Stories tagged health

Feb
01
2010

hamburger: what is it really made from?
hamburger: what is it really made from?Courtesy PixelAndInk
No fries. I’m watching my diet.

Yeah, I said ammonia burger. Haven’t you heard that your favorite fast food beef gut –bomb was most likely treated with ammonia? It’s not like the teenage fry cook at the burger joint reaches under the counter and grabs the bottle of floor cleaner to splash on a sizzling grill. However, there is still extra ammonia used to treat a ‘portion’ of your burger. Just a little extra ammonia injected during a specially patented process that makes up a percentage of the meat to form a patty. That ‘portion’ is where I think the real story lies.

Over the last few months, the news wires have been releasing stories about this specially patented process, including leading breaks by the New York Times. The stories center on the company, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) located in South Dakota. BPI developed the procedure of treating beef trimmings with ammonia to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. Coli. Some of their main customers include McDonald’s, Burger King, and local food conglomerate Cargill. BPI had performed so well during USDA inspections that by 2007 they were exempted from testing. Its customers have stood firmly by its side. Last summer, things changed when school outbreaks of salmonella resulted in a banning of BPI meat products in some states. The pressure is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture now to investigate any issues.

No one wants to eat meat products contaminated with E. Coli or salmonella. But the whole idea of eating something treated with ammonia just doesn’t sound safe. Was it too many years of Mr. Yuck stickers as a child? I realize ammonia is a naturally occurring substance and can be already present in meats. When I really began to search my inner self about this angst, I found that what truly bothered me was the product being treated. This ammonia process wasn’t used on all beef. Slaughterhouses don’t give the fated bovines an ammonia bath before packaging. This process only is used on beef trimmings. Just say those two words to yourself slowly… pause and contemplate. Beef Trimmings.

raw ground meat?: i'd guess that the pink slime is what holds it together.
raw ground meat?: i'd guess that the pink slime is what holds it together.Courtesy cobalt123
Described by one source as a “pink slime”, trimmings are the last vestiges of muscle tissue left from a good butchering. It has been separated from the ‘majority’ of bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It is then spun by centrifugal force to remove fat, pressed, screened for metal, frozen, chipped, and pressed into 60 pound blocks. In the end, it only need be 12% visible lean tissue to classify as trimmings. The USDA has standards on what constitutes both meat and trimmings. This scrap used to be regulated to pet food and cooking oil. Do we really need to be mixing some into each of our double cheeseburgers? I’d be curious to know what percentage of trimmings makes up that quarter pound patty. Take out the trimmings and we can skip the whole ammonia question.

Recent questions are being plumbed by many parties about these food safety issues. Requests for documents have been met with some resistance by BPI. They seek to block any release of the research done by the Iowa State professor who published supportive findings. Now the courtroom waltzes begin and the delay of answers drags on. I’m certain this won’t be the last we’ve heard of those tasty ammonia treated trimmings.

I think i'll change that order to a chicken sandwich. That's 'free-range' correct?

Jan
18
2010

Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.
Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.Courtesy Cayusa
Alzheimer’s disease, that is. A technique developed by researchers at University College London (UCL), located on Repetitious Redundant Lane, allows your optician to not only find the proper lens prescription, but also screen you for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Their method takes advantage of the fact that the cells in the retina (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye) are direct extensions of the brain. As shown in the picture below, the retina is continuous with the optic nerve (also known as cranial nerve II), which then leads straight into the brain. The UCL researchers have found that the amount of retinal cell damage corresponds directly to the amount brain cell deterioration. They have also identified a particular pattern of retinal damage that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s patients.

Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.
Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.Courtesy William Vroman
The way to measure this damage simply involves using special eye drops that highlight dying retinal cells. Your optician can then observe the extent and configuration of the deterioration. Research shows that cells start to die ten to 20 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms start to surface, so this procedure could be used to diagnose the disease in its early stages. This test would be quick, easy, and inexpensive, and being able to detect the disease early would allow doctors to treat, and possibly reverse the symptoms of this disease.

