Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend off

I'm off for the weekend - leaving town for a bit of R&R - which I'm told is good for the health. I'll be back on Monday with some info about microwaving your food - in the meantime...don't.

See you then!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Or Vice Versa

Agghhh! It’s becoming a theme here, don’t you think? Medical/nutritional advice that contradicts itself is everywhere – sometimes you can even find contradictions right in the same article.

I found this article over at Health News about after-meal bloating. Not the most entertaining topic, I know, but one I find concerning. I was interested in the list of foods that are supposed to help curb that overfull, gassy feeling after meals.

The article recommends these: Bananas, mangoes, spinach, nuts, asparagus, melons, and tomatoes because they are high in potassium and an amino acid called asparagine. Okay. Sounds like a plan to me. I was all set to stock up on green veggies and tropical fruit until I got to the second page of the article and found this quote:

You may want to try staying away from common foods that do not digest well within the system (cauliflower, broccoli, leafy greens, beans, corn, cabbage, and nuts)

Hello? So, do I eat nuts to get more potassium which will help curb bloating or do I avoid them because they don’t digest well and cause gas??? Isn’t spinach a leafy green? Help.

What could is a nutritional self-help article that tells you to one thing and then not to do the same thing? Do the authors of these articles think people won’t notice?

I’m beginning to wonder if good health is just a hit or miss sitch. Do this to feel better – unless it doesn’t work, then do the opposite.

Does anyone really know what’s good for us?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pandemic or Pandemonium?

I just read this article about the World Health Organization’s response to accusations that the swine flu pandemic of 2009 was a hoax designed to increase profits for pharmaceutical companies.

Of course the WHO denies any wrongdoing. They maintain that the number of reported cases of swine flu worldwide qualifies as a pandemic, regardless of how many deaths occurred. I supposed based on dictionary definition, it was a pandemic. Whether or not the widespread panic that accompanied it was necessary or not is anyone’s guess.

I know people who became seriously ill from swine flu, so I’m not minimizing its severity, but I have to say I’m not surprised by the accusations made in the article. To me it seems odd that a disease which had people all over the world wearing surgical masks in public just a few months ago suddenly seems to be getting so much less attention. Is the pandemic over or at least in remission for now?

I wonder if this is because millions of people have received vaccinations, thus halting the spread of the virus. Or is it because the severity of the epidemic was exaggerated in order to increase demand for the vaccine?

People die from influenza every year. There’s no debating it’s a deadly illness and those with already compromised immune systems are especially at risk, but I wonder if it really benefits society to inflate the risk of a disease in order to insure more people take precautions against spreading it. Did the WHO and the media really do the world a service by terming the swine flu spread to be a pandemic and increasing not only awareness of the disease but fear of it, or did they ultimately only do the vaccine manufacturers a service? The efficacy of the swine flu vaccine is still under debate, and the regular flu season isn’t quite over yet, so are we right to still be afraid or are we right to be skeptical?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Take that back!

I heard about this on the radio Tuesday morning – it’s time to celebrate National Take Back Your Time Week – and for five glorious days* the overworked and underslept can or rather should take back some of the time we give to our overscheduled lives and relax.

Much easier said than done. This article offers some examples of how to Take Back Your Time wisely. Unfortunately none of the suggestions include permanently dropping out of the rat race and moving to a deserted island [my first choice, btw.]

I’m all for the concept of slowing down our lives. I think we all work too much, worry too much and spend too much time on the Internet. The whole idea of life less rushed appeals to me, though I think it will be a while before it really catches on because society as a whole is about moving fast all the time and keeping up. We’re constantly bombarded with information designed to make us want to work more, earn more, have more, do more – which sounds great in theory except that most of it is impossible to achieve. We can’t be all things all the time and that creates more stress which makes relaxing impossible.

I find it interesting that we have to set aside a day or a week to ‘officially’ relax because the majority of people won’t do it unless they’re told to. If it’s a movement, an organization, a new regiment, then it’s okay, but if it’s just a way of life there’s not really time for it.

Do you have to schedule your relaxation? Would you if you could? I mean – do you have time to relax at all? Sometimes I feel like I don’t. If I relax I fall behind and I hate both the feeling of falling behind and of feeling guilty for wishing I didn’t hate the feeling of falling behind. I do think we all need to relax a little more, but I’m not sure we need to have an organization to tell us we need to relax.

For more about the Take Back Your Time movement, you can visit the website at where Take Back Your Time Day falls on October 24th – oddly enough. There you will find a detailed list of things to do on Take Back Your Time Day/Week – which all seem a bit counterintuitive to me. If I’m going to take back my time, I’m not going to spend my time hawking for the Take Back Your Time Initiative or planning a Take Back Your Time event.

*Note: National Take Back Your Time Week apparently does not include the weekend, when you are supposed to go back to being too busy to breathe.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

There's an economist born every minute

I get a kick out of reading the predictions of economists. Every since the recession hit [or rather since they actually began admitting it was a recession], every day there have been articles like this one telling us the economy is in recovery.

The only people who actually notice this recovery seem to be the economists. They tend to base their predictions on miniscule drops in new unemployment claims. My interpretation: If last month 500,000 people lost their jobs and applied for unemployment and this month 400,000 lost their jobs and applied for unemployment, the economy must be improving. One hundred thousand less people applied for unemployment and that’s a good thing, right? It seems to me they ignore the obvious – that there were 500,000 people out of work and now there are 900,000. We’re not supposed to look at it that way I guess.

