mm223: Pigs, bees, fish — the dangerous ways we set our table

December 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The lavish supplies of cheap food we take for granted in the U.S. are far more costly than we’ve understood. Two stories in NYTimes this weekend provide disturbing evidence on several fronts. Michael Pollan authored the first, where he analyzed a pair of stories.

Staph infection and pig farms

The incursion of staph infection into the world at large from the general confinement of hospitals is distressing. In fact,

MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria … is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

One formerly understood that staph has mutated to develop resistance to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics in the hospital setting, and thus is difficult to combat there. The victims of the resistant infections are generally the weak and elderly patients.

Now, there is disturbing evidence that the massive use of antibiotics in the ubiquitous ginormous feedlots might be causing staph to mutate outside hospitals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades.

This is all still guesswork on the part of researchers, as neither the FDA nor the livestock industry seems that interested in examining the issue.

Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say. Earlier this month, though, the F.D.A. indicated that it may begin a pilot screening program with the C.D.C.

The implication for the long-term costs of the inexpensive meat the world (except of course the 20% who are starving) takes for granted if a relationship is established between MRSA and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, a new acronym for MUDGE) is definitely disturbing. As is, of course, the fact that MRSA has overtaken AIDS as a killer in the U.S.

Bees, again

This space has taken some note over the past several months of the honeybee story (here, here and here): the bees have disappeared; do we really know why? Michael Pollan has some significant observations, and relates the issues with the bees to that of the pigs.

The second story is about honeybees, which have endured their own mysterious epidemic this past year. Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified in 2006, when a Pennsylvanian beekeeper noticed that his bees were disappearing — going out on foraging expeditions in the morning never to return. Within months, beekeepers in 24 states were reporting losses of between 20 percent and 80 percent of their bees, in some cases virtually overnight. Entomologists have yet to identify the culprit, but suspects include a virus, agricultural pesticides and a parasitic mite. (Media reports that genetically modified crops or cellphone towers might be responsible have been discounted.) But whatever turns out to be the immediate cause of colony collapse, many entomologists believe some such disaster was waiting to happen: the lifestyle of the modern honeybee leaves the insects so stressed out and their immune systems so compromised that, much like livestock on factory farms, they’ve become vulnerable to whatever new infectious agent happens to come along.

Due to the massive scale of agriculture in California, source of so much of the food grown in this country, the state has, by necessity, become an importer of itinerant bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

So, pigs and bees have become industrialized. The law of unintended consequences has gone to work, also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Pollan – Agriculture – Disease Resistant Staph – Concentrated Animal Feed Operations – Sustainability – New York Times

a disturbing Chinese fish story

The final element of today’s food fright is also a Times story.

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

By DAVID BARBOZA

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Okay, let me count: eels, shrimp, tilapia, sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff including pesticides, veterinary drugs and pesticides. The food we want seems swamped by all the stuff we want no part of, but we don’t get to choose. After all,

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

The U.S. imports 80% of its fish; the Chinese produces 70% of the world’s supply of farmed fish. China is huge, ambitious, and often very primitive in its safety surveillance. This is an ugly combination.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters – New York Times

Let’s review:

  1. Some scientists are convinced that pig and other livestock agriculture can kill us, because the overuse of antibiotics in CAFO settings could cause the mutation of antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
  2. Honeybees have been worked so hard in the service of agribusiness that some scientists believe that the stress made them less resistant to bee-killing viruses and parasites.
  3. Chinese aquaculture (a wetter form of agribusiness) is producing massive quantities — the overwhelming majority of the globe’s farmed product — of fish contaminated by sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff and veterinary drugs and pesticides.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, it’s not what you pay for food, but what it costs you that counts. I don’t think that we can afford inexpensive food.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm221: The dread disease we all hope to catch: Old age

December 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It is always interesting to see how stories hit from different directions, and yet form a pattern startling in its similarity of topic. So it was when, while dining in the company cafeteria today accompanied by my trusty companion, Business Week, I encountered an article that grabbed my attention as I leafed by in search of something else.

The topic: Alzheimer’s disease. I pulled it out of the magazine, the better to locate on line, see below.

