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Latest Posts

Understanding Melatonin: Are People Taking Too Much?


Many of my patients, over the years, have taken melatonin. Many other patients have asked me about it, but I’ve never had much to say. I hadn’t heard anything particularly bad about it, but couldn’t really recommend it. “Research melatonin” has been on my “To Do” list for a long time.

So here’s what I’ve discovered: Melatonin is a hormone. I’ve known that since medical school, of course, but that fact has struck me as peculiar these past few weeks. Why? Because it’s sold over the counter, and many people take massive amounts of it. No other hormone is available like this. The use of other hormones, such as insulin and thyroid hormone, need careful monitoring. Is melatonin so universally safe that it can be taken at any dose, for however long? The more we learn about melatonin, the less that seems to be the case. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Making Sense of Medicine*

NYT Reports On Research That Links Height To Cancer Risk

Female models may be tall and beautiful, but they are also at markedly increased risk of developing cancer. The New York Times reported on a fascinating research article regarding height of a women and risk of cancer.

Specifically, for every four-inch increase in height over 5 feet 1 inch, the risk that a woman would develop cancer increased by about 16 percent, especially for:

• Colon Cancer (RR per 10 cm increase in height 1.25, 95% CI 1.19—1.30)
• Rectal Cancer (1.14, 1.07—1.22)
• Malignant Melanoma Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?


How much vitamin D is enough, and what’s the best way to get your daily dose of the so-called sunshine vitamin? It depends who you ask.

I just attended the latest Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health. The title, “Boosting Vitamin D: Not Enough or Too Much?” was a tip-off that we weren’t going to get a simple take-home message. (Watch a video of the event beginning Wednesday, March 30.)

Some background: Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin. It’s a hormone. The body makes it when sunlight strikes the skin. This converts a cousin of cholesterol into a substance that ultimately becomes vitamin D. It is best known for helping the digestive system absorb calcium and phosphorus, so it is important for bone health. New research suggests—emphasis on suggests—that vitamin D may also be involved with regulating blood pressure, fighting cancer, and improving the immune system. Read more »

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

Remembering Gene Goldwasser: Discoverer Of EPO, A Cure For Anemia In Dialysis Patients

balloon illustration

Gene Goldwasser died last week. He was 88, and he was my friend.

I wrote previously about a series of conversations I conducted with Gene and Rabbi A.J. Wolf a few years ago. I met Gene one spring day after calling to invite him to sit in on a class I was teaching to a small group of medical students about social issues in healthcare.

I’d read about him in a book called “The $800 Million Pill,” by Merrill Goozner. In the book, Goozner writes the story of Gene’s two-decade hunt to isolate the hormone erythropoietin (EPO).

Part of the story relates how Gene tried to interest traditional big pharma companies in his discovery, only to be brushed aside. Instead, Gene wound up sharing his discovery with what became Amgen. The company went on to make a windfall from recombinant production of the hormone and licensing it as a drug for patients with anemia and kidney failure. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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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