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10 October 2008

Thinking Differently About Health Care

The American health care system is on life-support. Priced at nearly $8,000 a year per American, and soon to be 20 percent of the GDP, it’s more expensive by 40-60 percent than health care systems in any other industrial country, and totals nearly half the health care budget of the entire world. Yet it leaves 48 million Americans uncovered by health insurance and produces remarkably poor results.

According to the fascinating article linked below, it might help to consider American health as a house. Health care is the -- very expensive -- roof, the final protection against illness. In some ways it’s a preventive system, but mostly it’s sickness care.

In most other countries, the roof is a simpler affair. These health care systems rely much more on prevention. Yet the people in those “houses” live longer, healthier lives. That’s because in those other countries, the foundation and the walls of the house are stronger, with fewer cracks to let in the cold.

Start with the foundation. That’s the head start toward health that children in most other rich countries receive. In part because of better pre-natal care, infant mortality in all other industrial countries is lower than in the United States, which ranks 42nd in the world.

In every country in the world except the United States, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, mothers, and often, fathers, are guaranteed paid time off from work to take care of newborns. In many cases, such “family leave” extends for up to a year or more.

The first wall is lifestyle. Our tax system subsidizes producers of sugars and fats and our marketing system relentlessly advertises unhealthy foods. At the same time, Americans tend to work longer hours than people in other rich countries.

Wall number two is stress relief. It’s no secret in the field of public health that stress is a killer. Several factors make American life particularly stressful. Stress can result from insecurity. As the American social safety net has been gutted in recent years and job protections have been reduced, life in America is far more insecure than in other rich countries. Stress is also the result of time pressures and overwork. Breaks from a stressful workplace are seen by Europeans as yet another way to improve health.

The third wall is social connection. It’s a given in the field of public health that social connection strengthens immune systems and improves physical well-being. Yet America is an increasingly lonely country. More and more people, and especially older Americans, live alone, far more than in other rich countries. A recent study found that the average American has only two close friends he or she can turn to. A quarter have none at all.

The fourth wall is a safe environment. Americans rank at the bottom in child safety, with the highest rates of accidents among children. Partly, time pressure on American parents leave them less able to supervise their children. Other studies show extremely high rates of accidents in the workplace compared to other nations. Finally, and this is no small matter, every other industrial country guarantees its workers paid time off from work when they are sick; only the U.S. does not. Those countries know that without paid time off, workers will come to work sick, and will get others sick and stay sick longer.

To achieve better health outcomes, Americans must begin to see health as a holistic matter. Right now the American health care “house” has a foundation that is part marble, part rotting wood and part dirt. It has four walls that are a mixture of teak, balsa wood and bamboo, all of them in sorry shape. And finally, it has a gilded roof with millions of holes.


* World Changing October 2, 2008

Six Ways to Lose Weight

Here are some practical tips you can use to get your weight down.

1. Eliminate the Enemy.

The single most important thing you can do is make sure that you do not have the following in your home; bread, potatoes, pasta, chips, savory snacks, cakes, cookies, sweets, candies, chocolates and sugary drinks. This sounds severe but if you can remove these items you remove the temptation and opportunity to consume them.

2. Eat Plenty.

Eat plenty of good foods vegetables, fruit, lean meats, cheese and eggs.

3. Eat Out Less.

It is possible to find good items on the menu, but generally it is much harder to resist temptation when eating out -- so eat at home more.

4. Leave the Car on the Driveway.

Try to walk or cycle for local outings.

5. Play Tennis.

Or any other vigorous exercise.

6. Do it With Your Partner.

It is much easier to change your lifestyle and remove tempting bad foods from the home if your family are all involved. Try to make it a joint effort.


* October 3, 2008

Vitamin D Prevents Skin Infections

A study suggests that vitamin D bolsters the production of a protective chemical normally found in the skin. This could help prevent skin infections that are a common result of atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by areas of severe itching, redness and scaling.

The study found that supplemental vitamin D appeared to correct a defect in the immune systems in patients with this skin disease. The researchers studied a small number of patients with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis.

It has previously been shown that defects in the immune system interfere with the skin's ability to produce a peptide called cathelicidin, which is protective against microbial invasion. Study participants were all given 4000 IUs of oral Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) per day for 21 days. The researchers found that oral vitamin D use by the patients appeared to correct the skin's defect in cathelicidin.


* Eurekalert October 6, 2008

Please Log In or Register to continue. Drug Samples Endanger Children

A new study suggests that free drug samples, which are used as an effective marketing tool by the drug industry, do little to help the poor and may put children’s health at risk.

The study analyzed an in-depth survey conducted in 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asked people how they got health care. Children in the lowest income group were no more likely to receive the samples than were those in the highest income group, in part because the poor are less likely to see doctors. Once in a doctor’s office, however, children who lack health insurance are more likely to receive free drug samples than their well-insured counterparts.

