Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Are Plastic Products Safe? Educational Webinar Reviews The Science

Concerns about plastic safety have been growing over the years, and the media has stepped up its efforts to expose potential dangers associated with plastic compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. The problem is – there is very little scientific evidence linking plastic to human harm, and no credible evidence that our current typical exposures to BPA poses any health risks at all (so say the health agencies of the United States, Canada, the European Union, and Japan). But that’s not a very exciting story, is it?

Instead, what we often hear in the news is that microwaving our plastic containers or drinking from plastic water bottles could be dangerous to our health… and that BPA-free containers are better for baby. But where did the media come up with these ideas? I asked Dr. Chuck McKay, a toxicologist and emergency medicine physician at the University of Connecticut, to explain how safe levels of exposure (to various chemicals) are determined, and how to know if news reports are based on scientific evidence. I hope you’ll listen in to this educational Webinar.

Some of my favorite take-home messages from the Webinar include what I call “just becauses”:

1. Just because you can find a substance in your urine doesn’t mean it’s harmful. (Asparagus anyone?)

2. Just because an animal reacts to a substance, doesn’t mean that humans will. (How often have you caught a cold from your dog?)

3. Just because extreme doses of a substance can cause harm, doesn’t mean that tiny doses also cause harm. (Consider radiation exposure from riding in an airplane versus being near ground zero of a nuclear strike).

4. Just because something has a theoretical potential to harm, doesn’t mean it will. (Will you really be attacked by a shark in 2 feet of water at your local beach?)

5. Just because someone conducted a research study doesn’t mean their findings are accurate. (Do you really believe the Cosmo polls? There’s a lot of junk science out there!)

For an excellent review article of the high-quality science behind plastic safety, please check out this link. In the end, there are far more important health concerns to worry about than potential exposure to plastic compounds. And throwing out all your plastic containers may not even reduce your exposure to BPA anyway… A recent study found that people had higher concentrations of BPA in their urine when they followed a plastic-free, organic diet! Their exposure was actually traced to ground cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne pepper. Who knew?

Harvard Medical School Provides Tips For Improving Bladder Control

I was hiking in the woods recently with a group of women friends when something caught my attention. It wasn’t an interesting bird or plant, but the surprising number of “pit stops” my friends needed to make.

Their frequent detours into the bushes struck me because I had just finished working on Better Bladder and Bowel Control, the latest Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. According to the report, incontinence is the unintended loss of urine or feces that is significant enough to make it difficult to do ordinary activities without frequent trips to the restroom. In the United States, about 32 million men and women have some degree of incontinence. For women, incontinence is a common but rarely discussed result of childbirth and aging—that could explain the pit stops of my hiking friends, who were all mid-life mothers. For men, incontinence is most often a side effect of treatment for prostate disorders.

Many things can go wrong with the complex system that allows us to control urination. Read more »

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

How Much Water Are You Supposed To Drink? Your Urine Will Tell You

Perhaps you’ve heard that increasing your water intake is part of a healthy lifestyle – and that you should drink at least 8 glasses of a day. This “rule of thumb” is actually not based on scientific evidence. Although for many people it’s not harmful advice, you may not need to work so hard at getting enough water every day.

The amount of water that your body needs depends on three main variables (yes, needs can vary with different illnesses and conditions, but let’s talk about the average American):

1. Your body’s size

2. Your activity level

3. Your environment (weather and humidity conditions)

The larger you are, the more water you lose from sweat (be it from physical activity or hot weather conditions), the more water you need to replace. The amount you need can vary a lot – and in most cases there are two tricks you can use to stay properly hydrated: Read more »

Topical Medications And Bathing: A Source Of Water Pollution

I have written two posts in the past on proper disposal of unused medications, and I have always been mindful of the medicines as a source of environmental water pollution. This past week the American Chemical Society reminded (head-slapped me) that topical medications are a source of environmental water pollution from their active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). Yes, the simple act of bathing washes hormones, antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals down the drain into the water supply.

Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D. and colleague Christian Daughton, Ph.D. looked at potential alternative routes for the entry into the environment by way of bathing, showering, and laundering. These routes may be important for certain APIs found in medications that are applied topically to the skin — creams, lotions, ointments, gels, and skin patches. These APIs include steroids (such as cortisone and testosterone), acne medicine, antimicrobials, narcotics, and other substances. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »