Rabies: Knowledge That May Save Your Life

December 5, 2008

“I got rabies shots for biting the head off a bat but that’s OK – the bat had to get Ozzy shots.”
~Ozzy Osbourne

Rabies is caused by a variety of viruses in the family Rhabdoviridae. These viruses infect the central nervous system, thus causing brain degeneration. Passed to humans via animal bites , this virus initially causes fever, headache and general illness symptoms. Soon, however, the neurological degeneration causes anxiety, paralysis, hallucinations, and even hydrophobia (fear of water).
It can take only 24 hours for a person infected with rabies to die, and even if the dose of rabies into the human system is low, if treatment is not started within 24 hours of infection, the likelihood of death increases dramatically.
Thus, it is vital that a person who suspects exposure to the virus, meaning anyone ever bit by an animal, should immediately consult a doctor. Diagnosis of rabies is time consuming, and often doctors will administer the vaccine preventatively. It is also important to wash the wound thoroughly, and it has been shown that if washed with a diluted iodine solution, the incidence of developing rabies is significantly decreased.
Fortunately, the United States has implemented efficient programs to help work with infected animals and in curing infected individuals. The disease is highly curable, but is deadly if untreated. In the United States, “human fatalities associated with rabies occur in people who fail to seek medical assistance, usually because they were unaware of their exposure.” (1)
There are even preventative vaccines that can be administered to humans and animals. This is a very good idea for individuals who know they will be in an area where they can be exposed to rabies.
1. http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/about.html


Why so sleepy after your Thanksgiving dinner?

November 23, 2008

Many attribute the sleepy feelings after a large Thanksgiving meal to the amino acid, tryptophan.

This amino acid is an essential amino acid, meaning that it cannot be produced by the body. Thus, we need to ingest it regularly though our food. In your body, it is used to manufacture niacin (a B-vitamin). This contributes to the production of serotonin, which can regulate sleepiness.  That typical Thanksgiving focus, turkey, contains tryptophan, though not in a concentration any higher than most other meats.

It has become somewhat widely accepted that by ingesting turkey, the tryptophan is what causes a person to be lethargic. However, it is unlikely that this is the cause of the sleepiness. In truth, the competition that tryptophan goes through with all the other amino acids in the Thanksgiving meal causes it to have very little effect on the brain. It is more likely the alcohol consumed on this holiday that causes the tiredness.

However, if you have an empty stomach, it may have a greater chance for effect. So if you have leftover turkey and need a snack before bed, turkey may be a good idea for helping you drift off to sleep.


A Few Facts to Know About Alcohol….

November 14, 2008

Alcohol removes inhibitions – like that scared little mouse who got drunk and shook his whiskers and shouted: “Now bring on that damn cat!”” ~Eleanor Early


Alcohol has a variety of interesting effects on the body. It is a unique substance, in that, once it is in the blood stream, it can permeate the brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys and all other tissue systems of the body in only minutes. Because alcohol is diluted in the water of your body, it travels quickly through your system, especially to those places which contain a lot of water: like your brain.


Because alcohol can quickly collect in the brain, blackouts or memory loss are common. When alcohol collects it can cut off the supply of oxygen to the brain, killing tens of thousands of brain cells each time. In addition, if a person is more lean they tend to have more water in their bodies and thus alcohol is more diluted in their bodies when they drink. Conversely, a person with more fat can consume less alcohol before they become adversely affected. This phenomenon is easily noticed between men and women, because often men can have about 10% more water in their bodies then women. (Plus, women have differences in their digestive enzymes which make them more susceptible to alcohol.)


Absorption can also be affected by what the alcohol is mixed with. For example, water and fruit juices can slow absorption, while the carbon dioxide in soda can speed it up because it can pass through the stomach walls easily, taking the alcohol with it.


The average adult body will get rid of alcohol “at an average rate of approximately ½ to 3/4 ounce per hour, the equivalent of 1 ounce of 100-proof whiskey, one large beer, or about 3 to 4 ounces of wine.” (1) However, it is vital to remember this is only an estimate, and does not take into account your personal amount of water in your body and your tolerance.

