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Latest Posts

Diabetes Treatment: Is Compliance more Important than Research?

I was speaking with Revolution Health expert Dr. Zach Bloomgarden about advances in diabetes care, and I suddenly realized that enhancing compliance with lifestyle measures is more important than researching treatments.  In other words, we have the power to cure many cases of type 2 diabetes already – without any new research/treatments. The challenge is sticking with diet and exercise programs. Perhaps the same could be said of many diseases.

I thought I’d share this audio clip of Zach explaining that we already have the tools to radically improve diabetes outcomes and virtually eliminate this disease.

Listen Here

I hope that the new community groups at Revolution Health will help us all work together to get to a healthier place. I’m still struggling along with my diet team. I’m proud of those who have had great success already!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Women and Allergies: An Update with Cliff Bassett, MD

Dr. Cliff Bassett is an allergy specialist in New York City. We recently discussed the differences between men and women when it comes to allergies. You can listen to our conversation or read on for a synopsis of the discussion.

**Listen To The Podcast**

Seasonal Allergies & Women

Women don’t always realize that nasal stuffiness may be a sign of an underlying medical condition or a side effect of medications. Low thyroid (hypothyroidism), taking oral contraceptive pills, or frequent use of aspirin or NSAIDs (such as Motrin), can actually increase the risk for nasal stuffiness. Some studies also suggest that hormone fluctuations can increase nasal congestion and allergy sensitivity. So women in particular need to be aware of their unique allergy triggers and get treatment from an allergy specialist when necessary.

Food Allergies & Women

A recent study suggested that women are twice as likely to have seafood allergies than men (4% versus 2%). The reason for this difference is unclear, and it may be related to increased vigilance on the part of women to get tested and diagnosed. However, food allergies are certainly on the rise in this country. I suspect it might have to do with the increasing use of stomach acid blockers. The medicines change the pH (or acidity) of the stomach environment and may influence the way that proteins are being broken down and absorbed by the body. Another theory is that dieting can lead to increasing food allergies – as women eat more protein and fewer carbohydrates, they become exposed to more protein allergens and develop intolerances to them. Ultimately we don’t know for sure what’s contributing to the increase of food allergies in this country, but the good news is that you can easily get tested and treated for them.

Drug Allergies & Women

Some studies suggest that penicillin allergies are more common in women than men. Anyone who has an allergic parent is at higher risk for having an allergic condition. If both parents are affected, your chances are 50-75% that you’ll have a similar allergic profile.

Moms: Be a Label DetectiveA law was passed in 2006 that requires all food products to be carefully labeled regarding whether or not they contain any of the 8 most common food allergens. Moms need to become familiar with all the possible names of ingredients that are related to their (or their child’s) food allergen. So for example “casein” is a form of milk protein, and should be avoided if the allergic individual has milk sensitivities. Also, be very wary of hidden sources of allergens – the glaze on pastries may contain egg proteins and traces of nuts may be hidden in cakes and breads. When dining out it’s always good to carry an allergy card for the chef so he/she can make sure that the food you order doesn’t contain any offending ingredients. The website has a great list of tips for avoiding exposure to food allergens. I highly recommend it as a resource for women taking care of food allergic children.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

The Future of Medical Imaging: An Interview With Richard Robb, PhD

My former mentor, Dr. Richard Robb, is Director of the Biomedical Imaging Resource Center at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. I first met Dr. Robb as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) in the Department of Biophysics at Mayo in 1994. Behind his reserved exterior is a man who is bursting with enthusiasm about the amazing technological advances that are making it possible for us to see cells, tissues, and organs in ways barely conceived of several decades ago. Dr. Robb admits that his passion for improving the quality of anatomical visualization is a response to a challenge once given him by a neurosurgeon colleague: “If I can see it, I can fix it.” Dr. Robb’s life’s work is to enable physicians and surgeons to be more effective healers through direct visualization of anatomy and physiology.

I caught up with Dr. Robb (at the Society for Women’s Health Research briefing on imaging and women’s health) and asked him a few questions about the future of medical imaging. Here are some excerpts from our interview:

Dr. Val: What is micro CT and what information does it give doctors?

Dr. Robb: Micro CT is a specialized kind of scanner that works on the same principles as regular CT scanners but it can capture images at much higher resolution. Structures as small as 5-10 microns in size can be seen. Although this is an emerging technology used primarily for research purposes, it has tremendous potential and implications for the future. With such resolution, we’ll be able to do “virtual biopsies” of suspicious tissue that we find with a regular CT and then zoom in with the Micro CT to get a close look at microscopic detail without having to do a biopsy to study them.

Dr. Val: What is SISCOM and who benefits from it?

