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Echinacea For Colds: Does It Really Work?

Does echinacea, the popular natural cold remedy, really work?

It depends on what you mean by “work.” Results [recently] reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that echinacea may reduce the length of a week-long cold by 7 to 10 hours and make symptoms a little less onerous. That can’t be characterized as a major effect, so many people may figure that the trouble and expense of echinacea just isn’t worth it (fortunately, side effects from echinacea don’t seem to be much of an issue.)

But others may decide that some benefit is better than none, and these results do fit with others that have left the door slightly ajar for echinacea having some effect as a cold remedy — a modest effect, but an effect, nonetheless.

A summary for patients published by the Annals summed up the situation nicely:

People who take echinacea to treat colds may experience a decrease in the length and severity of their cold symptoms but to such a small degree that they may not care about the difference. Although many studies of echinacea have been performed, researchers still disagree about its benefits in treating the common cold. This study is unlikely to change minds about whether to take this remedy.

Have you tried echinacea as a cold remedy? Has it worked? How do research findings, pro and con, affect your opinion of so-called alternative medicines?

Many of the echinacea studies, especially early on, were sponsored by companies making or selling the product. This study was supported by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

– Peter Wehrwein, Editor, Harvard Health Letter

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

Biotech And Life Sciences Grant Program: Only A Few Crumbs To Go Around?

crumbs Biotech Grant Program: Are a Few Crumbs Better Than No Crumbs At All?After assuming control of the House in the mid-term elections, Republicans vowed to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law signed by the “Big O” last March. Thank heavens, therefore, that the Boehners were too busy congratulating themselves to even notice those federal helicopters dumping $1 billion in cash on some needy biotech companies just as the election results were being tallied.

Yep, it happened. Federal disbursements in the form of grants and tax credits were made last week, as required by a provision in the reform law known as the Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project Program. According to the terms of this program, biotech and life sciences companies with less than 250 employees could apply for federal funds to cover research costs they had incurred in the last two years, so long as the research focused on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chronic diseases. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

ABC News Interviews Dr. Val About The ePatient Revolution

The Internet has revolutionized how we receive information – and it’s also changing how we learn about and manage our health. A new “ePatient” movement promises to empower patients with online and mobile tools – making it easier than ever to contact a physician, track health variables, and join a support group.

Four minutes isn’t much time to summarize an entire movement, and I think I got a little off topic while suggesting a new use case for David Hale’s NIH PillBox (a pill identifier tool). I said it could be used to identify pills even after your pet licked part of the label off them!

For more information about ePatients, check out my earlier blog post.

Can The Expiration Date Of Harvested Organs Be Extended?

Currently, once a donated organ has been harvested it only has a few hours on ice before it “expires.” Lengthening this time period would be an incredible breakthrough that would allow patients in a wider area to potentially receive a transplant and also it would reduce some of the insanity surrounding the time pressures of organ transplantation.

One proposed method of extending an organ’s shelf life is to alter the internal cell biology to allow cells to live longer at lower temperatures. The State University of New Jersey Rutgers-Camden just received a $385,419 grant from the NIH to study an enzyme system, AMP phosphatase, and how it can potentially create cold-tolerant Drosophila. The enzyme was originally identified in ice worms as the key enzyme that allows them to survive in glaciers. The researchers hope that if they are able to utilize this enzyme system to create a cold-tolerant fruit fly, then they would be able to apply that knowledge to donated organs. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Do You Have A “Good” Heart?

I saw a prescient story that linked antagonistic personality traits and cardiovascular risk. It was simply impossible to ignore. Low hanging fruit, no doubt.

The article highlights an NIH-sponsored study [published in the August 16th journal Hypertension] that looked at the effects of antagonistic traits — agreeableness, per se — on heart health. Yes, you read it right — agreeableness. To quantify agreeableness, the researchers used a personality questionnaire which included six traits: Trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and my favorite…tender-mindedness.

Your hypothesis is probably right: People who were distrustful, cynical, manipulative, self-centered, and quick to express anger fared worse. But please don’t dismiss this as just another mundane study proclaiming the risks of an angry personality. The specifics of the findings and their implications really hit hard. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

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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