It’s all ‘the glass is half full.’

Well, I try hard not to be a pessimist, and I guess if I can find amusement in what appears to be the cock-eyed optimism of economists, then I’m not really a full-blown pessimist after all. But seriously – who pays these people to tell us things are looking up based on trends that tend to swing back forth like a pendulum? Today prices are up, housing is up, jobs are up…based on data collected a month ago. Tomorrow prices are down, housing is down, jobs are down, based on data collected one day later.

Who do we believe? What do we believe? My take is to ignore the economists. Thing are better if they’re better. They’re worse if they’re worse.

Maybe the economy would recover if we stopped paying the economists to tell us about it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Added value?

While reading the Saturday paper this week, I made myself a little collection of coupons for more of the fortified food products that seem to be becoming the norm at the supermarket.

Now you can get Omega-3s and Vitamin E in your milk
Smart Balance

Probiotics in your sugar substitute

And if you don’t like drinking healthy pomegranate juice for the antioxidants it contains, you can now get it in pill form*

I’m not necessarily knocking any of these products. I just find it fascinating that so few packaged foods are unadulterated these days. The idea seems to be that by adding supplements to everything, or by turning naturally healthy foods into supplement pills value is added. You get more for your money if you’re not only sweetening your drink but boosting your immune system at the same time. It’s not enough just to drink a glass of milk, it needs to contain a dose of vitamins as well.

In our society where no one has time to eat right or exercise enough, it seems to make sense that food manufacturers are trying to help us out by giving us extra nutrition in everything we buy, but I tend to think this only helps us avoid the need to slow down and pay more attention to what we eat and how we eat it. Are we really healthier if we get the daily recommended dose of every vitamin and nutrient from just one glass of a super-fortified drink, whether it be juice, milk, water or even soda [7-Up even comes fortified with anti-oxidants these days]? Or do we just think we’re healthier because we’ve gotten some extra nutrients and saved time in the process?

* Interesting about the pomegranate pill, it also comes in concentrated liquid if you don't like the juice you can take a pill and if you don't like the pill you can have a spoonful of...more juice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Dos and Don'ts of Food Cures

I’m currently reading Food: Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper. It’s a thick paperback packed with interesting tidbits about how foods have effect in both healing and preventing disease.

It’s interesting stuff but not as easy to understand as one might think. The main message of course seems to be that eating healthy food will help make you healthy. No problem there. Eating certain foods in larger quantities can ease symptoms of certain diseases and even stop them completely. Avoiding certain foods can also help prevent and cure certain common disorders.

The problem I’m finding with the book, though, lies in the need to cross reference each food…if you take more of something to prevent or cure a certain condition, you may be causing yourself another problem.

Tea is a perfect example – it seems to have lots of healing properties and has effect in numerous medical conditions. The take home message in a lot of health related literature I’ve read lately is drink more tea. But tea is also listed as a culprit in the formation of kidney stones [been there, done that, don’t want to go back.] So, do I continue to drink large amounts of tea because of the anti-oxidants and other healing properties or do I give it up in order to prevent a recurrence of my kidney stones?

Sweet potatoes are another suspect on the kidney stone list – and they’re likewise a superfood reported to have numerous health benefits. Another dilemma. By changing my diet to include more sweet potatoes and more tea for their healthful effects, I seem to be putting myself at greater risk for a recurrence of kidney stones.

{Insert big sigh here}. I won’t even mention all the bad things chocolate is supposed to cause because I haven’t started reading this book yet. Of course, I would never give up chocolate, even if it caused sudden, irreversible, flatulent death. Maybe my love of chocolate means I’ll never be fully healthy – or maybe it means I’ll never die. I don’t know, and I don’t care…but I do want to know how I can cure with food and not cause some other ailment in the process.

Any suggestions?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brushing up on Fluoride

Here’s another modern dilemma – can we really believe what seems to be overwhelming scientific evidence that something is good for us, or should we question the studies that seem to prove the benefits of certain chemicals or medications because those benefits are directly linked to the profits of big business?

Fluoride has been bothering me for a while. I grew up, as I’m sure most Americans have, believing fluoride was good for my teeth. It’s in toothpaste or course. Sometimes it’s in mouthwash, it’s definitely in all the stuff the dentist wants to slather on my teeth, and it can even be found in some municipal water supplies. Fluoride prevents cavities. That’s what the studies show, and according to the Fluoride organization, it’s natural and perfectly safe.

That should be the end of the argument, right? Especially since any dentist will back this all up.
But what about the people who are rallying against fluoride? Here’s just a sampling:

Schachter Center for Complimentary Medicine

Fluoride dangers

According to articles posted on these sites and countless others, fluoride is a poison that can cause all manner of health problems. The danger seems to be in ingesting fluoride more so than simply putting in on the teeth, so while fluoride in your toothpaste might not be so bad, if you’re drinking it, or worse if you’re taking it in pill form, you may be doing yourself more harm than good.

My question is, why would so many different sources be so vocal about the dangers of fluoride if it wasn’t true? What do these sources have to gain by stopping people from using fluoride? Is it just an underlying distrust of the government or is there something to all these reports?