While scanning the NYTimes somewhat later, this story jumped out. The relationship is obvious — Alzheimer’s. The Times speculates on prevention; BW speculates on its origins, in search of treatment or cure. Take a look:

nytimes

Mental Reserves Keep Brains Agile

By JANE E. BRODY

My husband, at 74, is the baby of his bridge group, which includes a woman of 85 and a man of 89. This challenging game demands an excellent memory (for bids, cards played, rules and so on) and an ability to think strategically and read subtle psychological cues. Never having had a head for cards, I continue to be amazed by the mental agility of these septua- and octogenarians.

The brain, like every other part of the body, changes with age, and those changes can impede clear thinking and memory. Yet many older people seem to remain sharp as a tack well into their 80s and beyond. Although their pace may have slowed, they continue to work, travel, attend plays and concerts, play cards and board games, study foreign languages, design buildings, work with computers, write books, do puzzles, knit or perform other mentally challenging tasks that can befuddle people much younger.

But when these sharp old folks die, autopsy studies often reveal extensive brain abnormalities like those in patients with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and Yaakov Stern at Columbia University Medical Center recall that in 1988, a study of “cognitively normal elderly women” showed that they had “advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains at death.” Later studies indicated that up to two-thirds of people with autopsy findings of Alzheimer’s disease were cognitively intact when they died.

Alzheimer’s doesn’t automatically cause the impairment we’ve always presumed it universally does? How strange!

“Something must account for the disjunction between the degree of brain damage and its outcome,” the Columbia scientists deduced. And that something, they and others suggest, is “cognitive reserve.”

Cognitive reserve, in this theory, refers to the brain’s ability to develop and maintain extra neurons and connections between them via axons and dendrites. Later in life, these connections may help compensate for the rise in dementia-related brain pathology that accompanies normal aging.

Sounds like MUDGE has got to get out and get some of that cognitive reserve. Think Target carries it? Or Neiman Marcus?

No, you guessed it, cognitive reserve is home made, not bought.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Memory – Aging – Medicine & Health – New York Times

This will never do — actually changing sedentary habits. Let’s look for a magic bullet instead:

bw_255x65

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

If so, an insulin-centered treatment could alter the course of the disease

by Catherine Arnst

Scientists have been searching for the cause of Alzheimer’s disease for more than 100 years, and during that time, theories about why brain cells are destroyed in the course of the illness have come and gone. One of the newer and more unorthodox theories posits that Alzheimer’s may actually be a form of diabetes. Some experts have even taken to calling the brain disease type 3 diabetes, as distinct from the insulin-dependent (type 1) and adult-onset (type 2) varieties of the condition.

The diabetes hypothesis stems from growing evidence that cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims are resistant to insulin; just as in diabetes, the cells don’t respond appropriately to this hormone. As a result, neurons are deprived of glucose, which they need for energy. As the evidence mounts, the type 3 label is gaining currency in Alzheimer’s research circles and is drawing attention from the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies are testing existing diabetes drugs against Alzheimer’s, while startup Acumen Pharmaceuticals, in partnership with Merck (MRK), is focusing on molecules that allow insulin to reach brain cells.

This is absolutely stunning: suddenly Alzheimer’s might not be mysterious; it may operate according to long-understood mechanisms, like diabetes. While there is no cure for diabetes, there are treatments that are quite effective. Imagine adapting such pharmaceuticals to work in the insulin resistant areas of the Alzheimer’s brain.

A research team led by neurobiologist William L. Klein at Northwestern University came up with more supporting evidence for the type 3 diabetes theory in September, 2007. Klein, a founder of Acumen, discovered that a toxic protein called ADDL damages insulin receptors on the surface of brain cells, rendering them less responsive to the hormone.

Seems that type 3 diabetes might be as controllable as type 2, which long has drawn the continued attention of pharmaceutical science.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Is Alzheimer’s a Form of Diabetes?

Approaching a stupendous birthday, with a mother and mother-in-law 80 years old and above, concerns about aging are certainly more immediate to this writer than before.

And, thanks to the fact that I’m part of a very large cohort of similarly aged population, researchers have come to recognize like never before the profit potential of science directed toward the ailments of the elderly.

Couldn’t be happening at a better time. By the way, do you think that daily blogging is sufficiently challenging brain stimulation?

