Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Less sugar, less real?

Have you seen the ads for Tropicana's new juice drink, Trop 50? My special favorite is the one where a bunch of 'real housewives' are trying to convince their friend that 'gooder' is a word – because the new drink she's serving them tastes 'gooder.'

That was my first red flag. Let's confuse people with bad grammar and they won't realize we're selling them junk.

The idea behind Trop 50 juice drink is that it has 50% less sugar than regular fruit juice. It comes in several flavors, such as orange and apple and pomegranate/blueberry. What struck me is the idea that you can have less sugar in something that is not supposed to have added sugar to begin with. Let's face it, fruit juice has sugar/carbs but pure fruit juice doesn't contain 'sugar' the same way soda or Kool-Aid contains sugar. But the ad campaign sort of plays on the idea that less sugar is added to the juice.

When you look at the nutrition information provided at the Trop 50 website you see the 'sugar' in Trop 50 comes from stevia or purevia – or Reb A – a plant based sweetener which is becoming popular because it doesn't have to be called 'artificial'.

So, essentially, Trop 50 has 50% less sugar [carbohydrates] than regular pure fruit juice because a sweetener has been added to it. It may not be an artificial sweetener but it's still an additive. This makes me wonder how they removed the 50% of sugar [carbohydrates] from the juice in the first place. It seems to me that basically they're taking half the juice used in a regular container of juice and replacing it with sweetened [no calorie] water, then fortifying that with vitamins and such.

I could drink half a glass of pure fruit juice and half a glass of water and get the same amount of 'less sugar' as I can from drinking a whole glass of a juice concentrate that's fortified with an added [but not artificial] sweetener.

My question is, do you think it's 'gooder' to get less sugar/carbohydrates by actually getting less juice?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eating like a dog

I love my dog…and I'm sure most dog owners do adore their pets, but I have to wonder if we're being hoodwinked by the pet food industry into thinking dog's need gourmet food.

Last night I saw a commercial for Cesar's dog food – it's a fancy food for smaller dogs, so it's not something I normally buy for my Dalmatian. The brand offers a new line of 'canine cuisine' [in other words, dog food] called Bistro which includes flavors like Steak Florentine, Tuscan Stew and Chicken Primavera.

In addition to the usual 'canine cuisine' ingredients such as meat by products, some vitamins and meat flavoring, these fancy little feasts contains tomatoes, carrots, pasta and spinach. Sounds tasty, doesn't it?

Not that a dog could tell. I've seen my dog eat a rock. So I don't think flavor is really chief among his concerns. He certainly could care less about carrots, tomatoes and spinach and generally wouldn't be too interested in eating those things if I served them by themselves. He would eat pasta, I'm sure. But then dogs tend to like carbs.

I have to ask myself, who are all these fancy ingredients really for? Dogs, as a rule, don't have discerning palates. Meat makes them happy, and a nice crunchy biscuit now and then, but spinach and pasta? Do dogs really need vegetables and enriched wheat products for optimum health?

You can't convince me those trappings aren't just to make dog owners feel like they're giving their pets something more than the usual slop that comes out of a 'canine cuisine' can.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Digest this bait [and switch]

Everybody, it seems, is out to get a hold of your contact information so they can sell you drugs.

I was reading Reader's Digest this evening and came across an add touting a Reader's Digest Health Survey. Completing the survey, the ad said, would not only help the venerable Digest to identify issues that matter most to its readers, but would also enter you into a sweepstakes for a $30,000 prize.

The ad notes that the information you provide will be helpful to the Digest's readers and advertisers. But what it really means is, the information will be sold to advertisers.

I found this out by going to the website listed in the ad figuring I'd be asked to fill out a health survey that might be providing results for a Digest-sponsored article. They do publish the results of a lot of surveys [most of which are useless] but what the hey...

It turns out the website 'survey' asks one question. They want you to check off areas of health concerns that you would like more information about, then they want you to agree to share your contact information with healthcare marketing companies.

So much for a survey.

I'm disappointed in the Digest, not because I think it has anything valuable to offer, it's no more interesting a read for me than the inspid People magazine, but luring readers to healthcare marketing mailing lists is about as low as standing on the street corner offering a hit of crack to passing school kids.

Shame you, Reader's Digest. I didn't take the bait.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Matter of Health

I just finished Why Our Health Matters by Andrew Weil, MD, another treatise on the failure of the American health care system and what we, as a nation, can do about it.

Unlike the authors of What If Medicine Disappeared, Weil is in fact a trained physician. In contrast to so many of his colleagues, Weil explains at length, he rejected the normal medical school curriculum which emphasized treating the symptoms of disease with drugs and went looking for a way to treat the cause of disease instead, something his medical school instructors frowned upon.

Much of what Weil says echoes all the other books I’ve read about what’s wrong with our profit driven system. The pharmaceutical companies rule the roost, providing poorly constructed studies as proof their drugs work miracles. They spend more money on advertising to both doctors and patients than they do on research and development. The idea of the industry is to make people sick, keep them sick and continue to profit from them.

Preaching to the choir here. Overall I agree with Weil’s assessment that change has to come from the people and we have to take a more active role in managing our own health, at the same time the government makes sweeping changes into how health care is managed and provided.

My only disagreement with Weil is his occasional lapse in heavy handed measures such as ‘forcing’ citizens to pay more attention to their health by imposing ‘sin’ taxes or penalties for non-compliance. This is where he veers off his otherwise straight and narrow track and dips into ludicrous by forgetting that as Americans we fought for our freedom not to have our every move regulated by the government. He also fails to realize that by imposing penalties for not being healthy, he will in fact be punishing the most law abiding of us. Those who truly abuse the health care system and those who cost the most money will still do as they please regardless of what penalties are imposed on them, while those who, like today, struggle to play by the rules, will be the ones facing the full impact of the penalties. Tsk tsk, Dr. Weil. He seems to be a margin too full of his own shiny dream of perfect health care to see the forest for the trees.

Once again, all this information is interesting and oftentimes shocking, but my question is, has anyone sent a copy of this book to the President? The people who really need to understand how to effect change are the ones who are least likely to do it, because they remain the ones with the most profit to lose if we become a nation of truly healthy people.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Professional Parenting 101

There’s a reason I don’t read women’s magazines. Most of the articles, meant to give women helpful hints on how to better run their lives, make me want to slap someone.

Case in point [and it’s my own fault for borrowing my mother’s copy of the September issue of Family Circle] an article called 'Head of the Class' by Gary Norton Edelman. The article is set up as an advice column for parents who are worried about issues facing their teen and tween age children.

It sounds great in theory. As a parent of a teen and a tween, I am, on occasion, at my wits end. Life was often simpler when the worry of the day was whether or not I had the right flavor of yogurt on hand to stave off a tantrum or if they could figure out how to open their own juice boxes. I think the parents whose questions are addressed in this article, though, have much bigger problems than I ever did, chief among them that they have entirely too much time on their hands and are buying into the idea that every single thing that happens in a child’s life has the potential to scar them for life.

In the first question, a parent asked what she can do to help her child adjust to middle school. This might be a legitimate question if the kid had actually started middle school already and was having problems adjusting, but he hasn’t. So why worry about something that might not be an issue? The parent is fretting that her son will be lost and intimidated, when the possibility exists that the kid will do just great. Nevertheless, she needs professional intervention to deal with his ‘problem.’

Another parent worries because her son doesn’t like to wear a coat. Hmm…I never met a kid who did like to wear a coat. The struggle is age old. What will happen if my child catches a chill? How can I make him dress appropriately? The answer? [Well, my answer anyway,] don’t try. If the kid is older than four, let him go. When he realizes he’s freezing, he’ll start wearing a coat. He’ll never know what being cold feels like if you have a hissy fit and bundle him up in a parka every time he leaves the house.

Yet another parent laments that her children who enjoyed a great summer together will be going to different schools in the fall and won’t get to spend so much time together. What can she possibly do to preserve the closeness they had for those three glorious months? My answer: get a life, sweetheart. Your kids won’t always be close to one another, then again they might be. The older they get, the less it’s up to you how they spend their time, who they spend it with and if they actually like hanging out with their siblings. Deal with it.

My favorite question is from a concerned mom whose son ‘almost missed his bus because he didn’t speak up.’ She needs professional help on how to deal with his passive nature. I have a feeling the kid didn’t speak up because he’s too used to having Mom do it for him.

Stuff like this makes me wonder how anyone survives to adulthood these days. If you can’t ask a parenting expert how to deal with every hiccup your child encounters, how on earth do you raise them properly?

I think what we need are less experts in parenting and more parents who are experts in how to raise their own kids.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Case Against Medicine

I know, I’ve been gone a while. Life’s been busy and as far as medical and other WTFery, I sometimes get weary of writing about all the ludicrousness I come across.

Having spent a good portion of the last six months not in cyberspace, I can’t say I miss it, but I do miss talking about topics that interest me.