On the flipside, why do doctors and dentists seem to swear by fluoride as a prevention for tooth decay if it really doesn’t work? Aren’t they the ones who have first hand scientific knowledge?
What do you think about fluoride? Is all the hype just hype, or are we supposed to remain blissfully ignorant to another health hazard that’s literally right under our noses?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is more of a good thing really better?

In the paper this weekend I saw an ad for yet another brand of fat free milk. Now the debate as to whether or not humans should even be drinking cows’ milk, has been raging for a while. I remain in the ‘what do we really need all that milk for anyway?’ camp. Having been lactose intolerant [and I do believe that’s a curable condition by the way] I developed a dislike of milk in my early teens when I associated it with all kinds of gastrointestinal discomfort. Right now, I use milk as an ingredient in other foods when necessary but it’s been years since I’ve downed a whole glass [at least one that wasn’t liberally spiked with Hersey’s syrup] and I never drink milk with a meal. To be honest, I don’t even like to watch other people drink milk with a meal. It’s a quirk, what can I say?

In deference to my husband who is still severely lactose intolerant, we’ve been using Lactaid brand fat free milk for a while. I don’t find a significant difference in the taste or performance of the milk. Having used fat free milk most of my life, I don’t need my milk to be ‘creamy’ – I just need I to be liquid.

I’ve noticed there are dozens of brands of fat free milk available and in order to differentiate themselves they all offer something different. Some are lactose free, some are calcium fortified and this latest one I came across has added protein.

My question is, do we really need everything we eat or drink to have additives, even supposedly healthy ones? If I drink orange juice for the vitamin C, do I need it to also have extra calcium, just in case I’m not getting enough of that from my milk? Do I then need my milk to have added protein or fiber or something else, because I’m likely not getting that nutrient from the place it would normally come from?

I guess the idea is that fortifying a product with some vitamin or nutrient gives people the idea that it must be a healthier alternative for them. Clearly we can’t get all the nutrition we need from eating foods in their natural state, so they should be adulterated in order to give us a better diet.

Do you think foods that are fortified either with extra of whatever healthy nutrient they already contain or with something they don’t are better for you or are they just a marketing ploy? Do you use any of these products because you don’t think you would get that particular nutrient anywhere else?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

There's a pill for that

Today I saw a commercial for another new product women should be taking. [Men, you can skip this post – you probably don’t want to know this anyway and it doesn’t effect you.]

RepHresh Pro-B is an over-the-counter probiotic supplement designed to promote feminine health [you know...down there.]

Apparently you take this pill like a vitamin everyday to maintain the proper balance of bacteria and yeast in your body. Anyone who has had a yeast infection knows, given that kind of discomfort, you’ll do anything to prevent it from happening again, but the interesting thing about this supplement is that, like so many pharmaceutical products, it wants us to assume that good health can only be achieved by taking the right kinds of pills.

I can understand a product that will do something to relieve discomfort when it occurs, and I’m all for prevention of disease, but I still think we need to move away from the idea that if we just have enough different bottles in our medicine cabinet we will be healthy.

Something I found interesting about the website for RepHresh Pro-B, if you notice in the box under: When pH imbalance is most likely to occur, one of the check points is: For freshness any time. So I guess pH imbalance can occur for freshness?

I also notice there are no side-effects listed. Now many dietary supplements supposedly don’t have side-effects, but I think a little blurb about it should be included anyway.

What do you think about probiotics in general? Do you think it helps to take a daily probiotic supplement, especially one designed to promote feminine health?

I did see this famous warning at the bottom of the web-site:
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

So we can assume RepHresh Pro-B is not a product of Big Pharma. It’s a product of wanna-B Big Pharma. Does that make it a better choice for our health or does it just mean if taking this product becomes popular there will eventually be a doctor-recommended prescription strength available that will cost ten times as much?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lead us not into cheap jewelry

As if parents don’t have enough to worry about, now we have to fear the cute little necklace or charm bracelet we bought at Wal*Mart will give our kids brain damage.

I’m all for laws protecting children from dangerous products, but I wonder if the terror associated with the possibility of lead poisoning isn’t being taken just a little too far.

This article is basically a big pat on the back for the Chairman of the Consumer Safety Commissions, who is cracking down on jewelry and toys imported from China which may contain high levels of lead and cadmium. The danger posed by exposure to these two heavy metals, according the article, is extensive. Children can suffer brain damage which can lead to severe developmental disorders.

The mere idea that such harmful substances might be found in items given to children is reprehensible and the Commissioner should be congratulated for her vigilance and dedication to protecting American families. I can’t really argue with that – but if you read the article carefully, you’ll note that nowhere does it explain exactly how lead or cadmium poisoning occurs. has this to say about Cadmium poisoning:

Cadmium can be very toxic, and is dangerous if it is swallowed or inhaled.

And this to say about lead:

Lead poisoning occurs when a person swallows or inhales lead in any form.

Note the danger seems to lie in the swallowing or inhaling of these metals, not the wearing or touching of them. Now, of course I realize that young children do often put things they’re not supposed to in their mouths. They swallow small toys, suck on them, and occasionally even stuff them up their noses. Hence the danger of poisoning – but the article doesn’t explain this. It sort of insinuates that if your child happens to be wearing a cheapo pendant from one the brands in question, rip it off her little neck. Slap that bracelet right off her wrist this instant because it’s giving her brain damage.