MUDGE is certainly hoping so!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm201: Stemming the tide of ignorance despite the neocons

November 22, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Last post, we picked up on the report that stem cell researchers have an alternative source for the miracle tools. The writer of that NYTimes story follows up with a sidebar on the lead scientist, James A. Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who has played a leading, even defining, role in stem cell research for more than a decade.

nytimes3_thumb1

By GINA KOLATA

If the stem cell wars are indeed nearly over, no one will savor the peace more than James A. Thomson.

Dr. Thomson’s laboratory at the University of Wisconsin was one of two that in 1998 plucked stem cells from human embryos for the first time, destroying the embryos in the process and touching off a divisive national debate.

And on Tuesday, his laboratory was one of two that reported a new way to turn ordinary human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without ever using a human embryo.

Turns out that Dr. Thomson was, as he and his UW colleagues report it, concerned about the ethical implications of stem cell research from the beginning.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Man Who Helped Start Stem Cell War May End It – New York Times

Some of the commentary others in the blogosphere have shared since the original story hit the other day have expressed a good deal of knee-jerk cynicism regarding the nature of this latest twist. It’s just so perfect that this latest news fits so well with Bush administration dogma. See, you can do your research without abortion!

People, this isn’t politics, or religion; it’s science. Forced by ethical, political and/or religious imperatives to curtail stem cell research, many wrung their hands, took off to more scientifically adventurous locales, or found a new field to pursue.

Thomson, and, separately, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, decided that the potential for breakthrough discoveries was too important, and figuratively lit a candle rather than curse the darkness, and began the work that resulted in this weeks breakthrough announcements.

MUDGE chooses to suspend cynicism (after all, it’s a holiday in the U.S. today!), and believe the best. Okay, so this fits with distorted agenda of the neo-con know-nothings who have distorted too much and spread a huge swath of medieval ignorance over too much of our culture.

But, sometimes, even good news for the dolts is good news for humankind, and this discovery, whose potential to accelerate further discoveries into the cause, prevention and cure of many neurological diseases that have caused such misery in the world, is worthy of our Thanksgiving celebration.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm200: Stem cells: Unlike oil, we now have an alternative source

November 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Stem cell research, emblematic of all that’s promising regarding the ability of scientists to remedy hitherto incurable diseases. Stem cell research, emblematic of the George III administration’s wrong-headedness in nearly every important issue of our times.

Until yesterday, stem cell researchers found their most promising source material in human embryos, whose availability is, one presumes, mainly dependent upon the supply resulting from aborting pregnancies.

Since 1973, such supplies have been legally available to science in the U.S. Since the Bush administration outlawed the practice (or severely curtailed the use of new embryonic material by restricting federal funds required to finance it), researchers into cures for the crippling and fatal diseases that include multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been thwarted from fully pursuing this most promising field of research.

Now it appears that scientists have discovered an alternative to embryos as the feedstock for stem cells.

nytimes3

By GINA KOLATA

Published: November 21, 2007

Two teams of scientists reported yesterday that they had turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo — a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field.

All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process.

Science in the pursuit of prevention or remediating disease is critical, and the fact that it has been hamstrung over this moral quandary, mainly promoted by those same folks who brought you Creationism, is yet another embarrassing lowlight of the past seven years.

So much of what research has been occurring moved offshore (as so many other occupations have). But, science is always attempting to navigate new ways around knowledge gaps, and this promising achievement is an eye-opening demonstration.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Scientists Bypass Need for Embryo to Get Stem Cells – New York Times

So there’s much work left to do before this new process is proven successful — the fact that a cancer gene is part of the process sounds distressing — but we can’t help but be hopeful that, after years of roadblocks, necessary research into the causes, prevention and cures of some of the most dreadful diseases can resume at full throttle.

In the long run, the new process might prove to be more useful, with wider application than the controversial one. So in a way, maybe the know-nothings did science a favor.

Irony. Today’s sixth sense.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm190: U.S. Health Care – Excuses, not facts

November 11, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Access to affordable health care. Five words. Easy to write. Rolls off the keyboard fluidly even. Simple phrase; political cesspool. Can universal access to affordable health care ever happen in the U.S.?

Paul Krugman, the economist whose columns appear in the Opinion section of the NYTimes, this week reminds us that the failings of our health care system are manifest: we spend more, but get less – fewer covered and lower life expectancy than in any other western economy.