But the drugs provided as free samples tend to be the newest varieties, so their safety has often not been thoroughly vetted. In 2004, the year of the CDC survey, more than 500,000 children received samples of four medicines that were later the subject of serious safety warnings required by the Food and Drug Administration: Advair, for asthma; Adderall and Strattera, for attention deficit disorder; and Elidel, for eczema.

Elidel was given to the parents of more than 38,000 children under age 2. The FDA later received reports of skin cancer in patients who took Elidel.


* New York Times October 6, 2008

Does Vitamin D Deficiency Cause Chronic Liver Disease?

Researchers measured the vitamin D levels of 118 chronic liver disease patients, and found that 92.4 percent of chronic liver patients had some degree of vitamin D deficiency. At least one third were severely deficient. Severe vitamin D deficiency was more common among cirrhotics.

The researchers thought this could meant that vitamin D replacement might prevent osteoporosis and other bone complications related to end stage liver disease.

The study included 43 hepatitis C patients with cirrhosis, 57 hepatitis C patients without cirrhosis, and 18 cirrhosis patients without hepatitis C.


* Eurekalert October 6, 2008

Probiotics Fight Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Several studies presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology highlight the safety and efficacy of probiotics in improving symptoms and normalizing bowel movement frequency in patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

A systematic review of the efficacy of probiotics in IBS that included 19 randomized controlled trials found that "probiotics are effective in IBS,” although there was not enough information to be sure whether one probiotic is particularly effective or whether combinations of probiotics are required.

In a separate study conducted at seven pediatric GI centers in the United States, Italy, and India, researchers found that probiotics were safe and significantly more effective than the placebo in alleviating IBS-related symptoms in children and teenagers.


* Eurekalert October 6, 2008

7 October 2008

Return to Breastfeeding Urged Amid China Scandal

China's contaminated milk products scandal, which has resulted in thousands of children being hospitalized with kidney illnesses, has reignited calls from medical experts for a return to breastfeeding.

Breast milk has more carbohydrates, easily digestible protein, and the nutrients, vitamins and minerals than formula does. UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a statement last week calling for the return to breast milk for infants.

"No infant formula contains the perfect combination of proteins, carbohydrates and fats to enhance infant growth and brain development as breast milk does," according to UNICEF and WHO.


* Reuters September 30, 2008

Is Pain a Symptom of Arthritis, or a Cause?

Pain may be more than a symptom of osteoarthritis -- it could be an inherent and damaging part of the disease itself, according to a recently published study.

The study revealed that pain signals originating in arthritic joints, and the biochemical processing of those signals as they reach the spinal cord, worsen and expand arthritis. In addition, researchers found that nerve pathways carrying pain signals transfer inflammation from arthritic joints to the spine and back again, causing disease at both ends.

Pain is a patient's conscious realization of discomfort. Before conscious realization can happen, however, information must be carried along nerve cell pathways from an injured area to the pain processing centers in dorsal horns of the spinal cord, a process called nociception. There is now strong evidence that two-way, nociceptive "crosstalk" may first enable joint arthritis to transmit inflammation into the spinal cord and brain, and then to spread through the central nervous system (CNS) from one joint to another.


* Science Daily September 30, 2008

Why You are More Creative After You Sleep

Most people think of the sleeping brain as similar to a computer that has “gone to sleep” -- they believe that it does nothing productive. But this is incorrect. Sleep enhances performance, learning and memory. And most unappreciated of all, sleep improves the creative ability to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.

Sleep assists the brain in flagging unrelated ideas and memories, forging connections among them that increase the odds that a creative idea or insight will surface. After sleep, people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas.

Business attitudes toward sleep may be starting to shift. Claire Stapleton, a spokeswoman for Google, says “grassroots” interest in sleep led to an on-campus talk by Sara C. Mednick, a napping expert. Google also installed EnergyPods, leather recliners with egglike hoods that block noise and light, that allow employees to take naps at work. Other companies that have installed EnergyPods include Cisco Systems and Procter & Gamble.


* New York Times September 27, 2008

The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

You need to rest your mind in order for it to work well on a long-term basis. Many people need to schedule these rest periods, and even lay down rules for what can and cannot be done during those times. If you’re not naturally inclined to slowing down and taking a break, the best thing you can do is schedule downtime.

How much downtime you need to schedule is a personal matter that depends on a several factors. It’s tempting to schedule less time than you need, but don’t succumb to that temptation. Think about how much you need as opposed to how much you can get by with.

Set rules for your downtime. You should restrict what you can and cannot use a computer for. Maybe you need to spend more time with your kids, so give yourself the requirement that you spend a certain amount of time each week playing with them (if you’re not already doing this, this article is even more important for you).

Proponents of GTD and various other productivity systems have a great tool for optimizing your actions -- the weekly review. Your weekly review should adopt a new component: the weekly downtime review. It’s important, though, to gauge how effective your downtime is and how successful you’ve been at making your downtime appointments. How much downtime did you take in the last week? How does that compare to the amount you scheduled?

Downtime is important. Realize that relaxing isn’t a total waste of time, even if the lack of action makes it feel that way.


* August 25, 2008