Clearly, the proper response to this information should be panic, clear and simple.

Let me repeat, I’m all for product safety, especially when it comes to toys, but I think the important bit of information that’s neglected here is this: Parents, don’t allow your children to put jewelry in their mouths. If your child can’t keep that necklace or bracelet or small toy out of her mouth, don’t let her play with it.

I realize a warning like this would put the responsibility for a child’s safety on the parents, and let’s face it, what parent has the kind of time these days required to actually supervise their child? Seriously. So, rather than caution parents to make sure their kids aren’t eating things that were not intended to be eaten, the message is: You too could be a victim!

If only a dose of reality were better than a pound of litigation, maybe parents could get the real facts from articles designed to warn them about potential dangers, rather than more hype designed to scare them senseless.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Clueless in Seattle

Sorry, I meant to say ‘Washington’ but Seattle sounded better.

I just read this article which is supposed to be good news for us little people. The President intends to tax banks in order to recoup some of the obscene amount of money paid out to them in the recent bailout.

Of course, the banks don’t like this idea, but if it goes through, money will be flowing back to Washington to repay all that taxpayer money that went to help the banks who were broke because they’d been abusing taxpayers all these years.

The President apparently: challenged those who say banks can't afford the tax without passing the costs on to shareholders and customers.

He doesn’t think that will happen. He must not actually deal with a bank of his own, because I noticed the minute money began pouring out of government coffers and into bank vaults, the fees I pay at my bank went up. ‘Free checking’ which was all the rage over the last few years while banks competed for business became extinct overnight. It hasn’t cost me a dime to maintain any of my bank accounts for years, but in the last few months I’ve racked up probably $30.00 or more in fees – and these are just for routine ‘maintenance’. I’m sure I’m not alone.

We’ve seen this same thing happen with our credit cards as soon as legislation was passed to curb their abusive practices. They responded with more fees, higher interest rates and sneaky contract changes that mean consumers will bleed money at a time they’re least able to afford it. Punish the people when the government punishes us. That’s the motto of big business these days.

Now the banks will get to do more of the same. But the President doesn’t think this will actually occur. Those fat-cat bank executives will happily fork over tax money to the government without penalizing their customers, right? If their inflated salaries and bonuses go down, oh well, they’re all nice guys. They’ll manage.


If I thought my tax money might be used to buy Washington a clue, I might not be so angry. Washington should forget taxing the banks and start jailing bank executives. Oh, wait, then my taxes would still go up to keep them all in Federal prison and give them free health care.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Perfectionist Parenting

I’m a big fan of The World’s Worst Mom. Lenore Skenazy received this dubious title after letting her nine-year-old son ride the NY subway alone. She’s a believer in free-range parenting, letting kids have a little more freedom than the average parent today can handle, and this radical belief launched her blog and her book on the same subject.

I try my best to be a free-range parent. My kids are 12 and 15. Little by little I’m loosening the apron strings, but it’s not easy. I give Lenore a lot of credit for her ability to give her son all the freedom he needs to learn true independence. And I read her blog every day.

One of the themes she talks about a lot is perfect parenting – not really to be confused with helicopter parenting, this is the idea that parents can and must do every little thing to ensure their child’s needs [and wants] are met 24/7. A recent blog post talked about this new item, to help crazed, perfection seeking new parents keep track of baby care responsibilities, like those easily forgotten chores of feeding, changing and bathing a newborn. You know how that is if you ever had kids, right? Hmmm...the baby doesn’t smell bad and isn’t crying...I wonder what I should be doing right now? Oh, ding...the timer says I need to put Baby Einstein on TV for him.

Let’s take a reality check. If you’ve ever had an infant, you know they come with a built in timer that tells you when to snap into action. One end smells bad when they need changing. The other end makes noise when they need feeding, burping, holding or sleep. Bathing usually causes that end to make noise too, so you do it at your own discretion. You don’t pay extra for this service, it’s all included in the purchase price – a mere $18 to $21 years of your life. Eventually they learn to take care of the smelly end themselves, but the noisy end never stops needing attention. They’re always telling you what they need and want and when you need to get it for them.

This product is just another example of the need to relieve ourselves of personal responsibility. You no longer have to keep your head about you while caring for your baby. This device will tell you exactly what to do and when to do it so you can relax. Because parenting is all about relaxing...or it should be, right?

I see this conversation happening:

Mom: I feel like I should be doing something for the baby.
Dad: The timer hasn’t gone off, so you’re golden. Relax.
Mom: Don’t you think it’s been a while since the timer went off?
Dad: No.
Mom: Maybe we should check on the timer.
Dad: Trust the timer.
Mom: I can’t. I’m worried about the timer. Did you set it the last time you changed the baby?
Dad: I didn’t change the baby last. You did.
Timer: Ding!
Mom [smiling]: Good, so that means it’s your turn now!
Dad [tossing timer in the diaper pail]. This thing sucks.