Moreover, the usual suspects (our lifestyle) and the usual bugbears (socialized medicine!) are distortions and outright lies.

krugman

By PAUL KRUGMAN | Published: November 9, 2007

The United States spends far more on health care per person than any other nation. Yet we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries. Furthermore, every other advanced country provides all its citizens with health insurance; only in America is a large fraction of the population uninsured or underinsured.

For those fortunate enough to have health insurance, premiums keep rising, and employers are beginning to push employees to pay more of the freight, or even to start to pay additional for their lifestyle choices.

For example, several cases have hit the news recently where employers have fired, or failed to hire, otherwise qualified people who are smokers.

Aside from the disturbing privacy concerns, the entire concept of group insurance (where the large numbers of average members in good health balances those few with greater needs) is at risk here.

But, as Krugman tells us, what apologists and politicians like Rudy Giuliani have done is blanket us with excuses, not solutions, and inaccurate and downright wrong excuses at that.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Health Care Excuses – New York Times

As a reluctantly, increasingly active consumer of the U.S. healthcare system, one of the luckiest ones covered through a plan 80% subsidized by my employer, I take for granted that I see medical professionals regularly, for the cost of a nominal co-pay up to that 20%. For what is spent, my experience should be the rule and not exceptional.

Armed with Paul Krugman’s excuse-busters, let’s all work to shed light to undo all of the misinformation out there on this subject.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm176.5: Sleep: The Threequel

October 24, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Turns out that yesterday’s NYTimes didn’t stop at the two sleep stories we picked up yesterday. The obvious topic: pharmaceutical aids to sleep.

nytimes

By STEPHANIE SAUL

Your dreams miss you.

Or so says a television commercial for Rozerem, the sleeping pill. In the commercial, the dreams involve Abraham Lincoln, a beaver and a deep-sea diver.

Not the stuff most dreams are made of. But if the unusual pitch makes you want to try Rozerem, consider that it costs about $3.50 a pill; gets you to sleep 7 to 16 minutes faster than a placebo, or fake pill; and increases total sleep time 11 to 19 minutes, according to an analysis last year.

If those numbers send you out to buy another brand, consider this, as well: Sleeping pills in general do not greatly improve sleep for the average person.

Seen the Rozerem commercials. Kind of silly.

As a person with occasional sleep problems (staying asleep, rather than falling in the first place), I’ve consulted my physician and received over-the-counter advice, but no prescriptions.

Based on this story, that’s probably just as well.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Sleep Drugs Found Only Mildly Effective, but Wildly Popular – New York Times

At one time I worked with people who swore by a specific, popular sleep drug to beat jet lag. This was an international marketing research group, and its members were always on the go, with multiple-week business in Europe, mainly. Somehow, MUDGE never got invited. Oh, well.

Based on the incidence of reported odd side effects, like sleep-driving, I am happy enough not to need to indulge, for jet lag relief, or any other purpose.

I guess I’ll wait until they perfect them:

Still, researchers and drug companies have yet to find a holy grail. “The problem is, there is no ideal hypnotic,” said Dr. Manisha Witmans, a sleep medicine specialist at the University of Alberta’s Evidence-Based Practice Center. “The magic pill for sleep has not been invented yet.”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm176: Sleep: But after you read this, please!

October 23, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Not one, but two fascinating stories featuring the universal topic of sleep hit NYTimes today.

Some editor must have insomnia.

But this is really interesting stuff. First, a story about the processing that goes on while one sleeps.

nytimes

An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play

By BENEDICT CAREY

The task looks as simple as a “Sesame Street” exercise. Study pairs of Easter eggs on a computer screen and memorize how the computer has arranged them: the aqua egg over the rainbow one, the paisley over the coral one — and there are just six eggs in all.

Most people can study these pairs for about 20 minutes and ace a test on them, even a day later. But they’re much less accurate in choosing between two eggs that have not been directly compared: Aqua trumped rainbow but does that mean it trumps paisley? It’s hazy.

It’s hazy, that is, until you sleep on it.

In a study published in May, researchers at Harvard and McGill Universities reported that participants who slept after playing this game scored significantly higher on a retest than those who did not sleep. While asleep they apparently figured out what they didn’t while awake: the structure of the simple hierarchy that linked the pairs, paisley over aqua over rainbow, and so on.

Scientists have been curious about sleep for 100 years, fitfully. Lately, there has been renewed interest in what goes on while sleeping, and the discoveries reinforce what wise people have known instinctively for a long time: sleep is a curative.

