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?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Isn't it just business?

I came across this article about the Coca-Cola company managing to charge more than twice as much for half the amount of soda and calling it an innovation.

Let me start by saying, soda is bad. As a long-term cola addict [notice I didn’t say Coke addict] I had a rough time giving up the fizzy blend of sugar and caffeine that took the place of coffee in my diet. You can’t really win with soda – it’s either full of sugar or it’s full of diet sweetner, so the best thing for everyone is to avoid it all together.

That being said, I still defend a soda drinker’s right to get some value for their money.
Apparently the company is now marketing smaller cans of Coke, 7.5 ounces as opposed to 12 [or 8]. This is healthier – less high fructose corn syrup or less chemical sweetners is good. Since all ‘health’ foods are more expensive, it stands to reason people would be more than happy to pay more for less.

That’s just business, right? Can we blame the company for trying to increase their profits by offering less product at a higher price and marketing it in such a way that consumers think they are getting a better deal? I’m drinking less soda — that will help my health in the long run, right?

Of course, the flip side is, someone who was used to drinking 12 ounces of soda may buy the 7.5 ounce product, but once they’ve downed that tiny can, what’s to stop them from popping open another and ultimately drinking 15 ounces of soda instead of 12? Fifteen ounces, by the way, that costs more than twice as much per ounce. So much for the calorie control aspect of the Coca-Cola ad campaign.

I have no problem with non-consumable items that come in tinier sizes because they’re more convenient to carry around. I know I pay more for that little travel size tube of toothpaste or bottle of mouthwash – and how hard is it really to pack the full-size version right from the medicine cabinet? That’s paying more for less and thinking it’s a good deal. I don’t mind grabbing a little bag of pretzels or chips at a convenience store when pound for pound the full size bags are cheaper because I don’t always want a full size container of some snack food. Why should Coca-Cola be any different?

Do you think a product designed with portion control in mind is a good thing or just a gimmick? If they called these little cans of Coke ‘travel sized’ would that make a difference? I think the problem here lies not in the size of the can, but in the idea that drinking soda from any size container should be viewed as a healthy lifestyle choice.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Like sugar for turkey

I’ve been reading up on the effects of sugar on mood...the health negatives of sugar aside, I’ve always subscribed to the belief that a dose of sugar is a quick pick-me-up.

Of course, like many things I’ve believed for years, it turns out I’m wrong. Sugar actually has a calming effect, and according to this article from CBS News, can also work to dull pain. In fact, carbs in general, are supposed to induce a sense of calm by increasing serotonin in the brain.

No wonder I’m such an easy-going person. I’m a carbaholic. This explains why I’m not energetic too. Those sugary energy boosts I look forward to – the hit of dark chocolate, the illicit shot of orange juice late in the day, are not working to pep me up, but slow me down.

Turns out protein is a better source of quick energy. Turkey or a hard boiled egg will give you a better boost than a Snickers bar, so don’t believe the commercials that tell us chocolate, peanuts and caramel will give us mid-afternoon supercharge, but the next time you’re freaking out grab some carbs to mellow out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An aspirin a day keeps the doctor…on hand?

Since heart disease is still considered to be the number one cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control, finding ways to prevent it seems to be foremost on everyone’s mind. For years we’ve been told that low-dose aspirin therapy [an 81mg pill a day] is a good way to promote heart health. With aspirin being inexpensive and easy to get, it seems like good news…but wait, there’s more.

This article at Natural News suggests low-dose aspirin therapy for heart health may be doing more harm than good as this quote indicates:

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an aspirin a day increases the risk for a hemorrhagic stroke by 84%!(6)

Contrarily, WebMD offers this information on aspirin therapy stating that it does actually reduce the risk of death and it also says aspirin can reduce the risk of stroke. So why does the Journal of the American Medical Association say differently? Even the Mayo Clinic apparently agrees that daily aspirin therapy helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

So once again, the question is, who do we believe? Based on the articles I’ve read recently, aspirin therapy may be a good idea for someone who already has heart disease, but it may not benefit a healthy person as a preventive measure. Supermarkets and pharmacies of course have aspirin readily available and the pharmaceutical companies continue to put out the low-dose forms marketed to people who will pick up the drug on their own and self-medicate thinking they’re doing something good for themselves.

Is it any wonder medical costs are out of control in this country, when we’re encouraged to do something potentially bad for us in the name of being health conscious?

Have you tried aspirin therapy either on your own or on the advice of a doctor? Would you try it, even if you had no history of cardiovascular disease, as a form of prevention? In the past, I have to admit, I might have. It seems like an easy enough thing to do, but now, I’m not so sure. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

More Mammography Controversy

I found this interesting tidbit in a Newsweek article by Sharon Begley.

In today’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, scientists are reporting a study (the journal has made it available for no charge, so read it yourself and print it out for your doctor) that strongly suggests that some of the cancers detected by mammography would have vanished on their own had they not been detected and treated.

Cancers that vanish on their own? How is that possible? We’ve been led to believe that cancer is a killer – without treatment a death sentence and sometimes even with the most radical, aggressive, state of the art medicine to tackle it. How can it possibly just go away on its own?

Another quote from the article discusses a study that followed women who were screened for breast cancer and women who were not:

breast cancer rates were higher among screened women than not-screened women.

Interesting, huh? Or maybe frightening is a better word. Based on the articles I read, I’ve been wondering if maybe cancer is something we all get once in a while, some of us fight it off unknowingly and it goes away and others have it detected and then undergo radical treatments to kill it, sometimes winning the battle and other times not. I’m not suggesting we stop all treatments for cancer, but it concerns me that maybe the medical industry treats it too aggressively. I’ve known enough people who have died after a cancer diagnosis and aggressive treatment. It bothers me to wonder if they might have survived if their cancer had never been detected in the first place.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nuke it or not?

I’m still reading Food-Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper and I’m currently in a section of the book that discusses cancer-fighting foods. The general consensus is fruits [especially citrus] and vegetables contain plenty of cancer-fighting natural compounds. Meats, not so much – and I knew that, but what I found interesting was a bit about how certain ways to cook meats can increase the carcinogenic chemicals they contain.

In addition to poaching, stewing and boiling, according to the National Cancer Institute, believe it or not, MICROWAVING is listed as being one of the better ways to cook meat as opposed to grilling, broiling or of course frying.

As a rule, I don’t use my microwave to cook anything. I melt things in the microwave…butter, chocolate…and I reheat already cooked foods, but I don’t actually prepare any first-run meals in the little radiation box. It’s not so much fear of any health dangers, but just the ick factor. I think fire cooks foods better. Microwaves tend to leave food looking pale and soggy and I’ve found things stay hot for just about as long as you heat them – put something in for two minutes, it stays hot for two minutes. That’s it. I have a temperature thing when it comes to food. I only eat things that are at the optimum temperature. Once they cool down too far or warm up too much, that’s it. No good.

Anyway, I found it mind-boggling that the National Cancer Institute would advocate using a microwave for anything. Especially in light of articles like these available on the web:

The Dangers of Microwaving Your Food

Microwave Cooking is Killing People

The Dangers of Microwave Food

How do you feel about microwaved food? Do you cook in the microwave or just reheat foods? If you thought it would be better for your health, would you cook more food in the microwave, especially meat?

I have to be honest, I don’t buy the microwaving is better for you line. It just doesn’t seem logical. I’ll stick to eating fruits and vegetables to help prevent cancer and consider a microwave free kitchen in the future.