So far, the researchers have only tested this technique on mice, but they will start to test human subjects in the near future. According to UCL, you might be able to receive this test within the next five years. However, there are some reasons that people might not want to screen themselves. There is fear that insurance companies could increase the premiums of middle aged people who test positive. There are also people who would just rather not know they may have this devastating disease in their future. How about you? Would you want to know?

Jan
17
2010

Finally, an objective test for autism

Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG): A scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.Courtesy Tom Holroyd
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorders (ASD), up until now, has been subjective. No hard evidence, like a blood test or some other machine measurement could be used to verify ASD.

Researchers now hope that by scanning brainwaves, early recognition and treatment might be possible. Autism spectrum disorders, which includes Aspergers, is now being found in about one per cent of the (US) population.

In the current study, published in the journal Autism Research, Dr Roberts used a magnetoencephalography (MEG), a scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain.
The children with ASDs had an average delay of 11 milliseconds (about 1/100 of a second) in their brain responses to sounds, compared to the control children. Telegraph.co.uk

An Australian study shows that the more TV you watch, the greater your risk for early death, especially from cancer or heart disease. In fact, every extra hour you spend in front of the tube per day (on average) increases your risk 11%. So, get off the couch and get some exercise!

No, I'm not talking about the lousy cold you have, or the H1N1 flu (for which I just got a vaccine), or the seasonal flu. I'm talking about how researchers in Japan and at the University of Texas at Arlington have discovered that eight percent of the genetic make-up of humans and other mammals comes from an outside virus and not from our ancestors. After infecting a body, the viral DNA inserts itself into the body's cell nuclei (endogenization), and some of its genetic material is subsequently passed along to the host's offspring. The scientists plan to investigate whether such infections by bornavirus genes are the cause of some human psychological afflictions such as schizophrenia. The research appeared in the science journal Nature.

SOURCES
University of Texas - Arlington press release
More in the journal Nature

Jan
06
2010

I just came across the following article in The Scientist. It made me say, are you serious!?!?!

The Scientist: NewsBlog:
Test a vax, fly to Mexico
Posted by Jef Akst
[Entry posted at 6th January 2010 03:00 PM GMT]

Want to go to Central America for free? All it takes is your participation in a clinical trial for a diarrhea vaccine. A patch worn on the arm can earn you a complimentary trip to one of nine cities in Mexico and Guatemala, courtesy of Intercell AG.

The Austrian drug company is recruiting 1800 volunteers for the phase III clinical trial of a vaccine against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli -- a major cause of traveler's diarrhea, which affects about 20 million visitors to countries such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as illness in more than 200 million children living in those countries each year. If approved, it would be the first vaccine for traveler's diarrhea available in the US.

A couple years ago, we looked at the question of how researchers and companies decide on compensation for subjects' participation in clinical trials. But the trip offered by the Austrian company seems to be an entirely new recruitment tactic, the BMJ reports.

Intercell joined forces with Inclinix, Inc., a North Carolina-based clinical trial enrollment solutions provider, to devise a strategy including partnerships with major travel and tourism websites, as well as a variety of social networking outlets, including Twitter and YouTube. "Social communication avenues allow Inclinix to reach a unique audience," Diane Montross, director of patient recruitment for Inclinix, told Medical News Today. "We are defining the next patient recruitment landscape."

In addition to the flight to Central America, participants will receive at least six nights of three star accommodations, pre-paid mobile phones, welcome kits with useful travel tools, and $1,500 in cash upon completion of the study. Participants will be given either the active vaccine or a placebo before travel, give blood within 48 hours of arrival, keep a stool diary throughout their trip, and provide additional blood and stool samples if they develop diarrhea.

For more information go to the TREK Research Study site.

