The inside story on natural gas

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A topic rarely discussed in polite company is the production, distribution and dissemination of natural gas. This is the kind of gas produced by the fermentation and digestion of food in the human intestinal tract. In medical terms, it is referred to as flatus. Our gut bacteria and microbiome processes along with swallowed air results in about 1-2 liters of gas daily. This is largely odorless nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.

The gas is aroma-fied by sulfides, methane and tiny amounts of cadaverine, putrescine and butyric acid. This is the stinky stuff. Men and women both produce about equal amounts, though women tend to be more, shall we say, polite and secretive about expelling it. In my medical practice, “excess gas” is a common complaint. This is often attributable to benign factors such improper mix of gut bacteria, gas producing foods such as beans and legumes, foods from the cabbage family, and common offenders such as cucumbers, celery, apples, carrots, onions and garlic.

While healthy, a high fiber diet can initially cause increased gas.Medical conditions such a gall bladder disease, anxiety from swallowing too much air during panic attacks, and small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and medications can be contributing factors. Continue reading

It’s not just Venus and Mars anymore

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While the gender gaps are closing, sometimes the differences between men and women seem as great as the differences between Venus and Mars. For example, men and women tolerate medications very differently. Due to this, the Food and Drug Administration has recently changed the recommended dosage of the sleep aid Lunesta from 2 milligrams to 1 milligram because of its prolonged effects on women.

Women reported feeling drowsy in the morning hours after waking, raising concerns about the hazards of driving and working. While men and women are often prescribed the same dosages of medications, this case shows how men and women are not the same organism and drug dosing might need to take that into consideration.

For basic studies in the biomedical laboratory, many cells lines that are used experimentally are derived from tissues obtained from males, either human or animal. Even in the very early steps of identifying a drug and determining how it works, efforts are already focused on those of us with a Y chromosome. Continue reading

Research sheds new light on autism

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Based on statistics, you probably know someone with a form of autism. Autism rates in America grew by 30 percent from 2008-2010 and have doubled since 2000. Now, one in 68 8-year-olds are diagnosed with autism. On average, one child in each grade of every elementary school has autism. What is responsible for the remarkable rise of this disease?

Perhaps we have gotten better at diagnosing it. Now, researchers are working to establish how autism occurs, even before birth, and how to diagnose it sooner.Autism is actually not a single disease but a spectrum of disorders. It is clearly related to infant development and is caused by differences in the brain. There are multiple causes of autism, but most are not yet known. One possible connection is that people tend to conceive later. The age at which women give birth has been increasing for many years and is linked to higher chances of autism.

Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders relies on observing differences in a person’s communication, social skills and typical behavior. Roughly one-third of those with autism are also diagnosed with intellectual deficits, but the remaining two-thirds have normal or above average intelligence. Most are diagnosed at 4 years old but some are identified by age 2. This is critical because research has repeatedly shown that the earlier therapy starts, the more likely it will result in substantial improvement. Continue reading

Recommendations about dealing with children’s head injuries

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

What should you do if your child has a head injury but does not lose consciousness? This is what is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

For anything more than a light bump on the head, you should call your child’s doctor. The doctor will want to know when and how the injury happened and how your child is feeling.If your child is alert and responds to you, the head injury is mild and usually no tests or X-rays are needed.Your child may cry from pain or fright but this should last no longer than 10 minutes. You may need to apply a cold compress for 20 minutes to help the swelling go down and then watch your child closely for a time.

If there are any changes in your child’s condition call your doctor right away.You may need to bring your child to the doctor’s office or to the hospital.The following are signs of a more serious injury: Continue reading

Research looks at sugar sensors in the digestive system

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Your tongue isn’t the only part your body that can taste sweetness.

Three years ago, scientists discovered that our intestines and pancreas have receptors that can sense the sugars, glucose and fructose. This could revolutionize treatment for diabetics, who must closely monitor their blood sugar levels.

A drug called New-Met, made by Eleclyx Therapeutics in San Diego – that is now in phase II clinical trials – is attempting to do just that by targeting those sugar receptors in the digestive system.

It appears that these taste receptors are basically sensors for specific chemicals that can serve functions other than taste in other parts of the body, although we don’t know what all those functions are yet. We do know the function of the T1R2/T1R3 taste receptor found on some cells in the intestine. When they detect sugar molecules, these cells secrete hormones called incretins, which in turn stimulate insulin production in the pancreas. 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

Bone health should be a lifelong pursuit

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The last subject I dove into in this column was falling. I challenged all women to work on improving their physical balance to decrease their fall risk.I should have paid more attention to my topic.

On a recent visit to Asheville, N.C., I watched the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains as wisps of fog nestled on the hilltops. The beauty called me. I grabbed my husband (thank goodness!) and marched off into the crisp mountain air.

Along one of the hillsides, my right foot landed on a mound of acorns in the dewy grass. As my foot rolled under me, I heard a pop. Something as simple as chasing beauty left me sidelined with a broken ankle.

Bones are dynamic tissues in our bodies. Building and maintaining the health of our 206 bones should be a lifelong goal. By 20, women generally reach their peak bone mass. That means it is crucial for young women to build strong bones with physical activity and adequate calcium intake in their youth. Continue reading

How clean is too clean?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Common knowledge and previous studies generally agree that children who grow up in the inner city and are exposed to mouse allergens, roach allergens and air pollutants are more likely to develop asthma and allergies. But a recent study adds a new twist — children exposed to these substances in their first year of life actually had lower rates of asthma and allergies. However, if these allergens were first encountered after age one, this protective effect did not exist.

Another study parallels this one, concluding that children growing up on farms also have lower allergy and asthma rates. Scientists argue that farm children are regularly exposed to microbes and allergens at an early age, leading to this same protective effect.

Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children. One in five Americans, or 60 million people, has asthma and allergies. In the industrialized world, allergic diseases have been on the rise for more than 50 years. Worldwide, 40-50 percent of school-age children are sensitive to one or more common allergens. Continue reading

Pull up your genes

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I recently attended the Lifestyle Medicine Conference in San Diego and learned or was reminded of some amazing information.For example, Dr. Dean Ornish, a noted health researcher and cardiologist, pointed out what lifestyle factors we can choose to improve the expression of our genes.

It turns out that our behaviors are what largely affect our health and well-being or conversely, our disease risk.At least 70 percent of our health is dominated by our behaviors, and 70-90 percent of common chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease can be avoided or even reversed with optimally healthy lifestyles.

The “book of life” that we are born with, our chromosomes and genetic material, can likewise be significantly and positively modified by healthy lifestyle choices. Continue reading

Death, anyone?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The emerging fears about Ebola are only in part about getting an infection. To put the snake on the table, the real issue is our fear of death.

The subject of death and dying is almost always difficult. As a physician, I have had the opportunity to be present and bear witness as patients died from trauma, disease and old age. Attending these souls in their final days is one of the most profound experiences in medicine. Being with death challenges the families of the dying and each of us. It pushes each of us to examine and experience the emotions, beliefs, spiritual issues, as well as earthy and pragmatic matters tied to this ultimate material transition.

If you are not in health care, you likely do not have a lot of experience with death. Perhaps you have some experience of death those in your family, workplace or friends. This is predictably painful, bringing not only grief but also more questions than answers. Continue reading