I’m all for trusting the timer. The one that comes with the baby. And trusting your instincts when it comes to parenting. I’m not sure I’d let my kid ride the NY subway alone – in fact, I wouldn’t even let my husband ride the NY subway alone, but I check out Free Range Kids for my daily dose of reality.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You must have read my mind

Despite the usually negative theme in popular science fiction, I’ve always thought it would be kind of cool if someone could read my mind. First of all, they’d probably find my jumble of thoughts to be endlessly entertaining and two, they would know when to take out the garbage, change the channel, turn the heat up…whatever. I wouldn’t have to actually tell people [meaning my family of course] what I wanted them to do, and thus waste time having to 1) find them, 2) get their attention, 3) make my wishes clear in a language they can understand, 4) repeat myself.

I don’t think that would be so bad. But after having read this article the other morning, I’m rethinking my stance on the benefits of telepathy.

Due to the recent airport security snafus there’s a scramble to figure out better ways to keep airplane passengers safe. I have no problem with increased security at the airports. I hate to travel by plane, and the harder it gets to do so freely, the more money I will save by not paying the ridiculous prices they charge these days for airfare. Eventually, it will just be too expensive to fly and either the airlines will all go out of business and we’ll have to learn to flap our wings, or the airlines will lower their prices and we’ll be able to afford to fly.

In the mean time, the people who do fly will have a much harder time getting from the ticket counter to their seats. Especially if airport security is doing some of the things mentioned in this article. First you’ll have the mind readers – hey, at least psychics will be able to find work in this economy. The problem with mind readers is, what do they do with someone whose mind is blank? Blink. Blink. Or someone who’s taken a handful of Dramamine and is seeing pink elephants in the duty free shop? What about every kid over the age of 4 whose mind is on the last rock’em, sock’em shoot up video game they played? If they’re going to be looking for real thoughts of violence and mayhem, they’ll have to wade through all the thoughts of virtual violence and mayhem first.

Next, apparently they will be flashing disturbing images at people. This could be a problem depending on the images they show. For instance, if they flash me a picture of my latest real estate tax bill, I would certainly entertain dangerous thoughts. Lie detectors would be a problem too. Suppose they’re going through your suitcase and pull out the new bathing suit you just bought for your trip to the Bahamas. Their question: “Ma’am, do you really think you can squeeze yourself into a size 14 spandex?’

Come on. How do you answer that without being hauled off to jail? Either you lie or you kill someone.

Seriously, though – the bottom line is, in order to be ‘fair’ and ‘constitutional’ the airlines have to treat all passengers the same way. They can’t profile and that means, as the article says, they’ll be forced to waste time confiscating grandma’s knitting needles while the guy with the bomb strapped to his testicles waltzes by because he has no problem fitting into a size 14 spandex and he’s wearing flat shoes.

My question is, don’t we have the right to be safe, even if it means some people are inconvenienced and others are offended? If you want to know what I think, you’ll have to read my mind.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

With sugar on top

I make no secret about being radically against artificial sweetners. I’m not ashamed to say loudly in public that items like Splenda (sucralose) and NutraSweet (aspartame) are poison. I tell my kids, I tell my friends.

As another alternative to the evils of processed white sugar, the Whole Earth Sweetner Company (PureVia) and Cargill, Inc. (TrueVia) have come up with sugar substitutes made from the stevia plant.

Stevia has it’s own website [which, interestingly mentions problems with the FDA in getting the supplement approved for use in the United States.] Apparently this calorie-free relative of the sunflower can provide better sweetening services than cane sugar with none of the adverse side effects of artificial sweetners. Personally, I develop a headache after using products that contain aspartame. I also find foods sweetened this way tend to have an unpleasant aftertaste. Getting less calories might be a good thing, but doing it by eating things that don’t taste right isn’t the answer for me.

I understand that sugar intake can be a serious problem for diabetics and people suffering from other disorders. Sugar substitutes have their place, but are they really a good idea for the average person looking to lose weight or avoid excess calories? We’re a society that lives on Diet Coke and low fat yogurt [often supplemented with artificial sweetners] and yet obesity is still a major health issue. Is something like Stevia really the solution?

The story of Stevia isn’t all sweet according to this article which highlights problems caused in laboratory rodents when exposed to high amounts of the supplement. Too much of anything, as we usually discover, is bad, no matter what it is.

I’m actually planning to give one of the Stevia products a try. Though I don’t normally use sugar to sweeten my drinks or my cereal anymore, and most of my sugar intake does come from already prepared food, not items I make and add sugar to myself.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried PureVia or TrueVia. What do you think of it? Will it replace sucralose and aspartame in popularity? Do you think sugar substitutes really have an effect in weight loss and diabetes or would a naturally reduced or sugar free diet be a better alternative?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Take two and call me every day

Apparently the old medical adage “Take two and call me in the morning” might hold a lot more weight these days.

I just read this somewhat outrageous Reuters article which states studies are showing cell phone usage might be not only a preventive measure but a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.*

Up until now, the public has been bombarded with stories about how cell phones may cause cancer. The state of Maine is even considering requiring cell phones to carry a cancer warning. It makes a bit of sense - holding any type of electromagnetic device near your brain seems like a bad idea if you think about it, but how would our society function if we had to go back to the days when you couldn’t be talking to your best friend 24/7?

The National Cancer Institute has some basic information about cancer and cell phone use which seems plausible, though it states long-term studies are not conclusive.

