Rainforest is a reservoir for new medicines

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

On a recent trip to Brazil, I immersed myself in an exploration of the richly diverse Amazonian rain forest. I was awed to learn that so many of the plants that filled this paradise have been used throughout human history to make medicines, poisons, hallucinogens, rubber, building materials and so much more.

While it makes sense that native people use the plants to support their lives, it is astonishing to learn that approximately 70 percent of the new drugs introduced in our country in the past 25 years are derived from nature. Despite the expanding sophistication of bioengineering, Mother Nature retains the crown as the world’s greatest drug engineer.

The indigenous healers in the Northwest Amazon have used more than1,300 species of plants for medicinal purposes. Today, pharmacologists and ethnobotanists work with native shamans to identify potential drugs for further development. Continue reading

Getting some sunlight is good for you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As the days grow shorter, we become more aware of the role of light in our life. Light has certain obvious benefits. It keeps us from falling down and hurting ourselves or bumping into each other.

It activates vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, to keep our bones strong. Light feeds all our food crops and secondarily the animals that consume plants that serve as our food sources. We take light for granted. In fact without light, life as we know it would not exist. Yet, like so many things like water, dirt, gravity and oxygen that surround us, we often give it little thought or attention. Yet it has many more health benefits. At a recent integrative oncology meeting I attended, a psychiatrist who studies sleep and sleep disorders showed us her data on how light can be therapeutic. Her research subjects were women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

It turns out these women have significant disturbances in their sleep quality, getting worse with each week of chemotherapy. By the fourth week of therapy, they have major disruptions of their daily and nightly circadian rhythms. This causes severe fatigue and other negative effects on the immune system and healing response. In her studies, she exposed some women to light in the form of bright white light boxes and the control group to dim red light. The results were nothing less than dramatic. Continue reading

Statewide event to help get you moving

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Where in the heck did January go? Were you one of the 83 percent of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions that have already fallen by the wayside before this month is out?

Did you vow to improve your health, to live a more healthful lifestyle, to eat more nutritiously, lose weight and get more exercise?

Maybe a gym membership seems beyond your budget, the chilly weather prevented those outdoor activities you planned, and you haven’t found a way to jump-start your exercise regime.

Here is a foolproof, no excuses opportunity to get back on track for your own good health.

It is free. It is accessible to everyone. It is independent of weather. It … is walking.

Luckily in Galveston you can walk indoors regardless of weather conditions at places like the Galveston Island Community Center, 4700 Broadway, and a few other locations as well. Continue reading

‘Secret’ to living out dreams

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Thoreau once said, “All change is a miracle to contemplate, but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.

What kind of changes are you going through? More importantly, what kind of changes would you like to see in your life in order to achieve your best and highest expectations of yourself?

A “secret” formula to this last question is found in Rhonda Byrne’s short but very wise and practical book, “The Secret.” It is overflowing with useful, succinct quotes and stories from philosophers, holy men and women, thinkers, metaphysicians, mystics, poets, psychologists.

“The Secret” is one tool I have found to help myself and others to get unstuck in their lives, to live their dreams, to invite and accept what they have always wanted. It gives a philosophical and self-help psychological approach to renewal and growth in our lives.

It is easy enough in life to get into a rut of routines and habits, including habits of thought and expectations that no longer serve us.

Change is difficult and we often resist it because of that and because change brings the unfamiliar and is frequently uncomfortable.

But think about it. If we are not satisfied that our life is what it could be or should be, what option do we have other than change? Continue reading

Miracles happen in medicine

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

The other day, a lovely 81-year-old patient, let’s call her Edna, an active community volunteer, came in to see me after a bad fall.

The swelling and lack of mobility in her upper arm made me suspect that she had broken her humerus, the big bone in the upper arm. I based this nearly certain assessment on my many years of primary care and emergency room practice.

Since I don’t have X-ray eyes, I ordered an X-ray while our hardworking staff simultaneously arranged for a visit to orthopedics for the requisite splinting.

Imagine my surprise and relief later that morning to find the X-rays were normal. No fracture at all.

