Look What I Found In My Brain!Random!

Spellbent

Chimeric Machines

Sparks and Shadows

Installing Linux on a Dead Badger

Coffin County

Mr Hands

Home Before Dark

In Silent Graves

Fear in a Handful of Dust

Current Reader Favorites:

Tools for Wandering Writers – how to stay productive on the road
Is the publisher just a middleman? – things to consider before you try self-publishing
Finding or creating a writer's workshop group – the title says it all
Using Profanity in Fiction – when cursing works, and when it doesn't
How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
Who Moved My Cheese? – a short review of this short book
How to comfort someone whose mother or father has died – advice for handling this difficult situation
Coping with unemployment – more practical advice for a difficult situation


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Thursday, July 23, 2009

NEW! GUNDARK ENERGY DRINK!

DO YOU ENJOY THE KICK OF ENERGY DRINKS?

BUT DOES THE POPULARITY OF RED BULL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A SHEEP?

DOES THE PRICE OF ROCKSTAR MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A CHUMP?

DO YOU WORRY THAT YOU'VE BECOME A MINDLESS, TWITCHING SLAVE TO CORPORATE CAFFEINE PEDDLERS?

THERE'S A BETTER WAY!

MY NAME IS LUCY, AND I'M HERE TO TELL YOU ABOUT THIS GREAT NEW ENERGY DRINK I'VE DISCOVERED CALLED GUNDARK!

YOU WON'T FIND IT IN ANY STORES -- YOU MAKE IT YOURSELF WITH INEXPENSIVE INGREDIENTS YOU PROBABLY ALREADY HAVE RIGHT THERE IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN! BEST OF ALL, NO ACTUAL COOKING OR MATHEMATICAL SKILLS ARE NECESSARY!

I WAS GOING TO KEEP GUNDARK ALL TO MYSELF, BUT THE GHOST OF BILLY MAYS VISITED ME LAST NIGHT AND HE CONVINCED ME TO SHARE THE SECRET WITH ALL OF YOU! HE MIGHT HAVE JUST BEEN A HALLUCINATION CAUSED BY SLEEP DEPRIVATION, BUT HE WAS VERY VERY CONVINCING AND ALSO A COMPLETE GENTLEMAN!

SO KEEP READING AND SOON YOU WILL BE FILLED WITH ENERGY JUST LIKE ME IN NO TIME AT ALL!

FIRST, GET SOME LEFTOVER COFFEE!

USE ANY REAL ACTUAL CAFFEINATED COFFEE, BUT IT MUST BE:
- BLACK AS NIGHT!
- COLD AS DEATH!
- BITTER AS THE REGRET OF REALIZING THAT NONE OF YOUR IN-LAWS DRANK ANY OF THAT POT OF EXPENSIVE KONA YOU BREWED FOR THEM LAST NIGHT AND IT ALL JUST SAT THERE GETTING STALE! YOU COULD HAVE MADE INSTANT FOLGERS INSTEAD AND NONE OF THOSE FUCKERS WOULD HAVE KNOWN THE DIFFERENCE! BILLY MAYS WOULD NEVER SWEAR BECAUSE HE IS A REAL GENTLEMAN BUT HE SAID IT WAS OKAY IF I DO BECAUSE HE SAYS I'M KINDA CUTE.

NEXT, GET SOME DARK CONCORD GRAPE JUICE!

USE 100% REAL ACTUAL JUICE, NOT THAT COCKTAIL CRAP THAT'S MOSTLY WATER AND CHEAP-ASS HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP! THAT SHIT'S TOO WEAK FOR GUNDARK! REAL DARK GRAPE JUICE IS LOADED WITH ANTIOXIDANTS LIKE RESVERATROL THAT SHOTGUN THROUGH YOUR VEINS ANNIHILATING CHOLESTEROL! BILLY MAYS SAYS THAT IF HE DRANK MORE GRAPE JUICE, HE MIGHT NOT BE A GHOST NOW AND MIGHT STILL BE A REAL ACTUAL LIVE HUNK OF PURE MAN INSTEAD OF SHIMMERING ECTOPLASM!

NOW, GET YOURSELF A GLASS.

MIX THE COFFEE AND THE GRAPE JUICE IN THE GLASS! EASY! USE MOSTLY COFFEE IF YOU'RE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR CARBS OR SOMETHING, USE MOSTLY GRAPE JUICE IF YOU'RE USING CHEAP COFFEE THAT TASTES LIKE LIQUID ROADKILL! GOOD GRAPE JUICE IS A LOT CHEAPER THAN GOOD COFFEE SO IT'S OKAY IF YOU DO!

HOLD THE GLASS UP TO THE LIGHT ... YOU WILL SEE THAT NO LIGHT PASSES THROUGH THE CAFFEINATED ELIXIR! THIS IS ONE BAD-ASS BLACK ENERGY DRINK YOU JUST MADE!

NOW DRINK IT!

DRINK IT!!

DRINK IT!!!

FEEL THE POWER COURSING THROUGH YOUR BODY!

HEAR YOURSELF SAY "DAMN, I FEEL STRONG ENOUGH TO PULL THE EARS OFF A GUNDARK!"

SEE THE GHOST OF BILLY MAYS MATERIALIZE IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN! HE'LL PLAY XBOX LIVE WITH YOU!


THIS IS AN UNLIMITED TIME OFFER, SO MIX IT UP WHEN YOU DAMN WELL FEEL LIKE IT!




Photo credits:
Julius Schorzman - coffee
Mikael Haggstrom
- caffeine
http://www.flickr.com/people/9778240@N07 - Billy Mays

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shovelglove
A "shovelglove" is neither a glove nor a shovel. It's usually a sledgehammer, the head wrapped in an old sweater or sweatshirt. The sweater is just there as a minimal safety feature to give a slight bit of protection to things like your hardwood floor or your noggin.

The shovelglove is intended as a cheap piece of workout equipment; you use the sledgehammer to go through a variety of moves that mimic shoveling coal, or chopping wood, poking a spear at an orc, etc. The term "shovelglove" was coined by Reinhard Engels, who espouses this particular sledgehammer-based workout routine at www.shovelglove.com.

Here's the basic shovelglove workout move to give you an idea of what we're talking about:



The idea of the shovelglove is that -- in the absence of being able to participate in physical labor or sports -- mimicking actual activities is often more interesting than, say, using an exercise bike, or doing pushups, etc. The other part of the concept is that stand-up workouts that you can do in jeans and a t-shirt may be more appealing than things that require you to lie down on the floor. And the final part of the shovelglove idea is that you're using a cheap equipment that you can use for something else instead of buying expensive, single-purpose gym equipment.

I don't own a sledgehammer, have no need of a sledgehammer, and so running out to buy one seemed to defeat the notion of the shovelglove. So I looked around at what I had on hand, and made a shovelglove out of an old aluminum crutch; I strapped ankle weights (why did I buy those?) around the armpit pad. The crutch, I think, is an ergonomic improvement over the shaft of a sledgehammer in terms of the grips you can use, and since the weight wraps act as a kind of padding it doesn't need a sweater. I've been going through Engels' exercise suggestions along with a few modifications of cane routines I learned in hapkido and throw movements I learned in judo.

I have to say, it's a pretty damn good workout. It gets my heart racing, and it works my arms, shoulders and core muscles like nothing else I've tried. According to Engels you only have to do your thing with the shovelglove for 14 minutes a day to stay in shape; I've found breaking that up into a couple of sessions throughout the day works just as well as a single session.

Engels does not claim to have the only sledgehammer-based workout around; workouts based on Thor's hammers and Indian clubs have been around for a long, long time. This is the same basic concept, just a little more DIY and with more imaginary orcs.