I just finished reading What if Medicine Disappeared by Gerald E. Markle and Frances B. McCrea. Markle and McCrea are professors of sociology, not medical doctors, which I haven’t yet decided if that helps or hurts their credibility in the field of discussing how the disappearance of the medical profession [generally doctors, surgeons, specialists, pharmaceuticals and hospitals] would effect the morbidity and mortality of the world’s population. They conduct ‘thought’ experiments based on this hypothesis, which is to say they ‘think’ about how things would be, though their discussions of the subject are backed up with interesting facts and figures taken directly from articles published in all the premier medical journals such as JAMA and the Lancet to name a few.

I find it interesting that they use medical studies to prove their points that various aspects of our medical profession are overrated, overpriced and under-efficient. That’s not really news, is it?

Overall I found the book, a rather quick read, to be interesting and thought provoking, especially that one of their main conclusions was that if tobacco products disappeared, the effect on life and health in our nation [and very likely the world] would be far more profound that if doctors disappeared. Meaning far more lives could be saved by the removal of a toxic substance that permeates our society, than would be lost by the removal of those dedicated to healing.

My only complaint about the book is the style is a bit too conversational. Theories are presented interspersed with narrative about the authors eating dinner, raking leaves and watching the flora and fauna around their home as if they were attempting to novelize their story. Without those useless asides, I think the book would have been an even quicker and more informative read.

Overall, despite the mistrust with which I hold the medical profession these days, I can’t say I’d like to see the outcome of a society without doctors, trauma surgeons and emergency rooms. A far more interesting thought experiment would be to imagine the impact on our world if pharmaceutical company stockholders, medical insurance companies and politicians disappeared. I’m sure we’d all lead much happier and healthier lives then.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

FICO be damned

I know it might be considered financially unsound in this wacky economic climate to cancel a credit card. Any financial 'expert' will tell you that cancelling cards will have a negative effect on your FICO score - that all important made up number that tells everyone just what a high risk you are in the money game.

Everyone knows my policy is, whatever the banks want or prefer, is usually exactly the opposite of what I do, so today I cancelled a card, but I didn't do it just to piss off the FICO people who will now be forced to recalculate my score [if only they cared that much.]

I did it to make myself feel just a little bit better. Today I cancelled my BP credit card. You might think - so what? What's one lost credit card account to them? Probably nothing in the overall scheme of things, but it made me feel good nevertheless to let them know my family won't be doing business with a company that's singlehandedly destroying the planet.

The millions of gallons of oil bursting into the Gulf of Mexico are going to have an untold impact on the environment. BP is rushing around putting toxic Band-Aids on a gaping wound. What they need to do is pour all of their money, every last penny, into that spewing well, and then throw their Top brass in after it.

Unfortunately, it's not just BP who's to blame. We can also thank the world governments [not just the US.] Their sick insistance that we need to remain dependent on oil is what really caused this catastrophe. The fear of making the OPEC nations angry by taking away the only thing they truly contribute to the global community is at the root of this unspeakable tragedy. We have the technology to become an oil-free society, we just don't use it because it means people who have enough money to feed filet mignon to their pet tigers won't be happy.

Clean energy is available. Environmentally safe energy is available, it just doesn't put enough money in the right pockets to make it profitable.

I know there's a lot more I could do to take a stand against BIG OIL, in the mean time, why not start out in the simplest way possible? Send a message to BP - if you deal with them, stop. They don't need any more of our money or any of our support.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Collected WTFery

I’ve been too deeply immersed in preparing to move to blog on a regular basis, but I have collected a couple of interesting tidbits to share.

The first entry in the WTF column comes directly from TD Bank [aka America’s Most Convenient Bank]. I don’t want to cast aspersions on any one financial institution, since I have an inkling they’ll all be doing this soon, but I can only speak for certain about TD Bank.
My husband and I both received a little flier from them the other day informing us that as of January 2009 [yes, that’s more than a year ago, but they’re just telling us now] “if you received more than $600 in ATM Surcharge Reimbursements you will be sent a 1099-Misc form.”

Translated into plain English this means: You know all those times we happily reimbursed you for the exorbitant fees we and other banks charge you to access your money from ATMs? Well, now you have to pay taxes on it.

Essentially, they take your money, they give it back and they charge you a tax on it. So money you should never have had to pay out in the first place, is now considered income.

What I really love is how it’s retroactive to 2009, meaning that if you’ve already paid your 2009 taxes [and let’s see – most of us have], you may have to make an adjustment once they get that 1099 out to you.

The next entry comes from my favorite source, health and wellness news.

Apparently The Journal of Urology is touting diet soda as a preventative for kidney stones. Researchers have concluded that citrate, an ingredient found in some sodas [lemon and citrus flavors], may help reduce the risk of kidney stone formation. Citrate can be found in non-diet sodas as well [not colas, though] but the researchers, ever health conscious, are quick to remind patients that the extra calories they get from regular sodas pose a health risk [obviously one more serious than cancer causing artificial sweeteners, but we won’t go there.]

What boggles me is, why would doctors decide that diet soda would be a better, healthier source of citrate than say, actual citrus fruits? Oh, right, fruits contain sugar and calories, therefore making them bad for you, where artificially sweetened and colored carbonated water contains no sugar or calories and is therefore a health food.

So, there you go. You can drink to your health, while you write out that check to Uncle Sam to pay taxes on your ATM rebates.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dieting flip flops

No, this post isn't about shoes that help you lose weight - though I'm told they do exist.

This about another dieting myth busted - or a new dieting myth created, I'm not sure which.

According to this article posted at the long-held belief that slow and steady weight loss is best, is just a bunch of hooey. Then again, aren't most weight loss tricks and tips just hooey?

Turns out researchers at the University of Florida have conducted a study which shows [or perhaps has been made to show?] that women who lose weight faster will have a greater chance of keeping the weight off than those who lose weight more slowly.

I guess this is great news for all the quick start diet programs, you know, the ones that doctors have been telling us for years are no good because quick loss cannot be sustained?

Of course the lead researcher of the study declines to say for sure whether the study is actually conclusive. I wonder if perhaps women who lose weight faster are more likely to keep the weight off because they've had greater success and are therefore more committed to weight loss than those who have lost weight more slowly. Is this a true scientific cause for more sustainable weight loss, or just a flimsy cause and effect experiment disguised as a research study?

I guess we'll never know, but I can bet we'll see an increase in 'quick start' weight loss programs based on this study.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Feeling old? Take a pill.

People have been searching for the Fountain of Youth for centuries – and ultimately, what they've discovered so far is, you can’t really stay young or stop aging, but now scientists are trying to find a way to make people live longer by mimicking what they call the ‘longevity gene’.

This article from Reuters talks about the pharmaceutical industry’s push to develop a drug that will help people live longer. Scientists are studying centenarians around the world to figure out what in their genetic makeup has contributed to such long lives.

Clearly, as I think the article implies, long life is a factor of luck, having the right genes will help you live longer – of course coupled with a healthy diet and lifestyle. I find it interesting that the ‘answer’ to helping people live longer, healthier lives is automatically thought to be found in drugs. We can make a pill for that!

I have to admit, I find centenarians to be fascinating. What I’ve noticed about those 100-year-olds who appear in the news is that a good portion of them [well, okay, all] – have lived through world wars, many have even served in them. This certainly doesn’t equate to the safe environment the article cites as a factor in long life. Many of these people have held difficult or tedious jobs, they’ve existed at the poverty level in some cases, they’ve raised children and navigated our stressful society or even those deemed more stressful and managed to survive. So how do they really do it? Is it just luck? Good genes, good timing, good life choices? Or is it something the rest of us can really hope to emulate without having to fork over our Medicare Part D dollars for the ‘longevity pill?’

I wish the scientists would take a break from trying to develop new drugs and start really looking at longevity as something inherent in the human condition – something we can all achieve if we know how, not just if our (mandatory) health insurance covers it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Some kind of nut

I’ve been trying hard to eliminate candy from my diet – not chocolate per se, which my research [and my own personal belief system] lists as a health food – but the readily available snack type candy that contains nothing more than empty calories.

That being said, I could not resist picking up a couple of single serving bags of Coconut M&Ms the other day. My husband has been talking about them since he first heard they existed so when I saw them at the local Walgreens, I couldn’t resist.

I ripped open one of the small bags as soon as I got home tried some. Cocunut M&Ms come only in white, green and brown – I imagine to evoke the tropical hues of the coconut – leaves, shell and meat. I’d have included a pale beige for sand and a bright blue for an island sky, but that’s just me.

As expected, the M&Ms are overly sweet, but they definitely taste like coconut. That’s quite an accomplishment considering that while the nutrition information warns they may contain both peanuts and almonds, there is no trace of real coconut anywhere in the package.

They’re good, but fortunately for me, not good enough to blow my new health-centric diet for. I could live without them. I wonder how could they might be though, if they actually contained coconut.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ailment or evolution?

I struggled over finding the right title for this post – I really wanted to call it: Not racist? You’re sick … but I figured people would misconstrue that so I went with something a little less inflammatory.

Nevertheless, that is the real issue, apparently according to this article, which comes straight from the WTF Files.

