Monday, April 30, 2007

Bird flu: more drug than bug

All quiet on the eastern front. The enemy is there, but he seems to sit in his retreat area and prepare his next attack. Time for us to prepare against a bird flu pandemic in humans. Do we use this time properly?

At the moment, the situation is a paradox. As the bug is quiet and does not show up, the Swiss pharmaceutical group Roche will cut production of its antiviral drug Tamiflu. Too little bug, too much drug, Roche says. Supply exceeds demand. Read more about Tamiflu and vaccines in Revere's excellent blog Effect Measure. In his opinion we are not prepared in case of a bird flu pandemic.

On the basic research front against bird flu there has been some news recently. Chitin, the substance of insect skins and shells, has shown to be protective against the bird flu virus H5N1 when applied as a nasal spray in mice. Of course there is a long road from mice to men, but at least there is some hope besides Tamiflu and weak vaccines. - (Picture by CookieM @ Flickr)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Prostate cancer risk lower in diabetics

blood sugar meter
Not all is lost when your blood sugar climbs beyond the 250 mg/dl mark. Yes, you may face a higher risk for certain diseases. But today let's put them aside for once. Because there is a very different disease, that is, with a lower risk in diabetics. That disease is prostate cancer.

If you are a diabetic and physically active, your prostate cancer risk will be only half of a non-diabetic's. This is the result of a study in more than three hundred thousand men in the US. I must admit that this cannot outweigh all the negative aspects of diabetes. Yet I think that such a rare positive effect must be made public in an otherwise very negative world.

By the way, you may suffer from stress all the time, and your prostata cancer risk will remain all the same, as a study from Copenhagen has shown. Stress may be harmful in many aspects, but not so in prostate cancer. - (Picture by free2bjcphotos @ Flickr)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cooked tomatoes beneficial but do not lower blood fat

tomato sauce
They are healthy, especially when cooked, because heat releases from tomato cells a substance called lycopene. This is a special carotenoid, a powerful antioxidant relevant to health. For instance, it slows down the growth of various cancer cells.

Its action against the development of free radicals from blood fats (lipids) has been observed in a group of Indian patients with coronary heart disease.

Let's be grateful to the tomato doing this good job. And let's not expect too much. While tomatoes make blood fat less dangerous because it is less oxidized, they do not make the profile of blood fats better. That is, they do not lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and they do not raise the beneficial HDL cholesterol. But who says that the poor cooked tomato must to the whole job? Eat soluble fiber and your cholesterol level will go down.

When it comes to beneficial effects of fruit and vegetable, single substances like lycopene never can tell the whole story. Real life is richer than simple effects. For instance tomatoes, besides lycopene, contain many more good substances such as vitamins and phenols. - (Picture by theweirdone @ Flickr)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The magnetic breasts of Aphrodite

They always have attracted me like magnets. And I always have taken it for a metaphor - up to the moment when I stumbled over the fact that female breasts really produce a magnetic field. Greek researchers have found that this tiny little magnetic field changes in waves or curves with the menstrual cycle.

Of course I do not see any practical meaning in this research - besides the tiny little psychological kick it gives me when I look at these beautiful curves, knowing that they are really magnetic, which makes them still more attractive to me. (Picture by soumit @ Flickr)

This post would be incomplete without mention of Sue's Breast View Blog, featuring a special photography project where you can see very, very special breasts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doctors more dangerous than gun owners

You are 7500 times more likely to be killed if you visit your doctor than if you meet a gun owner, according to Sidney W. Dekker, professor of human factors at Lund School of Aviation in Sweden. His calculation is based upon error counting in various domains. Maybe the low figure of gun deaths in Sweden, compared to the USA, has to be taken into account. All the same, the odds ratio must remain impressive. But is it really true?

Just to put it clearly: I am for strict gun laws. Guns are dangerous and must be controlled by law, in my opinion. But if doctors are so dangerous, who controls them? I appreciate that they do their best to report errors in order to prevent them in the future. But the Swedish professor warns from being naive: Error counting and reporting «uphold an illusion of rationality and control but may offer neither real insight nor productive routes for improving safety», he says.

The professor seems to look through a magnifying glass. But what do we find if we take a broader look? People exposed to doctors, in general, are much less healthy than average people exposed to gunmen. This fact alone makes excess deaths more likely, by orders of magnitude. Gun owners do not always carry their weapon when you meet them, but doctors diagnose or treat you in every visit. And a last point: You have no choice than to trust your doctor or you will probably die from your disease. (Picture by Drome @ Flickr)

Ferret Fancier sees statistics heavily abused in this case, making it clear with this example: «It is also true statistically that one is more likely to be killed by a family member than by a serial killer. By the same logic this would mean that our family members are more dangerous than serial killers. Something does not quite add up here.»