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth*

The research covered in this story deals specifically with learning and memory.

Yet the new research underscores a vast transformation in the way scientists have come to understand the sleeping brain. Once seen as a blank screen, a metaphor for death, it has emerged as an active, purposeful machine, a secretive intelligence that comes out at night to play — and to work — during periods of dreaming and during the netherworld chasms known as deep sleep.

Again, the poets were there ahead of the scientists.

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” ~Ovid **

It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.  ~John Steinbeck *

The full story makes for interesting reading. Go to.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play – New York Times

I give up my time to sleep only grudgingly. I guess I feel as did James Thurber (sadly unremembered these days):

Early to rise and early to bed
Makes a man healthy and wealthy and dead.
~James Thurber, Fables for Our Times, 1940 *

The second story also concerns sleep — or the perceived lack of it, especially as felt by the elderly.

nytimes

The Elderly Always Sleep Worse, and Other Myths of Aging

By GINA KOLATA

As every sleep researcher knows, the surest way to hear complaints about sleep is to ask the elderly.

“Older people complain more about their sleep; they just do,” said Dr. Michael Vitiello, a sleep researcher who is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.

And for years, sleep scientists thought they knew what was going on: sleep starts to deteriorate in late middle age and steadily erodes from then on. It seemed so obvious that few thought to question the prevailing wisdom.

Now, though, new research is leading many to change their minds. To researchers’ great surprise, it turns out that sleep does not change much from age 60 on. And poor sleep, it turns out, is not because of aging itself, but mostly because of illnesses or the medications used to treat them.

“The more disorders older adults have, the worse they sleep,” said Sonia Ancoli-Israel, a professor of psychiatry and a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “If you look at older adults who are very healthy, they rarely have sleep problems.”

Insomnia is fertile ground for the quotable.

Insomnia is a gross feeder.  It will nourish itself on any kind of thinking, including thinking about not thinking.  ~Clifton Fadiman *

In my experience, the elderly people who complain about sleep do have a lot of other health issues to complain about.

Question is: are they having health issues because they’re having trouble sleeping?

Or are their health issues causing them to have trouble sleeping? This story believes the latter.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Aging – Sleep Problems – Health – New York Times

This quote, from another of our favorite science fiction writers, Brian Aldiss, wraps both of these stories together. Insomnia happens, and it might not be a totally bad thing.

It’s at night, when perhaps we should be dreaming, that the mind is most clear, that we are most able to hold all our life in the palm of our skull.  I don’t know if anyone has ever pointed out that great attraction of insomnia before, but it is so; the night seems to release a little more of our vast backward inheritance of instincts and feelings; as with the dawn, a little honey is allowed to ooze between the lips of the sandwich, a little of the stuff of dreams to drip into the waking mind.  I wish I believed, as J. B. Priestley did, that consciousness continues after disembodiment or death, not forever, but for a long while.  Three score years and ten is such a stingy ration of time, when there is so much time around.  Perhaps that’s why some of us are insomniacs; night is so precious that it would be pusillanimous to sleep all through it!  A “bad night” is not always a bad thing.  ~Brian W. Aldiss *

We’ll let that keen observer of the human condition, Bill Fields of Hollywood, have the final words on the subject.

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.
~W. C. Fields ***

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Quotation sources:

* The Quote Garden

** ThinkExist.com

*** BrainyQuote.com

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mm174: Took the weekend off

October 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

fallcolors

Spent a very relaxing day and a half in one of the garden spots of the U.S. Midwest, southwest Michigan.

Drove for a couple of hours, stopping for lunch at a Denny’s (Denny’s: there’s a story for another day!); shopped for stuff we sort of need at an outlet mall; checked into an affordable, adequate hotel; ate dinner at an affordable, adequate restaurant; spent a more than adequate night; breakfasted at an extremely affordable, almost adequate restaurant connected to the affordable, adequate hotel; checked out a charming shopping street in a town that has successfully come to grips with its status as a post-industrial tourist destination; enjoyed the afternoon with exceptional long-time friends from town in one family’s summer home, including a group adventure riding a narrow gauge Shay-powered steam train at Indiana’s Hesston Steam Museum; and made it home through country and urban traffic in time for Sunday Night Football.

Definitely a mental health weekend.

If you haven’t had one lately — don’t wait longer than necessary. Plan carefully, spend wisely, relax immensely.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm172: Diabetes: Not so Simple, Simon! (And stay away from that pie!)

