Multiple factors drove the genetic mutation for lactase production

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Drinking milk might seem perfectly natural, but it’s actually anything but.

Humans are the only species who retain the ability to digest milk after childhood, or at least some of us do.

Up to half of adults worldwide don’t have the ability to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk, because their bodies stop producing the enzyme lactase after the age of 5.

About 65 to 75 percent of the population has some degree of lactose intolerance, the most common cause for digestive issues with dairy.

Lactase breaks down lactose into simpler forms of sugar that can be absorbed by the bloodstream. Without this enzyme, lactose is fermented by bacteria, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, nausea and diarrhea 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating. Continue reading

Hit the pause button

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

We, as a conscious species, tend to look at external events as determining the course of our lives.

Likely this was true in our prehistoric ancestors’ era when failure to respond to a hungry saber-tooth tiger would be a matter of not merely uncomfortable stress but rather the discomfort of getting chewed to death or at least bleeding rather heavily.

In our day, external threats, though they still exist in the battlefield and certain neighborhoods, are generally less pressing.

More common for most of us are internal threats, our own thinking, and how we choose to respond to the world around us.

Let me illustrate what I am talking about. At a recent talk I attended by Mary Mannin Morrissey, a well-known spiritual teacher and author, she gave an example of something she learned at age 22 that might be helpful to you.

One Sunday, she went to a church service where the speaker suggested a way to reverse the reflexive habit of an external action causing an immediate reaction. Continue reading

Mentally ill may be easy to blame, but they’re rarely violent

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

Here we are on the heels of several mass shootings. What used to be shocking has become commonplace. In fact, the United States is averaging more than one per month for the last five years.

These events have the public, media, talking heads and politicians searching for explanations and an answer to stop the bloodshed.

Increasingly, mental illness has become the convenient culprit. But let’s not mistake correlation for causation.

Mental illness does not cause violence. If it did, then homicide rates in other developed countries would be on par with that of the United States. They are not.

In 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that Americans are 4.5 times more likely to die by homicide than citizens of other developed countries.

And while more than 25 percent of Americans will have a diagnosable mental disorder, nearly all of them will not hurt or threaten to hurt anyone. And nearly all them find the actions of Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger and Aaron Ybarra reprehensible. Continue reading

Goodbye to annual Pap smear

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The musical “Evita” depicts the true story of Eva Perón, who rose from an illegitimate birth to become the passionate “spiritual leader of Argentina.”

During her lifetime, she promoted labor rights, championed women’s right to vote in Argentina, established a foundation to help the poor and won the hearts of a nation.

As Eva was riding this wave of political momentum, she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer and died at the young age of 33.

Can you imagine how much more she could have accomplished if Pap smears were available? Unfortunately, the tests were just being introduced in the United States at the time of her death in the early ’50s.

Cervical cancer once was the No. 1 cancer in women. After the introduction of Pap smears, cervical cancer rates in women in the United States fell to No. 14.

Even today, screening is not available in many developing countries, and in those countries, cervical cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in women. Continue reading

Lawn mower-related injuries can be prevented

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in 2010, 17,000 youths 19 and younger were treated for lawn mower-related injuries.

Many of these injuries occur in older children and teens. Boys with the average age of 11 make up 75 percent of the children injured. However, small children also are at risk of injury.

Lawn mowers have the potential to cause serious injuries. The blades are sharp enough to slice and even amputate limbs, and objects that get caught in the blades fly out with great force.

Though doing yard work together may be a fun family activity, children should not be around when you are mowing.

Some tips to prevent lawn mower-related injuries include: Continue reading

First in the No. 2 Business

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Antibiotic resistance among disease-causing bacteria is a growing and dangerous problem. Bacteria resistant to one or more antibiotics, like staph and strep, are approaching catastrophic levels. Bacteria so resistant to common antibiotics that few if any drugs are able to treat them have been dubbed superbugs. One widely feared bacterium, called Clostridium difficile or C. diff for short, causes intestinal disease so severe that it can become life-threatening. It kills nearly 15,000 Americans every year, mostly the elderly. Super-resistant forms of this microbe are almost impossible to treat with antibiotics.

This bacterium produces a powerful toxin that destroys intestinal cells and can rupture small blood vessels. It also causes abnormal intestinal behavior, mainly excess water that produces diarrhea. It’s an unpleasant and painful prospect for those infected with C. diff.

