Showing posts from May, 2013

Prodigy? Child with Autism? One and The Same?

For the longest time, I thought my son was a prodigy. Then I began reading about kids who wrote and passed around newsletters on how truly un-nutritious their cafeteria food really was -- in fourth grade!  And won spelling bees by correctly spelling kneidel (a Hebrew word for matzoh balls but who knew?).  And invented a test for breast cancer (she was in high school, but still).

And my son began getting B's.

Christie McNicholson reports at that there's actually a child who spoke his first word at three months (mine's first was "squirrel"  -- go figure!), learned the entire alphabet by eight months, went to college at nine, developed a new form of mathematics and by age 13 had written a research paper accepted by a math journal. Now that's a prodigy.

 Apparently there's just one trait shared by all prodigies.  Guess what it is?  Sounds a little too crazy to be true but it's a good working memory, not IQ.  And it's actually one that …

Now ANOTHER Reason Not to Use Splenda

If you're like me, you use about 10 artificial sweeteners a day.  I drink lots of iced tea, even in the winter, and I couldn't live without my Splenda.

But now a new study has found that this fake sugar does more than just make drinks palatable.  It modifies how the body uses sugar.  And it can be harmful.

I'm not talking about the cancer scare with saccharine back in the '70s, but in a small study, according to a press release from Washington University in Saint Louis, researchers analyzed Splenda® in 17 severely obese people who do not have diabetes and don’t use artificial sweeteners regularly, and found that "this artificial sweetener is not inert — it does have an effect,” first author M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine, said in the release. “And we need to do more studies to determine whether this observation means long-term use could be harmful.”

Now, losing weight is hard enough but to take away the one thing that makes it, if not…

No Job? If You're White, and a Woman with Little Education, It May Kill You

It's been out there for some time but more and more studies are pointing to the decreasing life expectancy of women who are white and don't have much education. At first it was thought that cigarettes were the culprit, as many in this population smoke.

But now a new study has found that joblessness also shortens lifespans for women.

No one is quite sure why this should be, but as someone who has fought unemployment as a freelance writer for long stretches of my life (thank God, often followed by long stretches of work), I know how depressing and life-draining it can be.

I get my identity from my work (when I first became a mother, I thought I had lost myself), and when I'm not working, or writing, I start to shrink.  I feel like everyone is looking at me and thinking I'm a failure (in reality, no one cares!), but the worst part is, I feel like a failure.  I don't know where this comes from as I grew up in a traditional Italian family, where my bigger failure was se…

Move Over, Smoking -- Make Room for Alcohol, On-Screen

When was the last time you saw someone smoking in a movie?  Used to be that everyone smoked on-screen.  But today it seems only the bad guys are the ones who smoke, almost as if that's another reason we shouldn't like them.

But alcohol, on the other hand, has become much more visible at the movies, according to a story by
Reuters, as reported by Fox News.

Movie characters smoke less since 1998 regulations that stopped tobacco companies from buying on-screen brand placements, according to a new study. But the number of times alcohol brands appear has exploded in movies rated PG-13 and below, while the amount of time characters spend drinking hasn't changed.

I love "Two and a Half Men," at least, when Charlie Sheen was on, and there was never a scene where he didn't have some kind of glass in his hand.

A lot of people see this as a real problem.  "In movie reality, it seems like every occasion is right for a drink," David Jernigan, head of the Cente…

Don't Look Now But That Chocolate Milk Calorie Content Isn't Really Correct

OK.  So do you really know how many calories are in that pomegranate soda?  Mary Clare Jalonick writes that up until now, it's been hard for the government to keep up with all the new foods -- and their nutritional content -- that are constantly streaming into the marketplace.

But the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill is hoping to put a stop to that by creating a ginormous map of what Americans are buying and eating, according to Jalonick.

Chocolate milk has long interested researchers because, though the government lists chocolate milk with 2% milk as one unit, the UNC group, using scanners from grocery stores and other commercial data "founds thousands of different brands and variations of 2% chocolate milk and averaged them out, Jalonick reports.

What they found was that this wasn't just happening with chocolate milk, it was pretty much occurring with every food product.  Can you imagine making sense of all that, enough to truly have accurate calorie co…

Gun Manufacturers' Feel Guilty About Newtown? Yeah, right!

I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone but I was truly shocked when I read yesterday in The New York Times' that gun manufacturers feel no responsibility, just complete indifference and resistance to the idea that any tracing of guns used by criminals -- or remorse -- might have prevented the recent killings at Newtown and other mass shootings.