Rare disorder erases all social anxiety – apparently a very rare genetic disorder is afflicting children with the inability to experience social anxiety and racist tendencies.
Can you imagine? NOT being shy, introverted, nervous in crowds or affected by the racial and cultural biases of your peers, parents and siblings is now a DISEASE.

Apparently, being predisposed to prefer people of your own color or ethnicity is normal. Kids who don’t feel that way automatically are somehow defective, as this study seems to point out.

The down side of this mysterious Williams Syndrome seems to be the following:

They will put themselves at great peril to help someone and despite their skills at empathy, are unable to process social danger signals. As a result, they are at increased risk for rape and physical attack.

So let’s break this down: They will put themselves at great peril to help someone

I guess all firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, animal control officers, and general Samaritans who have risked their lives for others are all sufferers of Williams syndrome then.

despite their skills at empathy, are unable to process social danger signals.

So being caring and sympathetic and yet maybe a bit socially clueless is an illness.

As a result, they are at increased risk for rape and physical attack.

I guess the average kid walking on the street is in no real danger because they will instinctively run away from someone who is a different race than they are??

Then there’s this:

As a result, people with Williams syndrome are "hypersocial," Meyer-Lindenberg said. They do not experience the jitters and inhibitions the rest of us feel.

Good God, people. This illness must be conquered!! I’m off to find out if there is a fundraiser or something because those of us normal people who suffer constantly from jitters, inhibitions, shyness and fear of strangers MUST do something to help the less fortunate among us.

Let’s race for a cure. We must end Williams Syndrome before it’s too late.


I did some research on Williams Syndrome and actually it’s not the medical profession that screwed this up so much as the author of the MSN article, Robin Nixon, who failed to include the physiological symptoms of the disease and totally missed the point of the reason anyone would be studying it. Nixon, it seemed, wanted to go for the sensational value of a less than accurate headline rather than true scientific journalism.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hook, line and sucker

Just like everyone else who has an e-mail account, I get SPAM constantly. The best junk-e-mails are those telling me I’ve won a lottery or asking me for help in getting buckets of cash out of impoverished Third World Nations. Those are a real hoot, especially for an editor since the grammar is usually atrocious.

The most insidious of the phishing scams, though, are the ones that seem to make every effort to really hoodwink someone. They provide convincing graphics and links to websites that look just like those belonging to businesses you may actually be dealing with. They tell you your account is suspended or will be shortly and you have to confirm your password in order not to lose access to your money, line of credit, etc.

I got one like that today that was so clever it screwed itself. Supposedly CHASE bank e-mailed to inform me that due to a software upgrade it was imperative that I update my customer information. The e-mail was emblazoned with the CHASE logo and told me my cooperation was ‘obligatory.’ Now right there they lost me – because in this economic climate, I’m predisposed to automatically NOT do anything a credit card company or bank wants me to do.

But I was bored and I was at work where none of my personal info is stored on the computer, so I clicked on the link and was taken to a very convincing facsimile of the CHASE portal website. The page was full of CHASE links, many of them active and looking very legitimate.

I decided to click on the ‘Learn more about online fraud’ link, which took me to a page listing types of on-line fraud including phishing. The phishing link took me to the page where CHASE lists all the phishing scams perpetrated on their customers and what did I come across? You guessed it, the EXACT e-mail I had received, supposedly from CHASE.

I’d just like to say kudos to the web-whiz cyber criminal who came up with this. Creating a phishing scam that actually links to a warning about the very phishing scam you’re perpetrating is sheer evil genius. You belong in the Super Villian Hall of Fame for this one.

Keep this up, and cyber crime will be extinct in no time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

None of what you hear

It's been a while, I know.

I wish I could say there hasn't been anything to write about, but it's more like there have been too many topics that could use a shot of reality that I've been overwhelmed.

Last night while watching TV, I came across something that irritated me enough that I decided I needed to blog about it. As a potential homebuyer/seller [hopefully this year] I have a marginal interest in the government's Home buyer's tax credit program.

The idea for this incentive was to make home buying more attractive [originally just to first time home buyers] in order to kick start the failing real estate market. Giving people money off thier tax bill - especially those who can now afford a home since prices are dropping and foreclosures are everywhere - seemed like a good idea to the current administration. You know, take from the poor and give to the rich type stuff - you lose your house to foreclosure and the people who buy it get a tax incentive. That's fair, right?

Well, then the rule changed, and people who were selling a home and buying a new one could also get some tax credit - not as much, but some. That made a little more sense. Draw people into the market, maybe those looking to downsize, or even up-size now that prices are more realistic. The whole plan is sort of like spitting in the wind, but hey, it makes people feel like the government is doing something to help. The problem is, the program expires on April 30th 2010, so if you don't have a contract by then, you're out of luck. The real estate industry is holding its collective breath hoping the program will be extended, but no word from Washington yet.

So last night, in the middle of prime-time there's a commercial touting in big letters and loud words, "The home buyer's credit has been extended and expanded!" Yay! Let's all rejoice, this is the news we've been wating for...

except, the fine print still says...Expires April 30, 2010.

Misleading much?

Surprised much?

Not me. All you potential home buyers out there, don't be fooled. Or better yet, don't be lied to and don't forget to read the fine print.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All hail health care reform

First of all - I've been slacking off with posting. I was going to blame it on being left speechless by the healthcare reform bill, or maybe blame it on the cold I got despite abusing Vitamins D and C for the past few months, or blame it on my PC crashing, but the crux of it is, I was too lazy to be eloquent. I have a lot of opinions, but making something coherent out of them with the keyboard is often too much trouble.

Excuses aside, all is right with the world now that the President has signed the healthcare bill.

I suppose I should be happy for the some of the changes. After all, the insurance companies will be slipping their necks into tight little nooses that should keep them under a bit more control than they've had in the past. And now:

approval will extend coverage to 32 million Americans who lack it

Why does this sound suspiciously like 32 million Americans will just be ‘given’ health insurance, when clearly that's not the case?

The bill will ban insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions

It’s about time, but what punishment will insurers think up to make up for having to comply with this rule?

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused.

There you go – punishment – that’s the way to care for the people. Punish them if they don’t pay for something you want them to pay for. And ‘most’ – that means there are still people who won’t be required to buy health insurance. Will they be the super-rich, the super-poor or just people with the right connections?

health care for all Americans

This is not what the legislation is about. It’s about getting everyone to buy health insurance

[Insurance companies] would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from canceling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.

This all sounds great – but as we’ve seen with the credit card industry, it’s just a matter of time before insurance companies come up with ways to punish their customers for every new law they have to obey

Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.

This is a step forward, and will help millions of young adults maintain health converage, but remember, it still won't be free.

$900 billion in tax increases and Medicare cuts combined

Ah – there you go! Cut healthcare costs by taking coverage away from the elderly and charging taxpayers. I just don't understand why Congress didn't think of that sooner.

So weigh in - do you think the healthcare reform will actually help the majority of Americans, or will it ultimately cause more problems than it cures?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soon there will be a drug for that

Today I was helping my son with his health homework. His teacher wants the students to bring in articles having to do with health topics and then to write short summaries of the articles. Since I'm always reading about health topcis, I sort of enjoy the fact-finding part of the assignment, I just have to remember not to get too controversial. I don't want to end up being hauled into health class to explain my radical ideas about doctors, drugs and food.

Today's assignment was fairly easy. My son and I went searching on line and found this no-brainer [pun intended] which I thought would make an excellent topic for a junior high school health class.

Apparently researchers have finally discovered what parents have known for centuries. Teenagers are dumb. {Or more accurately, they don't have the same capacity to learn that younger children do.}

Something happens when children hit their teenage years, {let's call it 'puberty'} that seriously impacts their ability to learn.

Well. Duh.

What do we do? We shove a driver's license in their hands and try to teach them to operate 2,000-pound vehicles on overcrowded roads at a time in their lives when they'd be hard pressed to find the cheese at the end of a wooden maze. So who's really dumber, I ask you?

I digress. The real issue with the article isn't the big surprise that the distractions of puberty make learning more difficult during the teen years but the closing sentence:

...and scientists could develop drugs to manipulate how easily kids learn.

That's the ticket right there. The take home message of this study isn't something sensible, like let's redesign the type of things we teach adolscents and play to their strengths or accept that they can't learn too much between the ages of 13 and 19 and concentrate on reinforcing things they learned before that. No. The take home message is: let's make some new drugs! Then being adolescent can be classed as a disease that requires treatment. I'm sure the pharmacutical companies are already salivating over how much money they can make on 'the learning pill.'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Risk vs. benefit - what's worth it?

Yesterday's post was sidelined by computer problems.

Today I'm up an running on a laptop and surfing the web for more imponderables. Today's question - is the benefit really worth the risk?

Apparently the FDA has approved another new diabetes drug called Victoza despite some evidence that the drug may cause a rare form of thyroid cancer. {The Victoza website includes the cancer warning as the first line under Important Safety Information}.

