Need a memory boost? Meditate…while eating macadamia nuts

mmw_meditation_091908_articleIf you love fatty food, maybe you should learn to focus really, really intensely on it. A new study suggests that a specific style of focused meditation can boost short-term memory, while separate research shows a link between dietary fats and long-term recollection.

First up, a new study by researchers at George Mason University found that “Deity Yoga” meditation could prompt improvements in visuospatial talents – the ability to retain images in visual memory. During DY meditation, practitioners image and focus on a detailed image, traditionally of a deity and the deity’s surrroundings.

This study compared three groups: DY meditators, OP meditators (who do not advocate visualization during meditation) and non-meditators. Participants first completed visualization tasks, meditators meditated for 20 minutes while non-meditators rested, and everyone then completed a second round of tasks. DY meditators scored significantly higher than both groups on the tasks performed after their meditation session.  Researchers think the finding “has many implications for therapy, treatment of memory loss, and mental training.”

Is Little Debbie a deity? If so, UC Irvine researchers might want to start a meditation group to further boost the recollection abilities they’ve tied to fatty foods. Previous studies have concluded that oleic acids from fats are transformed into a compound called OEA during digestion. Now, they’ve proven, using rodents, that OEA causes memory consolidation, the process whereby short-term memories become long-term ones. It’s likely that the process was an evolutionary tool, helping humans recall when and where they last found a high-fat food source. Today, such memory enhancement is a little problematic: OEA is likely responsible for those late-night cupcake cravings you can’t seem to shake…

So, until researchers come up with an OEA inhibitor of some sort, you’ll have to stop eating fatty foods to stop craving them. Maybe meditate on the Twinkie instead?

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New York a hotbed of deathly “beauty” injections

botoxThe Big Apple is always ahead of the curve on all things beauty, so the rest of the western world best be wary of the latest trend to take our fine metropolis by storm. New York’s department of health is warning that unlicensed practitioners are injecting bizarre and unregulated substances as “cosmetic enhancements” for lips, breast and even butt boosting.

“People who undergo these unsafe procedures hope to enhance their appearance, but the reality can be lifelong deformity and even death,” said Doctor Nathan Graber, director of the city’s environmental and occupational disease program.

Among the substances being injected: silicone, petroleum jelly, castor oil and mineral oil.

And the side effects: serious infections, nerve damage, respiratory and kidney failure, irreversible disabilities, disfigurement and death.”

The popularity of illegal cosmetic injections is on the rise since the start of the recession: the New York poison control center has received three calls in the last 10 months from doctors who treated patients injected with cheap, industrial-grade silicon by unlicensed practitioners in a so-called “underground beauty industry.”

Gross? Sure. But not so off-putting when you consider some of the legal alternatives.



Has your medicine cabinet been FDA approved?
04/17/2009, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

ogco_fda_1006Recent polls suggest that Americans are looking for alternatives to pricey doc visits and medical procedures as the recession takes its toll. From switching to generic prescriptions to trying natural supplements instead of medication altogether, we’re desperate to pop less expensive pills.

Aside from the obvious health hazards of cutting these corners, the new thrifty patient trend raises questions about the extent to which medical products, natural and non, are scrutinized and legislated. The FDA is by no means perfect (see here for their top screw-ups), but their approval is, at least, indication that what you’re taking has been tested by someone in a lab coat.

A round-up of what is – and isn’t – FDA approved:

Prescription meds: New drugs undergo an application process and testing, with FDA approval meaning that they’re “safe if used as directed.” Before a drug can become an over-the-counter offering, it needs to undergo another set of tests. The process isn’t quick, either: usually it takes 7 years from application to approval. But what the hell are they doing? A  2006 Institute of Medicine report found major shortcomings in the current FDA drug testing system. Examples of things you can do in 7 years: get a PhD, have 7 babies, digest a piece of gum. Approve a new cholesterol med? Eh, maybe.