In fact, many of them were downright self-righteous, with the old "guns don't kill people, people kill people" mantra.  I'm not sure I'd be so holier-than-thou if I had the deaths of 20 elementary school students on my  watch.

As Mike McIntyre and Michael Luo reported, the attitude of most sellers of guns is who, me?  "The president of Sturm, Ruger was not interested in knowing how often the police traced guns back to the company’s distributors, saying it 'wouldn’t show us anything," the writers related.

And certainly a large swath of the public agrees.  Profit at the company surged 53% …

Need Therapy? It Now Comes with a Dialtone

Would you be more likely to go to a therapist if you could do it over the phone?  I'm not talking about dial-a-shrink, but an actual appointment you had every week for an hour, just not in person but over the phone?

"Teletherapy's" been around for a while.  I remember writing about it last year when it came to prisons (and really helped), but it's taken a while to get into the mainstream.  (I also remember reporting on all the dot coms who thought therapy could be done online, with patients -- or "clients," as they're now called -- posting questions and a specific therapist answering.  We saw how well that worked out!)

But teletherapy is gaining new ground, according to Audrey Quinn at, and one therapist has even partnered with 50 other therapists in a variety of fields and she will soon bring that number up to 100 to do this very thing.

TalkSession was recently chosen by GE Ventures and Startup Health Academy to participate in their…

Guess Who Underestimates Calories Most?

OK, we've been talking about low-balling calories when we try to figure out how much we're eating.  But guess who does it the most?  Teenagers!

CBS News reports today that they're the ones most guilty of underestimating just how fattening what they're eating might be.

The answer's pretty simple.  Where do teens mostly eat? "We found that people, especially teens, are consuming more calories than they think they're getting when they eat fast food," lead researcher Dr. Jason Block, of the Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, said in a press release, as CBS News notes.

While adults underestimate calories by about 20%, and parents of school-age children by 23%, teens do it by 34%. That's an awful lot of french fries and Big Macs and Strawberry Hand Spun Shakes unaccounted for.  Which is kind of interesting when you compare that to the young teens you see that weigh barely more than a sponge. Surely they're not the ones und…

Preventive Dentistry Avoids Kids' Cavities? Not!

I was horrified to read that a new study has found that preventive dentist visits may not help save any money or prevent any cavities.

According to, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends "that children see a pediatric dentist as soon as their first tooth appears in order to prevent dental problems." But earlier research has indicated that "actually does not show that these visits lead to less costly dental issues in kids."

“There was actually more expensive restorative procedures among kids with more preventive dental visits," the Web site quotes Bisha Sen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Healthcare Organization & Policy.

But this may not be as counter-intuitive as it sounds. Usually it's kids with a family history of dental problems who visit the dentist most often, and therefore, are the ones usually found to be most in need of expensive dental care. Kids without problem teeth probably aren't taken to…

Do You Hoard? You'd Be Surprised How Many Do!

I could hardly believe it myself.  But a new story in The New York Times today says the number of people who hoard in this country is between 3 and 5%. Now, I'm not talking about people like my husband, who saves every newspaper because he's going to read it, he really is, one day soon.

But there are people who hoard ashtrays and stuffed animals and clothing and shoes until it's piled all around them.  And maybe it's because I used to love the show, "Hoarders" on TLC, but this fascinated me to learn  that many people do indeed live amid chest-high piles of newspapers and dirty dishes and pet messes and just about anything else you could think of.

I had to stop watching because, over time, it was just too depressing to see all these very sad individuals who, usually after some catastrophe -- a divorce, death of a child, a diagnosis of late-stage cancer --  found that buying and buying and buying things, stockpiling things, helped salve the hurt and loss.

In s…

Women: Want to Live Longer?

It's as easy as one-two-three.  Well, not quite.  But the answer is calcium, according to a new study.

According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, women who take 1,000 miligrams of calcium a day "had lower mortality rates," translating into a 22% less chance of dying over 10 years. 

Men showed none of the same benefits. 

If you're like me, you may remember that many doctors (mine included) warned us off calcium, as earlier studies had shown that it increased the risk of heart disease.  But new studies have proven this wrong.

For a while now I've sworn off vitamins (other than fish oil, if that counts) because I've been reading about all the (untrue) claims that purveyors make without having to prove any of them.  Who knows exactly what goes into your vitamin? It could be a sugar pill, for all you know, since they're not regulated. 

But I have to say this gave me pause.  Still, if you read down further, the article says that you can also get this calcium fr…

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

My husband is very angry this morning.  There's a story in The New York Times that beauty salons are now taking over teeth whitening from dentists.  And the dentists are mad.