So, in the end, do whatever works for you; if you can't find the enthusiasm (or can't afford the fee) to go to the gym regularly, a shovelglove might be a good substitute. But if the shovelglove seems goofy, maybe DDR on your Xbox would be more your speed. The important thing is to find some kind of exercise that engages you and that keeps you healthy.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

big-boned

"I'm not fat ... I'm big-boned!"
-- Eric Cartman in South Park

"Big-boned" has become a euphemism for being overweight or obese, but really it means what you'd think it means: a person who has a sturdy, wide skeleton. Think of Gimli rather than Legolas, Samwise rather than Frodo

A bigger frame means a heavier frame. It also means one can comfortably carry around quite a bit more extra weight -- be it muscle or fat -- than a person with a smaller frame.

Take a look at the offensive line of any NFL team or the governor of California: big-boned, the lot. Now look at the willowy, waifish lads in late 90s heroin chic fashion ads. Not big-boned. Take a look at pro tennis player Venus Williams. She's tall, strong and muscular, and she's built like a whip. Now take a look at her sister Serena, who is shorter, has wider shoulders, wider hips ... bigger bones.

Even when a big-boned person hasn't got enough fat on his frame to make a decent bar of soap, he still has a square look about him (Sean Astin, even though he's dropped all his fat-hobbit weight, still looks pretty solid). The big-boned person typically has wide hips, wide shoulders, a wide face, and a broad ribcage. Big-boned people will often -- but certainly not always -- seem to have shorter arms, legs, and fingers.

The standard, oft-used-in-health-magazines test for determining whether or not you are truly big-boned adheres to the notion that large-framed folks will have proportionally shorter limbs and digits. The test involves trying to encircle the bony part of your wrist with your thumb and forefinger. If your thumb and finger don't meet -- tah dah! You've got a large frame. You're big-boned, and are consequently going to weigh more for your height than your small-boned bretheren despite your efforts at dieting and exercising.

But that test breaks down with people who don't have "standard" proportions; it's quite possible to have a barrel chest and long fingers, or ultrawide hips to go along with long legs. For examples of such anomalous body types, go to a professional symphony concert and take a look at the string bass and tuba sections (I have known small, delicate people who play these instruments, but they're less able to handle the physical stress of hauling the huge instruments around; conversely, folks with stubby fingers tend not to make it as musicians).

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Tit Bits

First, go take a look at Beryl Tsang's Tit Bits Page. She writes of her dismay over the fake prosthetic breasts that various people encouraged her to use after her mastectomy.

She says:

When I got home, I put on my new titty and bra and promptly broke into tears. The titty reminded me of raw liver, while the bra resembled the suspension system of my 1995 Volvo.

To cheer myself up, I rummaged through my stash looking for something luxurious to knit up. Then it hit me that I could knit myself a new titty; in fact, I had so much yarn I could knit myself a different titty for every day of the week, month, year!

Her page offers complete instructions for knitting your very own bright, light tit bit. However, I have an alternate suggestion for the tit bit filling.

My mother had a mastectomy in the mid-80s. She didn't know how to knit, but like Beryl Tsang and countless other women she knew that the silicone breast prostheses she'd been offered were creepy-feeling, uncomfortable, and expensive.

She soon hit upon an inexpensive, biodegradable, customizable alternative: a kneehigh stocking filled with birdseed (specifically small, round seeds like millet, or at least anything that's smaller and less pointy than sunflower seeds) and tied off.

The birdseed is light but has enough heft to stay put and conforms to the shape of your body and the bra you put it in. You'll have to change it every so often (particularly if you work up a sweat or get caught in the rain -- you'll sprout!) but disposal is dead easy: feed it to the birds. They won't mind if it's got a little tittie sweat on it.

Feeding the birds isn't necessarily sexy -- though it could be I expect -- but it is certainly life-affirming.

As with any plant substance, it's possible some women could have allergic reactions to the seeds and develop irritation or rashes. If that happens, you should discontinue use of the seed and try small glass or nylon beads (or simply resort to the standard tit bit stuffing of cotton fleece or poly fiberfill).

Now, go read The One-Boobed Systyrs of the Apocalypse.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why you should wear your sunglasses

In the rush to pack for trips to the beach or to wilderness retreats, some people will forget necessities like their toothpaste or a pillow for napping in the car. Indiana University optometry professor Arthur Bradley wants to make sure people don't forget their sunglasses.

"Exposure to high levels of UV radiation can and will damage your eyes," said Bradley. "The effects can range from an annoying scratchy feeling in your eye that eventually goes away to an incurable blindness."

According to Bradley, the annoying scratchy feeling is the result of a condition called UV keratitis. This condition is caused by damage to the corneal epithelium, the first layer of cells that coat the front of the eye. Bradley said that it takes about six hours after the damage occurs before somebody starts experiencing symptoms: pain, tearing, spasms in the eyelids, and/or blurred vision.

Associate Dean of Optometry Victor Malinovsky said that while UV keratitis is fairly rare, people run the greatest risk when they are in highly-reflective environments, such as when they're boating or water skiing on a bright day.

"In most cases, the damage is very mild," Bradley said. "The symptoms will usually disappear within one or two days."

Malinovsky said that occasionally people will need medical help. "If the symptoms are bad, people should try to go to an eye care professional, either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist," Malinovsky said. "But often, people don't start getting symptoms until early evening, so they end up having to go to the emergency room."

Bradley said that UV poses the biggest danger in that it has been linked to macular degeneration and to cataracts, an opacification of the lens that will eventually lead to partial or complete blindness.

Malinovsky said that most people will develop cataracts if they live long enough, but exposure to ultraviolet light will certainly speed up the process. He added that people who live in the tropics tend to develop cataracts 10-20 years earlier than people who live in temperate regions such as the American Midwest.

Bradley said that although many people are meticulous about slathering on sunscreen before they go out in the sun, they neglect to use anything to protect their eyes. This is particularly dangerous, because while the skin can give itself some protecting though tanning, our eyes obviously don't tan and won't develop any sort of resistance to ultraviolet radiation.

"Perhaps the most dangerous situation is created when there is a thin cloud cover," Bradley said. "Because the clouds absorb more infrared radiation than UV, the sunlight feels less intense. Although the sunlight does not feel hot under the clouds, it is still irradiating you with large amounts of UV," he said.

Bradley said that because of this, many people don't think they need protection on cloudy days and end up with a bad sunburn and painful eyes.

Bradley added that although UV-blocking sunglasses are the best protection for the eyes, not all sunglasses are created equal. He said that some people mistakenly think that very dark shades provide the best protection.

"Because we cannot see UV radiation at all, no amount of visual inspection will tell you how much UV is filtered out by your sunglasses," he said.

Bradley said that people can get UV-filtering coatings put on the lenses of their regular glasses or on their contact lenses.

"The rule of thumb is simple: if in doubt, always wear UV filtering sunglasses or have UV protection incorporated into your spectacles or contact lenses," he said.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

perfumery

Like a musical composer, a perfumer designs fragrances by combining many "notes", or individual scents, with fixatives that keep the scents from dissipating. Many perfumes are quite complex and are the result of the skillful mixing of dozens of notes.

Notes can be grouped into scent families called "series." For instance, musk, castoreum, and civet oil all fall in the animal series. Some of these notes can be obtained from very different sources. For example, carnation notes can also be extracted from clove oil.

About 60% of all notes used in the perfume industry are now synthetics, but naturals are used if their extraction is inexpensive, or if a suitable synthetic counterpart is not available. Natural perfume notes can be divided into five categories based on how they are extracted from their sources:

Concretes, thought to be the purest scents, are obtained by steeping flowers or spices in a solvent that draws out the fragrant oils.

Absolutes are obtained by mixing a concrete with an alcohol and then evaporating the mixture. Most perfumes are made with absolutes. The alcohol that is taken off during the evaporation carries with it some fragrance and is often added to colognes or lotions.

Tinctures are made by chopping a fragrant substance in alcohol. This mixture is then heated and filtered. Civet, castoreum, and musk are often used in tincture form.

