Archive for the ‘Medicine and Health’ Category

She uses dance to help repair her brain

February 20, 2017

Clara Ooyama, once a corporate lawyer for Eastman Kodak Co., suffered serious impairment of brain function as a side effect of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer in 2006.

Over a two-year period, she lost basic mental capacities, including the ability to read and to multi-task.   Her doctor sent her to a brain rehabilitation clinic, but she was dismissed because she was too-high functioning.

With heroic determination, she worked to rebuild her neural pathways.  She at first worked six to eight hours a day on the controversial Lumosity brain training exercises, carefully keeping note of mental speed, memory, flexibility and ability to pay attention.

In 2013, her husband Steve Searles reached out to the Expressive Arts program of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance here in Rochester, N.Y.    Instructors helped her use dance and music as a way to do multiple tasks and hold multiple thoughts at the same time, and to integrate mind and body function.

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Trump moves fast to strike at Obamacare

January 21, 2017

President Donald Trump, in his first day in office, issued an executive order to cripple the administration of the Affordable Care Act.

trumppositionThe order (1) forbids administrators to issue any new order or regulation that imposes new costs on states and (2) authorizes administrators to suspend any order or regulation that imposes undue costs on individuals or states.

The limitations are that the change has to be permitted by law and that there have to be advance note and public comment on the changes if the law requires it.

That may sound relatively harmless, but the ACA is so complicated that it is hard to make it work and easy to make it cease functioning—like removing a couple of bolts from a highly complex machine.

Here are some of the things reporters said could happen under Trump’s executive order:

  • Delay indefinitely enforcement of all the individual and state mandates to buy or provide health insurance.
  • Expand hardship exemptions under the individual requirement to buy health insurance so that they cover virtually everybody.
  • Extend the option of state governments to approve health insurance plans that don’t meet all the requirements of the ACA, including refusal to refuse insurance to people with pre-existing conditions.

Another thing the Trump administration could do is to stop defending a lawsuit by the House of Representatives challenging the legality of a program to reimburse insurers for providing subsidies for low-income patients.   The program was authorized by law, but no money was ever specifically appropriated for it.   The U.S. District Court agreed the program is illegal; the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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White people dying faster in Trump country

January 20, 2017

Angus Deaton, co-author with Anne Case of a study of a rising mortality rate among white American working people, has found an interesting correlation.

He told Business Insider in an interview at the World Economics Forum in Davos that there is a 0.4 correlation between US counties with elevated mortality rates for white people and counties that voted for Trump.

“If you take county-by-county in the US, and you look at what we call deaths of despair — suicides, opioids and liver disease — that it correlates by 0.4 with votes for Trump.  That’s a big correlation.  There are 3,000 counties in the US. 0.4 with these things is a very strong relationship,” Deaton told us.

In stats, 1 is a perfect correlation and 0 is no correlation at all; 0.4 is a fairly strong relationship in a dataset that size. The stats suggest that Trump somehow tapped into white despair among voters.

There are caveats, of course.

“You can put almost anything in that picture, smoking, lack of exercise … but I do think there is a lot of malaise going on here.  Whatever it is these people are unhappy, they’re left behind, some of their jobs have gone away, they’re worse off than their parents were, they’re worried about opportunities for their kids.”

Source: Business Insider

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Will the GOP repeal the Affordable Care Act?

January 18, 2017

Update 1/19/2017.  It seems that in fact the Congressional Republicans do have an alternative of sorts to Obamacare.  A link has been added to this article.

The top video from Vox is about Kathy Oller, who lives in southeastern Kentucky and has a job signing people up for the Affordable Care Act.  It tells why many people in her area think the cost of the ACA is too high, and why they voted for Donald Trump.

The bottom video is about an interview of President Barack Obama by Vox reporters on the topic of health care.  Kathy Oller came along.  Her question to President Obama and his answer begin at the 37th minute and take about eight minutes.

President Obama is right in saying Republican leaders are irresponsible in proposing to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan in place, and in challenging them to come up with a better plan.

It’s apparent that the Republican leadership doesn’t have such a plan..