Campbell Robertson reports that, in Alabama, the salons are on the run.  One which developed a tooth whitening system and sold it to other salons heard from the state dental board that she was "practicing dentistry without a license," and was told to "cease and desist" at once. 

Now the owner is suing the dental board but it's an interesting question.  Who should be able to whiten your teeth?

We're seeing this kind of thing spring up all over, with "oral health practioners" -- somewhere between hygienists and dentists -- now being allowed to fill cavities and pull teeth in Minnesota.   But it's not just dentistry.

Though they've been around almost before OB/GYNs, midwives, too, take heat sometimes from doctors, who feel they're better-equipped to deal with de…

Read This Before Eating Corn This Summer

I may never eat corn again.  According to a story in today's New York Times Sunday Review, the supersweet corn I wait anxiously for every summer was born in a cloud of radiation.

Jo Robinson writes that we are "breeding the nutrition out of our food."

As farmers and scientists try to make our food more tasty, they're often breeding out the very nutrients that make it good for us, she reports.

Corn originally started out more bitter, with kernels you had to crack open with a hammer, and farmers and others started mucking around with it to come up with a more tasty version.  More on that later.

Robinson says it didn't just happen with corn.  She notes that while we're all being told to eat more fruit and vegetables, a lot of the very good stuff we're supposed to get just isn't there anymore.  She gives corn as an example.  "Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years …

Fish Oil: What's Good for the Heart May Be Good for the Head

We've all heard about the benefits of fish oil (even if we don't like the taste).  But now tests are showing that not only does it help protect our hearts, but it may also help us beat stress, too.

Researchers at Michigan Technological University have been able to prove that fish oil may counteract the "detrimental" effect of mental stress to the heart, according to

It might even prevent heart disease.

Tests judged heart rate and muscle sympathetic nerve activity in people taking fish oil compared to those taking just olive oil and definitely found that the former had a more "blunted" reaction to stress than their counterparts.  In other words, their hearts were shielded more from stress.

If you just can't stand the aftertaste fish oil tablets leave in your mouth, try two servings of fish a week, preferably salmon or others rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

New Breast Cancer Test May Remove Questions About How Much Treatment Needed

Imagine this.  Instead of a painful mammogram or biopsy, some day soon doctors may be able to tell if you have breast cancer -- and its severity -- from your urine.

According to, a researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology has devised a way to detect biomarkers that indicate breast cancer in urine even before a mammogram picks it up.

An excessively high concentration of certain metabolites can indicate the presence of cancer, the story reports, all from a simple urinalysis.

What really speaks to me is the possibility that this simple test could possibly figure out whether you have a cancer that needs to be treated right away, or one that is less aggressive and may need no treatment.  I was in that in-between box, and unfortunately, for right now, all potential cancers (like DCIS) are treated as though they truly are cancer because those of us with this cellular abnormality are at very high risk of developing invasive cancer.

My case of DCIS was the most …

That Burger You're Eating? Probably has 500 More Calories Than You Figured

This probably shouldn't come as any surprise but a new study has found that we vastly underestimate the number of calories we're eating when we're feasting at fast food chains.

Nanci Hellmich reports at that "Teens underestimated the calories in fast-food meals by 34%; parents of school-age children by 23%; and adults by 20%." This, from a survey by lead researcher Jason Block of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute

Pretty scary (and this doesn't include all the "healthy" food we overeat.  The restaurants visited were McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Dunkin Donuts, among others.

At least one-quarter of all participants underestimated what they were eating by 500 calories (that's a meal, for some of us), Hellmich notes.  Teens' foods contained almost 800 calories but they estimated them at around 200, and adults, while doing a little better, still lowballed an 800-calorie entree by almost 200 poin…

Have Autism? We Have a Job for You

What a cool idea.  A German company is looking for people with autism because of the unique way they think.

According to Kirsten Korosec, "German software giant SAP has partnered with Specialisterne to help it find, recruit and train people with autism to work as programmers, data quality assurance specialists and product testers."

Under the pilot programs, SAP Labs in India hired six people with autism as software testers for SAP Business Suite applications, Korosec reports. "SAP says the team has increased its productivity and cohesiveness as a direct result of the hires. The Ireland pilot is currently in the screening phase for five positions to be filled this year."

Korosec notes in her story that Danish company Specialisterne, which is owned by The Specialist People Foundation, "aims to help people with autism find employment by marketing and matching their skill set to companies in the IT sector."

Its arrangement with SAP is the first with a multin…

Sepsis = Profits?

One of the complications patients dread most when they're in a hospital's ICU  is preventable blood infections, or sepsis, which every year kills almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone.

