Tag: Health

How bad is the Gulf? How bad is American media?

| March 10, 2011 | 3 Replies
How bad is the Gulf? How bad is American media?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has endorsed Arab news organization Al Jazeera as offering “real news”, superior to ersatz U.S. news which is full of commercials, talking-heads and soundbites that are “not particularly informative to us.” Perhaps that explains a part of the reason why U.S. audiences are largely unaware of the continuing ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout last year.

Al Jazeera, on the other hand, brings us this story of sickness and death on the Gulf Coast.

[caption id="attachment_16980" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Eco-terrorism in Gulf of Mexico. Image via Leoma Lovegrove (creative commons)"][/caption]

“I have critically high levels of chemicals in my body,” 33-year-old Steven Aguinaga of Hazlehurst, Mississippi told Al Jazeera. “Yesterday I went to see another doctor to get my blood test results and the nurse said she didn’t know how I even got there.”

Aguinaga and his close friend Merrick Vallian went swimming at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, in July 2010.

“I swam underwater, then found I had orange slick stuff all over me,” Aguinaga said. “At that time I had no knowledge of what dispersants were, but within a few hours, we were drained of energy and not feeling good. I’ve been extremely sick ever since.”

[More . . . ]

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The mystery of early puberty

| August 10, 2010 | 7 Replies
The mystery of early puberty

A new study available from the journal Pediatrics (subscription required) shows that girls are entering puberty at steadily younger ages. WebMD explains:

The researchers assessed the onset of puberty by a standard measurement of breast development.

They compared the findings to a 1997 study of age of puberty. They found the following in a study of girls aged 6-8:

  • 10.4% of white girls in the current study had breast development, compared to 5% in the 1997 study.
  • 23.4% of African-American girls had breast development, compared to 15.4% in the 1997 study.

The early onset of puberty is found to be correlated with both race and body-mass index (BMI). But what’s causing girls to enter puberty sooner?

The researchers also collected urine and blood specimens from the girls to look at levels of compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, Biro says, to see what role these environmental exposures might play in early puberty.

”It appears that some of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals are interacting with body composition and this may be the reason some girls are going into puberty earlier and others later,” Biro tells WebMD. “That would have to be speculation,” he says of the interaction idea. “But we do know BMI is doing it.”

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Are we really living better and prettier through chemistry?

| July 22, 2010 | 7 Replies
Are we really living better and prettier through chemistry?

At Democracy Now, Amy Goodman has put the spotlight on the many toxins currently used in beauty products.

It’s just amazing that the cosmetics only now being sought to be regulated by the federal government are not currently being regulated. At present, any corporation can put any petro-chemical into any beauty product, yet it can get away with calling it “Natural” or “Herbal.” Stacy Malkan indicates that many of the ingredients contained in cosmetics aren’t even listed on the labels. She summarizes her point with this: “There’s no need for it. There’s absolutely no reason on earth for baby shampoos to contain carcinogens.”

As expected, the industry rep counters that we can generally trust the industry and that there is no cause for concern:

The levels are very low. The exposures have been assessed and determined not to be a health risk to children. And the notion of cumulative exposure, I think, is one that needs to be explained a little further, because normal safety assessment by toxicologists will take into account margins of safety that will address issues of a cumulative exposure. So this is not really a problem with regard to these trace contaminants . . . We know what materials are unsafe. They are not used in products. This has been known for a long time. And the industry practices help.

Check out the excerpt for “The Story of Stuff” early in the video. Many of the ingredients we put on our skin are demonstrably dangerous. If you doubt this, check out your favorite personal care products at the Environmental Working Group.

How does the U.S. compare to Europe regarding regulating these products. Stacy Malkan reports:

Europe has banned about 1,100 chemicals that are known or highly suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. And many other countries have followed suit. Japan has banned formaldehyde. These are chemicals—some of them are still being used in the United States. For example, we find dibutyl phthalate in nail polish, coal tar in dandruff shampoo, lead acetate in men’s hair dyes. Those are products you wouldn’t find in Europe. And so, the US is much further behind.

