Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s new opinion on marijuana

In a new documentary titled “Weed”, chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reevaluates his thoughts on marijuana and touches on the topics of its medical use, abuse, and legal status. As a former opponent to the medical use of marijuana, Dr. Gupta has written an article for TIME magazine in 2009 titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot”, which was largely due to the lack of compelling evidence in the studies he read. However, upon researching studies from other countries that shows its beneficial effects for legitimate patients, he began having a change in opinion and offers a formal apology on the documentary.

DEA Drug Schedule classification. Source: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/dea/pubs/legaliz/claim5.htm

His opposing opinion that he held in the past was largely due to malingers, abusers, and the legal status of marijuana, which is classified as Schedule 1 (no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse). Despite having these views, Dr. Gupta met a patient named Charlotte Figi from Colorado, who suffered from having about 300 seizures a week. After using medical marijuana, her seizures were reduced to a mere 2 or 3 times a month. He says that, after spending time with patients that were prescribed medical marijuana, he realized that the physicians did so in order to provide them responsible and effective medical care.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta also examines another major controversy surrounding the drug—its high risk of abuse. He states that previous studies have shown that it does not lead to the medical definition of addiction, nor does it provide a “gateway” to becoming addicted to other drugs, such as morphine, heroin, or cocaine. It can, however, lead to dependence, which occurs with 9 to 10% of adult users, but in comparison to the Schedule 2 drug cocaine (which is classified as having less potential for abuse than Schedule 1 drugs), 20% of users become addicted. Dr. Gupta also further explains that great responsibility comes with legalizing it—just as alcohol has an age restriction, so should marijuana (for which recreational use among younger people has led to its stigma).

The documentary goes on to further discuss these topics, as well as challenges in medical research. You can watch the premier of his documentary on August 11, 8pm Eastern time on CNN.

What are your thoughts about legalizing marijuana for medical use?

References

Gupta, S. (2013, August 8). Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed – CNN.com. CNN. Retrieved August 9, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/08/health/gupta-changed-mind-marijuana/index.html

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Trouble sleeping? Turn to the great outdoors

Have you heard medical professionals, friends, or family members advising you not to watch too much TV or not to stay on the computer for too long, especially before bedtime? Many of us may have heard how these kinds of practices may disturb our sleeping patterns, but an article from BBC News discusses a study about how camping can help reset our body clocks and sleeping patterns (McGrath, 2013).

 

Those who spend a lot of time using electronics, particularly those that emit artificial light, are more likely to have a disrupted sleep pattern (Wright, McHill, Birks, Griffin,  Rusterholz & Chinoy, 2013). The study was conducted in Colorado and had the participants camp outdoors for one week. The participants were not allowed to use any electronics, and their only source of light was from the campfire. What the study showed was all the participants adjusted their sleeping patterns to the sunrise and sunset, which is what dictates our internal circadian rhythm for sleeping.

Professor Wright of the University of Colorado states the results of this study shows the beneficial effects of sunlight, particularly with heavy electronic users or those with sleeping problems. He suggests taking a walk first thing in the morning and dimming electronics at night to help you sleep earlier.

But for those who find it hard to give up using their electronics at night, you can download the f.lux app, which adjusts your screens brightness as well as color according to the time of day. Available for your computer, iPhone, or iPad, f.lux simulates intensity and hue of outdoor lighting to avoid the harsh glare that electronics tend to have at night. The app is available at their website:

 

http://justgetflux.com/

 

 

References

McGrath, M. (2013, August 1). Carry on camping – can a week under canvas reset our body clocks?. BBC News. Retrieved August 2, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23530408

Wright, K., McHill, A., Birks, B., Griffin, B., Rusterholz, T., & Chinoy, E. (2013, August 1). Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle. Current Biology. Retrieved August 2, 2013, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982213007641

Cat feces: a potential public health problem?

While it may seem silly, cat poop has the potential to be a public health problem, according to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey (of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland) and Dr. Robert H. Yolken (from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine). In an interview with CNN, the doctors weigh in on the issue of cat feces and Toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasitic microorganism commonly found in the feces (“Is cat poop dangerous?”, 2013).

T. gondii causes a condition called toxoplasmosis, usually associated with foodborne illnesses, which affects about 60 million people in the U.S. However, most do not show symptoms because the immune system is able to fight off the infection, but for immunocompromised people and pregnant women, the symptoms of a serious infection include muscle aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, reduced or blurred vision, and central nervous system symptoms such as seizures, altered mental status, and headaches. Interestingly, some studies have also suggested a relationship between schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis and having T. gondii antibodites.

A cat with T. gondii is able to excrete about 100 million microorganisms a day, and with about 82 million domestic cats and between 25 and 60 million un-owned cats in the U.S., the risk of infection may be greater than expected. Additionally, about 1.2 million tons of cat feces are excreted into the environment each year.