According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, however, hospitals make three times as much money off patients who develop blood infections than they do off plain old infections.  That's because insurers pay more for these kinds of complications.

The study points out that hospitals may have no incentive to try to cut back on these bloodstream infections because they're very profitable.

It may sound hard to believe, but a story at reports that researchers "found that an ICU patient who develops an avoidable central line-associated bloodstream infection costs nearly three times more to care for than a similar infection-free patient."  Even more relevant for profit-driven hospitals (aren't they all?):  hospitals earn nearly nine times more, from insurers, for treating in…

Did Adam Lanza's Mother Smoke?

A shocking new study has found that children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to grow up to be aggressive and antisocial, according to

This, despite whether their mothers smoked during pregnancy or either parent had a history of antisocial behavior.

“Secondhand smoke is in fact more dangerous that inhaled smoke, and 40% of children worldwide are exposed to it," Linda Pagani, of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine hospital, told It's especially damaging if a child is exposed to secondhand smoke when young when his brain is still developing, she noted in the article.

Pagani went on to tell that 40% of children worldwide are exposed to it, a very frightening statistic when you think that some of those kids may grow up to be Adam Lanza.

The Web site reports that although no causal factor has been definitively established, "The statistical correlation suggests that secondhand smoke expos…

Don't Trust Me for Health News

Really.  A new survey says there are two reasons patients are having difficulty understanding, or getting their  medical conditions right.

One, they rely too much on the Internet (to which, I can personally attest, after being diagnosed with breast cancer), where the information is often, if not inaccurate, not always applicable to every person.  And two, the reading level of educational materials medical professionals have on hand are often confusing and too hard to understand for most anyone who's not a doctor.

According to a story at Reuters Health, "The average reading level of the online materials by groups ranging from the American Society of Anesthesiologists to the American Psychiatric Association fell anywhere from ninth grade to the sophomore year of college."

What's the level recommended by the American Medical Association?  Fourth to sixth grade.  While that sounds pretty low, keep in mind that we're talking about very technical terms and situations t…

Eat Healthy, Eat Big

OK.  So you're determined to eat healthier. Why not have some chcken?  A broiled chicken leg, thigh, and a breast -- that should do it.

Not.  People are eating healthier, it's true.  But they're eating more.  According to, people are eating large portions of healthy food, thinking it doesn't matter.

But calories are calories.  "People think (healthier food) is lower in calories," Pierre Chandon, a marketing professor at the INSEAD Social Science Research Center in France, told Reuters' Kerry Grens, and they "tend to consume more of it."

Portion sizes have become larger over the years, as have plate sizes.  I purposely went out and bought smaller plates so less food looks like more (and you actually eat less).  Now when I go to a restaurant and see the heaping amounts of food on the (huge) plate, I sometimes want to send it back, but more often, just take half home. 
In an interesting study, Grens reports, participants were told to he…

Downsize? Try a Shoebox Home (But Don't Expect Room for Your Shoes)

Frankly, I just don't get it, these people choosing (even wanting) to live in 200 square feet or less.

I had a studio apartment back in the day that was 800 square feet and I could barely fit all my stuff in it.  So what's up with this idea?

I believe it came from Asia, where businessmen squeeze themselves into compartments about 5 feet by 5 feet so they can be near their offices during the week, and there's no place else to live, though Singapore has cracked down on them.

But New York?  Really?  Yesterday's New York Times ran a story about this trend, and while I suppose an advantage is that it's cheaper (I think), it seems to be catching on.  The young man interviewed for the story was excited because he even had his own bathroom (wouldn't the sink take up most of the apartment?).

They're called shoebox homes, but I bet I have some that hold shoes that are bigger.

An architect and her husband, a builder, put together a 204-square-foot house in New Mexico,…

Women Treated Less Often Than Men in Trauma Units

If you're a woman hurt in a serious car accident, you'd be better off, well, being a man.  That's because a new study has found that women with severe injuries are less likely to be treated in a trauma unit, where they have a better chance of surviving.

According to, 98,000 men and women with serious injuries in Canada were followed -- and only 49% of the women were transferred to trauma centers while over 63% of the men were.

At the same time, even when they remained at hospitals without trauma units, women less often received trauma care than men.

Study authors weren't sure what to make of this, but it does follow the old scientific model of trying out research on treatments and drugs on men, not women (and also why more women die of heart attacks because their symptoms are not the same as men's).  

On top of all that, more money is spent on research for men.  A study in 2000 alleged that women were less likely to volunteer for research trials, and t…

Subway vs, McD's -- Which is Unhealthier? You May Be Surprised

Oh no, say it isn't so!  But a new survey has found that Subway is every bit as unhealthy as McDonald's.

