Birthday vs. Immune System

Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of horoscopes. Whether you believe in horoscopes or not, the idea is that the month and day you were born determine which horoscope you are. Your horoscope can determine your personality, things you like, your luck…etc.

I personally am very skeptical of horoscopes, horoscopes aren’t really based on “science” per say. HOWEVER, science now has found a correlation between your birth month and your immune system. Don’t disregard me as crazy just yet! Let me explain, it actually is pretty logical.

Scientists studying the neurological disorder multiple sclerosis (MS) have discovered that people born during November have the lowest rate of geting MS, while people born in the spring have higher rates of MS. Why? It may have to do with Vitamin D. A correlation between immune systems and vitamin D level have been observed, although scientists aren’t a hundred percent sure about the cause and effect yet. Babies born in the spring are gestated during the darker, colder months of the year, while babies born in november are in the womb during the warmer, lighter months of the year. In other words, the darker, colder months provide less vitamin D for the mother during pregnancy. Studies show that babies born in the spring have a 20% lower vitamin D level when they are born .

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Scientists think that vitamin D may be important in some way in educating T cells about how to recognize self cells; this occurs in the thymus, and errors in the training could lead to higher levels of the destructive T cells. T cells are cells that are a part of the immune system and can fight off pathogens.  Further research is still in progress, but a correlation definitely is observed.

If you don’t already know, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium better, which is essential for strong bones. Some studies say that healthy amounts of vitamin D may even help your body prevent diseases such as cancer at a genetic level. Vitamin D can somehow affect the genes that are in control of biological pathways in the body that can cause illnesses if they fail. Read more here.

If you are a spring baby, I’m sorry to tell you that research has yet to determine whether taking vitamin D supplements or just being under the sun more can help lower MS rates. But it couldn’t hurt right? Vitamin D has proven to help absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphate in the body. It could only help you to have enough vitamin D in your system. If you do regularly “see” sunlight, no further supplements are necessary. The sun has enough power to provide you all the vitamin D you need. So go out and enjoy the rare Pittsburgh sun and soak up some vitamin D!

Source: http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/11/what-does-your-birthday-have-to-do-with-immune-disorders/#ixzz2QD7aGf3m

Posted in Medical News Updates | 4 Comments

H7N9

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In case you haven’t heard, a new strand of deadly bird virus has started attacking humans. This strand of virus has never affected humans before, so it is kind of scary. This virus is currently in China, and scientists are scrambling to figure out why it is affecting humans and how to stop it from becoming a worldwide pandemic.

Why should you and I care about H7N9?

This is why:

1. It has affected 14 people in China since February and killed 5.

2. The virus is believed to be spreading through birds and chickens without getting them sick. This means that the virus can spread through flocks without us noticing them until it affects humans. That is scary.

3. H1N1 is lethal in birds making it easy to detect, and pigs are not a host to H1N1. HOWEVER, we do not know if pigs are hosts to H7N9 yet. There is a high possibility that pigs might be hosts and that is bad because pigs are more similar to humans than birds.

“To me, the most important question to find out is: what is the actual host of this virus?” said Richard Webby, director of a WHO flu centre at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “It really looks like there’s been some mammalian host involved.”

Do you need to be alarmed yet? NOPE! At least, not if you’re living in the US. There’s not clear evidence that it is spreading from human to human and if you cook your poultry (I really don’t think you eat birds raw…), you should have no problem. Although, I wouldn’t really advise you to hang out with flocks of birds or chicken in your spare time.

I do encourage you to keep yourself informed about H7N9. Watch the news! In case it does end up spreading to the other side of the globe, you want to be sure you’re on top of it!  Here is an example of news about H7N9.

So why is there a different flu every year? Because virus replicate very rapidly. This means that mutations show up rather often, and some mutants can affect humans and cause pandemics. The flu can cause fevers, sore throats, headaches, dry coughs…etc. Some people get better with some medical treatment, but some get additional infections like ear infections, pneumonia, or bronchitis.

What does H1N1 or H7N9 stand for ?  They are named for the different proteins markers on their surface. Those protein markers are how we identify them.

Moral of the story? Pay attention to the news! Many pandemics could be prevented if people paid more attention to what’s going around and exercised prevention measures. Even if you aren’t interested in the medical field and don’t particularly care about all the new scientific research, you should glance at the health page on major news websites once in awhile.

Unrelated note: Thank God spring is showing its face in Pittsburgh!!!! Whoohoo!

