The bright side of black death

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

It’s easy to think that nothing good could come from a disease that killed millions of people. But Dr. Pat Shipman, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, disputed that notion in his recent article in “American Scientist,” where he suggested the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages may have resulted in some positive effects on the human population. Considering that we are in the midst another significant plague (the Ebola virus in West Africa), we could certainly use more information about the role of pandemics on human populations.

The Black Death or Bubonic plague started in the mid-1300s and was caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis, which typically enters the body through the bite of a flea. Once inside, the bacterium concentrates in our lymph glands, which swell as the bacteria grow and overwhelm the immune system, and the swollen glands, called buboes, turn black. The bacteria can make their way to the lungs and are then expelled by coughing, which infects others who breathe in the bacteria. The rapid spread of the infection and high mortality rates wiped out entire villages, causing not only death from disease but starvation as crops were not planted or harvested. It killed somewhere between 100 million to 200 million people in Europe alone, which was one-third to one-half of the entire continent’s population at the time. The plague originated in the Far East and spread due to improved trade routes between these two parts of the world. Continue reading

More information about acupressure and its effects

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

After last week’s column about tapping on your acupressure points to bring energy and balance to sports and other performance, I received an unusually large number of enthusiastic comments. So, I thought I’d follow up with a more general coverage of acupressure.

I also wanted to offer a clarification that some of my readers brought to my attention this week. Tapping is done bilaterally over the paired meridians on the face and body points except when the point is in the midline, above and below mouth, and on the sternum. The index and middle finger are used to tap firmly a half dozen times or more over each point. The diagram last week showed only one point per side on the face so I have brought a revised one this week, and also one of the hand points. Tapping can be done on either or both hand points less obtrusively. Again, if tapping isn’t your thing, you can apply pressure over the points while taking a deep breath or two for the same benefits. For those of you that missed the article, you can look back on the GDN website or get a detailed overview by getting a copy of Coach Greg Warburton’s easy to read paperback, Winning System from Amazon. Continue reading

Chocolate’s flavonols good for the mind

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz once said, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” New research shows he might be right. In one study, certain compounds in cocoa called flavonols reversed age-related memory problems.

Flavonols, found in a variety of plants, are potent antioxidants that help cells in the body deal with free radicals. Free radicals arise from normal cellular processes, as well as from exposure to environmental contaminants, especially cigarette smoke. Unless your body gets rid of free radicals, they can damage proteins, lipids and even your genetic information. You can get flavonols from tea, red wine, berries, cocoa and chocolate. Flavonols are what give cocoa that strong, bitter and pungent taste. Continue reading

Tapping into your inner energy

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Some years ago, I was introduced to the Emotional Freedom Technique. At the time, it seemed a little strange to me so I put it aside. Lately though, my interest has been reawakened through a new approach to using it for sports psychology.

EFT is a simple method of helping us notice our disturbed feelings, problems with performance, anxieties, negative expectations, and so on. It is a tool for releasing and replacing them through a process of physical and mental exercises. Once they are cleared, we can be free to affirm a new, positive experience. Such a process can be used not only for improving performance in sports, but in any endeavor such as school, work, public speaking, before a business presentation, or anytime the stakes are high and your confidence is shaky. It is essential to be truthful with ourselves about the nature of our feelings, to breathe deeply during the process, and to carefully monitor our inner self-talk, avoiding negative, distorted, or unhelpful verbiage. Continue reading

Declining sense of smell a signal of death

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

This may be a Debbie Downer question, but can you guess what condition is most indicative of a person’s imminent demise? It turns out that the strongest predictor of impending death is not cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes or emphysema, but a person’s declining sense of smell.

Scientists at the University of Chicago have revealed that the loss of the sense of smell, officially called olfactory dysfunction, is a significant forecaster of death in older Americans. In this study, 3,005 people aged 57-85 were asked to identify five common scents: peppermint, fish, rose, leather and orange. Five years later, the health of the same people was evaluated.

As this was an older population, some of the subjects died before the study contacted them again. The surprise was that almost 40 percent of those who died had failed the scent test, identifying only one or none correctly. Anosmia is the technical term for complete loss of the ability to smell, while hyponosmia is the significant (but not total) loss of smell. The mortality rate for those with anosmia was four times higher than for those with normal smell. Those who were hyponosmic had an intermediate mortality compared to normal individuals. So being either anosmic or hyponosmic is associated with an increase in a person’s mortality. And because of the limited length of this study and the relatively small group examined, the effect on mortality is probably underestimated. Continue reading

LOL-Laughing Out Loud

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Laughing is the shortest distance between two people.” Victor Borge, actor. Have you noticed how a heartfelt laugh can fill a room like liquid sunshine. A friend of mine is instantly recognized in a room by his loud and infectious laugh. Everyone can quickly tell when he is at the gym or other social setting by the sound of his cheerful laugh. Like the recently deceased Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk fame whose signature laugh on the radio show made even the most tense people smile, my buddy’s easy and natural outbursts of laughing out loud just bring joy to those around him. My little granddaughter Serenity, now nearly seven, can be sitting quietly with us in a room and for no apparent reason, burst into giggles and then uproarious laughter. No matter how bad we might feel at that moment, it is like a switch is turned on by the sound of laughter to bring warmth and pleasure into our lives.