So again, consumers are faced with a dilemma. Do you risk brain cancer by walking around with your cell phone plastered to your head for several hours a day in order to prevent Alzheimer’s? Or do you go back to two tin cans tied with string in order to prevent malignant brain tumors? Does one risk really outweigh the other?

I tried to look up other means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease and interestingly, I got page after page after page of articles about the cell phone issue, which seems to have trumped all other research on the subject. After a little digging I got back to the articles on the effectiveness of caffeine, acetyl-L carnitine, infrared light, turmeric, blueberries, vitamin D, green tea and fruit flavonoids. [None of which seem to cause cancer.] The question is, if there are so many things available in the Alzheimer’s arsenal, why are so many people still developing this terrifying illness?

It makes me wonder, can we trust any medical data that’s widely disbursed over the Internet or any other source of media? Today, cell phones may cure Alzheimer’s, tomorrow it will be something else. In the mean time, the only ones who seem to be getting any benefit from any of this information are the laboratory mice.

* Interesting side note: The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease mentioned in the article does not exist. The publication seems to be The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias. Whether or not it actually ran an article discussing Alzheimer’s and cell phone use, I don’t know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Who's afraid of the FDA?

I am now. I wasn’t before I read this book:

FDA: Failure, Deception, Abuse
Compiled from articles in Life Extension Magazine* and largely written by William Faloon.

Forget Salem’s Lot or A Haunting in Connecticut. This stuff is much more terrifying. The book discusses various cases in which the Food and Drug Administration is [and sometimes by its own admission] failing in its mission to protect the health and welfare of the American people.

The articles highlight instances where the FDA guidelines have allowed bad drugs to come to market despite numerous deaths, terrible side effects and poorly constructed clinical trials while oftentimes useful drugs or supplements are stonewalled or denied to needy patients.

I spend a lot of time reading the labels in the health food/vitamin aisle at the supermarket and I’ve always been concerned about those little taglines you see that say in effect: These statements have not been verified by the FDA. It’s sort of a backhanded warning for consumers. It’s not saying the bottle of supplements or the diet drink you’re thinking of buying is bad for you, it’s just saying the government agency established to safeguard your health by testing and controlling the manufacture of anything you want to put in your body hasn’t bothered to find out if this particular product does what it claims to do.

Not a glowing testimonial. Cleverly designed to make you wonder, is this stuff okay? If it’s not, why do they sell it at the supermarket? If it is, why did my doctor tell me it was all hogwash to take supplements? Am I wasting my money or endangering my health?

The book tends to lean toward the explanation that the FDA is under the control of Big Pharma. Drugs produced by companies that have the time and money to wade through all the FDA regulations to get official approval are better, safer, more effective. Supplements that may help you avoid the need for costly pharmaceuticals are not regulated, they don’t undergo the vigorous testing prescription drugs do and therefore should be avoided.

Let’s spin this another way: If it’s cheap and effective, maybe the FDA would prefer you didn’t trust it.

Consider this, “The FDA does not make drugs or directly test drugs to determine if they are safe and effective. The FDA’s role is to oversee the research conducted by pharmaceutical companies…” The results of the trials are obtained by the pharmaceutical company and given to the FDA.

Does this mean the prescriptions in your medicine cabinet don’t work? No…but it does mean they work only as well as the people who make them say they do.

Do you trust the FDA stamp of approval? I used to. Now I’m not so sure.

* Just a note on the other side of the argument. The Life Extension Foundation, authors of Life Extension Magazine, sells vitamins and supplements. Could their reports about the FDA be biased?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tap, tap, tap...or bottle?

During dinner the other night my son asked me, “Is tap water bad for you?”

Good question. Really good. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer him, because like so many things today, the answer is muddled by all the information out there.

This article at gives some of the poop – I mean scoop on bottled water versus tap. Or maybe, more accurately – the tap water that comes out of the tap and the tap water that comes out of a bottle. It seems that a percentage of expensive bottled water doesn’t actually come from those pastoral mountain springs, filtered by rocks and dirt like water is supposed to be. Some of it comes out of pipes at the water bottling plant. Yum!

Now, at my house, we’ve been drinking bottled water for years. The reason I started paying to bring home three to four plastic gallon water jugs every week from the supermarket was because I was told the unseemly history of the pipes in my house. They’re old. Like – made of lead old, and that lead can seep into the water and cause lead poisoning.

For me, that’s reason enough to spend $0.75-$0.89 per gallon for something to drink. Even if it just comes out of copper pipes, at least it’s better than what I’m getting out of the sink. We still brush our teeth with town water, which fortunately in our little boro is not fluoridated. The pets drink tap water. Maybe that’s the reason they’re a know...nuts? I don’t know, but I’m not taking any chances.

In addition to the lead thing, bottled water just tastes better, I think. And I was fine with that reasoning. Lead aside, I’m willing to pay for water that tastes good. [Not that I don’t pay for tap water mind you, but it’s a whole lot less.] Now I find out that while the water in my bottle might be only slightly healthier than what comes out of the tap, the container it comes in could be leeching harmful chemicals into it. The thought of getting cancer from my bottled water makes drinking something flavored with rocks and dirt seem more appealing. Heck, it makes the lead seem more appealing.