Posted in Medical News Updates | 4 Comments

Curing Cancer?

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The April 1st issue of Time magazine was titled “How to cure cancer”. That got me excited for a second, until I realized nobody actually cured cancer…yet. There are many misconceptions about cancer that you may or may not have heard of:

If we could just find one cure for cancer, cancer would be gone once and for all.

-Wrong, as Time bluntly puts it, “The hero scientist who defeats cancer will likely never exist”. There are many many many types of cancer. Cancer is not one disease like diabetes. Cancer is hundreds, maybe thousands of diseases lumped into one word “cancer”. Cancer is not caused by one type of virus or bacteria that we can just find the one pill to crush. Cancer is caused by your own body gone crazy, literally. Hormones are awry, growth inhibitors stop functioning, and your body attacks itself.

“This disease is much more complex than we have been treating it,” says MIT’s Phillip Sharp. “And the complexity is stunning.” So more likely than not, many people will cure cancer, not just one superhero.

If you don’t already fear cancer, here are some US statistics that might make you cringe:

Est. Number of new cancer diagnoses in the U.S in 2013: 1.7 million

Est. deaths by cancer in 2013: 580,350 (to put this in perspective, about 2.5 million people die every year in the US, so that’s 23% of deaths are caused by cancer)

Leading types of cancer (# of cases): Prostate (238,590), Breast (234,580), Lung (228,190), Colon (102,480)

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The probability of developing some type of cancer in your lifetime: men: 1 in 2, women: 1 in 3

Today, there are numerous ways that researchers and doctors are tackling cancer:

1. Diagnostics-The earlier a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the higher the survival rate. If each former smoker in the US were given a yearly CT scan, lung-cancer mortality could be lowered by 20%

2. Gene sequencing-Studying a specific person’s genome allow doctors to personalize a therapy or discover higher-risk patients. In the future, you could get your genome sequenced, and know what cancers you have a high probability of getting. Yes, that is super scary, but it might just save your life.

3. Financing- Studying cancer requires A LOT of money. Not surprising. Funding really helps! Enough said.

4. Pattern recognition-The more we study cancer, the more patterns we recognize and can easily detect and tackle. With improving technology, computers can make sense of large amounts of data and sort them into patterns we recognize.

5. Epigenetics-A process called DNA demethylation can silence genes that would normally stop cancer. Drug treatments can turn these silenced genes back on to stop cancer cells from growing.

6. Bioengineering- A business-card-size chip have been developed that can attach to circulating tumor cells in a patients blood sample and detect cancer earlier.

7. Targeted drugs-More than 800 drug agents are being developed to target specific genetic mutations and stop cancer. But this means many clinical trials and testing needs to be done. If we join forces, these trials and testings can be done much faster!

The moral of the story? Cancer is scary and lethal, BUT we are FIGHTING back on full power. We are focused on making cancer history. And one day in the near future, we will succeed.

So, if curing cancer is one of your many dreams, you should go for it! After all, like I said before, cancer is going to be cured by many heros and not just one. You definitely can be a part of that team of heros! 

Source: Saporito, Bill. “The conspiracy to end cancer”. Time 1 April 2013 32-38. Print.

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Making good impressions starts with your smile

What is the first thing you notice about someone when you first meet them and talk to them? Chances are, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it, you notice their mouth, more specifically, their teeth. 

Your teeth gives other people a glimpse into who you are. Is your teeth white and stainless? Is your teeth straight? As you probably know, brushing and flossing every day keeps you far from toothache, bleeding gums, oral infections…etc. But did you know that it could possibly help prevent heart disease and diabetes?  Your mouth is one of the dirtiest places you encounter daily. Seriously, your mouth could contain more germs than your toilet bowl or a door knob. The bacteria growing in your mouth could travel to other places in your body, specifically, your heart, and cause heart problems in the long run. 

Although this hasn’t been agreed on and proven by scientists…yet, doctors have believed that oral hygiene is linked to heart diseases for many years. 

Even without concrete scientific evidence, taking good care of your teeth couldn’t possibly hurt you. Having good teeth boosts your confidence level when speaking to other people and especially public speaking. If you frequently interact with other people, having good oral health will prevent embarrassing situations like having bad breath, plaque-covered teeth and stains.

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If you are a coffee or tee drinker, brushing your teeth is very important because coffee and tea leave strong stains on your teeth. During your all-night studies on your upcoming final exams, don’t forget to brush your teeth! 