I'm sorry, but I just don't get why someone would feel the risk of getting cancer is better than trying some other drug to control diabetes. The instance of cancer may be small [and so far seems only to have occurred in laboratory rats], but nevertheless, why should a patient accept the prospect of a debilitiating [at best] and deadly [at worst] disease in order to fight another debilitating and often deadly disease? What really is the trade off?

Sure it's fine if you're not one of the unlucky few to develop cancer as a side effect of your treatment, but what if you are? Then was the risk worth it?

I think the real issue here is, the cost of defending the pharmaceutical company against lawsuits should someone develop cancer as a result of taking the drug, is minimal compared to the profit the company will make by selling the drug and having their reps convince doctors the drug is safe and effective in most cases.

Let's call a spade a spade here. The financial benefit outweighs the financial risk and the cost of human life has nothing to do with the equation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A better lesson in eating

The Sunday newspaper had a small sidebar article about how studies have shown that kids who brown bag lunch to school have a lower incidence of obesity than those who eat school lunch.

I can't say this is really a surprise - considering the average school still offers grease soaked pizza squares and chicken nuggets with french fries as a typical meal choice. The salads are tiny, the fresh fruit is usually bruised and unappetizing and cookies and sugary juices can be purchased on the snack line which is often a lot shorter than the queue to get the day's hot meal. Is it any wonder the kids who eat cafeteria food are heavier than those toting balogna sandwiches from home?

It's another failure of a well-meaning system that can't get out of its own way. I recently read about how some school systems are banning home made treats from bake sales - partly to limit their own legal exposure in cases of allergic reactions, and partly [and more publicly] to make a stand for healthier snacks. Pop-tarts and bagged Doritos made the list of 'approved' items to be sold at bake sales while Mom's cupcakes and brownies are out.

It makes a sick kind of sense, not because kids are better off eating Pop-tarts and Doritos, but because an angry parent can sue Kelloggs or Frito-Lay if their child has a bad reaction to a pre-packaged snack, but if their child doesn't know any better than to scarf down Mrs. Johnson's walnut brownies when they have a severe nut allergy, the school coffers are at risk. I imagine this is why a lot more school food is also prepackaged. Mrs. Field's cookies and Domino's Pizza have built-in liabitility insurance, don't they?

I wonder how these studies fit into the national past time of blaming parents for their kids' obesity? If it becomes widely known that school lunch makes kids fat, will Boards of Education all over the country start making bottled water less expensive than whole milk and cutting off the endless cookie supply at the snack line or will they simply brow beat parents to go back to packing lunches so they can't be sued for contributing to Junior's weight problem?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Defensive medicine may be offensive

This Associated Press article caught my eye today. It discusses the over-abundance of medical testing used as a form of disease prevention and opines whether or not such testing is really beneficial or just wasteful.

In a time when health care costs are out of control, we have to examine the real reason behind the inflated costs. We don’t spend too much on health care because we’re sick, we spend too much on healthcare because healthcare is overpriced and we have embraced the idea that in order to be truly healthy we have to be tested constantly for disease. We’ve been conditioned to believe that early detection is the key to our survival, that palliative medications will give us a longer life and incessant doctor visits will improve the quality of our lives.

Suddenly, this isn’t the case. Now the speculation is we are over-testing, over-medicating and maybe even over-worrying. I tend to agree – the old adage ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ holds some weight. Good health used to be measured by how little you needed medical care, now it’s measured by how often you go for health screenings, vaccinations and renewals of your prescriptions.

On the other hand, I do find it odd that now when health care costs are completely out of control, the worm turns toward encouraging people to use less healthcare. Is it really common sense finally taking over, or is it a subtle way to lower costs?

Do you believe in routine preventive health screenings or do you think we place too much emphasis on being tested for everything all the time? Sure people have survived for thousands of years without ever having mammograms or colonoscopies, but then again – people have been dying for thousands of years too. Are we really at the next stage of our evolution where constant medical care will keep us healthy and living longer, or are we beginning to devolve into a race that can’t survive unless we are fully medicated and irradiated at every turn of the calendar?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Girl Scouts hijacked my diet

Not that I'm actually on a 'diet'. I don't use that word anymore, but I've been working hard at changing the way I eat.

Yesterday I started off with Greek yogurt, red grapes, a banana and a granola bar. Okay, lunch was a grilled cheese [lovingly prepared by my husband] and an apple followed by a walk around the block, believe it or not. Dinner was a salad, baked chicken, another apple [organic] and some fresh Italian bread. Sounds like a red letter day and it would have been except for the half a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints I ate while making dinner.

They're like chocolate covered crack. All these weeks of teaching myself how to avoid eating processed snack foods went right out the window when confronted with these deadly little disks of yummy. The worst part is, there's another sleeve in the box and I'll be home all by myself this afternoon.

I may need to duct tape my mouth shut.

So tell me, what's your food vice? What's the thing you can't resist no matter hard you try? I can walk away from an Oreo but Thin Mints are my Waterloo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do you juice?

I've been trying to figure out if juicing is a good idea or not. I've looked at juicing machines [and they're not cheap] and read a lot about the benefits of making your own juice from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Every source I've found agrees that commercial fruit juices are BAD with a capital BAD. They have too much sugar - many are supplemented with high fructose corn syrup and actually contain very little real juice. Making your own juice seems like the answer to getting all the nutrients from these foods in an easier way, plus you get something to drink besides water or green tea [unsweetened tea is my staple drink but even that gets boring now and then].

I've been making some of my own citrus juice - grapefruit and orange and to me it tastes just as sweet as anything I can buy, but I've also read that juicing removes some of the benefit of the fruit. You need the fiber of the fruit to counteract the sugar in the juice otherwise you're just wasting your time.

I'm beginning to think maybe juicing is something to do for fun once in a while when you want a treat, but it may not be a daily staple of a good diet.

Any juicers out there? What do you think? Has juicing helped your health or your waistline or is it just a good way to increase your produce bill?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The dreaded obesogen

Yeah, they’ve coined a new term. Now, in addition to carcinogens which can be found almost everywhere including the air we breathe, we now have to worry about obesogens – toxic chemicals present in food, food packaging and pesticides that cause weight gain.

So it may not be that burger and fries that’s making you fat – it could be the plastic in your water bottle or the essence of bug spray that lingers in the skin of the apple you just ate. Eating healthy may not be so healthy after all.

This article at gives the scoop on obesogens and cites them as yet another reason why diets don’t work for so many people. You can’t lose weight if your body is trying to be fat against all odds. The article advocates eating organic foods as one way to combat the abundance of obesogens in the environment.

The article makes a very scary point – especially about commercially produced meat. Inject a cow with growth hormones, make a hamburger out of it then blame the person who eats the hamburger for their weight gain.

If you need me, I’ll be at the organic food store.

Monday, March 8, 2010

To fish or cut bait?

Since I’ve started researching nutrition, I’ve come across tons of information about the benefits of fish oil. Book after book and website after website tout the role of fish oil in heart health as well as its efficacy in helping to treat high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, AHDH, low immunity, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, macular degeneration and ulcers.

It sounds like a wonder drug – well, not actually a drug. Let’s call it a wonder-substance since it can be had over the counter without a prescription.

The supermarket vitamin aisle is overflowing with fish oil – in fact this past week my local store had an entire endcap devoted to large, colorful jars of the enormous amber capsules. They were on sale so the price was right – the only thing stopping me, aside from the sheer size of the pills [I could probably find a whole fish smaller than some of the capsules] was of course that I recently read information discounting everything that’s out there about the benefit of fish oil.

Insert a big sigh here.

I'd just picked up the book Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD which for the most part enforces a lot of what I’ve been learning about the subterfuge practiced on us by the food industry. Dr. Fuhrman advocates a diet rich in fruits and vegetables which makes sense, but on pg. 127 he opines that fish oil can actually ‘decrease the activity of the immune system’ and may have a role in liver dysfunction, citing that much of the oil in those jewel-like amber capsules may in fact be rancid.

He also believes eating fish in general [another health tip promoted heavily everywhere else] isn’t as good for us as we’ve been lead to believe thanks to elevated mercury content.

Once again, information overload wins the day. I’m not saying I believe Dr. Fuhrman over everyone else, but it’s interesting and disheartening to find yet more contradictory health information. If everything we eat is bad for us – then why not just eat anything we want?

I suppose that’s exactly what the food industry is hoping we will do.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Get ready for the McDiet

I just came across this glimpse into the absurd – apparently Weight Watchers is planning on teaming up with McDonald’s to promo some of the fast food giant’s menu options as being health conscious.

Fortunately this is taking place so far only in New Zealand where the Weight Watchers logo will premiere on some selected menu items including Chicken McNuggets.

This one definitely has me perplexed. Weight Watchers certainly does advertise that you can successfully eat out and still lose weight, which I have to respect, since in the real world, you can’t [and don’t want to] always cook at home. Sometimes you need to go out, sit back, relax and let someone else serve you and clean up after you...but it does boggle my mind a bit that a company dedicated to teaching people how to eat right in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight would endorse any type of deep fried fast food.

It’s not just calorie and fat content that govern whether a food is healthy or not – and anyone who’s seen Super Size Me in which a man literally endangers his life by eating nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days knows there’s a lot more stuff in chicken nuggets than just chicken.