So what’s the solution? Is tap water bad for us? I told my son it was okay for him to grab a gulp from the water fountain at school after gym. Better than passing out from dehydration. Now I have to ask myself the question: Is bottled water better or worse than tap? Tap? Tap? Tap?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A day of rest

Traditionally Sunday has been a day of rest for many, so I've decided Sundays will be my day off from blogging here - unless I can think of some other fun thing to do on Sunday.

In real life of course, I don't rest on Sunday. I go foodshopping, I do laundry, I cook dinner, I do some cleaning, sometimes writing, editing and occasionally these days, house hunting.

Basically you get a rest from me. Enjoy your day off - see Monday!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Let them eat cake

This post over at deftly sums up my feelings on the healthcare reform bill currently wending its way through the greedy hands of Congress.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s asked how forcing people to pay for health insurance will solve the problem of UNAFFORDABLE health care. Since health care these days is equivalent to health insurance, the government is essentially saying that peasants who have no bread should eat cake.

I highly doubt that our President is the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette [who likely never uttered the famous quote anyway], but whoever came up with the idea to force the American people to pay for something they already can’t afford is certainly not on our side. Should we be concerned that members of our own government are so far removed from the lives of the average person that they cannot comprehend how this ‘mandatory’ insurance will affect us?

I could write volumes on my opinions about the health insurance industry, most of it fueled by frustration at the rampant stupidity with which the insurance companies are run. I won’t go there. Today anyway.

In the mean time I would just like to wonder, when push comes to shove, can we fight laws that are clearly detrimental to the health and wellness of the entire nation? Or is it too late for us to banish the monster we have summoned?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wii are hooked

I have to say I’m a little bit in love with Wii Fit Plus. My son used his Christmas money to pick this up the other day, and he and my daughter and I have been using it on a daily basis. I have no idea exactly how much exercise one can really get while jogging in place in front of the TV screen, or by navigating a virtual obstacle course or how much zen you can achieve by meditating in front of a virtual candle, but I will say it’s a lot of fun.

Yesterday, as I struggled up the basement stairs with yet another load of laundry [when can they make the washing of clothes into virtual fun, I wonder?] I stumbled upon a sight I never thought I’d see. My kids [daughter 15 and son 12] practicing yoga poses.

This is a major achievement since they can usually be found exercising only their thumbs by either playing video games or clicking the mouse buttons. I know, I know. Today’s video game junkies are tomorrow’s CICU patients. I’m well aware – so the quest to get them off the couch is one that plagues me.

If a video game can get my son running around the house and my daughter dancing and creating her own personalized workout routines, I’m all for it. Let’s face it, we are not a physical society anymore. I’m the first person to advocate the evolution of the human race into beings of pure energy, but in the mean time, we’ve got to find a way to break out of our couch potato shells and get moving.

If you need me, my Mii and I will be going for a run.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cause and Effect or Cause and Detect?

The recent mammogram controversy has me disgusted. For years women have been told to get mammograms as often as humanly possible. Better safe than sorry, right? If you have breast cancer, you want to know about it as early as possible so you can begin life-saving treatments.

I know there are thousands of breast cancer survivors out there who are grateful that a mammogram detected their cancer early enough to afford them the time to treat it. But based on recent findings, I have to wonder how often mammograms cause cancer before they can detect it.

Now the guidelines have conveniently changed*, and women are supposed to have fewer mammograms for a host of compelling reasons, not least of which is the fact that the mammogram delivers a huge dose of radiation directly into the body.

How’s that for health and wellness? How can the medical industry justify a test that may cause the very disease it’s designed to treat? Are there acceptable losses in the battle against cancer? Are the detrimental effects of the test negligible when compared to the number of lives saved? So you get cancer – it’s okay. With a few rounds of debilitating chemotherapy, we can cure you. Sometimes.

I’m not sure I like the odds.

I’ve had a mammography. One. I know for many women it’s a painful experience, and for others just mildly uncomfortable. I fall into the second category. It wasn’t a picnic, but it was something I could handle if I had to do it again. The question I’m struggling with is, will I?

So far, the answer is no.

I’m researching the effects of mammograms and I don’t like what I’m finding. Sure, being able to detect cancer in its early stages is a great boon to modern medicine, but being able to prevent it all together is the miracle we’re looking for. I’m wondering, is it wiser to stay away from tests that have the potential to cause harm, or to risk that harm in order to get a head start on treating a too often deadly disease?

You tell me. Is the risk we are finding now associated with mammograms worth it? Are we doing all we can to protect ourselves from cancer or are we just lining up to be customers in the multi-billion dollar cancer industry which will crumble if people actually find a way to stop getting sick?

*If you follow health news, you may notice the guidelines have flip-flopped again. So how do we really know who to trust?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Unhealth and Beauty

I was never a big fan of Brooke Shields. Nothing against her personally, I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but her movies aren’t on my hit parade.

No matter. It’s not her movies that get under my skin, but the choices she makes when it comes to hawking products on TV. She’s a big advocate of toothpaste – which I have to admit, can be useful. I like minty-fresh breath as much as the next person though I’m beginning to worry about fluoride. [That’s a topic for another post]. Ms. Shields’s recent car commercial was just ridiculous – something about women getting pregnant just so they could buy a certain type of car? Someone at the ad agency dropped the ball with that clunker, but the worst of the lot has to be the ads for Latisse, a prescription drug for growing longer eyelashes.