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Flu and SARS, heart attacks and the weather

If you want to survive, you have to know your potential killers. One of them is constantly present in the medical journals. The next big flu pandemia will come sooner or later. It will kill mainly the old and the ill. But, unfortunately, surviving the flu is no guarantee for staying alive. A time of flu is also a time of heart attacks, exactly, of myocardial infarctions. This link has been confirmed in an eight year death statistics of St Petersburg, Russia: The odds of dying from heart attack rise by 30 percent during a flu epidemic. This is considerable, yet we have to keep in mind that a person suffering from coronary heart disease is bound to die earlier than a healthy person. Thus, we do not speak of excess deaths here but rather of accelerated deaths. And yes, this is commonplace as we all must die.

Both flu and heart attacks are linked to weather, that is, to cold weather. Winter is flu season. But this is not the case with SARS, a closely related disease. The danger of an outbreak of this respiratory virus infection is highest with moderate temperatures and a high air pressure. When it is cold or very hot, the infection rate drops, as an analysis of the Chinese outbreak of 2003 has shown. Fortunately, SARS seems to be no danger at the moment, but we should be warned. Any new virus spreading around the world and killing people will be favoured by certain weather conditions. We can do anything against a virus, but we cannot change weather. - (Picture by shengfalin @ Flickr)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Small baby, beware of catching up!

hand of a fat baby
A high birth weight of a baby makes parents happy and proud. A low birth weight makes them feel worried because of higher odds of various diseases later in life. There are many studies showing this. One main focus is the heart: An increased risk of coronary heart disease has been found in low birth weight babies after they have grown up.

This end result may be interesting, but even more important is the question of how this effect evolves in childhood and how it can be curbed or prevented. A Japanese study with such an approach has come to a conclusion that all parents of small babies should know: Low birth weight as such is not necessarily the worst case for baby's future health. Yet worse is a low birth weight followed by a rapid weight gain in infancy.

In order to be able to measure the effect in early childhood, the Japanese researchers have used an indirect approach. In the first years of life, atherosclerosis is not yet detectable. But what can be found are so-called biomarkers known to favour the development of lesions in blood vessels. A rapid weight gain in childhood lowers the level of adiponectin and increases the level of uric acid. Both effects are linked to a higher risk of coronary heart disease later in life.

As far as weight is concerned, our nature seems to love steadiness and to hate abrupt changes - in childhood as well as in adulthood. Being overweight may be bad. Yo-yo effect is worse. Being a low-weight baby may be bad. Rapid weight gain is worse. Keep this in mind when you feed your small baby. Let it grow, but not too fast. - (Picture by sockmonkey59 @ Flickr)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Silica, the unknown micronutrient

silica sand
Do you know all the minerals you need? Probably not, according to this source: Silica, in the chemical form of silicium dioxide, is not soluble in water. But as silicic acid, it is absorbed by the body and used for many functions of health: Bone, connective tissue, blood vessels, kidney, and liver could not work properly without silicic acid.

A silica deficiency leads to deformities in the skull. But despite this fact you will not find silica in the micronutrient list of Wikipedia. Nor has a recommended daily intake been established. It seems that for most people silica is no problem because natural water contains enough of it. Take a glance to the mineral content next time you drink bottled mineral water: Look for a formula containing Si for silicon. - (Silica sand picture by Clouds76 @ Flickr)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Federer also top in life expectancy

Roger Federer
Of all top athletes, tennis players live longest (79 years) and boxers live shortest (73 years), according to an Italian survey in all world-famous athletes born between 1860 and 1930. For all other sports, such as baseball, ice-hockey, football (soccer), track and field, basketball, swimming and wrestling, live expectancies of top athletes are in between - 76 years on average with no significant differences between the disciplines.

Anyway, Roger Federer has best chances to be alive and well in 2061, given the fact that life expectancy in general has grown since the 1930s. - (Picture by CB @ Flickr)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Amalgam toxicity remains unclear

dental fillings
How many amalgam fillings do you have? I have some, and therefore I regularly check the news about its toxicity. There has been some debate about mercury from amalgam causing Alzheimer's disease or multiple sclerosis. A new meta-analysis on the multiple sclerosis link has found a small, but not significant increase of the risk in amalgam users.

