Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: editor's picks

Reliable health information on the go

January 30, 2010 |  7:07 am

Here’s a great example of your tax dollars at work (seriously): a new version of MedlinePlus built to fit your mobile phone.

Iphone In case you’ve never visited this handy site -- a co-production of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health -- it contains reliable information on 800 health topics. It also includes a medical encyclopedia, information on drugs and supplements, a dictionary of medical terms, and health news, among other goodies.

The mobile version has all that info neatly packed so that it’s easy to see on a smaller screen. Imagine how handy it will be to look up the side effects of a medication while you’re in the drugstore contemplating a purchase.

Or, if you’re cooling your heels in an exam room waiting for your physician to arrive, you can peruse the “Talking With Your Doctor” section to make the most of your visit.

The mobile site has information in English and Spanish. You can find it at

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo credit: National Library of Medicine

A deep breath and a closer look at statins

November 24, 2008 | 10:17 am

In a healthy heart, shown here in an angiogram, blood flows freely.

The dust is settling in the wake of the newest heralded study about statins, with doctors and patients alike now taking stock of what the results should mean in real life.

To recap, from the L.A. Times: Statins may benefit healthy people too

"In results from an eagerly anticipated study that could dramatically change the treatment of cardiovascular disease, researchers have found that statin drugs -- now given to millions of people with high cholesterol -- can halve the risk of heart attacks and stroke in seemingly healthy patients as well."

The results, promising and provocative as they were, received much media attention. But, as with most headline-fodder topics, they've also led to questions:

From NPR's "Talk of the Nation": Should healthy people take statins?

"A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the drug Crestor, typically used for reducing cholesterol levels, may reduce the risk of heart disease for people with normal cholesterol levels. But do the potential benefits offset the risks and cost of the drugs?" A discussion with Dr. Paul Ridker of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Mark Hlatky of Stanford University.

From the New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope: A call for caution in the rush to statins

"Is it time to put cholesterol-lowering statin drugs in every medicine cabinet? Judging by recent headlines, you might think so."

From Toronto's Globe and Mail: When it comes to statins, don't believe the hype

"The principal finding in this study was that participants who took a statin pill recorded a 50 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, surgery and death compared with those who took a placebo (a sugar pill). Who wouldn't be wowed by those numbers? Who wouldn't want that miracle drug? But the benefits are relative risk reductions."

And from the Consumer Reports' blogs: Heart-attack prevention: Statins aren't for everybody

Says Dr. Marvin Lipman in response to his patients' question "Should I immediately start taking a statin?" "Probably not, at least based on this study."

The L.A. Times Health section will offer a closer look at statins and cholesterol in the coming weeks, but for now, these logical questions and measured responses are worth a read or, in the case of NPR, a listen.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: In a healthy heart, shown here in an angiogram, blood flows freely. But cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, impeding blood flow. That's where cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins come in. Credit: Custom Medical Stock Photo

Fetal tests, drug labels, medical devices -- Editor's Picks

November 3, 2008 |  9:29 am

In other health-related news, with wide implications, from around the Web:

From Washington Post: Fresh hopes and concerns as fetal DNA tests advance

"Doctors have started using powerful new DNA tests to screen fetuses for a wider range of genetic abnormalities, spotting more problem pregnancies early but stirring fears that the results will increase abortions as well as confuse and needlessly alarm many couples."

From NPR: Supreme Court hears case involving drug labels

"The Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case involving drug labels and the Food and Drug Administration. The result could limit liability claims against drugmakers, if one of their medicines causes harm. The case pits Wyeth Pharmaceuticals against a musician who lost part of an arm after she was improperly injected with an anti-nausea drug made by the company."

From the New York Times: Quickly vetted, treatment is offered to patients

"After a surgeon removed a cancerous lump from Karen Medlock's breast in November, he recommended radiation, a routine next step meant to keep cancer from recurring. But he did not send her for the kind of radiation most women have received for decades. ... Only when Ms. Medlock, 49, sought a second opinion did she learn a startling truth: MammoSite is still highly experimental."

-- Tami Dennis

DNA secrets, food ploys and body language -- Editor's Picks

October 20, 2008 |  9:36 am

Worth checking out elsewhere on the Web...

