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The Fallacy Of Relying On Anecdotes In Medicine

Dr. Ian Gawler, a veterinarian, suffered from osteogenic sarcoma (a form of bone cancer) of the right leg when he was 24 in 1975. Treatment of the cancer required amputation of the right leg. After completing treatment he was found to have lumps in his groin. His oncologist at the time was confident this was local spread from the original cancer, which is highly aggressive. Gawler later developed lung and other lesions as well, and was given 6 months to live due to his metastatic disease.

Gawler decided to embark on an alternative treatment regimen, involving coffee enemas, a vegetarian diet, and meditation. Eventually he was completely cured of his terminal metastatic cancer. He has since become Australia’s most famous cancer survivor, promoting his alternative approach to cancer treatment, has published five books, and now runs the Gawler Foundation.

At least, that is the story he believes. There is one major problem with this medical tale, however – while the original cancer was confirmed by biopsy, the subsequent lesions were not. His oncologist at the time, Dr. John Doyle, assumed the new lesions were metastatic disease and never performed a biopsy. It was highly probable Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Managing Stress With Meditation

In the early 1970s, when Dr. Herbert Benson was defining and testing the techniques he presented to the world in his revolutionary book, The Relaxation Response, I was a hippie teenager learning transcendental meditation (TM). Flash forward about 40 years and I’m sitting in an amphitheater packed with a few hundred medical students, faculty, and staffers from Harvard Medical School listening to the iconic director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute explain the myriad benefits of the relaxation response.

The relaxation response is a self-induced quieting of brain activity. It leads to a body-wide slowdown and a feeling of well-being that have measurably positive effects on disorders caused by stress or made worse by it, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, and many digestive disorders. As Dr. Benson describes in Stress Management, Read more »

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

Meditation: How It May Change The Brain

Meditation sounds like a great idea from the perspective of a psychiatrist: Anything that calms and focuses the mind is a good thing (and without pharmaceuticals, even better).

Personally, I tried transcendental meditation as a kid (more to do with my mother than with me) and found it to be boring. I have trouble keeping my thoughts still. They wander to what I want for dinner, and should I write about this on Shrink Rap, and will Clink and Victor ever eat crabcakes with me again, and did I remember to give my last patient informed consent, and a zillion other things. Holding my thoughts still is work.

The New York Times Well blog has an article on meditation and brain changes. In “How Meditation May Change the Brain,” Sindya N. Bhanoo writes:

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

Lower stress, lower blood pressure, higher empathy. I may have to give meditation another try.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Modern Meditation: Buddhism Meets Punk Rock

Dharma Punx in New York City mixes the tradition of Buddhism with the ideology of punk rock. Dr. Jon LaPook talks with teacher Josh Korda about how the seemingly different connect with the help of meditation.

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Where Quackademic Medicine Is Taught

One advantage of having a blog is that I can sometimes tap into the knowledge of my readers to help me out.

As many readers know, a few of the SBM bloggers (myself included) will be appearing at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) today (Saturday, April 17). Since the topic of our panel discussion is going to be the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia, I thought that now would be a very good time for me to update my list of medical schools and academic medical centers in the U.S. and Canada that have embraced (or at least decided to tolerate) quackademic medicine in their midst. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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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