In moderation, alcohol can be safe, yet it is important to be as informed as possible about your own body so that you can make safer choices about alcohol consumption.


Meningitis -immunize or die.

October 31, 2008

You may remember being immunized against meningitis before you came to collage. But what do you really know about it? Meningitis is a disease caused by either bacteria or a virus, typically spread through breath or kissing (that’s why they immunize collage students). Viral meningitis tends to be less severe than bacterial meningitis, which can result in brain damage, hearing loss or learning disabilities. (1)

This disease is extremely deadly, and thus most of the younger generations are immunized against this. When the infecting bacteria enter some of the protective layers of the brain (called meninges), the body produces an inflammatory immune response. When your body does this, it recruits a lot of white blood cells and other immune cells to fight the infection, and this causes severe swelling. The swelling causes pressure to build up within the skull, compressing and damaging the brain.

Thus, most common symptoms of meningitis are a very sudden fever, headache and a stiff neck. If you or anyone you know seems to display these symptoms it is vital that they seek medical attention. Meningitis symptoms often become evident within ours of infection, and can kill someone in 48hrs.

Fortunately, if caught early, meningitis can be treated with antibiotics and the risk of dying from meningitis can be reduced to below 15% . (1)

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial/faqs.htm

Herpes: You have it. Seriously.

October 24, 2008

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it… and so has everyone around you.”

A while ago, I read an article written in my college newspaper that explained how many people were contracting oral herpes via smoking hookah. This is entirely possible if disposable tips are used and not shared by smokers. A question was brought up about whether or not the herpes virus that causes cold sores could also give you genital herpes.

Herpes is actually very widespread, and chances are you have had some form of it and so has everyone around you. Now, that’s not to say that everyone has genital ulcers. Herpes has a variety of different forms. The form which most commonly causes cold sores is HSV-1. The most common form which causes genital herpes is HSV-2. Yet, here’s the answer to the previous question: HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. So a person with cold sores can give another person genital herpes (most likely through oral sex). Another myth is that a person only is contagious if they are having an outbreak of sores at the time. In fact, herpes is always being shed, whether you are having an outbreak or not. The difference is typically in the amount of virus, though it varies per person and per simplex.

Herpes Simplex Virus-1 causes cold sores

And have you ever heard of “mono?” Known as the “kissing disease,” infectious mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is another type of herpes. This disease infects your white blood cells and is spread through contact with infected saliva. It can cause severe sore throat, exhaustion, spleen swelling… and yet it can also have no symptoms. Then, for the rest of your life, you retain the virus and shed it, thus passing it on to other people.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of chicken pox. Did you know it is also a form of herpes? It is shed in droplets from an infected persons nose or throat, or from direct contact with the skin lesions. After contracting it once, most people will develop lifelong immunity to the virus, though the virus remains latently in the body. On rare occasions, it reoccurs in the form of shingles.

You may have thought herpes had nothing to do with you, but herpes can… surprise you.


Are you being poisoned by aluminum… daily?

October 17, 2008

The Earth’s crust is extremely rich in aluminum, and it’s chemical and physical properties allow it to be used in a variety of forms. It is considered to be a toxic metal ion. (1) You may exposed to aluminum daily in minor amounts via food, through leaching with aluminum cookware, and through antiperspirant (whose active ingredient is aluminum).

Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease characterized by deteriorating memory loss and dementia. It is the most common cognitive degenerative disease world wide and as many as 4.5 million Americans may suffer from this lethal illness. (2)

The causative factors of Alzheimer’s disease are not well understood. Research seems to indicate that a variety of risk factors may contribute to the onset of the disease, including advanced age (>65), genetic factors, and potential environmental factors. (2)

In the past, a link was proposed between consumption of aluminum and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists found traces of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, yet after many years and studies, no conclusive causative link has been verified between aluminum and this disease. (3)

Many people are hesitant to use aluminum cookware for fear that it will leach the metal into their food, and consumption of this will be detrimental to their long term health. According to one study, aluminum does in fact leach into food, typically when they are acidic. (1) Considered to be a potential neurotoxin, aluminum negatively affects metabolic reactions. (4)

According to the National Institute on Aging, “several risk factor genes may interact with each other and with non-genetic factors to cause the disease,” (2) and it is certainly inconclusive whether aluminum directly causes Alzheimer’s. However, it may be that someone with a family history of the disease who also exposes his or herself to aluminum in cookware and antiperspirants may be increasing the risk factors for the disease.