This product recently made a list of the decades worst beauty products which is not surprising. I find it baffling that anyone is in such dire need of longer eyelashes that they need to paint a drug on their eyelids. I also find it hard to believe that Ms. Shields suffers from a clinical eyelash deficiency, also known as eyelash hypotrichosis.

Speaking from experience with ophthalmological drugs, I can say, it probably does work. My son suffers from glaucoma [he was born with it] and he relies on the medication Xalatan to help control intra-occular pressure in his right eye. The side effects of Xalatan include lengthening of the eyelashes and darkening of the iris. So far his right eye has not changed color despite his having used the drug for the past eight years, but his lashes have grown considerably – so much so that we have had to cut them to keep them from brushing against his glasses.

I looked up eyelash hypotrichosis and didn’t find much about the condition that wasn’t directly linked to ads for Latisse. It makes me wonder if this ‘condition’ is something that really doesn’t pose a problem for the majority of humans. It’s interesting that ads for the medication talk about growing ‘longer, thicker, darker lashes’ but don’t mention much about the medical problem of not having enough eyelashes. It seems to me that Allergan [the maker of Latisse] is plugging a beauty product in its ads more so than a medicine.

I would love to hear from someone with eyelash hypotrichosis or anyone whose doctor has prescribed Latisse. Do you think this is a breakthrough drug that will offer relief to people suffering from a serious medical disorder, or do you think it’s a poorly thought-out beauty gimmick designed to bring the need for longer, thicker lashes out of the OTC makeup game and into the pharmaceutical arena?

Is Latisse a bad beauty product because it's really a medicine? Or is Lastisse a bad medicine because it's really a beauty product?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

S is for Supplements, D is for Debate

So what do you think about dietary supplements?

I was never a fan of vitamins. Once I outgrew Flintstone’s Chewables I really didn’t want to be bothered choking down the horse pills that pass for adult vitamins. I took pre-natal vitamins prior-to and during both of my pregnancies. They smelled awful and contributed to my morning sickness, but I managed to get them down because they were ‘doctor-recommended’ and ‘FDA-approved.’ [More about those two frightening catch phrases in later posts, I promise.]

After my gestating days were over, I gave up on vitamins and supplements, figuring they didn’t really offer much benefit, but now I’m finding a lot of research that tells me otherwise.

A few months ago, in a somewhat knee-jerk response to the swine-flu panic, I started taking Vitamin D and Vitamin C supplements. I’m extraordinarily wary of the H1N1 vaccine and the media hype about swine, bird and other forms of influenza, but I do want to boost my immune system any way I can. I picked up some vitamin D capsules [small and easy to swallow, that’s always a plus] and chewable vitamin C.

I haven’t gotten a cold so far this season [fall/winter]. And I do feel a might more energetic. I’m not pushing vitamins here, mind you, but after reading so much about the widespread vitamin-D deficiency we suffer from here in the US, I’m beginning to think it’s something to be even more concerned about than swine flu.

Vitamin D is reported to support bone and colon health, boost the immune system and provide some measure of protection against certain forms of cancer. We don’t get enough because we don’t spend enough time outside in the sun [thanks to ozone depletion the sun is now bad for us] and we don’t eat enough D-containing foods.

The benefits of vitamin C are widely known, chief among them support of the immune system.

Do you think an increase in C and D intake can have a significant effect on your health? Have you found the benefits of vitamins and/or other dietary supplements to be downplayed by doctors or overstated?

I’d love to hear your opinions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Beginning at the Beginning

Welcome to Rx for Reality, my new health and wellness blog. Thanks for stopping by.

Let me start off by explaining what I’m doing here and why. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or any type of health care professional. I’m a consumer, a suburban mom, a voter, a taxpayer and a writer. I’m 42 years old, a victim of the irrepressible battle of the bulge and a voracious reader.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed an alarming change in my mindset and I need to do something about it. I’ve come to realize that we live our lives in information overload. Everyone, everywhere seems to be trying to sell us something, whether it’s diet food that’s really bad for our bodies, pharmaceuticals that cause more problems than they cure, health care plans that are cleverly designed to take more from us and give us less, new products that promise miracles they can’t deliver and lifestyle changes that do nothing more than put money in the pockets of big business.

Is it any wonder the average American is overweight, depressed, sleepless, broke and confused? Are you tired of it? I am.

I’m not here to put forth any miracle cures or handy tips on how to live your life better. There are plenty of people out there already doing that. I’m not here to chronicle an inspirational weight loss journey, or a war on any particular ailment. I’m not here to sell anything. I just want a place to come and talk about the issues that everyday make me wonder how dumb the government, the media and big business think we little people really are.

I’m here to shed some light on the things that don’t make sense in my world and maybe connect with people who see what I see, want what I want, or even people who know something I don’t.
I welcome comments and open debate. I hope I can provide some topics of interest to people like me who don’t know which end is up sometimes, who don’t know if low-fat is better than sugar-free, which cooking oil is best, or if nationalized health care is our only hope or the end of the free world. I’m trying to figure out how to navigate in an increasingly complex world and I don’t claim to know the right path, but I’d be happy for some company along the way.

Join me for the ride if you like.