Granted McDonald’s has been jumping through hoops trying to convince the public that its food isn’t all bad, and that there are healthy options on the menu for those who know how to choose their meals carefully, but this just seems like a sell out on Weight Watchers’ part. Maybe things are different in New Zealand, but the battle of the bulge is fought daily here in the states and McD’s is a general in that war. In the world of healthy eating this strikes me as a bit treasonous.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Read the label, but don't believe it

I was thumbing through the March 18th issue of People magazine this weekend [not an authoritative source for much of anything, I know] and I came across two legal notices round about page 124.

Both notices were about class action lawsuits being brought against major food companies for essentially false advertising. Apparently Dannon is being sued for claims made about their Activia and DanActive yogurt products – the ones hawked by Jamie Lee Curtis as being good for your digestive health by helping with irregularity. Similarly Tyson is being sued for claims about their chicken products that supposedly were raised without certain types of antibiotics.

As a consumer [not of either of these products though] I have to wonder how many other foods are out there making claims that will later be questioned, or in fact proven false. It seems like every packaged food out there is making some kind of promise these days. It’s not enough just to taste good, it has to be good for you in some way...which is wonderful, if in fact the products are actually good for you. But these law suits are telling me that a lot of the hype we see on packages at the supermarket is just that. Hype.

We’re told to read food labels and study nutrition information as part of a healthier lifestyle but how healthy can we really be if we can’t trust what we read?

For more information on these settlements you can check out these websites. I’d love to hear from anyone who is going to participate in the suits.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bored by chocolate

Yes, you read that right. I’m official bored with chocolate and I’ll tell you why.

I read too much about it.

A couple weeks ago I ordered The Healing Powers of Chocolate by Cal Orey. I thought it would be fun and informative and give me lots of good excuses to eat my favorite food. I had visions of curing all my common ailments with a Hershey Bar or pound or two of good ‘ol Jersey Shore fudge.

As it turns out, according to the author, who also penned The Healing Powers of Vinegar and The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, chocolate can cure a host of complaints from acne to weight gain. You could probably convince me that chocolate is not responsible for pimples [who doesn’t want to believe that?] and that chocolate in moderation will not make you fat, but the extensive list of ills found in the chapter titled ‘Home Remedies’ also includes much less believable items such as Economic Stress and Universal Emergency. When an author has to reach for stuff like this to fill up a list, her credibility hits the skids as far as I’m concerned.

Overall the book is a lighthearted look at how awesome chocolate is. I can’t argue with that, and yes, I certainly agree it’s not the root of all evil as so many diets would have us believe. But after slogging through the first 200 pages, I’m pretty much done with my journey through chocolate’s healing powers. I should have given up on page 71 in the middle of the list of herbs that can be added to chocolate. The author includes Marshmallow [the plant Althaea officianalis] for its ability to sooth a sore throat or an upset stomach. That’s cool. But she lists dark chocolate topped with marshmallows as a way to get this healing effect. Um...marshmallow may be a plant with curative powers, but marshmallows are made of SUGAR. They might make you feel better because they’re yummy, but they’re not herbal.

My take home message from the book is something I already knew: Chocolate is not bad for you. My life without chocolate would be much less happy and much less healthy, so I’m not ever giving it up...but I can do without the book, thanks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My kingdom for a boot

Or actually a pair of boots.

It’s silly, I know – wanting to buy a pair of boots in the middle of the winter. I must be insane. The retail machine tells me so, but I have a hard time accepting that I can’t get a decent pair of boots in late February in the North east.

Here’s the dilemma. My son needed a pair of winter boots because the pair we had sequestered in his room back in the fall mysteriously disappeared. Well, one boot did. We assume it was thrown out. He claims they didn’t even fit him, but they did when he tried them on. Details, details. The long and the short of it was that with massive amounts of snow and slush on the ground, the kid needed some decent boots.

So Friday night, after the storming stopped, we went out in search of a good pair. I figured while I was at it, I’d pick myself up a new pair too, just because mine aren’t all that comfortable and I’ve had to wear them an awful lot lately.

Both the show store [Payless] and the department store [Wal*Mart] were not on board with this idea. You see, it’s time for sandals and shorts in retail land. No one is buying boots in February. That’s just nuts. It’s time to prepare for summer vacation. Apparently, if you want boots, you had to do your shopping well before Christmas. [I don’t mean December either, I mean retail-Christmas which now begins shortly before Halloween.] We were out of luck in the snow boot department.

We ended up solving the problem by going with a relatively expensive pair of all-weather work boots which are both water and oil resistant. Hopefully he won’t be in a situation where his footwear has to repel large amounts of oil, but if he is, he’s ready.

I now understand why so many stores are going out of business and the country is still in the grips of a recession. It’s because the stores insist on selling people things they don’t need when they don’t need them. Who’s buying shorts and sandals in February? Anybody? It’s sad to think of all those retail execs sitting around scratching their heads trying to figure out why they’re not making any profit on bathing suits and lawn chairs between New Years and Easter. Maybe if they worked a little harder on inducing global warming, they’d capture the summer attire market in the middle of winter. One can only hope they figure it out soon.

In the mean time, I could still use a new pair of boots. I guess I’ll have to mark my calendar start looking for boots in September.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Eating may be hazardous to your health

I came across this article put out by the Associated Press discussing the need for more warnings on food labels. Pediatricians are apparently spearheading the movement in response to the alarming number of choking deaths of children.

As a mother of children who were once small, I’m all about fear of choking. I can vividly recall several incidents of having to jam my finger into a tiny mouth and pull out something dangerous that should not have gone in there in the first place and I can also recall those missed heartbeats any time one of my kids got that ‘I can’t swallow this’ look in their eyes.

It’s terrifying to say the least and it’s one of the hundreds of job hazards that come with being a parent. Constant vigilance over what goes in your child’s mouth is…well…constant.

However, I have to ask myself how many warning labels are really necessary before we can deem our children completely safe. When does it end? The article cites hot dogs as a particularly dangerous food and mentions a parent by name who lost her child in this horrible way. Just like hot dogs, grapes, raisins, lollipops, beans, berries, even peanut butter can pose a risk – not only for children but adults as well. Bread, bagels, hard candy, meat of any kind, apples, carrots…anything that doesn’t melt quickly at body temperature has the potential to cause a choking hazard. Do all these foods really need labels stating that?

I have no desire to blame the victim or cast aspersions on a grieving parent, but the line in the first paragraph of article that states his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids' food could be so dangerous is a head/desk moment for me. Kids are born knowing how to swallow, but they’re not born knowing how to chew. Any food you put in your kid’s mouth has the potential to be dangerous. If you’ve never dreamed something could choke your child, you’re sleeping a little too soundly to be a parent.

It occurs to me also that putting these warnings on foods, though they’re meant to spare parents the agony of losing a child, may in fact cause more problems than they solve. If, after reading the warning label on a package of hot dogs, a parent gives their child a hot dog anyway and the child does choke, is that parent now guilty of child abuse or even worse, negligent homicide? After all, a family services agent could certainly ask – ‘If you knew this food posed a choking hazard, why did you give it to your child?’ Imagine the horror of having your child choke to death being compounded by guilt that you didn’t heed a warning label.

Instead of putting warnings on every single food product on the market, since they all could potentially cause a choking hazard if you have to put them in your mouth, maybe children should now come stamped with a universal warning: Small objects, if inserted into an orifice, can cause damage. This includes ALL foods. Proceed with caution.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Consumer Confidence Takes a Hit

I’ve been reading a lot about prescription drugs and drug companies and the more I read, the more concerned I get.

I came across this New York Times article about the dangers of a diabetes drug called Avandia. Apparently Avandia users have an increased risk of heart attacks and heart failure, but the manufacturer of the drug isn’t quite sure they want to take it off the market.

What’s interesting about this is the FDA tends to concur that a dangerous drug should remain on the market. Their solution is to order the drug manufacturer to conduct a study to find out whether Avandia really does increase the risk of heart problems in diabetic patients.

Now, is it just me, or can you figure out what the results of that study are going to be? I don’t need to be psychic to predict that the drug company will conduct the study and find there is ‘no statistically significant risk’ of heart disease.

I propose what we need in this country is an independent drug study team – one that receives no compensation from the sale of drugs and one that is not affiliated with any agency that receives compensation from pharmaceutical companies. They should conduct unbiased drug studies and publish the results.

Then maybe patients would be safe from deadly side effects...or maybe there would just end up being no drugs at all on the market.

Update: There is an article on this in my local newspaper 2/21/10 which states the FDA estimates 83,000 heart attacks were caused by Avandia. Even with this knowledge in hand, the FDA apparently only required the manufacturer [Glaxo/Smith/Kline] to include a warning on the package stating that the risk of heart attack might be increased.

It makes one wonder how many other drugs are doing more harm than good, but the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing them just having been called out on the problems yet or worse, are just being told by the FDA to put mild warnings on the packages. Again, we’re back to how the industry seems to be training people to accept deadly side effects a natural risk involved in treating an illness. Is it really a reasonable trade off – diabetes or a heart attack?