From the New York Times: "Taking a peek at the experts' genetic secrets"

"Is Esther Dyson, the technology venture capitalist who is training to be an astronaut, genetically predisposed to a major heart attack? Does Steven Pinker, the prominent psychologist and author, have a gene variant that raises his risk of Alzheimer’s, which his grandmother suffered from, to greater than 50 percent? Did Misha Angrist, an assistant professor at Duke University, inherit a high risk of breast cancer, which he may have passed on to his young daughters? On Monday, they may learn the answers to these and other questions — and, if all goes according to plan, so will everyone else who cares to visit a public Web site, The three are among the first 10 volunteers in the Personal Genome Project, a study at Harvard University Medical School aimed at challenging the conventional wisdom that the secrets of our genes are best kept to ourselves."

From U.S. News & World Report: "10 things the food industry doesn't want you to know"

"With America's obesity problem among kids reaching crisis proportions, even junk food makers have started to claim they want to steer children toward more healthful choices. ... Such moves by the food industry may seem to be a step in the right direction, but ultimately makers of popular junk foods have an obligation to stockholders to encourage kids to eat more — not less — of the foods that fuel their profits, says David Ludwig, a pediatrician and the co-author of a commentary published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association that raises questions about whether big food companies can be trusted to help combat obesity. Ludwig and article co-author Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, both of whom have long histories of tracking the food industry, spoke with U.S. News and highlighted 10 things that junk food makers don't want you to know about their products and how they promote them."

And from the Washington Post: "Every body's talking"

"An ex-FBI agent 'thin-slices' behavior to read emotions that are not put into words: 'When I am asked what is the most reliable means of determining the health of a relationship, I always say that words don't matter. It's all in the language of the body. The nonverbal behaviors we all transmit tell others, in real time, what we think, what we feel, what we yearn for or what we intend.'"

-- Tami Dennis 

Assorted medical questions and answers -- Editor's Picks

October 6, 2008 |  9:28 am

Worth checking out from around the Web...

From U.S. News & World Report: 13 smart questions and quick answers about medical tourism.

"More than a million patients worldwide visit hospitals and clinics each year in countries other than their own. Here are 13 questions frequently asked by medical travelers -- and the answers you need to know before you decide whether to journey abroad for medical care."

From Scientific American: Ask the Brains: Why do we laugh when someone falls?

"Also: Does napping after a meal affect memory formation?"

And from the New York Times: A look at blood counts and what they mean.

"A blood test is a typical part of a physical exam, but deciphering the numbers is anything but routine. Interpretation of the results is strictly the province of a medical professional."

-- Tami Dennis

Why you act the way you do -- Editor's Picks

July 7, 2008 | 11:02 am

Newbrainphoto Conflicting logic, emotions, desires, fears, reactions and frustrations all wrapped up in a fragile body ... no wonder humans are a mess. Here are some looks as to how and why.

In Slate: The Sex Difference Evangelists

"If there's one question we never tire of, it's whether men and women speak or feel or think in fundamentally different ways. Do women talk more than men? Are their brains hard-wired for empathy? Can innate differences explain men's and women's career choices? This is today's iteration of Mars and Venus, and it's everywhere."

In Psychology Today: Typically Twisted

"Taboo impulses can be titillating ... but more often they're a source of concern for those who harbor secret wishes or unusual desires. If you prefer gallows humor to slapstick or kinky to vanilla, take heart: Dark inclinations have their own logic and benefits."

And in the New Yorker: The Itch: Its mysterious power may be a clue to a new theory about brains and bodies.

Atul Guwande writes:

"At thirty-six, she entered rehab, dropped the boyfriend, and kicked the drugs. She had two good, quiet years in which she began rebuilding her life. Then she got the itch. ... It crawled along her scalp, and no matter how much she scratched it would not go away. 'I felt like my inner self, like my brain itself, was itching,' she says. And it took over her life just as she was starting to get it back."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Corbis

'Pro-life' drugstores and more -- Editor's Picks

June 23, 2008 | 10:42 am

Drugstores that refuse to sell contraceptives; a West Nile expert who contracts the disease; an explainer on why American kids are fat; and exactly why flip-flops are bad for you -- all in this week's Editor's Picks.

From the Washington Post: Pro-life drugstores market beliefs

"When DMC Pharmacy opens this summer on Route 50 in Chantilly, the shelves will be stocked with allergy remedies, pain relievers, antiseptic ointments and almost everything else sold in any drugstore. But anyone who wants condoms, birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive will be turned away. That's because the drugstore, located in a typical shopping plaza featuring a Ruby Tuesday, a Papa John's and a Kmart, will be a 'pro-life pharmacy' -- meaning, among other things, that it will eschew all contraceptives."