Dr. Robb: SISCOM is an acronym for “Subtraction Interictal Spect COregistered to Mri.” It is used to pinpoint small parts of the brain that cause epileptic seizures, so that surgeons can effectively remove the diseased tissue.  SISCOM uses radioactive tags that are absorbed by the parts of the brain that are over-active during a seizure, and they glow like a lightbulb on SPECT brain scans that are subtracted and registered onto MRI scans. The radiologist can pinpoint the exact focus of the abnormal epileptic discharges and then show the surgeons exactly where they need to resect the tissue. This technique allows surgeons to cure many patients who suffer from seizures that don’t respond to medications.

Dr. Val: What is the most exciting new imaging technology under development and how will it impact health?

Dr. Robb: The most exciting future technologies will allow us to visualize tissue functions at a chemical level. In the next 10 years we’ll see major advancements in image resolution and micro imaging techniques, and eventually we’ll be able to see individual molecules. This technology could actually eliminate the need for surgical biopsies, replacing them with “virtual or digital biopsies”, including close up images of cells and chemical reactions, such as diffusion, all in the context of surrounding macro-sized structures.  The effect of the chemical actions and reactions will be expressed visually at the organ function level.

Also, in the next 10-20 years the development and clinical use of “nanobots”, or tiny robotic elements, that can be ingested or injected into the body will become manifest.  These may be used with special biomarkers – substances that preferentially label tissue types and pathology within the body.  These traveling nanobots can, for example, either go to the biomarkers or expore intelligently certain anatomic domains, taking pictures inside GI tracts, pulmonary airways, or even blood vessels.  They will then analyze these images for detection and characterization of abnormalities (like a polyp) followed by administering treatment to the abnormality (e.g., remove it by ablation or radiation or chemicals). The nanobot will remain in the body until it has removed or repaired the targeted pathology or trauma, then it will exit through natural means or “self-destruct” in a safe way. Nanobots could reduce the need for more invasive surgeries, and dramatically improve clinical outcomes with very low risk and morbidity.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Rationing Healthcare and the Emperor’s New Clothes

A recent blog post at Terra Sigillata really disturbed me. The author describes how, in the face of increasing healthcare costs, Medicare now declines coverage of life saving medicines for lymphoma patients. This is one example of rationing healthcare that will become ever more common (as it is in other leading industrialized nations) as we move towards further cuts in government programs and funding. In Canada, expensive chemotherapies are not commonly covered by the national health plan, and in Britain, age is a determinant for transplant eligibility.

But what troubles me about the apparent capriciousness of denying coverage to certain types of cancer patients over others, is that government programs are – at the same time – allocating millions of dollars to researching implausible alternative medicine treatments while denying coverage of proven therapies to patients who will likely die without them.

Take homeopathy, for example. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine lists homeopathy as an eligible area of research, and boasts several ongoing studies in the area of stroke, dementia, fibromyalgia, and prostate cancer. And yet, there is no plausible mechanism of action to support its potential use as anything more than a placebo. Homeopathy operates on the assumption that water has memory, and that once it has been exposed to certain substances, such as arsenic, it obtains curative properties for illnesses that bear resemblance to poisoning from those very substances (though the water itself may no longer contain a single molecule of the substance).

Research into scientifically implausible theories should not be funded by our tax dollars at the expense of offering life saving treatments to cancer patients. It is time for scientists to stand up and point out that the Emperor has no clothes when it comes to homeopathy and other similarly flawed alternative medical treatments.

As we move towards rationing limited healthcare resources, we have a moral obligation to prioritize the money correctly. “Open-mindedness” is no excuse for poor stewardship.

Dr. Wallace Sampson sums this up in a provocative recent editorial. Here is an excerpt:

We now see accumulation of useless information in journals and information data bases — hundreds of clinical trials (RCTs) on implausible methods, such as homeopathy, unrefined plant products, prayer, and acupuncture. Initial plausibility retreats before two 20th-century development ideologies of relativism — a principle that all facts and opinions have equal or similar value, and postmodernism — that regards facts as social constructions.

Once thought to be too esoteric for relevance to medicine, these twin ideologies now mold the thinking of policy makers and granting agency officials. Ancient and traditional cultural practices are not diminished for lack of plausibility, but are investigated by RCTs because they are there.

Plausibility depends on prior reliable observations, physical and chemical laws, pharmacological principles, and advocates’ economic and legal misadventures. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine spends $100 million/year on implausible research and training grants. In performing RCTs on implausible proposals, clinical research has taken a wrong turn and departed from rationality.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at


I had a special lunch event scheduled today, so I went to a stylist to give my hair a little more volume. (My hair is pin straight and rather fine, so it takes a fair amount of work to make it look substantially different than this.)

A coworker arrives in my office. He looks at me, tilts his head to one side and says,

“Have you been outside today? Your hair is usually very sleek, but today it’s really messy and ‘all over the place.'”

“Um, no, I actually paid someone to style my hair today. That’s what’s different.”

Blank stare.

New topic.

Dudes.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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