Medical Discovery News: See the chemistry of opera

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

The chemistry of an opera can fill an entire theater with its own type of sizzling electricity — the illicit desires of Richard Wagner’s star-crossed lovers “Tristan and Isolde,” the passionate seductions of Georges Bizet’s fiery “Carmen,” and the unrequited yearnings of Giacomo Puccini’s doomed “Madame Butterfly.” However, those feelings aren’t the only type of chemistry at play.

The storylines of many operas involve poisons, love potions and even pharmacists. For Joao Paulo André, who saw his first opera during his third year of college and now works in the chemistry department of the University of Minho in Portugal, the science within such scenes was obvious. In a recent article for the “Journal of Chemical Education,” André divided operas into four categories: apothecary operas, operas of poisonous natural products, operas of the great poisoners of history and arsenic operas.

The apothecary operas are those that involve the work of chemists or pharmacists. In 1768, Joseph Haydn composed a comic opera entitled “Der Apotheker.” The story involves a pharmacy apprentice named Mengino who is in love with an apothecary’s ward, Grilletta. In one aria, he sings about the virtues of rhubarb and manna, plant-based treatments for constipation and diarrhea — not subjects most audiences would expect to be sung about! Continue reading

Proactive education can help reduce teen pregnancies

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Our Bodies, Our Lives 

Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women’s sexual, gynecological and emotional health.

Unintended teenage pregnancy is still a significant problem in the United States. When an unwed teen becomes pregnant, her future options can become very limited. If she has not yet completed school, gained employment skills or even had much opportunity to experience adult life, she is likely to face some challenges.

In 2010, approximately 368,000 U.S. teenagers 15-19 gave birth. Sixty percent of sexually experienced teens reported using a highly effective birth control like an IUD or hormonal method.

Given that so many teenage girls with unintended pregnancies were not using contraception when they became pregnant, it seems that proactive sexual health education might be a good way to reduce this burden. Even if abstinence is the program of choice, we feel that we are obliged to protect the younger generation by equipping them with information and education about their sexual health. Continue reading

Medical Discovery News: The rise of cavities

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

By age 65, 92 percent of Americans have cavities in their permanent teeth, and an average of 3.28 teeth missing or decayed. The answer to why this is may not concern toothpaste ingredients or brushing time, but the lifestyles of ancient humans, as two new studies have discovered.

Humans used to live as hunter-gatherers, meaning they hunted for game and foraged for plants to eat. They were mainly nomadic, following herds to keep their food source. That changed about 10,000 years ago when agriculture was invented. They began to settle down in one place, raising livestock and growing crops for food. The human diet changed, as it now included more starch from the grains they harvested.

The breakdown of starch begins with enzymes in the mouth that split the starch into shorter chains of sugars. The process continues in the stomach and the small intestine until the sugar chains are broken down into individual sugar molecules. This leaves a residue of sugar in a film on and between teeth, creating an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria. Two recent studies have documented how this change in diet caused bacteria associated with cavities and periodontal disease to emerge and eventually become widespread. Continue reading

Two common summer parasitic infections

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy 

Two of the most common types of parasitic infections that occur during the summer months include giardiasis and pinworms.

Giardia lamblia is a common microscopic parasite that attaches itself to the lining of the small intestines. It interferes with the body’s ability to absorb fats and carbohydrates from digested food.

Kiddie pools are often a source of giardia, which is normally associated with food-borne outbreaks or fresh water, such as springs or creeks.

Even kiddie pools that are treated and maintained with chemicals may be a source of this parasite because chorine degrades in sunlight and the shallowness of the water in this type of pools can add to that degradation. Continue reading

Don’t let regrets hold you back

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Regrets, I’ve had a few …. “..but then again, too few to mention. ” Thus goes the old song by Frank Sinatra.