Distilled oils are obtained by exposing flowers or herbs to very hot steam. The steam draws off fragrant oils, which rise to the surface when the steam is condensed. Distillation is the cheapest and therefore most common way of extracting scents, but the heat can destroy some delicate fragrances.

Expressed oils come directly from plants. An example of this is the fragrant oil that can be squeezed out of orange peels.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Good reasons to avoid wearing make-up

Makeup is any substance people apply to their skin or nails for either decoration or disguise. The decoration may be subtle (such as glitter or nail polish) or fantastic (such as the kabuki-style makeup worn by members of the band Kiss). The use of makup as disguise is sometimes extreme; everyone has seen movies in which actors are made up to look like zombies, aliens, or other inhuman monsters. However, in daily life, makeup is most often used to create the illusion of an excellent complexion.

In short, most people use makeup to cover up perceived or real flaws in their skin. Got freckles? Unwanted shine? Pale eyelashes? Spotty nails? Large pores? Redness? Dark circles under your eyes? Puffiness? Spider veins? Scars? Bruises? Blackheads? Fungal infections? Makeup can smooth it all over and make your skin look (if not actually be) unblemished and healthy.

Wearing makeup is a very personal act that helps some people feel more attractive and confident. "Putting your face on" is a cherished daily ritual for some people. But it is also a highly social act.

If you are an American woman in mainstream society, many people will expect you to wear makeup, and failing to apply it as others do can have negative consequences. If a woman wears more makeup than other women in her social group, she may be deemed to be promiscuous, trashy, or stupid. In some workplaces, a woman can be scrupulously clean and dress well, but if she fails to wear makeup, her coworkers or boss may judge her to somehow be lazy or unfeminine and therefore a less worthy person. Conversely, if an American man wears noticeable makeup, people may well assume him to be homosexual.

So why wouldn't a person want to wear makeup?

There are many reasons:

1: Health Concerns

Some women have extremely resilient skin; they could slather on a foundation of 80% motor oil every morning and not get a single pimple. Other women at the opposite end of the spectrum are not so lucky. They have "problem" skin that is prone to blackheads and acne and other infections, and wearing makeup, no matter the maker's claims that their products are noncomedogenic and hypoallergenic, makes their skin worse.

So, what's in makeup that could create skin problems? Plenty:

  1. Formaldehyde. You may be familiar with this chemical from its use in preserving dead frogs for your high school biology class. It's still used in nail polishes as a hardener, and formaldehyde resins are used in rouges and face powders. Formaldehyde is an irritant, and it's known to cause cancer.

  2. Dibutyl phthalate. Banned in Europe, this chemical is widely used elsewhere as a plasticizer in nail polishes. It's also a teratogen that can also cause allergic reactions.

  3. Dyes such as Benzyl Violet 4B (aka Violet 2). The state of California has declared Violet 2 to be a cancer-causing agent. It's also likely to trigger skin reactions in sensitive people. Other dyes can cause similar reactions.

  4. Stearalkonium hectorite. This is used in a wide array of cosmetics; it may chemically change to nitrosamines while on the skin, which are known to cause cancer.

  5. Methylparaben. There's evidence that this common cosmetic ingredient may affect a person's hormone levels and in turn increase the risk of some cancers. It can also trigger allergies in sensitive people.

  6. Salicylic acid. This is added as an anti-acne ingredient to some cosmetics. However, many people with sensitive skin find that it causes irritation that can make skin more prone to breakouts. It can also increase a person's sensitivity to ultraviolet light and make them more prone to skin damage from the sun.

  7. Glycolic acid. This is an alpha-hydroxy acid used in many cosmetics to smooth wrinkles. It can cause irritation in sensitive people; it can also make you more prone to UV damage.

  8. Coal tar. This is used in some lipsticks, mascaras and eyeliners as a blackening agent. It's carcinogenic.

  9. Lanolin. This natural moisturizer derived from sheep's wool is touted for its mildness, but it can trigger severe allergic reactions in those sensitive to it. The less purified lanolin is, the more likely it is to cause trouble in people who react badly to wool. Other natural ingredients, particularly botanicals, can pose the same problem.

  10. Sunscreens like PABA, cinnamates, mexenone, and oxybenzone. These can be allergens to sensitive people, and they can also ironically make a person more sun-sensitive.

  11. Lead. In 2007, product tests commissioned by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics indicated that many brands of red lipsticks contain unsafe levels of this heavy metal, which is known to cause high blood pressure and damage the brain and kidneys at toxic levels.

  12. Bacteria. Most cosmetics don't start out contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, but it's very easy to contaminate liquid or powdered makeup with bacteria from your fingers or from an applicator sponge after it's touched your face. Makeup that gets shared with other people is especially prone to bacterial contamination, which can cause skin and other infections.

In short, there's lots of substances in makeup that can cause irritation to sensitive skin. Irritation leads to inflammation, which makes skin prone to infection and scarring. Furthermore, a nontrivial number of ingredients in cosmetics might give you cancer in the long run. And that's not pretty.

When a woman who's struggled to find a non-irritating makeup for years discovers that her skin looks and feels better when she simply washes it with a mild glyerine soap twice a day, laziness has nothing to do with her decision to stop wearing cosmetics.

The nature of makeup itself, rather than its specific ingredients, can cause problems.

Inhaling any fine dust, such as face powder, can trigger asthma or seed a lung infection.

Many eye doctors discourage their female patients from using eye makeup such as mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow because particles from the makeup may get in the eye and trigger allergic inflammation or infections. Furthermore, according to the FDA, accidentally scratching one's eye with a mascara wand is a fairly common injury. Damage to the eye can cause corneal ulcers or ultimately blindness.

2: Financial Concerns

Many women find that the more inexpensive a cosmetic is, the worse it looks and the more likely it is to contain irritating ingredients. Good-quality makeup gets very expensive. A woman with limited funds may well decide that no makeup is better than cheap makeup. If she's struggling to make ends meet, she may decide to spend the $30 she'd pay for a tube of Clinique on buying her child better food or on whittling down her credit card debt.

3: Personal Comfort

Some people simply don't like the feel of makeup on their skin. Contact lens wearers may find that dust and flakes from makeup get in their eyes with painful results. A regular eyelash in the eye can be uncomfortable, but cover it in mascara and it's far worse.

4: Interest in Living a Simpler Life

Your last boyfriend broke up with you because you were "too high-maintenance". Your girlfriend cattily remarked, "Maybe if some of us would forgo that 5th coat of mascara, we'd actually make it to the restaurant on time!" Your boss fired you because you're perpetually late to work.

So you decide one day to chuck all the cosmetics you spend hours a day applying and re-applying, and you never look back.

5: Social Concerns

As noted previously, mainstream American society expects certain things of women that it does not expect of men. People may subsequently refuse to wear makeup as their own personal social statements. Some might be:

  • You're male, and don't want to be seen as "freaky" or "gay".

  • You're female, and feel bad that men can't join in the fun and wear makeup, so you won't except in places where they can, too.

  • You're female, and are annoyed by peer pressure to wear makeup to be accepted by others, so you pointedly refuse to wear it.

  • You believe that the cosmetics industry has grown rich by promoting and exploiting people's vanity and personal insecurity, and you think it's hurt society.

  • You think the cosmetics industry is evil for testing products on bunnies.

  • You think there's too much emphasis on superficial beauty and not enough on inner beauty; you want to show others that one can be beautiful without makeup.

  • You realize that much standard makeup is a stylized representation of sexual receptiveness (such as red lipstick mimicking the engorgement and flushing of lips during sexual excitement) or an effort to emulate adolescent feminity (such as eye shadow mimicking the thin, translucent eyelids of teenage girls) and you think all that is a bit creepy.

  • Your religious leader has denounced makeup as a sinful tool of wanton vanity. Since you don't want to inadvertently go to Hell when you die, you skip the blush and lipstick and go barefaced.

  • You think you look just fine without a bunch of stuff on your face, thankyouverymuch!