I don’t think so. How about you?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Going Organic

I’ve been reading Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau and it’s doing a lot to erode my confidence in the food and drug industries. One thing I’ve taken away from the book so far is the benefits of organic food.

Up until now I have to admit I looked at ‘organic’ food as something that was just more expensive than regular food. Living on a budget in one of the most expensive counties in the USA, it’s tough to fill up a shopping cart with enough food for 84 meals [3 meals x 7 days x 4 people] and not go broke. Like most hunter-gatherers I know, I’ve been trained to shop for bargains and get the most bang for my buck, so if a dozen regular eggs cost $1.88 and the organic eggs cost $2.49 – guess which ones I’m going to buy? When regular lettuce is on sale for $0.99 and organic lettuce is 2 for $5.00 the regular has to win. I never wanted to pay more for something – especially something that might not taste as good.

Then I read the book, which describes how the food industry loads everything with chemicals [even produce] in order to make it look better, taste better, grow bigger, and make people hungrier. Yeah. That last one gave me pause too. It sort of makes sense. I’ve often felt addicted to certain foods – the potato chips that promise ‘you can’t eat just one’ – maybe there’s more to that slogan than meets the eye. Candy that calls to me, cookies that disappear in a few days...I often feel like I can’t stop eating something even though I really don’t feel hungry. I used to think it was my own dismal lack of will power, but now I’m starting to wonder if it’s not an industry-engineered reaction to the food itself.

In response to this alarming information, I decided to start small and replace a couple of items in my cart with their organic counterparts. This week I bought organically grown romaine lettuce and I made a killer Greek salad from it. I also splurged on organic eggs [not the specially formulated omega-3 eggs that I sometimes buy, but regular certified organic eggs]. In each case these items were slightly more expensive than what I normally buy, but I feel if I’m reducing even by a little bit, the amount of unnecessary chemicals my family and I consume, it may be worth the price.

Do you buy organic food? Would you if it were the same price as regular food? If you do eat organic some or all of the time, do you think the changeover improved your health?

I’ll let you know if I feel any different after eating some organic food – even if it’s only peace of mind in knowing I’m cutting down on my chemical intake it may be worth the extra cost.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Riding the Olympic vehicle

The other night I was skimming through channels and caught some of the Olympics [I know I shouldn’t admit this, but for the most part, I’m not a fan of any Olympic sport except curling. Curling rocks. No pun intended. Well, yes, actually it was.]

Anyway, the interesting thing about the Olympics was not the athletes, the costumes, the pageantry or even the dedication to excellence shown by the people from all over the world who come together to compete. What I find most interesting is the sponsorship. Let’s face it, the Olympics is big business and companies shell out a lot of dough not only for advertising spots but to be able to call themselves a ‘sponsor’ of the Olympics.

I thought the commercial for McDonald’s was most intriguing. McDonald’s, they tell us, is an official food/eating place of the Olympics. Well, yeah. You have to figure with McDonald’s restaurants all over the world, the people who come to see the Olympics will feel very much at home under the Golden Arches…but I had to ask myself, would a dedicated aspiring professional athlete [yes, Olympians are supposed to be amateurs – but aren’t they competing for world wide recognition that could land them sponsorships of their own?] be wise to chow down on a Big Mac and Fries?

Apparently I’m not the only one flummoxed by this. Blogger Brett Blumenthal at Sheer Balance asked the same question and answered it more eloquently than I.

At a time when health and wellness are such a hot button issue, you would think the Olympics might want to take the opportunity to promote food that is actually healthy. Of course I guess that would be hard to do with a lot less money in their pockets.

If you’re a fan of the Olympics, does it bother you to see McDonald’s ads during Olympic broadcasts? Do you feel the message is hypocritical or worse, damaging to aspiring athletes who may get the idea that their idols are sitting down to McNuggets and fries before competing and still managing to win gold?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The devil is in the details

I found this article put out by the Associated Press the other day proclaiming relief for the mortgage crisis. Apparently the number of homeowners who are late on payments has dropped sharply – heralding better times ahead.

The article also gives the grim truth about this supposed turnaround. The ‘sharp drop’ constitutes a change of 0.2 percent – from 3.8 to 3.6. That’s 2 tenths of a percent.

I imagine the author of the article has a different definition of sharp than I do. I also have to wonder how much of this sharp drop is a result of people having lost their homes to foreclosure. You can’t be late on a payment if you no longer own the house, right?

This quote from the article tells the rest of the real story:

However, more than 15 percent of homeowners with a mortgage had missed at least one payment or were in foreclosure, a record for the 10th straight quarter.

I realize it may be the job of journalists like this and the Associated Press in general to paint a happy picture of the economy – after all, telling people things are getting better, will make them think things are getting better, and then perhaps by default, things will actually begin to get better. I just wish if they were going to try to snow the public with fuzzy facts, they worked a little harder at making them fuzzy. This is just blatant hogwash.

Chin up everyone, things are better! Two tenths of a percent less people were one payment late on their mortgages so we can all breath a sigh of relief. The fact that the article ends with the information that the number of homeowners who are more than three payments late has continued to rise is apparently notwithstanding.

I imagine the whole point of this article is not to convey any real information, just to dazzle people with peppy headlines.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Maybe there's a pill for that

I’m always looking for a natural way to deal with acid indigestion and acid reflux. This has been one of my crosses to bear for years now – and I know the cause. Being overweight and having a fondness for chocolate [a chief culprit for acid reflex and indigestion] I really have little hope of curing myself unless I drastically change my lifestyle.

Many years ago I took a papaya supplement that helped a bit, but I can’t seem to find it in stores any more, so I’m back to searching for a better method to control my acid reflux and still not give up my chocolate.

Unfortunately I haven’t had much luck and after reading this tidbit over at Natural News I’m not sure I ever will.

Now the article highlights treatments for stomach ulcers as well as acid indigestion. I don’t have an ulcer at the moment, but of course, I don’t want to develop one either. After reading this paragraph at the end, I’m not sure the natural treatment/cure would win any debates against good old-fashioned Western drugs.

Aloe vera is a plant that has properties that can heal and calm ulcers. Studies have shown that patients have had immediate relief and complete recovery from episodes of acute peptic ulcers. The most natural way of taking aloe vera is to simply chop up the spongy leaves into small pieces, soak them in water overnight and then drink one glass of the slimy, bitter water every 2 hours.

It was the slimy and bitter that gave me pause. One reason why so many people are dependent on drugs to deal with the symptoms of disease is that they’re easy to take. Pop a pill and you feel better – or at least your doctor tells you you’re healthier. It’s not difficult for the most part. Drinking something slimy and bitter, no matter what it promises to do for you, is not something most people are going to be comfortable with. I wonder if they can put aloe vera into pill form because the natural solution isn’t going to cure anybody.

*Update: I did two things since I wrote this article that seemed to help my acid reflux. One evening I juiced a pink grapefruit and two oranges and I drank the juice about an hour before bedtime. [Acidic drinks before sleep! Noooo!!!] I went to bed without taking any acid reflux medication and slept all night comfortably. The next night I didn’t drink any fresh squeezed juice, but I just didn’t take any acid reducing medication and I still not have any acid reflux. I’m not sure what really made the difference on those nights, but something worked.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I'm taking Saturdays off too for a while. Don't worry, I won't be goofing off. I'll be cleaning, doing laundry and house hunting.

See you Monday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tips, Tricks and Rules

The Internet makes me insane on a daily basis. Why am I still here, you wonder? I refuse to answer that on the grounds it may tend to make me seem a little more insane.

Anyway, one thing that bothers me most about the Internet are the incessant ads. I have to wonder what makes some of these shady advertisers think anyone would be attracted by the nonsense they spout, but someone must be buying into this crap because the ads are always there.

The worst offenders in my opinion are the ones decrying “Obama asks Moms to Return to School!” – Seriously. Would the president be able to get away with being so sexist as to assume anyone who is a Mom automatically needs to return to school? Come on. No government spin doctor would allow the president to make such a request. It’s practically obscene in a feminist country to insinuate that being a mother precludes someone from having a complete education.

Ads in a similar vein promise better car insurance rates or help with refinancing a home loan. They’re usually accompanied by clearly Photo-shopped pictures of…well, let’s just say individuals who…people who seem…all right, I’ll just say it – weird looking people. Yeah, because a guy with a unibrow or a woman playing peekabo with a horrendous set of dentures makes me want to learn more about your product or your program. Are they kidding?

Other misleading ads are the ones hawking weird rules, cheap tricks and old tips. Ever notice how it’s always a mom, usually unemployed or unmarried from your town or a town near you who miraculously discovered how to lose weight, whiten her teeth or make tons of cash working from home? [Why should she return to school, pray tell, if she’s already so clever, I have to ask?]

Out of curiosity I followed one of these links and just as expected, it doesn’t take you to a Mom’s website where she shares her hard earned knowledge – no, invariably these ads take you to a mock up of a news article explaining how this crafty Mom sent away for free samples, or inexpensive kits or low-cost diet aids. They want your e-mail address and we all know what happens when someone gets a hold of your e-mail address.

