Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Follow-up to Herbals: The Common Cold

This study is a great follow-up to yesterday's post on herbal supplements.

-- The herbal remedy echinacea, believed by many to cure colds, is no better than a placebo in relieving the symptoms or shortening the duration of illness, a new study finds.

"My advice is, if you are an adult and believe in echinacea, it's safe and you might get some placebo effect if nothing else," said lead researcher Dr. Bruce Barrett, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin. "I wouldn't say the results of the trial should dissuade people who are currently using echinacea and feel that it works for them, but there is no new evidence to suggest that we have found the cure for the common cold."

If echinacea was able to significantly reduce the symptoms and length of colds, this study would have found it, Barrett noted. "With this particular dose of this particular formulation of echinacea there was no large benefit," he said.

The report is published in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Source:MONDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Are Herbal Medicines Effective?

Plants have been used as medicines since the beginning of time. Today anyone can go into a store and purchase herbal supplements that are advertised to help with everything from depression to weight loss.

People in the United States spent more than $5 billion on herbal and botanical dietary supplements in 2009, up 22% from a decade before, according to the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit research and education organization.

The increase has prompted some concern from doctors and health researchers. There are worries regarding the purity and consistency of supplements, which are not regulated as strictly as pharmaceutical drugs.

Some products contain less than the promoted amount of the supplement in question — such as a 400-milligram capsule of echinacea containing just 250 milligrams of the herb. Other products are tainted by pesticides or heavy metals.

But even when someone takes a valid herbal supplement, it may not be as effective when taken as a pill or capsule rather than used in the traditional manner. For example, an herb normally ground into paste as part of a ceremony might lose its effectiveness if prepared using modern manufacturing methods.

Researchers also are concerned that there just isn't a lot of evidence to support the health benefits said to be gained from herbal supplements. People may be misusing them, which can lead to poor health and potential interactions with prescription drugs.

However, there are two sides to this discussion. Many people have found herbals to be an effective treatment for things that physicians were unable to diagnose and treat.

Source:Dennis Thompson HealthDay/USA Today12/17/10

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What makes my eye twitch?

This information comes form Dr. David Wolf, an optometric physician:

Eyelid twitches can be annoying, but they usually go away in a few days. Many things can contribute to eyelid twitching, including:

• Bright lights
• Caffeine
• Dry eyes
• Eye infection
• Eye inflammation
• Fatigue
• Prolonged computer use
• Sleep deprivation
• Stress

To help prevent or alleviate eye twitches:

• Avoid or limit caffeine, not just in coffee or tea, but in chocolate, pain relievers, diet pills, and cold medicine as well.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Limit the time you spend in bright light.
• Practice stress management techniques, such as deep breathing, soaking in a hot tub, listening to soothing music, or exercising most days.
• Take plenty of breaks when you work on a computer.
• Use a rewetting eye drop.
• Wear UV-protective sunglasses.

Another Angle on Biodiversity

People often ask me, "Why should I care if a species goes extinct? It's not essential to my daily life, is it?"

Well, according to new research published December 2 in Nature, the answer is yes—healthy biodiversity is essential to human health. As species disappear, infectious diseases rise in humans and throughout the animal kingdom, so extinctions directly affect our health and chances for survival as a species.

"Biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission across a wide range of infectious disease systems," the study's first author, Bard College ecologist Felicia Keesing, said in a prepared statement.

These pathogens can include viruses, bacteria and fungi. And humans are not the only ones at risk: all manner of other animal and plant species could be affected.

The rise in diseases and other pathogens seems to occur when so-called "buffer" species disappear. Co-author Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies points to the growing number of cases of Lyme disease in humans as an example of how this happens. Opossum populations in the U.S. are down due to the fragmentation of their forest habitats. The marsupials make poor hosts for the pathogen that causes Lyme disease; they can also better defend themselves from the black-legged ticks that carry the affliction to humans than can white-footed mice, which, on the other hand, are thriving in the altered habitat—and along with them disease-carrying ticks. "The mice increase numbers of both the black-legged tick vector and the pathogen that causes Lyme disease," Ostfeld said.

The authors focused on diseases—including Lyme, West Nile virus, hantavirus and nine others—around the world. In each case they found that the maladies have become more prevalent during the time in which local biodiversity shrank.

Three of the cases they studied found that the rise of West Nile virus in the U.S. corresponded to decreases in bird population density.

The researchers also conclude that humans and wildlife really shouldn't interact. Direct contact with wildlife—say, in the form of the often illegal bushmeat trade—could in turn cause more diseases to jump from animals to humans.

The best solution to both situations: "Preserving large intact areas and minimizing contact with wildlife would go a big step of the way to reducing disease," Keesing said in Nature.

So should you care? Yes you should, if you value your health. A healthy planet equals healthy humans, a lesson it's really time we learned.

Source: Scientific American 12/7/2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Coffee and Donuts Make You Smarter - Really?

In a study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, researchers at the University of Barcelona discovered that the caffeine-glucose combo boosts your brain in terms of attention and memory. And here we thought that stuff was bad for us. D’oh!

Researchers tapped 72 men and women, ages 18 to 25, for their caffeine/glucose experiments which, sadly, involved neither Starbucks nor Krispy Kreme donuts. After fasting overnight, subjects received doses of water, water plus caffeine, water plus glucose, or water plus caffeine and glucose (about the same amount you’d get in two soft drinks). Then they were tested on attention, manual dexterity, visuo-spatial and frontal functions and memory via a battery of tests such as remembering a list of 15 repeated words; taking a peg from a cup and quickly inserting it into a hole; sorting cards imprinted with shapes, numbers or colors; and repeating a series of numbers forward and backward. In other words, standard staff meeting stuff.

As it turned out, the subjects’ reaction time improved in water spiked with either caffeine or glucose (glucose gave a bump to their manual dexterity, as well). But a combination of caffeine and glucose showed beneficial effects on attention and on learning and consolidation of verbal memory,; in other words, the coffee-sugar combination boosted the effects of both substances, making the test subjects’ brains more efficient.

As usual, researchers say further studies are needed, particularly with regard to investigating the “effects of caffeine and glucose, alone and in combination, with repeated doses.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Do Power Bracelets Really Work?

The power of "Power Bracelets" appear dubious from a science perspective. The kinesiology behind the magnetic resonance and the frequency of emissions is not well explained. It appears that this bracelet may be a placebo - meaning the power is more in the mind than in the muscle.

What Causes My Eyes To Glaze Over?

Well, hopefully not my biology class :)

Seriously,our eyes are a portal to our emotions and feelings. When we are happy our eyes seem to sparkle, when we smile we smile not only with our mouth but our eyes light up too. The glaze you are talking about usually occurs when mentally you have "checked out" of a conversation. Your mind has wondered into another place, thus the vacant look in your eyes.

The only other scientific explanation I could find on this related to blood supply but I don't think that really applies to the context of your question.

What Causes Us To Age?

It appears that the key to understanding aging is to look at it from a genetic perspective. At the end of all chromosomes are stretches of protein called telomeres. These telomeres protect the chromosome but every time the chromosome replicates (like in cell division), the telemeres shorten until the cell can no longer divide.

These shortened telomeres also appear to be the cause of some cancers. Studies have found shortened telomeres in pancreatic, bone, prostate, bladder, lung, kidney, and head and neck cancer.

Research looks promising in using an enzyme, telomerase,in allowing cells to divide beyond their usual life span.