Gesundheit, again

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Have you ever noticed that many times sneezes come in threes? Repeated sneezes may be your body’s efforts to get rid of irritants in the nose when the initial sneeze is not strong enough to do so.

Sneezing has different meanings in cultures around the world. The Athenian General Xenophon gave an encouraging speech to his army that went on for an hour until a soldier sneezed. Taken as a favorable sign from the gods, the army proceeded to attack the Persians, but was ultimately defeated and the general killed. One of the Pagan beliefs is that sneezing opened one’s body to Satan or evil spirits, which is how the common response “Bless You” arose. In fact, Pope Gregory VII made the short prayer “May God Bless You” a required response to a sneeze as protection from the Black Plague. As you can see, the sneeze has often been misinterpreted in history. Continue reading

Move On

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A recent ode to the benefits of tennis by a 74-year-old writer caught my eye. Citing various classical authors, philosophers, and the gradual improvement of his game since his 20s, the author championed the power of vigorous sport on his writing and his mind. Riffing off a Robert Frost poem that ended “Here are your waters and your watering place. Drink and be whole again beyond confusion,” the author concluded: “The tennis court is my watering place where I drink and am whole again beyond confusion — at least for a couple of hours.”

As an aging tennis player myself, I found his essay in The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page uplifting as he described “tennis as a refuge from the racket of everyday life.” We all need some kind of healthy activity and discipline to allow us to shut down the grinding gears of our minds for brief periods and refresh it with the drink of stillness and the water of life.

The Physical Activity Council recently reported 28 percent of Americans over 6 get no physical activity meaning they are totally sedentary in the past year. This report is also included a sharp increase in inactivity for those over 65. These are unhealthy trends. Continue reading

A body in motion

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

In high school physics class, I learned from Sir Isaac Newton that a body in motion will stay in motion. The opposite is true and it is called inertia. The other day in clinic, I went in to see Dylan, a 12 year old. He didn’t look up or say hi to me as I came into the room as he was intently working his thumbs on a handheld device. His mother told him to be polite and say hello. He raised his head briefly, said, “Hi,” then back to the gaming thing. She shrugged apologetically and helplessly. I won’t dwell on how we should socialize the digital generation to learn polite human interaction, though it is quite relevant to bodies in motion.

Dylan’s complaint was a minor one and he basically came in needing a school excuse. It could have been a 5 to 10 minute visit but I noticed he was a bit chunky. In fact, his BMI at 29 was close to the obese range. At mom’s request, we ran a urine and blood test to make sure he wasn’t diabetic. He wasn’t, fortunately, at least not yet.

I asked Dylan what kinds of sports or other activities he liked to do. Mom motioned to me with both thumbs moving rapidly to mime the reality of his activity. Continue reading

Smoking combined with your DNA increase lung cancer risk

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

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

Celebrate the virtues of olive oil

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As a child, I had a generally negative experience with olive oil. My mom, who mostly cooked with Crisco, lard, bacon fat, and butter had a tiny pyramid-shaped bottle of cheap Pompei olive oil in her pantry.

I don’t know what she used it for in the usual spectrum of Polish cooking like maybe frying kielbasa in it, but I know I tasted it straight a few times and found it atrocious. Olive Oyle was also cartoon character as Popeye’s less than attractive, scrawny, screechy girlfriend. Over the years, though, I have developed a love relationship with the health benefits of Olive Oil. Not Popeye’s girl lest I get socked in the eye by the spinach-fortified sailor!

I am not alone as the American public has turned on to olive oil using 10 times the amount we used just 30 years ago. A 9 percent increase in use was reported just in the past year. This growth has come largely as a replacement for margarine. Still, the average Italian or Spaniard downs 10 times the amount of olive oil in a year than the average American. They consume 8-9 liters annually compared to our measly 0.4-0.8 liters annually. The Greeks, despite the constant news of financial crisis, are guzzling almost 15 liters a person per year. Continue reading

You’re more like your mother than you know

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While the benefits of breast feeding have been well-documented, scientists were surprised to learn of another one: breast milk contains a mother’s stem cells that become a part of different organs of the baby’s body.

Breast feeding protects infants against infections early in life and reduces their risk of juvenile diabetes, heart disease and cancer as children. It also helps mothers lose weight after giving birth and lowers their risk of osteoporosis and uterine and ovarian cancer.

In addition, seven years ago scientists discovered the presence of mammary stem cells in breast milk. The mammary gland is unique in its ability to go through different stages in anticipation of producing milk, then a period of milk secretion followed by a return to the non-lactating state. All of this can occur as many times as necessary. This massive restructuring of the breast suggested the presence of stem cells. Continue reading

Taking a much closer look at metastasis

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

One of the things that make cancer cells so deadly is metastasis, their ability to dislodge from their original location and migrate to other tissues. Most people who die of cancer are victims of this process. Even if a tumor is removed surgically, doctors can’t be certain that some of the tumor cells haven’t already metastasized, hence the need for treatments such as chemotherapy to target those cells. Unsurprisingly, metastasis is a subject of intense research and luckily scientists now have a new tool to help them understand how tumor cells move.

