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Sea algae: new weapon against HIV?

Interesting research ongoing in Brazil: Dr. Luiz Castello-Branco has spent the last 3 years studying the HIV-killing effects of a compound derived from algae. Apparently, in a Petrie dish of human cells, the algae reduces viral replication by 95%. Dr. Castello-Branco suggests that this algae could be added to a gel that women could use to protect themselves from HIV transmission during sexual contact. The algae will be tested in mice next month, and then human studies may begin as early as next year. Let’s all hope that the algae is as effective in humans as it seems to be in the lab! This could become a really great advance in HIV prevention.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity?

I came across a news headline: “Chewing gum drug could help curb obesity.”  I couldn’t help but be intrigued, so I decided to dig a little deeper.  The news release, as it turns out, is based upon the work of professor Steven R. Blum, a British researcher who is a consultant for many major pharmaceutical companies (Merck, GSK, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, J&J and others).  In addition to owning stock in Thiakis, a new biopharmaceutical company created in 2004, the professor has just received 19 million dollars in VC money (and a 5 million dollar grant from the Wellcome Trust) to further investigate the use of pancreatic polypeptide – an appetite suppressing hormone – for the treatment of obesity.

The amount of money flowing into Blum’s research tells me one thing for sure – Big Pharma is placing a bet on gut hormones as the next big breakthrough in obesity management.  Whether this is money well spent, I’m not sure.  Leptin (an appetite suppressant hormone produced by fat cells) proved to be a big disappointment to researchers, as obese individuals proved to be resistant to leptin.  Pancreatic polypeptide also has a flaw that may prove to limit its use: it is rapidly broken down in the blood stream by enzymes, causing its appetite suppressing effects to be quite transitory.

Evidence to date is limited in humans (as far as I can tell previous studies have mostly focused on mice – I’ll let my GI colleagues correct me here) and Bloom cites a study in which 17 obese adults ate ~15 -25% less at a buffet after being injected with pancreatic polypeptide (compared to 18 others who were injected with saline).

I’d like to believe that gut hormones will lead to an appetite suppressing pill that will reverse or slow our obesity epidemic.  But I remain skeptical at this point.  What do other people think about this?


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Does milk block the positive effects of tea?

Some evidence suggests that tea promotes relaxation (dilation) of arteries, thus improving blood circulation. This effect is believed to be mediated by a type of compound found in tea, called catechins. (I also think it might be related to caffeine). Researchers found that those who drank tea with 10% volume of hot milk mixed in did not have the same increase in arterial diameter that was observed in subjects drinking plain tea. They speculate that milk proteins mop up catechins, thus reducing (or eliminating) their relaxing effect on blood vessels.

I wonder if sugar has a similar effect? I guess that’s another study for another time.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Who is the best doctor?

I recently spoke to Dr. Jorge Mestman about the issue of finding a good doctor. I asked him if consumer ratings of physicians would help patients find their way to better care and he responded with a resounding “no.” I was somewhat taken aback and asked why he felt that way. What he said was surprising (this is not actually a direct quote, I’m summarizing):

“The best doctor is YOUR doctor. Over time a physician develops a relationship with a patient and an understanding of their issues that is very valuable. The problem with seeing a specialist is that they have no baseline to compare you to – they may make recommendations based on their best analysis of the situation at that point in time. But they can be wrong.

Also, physicians – like any human being – have different skills and styles. Some are great listeners and excel in empathy, others have a ‘tough love’ approach, still others are research oriented and like to delve into the ‘nitty gritty.’ How can one person’s rating capture all of that? Most physicians are good people with good clinical skills. The right one is the one that you like. Also, it’s simply not possible for a few highly rated physicians to care for vast numbers of patients. If people limited themselves to only seeing certain physicians (who got high ratings), they’d be turned away due to the over-demand.”

What do you think of Dr. Mestman’s analysis?

Val Jones is a licensed practitioner of Rehabilitation Medicine and Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health’s portal. No information in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat any condition. The opinions expressed here are Val’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Health.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Staying alive linked to staying in school?

So it seems that people who stay in school longer, live longer.  But not for the reasons you might expect – it’s not because privileged kids are more likely to stay in school and also happen to get better healthcare.  It seems that school teaches kids two things beyond the books: 1) discipline – the ability to delay gratification and 2) social networking skills.  These two lessons go a long way to keeping people healthier long term.

Come to think of it, this makes a lot of sense – if a person can learn to avoid fast food for the “higher call” of health, they may live longer.  If a person is well integrated in a social network, they’re more likely to seek out medical assistance earlier on – and have caring friends and family spur them on towards regular check ups, taking their meds, etc.

Now, I don’t know what YOU were doing in junior high and high school – but apparently the first hints of your discipline and networking skills were learned there.   Although the research described in the NY Times article only made a link between total years in school, and total years of life – I wonder if your high school’s  “expert networkers” – you know them, the ever-annoying popular kids – will fare best of all in the health arena?

Better go to your high school reunion to find out!


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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