Other kinds of outbursts may have the opposite effect. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have shown that anger can kill. For those at higher risk of heart disease in particular, bursts of anger can bring on a heart attack or stroke. Continue reading

Scientists humanize the mouse

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the 1986 horror movie “The Fly,” a scientist’s teleportation experiment goes awry when a fly lands in one of the teleportation pods and undergoes a transformation becoming part fly, part human monster. Today, science has given us the capability to create animal-human hybrids, although so far none of them has craved human flesh like they tend to do in the movies.

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been introducing human genes into mice to study the effects on their brains. They are doing this in small steps, using genetic engineering techniques to introduce a specific, single human gene into a mouse. This will allow scientists to evaluate the impact of each human gene on the brain in another species. It’s not quite a monstrous Franken-mouse, but the results have definitely been revealing.

The human version of a gene called Fox2p is connected with language and speech development, a trait associated with the higher order brain function unique to humans. When this gene was introduced into mice in the experiment, they developed more complex neurons and more extensive circuits in their brains. Scientists wondered if this gene is responsible for the enhanced brain and cognitive abilities displayed in humans. Continue reading

The wisdom of Sir William Osler MD

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Sir William Osler was one of the founding fathers of modern medical education. His life and work is a role model for every physician. Though he humbly admitted that he started in life “with just an ordinary stock of brains,” his lifelong discipline and system of study and research made him one of the finest physicians of his time and of all times.

In addition to deep knowledge of the subject of medicine allowing him to write the first comprehensive textbook of internal medicine, he was a gifted and innovative teacher. He personally performed over a thousand autopsies, barehanded as they did in those days, to deepen current knowledge of the pathology and physiology of disease. While at Johns Hopkins Medical School, he helped found the structure of contemporary medical education that has endured for nearly a century after his death. He prompted students to develop a consistent system of regular study to digest usable amounts of knowledge and likened cramming before examinations to trying to eat more than you can absorb.

In addition to his astute clinical, observational, and diagnostic reasoning skills, he emphasized the humanistic side of medicine. He taught students that the core of empathy with the patient is, “putting yourself in his place” and attempting to enter the mental space of the patient while offering “a kindly word, a cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look.”

He sometimes shocked contemporaries by his casual, playful nature and was well known for his affection for children with whom he was known to get down on the floor and play. He honored and trusted his medical students and gave them a key to his home so they could browse his extensive library. That would be like giving someone your email password these days. Continue reading

Magic of the neti pot

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I want to tell you about the Aladdin’s lamp of nasal health, the neti pot. Shaped like a little lamp or teapot, it is a simple and perfectly designed way of delivering salt water into irritated nasal passages. You put a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more or less, in the neti pot, dissolve it with warm, clean water, then with your head over the sink and turned to the side, simply pour the solution into each nostril. This flushes out mucus, debris, pollen, and inflammatory cells and molecules.

The sinuses are like little side closets off the nasal passages, with tiny openings called ostia.This little door into a bigger room can easily be blocked by inflammation, swelling and infection. The nasal saline wash can help open these portals and facilitate drainage from the sinuses. A buildup in the sinus of mucus, fluid, and pus can lead to the excruciating pain and facial pressure of sinusitis. While antibiotics can occasionally be useful in this condition, establishing drainage is a first principle. Continue reading

One clue to the sole HIV ‘cured’ patient

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Millions of people around the world are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but only one has ever been cured. Known as the “Berlin Patient,” Timothy Ray Brown is a 48-year-old American living in Germany. Scientists and physicians have wondered how he was cured, and some recently published studies in monkeys have provided one clue.

Brown had been HIV positive since 1995. When HIV infects the body’s cells, it integrates its genetic information into cells, making the virus a permanent part of the host’s genetic information. Brown’s HIV was held at bay by antiretroviral drugs that have made this infection survivable. However, in 2006 he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer unrelated to HIV. AML affects a group of blood cells in bone marrow called the myeloid cells. Brown underwent grueling chemotherapy that failed. In the hope of saving his life, he received two bone marrow transplants. The year of his first transplant, he stopped taking the antiretrovirals, which would normally cause a patient’s HIV levels to skyrocket.

Yet, years later, there is no sign of the virus returning. Only traces of HIV’s genetic material have been found in his blood, and those pieces are unable to replicate. The big question now is: how was this accomplished? Continue reading