On a separate segment today at Democracy Now, Amy Goodman features Jane Houlihan of the Environmental Working Group. Here’s what Jane has to say about dangerous products:

Dark permanent hair dyes are linked to cancer. When you use those for a long time over your lifetime, those can be quite toxic. Nail care products tend to contain some of the most hazardous ingredients. But we also find carcinogens in baby products. We find skin lighteners that contain chemicals linked to cancer. So, a really broad range of issues. One very problematic area is sunscreens, which are poorly regulated in the US. We found that we could recommend only eight percent of sunscreens on the market that could really give you broad spectrum protection you need to prevent—help prevent skin cancer and also that don’t contain hazardous ingredients that can seep through the skin and pose other kinds of health concerns.

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What’s behind the rise in ADHD?

| May 18, 2010 | 8 Replies
What’s behind the rise in ADHD?

Now a new study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, links pesticide use with the rise in ADHD disorders among children. The study’s authors examined data on over 1,100 children, and determined that elevated levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine was associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. In fact, children with levels higher than the median of the most commonly detected metabolite (known as dimethyl thiophosphate), were twice as likely to be diagnosed as ADHD compared with children that had undetectable levels of the metabolite. The elevated risk factor remained even after controlling for confounding variables like gender, age, race/ethnicity, poverty/income ratio and others.

The pesticides studied belong to a class of compounds known as organophosphates. Time explains:

[Study author Maryse] Bouchard’s analysis is the first to home in on organophosphate pesticides as a potential contributor to ADHD in young children. But the author stresses that her study uncovers only an association, not a direct causal link between pesticide exposure and the developmental condition. There is evidence, however, that the mechanism of the link may be worth studying further: organophosphates are known to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain — that’s how they kill agricultural pests, after all. The chemical works by disrupting a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholinesterase, a defect that has been implicated in children diagnosed with ADHD. In animal models, exposure to the pesticides has resulted in hyperactivity and cognitive deficits as well.

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What Healthcare Reform REALLY Does For Us

| March 24, 2010 | 7 Replies
What Healthcare Reform REALLY Does For Us

In an historic vote late Saturday evening, the US House passed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on a mostly party line vote of 219-212. The Act will be made into law (the bill passed by the US Senate 60-39) upon signature by President Obama.

On Tuesday, March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the bill into law in a ceremony attended by members of Congress, the US Senate, staff and an 11-year old advocate of healthcare reform who had lost his mother to cancer. There’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation spread about the bill as to what it contains and when certain aspects of the legislation go into effect. The terms of the new law were discussed in impressive clarity by Rachel Maddow and Barney Frank. See also, this article from the New York Times.

As of March 23, 2010, consumers will be entitled to the following:

– Tax credits go to small businesses for buying health insurance for their employees, and;

– The so-called “doughnut hole” for seniors under Medicare Part D (drug) coverage is going; if you’ve reached the total for 2009, you will be immediately sent a rebate check of $250.00, and;

– Pre-existing conditions will no longer be allowed for denials of health insurance coverage on new policies issued, and;

– States will be required to maintain their existing Medicaid and children’s health insurance coverage based on policies currently in effect. While states can expand their programs, they are not allowed to cut back on eligibility and are not allowed to put in place any paperwork requirements that would make it harder for people to sign up for coverage, and;
Freestanding birth centers” are now eligible for Medicaid payments, and;

– Another provision that appears to take effect right away is an expansion of Medicare to cover certain victims of “environmental health hazards,” which was aimed specifically at the town of Libby, Mont.

– A requirement that the secretary of health and human services establish criteria “for determining whether health insurance issuers and employment-based health plans have discouraged an individual from remaining enrolled in prior coverage based on that individual’s health status.”

On April 23, 2010,

– The secretary of health and human services must post on the Internet “a list of the authorities provided to the secretary under this act.”

In June, 2010,

– High Risk Insurance pools open to cover those with any pre-existing conditions (June 1, 2010),; and

– The Secretary of HHS must “develop a standardized format to be used for the presentation of information relating to coverage” — so that consumers have a more understandable way of comparing health benefits — like medical, surgical, hospital and prescription drug coverage — offered by private insurers (June 23, 2010).

On September 23, 2010,

– Children may not be excluded from any coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and;

– Insurers will not be allowed to deny coverage because you get sick (so called “rescissions”), and;

– No more lifetime limits on coverage or benefits allowed, and;

– Children are covered under your policy, if you want, until age 26.

