you have any of your own stories of the mind/body relationship?
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
A voice from the hallway said, "Hold the elevator."
We did. On reflection, perhaps we made the wrong choice.
A man with weepy eyes and a runny nose got on. Sneezing, he looked like death warmed over.
A few days later, my throat was scratchy, my body achy and I was sneezing constantly. I looked like death warmed over... but wearing fuzzy slippers.
Now I have no way of knowing for sure whether the elevator "germ man" got me sick. And before my mom calls, let me say I know it is not nice to call people names, but it is hard to be compassionate when you feel dizzy every time you stand up. Fortunately, the fever has passed. But my opinion is still the same: I am sick (yes, pun intended) and tired of people coming to work ill when they should be at home recuperating.
You might wonder why I am downright evangelical about this topic. I use to be just like the "germ man." My conversion happened a few years back when I developed a pinched nerve in my neck. A supervisor made me feel guilty for calling in sick. (Apparently MY pinched nerve was an inconvenience for HER.) So, high as a kite on pain pills, I worked. And I seethed. Perhaps it was the influence of the drugs, but I had an epiphany: Sick days exist for a REASON. From that point, I vowed to stand my ground when I was sick.
Staying home when you are sick is not only the best thing for you, but also your company. According to a study released last year, "presenteeism" is a growing concern for businesses. When people come to work sick, they are less productive and are likely to infect co-workers. Interestingly, the study also found that companies with low morale also have more ill workers showing up for work.
With flu and cold season quickly approaching, I want to know what you think. Is "presenteeism" a problem at your office? Do you feel obligated to work even when you are sick? And if so, why?
I look forward to reading your responses. In the meantime, I need to grab some disinfectant. I just heard someone sneeze.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Are Tasers safe?
"Don't tase me bro!"
After University of Florida student Andrew Meyer was subdued last month at a Senator John Kerry event, (Watch Video) CNN and other media outlets played the video over and over again. And we were all fascinated by CNN's own correspondent/anchor Rick Sanchez getting Tasered a few years back. (Watch Video) In a classic report, Sanchez stands ready in front of police officers, gets Tasered, and his knees buckle. Just a few seconds later he continues with his report. For good or bad, I can't help but stare when someone gets Tasered. More importantly, I can't help but wonder how safe could a Taser be?
Law enforcement uses Tasers to immobilize people. Taser devices use compressed nitrogen to shoot two probes at a speed of over 160 feet per second at a range of 15 to 35 feet. An electrical signal sends a current through the probes rendering the immediate loss of a person's neuromuscular control for the duration of the impulse. "Typically a Taser can pack 50,000 volts, when it actually makes contact with a person 1,200 to 1,300 volts pulse through the body," says study author Dr. William Bozeman. A shock of just a half a second causes intense pain and muscle contractions. The manufacturer says that recovery is instantaneous, and long-lasting side effects are rare. This new study contends that most injuries are related to the fall to the ground, not the actual electrical current of the Taser itself.
A new study out of Wake Forest University School of Medicine finds that Tasers are relatively safe. Tactical physicians (doctors who work with SWAT teams) looked at 1,000 cases of law enforcement use of Tasers in six locations around the country. They found that 99.7 percent of the cases had mild injuries, such as scrapes or bruises, or no injuries at all. In the study, only three people suffered severe enough injuries to be sent to the hospital. Of those, two had injuries from falling immediately after being Tasered. The third person was admitted to the hospital two days after being Tasered, but researchers says it is unclear whether the hospitalization had anything to do with being Tasered. It's important to note that the new study followed patients only if they had to be hospitalized or needed follow-up care from initial injuries. There was no long term follow-up with all of the patients. The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice, but researchers say that the study was independently designed and conducted.
Amnesty International points out more than 245 people in the United States have died, many from cardiac arrest after being shocked with Tasers. Amnesty and other groups call for more investigation into how dangerous these devices may be. The Wake Forest researchers acknowledge that there have been roughly 270 people who have died in police custody after being Tasered, but they say that there is no clear evidence that the deaths can be attributed to Tasering or other causes.
Do you think tasers are safe? Have you or anyone you know ever been Tasered?
Friday, October 05, 2007
Kids and Drinking Revisited
I am a child of the "Just Say No" generation. My junior high school had a "No Team," and I was an officer. We took a pledge to not drink alcohol, use drugs or have sex. At the first "No Team" meeting, a heated debate ensued as we discussed whom to select as our honorary chairman. The two top contenders were Mr. T and Nancy Reagan. I rallied for Mrs. Reagan. In my junior-high earnestness, I tried to convince my fellow "No Teamers" that Mrs. Reagan would give our group integrity and a dash of panache. After much debate, Mr. T was selected. Over 20 years later, I still think Mrs. Reagan should have won.
I thought about the "No Team" when I sat down to talk with Stanton Peele. He is the author of "Addiction-Proof Your Child." A psychologist, Peele argues that the American "Just Say No" culture surrounding teen drinking actually encourages kids to binge drink. He says parents should let their kids drink at home, but in moderation. When Peele’s children were in their early teens, he allowed them to have a sip of wine or beer. By the time his children were in high school, they were allowed to have a glass of wine or beer with dinner.