«Not significant» means no effect that is beyond doubt. It does not mean that there is no effect at all. More precise studies may reveal a significant effect in the future. But this effect is not likely to be strong, otherwise it would show up with the present studies.

In my personal opinion, the new results do not support the immediate removal of old amalgam fillings. Firstly, the mercury load from the removal would be considerably bigger than leaving the fillings untouched. Secondly, who knows about the long-term toxicity of composite fillings that would replace amalgam? - (Picture by Scratch @ Flickr)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Work stress at the computer? Try Qigong!

computer work
If you are under stress at work, biology wants you to get on your feet, to yell around, to fight or to flee. But if you are an office worker, you must obey the needs of a device called computer. It forces you to sit, to stare at the screen until your neck aches and to submit your shoulders to the needs of the keyboard. This is extremely unhealthy, to put it mildly.

But now, Swedish researchers have found a solution from China: Qigong. This method of movement discipline can reduce stress significantly, as has been measured by the outputs of the sympathetic nervous system. And even more, it also reduces low-back pain. - (Picture by Ben Romberg @ Flickr)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mothers and breast cancer: A not so simple story

young mother
Is the breast cancer risk of mothers lower than of women who never have given birth? Yes, say some. No, say others. Who is right? Both are right and both are wrong, according to a study of the National Cancer Institute.

The solution of this enigma is timing: at age 25, breast cancer risk is lower without a birth. With every year added, the risk difference between childless women and mothers gets smaller and smaller. At age 40, things get reversed. From now on, mothers can profit from a lower risk. As a woman reading this post, beware of trying to be «smart»: It does not pay to combine a childless period in young age (smaller risk) with giving birth at fourty. Let alone the fact that children of older mothers have a higher risk of various diseases. Neither does it pay for the mother. On contrary: A younger age at first birth lowers the risk of breast cancer. Things are really not so simple.

But what counts here is the general trend of more cancer when growing older. If you are young and your risk is small anyway, then you may tolerate if it gets up a bit. But if you are old and your risk is considerable, every factor that helps to curb that risk must be very welcome. - (Picture by Our Awesome @ Flickr)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Alcohol News of the Week

alcohol bottles
On drinking history, health, violence, disinhibition, families and the importance of liver holidays.

Do you recall your drinking history? Based upon this source, I would guess that your alcohol consumption has shown a marked peak when you reached legal drinking age. Are you a woman? The peak will be less pronounced than if you are a man. No surprise so far; new things, in general, are attractive for youngsters. After your first experience period with alcohol, maybe some weeks, months or years, your consumption is likely to have dropped in frequency as well as in quantity. And now, how old are you? As you grew older, I would guess that you drank more and more. If you had no dramatic episodes to cope with, this increase is likely to be gradual, steady and slow and will continue up to your retiring age. - For me, this history is more or less true, with some extra peaks and depressions. For instance, at business lunches, I have drunk red wine with my customers, collegues or publishers until I learned that my productivity in the afternoon dropped dramatically.

In old age, drinking patterns are closely related to health behaviour. Good health is linked to moderate drinking, poor health to no drinking at all, and smoking and eating too fat (in men) or a lower body mass index (in women) to excessive drinking. (This last connection sounds strange to me, but it's what has been found.)

Heavy drinking is linked to domestic violence, with marked differences between the sexes. The roles are clearly allocated: Did you ever hear of a man battered by his wife? A study about battered women shows that the more severely they are attacked, the more they drink to cope with their trauma. The study has not examined the men, but I guess they were also drunk when they battered their wives.

This brings me to the subject of disinhibition. It works both ways: If you are drunk, your inhibitions fade away; on the other hand, if your inhibitions are overridden in a sexual, euphoric or depressive situation, you are more likely to drink heavily, according to this study. Sexual disinhibition, will lead to heavy drinking episodes, but not to alcohol-related problems. Coping with stress will lead to alcohol-related problems. Euphoric social situations, interestingly, will lead to both heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems.

What is normal and what is heavy drinking? In families, this is not easily recognized, says this Dutch study: Parents as well as children underestimate the alcohol drinking of each other, in particular, the quantity.