A recent study showed that 2/3 of college students have oral diseases, so here are some tips to keep your smile beautiful. 

1. Visit the dentist twice a year. SERIOUSLY, even if you don’t think you have any tooth decays or toothaches, GO VISIT THE DENTIST. The dentist will clean your teeth for you and get rid of all your coffee stains. You already donated a lot of money to Starbucks, you don’t need to donate to the dentist too!

2. Brush your teeth TWICE every day, and floss once a day. A lot of people think it is sufficient to just brush or rince with mouthwash, but flossing can get rid of any crap stuck between your teeth that your tooth brush misses. 

3. Change your toothbrush at least every three months. Your toothbrush has more germs on it than you think! You should definitely change your toothbrush after you’ve been sick. The flu germs on your toothbrush could be a reason you kept getting sick over and over again…

See? Only three steps, it is not that hard to keep your smile beautiful! 

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Using HIV to cure Leukemia

Leukemia. Nobody ever wants to hear that word from your doctor. Ever. What is even sadder is when a mere child hears that word from his/her doctor. BUT a new clinical trial of innovative therapy may be just the solution to this nasty disease once and for all.

The University of Pennsylvania is working hand-in-hand with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to use HIV T-cells to cure leukemia, and this worked on a 7 year old girl for the first time in human history. How Exciting! This clinical trial is led by pediatric oncologist Stephan A. Grupp of Children’t Hospital of Philadelphia. The treatment is officially known as  CTL019, and is a promising treatment for leukemia.

Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in blood-forming tissue, mostly the bone marrow, and causes large amounts of blood cells to be produced and entered into the bloodstream. Read more about leukemia here.

B-cells are a part of the human immune system and are cancerous when you have leukemia. This new therapy entails reengineering T-cells from patients with a disabled form of HIV that recognizes proteins found on the surface of B-cells. These T-cells, which have the ability to destroy other cells in the body, attach and kill the cancerous B-cells that would otherwise fly under the immune system’s radar. The reengineered T-cells are also programmed to multiply very fast once inserted into the human body. In simpler terms, we are taking the lethal HIV and using it to cure the lethal leukemia. Pretty cool right?

On April 17, 2012, Emily Whitehead, a 7-year old girl, became the first pediatric patient to be treated with CTL019. Emily has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is the most common form of cancer in children, accounting for 1 out of 3 cancers. Although doctors can cure 85% of all ALL patients, the remaining 15 % are resistant to treatment and can be lethal. Emily was in the 15% of children who are resistant to treatment. Within three weeks of entering the trial, Emily’s cancer was in remission. In Dr. Grupp’s trial, there are a total of 12 patients, and 9 so far has responded to the treatment, showing promising results.

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Cancer is still among the most lethal of all illnesses and diseases, and a definite cure has yet to be found. Cancer-cure research is also among the most researched and most funded projects in the health and medicine field. About 2,000 children annually are diagnosed with leukemia in the US alone, and occurs mostly in children under the age of 15.  This treatment could eventually become the primary leukemia treatment, and perhaps also other cancers in the future.

Posted in Medical News Updates | 2 Comments

Haiti

I’d like to share about something very close to my heart–Haiti.  Haiti is literally the poorest country in the Western hemisphere; eighty percent of Haitians live under the poverty line and 54% live in abject poverty. The average per capita income in Haiti is $480 a year, compared to $33,550 in the United States.  Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated that there were 430,000 orphans due to AIDS, Cholera, violence, and poverty/malnutrition. Read more about Haiti. 

There are very few ways you can get clean water in Haiti, most of the water supply in Haiti will cause you to be infected with cholera or parasites. Less than half of the population is literate or has any skills that can provide a source of income. Haitians are stuck in the unending cycle of diseases, illiteracy, natural disasters, and an incompetent government. There is no such thing as pursuing the “American dream” for them; no matter how hard they try, the truth is, it is very hard to get out of poverty with barely enough food to get by day to day. Often times, parents have to choose between spending their day-wage on one meal for the family or sending their child to school. Obviously feeding their family is top priority so kids don’t get to go to school, and thus remain unable to learn any trade to sustain themselves and improve their circumstance. 

I’ve personally been down to Haiti once my senior year of high school. The poverty and devastation I witnessed is indescribable. The dirt roads are filled with potholes and covered in trash. The houses are old and tiny, sometimes more than one family would share a house. My bathroom at home is bigger than their entire house; I visited a family that had ten people living in a house literally the size of half of a typical high school classroom. Just walking down the streets, you can feel a sense of hopelessness in the air. You can see people just sitting by the side of the street or in front of their houses doing nothing, because there is nothing they can do. No jobs, no work, no money, nothing. You can see little kids, 3 or 4 years old, running around the streets with no adults around to care for them. 

Imagine living on less than 1 dollar a day. In the United States, you can’t even buy a burger at McDonalds for 1 dollar if you count the 7 cent tax. 7 cent tax? You wouldn’t even think twice about it, in fact, if you look hard enough, you could probably find 7 pennies on the ground somewhere without difficulty. If you have even a dollar in your wallet, some money in your bank, some change somewhere in your house, you are among the top EIGHT percent of the world’s wealthy. 

One of the things I look forward to doing in the future by going into the health and medicine field is going down to Haiti with organizations like Doctors Without Borders to provide basic health care for these people. Things we take for granted such as visiting the dentist every six months, going to yearly checkups, stopping by the pharmacy for some DayQuil, Haitians can’t even begin to imagine. You may not have the ability to cure poverty or eliminate sickness and diseases, but you can do something to make a small difference. You can sponsor a child by giving $30 a month to a child in a third world country through organizations such as Compassion International, you can go on mission trips, you can donate money to organizations that work in third world countries such as World Vision, or you can support fair trade products like coffee, chocolate, and clothing. 

Even if you don’t do anything, keep in mind how lucky you are to even have access to the internet to read this blog and be thankful you have a roof over your head and food on your table. As you curl into bed tonight under your warm comforter, say a little prayer for the kids that won’t be sleeping in a bed tonight.

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The Myth of Vitamins

As we all know, or I hope you know, vitamins are an essential part of a healthy functioning body. Vitamins can help your vision, boost your memory, strengthen your bones, aid in growth and development and much more. However, most people take way too much vitamins; vitamins are important but taking them by the handful is not going to help you be healthier, it actually might make it worse. This is particularly true with the fat-soluble vitamins that will be stored in the liver, like vitamin A. They can eventually reach toxic levels and cause liver damage.Read more. Even vitamin C (water soluble)  can cause diarrhea at 2000 mg a day, which is less than what some people take trying to prevent colds.

Truth is, having a healthy diet can help you way more than popping multivitamins, even though more than half of the US adult population take vitamins on a regular basis. Research has shown that taking more vitamins does not mean better health:

  • A study of more than 35,000 men, published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that high-dose selenium had little effect on prostate-cancer risk, despite earlier research suggesting that selenium might help protect men. Worse still, the study found that supplemental vitamin E increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent, though researchers couldn’t explain why.
  • A large long-term study published last fall in the Archives of Internal Medicine tracked almost 39,000 postmenopausal women for as long as 22 years. It found that those who took multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, or copper had a slightly higher risk of death than those who did not. The risk was especially pronounced for those who took iron.

Here are some tips to help you make better decisions with vitamins:

  • Don’t substitute healthy balanced meals with vitamins. Vitamins are not healthier than say an apple. Apples contain naturally occurring chemicals in addition to vitamin C, including antioxidants called flavanoids and polyphenols that are thought to protect against cancer.This meant that eating a small apple (100g) gave an antioxidant effect equivalent to taking 1500mg of vitamin C – and you’d have to take a mega-dose supplement to achieve that.
  • Don’t trust all the information you get from drug retailers. Retailers that sell vitamins obviously want you to buy their products, so don’t mindlessly listen to their advice, do some research or ask your doctor what you need.
  • Don’t mix vitamins with pills you are taking. Make sure you ask your doctor if you are taking pills for other things. Don’t assume they are safe to take with vitamins.
  • Don’t assume you need multi-vitamins. You might only need vitamin A or vitamin D depending on your personal conditions. Don’t take multi-vitamins if it is unnecessary.

For a relatively healthy adult who eats healthy balanced meals, taking supplementary vitamins are completely unnecessary. Fruits, vegetables, and meat have the ability to provide you all the vitamins you need. Unless you are pregnant, vegetarian, athlete (intense training), or you never see the sun, you really don’t need to take additional vitamin supplements to be healthy.

I’m sure you have heard this a thousand times or more, but as one of my friends loves to say: Repetition penetrates the densest of minds. So I will tell you again: Eat healthy balanced meals, exercise, get enough sleep! That will keep you healthier than any supplements you try to take!

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