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Health care costs ate your pay raises

October 4, 2016

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Hourly compensation for American workers has increased 60 percent since 1970.  Hourly take-home pay has barely increased at all.

What’s the difference?  Financial analyst Barry Ritholtz said it is the rising cost of health insurance—which is most certainly not the same thing as a higher level of medical care.

Most American workers are probably better off taking their employer-based health insurance than they are taking their entire compensation in cash and trying to buy insurance on the open market.

Either way, we’re paying more for medical care, and getting less for our money, than citizens of other industrial countries.

LINK

Why Better Wages Are Tied to Healthcare Costs by Barry Ritholtz for The Big Picture.

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Health care costs and the U.S. middle class

September 2, 2016

Economics professor David Ruccio points out that, since the previous recession, the American middle class has been cutting back on spending—on everything except medical care.

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The Affordable Care Act was supposed to not only make medical care more widely available, but to make it affordable.   This hasn’t happened.  I think this is partly due to opposition by Republican governors and congressional representatives, but largely due to flaws in the law itself.

It’s a well-known fact that we Americans pay more for medical care and get less benefit than citizens of any other industrial nation.

ftothealthexp_pc_usd_long-1

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An argument for medical marijuana

July 20, 2016

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On average, physicians in states where medical marijuana is legal prescribe fewer drugs, especially painkillers, than in other states.   The implication is people who smoke pot have less need for painkillers or other prescription drugs.

Addiction to opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, is a serious problem.  Overuse of psychiatric drugs is another serious problem.  Marijuana can be abused, too, but it is by far less dangerous.

LINK

One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana by Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

Opioid abuse and the white American death rate

July 12, 2016

I wrote blog posts some time back about the Case-Deaton study of the rising death rate in the 21st century among middle-aged white people without college educations—a strange trend because the death rate continues to fall for all other demographic groups and also for Europeans.

OXYCONTINI also reviewed a book, Dreamland, about over-prescription of optoid drugs and how this has led to a heroin epidemic specifically among white people.  I didn’t make the obvious connection with the Case-Deaton study.

A blogger who calls himself Lambert Strether pointed out that the body count from opioid overdoses approaches the number deaths from AIDS.  If you think of opioid overdose as a disease, the vector of the spread is not a microbe and not unsafe sex, but the marketing strategies of certain drug companies—especially Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin.

I accept that there are deeper reasons for the rise in drug abuse than the unethical marketing of one drug by one company.  Purdue Pharma would not have been so successful if there hadn’t been a big potential demand for its product.  I still think drug prohibition hasn’t worked, just as alcohol prohibition didn’t work and gun prohibition wouldn’t work.

This is another question for which I don’t have good answers.  What do you think?

LINKS

Genocide by Prescription: The ‘Natural History’ of the Declining White Working Class in America by James Petras and Robin Eastman Abaya [added 7/14/2016]

Credentialism and Corruption: The Opioid Epidemic and the Looting Professional Class by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.  Very much worth reading.

Poison Pill by Mike Mariani for Pacific Standard.

Drug abuse and suicide: Why death rates have spiked among middle-aged white Americans, an interview of Angus Deaton, one of the authors of the study, by Christina Cauterucci for Slate.

Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a chance …

January 26, 2016

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a chance of winning, why is Wall Street so afraid of him?  As well as the Democratic establishment?  Also, don’t believe everything Hillary Clinton supporters say about Sanders’ health care plan.

What is killing Southern white women?

January 26, 2016

 

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Two researchers at Princeton University published a study last November indicating that the death rate for middle-aged white Americans was on the increase.

Statistical blogger Andrew Gelman analyzed the figures and concluded that the increase is concentrated among white women in the South.

Double click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

One thing he did was to adjust the figures according to age.  Not everybody in an age group, such as 55 to 64, is the same age, and changes in age distribution can skew the figures over time.

The top chart shows the results of Gelman’s adjustment and analysis.

The Princeton study said the main causes for the increased death rate were drug-related (overdoses), alcohol related (liver disease) and suicide—all indicators of despair.   An earlier study said higher mortality among white women was correlated with lack of education and heavy smoking.

Why would this affect Southerners, whites or women more than other Americans?  I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure, however, that southern white women, like other Americans, would be healthier and happier in a high-wage, full-employment economy.

