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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*

Exercise Now, Weigh Less Later

People know it’s important to avoid excessive weight gain as they get older, and that exercise is a key to success in this regard. But until recently, scientists had published surprisingly few studies purporting to quantify the impact of habitual exercise on weight gain over the long haul.

Dr. Arlene Hankinson and her colleagues at Northwestern University set out to do just that. Using data from a prospective follow-up study, Hankinson’s group showed that men who were able to maintain high activity levels over an extended period gained six fewer pounds, and five fewer centimeters of waist circumference than those in the lowest activity group. Women in the highest activity group gained 13 fewer pounds and nearly seven centimeters less around their waists.

To reach these conclusions, the scientists examined data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which is a 20-year longitudinal study that began in 1985. CARDIA included complete historical data for 3,554 men and women from Chicago, Birmingham, Minneapolis, and Oakland. Enrollees were 18 to 30 years old at study onset. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

Lexapro For Treatment Of Hot Flashes

In a well done placebo-controlled study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), use of escitalopram (Lexapro) reduced hot flashes in menopausal women.

Investigators enrolled 205 women, randomizing them to either Lexapro 10 mg or placebo, with instructions to increase to two pills a day if needed after four weeks. Lexapro users experienced about a 60 percent reduction in hot flash frequency over the eight-week study. About half ended up on the larger 20 mg daily dose by study’s end. The drug’s effect was apparent at about one week of use, and it was well tolerated.

As in almost studies of menopausal treatments, the placebo group also experienced a significant reduction in symptoms — about 40 percent — but the difference between placebo and drug groups was significant. Compared to placebo users, Lexapro users had a bigger rebound of symptoms when stopping their treatment, were more satisfied, and more likely to want to continue the study drug, another validation of the drug’s efficacy. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*

“Simple Blood Test” For Cancer: Breakthrough Or Nightmare?

That’s the question Dartmouth’s Dr. Gil Welch asks in a column on the CNN website. He reflects on [recent] news about a test in development that might find a single cancer cell among a billion healthy ones — as so many news stories framed it. Welch analyzes:

“But it’s not that simple. The test could just as easily start a cancer epidemic.

Most assume there are no downsides to looking for things to be wrong. But the truth is that early diagnosis is a double-edged sword. While it has the potential to help some, it always has a hidden side-effect: overdiagnosis, the detection of abnormalities that are not destined to ever bother people in their lifetime.

Becoming a patient unnecessarily has real human costs. There’s the anxiety of being told you are somehow not healthy. There’s the problem that getting a diagnosis may affect your ability to get health insurance. There are the headaches of renewing prescriptions, scheduling appointments and keeping them. Finally, there are the physical harms of treatments that cannot help (because there is nothing to fix): drug side-effects, surgical complications and even death. Not to mention it can bankrupt you.

Americans don’t need more diagnoses, they need the right diagnoses.

I don’t know whether this test will help some patients. It might, but it will take years to figure that out. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Rationed Care, Denied Treatment, And “Death Panels”

One of the canards slung at the Affordable Care Act is that it creates “death panels” that would allow the government to deny patients lifesaving treatments, even though two independent and non-partisan fact-checking organizations found it would do no such thing.

I don’t bring this up now to rehash the debate, but because the New York Times had a recent story on Arizona’s decision to deny certain transplants to Medicaid enrollees — “death by budget cuts” in the words of reporter Marc Lacey. His story profiles several patients who died when they were unable to raise money on their own to fund a transplant. Lacey quotes a physician expert on transplants who flatly states: “There’s no doubt that people aren’t going to make it because of this decision.”

Arizona Medicaid officials told the Times that they “recommended discontinuing some transplants only after assessing the success rates for previous patients. Among the discontinued procedures are lung transplants, liver transplants for hepatitis C patients and some bone marrow and pancreas transplants, which altogether would save the state about $4.5 million a year.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

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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