Roughly 5 to 15 percent of the population carries this bacterium in their digestive system naturally, but it is kept in check by the rest of the bacterial population. But an underlying disease, antibiotics, another infection, or chemotherapy can throw bacterial populations out of balance, allowing C. diff to expand into an infection. And a super-resistant version of C. diff can be a real problem. Continue reading

Joys, health benefits of eating beef jerky

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I went to the new Texas City Buc-ee’s to check it out now that the opening-day lines had thinned out some.

I decided to get some gas and just meander, not feeling required to check out their world-famous restrooms.

Entering the huge facility, I slowly drifted to the jerky section. The wholesome girl behind the counter, like a cobra mesmerizing a mouse, inquired with a bright smile if I’d like a sample.

Given that there were about 30 different types, I asked which was the best seller. She quickly pointed to the far right of the glassed-in counter.

“Garlic-pepper beef jerky,” she said confidently. After nibbling a square inch of this dried piece of heaven, I was hooked. I winked and, like the Terminator, said, “I’ll be back.”

OK, it is like $32 a pound, but once you have tasted this jerky, you might wish to lease out your second-born child to make margaritas on Tilman Fertitta’s Boardwalk yacht. I shared some with my neighbor, the new mayor. Continue reading

Take action to prevent drowning in pools

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

Water safety cannot be written about too much.

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children 1 and older in the United States.

From 2000 to 2006, drowning was the second leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in children ages 2 to 19.

In the 1- to 4-year-old age group, drowning causes nearly as many deaths as motor vehicle crashes.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its policy statement, “Prevention of Drowning.”

New data and new risks are highlighted, including the dangers of inflatable and portable pools, drain-entrapment and the possible benefit of swimming lessons for young children.

12 tips to prevent drowning

1. Touch supervision is necessary for toddlers and constant eye contact for older children.

2. Install four-sided pool fencing with self-latching and self-closing gates is important.

3. Installing pool alarms helps.

4. Install pool and spa drains covers is important.

5. Swim lessons are recommended for children older than 4 years old, perhaps for those older than 1 year.

6. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training is recommended.

7. Children riding in watercraft should use a personal flotation device and a life jacket.

8. Air-filled swim aids are not a personal flotation device.

9. Diving should be permitted only in water of known depth.

10. Children should be taught to swim in open bodies of water only when there are lifeguards.

11. Supervising older children with seizure disorders is especially important.

12. Alcohol and drug use should be prohibited during swimming and boating activities.

Remember the bathroom. Children have drowned in inches of water.

Infants and young children should never be left alone in the bathtub even for a moment.

Buckets of water should be emptied after use.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

Cancer Goggles

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Cutting people open and sewing them back up for a living is a pretty stressful occupation to begin with, but some surgeons have tougher jobs than others. Cancer surgeons are charged with removing all tumor cells on the first try. But tumor growth can be irregular, and it can be hard to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells during an operation. Imaging techniques like MRIs and CT scans can give surgeons a road map to the tumor, but they offer only limited help once an incision has been made.

This is because these images are merely snapshots — a single frame and dimension. Even three-dimensional images can only be viewed one frame at a time. In addition, the inside of the body is dynamic and it takes a skilled surgeon to understand the orientation of tissues and the precise margins where tumor tissue ends and regular tissue begins.

Because of this challenge, surgeons often have to remove healthy tissue to be sure all tumor cells are gone. This requires a special step: staining the removed tissue then looking at it under a microscope to identify the cells. The surgeon wants to be sure a margin of healthy tissue is removed so no tumor cells remain. Continue reading

A garden can bring you great simple pleasures

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Odd as it may seem, the simplest things in life may be what brings our greatest joy and satisfaction. A breeze in your face, the scent of a rose, the laughter of a child, the warmth of a hot shower: All of these are moment-to-moment experiences that can be enjoyed only if we notice and appreciate them.

One of my most pleasurable (and edible) hobbies is gardening. The past couple of weeks, my garden suddenly burst into generativity. Fragrant herbs like dill, oregano, basil, thyme, mint, sage and rosemary waft through the air.

Hiding in the verdant foliage are French breakfast radishes, along with purple, green and yellow string beans. I picked a lot on Memorial Day and will tell you this: Bean picking is not for sissies.

Raised beds are good for those of us averse to stoop labor and the backaches that it brings. Next year, I plan to raise my beds further

By the way, properly designed raised beds can even allow those limited in mobility or wheelchair bound to enjoy the earthy pleasures of gardening.

Picking those beans, I suddenly had renewed and profound respect for my co-workers in the watermelon harvest where I worked outside of Phoenix for summers during high school. Hard work for sure. Continue reading