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Latest Posts

Does Cell Phone Use Stimulate Brain Activity?

We all know that using a cell phone can stimulate the brain to work a bit harder. “Mr. Skerrett? This is Dr. LeWine’s office. Do you have a minute to talk about your test results?” or “Dad, a bunch of kids are going to Casey’s house after the dance. Can I go?” But a new study published in JAMA is making me wonder what the energy emitted by the phone itself — not just the information it delivers — is doing to my brain.

Here’s the study in a nutshell. Dr. Nora Volkow and her colleagues recruited 47 volunteers to have their brain activity measured twice by a PET scanner. Both times the volunteer had a cell phone strapped to each ear. During one measurement, both phones were turned off. During the other, one phone was turned on but muted so the volunteer didn’t know it was on; the other was left off. Each session lasted about an hour. The scans showed a small increase in the brain’s use of glucose (blood sugar) when the phone was on, but only in parts of the brain close to the antenna.

It was an elegant study. The researchers took pains to anticipate sources of error. They used a control (both phones off) against which to compare the effect of a “live” cell phone. They used cell phones on each ear, one on and one off, to see if the effect was localized. They muted the phone that was on to eliminate the possibility that any brain activation was due to listening to the sound of a voice coming through the phone’s speaker. So the result is probably a real one, not an artifact or measurement error.

What does this brain activation mean? No one really knows. As Dr. Volkow told NPR, “I cannot say if it is bad that they [cell phones] are increasing glucose metabolism, or if it could be good.” Read more »

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

Dr. Frank Ryan’s Death: What We Can Learn From It

I’ll be honest — I’d never heard of Dr. Frank Ryan, a Hollywood plastic surgeon, until his tragic motor vehicle accident recently. Clients included actress Heidi Montag and boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

Although the California Highway Patrol investigation isn’t complete, rumors have suggested that Dr. Ryan may have been text messaging when driving. If this is true and an intelligent, well-trained doctor can fall prey to the allure of technology, then what does it mean for the rest of us?

First, realize that we can’t multitask. You have one brain. You can focus at one task at a time. Though laws allow hands-free cellphone calls, the issue isn’t trying to dial the phone but rather that the mind is engaged in the conversation and not on the road. Yes, we are all increasingly busy, but we can’t multitask. In fact, researchers have found that it takes more time and effort to refocus when we are distracted from one task to the other. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Can Stuttering Be Contagious?

Recently I was seeing a patient who was left with somewhat of a stutter after a prior stroke. It was a long history and probably longer for the patient, who had to work very hard to be understood through an unwanted speech impediment.

Inexplicably, when I walked out of the room I started to stutter, too – I wasn’t trying to make light of the patient’s problem, and I had to stop talking for a few moments before I could speak in my normal cadence.  It was super-strange, like my brain heard the new cadence and said “Oh, that’s how you do it.”  Awful.

It was embarrassing and weird. Fortunately the patient didn’t hear it, and I apologized to the staff who did. I have no idea why my mouth-brain connection picked that anomaly to repeat. Strange.

Anyone else have this?

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Can Magnets Disrupt Moral Judgment?

Research scientists at MIT have been studying the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) region of the brain that seems to be involved in judging the behavior of other people. With the help of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) applied to the region, they were able to affect the moral conclusions that people reached when analyzing the actions of others.

From MIT news office:

The researchers used a noninvasive technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to selectively interfere with brain activity in the right TPJ. A magnetic field applied to a small area of the skull creates weak electric currents that impede nearby brain cells’ ability to fire normally, but the effect is only temporary.

In one experiment, volunteers were exposed to TMS for 25 minutes before taking a test in which they read a series of scenarios and made moral judgments of characters’ actions on a scale of one (absolutely forbidden) to seven (absolutely permissible). Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

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Latest Book Reviews

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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

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