Along the same theme and perhaps even better known is the poem “The Road Not Taken“ by Robert Frost, most notably and quotably, the last lines:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

As a family physician, I frequently meet and work with individuals and families in which a major issue is some past choice that led to a hurt, a mistake, a poor investment or an abusive relationship. That path weighs heavily on their hearts and health. The death of a child, a divorce, a job loss or other deeply felt disappointment may sometimes become an overwhelming burden. If we let it, such an event can overshadow what is otherwise a reasonably good, healthy and prosperous life. Continue reading

Ticked-off meat-eaters

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Using bug spray is more important than ever – especially for those who particularly enjoy eating hamburgers. It might sound like those two things aren’t related, but a person bitten by a certain tick can develop a severe allergy to meat.

This type of food allergy only develops in people who have been bitten by the Lone Star Tick, which has previously been linked to a condition known as Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness. The tick bite that causes this illness results in a rash, fatigue, headache, fever and muscle pains. It is often confused with Lyme disease, which is also spread by ticks.

After being bitten by the Lone Star Tick, a person develops antibodies — molecules of the immune system that normally target and destroy invaders like viruses and bacteria — against a complex sugar called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (alpha-gal). This sugar exists in all mammals except primates, including cows, pigs and sheep. This specific allergy has a delayed response, so a person would experience symptoms like hives four to six hours after eating a meat such as bacon. Some people even suffer life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Continue reading

Bacteria, viruses common causes of foodborne illnesses

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Foodborne illnesses are caused by germs or harmful chemicals we eat and drink.

Most are caused when certain bacteria, viruses or parasites contaminate food. Others occur when food is contaminated by harmful chemicals or toxins.

Since these infections or chemicals enter the body though the stomach and intestines, the most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort.

Around a hundred years ago, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and cholera were some of the most common foodborne illnesses.

Now with improved food processing, pasteurization of milk and water treatment, these diseases have been almost eliminated. Today, other bacteria and viruses have become common causes of food borne illnesses. Continue reading

Know this about screening for prostate cancer

Dr. Joseph Sonstein

Dr. Joseph Sonstein

A hot topic in the news this year has been prostate cancer screening and the associated PSA (prostate specific antigen) test. There have been multiple recommendations from multiple sources in the past year or two, and it can be quite confusing to the public as to what to do. And there is controversy.

But as a urologist, I see men with prostate cancer or elevated PSA every day, and I feel that the newly released guidelines by the American Urological Association can help to address some of these controversies.

Since the late 1980s, the PSA test has been used to screen men for prostate cancer. Since that time, we have seen a steady decrease in the death rate from the disease, in part because the PSA test allowed us to find the cancer early enough to treat it. But last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended a wholesale abandonment of prostate cancer screening in men with no symptoms. Continue reading

Our Bodies, Our Lives – Pregnancy brain: Is it fact or fiction?

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Our Bodies, Our Lives

I know I opened my calendar to add something to it … but what was it?” An exhausted and exasperated Julia, who is 7 months pregnant, finds that words escape her, and on occasion, she heads into a room only to forget what she is looking for. Is this “pregnancy brain” — also called momnesia or pregnesia?

Women, and men, often joke about the memory lapses caused by pregnancy. But is it true? What are the changes that take place? Are the changes all bad?

First of all, we can assure you that there are some very real changes that occur in the brain during pregnancy. Hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone (hormones produced by a woman’s ovaries) increase 30 to 70 fold. The brain is responsive to hormonal changes. But do these hormones alter cognition? Continue reading

Home cooking and family time

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

Drs. Victor & Michelle Sierpina

In his recent book, “Cooked,” food author Michael Pollan laments the passing of home cooking.

He notes that this has paralleled the rise in obesity rates as we paradoxically spend less time cooking, eating together, and grab more fast food to eat on the run and alone.

I marveled watching a man gobbling down some kind of cheesy pasta dish while standing up in a moving train at the Denver Airport. Is that really all food is, fuel? Can eating like that really be healthy?

Pollan notes that the fast food culture had undermined the institution of the shared meal.

“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending. “ Continue reading