Dr. Torrey and Dr. Yolken do point out that indoor cats do not usually carry the infective form of the disease, and give the following tips to avoid Toxoplasmosis:

  • Dispose of cat litter properly, do not dispose it in the toilet because it can enter the environment and waterways
  • Cover children’s sandboxes and play areas when they are not being used, since cats will use areas with soil or sand as toilets (furthermore, high concentrations of T. gondii have been found in these types of areas)
  • Gardeners should always use gloves, as one study showed that as many as 100 oocysts (immature forms of the microorganism) can be found in the fingernails of gardeners who do not wear gloves
  • Thoroughly wash vegetables from a garden
  • Have pregnant women avoid tending to a cat or in environments where cats can relieve themselves

 

References

Is cat poop dangerous?. (2013, July 9).CNN. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/health/expertqa-cat-poop-risks/index.html

Longo, D. L., Kasper, D., Jameson, J., Fauci, A., Hauser, S., & Loscalzo, J. (2012). Toxoplasma Infections. Harrison’s principles of internal medicine (18 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Toxoplasmosis Frequently Asked Questions. (2013). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html

Choosing an Insect Repellent

Mid-summer means that bugs and mosquitoes will be biting away, necessitating outdoor-lovers to wear insect repellent.

An environmental advocacy group called The Environmental Working Group discusses the safety and toxicity issues that accompany some insect repellent ingredients. The group divides types of insect repellents by age group and health status, as well as what diseases you are trying to protect yourself from.

The group also dispels some facts and myths about certain ingredients in insect repellents. For example, Picardin is not as effective as DEET, but it can provide all day protection from mosquitoes and does not irritate or have a strong odor. DEET, although associated with neurological problems, has a low rate of adverse reactions (1 per 100 million people). It is also considered a reasonable choice for protection against Lyme disease and West Nile Virus at a concentration of 20-30%.

Natural oils like Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus can provide up to 6 hours of insect protection at a concentration of 30%, but should not be used with children under 3 because of lung irritation.

Here are some of their tips for ingredients for specific conditions and diseases for adults:

Adults who want to protect themselves from West Nile Virus should look for repellants with

  • 10-20% Picardin
  • 20% IR3535
  • 7-30% DEET
  • 30-40% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Adults who require all day protection from bugs should look for repellants with

  • 20% Picardin
  • 20-30% time-released DEET

Adults who have skin allergies or sensitive skin should look for repellants with 5-20% Picardin, as it is the least likely to irritate your skin.

 

To check out other tips that the Environmental Working Group has for insect repellants (specifically for Adults, Children, and Pregnant Women), check out their website at: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents

Staying Healthy at the Taste of Chicago

It’s that time of the year again—the Taste of Chicago! Every summer since 1980, the city has collaborated to present this outdoor festival showcasing the city’s diverse food. This year, it is being held from July 10th to 14th, 2013 in Grant Park.

In addition to dining on flavorful food, Humana health insurance has partnered up with the festival to bring the Humana Healthier Choices Passport Guide. This guide helps attendants make healthier food choices while sampling through vendors by listing the healthier dining options. There are also wellness activities and opportunities for passport holders to collect stamps, which will give them an opportunity to win prizes.

The Healthier Choices Passport Guide has been reviewed by physicians, and lists 35 meal options from 20 Chicago restaurants. Choices include appetizers, main entrees, and deserts, so you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the Taste of Chicago experience.

If you’re interested in obtaining a passport guide, they are available at over 70 Dominick’s grocery branches, Humana’s Well-Being booth at the festival, or you can download it at the festival’s website here: http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dca/Taste%20of%20Chicago/HumanaHealthierChoicesPassportGuide2013.pdf

While at Taste of Chicago, make sure you look for the green apple logo on booths to match the foods to the passport guide!

Some examples of their tasty meal options are:

Appetizer: Celtic Corn on the Cob from O’Brien’s Restaurant (with less than 320 calories, less than 300 mg of sodium, and less than 2 g of saturated fat)

Entrée: “Ragin Cajun” Chicken Sausage from Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill (with 500 calories or less, 500mg of sodium or less, and less than 4 g of saturated fat)

Dessert: Strawberry Fruit Bar from Churro Factory (with less than 320 calories, less than 300 mg of sodium, and less than 2 g of saturated fat)

Humana’s Well-Being booth at the Taste of Chicago will also include other health and fitness activities, such an interactive Xbox Kinect game called “Your Shape”, biometric screening stations, water station,  and free pedometers for the attendants to check how much they’ve walked during the festival.

Another fun and healthy activity for kids during the Taste of Chicago is the Fleet Feet Kids Dash. This is divided by age group and distance (with babies even having a 15 foot diaper dash/crawl), but friends and family can participate if they like. The whole family can have fun by being active, and kids can receive a race bib, T-shirt, and medal!