So here’s one weird old tricky tip about rules – don’t believe them. If you feel inclined to do so, the president thinks you should go back to school…and I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I've been bad

Part of the reason I'm writing this blog is to help myself work on a healthier lifestyle. All my research is teaching me a lot of alarming things about the state of health care and what I should really be doing to take better care of myself.

Unfortunately it's not as easy as it sounds. Eating right [not necessarily less], exercising better [not necessarily more] and avoiding bad substances should be fairly easy but it's just not.

For the past three days I've had one of those headaches - it's probably a mixture of sinus, stress and strain. In a perfect world, I'd take a day off, a few long, hot showers, a comfortable nap and spend some time destressing. In the real world, I've got to work three different jobs, clean, cook and coerce at least one of my kids into doing homework. I don't have time to take a day off and work on getting rid of a nagging headache.

So I took OTC meds. Bad, bad, bad. I know. I started with Advil and that didn't make much dent. I moved on to Motrin which helped a little but not completely, then yesterday I went for the big guns, Exedrin Sinus - which did take the edge off, but here it is morning again and I've still got that little twinge at the back of my left shoulder, like a dull arrow pointing at my skull and saying 'I'm headin' thata way!'

I know the more NSAIDs I take, the longer my headache will ultimately last and the odds are I will end up depressed and dealing with a bit of an upset stomach. So what do I do?

Anyone out there have a non-drug headache cure? That doesn't involve moving to a desert island where there no phones, no homework, no job stress, no traffic, and no pollutants? I'm willing to try just about anything.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ask a silly question

An ABC News health correspondent asks Why Do We Spend $34 Billion in Alternative Medicine? As if it’s a difficult question to answer.

The article written in July 2009 by Lauren Cox of the ABC News Medical Unit casts aspersions on alternative medicine, citing the common explanation that non-Western medical techniques are largely unproven. Scientific research doesn’t extend to many naturopathic cures, therefore people should be wary of them.

Of course, the money involved in conducting scientific testing makes it prohibitive to all but the high-earning pharmaceutical companies – so it’s a double-edged sword. No one can prove alternative medicines really work because no one can pay to prove it.

The article goes on to wonder why people are so willing to fork over cash for natural remedies to illness, then answers it’s own question. Money is a big issue – people without health insurance have to do something. Natural cures, food, vitamins, etc, are less expensive than medical cures – doctor visits with hefty price tags, never-ending prescriptions for drugs, repetitive medical tests than may actually cause the diseases they’re trying to detect, and emergency care bills that bankrupt the insured just as easily as the uninsured.

Why would it be a mystery?

The article also offers another view of alternative medicine as friendlier, more thorough and in fact often more effective than Western medicine. Is it any wonder patients opt for spending more time with a naturopathic doctor who has time to listen to their problems and prescribe a custom path of care, than those 8 minutes with a regular health care professional whose focus is on seeing as many people in a day as possible, prescribing drugs recommended by the pharmaceutical reps that clog their waiting rooms and churning out the insurance paperwork so they can be reimbursed for their time?

I think it’s elementary, Watson. Don’t you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When more is less

I had a different post planned for today, but I scrapped it in order to vent on behalf of filmmaker Kevin Smith [Silent Bob of Jay and Silent Bob fame] who was recently ejected from a commercial airline flight for being ‘too large’.

Mr. Smith, fully aware he’s a plus-sized individual, had purchased two tickets for himself accommodating the airline industry’s money-grabbing tactic for overcharging people who cannot fit in the cattle-car type seating they prefer to foist upon their passengers.

In order to make his destination sooner, apparently Mr. Smith agreed to be put on standby and was placed on a different flight, given only one seat – not the two he paid for – and then was removed from the flight because the pilot insisted his size posed a safety issue. Mr. Smith contends he could fit comfortably in the torture device [er…seat], could lower his armrests and buckle his seat belt. Nevertheless he was asked to leave the flight. He was given the consolation prize of a $100 voucher [very likely not even close to the price of one seat, let alone two] and placed on yet another flight where he also fit comfortably into one seat, despite having still paid for two.

The airline has since offered a lame apology to Mr. Smith over the phone and on their blog and received hundreds of comments from the public. Some were like me, outraged that the airline could treat a paying customer this way. Others jumped on the bandwagon, blasting Mr. Smith for being overweight because it’s politically correct to do so.

They could not complain because of the color of his skin, or his religion. They could not take issue with his age, his inability to speak or understand English or his hailing from a region of the planet known to produce terrorists. That would be discrimination and it’s illegal in this country. But being fat, overweight, plus-sized, big boned…that’s fair game. I don’t necessarily blame the people who supported Southwest’s abuse of Mr. Smith – they can’t help themselves. Most of them have probably never been discriminated against and most would probably waste no time calling their lawyers if they were. I blame the airlines, the media, and the government for declaring war on anyone who is not the perfect height, weight or width. If you are bigger than the average person, you are somehow less. Less human. Less in possession of feelings and dignity.

Everyone believes it well within the power of an overweight person to become thin. Just stop being lazy, eat less and exercise more. How hard can that be, right? Celebrities especially do it all the time – one day they’re fat, the next day they’re thin and going on the talk show circuit to discuss how ashamed they were of themselves when they were closer to looking like a normal person than looking like a cadaver. It’s funny how no one can legally expect another person to change their religion even though it should be as easy as simply believing something different than you already believe. No one can legally expect a person to renounce their citizenship to a country that has declared war on freedom…all that takes is saying some words and signing a few papers, but it’s okay to legally expect someone to starve themselves in order to fit into an airplane seat.

I wonder what kind of discrimination will be legal next.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Beware of salt

We’ve all been told how bad salt is for us. It raises blood pressure, it causes water retention…and it can also be bad for your wallet too!

This isn’t a diet post – it’s a snow storm post. Like most residents of the wintry North East US, my husband and I live in various stages of weather preparedness. Sometimes we run out of salt for the driveway, sometimes we don’t have all the ingredients to make French toast should we be snowed in [if you live in this area of the country, you know, the moment the weather forecasters start predicting snow, everyone over the age of 35 runs out to get bread, eggs, milk and coffee – to assuage the fear of being stuck for a day unable to make French toast for breakfast.]

The other day, before the big snowstorm hit here, I decide to get a jump on things and I stopped by the local convenience store on my way home from work to pick up a loaf of bread. [Yes, we did make French toast while we were snowed in]. Later, my husband stopped home for lunch and asked if I’d noticed if same convenience store had any road salt since we were running low. I said I thought they had stacks of it right in the front of the store.

After lunch he went back to the store to pick some up – which he did, but thanks to a little careful thinking on his part, he didn’t grab one of the small bags piled near the entrance which were running about $8.00 a bag.

He took a few minutes and trekked into the back of the store where they had larger bags of salt, at $2.00 a bag.

Ultimately he spent around $6.00 for three times as much salt as he would have gotten if he’d done what the store marketing team wanted him to do and run in, see the first product available and grab it.

In essence, they want customers to pay extra for the convenience of not having to walk to the back of the store.

So next time you’re in a hurry and need something the rest of the population probably also needs in a hurry, take a longer walk. You might find increasing your salt purchasing could be good for you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Another scary choice

The other day I wrote about the ridiculous choice associated with hormone replacement therapy - possibly help prevent colon cancer, possibly cause a host of other medical problems at the same time.

Here’s another one that leaves me scratching my head.

Depression is a huge problem in this country [and probably an even bigger problem in a lot of others where it goes largely untreated or undiagnosed]. There are hundreds of drugs available to treat depression. They’re regularly prescribed by doctors and judging by the number of people I know who take some form or another of anti-depressant, they’re not hard to get.

Unfortunately, they all have side effects and it seems a lot of the side effects are extremely serious. This one, called Pristiq, which uses a wind-up doll to illustrate the run-down feeling of being depressed, caught my attention on television the other night. The ad discusses the suffering associated with clinical depression and likewise the side effects, warnings and prohibitions in place with regards to taking any drug from this particular class of medications.

Of note: Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, teens, and young adults. Depression and certain other psychiatric disorders are themselves associated with increases in the risk of suicide. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior.

So your antidepressant could make you suicidal. Is that really an acceptable risk? At all?
Again, I have to ask why the medical profession thinks it’s okay to give someone a drug to treat a disorder when that drug could actually make the disorder worse. What are they thinking?

Apparently, they are only thinking…they’re not actually knowing, because something I find even more disturbing than the warnings and side effects associated with this drug is this statement which can be found on a subsequent page of the website:

As an SNRI, PRISTIQ is thought to work by affecting the levels of two neurotransmitters believed to play a key role in depression, serotonin and norepinephrine.

It’s ‘thought’ to work in a certain way. It’s not ‘known’ to work, it’s just ‘thought’ to work.

So not only are we supposed to take a medication that could worsen our condition, the researchers who invented the drug aren’t even sure how it works. They invented it! Shouldn’t they know exactly what it’s doing in the body?