[more . . . ]

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Food, Inc.: Taking a closer look at the food you eat

| January 4, 2010 | 5 Replies
Food, Inc.:  Taking a closer look at the food you eat

Tonight, my wife and I watched Food, Inc., a highly informative 90-minute documentary that takes a close look at the food we eat and where it comes from. We were expecting to see many revolting pictures of animals being butchered. There certainly were a fair amount of butchering scenes, although the creators of the film constantly focused on presenting useful information rather than trying to shock the viewer. This video was not made to appeal unfairly to the emotions. It was made to present compelling information about an important series of food-related issues. Watching this video reminded me of something that was quite disturbing. The mainstream media and our own government do not starkly peel back the happy veneer of the food production industry. Thus, Food, Inc. also serves as a meta-indictment of those failed institutions of government and the media.

Each of the eleven topics covered was compelling, and each of them was presented with a fair amount of balance, despite the fact that most of the corporations running factory farms refused to appear in the video. Consider that Wal-Mart (and a few other companies) was presented as a corporation that was actually trying to make some changes that would benefit the health of Americans-it was not presented as a perfect corporation, but it was given credit for trying to make some changes in the right direction. One corporation in the video was presented as notoriously evil: Monsanto, based in my hometown of St. Louis Missouri. What else could you say about a corporation that refuses to allow farmers to use seeds from their crops, and surreptitiously watches farmers with a team of 75 intimidating investigators, bringing many of them to court for daring to reuse their seeds. This has never before happened in the history of the world that a farmer has lost the right to use his or her own seed crop as he or she wants. If you’re thinking, “Well, they should never have signed up to buy that genetically modified seed in the first place,” the video will have you thinking again. Some of the victims are non-Monsanto-customer farmers in nearby fields, who were forced to defend themselves in court at great expense after Monsanto accused them of illegally using Montana’s product, whereas the seeds often blow onto their property from neighbors’ fields. The episode about the seed-washer sued by Monsanto is heartbreaking.

After watching Food Inc., you’ll never think the same way about corn. I’m not talking about enjoying a fresh meal of corn on the cob–get that image out of your head. I’m talking about highly processed corn. Almost anything you might purchase at a typical grocery store is pumped full of empty calories and questionable substances derived from processed corn (and soybeans). If you’re wondering why corn-based sodas and chips are so cheap, and broccoli and peas are so expensive, the answer lies in federal subsidies controlled by huge agribusinesses. Imagine a world where healthy foods were cheap and where foods injected with corn fructose were not subsidized– that’s certainly not the world in which we live. The video reveals that many of the purportedly great variety of fast foods are actually dressed up processed corn.

One of the most memorable lines for me was uttered by an especially articulate man who raises organic meat (you know, where animals were not confined in small dark spaces and forced to eat corn, but are actually allowed to eat grass and to graze). He suggested that if huge meat factories (chicken, hogs and beef) were forced to make their factories with transparent walls, people would stop buying their products. It was interesting that the only footage from inside the factory farms was through the use of hidden cameras. The big factory farms refused to give tours to the producers. One exception was a woman farmer who had had enough of it, and went on camera to give a tour of her chicken farm, which was actually run in a much more humane way than most of the dark enclosed factories where the great majority of America’s chickens are raised and slaughtered. Even her operation, considerably more humane than most factory farms (it actually was open to sunlight) still wasn’t a pretty sight.

Another thing I found revolting was the way that it illegal immigrants work hard to produce food for the rest of America, some of them for a dozen years or more, but they are unceremoniously rounded up from their trailers up in a constant stream of police raids. All of this while the companies that have made constant use of the hard labor of these undocumented people are left unscathed. There are very few raids for illegal immigrants at the factory farms-this would interfere with the profitable assembly line.

Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)
Image by Raman at Flickr (with permission)

There’s a lot more to Food, Inc. then I’ve described in this brief post. I highly recommend that you watch Food Inc. if you care about what you’re putting in your stomach. Even if you think you have a cast-iron stomach, take a look at Food Inc. and you’ll be primed to start eating more smartly.

Although much of the information presented in this video is disturbing, the video is full of good suggestions for what you can do about these problems. So is the movie’s website (with regard to each of these topics, simply click the “Learn More” link).

