March 2012

Saying No to Unnecessary Meds

Don’t just blindly take whatever is offered; ask about it first.

When I went to the doctor recently—it was the first time in years since we don’t have insurance anymore—he thankfully did not try to drug me up with everything under the sun. However, he did offer a few sample allergy meds for my allergies, and when I asked him if there were lifestyle changes I could make instead—don’t you just love those buzz words, by the way?—he said sure, but you have to identify your allergies first, and that can be expensive.

But is it really that expensive? Testing certainly is, but what if you work on process of elimination on your own? I have already ditched most of the carpet in my house, for example—and now I am almost certain that it’s the mold in our house that I am allergic to (it’s in the basement, but still). There are other things I can do as well, such as eliminate dairy foods (as Dr. Andrew Weil suggests) or experiment with having the house open or shut during different months.

The Cusp of an Antibiotic Nightmare

Overuse and Resistance are Leading Us to Uncontrollable Illnesses, Death

We have de-used antibiotics in our home for years now. Though I had to be put on the medicine when I had blood poisoning due to gallstones and my daughter was prescribed antibiotics a couple of years ago for an ear infection (which I thought was silly, since kids in Europe are rarely prescribed them for such things and they aren’t helpful in treating them), we otherwise do not use them if we can help it.

We buy milk that’s certified to not have antibiotics in it. We don’t even buy antibacterial soup or lotion that’s so popular (why do they even make it?). We do all we can to avoid using them when we don’t have to.

State Insurance Should Be Accepted by All

A couple of weeks ago, we applied for Missouri HealthNet, or Medicaid, for ourselves and our daughter. We have now gone over a year without insurance and though we’ve been lucky, we’ve had some close calls—especially with what may have been pneumonia or something with me last fall, which lasted for a few months. And though I’ve been able to get birth control through the clinic, I have not been able to get anything else, such as my asthma inhaler.

Promising New Drug for Ulcerative Colitis

It's called MDX-1100.

Ulcerative Colitis is a particularly painful, and for some, embarrassing digestive system disease. It occurs when the intestines became inflamed. They can become so inflamed that the sufferer is in pain, has fevers, has bleeding, and can lose weight. Diarrhea is often present, requiring frequent trips to the bathroom.

The disease often starts in the rectal area, but it can grow slowly to infect the entire large intestine. While the exact cause is not known, it is believed that a weaker immune systems, certain foods, and stress can trigger attacks.

In severe cases, surgery is an option, but that involves removing the colon, which requires the patient to wear an ileostomy bag to collect waste. There's also steroids -- while this helps some, others cannot tolerate the side effects which may include cramping and weight gain. Some drugs also suppress the immune system, which makes the patient more prone to infection and other diseases, like cancer.

Cancer-Sniffing Robot Could Facilitate Diagnosis

New machine detects airborne molecules produced by tumors

What's that smell? You or I wouldn't be able to detect it, but certain types of cancer emit their own specific odor when present in the body of a human. The best instrument for picking up that scent so far has been one not commonly used in medical science: the nose of a dog. Researchers proved that trained canines could determine whether an individual had breast or lung cancer with 99 percent accuracy. That's a far better rate than any lab test can give you.

So why haven't we started using dogs to diagnose cancer? A quick sniff test could eliminate the need for biopsies and other scans, saving patients and insurance companies lots of money. Well, dogs and hospitals don't mix so well. The infrastructure necessary to keep a team of cancer-sniffing pups on staff would cost about as much as would be saved from avoiding standard lab tests. Human doctors can feed themselves and go home at the end of their very long work days, but dogs require constant care from people. It's just not practical to install a kennel in a hospital that's already full of patients, doctors, and sleepy med students. So scientists are working on building a machine with a nose as good as a dog's.

Environmental Toxins Pass Through the Generations

According to a recent study from the Washington State University, the effects of environmental toxins on a person do not just affect that individual but as many as three generations later as well. This new study can help to show that these toxins are incredibly important to protect against.

The study indicates that the DNA sequence passed from one generation to the next does not change when there are environmental toxins exposed to the individual. However, the compounds change the way that genes work. More specifically, in the way that these genes turn on and off. Scientists knew that these toxins could expose the individual and potentially a next generation to troublesome conditions, but they did not know how far it would pass.

Treating Drug Addiction with Mobile Technology

New app could help monitor quitting progress

Most of the apps we download serve little purpose other than to momentarily distract us while we're waiting for something else to happen. Sure, there are productivity aids and various utilities that can be downloaded to our smartphones, but for the most part we're taking advantage of the App store so we can play Robot Unicorn Attack while we wait for our name to be called at the dentist's. Not that there's anything wrong with that; the human brain needs stimulation in times of idleness and any game with an Erasure soundtrack is good by me. But it's always nice to see developers taking advantage of the smartphone's capacity to do good.

Like, for example, the folks at UMass who conjured up iHeal. Despite its tackily borrowed iWhatever name template, iHeal pushes mobile technology into a brave new place by making use of auxiliary electronics to help users manage their drug addiction or recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.