Heavy drinking (more than 300 grams of alcohol or 30 standard drinks a week for a man) is likely to cause serious damage to your organism. Drink moderately and you'll have no problem with your health. Most heavy drinkers may be alcohol-dependent and will suffer when drinking less. But there is still a lot of good they can do: Take a liver-holiday. Heavy drinkers who abstain from alcohol for three days a week (not necessarily on consecutive days) stay as healthy as moderate drinkers, according to this Japanese study. Still, I do not recommend it. If you drink, do it moderately. It is better for your health, believe me. - (Picture by toomanybeers @ Flickr)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Body fat, uterus cancer, and the pill

fat woman
The higher the body mass index of a women, the higher are also her odds to get a cancer of the uterus, called endometrial cancer. Source: A big European Study. It seems to be clear what a woman has to do against it: Eat less, stay slim or lose her fat. But this is far from easy.

Fortunately, there is another way that may help to lower this cancer risk: Take the pill. Oral contraception may attenuate the cancer-promoting effect of too much body fat to a certain extent. But nothing is for nothing. The pill may raise cancer risk in other locations of the body such as cervix or breast. - (Picture by Beddoes @ Flickr)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

How many drinks, how many breast cancers?

woman drinks
You want to know it exactly? Every additional drink (ten grams of alcohol) a day makes the breast cancer risk of a woman rise by three percent. This figure has been calculated in a European study, based upon a huge database from more than a quarter million of women.

The bigger the number, the more precise statistics, they say. But for a single woman, even a most precise statistic has not much to tell. In general, the risk of breast cancer is low, and three percent of a low level is very, very little. But projected up to all European women, we speak of 129 additional women with breast cancer if they all would consume one more drink daily.

However, most interestingly, this effect does not last. If lifetime alcohol intake is considered, there is no link to breast cancer at all. Therefore, alcohol increases breast cancer risk only if a woman begins to drink more than she did before. The reason could be that she has a problem, and this problem may help to promote cancer. - (Picture by johnnyalive @ Flickr)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Quit smoking and health begins to rise

quit smoking
But you must be patient and stay smokefree for three and more years. After that, health begins to rise, according to a study from Pomerania, Germany. The researchers have measured smoking cessation and the risk of being hospitalized in a sample of more than four thousand adults. - (Picture by timothyjohnhulme @ Flickr)

And why is there no short-term effect of quitting? Because the main reason for a smoker to quit is his doctor telling him he must, because he has found something bad: Quitting and entering a hospital may have a common cause in the short run. I would gess that the rise of health begins at the very day you quit smoking. But the success may be masked by the reason that causes you to quit. Anyway, better you do it today than tomorrow.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Cancer survival better in middle than in old age

The odds of surviving a cancer in the first year after diagnosis may be twice as good if you are in your fifties than in your sixties or seventies. This is the result of a large survey in fifty-three cancer registries of European countries. This is bad news only for those of the elderly who are bound to die fast anyway.

And now the good news: With every year, the difference declines. Five years after diagnosis, the surviving odds of the middle-aged and the elderly are more or less the same.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Work stress may cause sugar problems in women

work stress woman
Diabetes of type 2 is not only a matter of overweight but also of stress and lack of social support. Stress, mainly at work, more than triples the odds of type 2 diabetes in women, according to a Swedish study. More than thirty thousand persons have been examined, women as well as men.

Only in the women but not in men was stress linked to diabetes. Very interesting. If you argue that women are more likely than men to eat sweets under stress, this may not be the full truth: The researchers have adjusted their results for body mass index, and even in women with the same weight status the difference remained. Most likely, there is some direct action between stress and sugar metabolism, at least in women.

Men, biologically and in many health-related issues, are the weaker of both sexes. But when it comes to stress, they seem to be the heroes in the sense of the old role model.

(Picture by Little Vic @ Flickr)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Parental smoking makes children sick

This is for sure. I do not know the number of studies that support this fact, but it must be impressive. More and more studies are being added, such as this one from Izmir, Turkey: Infections of the lower respiratory tract are nearly five-fold increased in children with smoking parents, compared to children growing up in a smoke-free home.
Studies that fail to show an effect of passive smoking are often faulty. In Rome, Italy, researchers have spotted the fault, and after it has been removed, the real result showed up: Parents who smoke at home make the lung function of their offspring drop. A first negative result has been due to the passive smoke exposition of some children not at home, but outside, clouding the difference between smoking and non-smoking homes. If ever you hear of a study claiming no effect, keep this example in mind.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Passive smoking: You may lose your virility or get cancer

Others smoke around you? How is your sex life? These and more questions have been asked, of course much more detailed, to more than two thousand men in the Boston area. The answers reveal a clear-cut picture: The more smoke, the less potency. In principle it makes no difference whether the smoke is inhaled passively from others smoking around or actively from the own cigarette. It is just a matter of dose, but with smoke, there is no harmless level. Passive smoking is equivalent to smoking between ten and nineteen pack-years of active smoking, according to this study.
The link of passive smoking to lung cancer has been established in many studies. But bladder cancer may be added to this list soon. In Maryland, more than ninety thousand persons have been examined in two groups. One group of passive smokers suffered a nearly three-fold increase in the risk of bladder cancer, in the other group, this was not observed. Results are conflicting, sometimes. The world is not always easy to understand. But when it comes to poison, it is wise to believe in danger rather than to deny it.