Generics: Basically just a copy-cat of a drug whose patent has expired, a new generic undergoes tests to ensure that it is interchangeable with the name brand counterpart (which, we assume, underwent the scrupulous 7 year process discussed above). The drug need not have the same ingredients, it just has to do the same thing. In the 1980s, FDA officials were convicted of exchanging bribes for generic med approval…not good news for penny-pinchers out there.

renavive_fda_labCosmetics: Put down your lipstick. While cosmetics are under the jurisdiction of the FDA, the agency does very little safety testing unless the cosmetic is making some kind of health claim, which would classify it as a drug. The FDA doesn’t require the testing of cosmetics by companies, nor do they review ingredients or require product labeling. Maybe she’s born with it, but maybe it’s a rash from her blush…

Natural supplements: The FDA “oversees” $18 million worth of natural supplements each year, and sales of these products has grown steadily, and surged in the last few months. But buyer beware, because the supplements aren’t subject to the same safety tests as drugs, and have no approval requirements. Manufacturers can even make specific claims of health benefits on their labels, though they can’t claim to treat or cure an illness. The FDA is kind enough, though, to warn consumers when they might get cancer or drop dead from their supplements.

Marijuana: Nope. This one’s not FDA approved. According to their 2006 statement on thie matter, pot just didn’t pass those meticulous tests for safety and effectiveness. But I guess this one slipped by…



Got a face for radio? Transplant it.
04/16/2009, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

251530030Well, not quite. But face transplants are becoming increasingly common – doctors in Boston recently performed the seventh such operation, and surgeons around the world predict many more to come.

But this isn’t your basic nosejob: the operation uses the face of a dead body, incuding nerves, bone, skin and cartilage, to repair the visages of seriously disfigured individuals – including war vets and victims of accidents. Last week’s patient had lived nearly his entire life with serious disfigurement after a freak childhood incident, and Isabelle Dinoire, the first face transplant recipient, had been mauled by a dog.

The surgeries are, obviously, risky, and require between 15 to 20 hours of operating time. Patients then go through months of rehabilitation and need to take medication for the rest of their lives. Doctors warn that the psychological and social implications can be even more severe than the physical: talking, eating and drinking are difficult, along with the challenge of, well, living with an entirely new face…



Recession = extreme consumer cost-cutting?

empty-prescription-bottle-2001Two new reports this week suggest that consumers are cutting back on health spending – or opting to dole out cash for less pricey methods of bettering what ails them – because of tough economic times.

Sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements have surged in recent months. According to market research group Information Resources, sales of vitamins in the last three months of 2008 grew by nearly 8% compared with the same period a year earlier. Industry analysts said they’d seen the same transition – from mainstream to alterna-medicine – in previous economic downturns. Unfortunately, vitamins are not the same as prescription medications, and a natural grocer is not the same as a doctor, making the decision to sub one for the other a real health risk.

Last week, the LA Times reported that that 43 percent of Californians ages 50 and younger, in a survey conducted last month, said they had postponed care for a chronic health condition because of cost. Dental practices in California told the Times that business is down between 15 and 30 percent. Unfortunately, putting off medical tests or procedures can be dangerous – ER doctors are seeing more people whose chronic health problems have taken a turn for the worse after they postponed care.

Of all the things to cut back on – vacations, books, college funds, nose jobs – health should probably be last on the list. After all, if you’re dead, you won’t be able to enjoy the imminent ecomonic upswing I can see at the end of the tunnel…



Triathlons: an extreme danger?

id_856_2006itucorporateteamtriathlonworldchampionships2006110420061104_8331For many weekend warriors or casual athletes (or non-athletes, of course) the triathlon is an extreme and perhaps inconceivable feat of physical strength and stamina. The three-part events, consisting of a swim, bike ride and run (lengths vary depending on the “level” of competition, but some are full-day affairs), seem like the ultimate test of fitness.

Maybe so, but the first ever study of triathletes warns that they also pose significant risk of death. In fact, the risk is at least twice that associated with marathon races. Researchers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital used records on 922,810 triathletes competing in 2,846 USA Triathlon-sanctioned events between January 2006 and September 2008.

They found that about 15 out of a million participants died, all from heart failure. The risk sounds small, but researchers warn that it’s not inconsequential, and represents the highest rate of any sport-related death.

The problem stems from the soaring popularity of triathlons, drawing people not accustomed to such intense activity. Each year, over 1,000 triathlons are held and several hundred thousand Americans partake in the events. If you want to be one of them, doctors recommend the following precautions:

Doctors offer these tips to anyone considering a triathlon:

-Get a checkup for hidden heart problems.

-Train adequately before the event, including open-water swims – not just in pools.

-Acclimate yourself to the water temperature shortly before a race, and wear a wetsuit if it’s too cold.

-Make sure the race has medical staff and defibrillators on site.