More studies need to be performed for any conclusive evidence on this subject, but as someone who has a family history of Alzheimer’s (all of whom consumed large amounts of aluminum via their environment for all their lives), I feel that caution is not unreasonable when it comes to limiting my aluminum exposure by using non-aluminum cookware and non-aluminum containing antiperspirants.

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6THH-4K18VPJ-C&_user=1493582&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1493582&md5=6f9eb36c3013a22dfcfdc71a33ea508d#secx
  2. http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/adfact.htm
  3. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/controversial-claims-risk-factors
  4. http://grande.nal.usda.gov/ibids/index.php?mode2=detail&origin=ibids_references&therow=210430

Hookah: Worse for you than cigarettes?

October 10, 2008

“The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.”
-World Health Organization Advisory

Hookah. It’s a pastime. You can sit down; relax with a group of friends for an hour or so and smoke some sweetly flavored steam…. Right?

Well, no. That’s the pretty side of the issue. Here’s the dirty end:

Hookah is purported to have been invented by an Indian physician, Hakim Abul Fath, around the 1600’s as an alternative and safer method for smoking tobacco. He believed that the smoke, once passed through water, would be rendered harmless. (1)

Subsequently, this belief has spread and is often used to support hookah use over cigarette or other forms of tobacco use.

From a World Health Organization advisory on the health effects of water pipe smoking:

“A waterpipe smoking session may expose the smoker to more smoke over a longer period of time than occurs when smoking a cigarette. Typically, a cigarette smoker will take 8-12, 40-75ml puffs over about 5-7 minutes and inhale 0.5 to 0.6 liters of smoke.

In contrast, waterpipe smoking sessions typically last 20-80 minutes, during which the smoker may take 50-200 puffs which range from about 0.15 to 1 liter each. The waterpipe smoker may therefore inhale as much smoke during one session as a cigarette smoker would inhale consuming 100 or more cigarettes.” (1)

Water does absorb a small amount of the nicotine, yet, as the WHO advisory states, “it is likely that the reduced concentration of nicotine in the waterpipe smoke may result in smokers inhaling higher amounts of smoke and thus exposing themselves to higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals and hazardous gases.” (1)

Due to the nicotine, heavy metals and carbon monoxide (and various other toxic chemicals) that are in hookah smoke even after it passes through the water, hookah smokers are at a heightened risk of developing cancer, hearth disease, respiratory disease and problems with pregnancy. (1)

Some studies show that hookah smoke contains 802mg of tar, compared to 22.3mg for cigarettes. Hookah smoke also contains 145mg of carbon monoxide compared to 17.3mg for cigarettes. That means, regardless of the nicotine intake, there is about 36 times the tar and 8 times the carbon monoxide in hookah than in cigarettes. (2)

Studies on hookah’s health effects are lacking, and more need to be performed. Current science shows that hookah is just as dangerous for a person’s health as cigarettes.

Personally, I feel that outlawing psychoactive drugs is an uphill battle, at best. It’s extremely hard to impose and expensive to fund the law enforcement.

Hookah is considered to be a fairly healthy alternative to cigarettes, and most people who would not ever consider smoking a cigarette smoke hookah regularly. This misconception has contributed to more hookah users who are unaware of the toxicity involved in this smoking pattern.

Moral of the story: More people need to be educated on the severe dangers of hookah and the misconceptions about it and more research needs to be done to support this educational initiative.

1. http://www.who.int/tobacco/global_interaction/tobreg/Waterpipe%20recommendation_Final.pdf

2. Alan Shihadeh and Rawad Saleh, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Carbon Monoxide, “Tar”, and Nicotine in the Mainstream Smoke Aerosal of the Narghile Water Pipe, American University of Beirut, 2005, 7.


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