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25 percent of fatal police encounters

December 21, 2015

About 2 percent of Americans have untreated severe mental illness.

Those 2 percent of people account for 10 percent of police responses, 20 percent of those behind bars, and 25 percent of fatal police encounters.

Source: Cop in the Hood

The healthy Hispanic life style

December 19, 2015

Hispanic_Poverty_Longevity400

Hispanics in the United States are nearly as poor, on average, as African Americans.  Yet they live longer, on average, than non-Hispanic whites.  What’s their secret?

Jasmine Aquilera, writing for Yes! magazine, says it is a combination of close community and family bonds, a healthier diet and la cuarentena, a Latin American tradition in which a new mother rests for the first 40 days after giving birth, not lifting a finger except to breastfeed and bond with her child.

A life in which community and family take priority would certainly be less stressful than a life in which priority is given to climbing the ladder of success—particularly in an economy in which so many people are moving down the ladder rather than up.

The traditional Mexican diet, based on corn, beans and rice, is indeed a healthy one.  It should not be confused with the Tex-Mex diet, with its big gobs of ground meat and melted cheese.   I think that the Tex-Mex diet may be a big reason Hispanics suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes.

I was especially interested in Aquilera’s report on the custom of cuartena. It reflects a culture that is profoundly pro-life in a way that goes beyond mere opposition to abortion and contraception.

I’ve read international surveys of happiness, which in general is proportional to the level of material well-being in various countries.  The exceptions are the former Communist countries of eastern Europe, where people are less happy than the statistics would indicate, and the Latin American countries, where people are more happy than the statistics would indicate.

I think Latin Americans have something to teach us Anglo Americans about how to live.

LINKS

Latinos Live Longest Despite Poverty.  Here’s Their Secret by Jasmine Aquilera for Yes!

Midlife death rate up more for U.S. white women

November 13, 2015

focus_group_3-1024x878Source: Andrew Gelman.

Last week I posted my thoughts about a study indicating a rising death rate among white American men age 45 to 54. Statistics expert Andrew Gelman writes that, if you make an apples-to-apples comparison, it is white American women we should be most concerned about.

He said the study did not take into account that the composition of the age 45 to 54 age group changed from 1999 to 2013. There was a higher proportion of white Americans in their early 50s and fewer in their late 40s.

If you make an age-adjusted comparison—45-year-olds to 45-year-olds, 46-year-olds to 46-year-olds and so on—the chart above shows what the trend looks like over time.

The age-adjusted death rate for middle-aged white American men is in fact higher than in 1999, but Gelman said it is white American women age 52 and under that should be the main concern.

LINKS

Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century by Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University.

Death rates have been increasing for middle-aged white women, decreasing for men by Andrew Gelman for Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science.

Correcting statistical biases in “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century”. We need to adjust for the increase in the average age of people in the 45-54 age category by Andrew Gelman for Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference and Social Science.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

To Understand Climbing Death Rates Among Whites, Look to Women of Childbearing Age by Laudan Aron, Lisa Debray, Elaine Waxman and Steven Martin for Health Affairs Blog.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

More American White Women Are Dying Prematurely by Stephanie Mencimer for Mother Jones.

What’s Killing Poor White Women? by Monica Potts for American Prospect (2013)

What is killing middle-aged white men? Despair

November 4, 2015

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We take it for granted that, in scientifically advanced countries, the death rate will decline.  But since 1999, there has been a dramatic increase in the death rate among non-Hispanic American white men aged 45 to 54, especially those without education beyond high school.

No such increase occurs among middle-aged white people in other countries or among other American ethnic groups.  Although the death rate for African-Americans is higher, it is not increasing, and, as the chart shows, the death rate for middle-aged Hispanic Americans (USH) is decreasing.

A Princeton University study indicates that the main reasons for the increased death rate are an increase in alcohol-related disease (liver disease), in drug overdoses (heroin and opioids) and in suicide—all diseases associated with depression and despair.

[Note added 11/13/2015: Some experts say the increase is primarily among middle-aged white women.]