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Stop Discriminating against Sick People!

| August 19, 2009 | Reply
Stop Discriminating against Sick People!

Stop Discriminating against Sick People!

Jonathon Alter was a guest on “the Ed Show” tonight on MSNBC. In a noisy debate with Ed, he said that the goal of healthcare reform should be “to end discrimination against sick people”. He said that the path to reform was largely irrelevant. That whether or not there was a public option was largely irrelevant. That healthcare reform is a civil rights issue, and that reform had nothing to do with the mechanics of that reform.

To be clear, Mr Alter stated that he was personally very much for a public option. But he was also very clear that regardless of the public option, this reform needed to pass.

I agree with Jonathon. Discrimination against sick people must stop. Discrimination against people with ‘pre-conditions’ must stop. Discrimination against people, must stop.

It’s time to act. Call your congressman. Enact healthcare reform.

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Huffington quackery

| July 29, 2009 | 1 Reply
Huffington quackery

Over at Salon.com, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. makes a strong case that the Huffington Post is not strong on vetting their health and wellness contributors:

But when it comes to health and wellness, that diverse forum [Huffpo] seems defined mostly by bloggers who are friends of Huffington or those who mirror her own advocacy of alternative medicine, described in her books and in many magazine profiles of her. Among others, the site has given a forum to Oprah Winfrey’s women’s health guru, Christiane Northrup, who believes women develop thyroid disease due to an inability to assert themselves; Deepak Chopra, who mashes up medicine and religion into self-help books and PBS infomercials; and countless others pitching cures that range from herbs to blood electrification to ozonated water to energy scans.

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Health-less

| July 10, 2009 | Reply
Health-less

The boogeyman of Socialized Medicine is being dragged onto the field of rhetorical combat to block the move toward anything smacking of Single Payer Health Care in the United States. The argument is old and hoary by now, that adopting a system like that available in Canada or the United Kingdom would lead to a collapse of American health care. Somehow the fact that expenses might be shared and disbursed through the government will render the world’s best health care system somehow crippled inside a generation is not seriously questioned by most people. Because most people don’t know.

You can find case after case of anecdotal evidence to support the notion that British health care is worse than ours. Someone knows someone who, as the argument goes. And there is something to that. The waiting periods alone, the pigeonholing of treatment—horror stories abound which we glimpsed here when HMOs were instituted and accountants seemed to be in charge of medicine.

There is, in fact, too much information for the average American to digest much less make sense of.

Technologically, the United States has an extraordinary medical system. Unmatched in the world, despite some annoyingly negative statistics. That we achieve what we do in a country peopled by citizens who do the least for their own health than in any other country comparably empowered is amazing.

Americans eat too much. Medicine can only do so much against a rising tide of obesity related illnesses. The tradition of the doctor giving you a physical and then telling you to eat right and get some exiercise is not a quaint leftover from an age that didn’t know as much as we do—that is sound advice and more than half the battle in maintaining good health. The explosion of Type 2 diabetes in children has been alarming, and this can be tied directly to diet and exercise.

We also work longer hours under higher stress than almost anywhere else in the developed world. The need for vacations and long weekends is acute. This may sound sarcastic, but the link between stress and several major illnesses is no joke.

We are also a violent society. If one looks at emergency room statistics, it becomes quickly clear that we are a people who like to beat, stab, and shoot each other at higher levels than almost anywhere else.

What makes all these factors so overwhelming is that we have the means to do all this. Because a certain percentage, a significant percentage, of the population can afford to go to the doctor and have the consequences of all these lifestyle disasters “taken care of.”

I put all this out front because the one factor that is muted in the national debate over the rising cost of healthcare is the fact that we are, collectively, idiots. We do not do, statistically, the simplest things to avert the need for medical intervention.

The last detail in this litany has nothing to do with idiocy but with sentiment and perspective. It has been said for decades and it is true—80% of individual health expense in this country is spent in the last two years of life. We are, as a people, loathe to die and we will direct our health services to do absolutely everything to give us another day.

In Europe, such people are told to go home and die.

That sounds cold, I know, and I’m sure there are people in France and Germany and Italy with the resources to reject this advice.

But the nations as a whole are not expected to pay for it. Here we are.

Through health insurance.

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