April 2011

The Mystery of Pine Nut Mouth

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a bad taste in the back of my mouth. I chalked it up to post-nasal drip from seasonal allergies and tried to get on with my life. But by this afternoon, the bad taste had crept all the way forward and really set up shop. It colored everything I ate and drank, whether I was having a banana or a cup of coffee, whether I had just brushed my teeth or chewed a stick of gum or gargled with salt water, the bad taste didn't budge.

After I put aside yet another meal only half-eaten, I decided to do a bit of Googling. Among all the web pages suggesting that I might have a brain tumor (really) I noticed a mention of pine nuts. And then I remembered two things: having read about Pine Nut Mouth a few months ago, and having eaten pine nuts (for the first time in years) on Sunday.

How tragic, that such a nice Easter brunch with a friend of the family should result in… this.

4 Diseases You Can Catch From Pigeons

When I worked in downtown Seattle, I made a morbid hobby out of collecting information on diseases you can catch from pigeons. I understand why people might like pigeons and want to feed them. There is precious little animal interaction in the city, and if you don't (or can't) have a dog or cat, then the city pigeons may well be your only connection with animals. And they are just so very willing to be fed and entertained.

Unfortunately, pigeons carry a surprisingly large number of diseases that are transmissible to humans (called "zoonoses"). And they have few effective predators, which means that their numbers are fearsome indeed. We probably won't be rid of the ubiquitous pigeon any time soon, no matter how many peregrine falcons make the rooftops of our skyscrapers their home.

The primary means of transmission is through the droppings. The infected pigeon's droppings have the infection vector in them (be it a virus or a bacteria). When these droppings dry, they become powdered and float up into the air as dust, kicked up by passing feet. You inhale the pigeon dropping dust and bingo: pigeon disease.

Here Come the Superbugs

Thanks a lot, paranoid people who demand an antibiotic for every cut, ear infection, and cough your come down with: misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to the development of superbugs that are resistant to our medicines. Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a Methicillin-resistant superbug, is now on the move, infecting patients both at home as well as in hospitals.

Another bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae, is also on the prowl. This bad baby has been reported in at least 36 states so far, and may already be infecting the other 14. Between these superbugs, doctors estimate that 25,000 people in Europe alone were killed last year. Long-term care facilities seem to have the highest rates of infection so far.

Do We Take Too Many Vitamins? (Or Not Enough?)

The field of vitamin science is, shall we say, hotly-contested. On one side are the Vitamin Atheists. Those who scoff at the very idea of a vitamin pill having any useful effect. These are the folks - many of them doctors - who cheerfully tell you that the only effect of vitamins is "expensive pee."

On the other side we have the True Believers. These are the people with the Super Supplements punch card (buy 20 giant buckets of vitamins, get one free!). The ones who have a punishing pill schedule. The ones who scoff at the idea of a multivitamin as insufficient. Here, try this plastic packet of 10 different mysterious pills and gel capsules, instead!

Robert Lustig: Sugar is a Poison

Can sugar lead to metabolic syndrome?

Is sugar a toxic poison? Or is sugar something much less insidious?


Robert Lustig, a specialist in pediatric hormone disorders, believes that sugar is like a poison and akin to a toxin in our bodies. His You-Tube lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth on the topic has received more than 800,000 hits since it was originally posted and has caught the attention of experts and non-experts alike.