From CNN: CDC expert gets West Nile bug -- literally

"All Lyle Petersen wanted to do was get his mail. In the time it took him to walk down his driveway in Fort Collins, Colorado, chat briefly with a neighbor and return to his house, Peterson got infected with a potentially serious mosquito-borne illness called West Nile virus. Within hours of being bitten, he said, he began to feel symptoms he recognized. And how was he sure so quickly? Petersen, as director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of the foremost experts in the world on the condition."

From Time: How America's children packed on the pounds

"Americans disagree about a lot of things, but we rarely quarrel when it comes to our food. For a nation built on grand democratic virtues, there is still nothing that defines us quite like our love of chow time."

And from NPR: How to keep your feet happy

"If you've ever had heel pain when you first put your bare feet on the floor after waking up in the morning, it's very likely the beginnings of a common condition known as plantar fasciitis. And shoes can contribute to the problem.

-- Tami Dennis

Medicated soldiers, your cancer risk and sleep

June 16, 2008 | 12:54 pm

Check out these stories from around the Web -- this week's Editor's Picks:

From Time: America's medicated Army

"For the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The medicines are intended not only to help troops keep their cool but also to enable the already strapped Army to preserve its most precious resource: soldiers on the front lines."

From Newsweek: Your lifestyle, your genes and cancer

"New research explores the complex interactions that cause our most dreaded disease. A look into some of the steps you can take to reduce risk."

And from Slate: Can a night owl become a morning person?

"One day, after crawling out of bed at 10:30, I decided enough was enough. I needed help. So, I called up a battery of doctors and sleep researchers and put the question to them: Can a night person rewire herself to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and jump out of bed in the morning like a farmer with chickens to feed? They all said it could be done."

-- Tami Dennis

Diagnostic landmines, meditation and cycling uphill

May 27, 2008 | 10:21 am

Check out these stories -- this week's Editor's Picks -- from elsewhere around the Web:

From ABC News: "You've got what? Curious conditions, debated diagnoses"

"Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Mathematics Disorder. If you've never talked to you doctor about these conditions, it should come as little surprise; they are arguably some of the stranger diagnoses floating around in the medical literature. And whatever you might think, many medical professionals say that these disorders are legitimate conditions that often warrant treatment. Yet, this acceptance within the medical community has not quelled debate on the existence of many of these conditions."

From the New York Times: "Lotus therapy"

"At workshops and conferences across the country, students, counselors and psychologists in private practice throng lectures on mindfulness. The National Institutes of Health is financing more than 50 studies testing mindfulness techniques, up from three in 2000, to help relieve stress, soothe addictive cravings, improve attention, lift despair and reduce hot flashes. Some proponents say Buddha's arrival in psychotherapy signals a broader opening in the culture at large -- a way to access deeper healing, a hidden path revealed. Yet so far, the evidence that mindfulness meditation helps relieve psychiatric symptoms is thin, and in some cases, it may make people worse, some studies suggest."

And from the Washington Post: "An easier way up"

"Hills are good for the heart, but many hate the effort. Here are some tips to ease the pain. ... If you're like lots of casual weekend cyclists, distance doesn't throw you. You can crank out 20, 30 miles easily on the bike path. But what gets you down, admit it, is going up."

-- Tami Dennis

Other angles on the doctor-patient relationship

May 19, 2008 | 10:00 am

Consumers are rating their doctors, and some doctors are saying patients should be rated as well. For additional looks at the relationship between doctors and patients, check out these stories -- otherwise known as this week's Editor's Picks.

From Time: Giving patients the VIP treatment

"Some patients have had enough, and those who can afford it are choosing to pay hefty premiums out of pocket to get more personalized, more polite service. There are now more than 1,000 doctors in the U.S. who have opened concierge, or boutique, practices, according to the Society for Innovative Medical Practice Design. They limit the number of patients they see so they can devote more time to each; accept insurance for routine treatment and tests; and charge patients an additional flat fee for extras like no waiting, longer office visits and round-the-clock availability via e-mail or cellphone."

From the New York Times: Doctors say 'I'm sorry' before 'see you in court'

"For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to "deny and defend." Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers. But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach."

And from the Boston Globe: Even doctors should read the fine print

"Throughout my medical training, I have been taught to read medical research with a skeptical eye. My professors in medical school relentlessly emphasized the importance of carefully reviewing the methods section of every study to look for sources of bias. And the doctors I have worked with during my residency training have taught me to interpret study results carefully in the context of real-world patients. Recently, however, I (and many of my colleagues) have begun to wonder whether even this degree of scrutiny is sufficient."

-- Tami Dennis


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