Critics say that Peele is flat wrong and that teens are not psychologically or physically mature enough to drink, period. The response to Peele's story (Full Story) has been passionate and provocative. Many CNN.com readers have weighed in. Says Don, "This is as stupid as 'safe' sex. The smart answer is abstinence." Another reader, Andrew, says, "One simply needs to look at the numbers between Canada and the U.S. ... It's "madd" (pun intended) to have a forbidden fruit attitude. If the U.S. finally got out of the dark ages on the issue, we wouldn't have nearly the problem."
We want to know what you think. Should the U.S. lower the drinking age? Do you think kids drink more now than they did in previous generations? Also, what about "social hosting"? Do you think it is safer to have kids drink at home? If you are a parent, would you ever allow your child to have a party in your home that involves alcohol? You can hear more from Peele and his critics tonight on "Out in the Open" tonight at 8 ET.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Concussions and girls
When you think of high school sports concussions, whom do you envision getting banged up? Usually it's a strapping young football player - a male - isn't it?
But in sports that both girls and boys play such as basketball and soccer, girls are more likely to suffer these dangerous brain injuries - more than 1 1/2 times in basketball and almost three times more likely in soccer. That's according to a new study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, which looked at high school students at more than 100 schools nationwide. And, girls take much longer to recover and get back on the field than boys do.
What I find even more intriguing are the possible explanations behind the surprising stats. On one hand, researchers point to biophysical phenomena - for instance, the fact that boys have stronger neck muscles and larger heads than girls, so they can tolerate stronger blows.
But there is also a sociocultural explanation: The suspicion that girls tend to report their concussion symptoms more than boys, and boys hold back when they may be feeling a bit dizzy or nauseated because they want to be tough and keep playing, despite the potential long-term dangers of getting hit again too soon. (By the way, those possible dangers are no joke: repeated concussions can lead to long-term loss of cognitive function and memory loss.) And as far as returning to the field - coaches, athletic trainers and parents tend to be more cautious about letting girls back on to the court or field, more so than with their male counterparts.
So what do you think? Does it seem more plausible that girls are more protected (by themselves and others), and that boys are allowed to be more aggressive and less cautious about these injuries? Or do you think it's just a physical thing? Or both? Or something else altogether?
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Panic attack may lead to another kind of attack
Most people know intuitively that our psychological well being and physical well being are connected, but it is pretty hard to prove. Sure, depression, anger, hostility, even "Type A" behavior are linked with physical health problems, but no one is exactly sure why. It could be that stress hormones are released in such high concentrations that they negatively impact the heart. It might simply be that people who are susceptible to those behaviors also are more likely to skip doctor's appointments and engage in higher-risk behavior.
Still, a new study in a publication from the Journal of the American Medical Association caught my eye today (Full Story). After studying post menopausal women who had heart attacks or strokes, something interesting emerged as a potential cause. Researchers found that having just one panic attack seemed to increase the risk of future heart attack or stroke by threefold over the next five years (Full Study). That's right, just one panic attack, and it could have a devastating physical consequence down the road.
To be fair, the absolute risk of heart problems or stroke remains low. So a panic attack may increase your risk from 1 to 3 or 4 percent. Still, it really makes you think - if you are having a psychological meltdown, what exactly is it doing to your body?
Sometimes, it is hard to even tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack. The symptoms of panic attack might be chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling, sweating or a feeling of choking. The signs of a heart attack might be the same, and the only way to tell the difference is to get checked in a hospital. So, how do you avoid a panic attack in the first place? Sometimes it is easier said than done, given that most of us are at risk of having at least one in our lifetime.
Have any of you experienced a panic attack? What do you think the relationship is between the mind and the body?
Monday, October 01, 2007
Alcohol linked to breast cancer?
I've been with women at every stage of breast cancer - from the disbelief at the diagnosis... to sitting with a single mom in the office of a patient navigator amid a sea of insurance claims and bills... to struggling to connect the dots on being out of work, chemo and child care. And I have been with women in end-stage breast cancer who have that "look"- an almost otherworldly mix of resignation, wisdom and fear. All wonder - why me?
Provocative new science adds booze - with an exclamation point- to that list of "what could have gone wrong."
Kaiser Permanente researchers looked at data on more than 70,000 women, and found that if a woman drinks just one or two alcoholic drinks a day, she's increasing her risk of breast cancer by 1o percent. If that consumption increases to three or more drinks a day, the risk shoots up to 30 percent.
It's fair to say not a whole lot of women drink three or more drinks a day. But researchers say that 30 percent increase in the relative risk of breast cancer from heavy drinking might translate into approximately an extra 5 percent of all women developing breast cancer as a result of their drinking.
The American Cancer Society has been telling women for some time now alcohol increases your breast cancer risk. This study really zeroed in, on the drink type. Researchers found it doesn't matter what you're drinking - white wine, red wine, beer, bourbon or another hard liquor-- each can raise your breast cancer risk. That certainly throws a wrench into the idea that red wine can be good for you.
Research has shown red wine does have protective benefits for your heart - but if just a drink or two a day raises your breast cancer risk, should you drink it? Every woman needs to balance her own risk of heart disease and breast cancer, says the American Cancer Society, which recommends that women who choose to drink limit consumption to one drink a day. Of course, there are other lifestyle factors that can reduce your risk, including keeping your weight down and being physically active -- which can reduce your risk of both breast cancer and heart disease.
Women, will this relationship between alcohol and breast cancer influence what, or how much you drink? We'd love to hear from you.
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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