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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Valerian

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis and V. dioica, both native to the temperate parts of Europe and Asia) is widely available as an herbal supplement; while it has no FDA-approved medicinal use, it is touted as a sleep aid and anticramping agent.

Medical studies have shown that it acts as a mild sedative/hypnotic and has anti-anxiety properties. Thus, it's often recommended to people suffering from mild insomnia or restless legs syndrome, because when it's used in a sensible, dose-aware manner, it's not as "druggy" or expensive as over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills.

Let me repeat: use this herb sensibly. Don't toss a dozen capsules down with a fifth of gin and wonder when you turn up with a killer hangover and a sick liver. Valerian is by no means a completely harmless substance; no long-term medical studies on the safety of the herb have been done in the U.S.

A friend of mine who works as a nurse says, "Don't overuse/overdose valerian root because it may cause liver damage. Also, don't take it with alcohol, antihistamines, or other central nervous system depressants -- the combination may cause serious sedation. The other thing is, I have come across people who think that just because something is 'natural' or an herb, it won't have side effects like a drug has. They do have those side effects and they are sold over the counter with no warning label. It would be like selling 1mg of Valium over-the-counter with no warning that taking 20 capsules would cause sleep of the dead. I think it's great we have access to these herbs from a consumer's perspective, but I think people need to be far more educated than they are before they ever use them."

The typical valerian dosage is 300-600 mg of the root extract in capsule form taken shortly before you go to bed. A useful dosage is hard to pin down because the quality, purity, and strength of the herb may vary widely between manufacturers. The active chemicals in valerian root seem to be valepotriates, sesquiterpenes and valeric acid.

In my opionion, valerian smells dreadful. If you take it regularly, you will be imbued with its assy stink. Some people have found that valerian upsets their stomach, gives them diarrhea, or makes them groggy.

Valerian also acts as a dream enhancer for many people. While this may be a cool thing for many folks, it's not so good if the reason you've been having insomnia is because you keep having nightmares. Chances are good that while valerian will help you get to sleep initially, it will make your nightmares much worse and you won't get much rest.

Some people also seem to develop a tolerance for valerian and it stops working for them after a while.

If valerian doesn't work for you as a sleep aid, try taking 250-300 mg of magnesium along with 300-600 mg of calcium citrate with a full glass of water an hour before you go to bed. I've had good luck with this combination so far. If you have heart rhythm issues, though, check with your doctor first because the magnesium might cause you problems. Don't be surprised if the magnesium gives you a bit of diarrhea, but the calcium should buffer you against the effect.


For more reading: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030415/1755.html

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Shampoo ingredients

You step into the shower, only to discover that your shampoo bottle is practically empty. Argh! You fill the bottle partway with water, shake it up, and douse your wet hair with the diluted, sudsy shampoo. In seconds, you're lathered up, rinsing off, and ready to face your day.

As you turn off the water, you realize you've still got some shampoo solution left in your bottle. You're tempted to put the bottle back in your shower caddy and save the remainder for your next shampoo. After all, it seems a waste to just dump it, and you haven't got much time to go to the store to get a new bottle.

Resist temptation, brave shampooer. If you dilute your shampoo to eke another day's hairwashing out of a bottle, throw the rest away immediately afterward.

Why? According to a chemist friend of mine, once you've diluted shampoo, you've rendered the preservatives in it too weak to do their job. Your watered-down shampoo is chock full of nitrogenous compounds and carbohydrates that bacteria and fungi will find oh so tasty. So if you let this solution sit for a day (or more) and then dump it on your hair, you'll also be dumping on a nice homemade culture of various nasties that may find your scalp to be equally delicious. You could find yourself getting a case of dermatitis or an infection.


Common Shampoo Chemicals (And What They Do)

Acids: the innate alkalinity of soaps and detergents can make hair look dull because the hair cuticle swells and gets rough in an alkaline solution, so most shampoo manufacturers add acids to brighten hair's shine. The pH of most shampoos is usually 6.5 to 7.5.

Detergents: these remove oils from your hair and let them dissolve away in water.

Lather builders: suds improve shampoo's cleaning action.

Conditioners: these chemicals put a coating on the hair shafts to make them thicker, smoother, softer, easier to comb, and less prone to static; they also strengthen the hair's cuticle.

Thickeners: these add body to the shampoo and some also act as weak conditioners.

Preservatives: these keep down bacterial and fungal growth.

Sunscreens: ultraviolet radiation can damage your hair and scalp.

Other Stuff

* Some thickeners and conditioners cloud shampoo and, in the absence of dyes to make the shampoo green or blue, also tend to make it look very much like semen. Additives like oils and proteins that have not been thoroughly emulsified will also cause this effect.


References: http://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/hair/hair_3.html, http://www.chemistrystore.com/shampoo_formulas.htm

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What to do if you sprain your ankle

When I slipped on some stairs and sprained my ankle, the pain was surprisingly intense at first; I was very afraid that I'd broken my ankle and that I'd have to make a trip to the emergency room.

It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your own health, but some of us in the U.S. don't have great health insurance and we are discouraged from seeking emergency treatment due to its potentially very high cost. For instance, my housemate's recent late-night visit to a local emergency room due to a tendinitis flare-up -- the ER was the only after-hours prompt care available in the city -- ended up costing him $500 for a 2-minute doctor's examination. This isn't the sort of money you want to have to pay for something that you can competently deal with on your own.

So, the following is a rough guideline of things to do and watch for once you've got an ankle sprain. (Obligatory Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, nor a licensed medical professional, but all this worked in my situation. Use this information, which I believe to be accurate, at your own risk.)

Immediately after your injury:

  • Get up slowly and carefully if you've fallen; try to get someone to help you up. Carefully see if you can put any weight on the ankle.

    • If you experience sharp, shooting pain upon applying any weight to the ankle, it is very likely broken. See a physician ASAP.

  • If the ankle holds some/all of your body weight without causing you significantly more pain, take as much weight off the leg as you can and hobble to the nearest bed/chair/bench/couch and get off your feet. Elevate the injured leg, preferably above your heart, so sitting back in a recliner or lying on a bed is best. If you don't have that option, try to get the leg above your waist using pillows, stacked books, etc. The key here is to keep it raised as much as possible (without causing additional discomfort, of course) so as to minimize swelling and inflammation.

  • Ice the ankle for twenty minutes. Don't put ice directly on your skin; put a towel or washcloth in between the ice and your flesh so you don't get frostbite or otherwise damage your tissues. Plastic bags of frozen peas or corn work well, as of course do the athletic gel-based cold packs, which remain flexible so you can wrap them around the joint.

  • After about twenty minutes, take the ice off your ankle and compare it to your other ankle. Chances are, it will be swollen, but if it is badly swollen (for instance, if it's twice the size of your uninjured joint) you should seek medical attention very soon. Your ankle will likely also be discolored, but if the bruising is very dark or black, that's a clear sign of a broken bone. If the discoloration is a light blue-gray or nonexistent, you most likely have a sprain.

  • If it seems to be a sprain, continue to ice and elevate the ankle. You don't want to ice it continuously, or you could cause tissue damage. A good rule of thumb is twenty minutes on, ten minutes off, twenty on, etc.

  • Take some ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory painkiller as soon as you can. This will help reduce the swelling. However, take whatever medicine you usually take; if you've been taking Tylenol, don't switch to Advil because mixing the two can cause liver problems in some people. And if you've been drinking alcohol, consult a pharmacist for safe medicines to take.

  • Get a wrap/support for your ankle like an Ace bandage, an "air" cast (which is a plastic padded splint with velcro straps), or a neoprene ankle wrap. The key here is to stabilize the ankle and to apply some compression to keep the swelling down. Don't wrap it so tightly that it hurts or cuts off your circulation.

The first 48 hours after your injury:

The first two days are crucial (and painful). The important thing is to keep your ankle wrapped, elevated, and iced as often as is feasible. Stay off your feet as much as you can. This means that it helps to have a sympathetic roommate or a significant other to help you out. You absolutely, positively don't want to do anything to injure the torn/stretched ligaments in your foot any further. A severe sprain that involves a lot of torn ligaments can be harder to recover from than a broken ankle.

If you have to walk someplace, get a cane or a crutch and make sure your ankle is well-protected and stabilized. But your best option is to camp out on your couch or bed with your wrapped, iced ankle propped up on some pillows. Plan to catch up on your reading or video watching; don't plan to go out unless you absolutely have to. When you sleep, keep the ankle wrapped and the leg elevated on a pillow or two at the foot of your bed.

If you have a sympathetic boyfriend or girlfriend around, by all means take advantage of the situation. Chances are you can get them to run errands for you to help you rest your ankle. And once they see you lying helpless on the couch, all wrapped up with no place to go, they'll almost certainly want to "cheer you up". Repeatedly. It's all good; just don't jostle the ankle.

By the second day, the chances are good that you'll start having a mild to severe backache if you're at all prone to back problems. This backache can be caused by leaning to the side as you walk mostly on only one leg, by an odd sleeping position, or by jarring to your body during the original injury. The ibuprofen/naproxen/whatever you take will help with this, too, but an electric massage mat can also come in handy.

After the second day:

Your ankle should be feeling much better after the first 48-60 hours. You can probably walk around without assistance, but move carefully and keep the ankle wrapped. I found that wearing a wrap under a pair of sturdy, low-heeled boots with a gripping sole provides good ankle protection.

Your ankle will be swollen, and it will turn interesting colors. You may see bruising on the sides or bottom of your foot. The swelling may move from the front of your foot to the back, then vice versa depending on how you're keeping your foot wrapped.

Over the course of the first week after you sprain your ankle, it's going to feel uncomfortable aside from the expectable pain. Little muscles in your foot and lower leg will cramp randomly. You may get a tingling sensation like ants crawling under your skin or soda pop bubbles moving through your flesh.

If you're still feeling a lot of pain, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Don't ice your ankle after the first 48 hours (unless you re-injure yourself) as it won't do any more good against swelling and could impede healing at this point. After the first couple of days, you might find warm soaks in a tub to be soothing, particularly if you've got lingering back pain.

It will probably be several weeks before you're back up to speed, depending on the severity of the sprain. Athletes should not do any heavy training for six weeks after a sprain. The ligaments around your ankle will still be loose and vulnerable, so keep it wrapped for up to three weeks. If your ankle seems stiff, do gentle stretching exercises.

Also, be sure you're getting adequate protein and nutrients in your diet, or you won't heal up well. This is important for anyone, since it's easy to want to just huddle miserably on the couch eating Cheetos if you're in pain and can't walk. But watching one's nutrition may be especially important for vegans and vegetarians who may be working from a borderline protein deficit to start with.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The difference between "unscented" and "fragrance-free"

Though the edition of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary I consulted lacks a specific entry for "unscented", the addition of the prefix "un" to a word either means "to deprive of" or "to be free of".

So in the dictionary world, "unscented" either means:

  1. to be free of scent
  2. to have the scent removed from

The Coconut Coast Natural Products' soap glossary backs the first definition up; they say that an "unscented" soap is a soap to which no fragrance has been added. Presumably, though, such soaps can have an odor from raw ingredients such as coconut oil.

This seems painfully logical, doesn't it? Something that's unscented contains no scent.

This distinktion is important to me personally, because I (like a nontrivial number of other people) am allergic to some perfumes; the cheap ones seem to cause the worst reactions but even high-priced, refined fragrances can be trouble.

So, you can imagine my irritation when I tried out a recently-purchased bottle of unscented Suave brand hairspray and discovered it emitted a noxious, flowery fog that sent me into a sneezing fit. Even if I hadn't been allergic to it, the fact that it made me smell like I'd spent the night in a French whorehouse was a problem.

Had I misread the front label, thinking it said "unscented" when in fact it said "unbearable"?

Nope. The stuff was supposed to be unscented. I turned it over and read the ingredients. Second to last item: fragrance.

So I sent Suave an email query. A customer support rep snottily replied that the U.S. cosmetics industry standards state that products labelled "unscented" can contain a "masking" fragrance. How strong that fragrance can be is apparently up to the discretion of the individual manufacturer.

The semantic difference the cosmetic industry sees between "unscented" and "fragrance-free" escapes me. So does the rationale of labelling any products with added fragrance as "unscented" when I've seen plenty of other products labelled "lightly scented", which seems a far more accurate representation of what most masking fragrances are supposed to do.

At any rate, if you're looking for cosmetic products that are really and truly unscented beyond their functional ingredients, you need to look for products that are labelled "fragrance-free".

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

sunburn

When your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it sustains DNA damage. Just a few seconds of exposure to sunlight can cause subtle damage. Fortunately, genetically-normal people have an enzyme (an abzyme ) in their bodies whose sole purpose is to repair these tiny everyday cellular insults by adding the proper base pairs back into your broken DNA. The unfortunate folks who have xeroderma pigmentosum lack this enzyme, and as a result they must avoid sunlight entirely.

However, if you sustain a severe, blistering sunburn, there is so much damage that the repair enzyme starts to randomly insert base pairs to stitch the DNA strands back together. Thus, it's almost guaranteed that mutations will be introduced. People lose skin cells all the time, so most of these mutated cells will just die and be sloughed off ... but longer-lived cells in the dermis may turn cancerous. This is why just a few blistering burns in your childhood can substantially increase your chances of getting skin cancer as an adult.

Wearing sunscreen can help (usually, see below), but it's never as good as clothing and hats that block sunlight entirely. If you are very fair-skinned you may not even have to get a proper burn before you start feeling the ill effects of excessive sunlight exposure.

There are three types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVB radiation is the kind that causes your skin to visibly burn, but the other types are quite capable of causing DNA damage. Most sunblocks nowadays include chemicals that screen out both UVA and UVB, but the amount (and effectiveness) of the UVA-blocking chemicals can vary widely. We rely on the ozone layer to block UVC.

I have very pale skin, and for the past three years I've been mainly nocturnal. When I went to California recently, I knew full well that I was likely to burn, so I mostly wore long sleeves (preferable given the chilly San Francisco climate), wore a hat most days, and religiously slathered on SPF 30 sunblock every morning.

I got only a very mild burn on my nose and cheeks, but by the end of the week I had a case of sun poisoning. Most of my sun-exposed, sunblock-slathered skin looked absolutely normal and had no trace of tan or redness. But it felt hot and tight, and I was having fever and chills. There was little I could think to do but take Advil for the fever and drink lots of liquids (later I found out the Advil would have done me more harm than good, but by that time I was mostly indoors).

I suspect that my illness was caused by my body's reaction to the UVA I'd absorbed over the week that my sunscreen didn't properly block.

It's also possible I was betrayed by my sunscreen. After returning from the trip, I found out that, ironically, sunscreens and lotions that contain bergamot oil, sandalwood oil, benzophenones, PABA, cinnamates, salicylates, anthranilates, PSBA, mexenone, and oxybenzone can cause photosensitivity reactions in some people and make them more likely to burn. Guess what the active ingredient in my sunscreen was? Oxybenzone.

I'm glad I wasn't on any medications, as there are many types of drugs and preparations that can cause increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light:

If you are taking any of the above medications, you should should be doubly careful when you go out in the sun, because research indicates that their photosensitivity effects are triggered by UVA radiation.


References:

http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/cosahauv.html
http://www.diabetes-drug.net/
http://www.travelhealth.com/article/?aid=17&cid=1
http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/496_sun.html

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Soy allergy

Soy products have become ubiquitous food additives due to their many health-promoting properties. Sadly, not everyone's health has been improved: soy allergies are on the rise. From 1998 to 1999, there was a 50% increase in the number of people reporting problems with soy.

According to a survey of pediatricians in the U.S., 1.1% of all infants are allergic to soy (as a comparison, 3.4% are allergic to cow's milk). An international survey of otherwise-healthy babies indicated that 0.5% of all infants are allergic to soy. In Sweden, there were four documented deaths due to anaphylactic shock from soy consumption during the mid-90s.

I discovered I was allergic to soy products right after I developed a real taste for miso soup. In my case, the allergy is fairly mild overall, but I get severe sinus headaches and congestion as a result and my overall allergies get worse. My symptoms were subtle enough that it took me about a year to figure out that my frequent "colds" weren't due to Columbus being Plague Central.

Soy proteins are in many types of less-refined soybean oil, and can consequently be in foods like margarine. Unfortunately, you can't tell which oils have been sufficiently purified. If your allergy is mild (as mine is) you probably don't have to worry about the protein content in oil. But you should watch out for whole soybean foods and foods (particularly health-food snacks like Balance Bars and Powerbars) that contain refined or isolated soy proteins as additives. Soy lecithin is in a whole lot of foods.

The bad part about food allergies is that for some folks they tend to get worse over time. And you can suddenly get sensitized to a protein and develop a whole new allergy. People who as children or infants were allergic to cow's milk have an increased risk of developing a soy allergy later on in life (however, overall soy is less likely to provoke an allergy than milk is). Thus, if you are the parent of a milk-allergic child and you give him or her soy products as a dairy substitute, you should watch the child carefully for signs of allergy.

These allergies often have a genetic component. So, if you have a soy allergy, particularly a severe one, you probably shouldn't give soy products to your very young children. Children under the age of 3 months are particularly vulnerable to developing soy allergies; the risk goes down dramatically after they're a year old. Some children who have trouble with soy when they're infants can process it when they're 5 or older.

The main proteins in soy that seem to cause problems are two heat-stable (i.e., they stay intact after cooking) globulins named beta-conglycin and glycinin. These two proteins comprise 90% of the total proteins in soybeans. However, researchers have identified nine other proteins in soybeans that have provoked antibody responses in lab tests; furthermore, these proteins may be broken down during digestion into other proteins that could act as antigens and cause problems in sensitive people.


References: http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2128.htm and http://www.tldp.com/issue/11_00/joysoy.htm

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otitis media

Middle ear infections (otitis media) are so common that 75% of all toddlers have had at least one by their third birthday. Some children are constantly plagued by this most common of all childhood illnesses and may need surgery to install tubes in their ears or to have their adenoids removed. Others may suffer from high fever, ruptured eardrums or hearing loss that can hurt their ability to learn to talk and understand new words.

Otitis media is a very old human ailment; examinations of 2600-year-old Egyptian mummies show evidence of perforated eardrums and damage to the mastoid bone (the bulging bone behind the ear) from infection spreading into the skull. Such skull infections were common in the days before modern antibiotics. In 1932, purulent otitis media accounted for 32% of all the admissions to Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

My own father suffered from such an infection when he was a little boy; when he had a raging ear infection, the doctors wrapped him in a sheet and stuck a long, skinny knife into his ear to pierce the eardrum and release the pus and pressure. This was completely without anaesthesia, of course. Eventually he had to have part of his mastoid removed. He still has a deep scar behind his ear.

There are two types of otitis media:

  1. acute otitis media: (AOM) The interior of the ear and the eustacian tubes and are infectedswollen, and mucus and fluid are trapped inside the ear. This is often very painful, but a few children experience no pain.

  2. otits media with effusion (OME): in this condition, fluid stays trapped in the ear after the infection is over. This can cause hearing and balance problems and also provides a fertile ground for new infections.

Children are most at risk of developing ear infections because their immune systems are not fully formed and because their eustacian tubes are shorter and angled in such a way as to make them get clogged with mucus more easily.

But ear infections may soon become a thing of the past.

Scientists are working on developing safe vaccines against the bacteria that commonly cause ear infections. Such bacteria include:

  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenzae

One bad bug researchers at Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH have targeted is Haemophilus influenzae. In addition to ear infections, it can also cause pneumonia and, rarely, meningitis (an infection of the covering of the brain).

So, a vaccine against H. influenzae and its kin could give infants a powerful dose of protection to keep them healthy throughout childhood.

One vaccine is already on the market. Prevnar, which was approved for use in the U.S. in 2000, protects children from Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. Such pneumococcal bacteria are common culprits behind ear infections (like H. influenzae, they can also cause meningitis). Nobody knows when the other vaccines will be ready, but parents can help protect their children in the meantime.

If you have a baby, breastfeed him or her if you can. Infants get antibodies from their mothers' milk that defend against infections. Conversely, there has been some indication that formula in bottles can become easily contaminated with bacteria that then reinfect children drinking from them. Babies who get ear infections in their first year are most prone to chronic infections later because they tend to develop a colony of bacteria in their throats that doesn't go away easily.

Keep a close watch on your children's health. Don't let people smoke around them, because smoke can damage the delicate membranes of children's throats and ears and give bacteria a foothold to grow. If your child complains of ear pain, seems to have balance problems, or if your toddler is crying and pulling at his or her ears, take your child to the doctor as soon as you can.

If your doctor gives you antibiotic medicine for your child, make sure you and childcare providers know when to give doses. The type of antibiotic and treatment depends on whether the infection is acute or recurrent and on what type of bacteria are the cause, but children will often need to take antibiotics for 10-14 days to fully clear up an infection.

Make sure your child finishes all the medicine. Some children may need treatment up to two weeks, and they may look and feel better before the medicine bottle's empty. If you stop giving them their medicine too soon, bacteria lurking in their systems could come back stronger than ever before (and newly-resistant to the antibiotic your child was taking).

Until more vaccines are ready, prompt and complete antibiotic treatment is the best way to ensure that your child doesn't suffer from ear infections again.


References:

http://www.nicd.nih.gov/heathl/parents/otitismedia.htm
http://www.ccri.net/ccri/
http://www.research.buffalo.edu/quarterly/vol09/num04/n2.shtml
http://www.utmb.edu/otoref/Grnds/


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Vaccines for ear infections

Middle ear infections are the most common childhood bacterial infections. In addition to the misery ear infections cause children and the sleepless nights they cause parents, the CDC estimates that the treatment of middle ear infections and their complications costs the U.S. approximately $4-$5 billion each year. Worldwide, these ear infections are a major cause of hearing impairment that can have serious negative long-term effects on children's language, speech and mental development.

The fluid and mucus buildup inside the ear that is the hallmark of acute middle ear infections creates pressure that can pain, loss of equilibrium, and eardrum rupture. Children can also suffer from high fever. Myringotomies (installing tubes in the ears) and adenoidectomies (adenoid removal surgery) done in response to chronic middle ear infections rank as some of the most common surgeries performed on children.

Although antibiotics have proven to be an excellent treatment for ear infections, parents and caregivers may forget doses or misunderstand instructions. Children may find the medicines bad-tasting and resist taking them. Some parents, upon seeing that their child is feeling better, may mistakenly stop giving the medicine. This, along with other common misuses of antibiotics, is leading to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

To more effectively combat this childhood scourge, researchers around the world are working on developing vaccines against a variety of pathogenic bacteria that have been implicated in ear infections.

One vaccine, Prevnar, protects children from Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, one of the most common culprits behind ear infections as well as more serious diseases like meningitis. Prevnar was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early 2000. To work most effectively, it must be injected into babies when they're 2, 4 and 6 months old; they will also need a booster when they're a little over a year old. However, after all those shots, Prevnar does not work against all the bacterial species that can cause ear infections.

A recently-developed vaccine against influenza has had the fortunate side effect of noticeably reducing children's rates of getting ear infections. This vaccine, which nominally works against the influenza virus, helps protect against secondary bacterial infections because the bacteria often get their first foothold during the swelling, inflammation, and congestion caused by colds and the flu. The vaccine is given as a nasal spray, but has not been approved for widespread use yet. The vaccine is being studied by several laboratories with researchers at Saint Louis University taking the lead.

Researchers at Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH are studying pathogens such as nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHI). According researchers there, the vaccine they develop must work effectively and safely in young infants, because children who get infections before their first birthday tend to get a colony of bacteria established that keep coming back and causing problems. Developing such a vaccine is a a challenge, because children under the age of two don't stage the same kind of immune response to vaccines as older children.

Some of the researchers there are working on sequencing H. influenzae genome to more fully understand its pathogenesis. Others are working on understanding the biomolecular mechanisms through which the bacteria cause disease. So far, they have identified and extensively studied a NTHI bacterial adhesin which looks like a good candidate for a vaccine. The adhesin, P5-fimbrin, has been worked into two different experimental vaccines that are being tested in rodents. Other labs in Australia and Belgium are working with the vaccines as well.


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Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a condition suffered by 10-20% of all pre-term infants; it only rarely affects full-term infants. It is the leading cause of death in preemies, and the best treatment for this condition is the prevention of premature births.

Babies who are born before the middle of their last trimester lack the ability to produce a surfactant in their lungs. Without this surfactant to break the surface tension of the water building up on the inside of their alveoli, their lungs tend to collapse when they exhale. These premature infants struggle for breath, and without medical treatment they can slowly suffocate and die. Even with proper medical treatment, some still die.

Babies who do not die of suffocation can suffer from a host of other complications such as pneumonia, brain and lung hemorrhages, and blindness. The condition can cause chronic oxygen deprivation that can result in delayed brain development or outright brain damage.

The symptoms of RDS include rapid breathing, breathing that sounds labored, grunting, and a bluish tint to the lips and nails.

According to a study published in 1996, RDS afflicts 50,000 of the 250,000 premature infants born in the U.S.; 5,000 of them die.

If doctors know a woman is going into premature labor, giving her a shot of corticosteroids two to three days before delivery can help some infants avoid this syndrome.

Before surfactant therapy was introduced, the only treatment for such infants was to put them on a ventilator to force air into their lungs.

The U.S. FDA approved a surfactant in 1990 that doctors can blow into infants' lungs. The babies must still stay on a ventilator. The trade name of the first surfactant drug is Exosurf Neonatal. The FDA approved the drug in a record five months, and quickly designated it as an "orphan drug" to encourage its manufacture and availability.

The surfactant therapy has, overall, reduced the premature infant death toll by 16%. It has reduced the mortality of Caucasian infants by a whopping 41%; however, the death rate of black infants suffering from RDS has not changed much. This difference is likely due to economic and health factors; poor people can't afford good hospital care, and the infants of low-income families are likely to be sicker overall due to poor or nonexistent prenatal care, maternal malnutrition, and maternal smoking and drug use.

The surfactant drugs currently in use are the synthetic Exosurf, Survanta (which is made from cow lungs) and Infasurf (which is made from calf lungs).


References:

  • http://record.wustl.edu/archive/1996/07-11-96/3471.html
  • http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/NEW00044.html
  • http://jhhs.client.web-health.com/
  • http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001563.htm


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pituitary tumor

My mother started slowly going blind. Her eye doctor found cataracts, but after her surgery to remove them, her vision didn't improve much. At the time, she was taking a prescription medication that's known to cause vision problems, so she figured it was the meds. But during her post-surgical eye exam, her optometrist suspected something else: a pituitary tumor.

But, because Dr. Wess was "only" an optometrist (never mind that the guy's certified in treating ocular disease and he's been an eye doctor for 25 years) the insurance company wouldn't approve an MRI or blood tests for her. So, Dr. Wess wrote a letter explaining his concerns to her regular physician ... who then sat on the letter for a month.

Her doctor finally got around to ordering the MRI for my mother. The MRI showed a great big pituitary tumor that was putting pressure on both optic nerves and had invaded her cavernous sinuses. She needed surgery months earlier. The doctor started acting worried and indignant, saying my mother should have "come in sooner to have this checked out." She not-so-gently reminded him that she did come in earlier, but he told her pituitary tumors are "rare" and probably nothing to be concerned about.

The thing is, pituitary tumors aren't rare -- autopsies and x-ray and MRI data indicate that slightly over 20% of the adult human population has a pituitary tumor at any given time. Many of the people with these tumors of course don't realize they've got one.

Because of the pituitary gland's function, such tumors can oversecrete (or impair the gland so it undersecretes) various hormones, such as:

These imbalanced hormones in turn can cause a boggling array of possible symptoms:

  • unusual darkening or thinning of the skin
  • unusual fat deposits, especially in the face
  • obesity, despite a normal diet
  • aching joints
  • easy bruising
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • unusual weakness or fatigue
  • acromegaly
  • Cushing's disease
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • mood disorders such as depression
  • thyroid damage
  • sexual dysfunction
  • adrenal gland dysfunction
  • infertility
  • abnormal menstrual cycles
  • osteoporosis
  • false pregnancy signs in women such as lactation
  • accelerated heart disease
  • death due to heart attack, loss of kidney function or deficiency of cortisol

Sometimes tumor sufferers have several of the above symptoms; sometimes they just have one. Most people wouldn't readily associate depression or infertility with a tumor. And some benign, nonsecreting tumors just sit there quietly, causing no symptoms whatsoever.

Nonsecreting tumors can grow large, putting pressure on one or both optic nerves and/or the brain, causing pain, blindness, and other neurologic symptoms. Such pressure can cause permanent nerve damage if not relieved in time. They can break into the sinus cavities, causing pain and sparking secondary infections. And, as with my mother's case, they can wrap themselves around the carotid artery, making surgery dangerous and complete removal difficult if not impossible.

Pituitary tumors are sometimes secondary metastases from primary cancers elsewhere, often from the lung. These metastatic tumors often grow large and ropy, but don't often secrete hormones. They are most troublesome, of course, because they indicate serious cancer elsewhere.

Tumors are difficult to diagnose when they're small, and even small tumors can dangerously overproduce hormones. There have been cases where surgeons have gone in knowing there's a tumor and have been unable to find the tiny pinhead that's been causing problems. MRI scans will display large tumors, but difficult-to-interpret blood tests are needed to diagnose smaller ones.

To make sure you get competent medical assistance, it's important to go to a hospital with a neuroendocrine unit or a pituitary testing facility; preferably the hospital should have both.

Surgery is most often used to remove the tumors; the surgeon goes in through the nose and breaks through a sinus to get to the pituitary, which lies under the brain. Sometimes the surgeon must go in through the upper lip.

Tumors that can't be removed surgically can be destroyed with radiation therapy (high-dose x-rays/proton beams or gamma knife irradiation). The symptoms can be alleviated with drugs that block the pituitary from producing excess hormones. Some of these drugs can also shrink the tumors themselves.

The doctors ultimately put my mother on Parlodel (Bromocriptine), a drug that's had success shrinking such tumors. After a month on the drug, the tumor had shrunk enough that she was able to read a novel, the first time she'd done so in close to a year.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why I love grapefruit juice

Grapefruit juice is the sour juice of, well, grapefruits. In fact, pure grapefruit juice is very, very sour. Sometimes bitter. But once you acquire (or get past) its taste, you will find that it's a unique, refreshing beverage with lots of uses in promoting one's health.

Nutritional Information

Grapefruit juice, like other citrus juices, is chock-full of Vitamin C and potassium. But that's not all. A cup of fresh, pink grapefruit juice contains:

  • 96 calories
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 22 grams of carbohydrates
  • 22 mg of calcium
  • 30 mg of magnesium
  • a mere 2 mg of sodium
  • 400 mg of potassium
  • 94 mg of Vitamin C
  • 24 micrograms of folate
  • 24 micrograms of lutein
  • 1087 IUs of Vitamin A
  • a negligible amount of fat and no cholesterol

Fresh white grapefruit juice has less Vitamin A due to it having less beta-carotene; white juice has only 81 IUs of the vitamin. Canned unsweetened juice has fewer vitamins all the way around, and sweetened juice cocktails can have quite a lot more calories and quite a lot fewer nutrients, so 100% unsweetened juice is best if you're interested in its healthy attributes.

Cancer Protection

While not as powerful in this area as oranges and tangerines, grapefruit juice contains a variety of flavonoids and glucosides called limonoids that are thought to protect against cancer. Lab tests with rodents showed protection against lung, mouth, breast, prostate, and colon cancers.

Weight Loss

Anyone who was alive during the 70s remembers the fad grapefruit diet; as it turns out, it was not as goofy an idea as we might have thought.

Researchers at Dr. Ken Fujioka's laboratory at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego recently did a study on 100 obese patients. Participants who ate half a grapefruit at each meal lost an average of nearly 4 pounds during the 12-week study; those who drank a glass of grapefruit juice lost on average 3.3 pounds. Some people in the study lost a good deal more weight.

An as-yet-unidentified compound in grapefruit juice appears to reduce and regulate insulin levels in the blood; reduced insulin levels in turn affect hunger and blood sugar levels and improve the body's metabolism. The compound may prove useful for diabetics as well.

Grapefruit Juice and Yeast Infections

Many women are plagued by maddening, uncomfortable yeast infections. For some, drinking a glass of grapefruit juice every day staves off the infections, either by acidifying the woman's system or due to an unknown botanical compound that helps the body fight off fungal infection.

Grapefruit juice is cheaper and less toxic than the antifungal drugs used to treat yeast infections. However, women who want to give the juice a try should watch out for drug interactions and should also avoid sweetened juices and juice cocktails. Sweetened juices are loaded with sugar, and a high-sugar diet is commonly believed to make a person more vulnerable to a yeast infection.

The Dark Side of The Glass of Sunshine

If you drink a lot of grapefruit juice, the acid may cause indigestion or (if you're susceptible to them) canker sores. However, treatment for these side effects are pretty simple: don't drink so much juice. Alternately, try taking a calcium carbonate antacid along with your juice.

A more problematic feature of grapefruit juice is that it causes you to absorb more of certain types of drugs, thus potentially causing accidental overdose. It does this by inhibiting naturally-occuring enzymes in the intestines (specifically, cytochrome P450 isoenzymes) that break down a certain portion of said drugs before they have a chance to enter the person's bloodstream.

If a person knows what he/she is doing, of course, this means that grapefruit juice can potentially allow you to take much less of a medication and get the same beneficial effect from it, thus conserving the medication and saving money on prescriptions. But unless one is working closely with a pharmacist, its best not to try that at home.

The amount of grapefruit juice needed to produce the drug-enhancing effect varies; some studies show that as little as a single glass of juice can do it. Others didn't show an effect unless subjects downed nearly a quart of the juice. However, a 2-hour gap between taking a medication and drinking the juice seems sufficient to avoid interactions.

Several compounds in grapefruit juice have been identified as causing the effect, mainly quercetin, kaempferol, and furanocoumarin compounds such as naringin. There may very well be others.

Drugs that should not be taken with grapefruit juice include:

  • Amiodarone
  • Atorvastatin
  • Benzodiazepines (diazepam, triazolam)
  • Budesonide
  • Busipirone
  • Calcium Channel Blockers (felodipine, nifedipine, nimodipine)
  • Carbamazepine
  • Carvedilol
  • Clomipramine
  • Corticosteroids, including Prednisone
  • Cyclosporine
  • Ergotamine
  • Erythromycin
  • Ethinyl Estradiol
  • Itraconazole
  • Lovastatin
  • Methylprednisolone
  • Nifedipine
  • Nimodipine
  • Pimozide
  • Saquinavir
  • Sertraline
  • Simvastatin
  • Sirolimus
  • Tacrolimus
  • Verapamil

All the above are prescription medications; there's been no evidence so far that grapefruit juice interacts badly with any over-the-counter medications. In many instances, the precise effects haven't been worked out, but all the above medications have the potential for some kind of interaction.

The drugs that you should absolutely avoid taking with grapefruit juice are the calcium channel blockers (which can dangerously lower blood pressure), drugs that can depress the central nervous system such as busipirone and benzodiazepines (an overdose of such drugs can cause accidents or put you in a coma), or drugs used to regulate heart rhythm like amiodarone.

Juicier Juice

However, there's one central nervous system depressant that grapefruit juice goes just dandy with: alcohol! If you're not a teetotaler, try the following potent potables:

  • Sea Breeze - cranberry and grapefruit mingled with vodka

  • Grapefruit Splash (aka a Greyhound): one part vodka to three parts juice, over ice. Put some salt around the rim to turn this into a Salty Dog.

  • Planter's Punch: an ounce each of light rum, orange juice, grapefruit juice, and sour mix, plus a splash of grenadine. Shake it all together with some ice and strain into your favorite glass. Float a little dark rum on top and garnish with a maraschino cherry and a slice of orange.

  • San Sebastian: an ounce of gin, a half-ounce of light rum, half-ounce of triple sec, half-ounce of grapefruit juice, a squirt of lemon juice. Mix and serve.


Sources:

http://scrippshealth.org/scrippsnews_1714.asp
http://www.nal.usda.gov/
http://www.pharmacists.ca/content/hcp/resource_centre/drug_therapeutic_info/
http://www.cancerpage.com/cancernews/cancernews640.htm
http://www.torsades.org/consumers/06-grapefruit-juice.htm


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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Radium poisoning

If a person eats or drinks radium-tainted materials, about 80% of the radium will be excreted fairly quickly. The remaining 20% will be absorbed into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body.

Because radium is chemically similar to calcium, the body will mistakenly use it in various biochemical pathways that require calcium. In particular, the body will try to incorporate radium into bones and teeth.

Thus, smaller, chronic doses of radium have been strongly associated with cancer, particularly bone cancer. Larger doses can result in much more immediately serious disease.

An illness termed "radium jaw" (similar to "phossy jaw") was first seen in the mid-1920 amongst young women who worked in clock-dial painting factories that used radium to create the luminous paint. These women had the habit of licking their brushes to make the bristles form a point. As a result of their radium exposure, they were suffering horrible illness: their jawbones were disintegrating, their teeth were fracturing and falling out, and they were suffering from awful mouth and gum infections and ulcers.

A forensic pathologist named Harrison Martland discovered the radium paint was the culprit in 1925 after he tested the women and found that their breath carried radon gas (which is created from radium decay) and that their bodies were giving off faint gamma radiation.

Many of the radium-poisoned women died young, often from massive infections caused as a side effect of their immune systems having been severely impaired. Their bone marrow -- and thus their ability to make white blood cells -- had been destroyed by the radiation. These women didn't live nearly long enough to get cancer. Autopsies on the women showed that their spleens and livers were giving off alpha radiation and their bones were so radioactive that they would make an image if they were laid on photographic paper in a darkroom.

Most people are exposed to radium as a result of occupational exposures from working with radioactive materials, generally by breathing in tainted dust or vapors. Uranium miners are especially vulnerable. Radium itself is not thought to be readily absorbed through the skin, but the gamma radiation it gives off makes working near it unsafe.

If a person believes he or she has radium poisoning, they can get their urine tested for telltale radioactivity or have their breath tested for radon. Radium in the bloodstream may be removed with a chelating agent; however, once it's gotten into bones and teeth, the main medical treatment is supportive care for symptoms.

Small amounts of radium are found in coal, so people who live in coal-burning areas will be exposed to more of the radionuclide than people in other areas.

Also, radium occurs naturally in some soils and water. The EPA sets the acceptable limit for drinking water exposure at 5 picocuries per liter and 5 picocuries per gram of soil in the first 15 centimeters of soil and 15 picocuries per gram in deeper soil. Some naturally-tainted aquifers such as the Hickory Aquifer in West Texas may have many times the limit, though most water supplies have less than 1 picocurie per liter.


References:
  • San Angelo Standard Times articles (various)
  • http://www.ccnr.org/
  • http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/phs9022.html

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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