Agavin offers more choices to those watching caloric, sugar intake

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Next time you have a bitter pill to swallow, think about reaching for a spoonful of agavin instead of sugar to help the medicine go down.

You might not know what agavin is yet, but you’ve probably noticed that a number of alternative natural sweeteners like Stevia have been added to grocery store shelves next to traditional sugar.

These products sweeten foods but often do not add calories or raise blood sugar levels. Recent research suggests that a sweetener made from agave, the same plant used to make tequila, may lower blood sugar levels and help people maintain a healthy weight.

Agavin is a natural form of sugar, fructose, called fructan. With fructan, individual sugar molecules are linked together in long chains.

The human body cannot use this form of fructose so it is a non-digestible dietary fiber that does not contribute to blood sugar levels. But it can still add sweetness to foods and drinks. Continue reading

Empathy is a vital skill for health industry

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Editor’s note: This the first in a series.
Empathy is the ability to detect, understand, and relate to another’s emotions. It is the basis of deep interpersonal relationships, including therapeutic relationships such as between a healer and a client or patient. Much of empathy is a nonverbal process.

Empathy is different from compassion. Compassion is a positive trait embraced by all major faith traditions. Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” It is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and the feeling you have motivating you to relieve that suffering. Continue reading

Reading an easy way to shape a better life

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I have always been an incessant reader. Throughout my life, the world has entered my mind and experience through words.

New places and persons, extraordinary ideas, philosophies, faiths, art and all the panoply of what is available through literature has been instantly available to me though books and magazines.

It is even more so now through electronic sources. As a kid, summer vacations occasioned biweekly trips to the Phoenix Public Library where I would check out the maximum allowable 10 books.

Biographies of famous people like Thomas Edison, outdoorsmen like Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt served to inspire and keep me busy during hot summer days. Novels, nonfiction and hobby themes abounded as well in my reading lists. Continue reading

Thirdhand smoke is dangerous, too

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Science has long proved that smoking is bad for you and those around you, with 90 percent of lung cancer cases caused by smoking.

Even secondhand smoke is dangerous enough to warrant banning smoking in public places. The idea of thirdhand smoke premiered in 2009, and scientific evidence shows that it, too, can harm human health.

Thirdhand smoke is the many toxic compounds from tobacco smoke that settle onto surfaces (particularly fabrics) such as carpet, furniture and the inside of a car. Researchers have identified chemicals in thirdhand cigarette smoke called NNA and NNK that can bind to DNA, a person’s genetic information, and cause damage and mutations that could lead to cancer. Continue reading

Toenails play role in your health – take care of them

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

This week, please allow me to address a topic that seldom makes the top ten of health care problems: toenails. Take a moment now, and look at your toenails. Can you say with all honesty that you love and appreciate them? Or do you prefer they remain hidden under glitzy toe polish or buried in a boot or shoe? Are they the nice, symmetrical, pink-white shiny nails of youth or the horny, crusty, yellowed hooves of old age? Are they all the same color, or are some darker, green, yellow, or even black?

My inspiration to write about this came Saturday night when I had to do my bimonthly toenail trimming. Reaching them is harder every year and requires more exotic and garage-worthy equipment. For some older folks, the best bet is to let a family member, doctor, or foot specialist trim your nails. This is especially important for those with diabetes or peripheral vascular disease as a bad nail or nail infection in these folks can result in an amputation or worse.

A patient of mine with diabetes came in very concerned about a black toenail. She was sure it was diabetic gangrene. After an exam, we concluded that the blood flow was good and likely it was a bruise under the nail. Three months later when the “bruise” had not resolved, I sent her to Dermatology for a biopsy. We found that it was a melanoma, a potentially deadly kind of skin cancer growing under the nail. Off with the toe and 12 years later, she is alive and well. Continue reading

Take inventory of words

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

We create our lives from the inside out. From our thoughts come our ideas, from our ideas our words, our attitudes, our actions, and, ultimately, our outcomes in life.

