First, do no harm

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The father of medicine, Hippocrates, gave us the dictum, “Primum non nocere” meaning “First, do no harm.” The challenge is that many modern medical treatments, while offering benefits, also have a substantial potential list of risks.

For example, let me just take a couple of recent weight loss drugs and give you a sense of the warnings. Qysmia, approved in 2012, is a combination of phentermine/topiramate and costs $160 a month, lists potential kidney stones, cardiac damage, and risk of fetal malformation. Side effects are insomnia, irritability, numbness, constipation and dry mouth. The latest player, Contrave, was just approved in September, and is a combination of naltrexone/bupropion. Major warnings include risks of suicidal thoughts, seizures, blood pressure and cardiac problems, liver toxicity, eye damage from glaucoma, and low blood sugar. Other adverse reactions are nausea, constipation, headache, vomiting, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth and diarrhea.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

There is a big market for these products so other options include: prescription Xenical or Orlistat approved by the FDA in 1999. It costs $470 a month and basically causes you to poop out high fat in your diet. The over-the-counter variety, Alli, was approved in 2007 and is about $50 a month. Belviq or lorcaserin is about $213 a month and even Consumer Reports says to skip it. The cheapest of the pack is phentermine at $16 a month, basically a mild form of speed. All have significant side effects if you review the accompanying package handouts. Continue reading

Can measles save us from cancer?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Today, the words “measles,” “mumps” and “rubella” sound foreign to children.But before a vaccine prevented these three viruses, 3 million to 4 million American children contracted measles, a possibly serious respiratory disease that can lead to pneumonia, and 40 percent of them required hospitalization each year.

The vaccine is 95 percent effective, and in 2012 only 55 cases of measles were reported in the U.S., mostly due to traveling abroad. Now, a study has demonstrated that the measles virus might actually be a useful treatment — for cancer. It sounds strange — using one serious disease to fight off another — but scientists have found a way to direct the cell-killing powers of viruses to cancer cells.The use of viruses to destroy cancer cells, called oncolytic virotherapy, has been investigated since the 1950s. Other viruses such as herpes and pox have also been used as treatments for other diseases, but the measles virus’s potential to fight cancer is very promising.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., utilized a modified measles virus called MV-NIS. To create this version of the virus, scientists inserted a gene for the protein sodium iodide symporter. This protein helps concentrate iodine in the human thyroid. Therefore, when this genetically engineered measles virus infects tumor cells and replicates, it produces this protein that binds to and concentrates iodine. Continue reading

Along with the cold fronts comes flu season

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Flu season 2014 is here with the first few cases reported.

Protect your family against the flu with vaccination. The 2013 flu vaccine protects against the most likely strains to be spread this winter. The flu vaccine is recommended for all children 6 months of age and older. A nasal spray version of the vaccine is available for healthy older children and adults. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. It can give you a sore shoulder, body aches and a slight fever — but not the flu. The more of us that are protected, the fewer people there are to give you the flu.

The flu is a miserable illness that for most people is like a common cold x 1,000. Most everyone we see, from babies up to teenagers and adults have at least a fever of 102 to 103, and it’s not uncommon for their temperature to be 104 to 105. The height of the fever does not necessarily indicate the severity of the illness — the flu is still just the flu. However “just the flu” kills children (and adults) every year. 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

Are we close to making artificial blood?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the series “True Blood,” the invention of artificial blood allows vampires to live among humans without inciting fear. In the real world, however, artificial blood would have very different effects, as 85 million units of blood are donated worldwide and there is always a demand for more. An artificial blood substitute free of infectious agents that could be stored at room temperature and used on anyone regardless of blood type would be revolutionary.

That is exactly what a group of scientists at the University of Essex in England are working on, although the search for an artificial blood substitute started 80 years ago. All red blood cells contain a molecule called hemoglobin, which acquires oxygen from the lungs and distributes it to cells throughout the body. Their plan is to make an artificial hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier that could be used in place of blood. 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

More bad news for smokers

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Smoking isn’t the only thing that raises your risk of lung cancer. As it turns out, your DNA can have that effect too.
A scientific study scanned the genomes, the entire genetic code, of 11,000 people of European descent in an effort to identify if there was any correlation between gene sequences and a common form of lung cancer, non-small cell carcinoma. They discovered that variants of certain genes increase a person’s susceptibility to developing lung cancer, especially in smokers.

One of the three gene variants they identified, named BRCA2, can double a smoker’s chance for developing lung cancer. BRCA2 is a tumor suppressor gene. It encodes a protein involved in the repair of damaged DNA, which is critical to ensure the stability of cell’s genetic material.

When cellular DNA is damaged, there are several ways for the body to detect and repair that damage. If the damage to DNA cannot be repaired, then the cell is programmed to die by a process called apoptosis in order to prevent the damage being passed on to its daughter cells. Continue reading

Tips to help children have a fun and safe Halloween

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s almost Halloween again. Before sending your little ones out in search of candy, consider the following to ensure that he or she has a trick-free Halloween:

  • Don’t buy a costume unless it’s labeled “flame-retardant.”
  • Make sure that wigs and “beards” don’t cover your child’s eyes, nose or mouths.
  • Encourage your child to choose a costume without a mask. Masks can make it difficult for your child to breathe. Use face paint instead.
  • Suggest a light-colored costume for your child, or add glow-in-the dark tape on the front and back of a dark costume.
  • Avoid oversized or high-heeled shoes that can cause your child to trip and fall.
  • Make sure that accessories, such as swords or wands are flexible.
  • Put a name tag with your phone number on or inside your child’s costume.

If your child will be trick or treating: Continue reading