October 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Continuing our medical mini-series, this story was among the NYTimes’ most emailed yesterday.

Type II, adult onset diabetes is the focus of the piece, delving in great detail into recent research that is raising more questions than answers.

It’s a lengthy article, but well written, and well worth your time.

nytimes

By AMANDA SCHAFFER

An explosion of new research is vastly changing scientists’ understanding of diabetes and giving new clues about how to attack it.

The fifth leading killer of Americans, with 73,000 deaths a year, diabetes is a disease in which the body’s failure to regulate glucose, or blood sugar, can lead to serious and even fatal complications. Until very recently, the regulation of glucose — how much sugar is present in a person’s blood, how much is taken up by cells for fuel, and how much is released from energy stores — was regarded as a conversation between a few key players: the pancreas, the liver, muscle and fat.

Now, however, the party is proving to be much louder and more complex than anyone had shown before.

So, the usual suspects, pancreas, liver, muscle and fat have been joined by new candidates: a hormone produced by bone, osteocalcin; inflammation in the immune system; the brain; and the gut.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In Diabetes, a Complex of Causes – New York Times

We rail in this country against the high cost of health care. We are outraged by the prices we pay for pharmaceuticals.

But people, there’s wonderful work being done to discover how the human system works, and how to repair it when it is impaired. This diabetes research is a perfect example.

Of course it’s partially financed by the big drug manufacturers. Be glad it is — where else would the big money come from? The government? A useful source of research funding, but always constrained.

You’ve heard this before. These days, the cost of bringing a drug to market is measured in $100s of millions (probably a cool $billion by now), and bunches of years (as many as 15!).

When that 1:10,000 long shot hits, drug companies have a very short patent life to receive top dollar for their intellectual property, which by the way is alleviating pain, curing disease, improving life for patients around the world, while providing the wherewithal for research and testing of the next great breakthrough.

When viewed that way, the high cost of medicine in this country doesn’t seem so extreme.

Yes, the insurance driven system at the patient level is broken, a subject for another day.

But, as a person who has been living with Type II diabetes for over a decade, and whose sister’s partner’s juvenile diabetes is rapidly killing her, MUDGE has a personal stake in successful diabetes research, and by extension, all the useful medical research in this country, however it’s funded.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm171: Maintain your brain!

October 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

An interesting week for medical news here at L-HC.

And by the way, it’s not an accident that health-related news dominates our attention.

“Our attention” being that of the ubiquitous Boomers, the oldest of whom are fast approaching age 62!

And we weren’t to trust anyone over 30!

The pharmaceutical companies are aware of demographics big time, as they prepare for the largest individual age-group ever, in the wealthiest nation ever, to treat their assorted and accumulating ailments with the finest chemicals a PPO can buy.

And, as a group we Boomers are as self-absorbed, especially regarding our health issues, as our parents, the so-called Greatest Generation, was self-sacrificing.

So, health related news dominates.

This story by Associated Press by way of Wired magazine concentrates on aging’s effects on the brain.

wired

By LAURAN NEERGAARD
AP Medical Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — When aging hampers memory, some people’s brains compensate to stay sharp. Now scientists want to know how those brains make do – in hopes of developing treatments to help everyone else keep up.

This is not Alzheimer’s disease, but the wear-and-tear of so-called normal aging. New research is making clear that memory and other brain functions decline to varying degrees even in otherwise healthy people as they age, as anyone who habitually loses car keys probably suspected.

The medical establishment is turning its attention to aging’s effects on the brain, and the brain’s effect on aging.

“We need to understand how to defer normal cognitive aging … the way we’ve invested in fighting heart disease and cancer.”

Amen. The prospect of a decayed brain in a reasonably healthy body is just as foreboding as its opposite. Take a look at the rest of the article:

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Wired News – AP News

So, while the medical wizards research, what’s a guy or gal on the cusp of old age to do?

Staying at intellectually demanding jobs, even crossword puzzles might be an answer. Use it or lose it, indeed.

Drugs. For our generation, definitely the easiest of all.

Finally, exercise. In fact, I can think of an exercise that might be especially appropriate in so many ways, as picked up in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© earlier: sex.

And, to turn an old saying on its tail: I guess now I aspire to remaining bright eyed and bushy brained.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE