It is nearly as dangerous to base life's decisions on individual scientific studies as it is on Bible verses taken out of context. Nonetheless, I enjoy reporting encourging news, and this morning's is about chocolate. This Scientific American article reports on a study of the cocoa consumption (in any form) of 470 elderly Dutch men, which found that those who ate the most cocoa were half as likely to die of cardiovascular or any other disease as those who ate the least. They haven't identified the protective mechanism yet; maybe it was the antioxidants, maybe the men were just happier. :)

Still, there's no need to go overboard on the Ghirardelli. The average daily cocoa consumption of the highest group was "more than four grams." Four grams is not a lot of cocoa, even in its pure form.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 28, 2006 at 6:53 am | Edit
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What is worse, dying because you can't afford medical treatment, or dying because the cogs in a socialized medicine system decide they can't afford to treat you? Or because someone else thinks you would be better off dead than alive?

A high court in the United Kingdom has ruled that two year old Charlotte Wyatt's life belongs in the hands of the hospital where she is being treated; her parents cannot force doctors keep her alive if the doctors decide it would be in the child's best interest to die.

Whatever your views on what would be best for Charlotte, and whatever confidence you might have in your own doctor, this court precedent should terrify you. The chasm between trusting the advice of a doctor who has treated your family for years and proven his compassion and competence, and submitting to the decision of a medical bureaucrat (be he doctor, judge, or accountant) that the patient does not deserve to live, is that between heaven and hell.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 27, 2006 at 10:13 am | Edit
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Fixed ideas, even if later discredited, are hard to dislodge. This is why urban legends and Internet rumors must repeatedly be quashed. Either we like what we "know" and don't care enough to be concerned about its veracity, or a new generation comes upon the outdated information and unwittingly embraces it. Or both.

This, I'm afraid is what will happen in the case of obstetrical practice. Several years ago a study (the "Term Breech Trial") led to the conclusion that it was safer for breech presentations to be delivered by Caesarean section, rather than vaginally. Consequently, this has become standard, established practice.

However, an article in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports serious flaws in the Term Breech Trial, and concludes that the recommendations from that study should be withdrawn.

Most cases of neonatal death and morbidity in the term breech trial cannot be attributed to the mode of delivery. Moreover, analysis of outcome after 2 years has shown no difference between vaginal and abdominal deliveries of breech babies.

Because Caesarean sections are considered to be more convenient than vaginal deliveries (nature is so messy!), and because people seem less inclined to sue doctors for interventions than for not intervening, I don't expect to see a rise in the number of women allowed to attempt vaginal deliveries of breech babies. Nonetheless, it is important to note yet another instance of major life decisions being made on the basis of erroneous data.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 8, 2006 at 1:53 pm | Edit
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As further proof that we haven't progressed much, ethically, from the days when unsavory characters made midnight forays into graveyards to provide medical researchers with cadavers for dissection, I offer this macabre story of tissue removed from bodies entrusted to various mortuaries in New York City, without consent and without proper safety precautions. The tissues were then implanted, in the form of bone and skin grafts, in hundreds of unsuspecting patients across the country.

I'm beginning to suspect that "factory medicine" is as dangerous a practice as factory farming.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 28, 2006 at 8:02 am | Edit
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Because I have a friend who is an avid deer hunter, the New York Times article on chronic wasting disease caught my eye. CWD is the deer and elk equivalent of mad cow disease, and has spread so far to 11 states and two Canadian provinces.

The news is not all bad for hunters. Bruce Morrison, chairman of the National Chronic Wasting Disease Plan Implementation Team is himself a hunter and asserts, "I'm not worried." However, he also recommended that hunters in states where CWD has been found have their deer and elk meat frozen while the brain is tested, and warned that no part of an infected animal should be eaten.

Which is not good news for the rest of us. I fail to see a material difference between this warning and a call to increase greatly the testing of animals that end up in the meat departments of our grocery stores. We have not learned well from Great Britain's sad experience with mad cow disease, and need to stop burying our governmental heads in the sand. Japan's recent renewal of the ban on U.S. beef is not the most important reason for tightening the regulations, although it is the one grabbing the headlines.

Personally, I'm awaiting news from Symantec and McAfee that they will be implementing special protection measures for Gateway computers.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2006 at 7:43 am | Edit
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Imagine: You are happily expecting the birth of your child, and when the thrilling moment approaches you check into your local hospital, a scenario common to most American mothers-to-be. You give birth to a healthy baby boy, but when you, yourself, are finally released from the hospital, it is more than three months later and you have lost your uterus, both arms, both legs and very nearly your life. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 9:49 am | Edit
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Because of the vaccine shortage, we abstained from our annual flu shots last year. Perhaps that was a good thing, because it encouraged us to avoid public drinking fountains, to be more careful with handwashing, and to make use of pocket vials of hand sanitizer when out among the hand-shaking public. (This was recommended by a physician friend whose specialty is infectious diseases. The alcohol-based formula is effective on both bacteria and viruses and, because of the way it works, does not promote resistance as anti-bacterial soaps do.)

It was thrilling to have avoided the flu without the vaccine, but we decided not to translate that excitement into presumption, largely because we will be with people this season to whom we particularly do not want to pass the illness. So we paid a visit to the county health department.

We discovered the health department as a source of immunizations one year when we tried to go to our doctor and discovered his office was no longer giving flu shots that year. That turned out to be a blessing! We've gone back to the health department ever since. Which of these two scenarios would you choose? (1) Go to the doctor, hang around for half an hour or so in a waiting room full of sick people, and hand over a $20 copay; or (2) go to the health department, wait five minutes, and pay $18!
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 11, 2005 at 8:04 am | Edit
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Pressure is increasing on schools to remove that nutritional disaster called soda from their vending machines and replace it with healthy fare like water, juice, and milk. In response, the soft drink manufacturers, not to be caught with their profits down, have succeeded in spinning milk into soda. Take a delicious bottle of milk, add sugar, artificial flavor, and sometimes even carbonation, give it a name like Milky Way, Starburst, or Bubble Blast, and voila! — a drink no calf would recognize. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 30, 2005 at 7:53 pm | Edit
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In England, Darren and Debbie Wyatt are fighting in court to save the life of their 22-month old daughter, Charlotte, who is severely handicapped. Charlotte is no Terri Schiavo, with her parents and her legal husband in disagreement over her medical care. The Wyatts' battle is with England's medical and legal system, with doctors who insist Charolotte has no "quality of life," and a court ruling giving the doctors authority, against her parents' wishes, to refuse to resuscitate Charlotte if she stops breathing. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 26, 2005 at 10:32 am | Edit
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I've noted before some of the problems with epidural pain relief during childbirth, and my latest reading, Lise Eliot's What's Going on in There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life confirms my worries. Here are a few of her concerns: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 at 12:15 pm | Edit
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I've heard it said that the male human body has enough blood to power the brain or the sexual organs, but not both at the same time. I'm not convinced women are any smarter, but this news report about the Third International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment goes far in proving the adage for men. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 9:54 am | Edit
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Women who want to get pregnant are now being advised to avoid tofu and other soy products, at least around the peak times for conception. New studies have shown that even small amounts of genistein, which mimics the hormone estrogen and is found in soy products, cause sperm to lose their fertility.

Well, I guess that explains why 20% of the world's population is Chinese!
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 24, 2005 at 7:13 am | Edit
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Who wouldn't want to be smarter, think more clearly, and be able to concentrate better? New Scientist has compiled a list of brain-building suggestions for everyone from students to senior citizens.  Some were new to me, some old hat, some intriguing, and some frightening: (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 28, 2005 at 2:40 pm | Edit
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Research has shown, once again, that the human body works best when used according to its original design. A study of more than 2000 nine to fifteen year olds indicates that exclusive breastfeeding significantly lowers systolic blood pressure, with the strength of the benefit directly proportional to the duration of the breastfeeding. This positive effect is comparable to that of exercise and of restricted salt diets in adults.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 at 8:09 am | Edit
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When God created the sun, He called it good. In recent years we have been told that God was wrong. Doctors—and hence parents, especially mothers—have been insisting that we dare not venture out into the sunshine without the protection of clothing and/or lavishly applied sunscreen. Living in Florida, I have a highly-developed sense of respect for the power of the sun's rays, and certainly do my share in supporting the sunscreen industry. But I also remember my mother's insistence on the importance of sunshine on skin for making much-needed vitamin D. Thus it was heartening to read that evidence is mounting in favor of my mother (not to mention God). (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 22, 2005 at 8:36 pm | Edit
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