 

References:

Fleet Feet Sports Kids’ Dash. (2013). Taste of Chicago. Retrieved July 11, 2013, from http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/kids_dash.html

Humana Healthier Choices. (2013). Taste of Chicago. Retrieved July 11, 2013, from http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/taste_of_chicago10.html

A virtual version of yourself to help you lose weight

While there are numerous weight loss technologies out there, such as the “As-seen-on-TV” gadgets or smartphone apps, one study has found that having a regimen that includes viewing a virtual avatar of yourself helps in losing weight.

This avatar is a customizable digital representation of the person that simulates their exercise and eating habits, making the weight loss experience similar to a video game. The pilot study investigated 128 women who were classified as overweight and was conducted over a period of four weeks. Activities in the regimen included watching the avatar teach about portion control, moderate aerobic exercise, and other diet and exercise tips. In addition to personalization and convenience, this type of weight loss plan is also inexpensive and could be fun to those who enjoy a virtual reality type of experience.

The results were positive, with the women losing an average of 3.5 pounds over the study/regimen period. One particular health behavior construct that this study utilized is self-efficacy, which is the belief that one can achieve a certain behavior. Having a relatable representation of oneself also increases self-confidence, with 88% of the participants believing that this avatar can help them achieve their weight loss goals.

While virtual programs are also used for other health behaviors, including smoking cessation, alcohol and drug use, certain phobias, and stroke rehabilitation, this pilot study still needs to be conducted under different settings, such as with a control group and with men. However, the results from this study could be beneficial in developing weight loss programs that have a holistic approach and also aim at increasing self-confidence.

If you are interested in this virtual avatar regimen, unfortunately, it is not available to the general public, but you can check out these other smartphone apps for weight loss and exercise from NY Daily News:

Lose It! – www.loseit.com

MyFitnessPal – www.myfitnesspal.com/mobile

Fooducate – www.fooducate.com

Endomondo – www.endomondo.com

References

“Top 6 smartphone apps for losing weight – NY Daily News.” Daily News America – Breaking national news, video, and photos – Homepage – NY Daily News. N.p., 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 July 2013. <http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/top-6-smartphone-apps-losing-weight-article-1.1310526&gt;.

Waseem, F. “New skinny on weight loss: Avatars might help.” USA TODAY. N.p., 1 July 2013. Web. 8 July 2013. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/01/avatars-weight-loss/2459571/&gt;.

What’s the controversy over GMO foods?

This post will give a general overview of GMO foods and the controversy surrounding them. GMO stands for genetically-modified organisms, and describes the technology used to manipulate DNA and create genes in foods that do not occur naturally. Bioengineers of these foods claim numerous benefits to genetic modification, including reduced use of pesticides, increased yield of crops, and economic and environmental benefit (due to decreased use of pesticides).

Dr. Kathy Gruver, a health and wellness expert who holds a PhD in natural health, states that GMO’s pose numerous potential risks. One of the biggest concerns is that consumers become a type of “experiment”, as it is not known what health effects these foods will produce, and it is in the hands of food companies to decide whether these products are safe. Additionally, because DNA differs from person to person, consuming food that has been genetically modified adds to the unpredictability of its effects on humans. Dr. Gruver also mentions that in-vitro studies have shown that GMO’s have the potential to increase allergies and resistance to antibiotics. Another problem with having farms and fields of GMO foods is that animals or natural forces (such as wind) can transport the seeds produced by the crops, causing them to unknowingly grow anywhere.

It is estimated that about more than 75% of all soybeans, over 50% of cotton, over 25% of corn, and 25% of canola worldwide is genetically modified, and as a result, about 75% of processed foods in the U.S. has some sort of genetically-modified ingredient. There are no regulations that require food manufacturers to list genetically-modified ingredients on their labels, therefore the general public may be unaware that they are consuming these foods.

The Non-GMO Project divides these food products into two groups: high risk and monitored risk. Alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow summer squash are among high risk crops. Monitored risk products are suspected to have GMO’s, and include chard, beets, rutabaga, bok choy, turnip, acorn squash, flax, rice, and wheat. Additionally, meat products from animals that consume these crops may contain GMO’s.

If you would like to explore non-GMO food items, check out The Non-GMO Project’s list of non-GMO products, restaurants, and retailershttp://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/

Do you have an iPhone? You can also download their convenient app here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/iphone-app-shopping-guide/

The Non-GMO shopping guide also provides another list of non-GMO foods: http://www.nongmoshoppingguide.com/

References

Lang, J. T. (2013). Elements of public trust in the American food system: Experts, organizations, and genetically modified food. Food Policy41, 145-154.

What is GMO?. (n.d.). Non-GMO Project. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/

Whelan, C. (2013, June 26). Genetically Modified Foods: Why One Expert Wants Them Out Of Your Kitchen. CBS Dallas / Fort Worth. Retrieved July 1, 2013, from http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/06/26/genetically-modified-foods-why-one-expert-wants-them-out-of-your-kitchen/