In a study of young people from 12 to 21, a little over 1,000 calories were consumed by each participant at the golden arches, while at Subway, it was 955,  according to a story at  The Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises that students eat no more than 850 calories at lunch (and for people like me, on a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet, even that sounds decadent!).

Now, I was also under the impression that Subway was healthier.  There you could get a turkey sandwich (okay, rolled turkey), tomato and lettuce on a bun, hold the mayo, maybe a slice of swiss cheese, and that just had to be healthier than a Big Mac, no?

But the sodium content is higher at Subway (that's probably how they get away with making the food taste good), and the Subway sandwiches, one of the chain's most popular offerings, still had 200 more calories than a similar McDonald's meal.  Th…

Oklahoma = Newtown? Yes, For Me, A Little

All I could think about was Newtown.

Glued to the television once more, I prayed that the children would be found.  As the first few were dug out, I thought, maybe, this time, a miracle.  But when I went to bed, 37 were dead, and seven were children.  These children drowned.

Once again I thought what it would be like to be a child and know you were going to die.  I don't know that a crazed gunman is any worse than a wind that sucks you under a pile of rubble, then floods you with water until you can't breathe while you can't move one part of your body to get away, and so, you slowly suffocate as the water rushes into your mouth and nose, and then, please, God, peace, before death.

I turned the TV on early this morning, hoping for good news, but even more children had died.  As of 7 a.m., it was up to 20.  I know you can't bring religion, and God, into this, but I do wonder sometimes.  Why do the children have to die?

I watched one mother find her son and sobbing, fling…

Snoring: May Be Deadly If Not Treated Right

Have you had to move to another bedroom because of your spouse's snoring?  It's possible he (or she) has sleep apnea, a period of not breathing during the night that can happen hundreds of times during the night.   Not only does this not allow the person to get real sleep, it can also kill him.

Experts estimate that between 10 and 20% of the population who are middle-aged suffers from sleep apnea,
where breathing is briefly interrupted or becomes very shallow during sleep. But here's where the death part comes in. Sleep apnea can lead to serious health problems over time, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain.

And now they're even connecting it to Alzheimer's Disease (AD). Markers for the disease are present 15 to 20 years in people with sleep apnea, before the disease manifests itself, according to You just have to know what you're looking for.

Strangely enough, markers for AD were only found in the lea…

More Adam Lanzas? Coming Right Up!

A chilling new statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Almost 20 percent of children in this country have some form of mental illness.

According to a story in today's Washington Post, between 7 and 12 million children experience a "mental disorder" every year.  That's one in five kids.

And the rate is increasing, Tony Pugh reports.  Now, of course, we're not talking about all psychopaths, but children with disorders who find it hard to learn, behave and cope with their emotions.  The CDC puts that at  13 to 20% of all youths under 18.

Even scarier, only 21% get treatment.  Would therapy have helped Adam Lanza?  No one will ever know.   And it's not because parents don't take their kids for help, it's that the help isn't there.  Pugh notes that a  shortage of sub-specialty pediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists contributes to the problem.

Worse yet, fewer medical students are choosing specialties in pedi…

Move to the U.S. Die Younger.

Did you know that moving to the U.S. may kill you younger?  It's the truth.  The New York Times reports today that immigrating to this country makes people die earlier than they would if they had remained in their own country.

"The longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the(ir) parents," according to Sabrina Tavernise.

Sadly, once they're in this country, many immigrants lose their healthy diets, exchanging their traditional meals of corn and peppers and beans for Big Macs and KFC.  Even worse, they take up smoking (though smoking is popular in many European countries, too).

“There’s something about life in the United States that is not conducive to good health across generations,”  Robert A. Hummer, a social demographer at the University of Texas at Austin, told Tavernise.

Foreign-born …

Traumatized? Your Brain Changes Forever

Soldiers know what survivors of rape and assault and crime know.  Once you have been traumatized, your brain never goes back to what it was, even when there is no stress in your life.

According to a story at, once the brain has endured enough trauma, it functions abnormally even in the absence of stress.

Previous imaging studies of people with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have shown that these brain regions "can over-or under-react in response to stressful tasks, such as recalling a traumatic event or reacting to a photo of a threatening face."

But now researchers at NYU School of Medicine are studying what happens in the brains of combat veterans with PTSD when there are no external triggers, reports.

PTSD is known for triggering nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks and instability. As someone who has suffered from PTSD also, it's not something you ever want to relive.  And yet, you relive it almost every day.

Studies have found that 20…