While most tumors have the ability to metastasize to many different tissues, they prefer to spread to certain ones, like those in the bones, liver and lungs. Cancer begins to spread by invading nearby tissue, then through a process called intravasation, tumor cells enter a blood or lymphatic vessel, allowing them to circulate to other parts of the body. Continue reading

Both sides now

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Some of you may remember the old ballad by Judy Collins:

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from win and lose and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

This is a metaphor for life. Clouds often symbolize sadness and depression but can be bright, fluffy, and filled with water and rainbows.

Perhaps you got up one morning recently to look out at a cloudy sky. Gloom, depression, irritation, getting soaked, and your newly washed car getting spotted. Dang. The day is off to a bad start. That is unless you are from California where skies are decidedly not cloudy all day but they haven’t had but a smidgen of rain in nearly four years. North and West Texas are suffering from some of the same. Here on the wet Gulf Coast, we have gotten plenty of good soaking rain this year. Let’s be grateful.

On the other side of clouds is always the possibility for positive or negative imagery.

Try to imagine those clouds as big bellies pregnant with rain and giving birth to spring plants, flowers, and flourishing trees and later raising wonderful summer children of vegetables, fruits, green grass and roses. Continue reading

Cigars are no better than cigarettes

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

A common argument made by those who smoke cigars is that they are safer than cigarettes. However, several studies argue that this is not true.

Cigar smoking has increased dramatically in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2011, small cigar sales rose 65 percent and large cigar sales increased 233 percent. Americans smoked more than 13 million cigars in 2010, twice the number from 2000. About 13.4 million people age 12 or older smoke cigars. A cigar culture has arisen, with cigar bars or clubs, shops with walk-in humidors and magazines for those who consider themselves cigar connoisseurs. Their use among sports figures and celebrities has made it seem fashionable or sophisticated, a symbol of status or success.

The tobacco in cigars is cured and fermented to enhance the flavor, but this process also increases the amounts of harmful ingredients. Cigars come in three basic sizes, but the classic cigars are the large ones that contain more than half an ounce of tobacco, and some contain as much as an entire pack of cigarettes.

Just like cigarettes, cigars contain nicotine and can be very addictive. Most people who smoke cigars do not inhale, and therefore the nicotine is absorbed more slowly. However, cigar smoke dissolves more easily in saliva than cigarette smoke, enhancing the amount of nicotine absorbed. Smokers absorb one to two milligrams of nicotine out of the eight total milligrams in cigarettes. The large cigars contain anywhere from 100 to over 400 milligrams of nicotine, and the amount a person absorbs varies greatly depending on how long the cigar is smoked, how many puffs are taken, and how much smoke is inhaled. Second- and third-hand cigar smoke is dangerous, just like it is with cigarettes.

In one study, scientists measured the levels of two biomarkers for tobacco as well as arsenic and lead in over 25,000 cigar smokers. Cigar smokers had higher levels of these carcinogens than nonsmokers and equal levels to cigarette smokers. Overall, the study found that cigars are not safer than cigarettes. Cigar smokers are less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers, but they are at higher risks of developing other cancers.

Those who inhale while smoking cigars are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer and cancers of the tongue, mouth or throat than nonsmokers. Even those who don’t inhale the smoke directly still inhale the secondhand smoke and are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx and esophagus than nonsmokers.

Cigar smoking also increases the risk of other diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, gum disease and erectile dysfunction. One long-term study determined that cigar or pipe smoking costs people 10 years on average — they spent an extra five years in bad health and died five years earlier.

So before you take up cigars in an attempt to look cool, ask yourself if your image is more important than your health.

Professors Norbert Herzog and David Niesel are biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at medicaldiscoverynews.com.

What is a health & wellness coach?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Are you having trouble making changes in your lifestyle? Have you tried time and again to improve your diet, your exercise, your fitness, or sustain your motivation to change only to fall short? If so, you may benefit from a Health and Wellness Coach.

According to a recent expert panel consensus:
“Health and Wellness Coaches are professionals from diverse backgrounds and education who work with individuals and groups in a client-centered process to facilitate and empower the client to achieve self-determined goals related to health and wellness. Successful coaching takes place when coaches apply clearly defined knowledge and skills so that clients mobilize internal strengths and external resources for sustainable change.”

That’s a long definition and you might be asking why would I need a health coach and what can they do for me? Continue reading