I have no doubt there are patients taking this medication and feeling better because of it, but what about the ones who suffer the side effects? Is it worth it to put so many people at risk? I don’t ‘think’ so.

Friday, February 12, 2010

So it's not just us

In all my research for this blog, I’ve come to wonder if there’s something inherently wrong with our politics and social structure in this country. It was really started to worry me, but then I came across this article about Canadian citizens protesting the huge amount of money to be spent by their government on the winter Olympics when so many people there, just like here, are suffering the effects of the economic crisis.

I know the Olympics is a global event, something that I’m sure has some bearing on helping to keep peace between nations. If we can all get together to play some games, hand out some medals and have a grand ‘ol time, we’re less likely to bomb each other out of existence, but the Olympics is a financial burden on the hosting country. During times when money flowed freely, it was no big deal. Pouring public funds into the sports spectacle meant increased tourism and a huge jump in revenue for the host city…that translated to profit which could be pumped back into the economy to make things better for the citizens. Theoretically.

But what if the stone is already bled dry? When you have a community that’s already poor [I have to admit it’s hard for me to think of a poor community in Canada, they seem like they have it so much more together than we do], is it really wise to divert public funds to hosting winter games when your own citizens don’t have enough food or places to live?

Maybe the global economy would suffer for the lack of Olympics, maybe international relations would suffer too, but it seems to me like the desire for profit outweighs everything else. Is the prestige of hosting the Olympics and the boost in the local and national economy worth the low tide that’s going to occur beforehand?

I think one thing definitely is global – political insanity.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pick your poison

At what point does the cure become worse than the disease?

I’m starting to wonder about a lot of the so called cancer treatments and cancer preventions coming down the pike. Everyone is terrified of cancer, and it seems the medical profession is working over time to find cures or at least treatments that can prolong life, ease suffering or make it less likely for people to get cancer.

What scares me is, it seems like most of the things they’re coming up with cause greater problems.

This article talks about hormone replacement therapy as a possible stop gap in the fight against colon cancer in women. It highlights a study that shows estrogen therapy has some effectiveness in lowering the risk of colon cancer, the controversial side effects of HRT itself notwithstanding.

Is it worth it to risk:

o Endometrial bleeding
o Breast tenderness
o Increased breast density, higher rates of abnormal mammograms and breast biopsies
o Increased risk of cancers, including breast, ovarian, lung, and malignant melanoma
o Cardiovascular events (e.g., heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular death)
o Gallbladder disease
o Venous thromboembolic events (blood clots)
o Reduced insulin sensitivity
o Brain atrophy, increased risk of dementia, decline in memory and cognition

in order to prevent colon cancer?

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t understand why we should have to choose between one health risk and another. Good health is good ‘overall’ health. How can the medical profession tout something as being beneficial if it helps one thing while making something else worse?

We all accept side effects of our medications – everything has a down side, even taking aspirin can put you at risk for some other health concern. But should we really accept side effects, especially deadly ones, as just a matter of course? If you use HRT to prevent colon cancer, why should you have to then fear an increased risk for some other disease? In my opinion, something is not truly effective as a disease prevention if it has to the potential to cause another disease. Obviously, if doctors believed this, we would have very little in our pharmaceutical arsenal…but then maybe we could hope to find a medicine that helps without hurting.

Or is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Apparently you get only what you pay for

I came across this disturbing article from November 2009 about a clinic in New York that provides two separate entrances for patients: one for people with health insurance and one for people who will be paying out of pocket for their health care.

It’s fascinating [in the same way a train wreck is fascinating] that the insurance side is overcrowded, overbooked, and patients receive a lower standard of care. The ‘boutique’ side of the clinic, for people who have the money to pay their own way [note, not for the ‘uninsured’ who will be expecting the government to compensate the doctors – this is for people who can write a check, fork over cash or charge the hundreds of dollars it will cost for their treatment or diagnostic care] provides faster access to appointments, an actual conversation with a doctor and immediate test results.

Is this the ‘broken’ part that ObamaCare is supposed to fix? Is health care reform going to make it so that since we all be required to have health insurance, we will all get ‘boutique’ type care? Or will health care reform simply widen the gap – longer wait times, a lower standard of care for entire population...except for those who either a) choose to pay above and beyond the cost of their health insurance for ‘real’ health care, where they actually see a doctor and are treated like humans rather than cattle, or b) the ‘criminals’ who opt not to pay for health insurance but instead save up their hard earned cash in order to pay for better service.

Maybe it’s time we held not only the government accountable for the travesty that the health care profession has become, but doctors as well. Do you think we’d be better off we all just had to pay for a doctor visit out of pocket? If doctors wanted ‘customers’ they’d have to lower their prices...or would that simply make health care only affordable to the wealthy...wait...yeah - sort of just like the situation in this article.

Maybe healthcare should just be free for everyone, you know, like it is most of the other developed nations of the world. Profits be damned. Oops, did I say that out loud?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't knock yourself out

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the old weight loss adage – eat less and exercise more and you will lose weight.

It sounds like it makes sense. Take in less calories, burn off more, you will start to shrink. But what if, like so many other things we’re led to believe, that’s not true?

This article at suggests exercise may only work for some people as a means to lose weight and become more fit.

The fact that all those jumping jacks haven't done much to help your physique may not be your fault. Some people, so says the article, just don’t respond to exercise the way others do.

Boy, that explains a lot. For instance, when I was actively involved in a walking regime a few years ago I didn’t lose a pound. I felt a tad more energetic, I will say that, and I think the long walks three to four times a week helped my mental health more than anything, but they didn’t change my shape at all. Maybe I’m not a ‘responder’ when it comes to exercise.

Of course I know I don’t respond well to eating any less, so I may be doomed. Are millions of people knocking themselves out at the gym for nothing? Not that exercise is a bad thing – being able to do more physical activity can only help your overall health, in my opinion, but this certainly helps explain why so many diet/exercise programs fail. If we’re not genetically programmed to get fitter [more fit?] through exercise, then how do we do it? Can we do it at all?

Maybe it’s just quality not quantity that’s important. Exercise, but don’t expect a miracle from your workout, it may not be in your genes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Flip Flop on Fat

I came across this article the other day at discussing the role of saturated fat in heart disease.

We’ve been told for years that fatty foods are the culprit in most of our woes – less fat means lower cholesterol which means a healthier heart. It sounds like it makes sense.
So how can this quote be true?

“researchers found no clear evidence that higher saturated fat intakes led to higher risks of heart disease or stroke.”

If a high fat diet isn’t really an indicator for heart disease, then what is? I’m not trying to suggest we should all be increasing our intake of saturated fat, or that we should run to our doctors who have been touting low-fat diets for years and say “Nyah nyah! I’m eating all the pork rinds I want now, doc!” But maybe all those years of guilt over preferring a steak dinner to a salad were for naught.

Sure the salad is better for you, but maybe the steak isn’t really clogging your arteries like we’ve been led to believe.

Here’s another telling quote from the article with regards to the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

“there was no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.”

Interesting stuff. If it’s not food that’s elevating the risk of cardiovascular disease in our population as a whole, what is it? Stress maybe? That’s one I could believe. Maybe we’re all too worried about what we can and can’t eat.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ready, set...panic!

I had a post planned for today about saturdated fat, but I'll save that for Monday so I can complain instead about the weather forcast.

All day yesterday we in the northeast were treated to the usual winter weather catastrophe casts - the "monster snow storm" was heading up from the south [where indeed it has packed a winter weather whallop] and we needed to buckle down, salt up and prepare for something Stephen King could write a terrifying best seller about.

It hasn't happened yet.

I'm still waiting for a flake to hit the ground. Now, I'm not disappointed, mind you, though I did cancel some plans I had for the day in anticipation of having to spend annoying hours cleaning off my car and hauling shovels full of snow from one end of my driveway to the other. I will admit the satellite photos of the storm looked ominous, and with a big patch of white crawling across the US in our direction, I suppose I can't really blame the weather services for believing the worst - after all they do thrive on it.

What bothers me is how, in a region where heavy winter storms are the norm, we're treated like we must plan for a national disaster. I get that in the southern areas blizzards are uncommon and people who are not used to the bitter cold and treacherous driving conditions will be at a loss as to how to deal with it, but up here where I live, we've had the two-foot snow storms before. You know what? Usually withing 24-48 hours after a storm, everything is pretty much back to normal. You may have a day where you can't get the store, but you're not trapped for a week. Nevertheless the media works on providing public hysteria, so people are racing home from work, clogging the food stores looking for the all importat bread, eggs, milk and coffee [the french toast disaster preparedness kit], along with bottled water, salt for the driveway and a new shovel because apparently they never had one before.

Bad weather is always treated like a surprise and I don't get why. If you live in the northeast, and it's any time between November and March, you'd better expect a snow day now and then.

I'll grant that the prediction of weather may not be an exact science, but the spectacular failures seem to happen more than the successes. I'm wondering, do the forecasters have to overestimate the dangers of a storm to cover their butts or is it just so the retail outlets will get a revenue boost right before a day when most people won't be out shopping?