Monday, April 2, 2007

One clove of garlic not to lower cholesterol

Eat garlic and your heart will be okay? Well, there is some truth behind this statement. But as far as cholesterol is concerned, it might be exaggerated. At least if you eat only one four-gram clove of garlic daily. Are you willing to eat more? At Stanford University this 4-g-dose has been tested against placebo with 192 patients in a double-blind study. This resulted in no effect on cholesterol.
Maybe you should eat more than one clove, or even better, take a garlic powder tablet. At the Shiraz University of Medical Science, in Iran, such a tablet has been tested with fifty patients in a single-blind study. The dose was equal to only 0.4 grams of garlic, tenfold lower than at Stanford. This resulted in a lowering of the harmful LDL-cholesterol and in an increase of the beneficial HDL-cholesterol. But this single-blind study cannot compare with the quality of a double-blind study at Stanford.
So what? For me, the first conclusion is that garlic may be good for your heart, but do not expect miracles. Of course cholesterol is only one issue in this context, and maybe not the first one. The anti-clotting properties of garlic may be much more important. And last but not least: Garlic is only one of many good things that can do the heart a favour. I end this post, raising a glass of red wine.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Who gives advice or recommendations?

In most cases every claim, statement, advice or recommendation in this blog reflects the opinion of the author of a scientific publication and is supported and communicated by the author of this blog. For example this advice against too rapid weight gain of small babies.

My style may be a bit different. For scientists all things «may be» at most, even if they are quite sure that they are. My language is more direct and to the point. But of course, even if I do not mention it all the time, things can be different, and nothing is for sure. Keep this in mind.

Sometimes a claim, statement or recommendation is not given by the author of a scientific publication but is my own interpretation. In this case, this is clearly indicated, for example this advice against removing old amalgam fillings. Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional. My knowledge is based on research of medical publications and is under constant development.

Warning: If you are under medical treatment, do not use any claim or recommendation given in this blog without having it discussed with your physician. Even if a claim may be correct for most persons, it may be useless or even wrong in your special case.

Why did you blog as Mousetrapper?

I started blogging about chess as a member of the «Knights Errant», a group of chessplayers of various strengths, trying to improve by a tactical exercises program. My blog name reflects my fascination for certain mating patterns where the King is surrounded by blocked squares like a mouse in a trap.

In the first couple of months after I started Med Journal Watch, I still have used my old blog name.

Read This First

Author and Webmaster
Responsible for this blog: Christian Bachmann is a non-medical professional who, after university studies in human anatomy and physiology and a Swiss university diploma in biology, has been working as a science and medical writer and editor since 1977. He has been interviewed by Nick Genes for Medscape: A New Twist on «Keeping Up With the Literature».

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Emails are welcome if you agree or disagree with any statement, opinion or recommendation on this site or if you have questions or doubts. Feedback from highly qualified readers (peer review) is particularly welcome. Send your email as follows:

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The information provided by Med Journal Watch is intended for any readers interested in the newest results of medical research as published in Medline or other sources of high scientific reputation. It is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her physician. If recommendations or claims about nutrition, exercise or any other scope of healthy behaviour or about any method or therapy are made, their source (original publication or the author's personal opinion) is clearly stated. Every post is linked to its source of information.

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If you got to this page by a search engine, please do not read further but go to the Stroke Health Quiz of August 5, 2007. Take a pencil and a paper and write down the answers, then come back.

A. The five classical signs of a stroke

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg - especially on one side of the body.
  2. Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  3. Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  4. Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  5. Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
B. The seven most important stroke risk factors
  1. Older age
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Heart disease
  4. Diabetes
  5. Cigarette smoking
  6. High cholesterol
  7. Stroke has occurred in the family
Add a point for every correct answer.

10-12 points
Excellent. You got the basics, but feel free to learn more about the details.

7-9 points
Not too bad but you may have missed some important points. Make sure to learn them.

0-6 points
You just have made an important step to fill your gaps of knowledge. Keep on, it may save your life or the life of others in an emergency.

Knowledge base
Wikipedia: Stroke
National Stroke Association