Cause and effect. For many years, I had this exactly backward. I figured if I got a lucky break, met a powerful, rich friend, the right mentor, stumbled on a good business opportunity, met the right girl, an so on, then life would unfold as I wished it to be.

Except for luckily meeting the right girl, it has not really been that way.

The most common worldview in our day is that outside events shape our destiny.

Note the fluctuations in the stock market based on belief, fear and negative expectations, rather than any significant change in the businesses they invest in.

What is so often underemphasized is the power we have within to shape the map of our lives.

Rather than seeing ourselves as dependent beings awaiting the whims of fate, we need but recall the classic words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson offered us this timeless advice: Continue reading

Take care of the earth and it will take care of you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The gardening angels visited me again recently. They come as if by magic: one part sweat, two parts dirt, some under the fingernails, a pinch of earthworm.

As I pulled out my drying, dying tomato plants, I thanked each one for the wonderful harvest and delicious salads all summer. Then, the hard work of weeding began.

Because of heat, mosquitoes, and I admit some laziness, my lovely vegetable garden had become overgrown with a variety of weeds: dollar plants, mimosa weeds, Johnson and rye grass, and some I can’t name. A herbalist once said that “a weed is a plant whose virtue has not been discovered yet.”

So as I laboriously pulled weeds overgrowing my little patch of earth, I started communing with the gardening angels. As I peeled away the mantle of weeds, lo and behold my Greek and Italian oregano was thriving underneath, as was thyme, volunteer basil, and sage. The kitchen sweet fragrance of the herbs as they kissed my nostrils made weeding an aromatherapy experience. Continue reading

Enjoy quinoa – a gluten-free superfood

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Quinoa, pronounced “keen-WA,” is a food grown in the high Andes, primarily Bolivia and Peru.

It is not technically a grain nor a cereal, but botanically something in between. It has been a staple in those Andean countries for centuries, though with the worldwide increase in demand, they are finding it harder to afford since most of their production is exported. It does not grow well in the United States.

Why the recent interest in quinoa? We are in an era when rightly or wrongly people are avoiding gluten like the plague. Gluten is a protein common in wheat, barley, rye and oats, among other foods. With the trend to avoid gluten, quinoa fills a gap with a healthful grain-like product that fits well with many recipes.

For example, one of my favorite Mediterranean dishes is called taboulleh. In Galveston, check out the Mediterranean Chef on The Strand for an excellent preparation of this traditional salad.

The catch for gluten-phobes is that taboulleh is usually made with bulgur wheat and despite its wonderful taste and nourishing qualities, it has that old gluten fiend lurking around the parsley, onions and tomatoes. Continue reading

You have to go through all 10 stages of grief

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series.)

Why is the book by Granger Westberg called “Good Grief?”

The first four stages — shock, emotional pain, depression and loneliness, and physical distress — certainly don’t seem “good” in any clear sense.

They are all a rough and tumble struggle to adjust ourselves to a major loss of some kind in our lives.

How the author explained the concept of “Good Grief,” to me, is as follows.

When we experience a grief-producing event, it is like sliding slowly down into a deep, unknown and often dark valley.

As we work through the later stages of grief, it is an uphill climb but, eventually, we come out of the valley.

Looking back, we discover we are at a higher vantage point than where we started.

We can view the sunshine and the world at large from a mountaintop we have climbed and generally with more vision, awareness, compassion, wisdom and maturity. So what are the other six stages of the grief process? Continue reading

The stages of grief

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

(This is the first part of a two-part series)

I have been grieving the loss of several patients lately. You may have never reflected on this, but doctors, by the very nature of our work, constantly must live through and with the death and dying of patients. No matter how good a doctor you are, this is an inevitable part of our calling.

Many of these folks have grown into near and dear relationships with us through years of care. Richard (not his real name) died recently at nearly 100.

When I read his obituary, I was so impressed with the man he had been. So many accomplishments, such a wonderful life, family and service to church and community. His passing was surely a loss to the world.

As Richard gradually became more frail during the past 10 years or so, I came to see him this dignified man grow increasingly demented, frail, skeletal and weak, like many people in their 90s. Continue reading