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The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for Cracked.com.  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

The truth about Planned Parenthood

October 3, 2015

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It is not the case that abortion services are either a major part or a fast-growing part of the work of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

politifact_photos_mega-center-release-graphicAs the chart above shows and the chart at the side hides, the major activities of Planned Parenthood are providing knowledge and means of contraception, and screening and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections and diseases.

I understand that if you think abortion is equivalent to murder, not even one abortion should be allowed.  But it is up to you to make that case.  It does not justify distorting the facts about the work of Planned Parenthood.

According to my reading of the Constitution, the move to de-fund Planned Parenthood may be contrary to Article One, Section 9, which forbids bills of attainder.   A bill of attainder is a law to punish a particular individual or organization rather than a particular action—in this case, to de-fund Planned Parenthood rather than to de-fund abortion service providers in general.

I think that planned parenthood in its broad meaning—knowledge and use of contraception—is the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  I think a lot of those who want to de-fund Planned Parenthood object to planned parenthood in its broad meaning.

I think such people object to anything that would shield a woman from pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease or any other bad consequence of having sex outside marriage.  Or anything that would enable a married woman to prevent pregnancy.

LINKS

Whatever you think of Planned Parenthood, this is a terrible and dishonest chart by Timothy B. Lee for Vox.

The continuing Republican war on gynecology by Amanda Marcotte for Pandagon.

How a fake scientific study made the world sicker

September 28, 2015

vaccines-and-autism-89a95934a2e5e6433d229e2f44ee4b8fHat tip to Upworthy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The limited criminal liability corporation

September 21, 2015

The modern corporation is a structure that allows investors to maximize profit while limiting their individual losses.  The Volkswagen emissions scandal shows that it also is a structure that enables lawbreakers to limit their individual accountability for their crimes.

Because the corporation is treated by law as a person separate from its owners, the individual investors can’t lose anything more than what they put in.  Any debts over and above that are swallowed by the creditor or absorbed by somebody else.

vwWhen executives of a corporation break the law, it usually is the corporation, most of whose employees and owners may be completely innocent, that is penalized and not the individuals actually responsible.

Volkswagen since 2009 installed software in 482,000 diesel vehicles to turn on emissions control systems when approaching an inspection station, but leave them off the rest of the time, which improved fuel economy and engine performance.

Dirty-burning fuel sickened many people and made already-sick people worse.  By one estimate, it caused the deaths of from 5 to 26 people in southern California alone.

Installing such software is no easy task.  Corporate executives would have had to sign off on it.

News stories say that Volkswagen could be liable for up to $37,500 per vehicle, which would mean a penalty of $18 billion.  That would be a big fine.  Last year Volkswagen reported a net profit of $12 billion on $226 billion in revenue.  I would be surprised if VW wound up paying this amount.

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The passing scene – August 21, 2015

August 21, 2015

Our infant mortality rate is a national embarrassment by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post.  Hat tip to the Mahablog.

The phony unprincipled war on Planned Parenthood by Mary Sanchez of the Kansas City Star (via the Baltimore Sun)

The American infant mortality rate is the highest among developed nations.  The infants of rich Americans have as good a chance of survival as children anywhere in the world, but in the United States, like in countries such as Austria and Finland, the survival rate of children of poor, uneducated parents is much less.

Also, the United States has the same maternal mortality rate as Hungary and Iran.  People who are pro-life and pro-choice ought to agree that something should be done about this.

President Jimmy Carter’s amazing last wish by Sarah Kliff and Dylan Matthews for Vice news.

The Carter Center has nearly eradicated a horrible disease called Guinea worm, which was prevalent in Africa, by promoting common-sense public health measures.  President Carter’s last wish, expressed in his press conference on his brain cancer, is to follow through to eradicate the Guinea worm entirely.

Finland considers basic income to reform welfare system by Maija Unkuri for BBC News.

Finland is experimenting with a pilot project to guarantee everyone a basic minimum income regardless of whether they are employed or not.  It will be very interesting to see how this works out.

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What it means to be truly pro-life

August 16, 2015

In 2010, a woman named Sarah Gray gave birth to identical twin boys.  One of them had birth defects and died after a few days.  She and her husband Ross donated the Thomas’s eyes and liver, along with cord blood from Thomas and his twin brother Callum, for scientific research.

