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Culinary Metaphor Used To Understand Gene-Environment Interactions

a pie cut in almost half with the smaller piece labeled Environmental and the larger piece labeled GeneticA recent article in the Archives of General Psychiatry by Hallmayer et al. discussed the role of genetic and environmental factors in autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  The study was a heritability analysis of 192 pairs of twins, which attributed 37 percent of the variation in risk of autism to genetic factors and 55 percent to shared environmental factors.  The authors contrasted their findings with those of previous studies, which had given genetics a much higher share (up to 90%).

Rather than contradicting previous research, the new results provide more evidence that autism, like many other common diseases, results from both genetic and environmental factors.  The way that these elements – often called “nature and nurture” – influence health outcomes has been discussed for decades but is often misunderstood, even among scientists.

Disease Causation is Not as Easy as… Pie Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Genomics and Health Impact Blog*

Do You Really Need 6-8 Glasses Of Water Each Day?

“Bueno es saber que los vasos
nos sirven para beber;
lo malo es que no sabemos
para qué sirve la sed”.
Proverbios y cantares.XLI. Antonio Machado

(‘It’s good to know that glasses
are what can help us drink;
The trouble is, we don’t know
What is the purpose of thirst’)

The one thing you can’t afford to have missing when you start a scientific congress or any other professional meeting is not a notepad, a pencil or even an iPad – nowadays, it’s a bottle of water. Offices, airports, handbags and lecture halls, all of them are bursting with all kinds of bottles. It seems they are essential to work and even to stay alive.

Bordering nonsense, some people desperately search for a bottled water vending machine as soon as they arrive at the airport, even if that means gobbling it down in a minute before walking through the security checkpoints.

It is now a common belief that continously drinking water (6 to 8 glasses a day according to NHS, at least two litres -half a gallon- according to other sources) is the healthy thing to do. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

Meta-Analyses And A Capricious Drug Approval Process: The Actos And Avandia Stories

Both Germany and France have now suspended the marketing of Actos (pioglitazone) due to concerns of a link between Actos and bladder cancer. Though we have known about bladder cancer concerns for some time, these recent concerns about the bladder cancer link stem from a recent report analyzing the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS), which found that 93 cases of cancer were recorded between 2004 and 2009 in patients treated with antidiabetic drugs, of which 31 patients were treated with pioglitazone, representing a statistically significant increased risk of bladder cancer (ROR 4.30, 95% confidence interval, 2.82-6.52; P less than 0.0001).

Interestingly, the FDA announced that it was going to look into the link between Actos and bladder cancer only a few days before it made its final decision on what to do with Avandia (as if they didn’t know about the Actos cancer risk before the July 2010 advisory board).

Despite the many things you have heard about Avandia, back in July 2010, the FDA decided to severely restrict the use of Avandia for three reasons: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

A FICO Score For Medication Compliance?

In Keeping Score on How You Take Your Medicine, Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times, reports on a new initiative from the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) known previously for its credit score ratings.  FICO has developed a Medication Adherence Score, using publicly identifiable information (like employment status, age and gender) to determine a patient’s score, which it says “can predict which patients are at highest risk for skipping or incorrectly using prescription medications.”

Parker-Pope reports, “By the end of the year, an estimated two million to three million patients will have been given a FICO medication adherence score and a total of 10 million patients are expected to be scored during the next 12 months…FICO officials say insurance companies and other health care groups will use the score to identify those patients who could benefit the most from follow-up phone calls, letters and e-mails to encourage proper use of medication.”

The FICO medication adherence score has not received a universally warm reception: e-Patient Dave and Society for Participatory Medicine member Alexandra Albin point out that the score only accounts for whether prescriptions are purchased, not whether the pills have actually been taken.

In a related effort, Geisinger Health Systems and CVS Caremark are conducting a study to assess whether enhanced doctor-pharmacist communication can help with medication adherence.  Shefali S. Kukarni reports in Tracking Down Patients Who Skip Their Drugs that, “The 18-month investigation will track a prescription from the moment it is submitted electronically to the pharmacy until it reaches the patient. If the patient does not pick up the prescription a ‘red flag’ or some form of notification will be sent to the doctor.”

But as Jessie Gruman recently blogged, there is no magic pill to cure poor medication adherence.   Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Fatigue: A Symptom With Many Possible Causes

woman-fatigue

Feeling tired? If so, it’s not surprising. Fatigue is one of the most common problems people report to their doctors. The Health and Retirement Study of more than 17 million older people ages 51 and up reported recently that 31% said they feel fatigued.

Fatigue is a symptom, not a disease. Different people experience it in different ways. The tiredness you feel at the end of a long day or after a time zone change might feel similar to that resulting from an illness. But fatigue from stress or lack of sleep usually subsides after a good night’s rest, while disease-related lethargy is more persistent and may be debilitating even after restful sleep.

Finding the cause. How do you know if your low-energy is caused by an underlying illness or is the result of stress, poor diet, or lack of sleep? For example, could you have chronic fatigue syndrome? That is an unusual illness and an uncommon cause of persistent fatigue, says Anthony Komaroff, M.D., professor of medicine at Harvard, world-renowned expert on chronic fatigue syndrome, and medical editor of a new Harvard Special Health Report, Boosting Your Energy. About 4 to 8 of every 1,000 adults in the United States suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, which is about twice as common in women as in men. The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome are still unknown, and there is no accurate diagnostic test. However, scientists have found abnormalities in the brain and peripheral nervous system, in the immune system, and in energy metabolism in people with this syndrome. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

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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