Jan
04
2010

Chicken soup
Chicken soupCourtesy Mullenedheim
I am frugal and am careful when spending money. I remember a businessman telling me there was lots of money to be made in soap and food supplements. They both end up "going down the drain".
Billions of dollars are spent every year on vitamins, medicines and doctor visits. Are there scientific studies that verify how effective various remedies are in our battle against the common cold or flu?

Learn what science says about cold or flu remedies

I think most people accept that adequate rest, water, exercise, hand washing are fully supported by science. What does the scientific literature say about doctor's visits, antibiotics, vitamin C, echinacea and zinc, cough medicine, "Airborne", or chicken soup. I recommend you read the Patient Money column in the Jan 1, 2010 New York Times. Here are just a few tidbits from the article.

Jan
03
2010

Pretty bacteria: Do not be fooled by the pastel colors- these things will kill you.
Pretty bacteria: Do not be fooled by the pastel colors- these things will kill you.Courtesy esterase
I bet regular bacteria have posters of their favorite superbug hung on their bedroom walls. I mean superbugs are just so much cooler than regular bacteria; they’re kind of the bad boys of the bacteria world. Regular bacteria do what they are told: they keel over when exposed to disinfectants and antibiotics. But not those rebellious superbugs. Superbugs have some kind of genetic mutation that allows them to survive in hostile, antimicrobial environments. Basic principles of natural selection come into play: the mutant bacterium survives in the presence of the antibiotic/disinfectant and then goes on to produce other bacteria with the same mutation, ultimately creating a new resistant colony. In this scenario, exposure to the antimicrobial agent (the antibiotic or disinfectant) is imperative. However, scientists now think that another scenario exists; one in which exposure is not required. In a recent study, these scientists found that the use of disinfectants in hospitals can lead to bacterial resistance to antibiotics, even if the bacteria haven’t been exposed to the antibiotics.

Researchers from the National University of Ireland added increasing amounts of disinfectant to petri dishes full of Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a bug that causes pneumonia in hospital patients, among other things) and the bug became immune not only to the disinfectant, but also to ciprofloxacin- the antibiotic used to treat the bug. Superbugs are essentially using their exposure to disinfectants as “teachable moments” for resisting antibiotics.

This is significant because now it seems that bacteria have one less hurdle to overcome in their mission to cause serious harm to patients (that’s not really their “mission,” I say that for dramatic effect). If superbugs can resist the disinfectant slathered on the countertops and doorknobs of hospitals, it’s possible that they could go on to infect patients who “for some reason” won’t respond to the antibiotics. Man, regular bacteria must be so jealous.

Jan
02
2010

New device prints human tissue

The manufacture of replacement body parts just might happen this year. Organovo just took delivery of the world's first production grade 3D bio-printer developed for them by Invetech.
The printer includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. The position of a capillary tip, can position droplets of "ink" containing virtually any cell type, with micron accuracy.

"Invetech plans to ship a number of 3D bio-printers to Organovo during 2010 and 2011 as a part of the instrument development program. Organovo will be placing the printers globally with researchers in centers of excellence for medical research." Organovo press release

Healthy Stone: No wonder Charlie Watts is the healthiest looking Rolling Stone. Drumming a 90-minute rock set is the equivalent of running a 10K race.
Healthy Stone: No wonder Charlie Watts is the healthiest looking Rolling Stone. Drumming a 90-minute rock set is the equivalent of running a 10K race.Courtesy Anonymous
Who knew that Todd Rundgren was a closet aerobics instructor? I'm sure you've heard his big hit...the one with the chorus that goes "I don't want to work; I just want to bang on the drum all day." It turns out, that aggressive drumming – like the activity a rock drummer undertakes in a 90-minute performance – can be the aerobic equivalent of running a 10K road race. Clem Burke, the long-time drummer of the new wave band Blondie, has been doing a study on himself and the physical energy he puts out in a concert. Want to learn more? Here's a news story on the study and here's Burke's own website of information the energy output of a rock drummer. Of course, if you've got that laid-back drumming style of Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, your results will likely be a lot lower.