A few years later Sarah and Ross Gray learned what use had been made of their child’s remains.

The Schlepens Eye Research Institute in Boston used Ross’s eyes in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for corneal blindness.

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas

Sarah Gray looks at RNA sample from donated retinas.  Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Thomas’s retinas were given to the University of Pennsylvania, where they were used in a study that one day might contribute to a cure for retinoblastoma, the most common form of eye cancer in children.   The retina tissue is so valuable that some of it is being saved for future research.

Researchers at the Duke University Center for Human Genetics found subtle genetic differences in the cord blood that might help explain anencephaly, the genetic defect that killed Thomas.  The liver went to a biotech company named Cytonet, which used it to study the best way to freeze liver tissue.

Sarah Gray, who already had worked in public relations for non-profit organizations, became director of marketing for the American Association of Tissue Banks.

The Grays’ decision to donate their baby’s remains for scientific research shows what it means to be truly pro-life.

LINKS

Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact by Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Gray’s Donation, a Radiolab broadcast.

How heroin came to middle-class white America

August 13, 2015

DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones is the story of how heroin addiction spread through rural and suburban white America.

Dreamland was the name of a popular swimming pool in Portsmouth, Ohio, a small city on the Ohio river that once was the center of the U.S. shoe manufacturing industry.

The pool closed as the shoe industry declined, but Portsmouth gave birth to a new industry—the mass prescription of  legal but addictive pain medications such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ OxyContin.

Regular practitioners were misled into thinking that OxyContin, a biochemical twin of heroin, and related were harmless, but industry really took off with the spread of “pill mills”—medical practices that were limited to the prescription of pills for alleged pain/

DreamlandQuinones51pEBThe business of addictive prescription drugs is one part of the story Quinones told.  The other more startling part is how poor people in the small Mexican town of Xalisco (population about 20,000) created a nationwide distribution franchise system which spread their locally-cooked black tar heroin across the United States.

The Xalisco Boys, as police came to call them, did not carry weapons, did not use drugs themselves, and never sold to black people (whom they thought were violent).   They emphasized product quality, good customer service and competitive prices, with discounts for new customers.

They created an equivalent to a pizza delivery franchise, in which customers could call a certain number and have heroin delivered to a certain spot.   The drivers were inconspicuous, kept out of trouble and drove nondescript vehicles.

They put heroin in balloons, which they kept in their mouths.  When police stopped them, they swallowed the balloons, which they were later able to recover, with the heroin intact.

As they moved out from their original base in the San Fernando Valley, they avoided areas where violent drug gangs operated. Instead they moved into areas where prescription painkillers such as OxyContin were heavily sold, and offered their product as a cheaper and easier-to-obtain substitute.

The Mexican drug cartels and urban criminal gangs are responsible for much of the heroin sold in the United States, Quinones wrote.  They control the heroin trade in Chicago, Atlanta, northern California and many other urban centers, he said; very little heroin comes from Asia any more.   The Xalisco Boys took heroin where the established traffickers never thought to go.

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Evidently marijuana is less harmful than believed

June 29, 2015

imrs

I have never in my life used marijuana.  There was a time in my life when I would have partaken if offered, but it never was and I never asked.

I was the type of person that people would have suspected of being an undercover narcotics agent.  I also was the type of person who wouldn’t have been able to spot an undercover narcotics agent myself.

During the same period of my life I drank a lot more beer than was wise.  I thought that being able to drink and hold my liquor was a manly thing.  The fallacy was that I didn’t hold my liquor all that well.  My drinking nowadays is confined to a glass of wine a couple of times a month.

I never did smoke cigarettes, so there’s that.

LINK

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to my e-mail pen pal Jack)

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Cancer and cell phones

June 15, 2015

Source: XKCD

Ink made from residue in dead smokers’ lungs

May 6, 2015

If this ad doesn’t make you want to quit smoking, nothing will.

Doctors Without Borders on the TPP

April 17, 2015

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It is not too late to modify these harmful rules.  Negotiations among the United States and 12 other nations have been  are in the process of being completed, and it is now will then be up to the United States Congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement—or not.