When I called Edna to report this happy outcome, she told me she had prayed fervently on the way to Radiology and was quite sure this prayer had had its desired effect, that things would be normal.

Of course, I could have dismissed her personal miracle, but I chose instead to reflect on this story and share it with you. Every doctor knows his or her fallibility, the limits of both our art and science. We can always be wrong though we constantly study and try not to be. Continue reading

Healing sounds

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

It had been a rough week: Ma in Hospice, the fools on the Hill in D.C., and the Longhorns just barely beating Iowa State. Iowa State, for crying out loud!

So when I heard from a friend that the Beach Boys were in town, I was lucky to grab some last-minute primo front row tickets someone had turned in at the Grand Opera House. Thanks, Judy at the Grand box office!

As we sat down to watch the performance and equally as interesting, the audience moving and grooving with the show, I thought once again about the healing power of music. One of life’s mysteries and delights is how a two-hour musical performance can bring healing, reminiscence, joy, and camaraderie to a packed house.

Music entertains, engages, distracts, elicits memories, laughter and tears. Music calms us, excites us, makes us jump up and dance, and brings us together. Healers over the centuries have used drums, flutes, gongs, ringing bowls, choirs, chorales, songs, hymns, chanting, chimes, organs, violins, guitars and every other kind of music-making instrument to reach where words cannot. Continue reading

Mercury rising

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As a kid, I used to love to play with mercury. It is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, and as a junior chemist I enjoyed chasing little balls of glistening silver as they split into bits and then gathering them into a larger mass. This was more fun than any 10-year-old could imagine — at least any 10-year-old nerd chemist.

Mercury was used in those days in thermometers, blood pressure machines, vaccines and for a variety of industrial uses. It currently gets into the ocean from power plants and volcanic activity.

If you read “Alice in Wonderland,” you cannot help but remember the Mad Hatter. His madness, or neurological insanity, was based on an archetype of that era. Hatters used mercury to cure skins and make felt for hats. Over time, they inhaled or ingested enough mercury vapors to cause neurological damage creating a kind of dementia. Continue reading

Hypnotics and sleep: Medicines that can help you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

When you hear the word “hypnotize,” perhaps you think of a psychotherapy technique or even a stage act where someone is induced to bark like a dog while in a trance.

There is also a class of medications called hypnotics. The hypnotic drugs are very commonly prescribed for sleep disorders. They are heavily advertised as well.

I would like to educate you about some concerns that have been raised regarding the chronic use of these medicines, sold under trade names such as Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata.

Insomnia affects approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population and is a troubling condition for many people. Though sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, American adults average only 6.9. Acute sleep deprivation for just a few days can cause mental, behavioral, metabolic, autonomic problems, and even a decrease in immune function leading to increased risk of infection. Continue reading

Shadowy side of patent medicines

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

It’s hard to believe that people used to drink snake oil as a “universal remedy,” or rely on a patent medicine called Mugwumps to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Yet, from colonial times to the 1900s, people would unquestionably turn to such “cures.” Patent medicines were sold directly to a patient from the manufacturer without a prescription through mail order, in shops and in traveling medicine shows. They were trademarked (which is not the same as today’s patenting) by the seller, yet untested and unregulated, and as such, rarely worked as advertised. Eventually, people even used the term “snake oil salesman” as a synonym for a fraudster.

Among the early patent medicines to arrive in America were Daffy’s Elixir Salutis for “colic and griping,” Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops and John Hooper’s Female Pills. These and many other remedies were available for just about any ailment and often made outlandish claims for their effectiveness. Continue reading

The golden triangle

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

No, I am not talking geometry here. When I refer to the golden triangle, it relates to the three essential components of well-being. These are: nutrition, activity and mind/body/spirit balance.

The media is recently filled with discussions of Obamacare and other big government programs to remedy health care problems in our country. Such problems are many, a fact I do not deny.

However, the libertarian streak in me is deeply suspicious of centralized, governmental involvement in something as personal as our health care.

The frequent tales of abuse, fraud, waste, perverse incentives and unintended consequences in such programs and government agencies are legion.

In fact, such proposed programs aren’t truly health care but are sickness care. They primarily are financial rather than health- or wellness-directed. Continue reading