Review Category : Health

ALS, Lou Gehrig’s ‘Bad Break,’ Still Fatal Today

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It’s been 75 years since Lou Gehrig said goodbye to baseball, declaring himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” despite a diagnose that remains fatal today.

“I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for,” the Yankee slugger said July 4, 1939, roughly two weeks after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Gehrig died 23 months later from the disease that came to bear his name.

Despite decades of research, Lou Gehrig’s disease is still invariably fatal, trapping its victims inside paralyzed bodies and landing them on ventilators to breathe. Most people die from it in less than five years.

Gehrig died in two. He was just 37 years old.

Only one drug, riluzole, has been proven to slow the progression of ALS, though countless others have shown promise in preliminary studies only to fail in the clinical trials that count.

In a personal letter to his doctor, Gehrig described his hope that thiamin injections were working to boost his strength and slow his decline.

“I hope it is not my imagination,” he wrote of the injections, calling their effects “nothing short of miracles.” “Where I used to get exceptionally tired in the morning (especially in the right hand) from brushing my teeth, shaving, combing my hair, buttoning up tight buttons on my clothes, I would then feel like relaxing and resting, whereas now that tiredness is somewhat lessened, and I still have pep to go on.”

The letter, addressed to Mayo Clinic neurologist Dr. Paul O’Leary, is a sweet “note to say ‘hello’” and invite O’Leary and his wife to the World Series.

“I sincerely HOPE AND URGE you and Ruth to be with us for this is probably the only way in which I can attempt to begin to show my appreciation,” Gehrig wrote in the typed letter dated Sept. 13, 1939, and signed “Lou.” The letter was auctioned by SCP Auctions in May.

As many as 30,000 people in the United States have ALS, according to the National Institutes of Health, and an estimated 5,000 Americans are diagnosed each year. The disease usually strikes people in the prime of their lives, between the ages of 40 and 60.

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App Gives Parents Remote Control of Kids’ Electronic Devices

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Families say they want time together sans technology, but actually carving out that device-free time is a challenge. To avoid the technology tug-of-war (getting devices out of kids’ hands) a new app called DinnerTime gives parents a remote kill switch for their children’s phones.

Install the app on the child’s device, then install the control app on the parent’s phone. DinnerTime offers three options: schedule a “dinner time” break–duration 30 minutes to 1.5 hours, “Take a break” which indefinitely freezes the child’s device until the parent device unfreezes it, or you can “Schedule bedtime” from say 9 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. to make the device in inaccessible to the child.

When the DinnerTime app is freezing the child’s device, it is in complete lockdown: no phone, no texting, no alarms. A full screen image saying “take a break” or “Dinner time” appears on the child’s phone with no access to settings or app icons. If the child reboots the phone, the DinnerTime blocking screen resumes immediately.

There are caveats: the child’s device must be Android; iPhones and iPod touches will not run the DinnerTime App. The app creator says it’s because of Apple’s strict rules about remote access to devices through apps: that they consider it a security precaution to prevent malware or malicious software from taking over the device. So long as the child has an Android device, the parent’s phone can be an Apple or Android phone.

There are a few less-elegant solutions for kids who have iPhones and iPod touches. One is called ParentKit. It allows the parent to limit the child’s access to third-party apps. When in blocking mode the child can’t use games, Instagram, Twitter or SnapChat, but they do have access to all the basic iOS tools like the phone, text messaging, and the web browser.

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WHO Health Ministers Agree to Action to End African Ebola Outbreak

Creatas/Thinkstock(ACCRA, Ghana) — After an emergency ministerial meeting held by the World Health Organization ended on Thursday, health ministers agreeing to take action to end the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

The ministers agreed that existing gaps and challenges remain in dealing with the Ebola outbreak. The WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, said that the ministers would adopt “an inter-country strategy to tackle this outbreak,” adding that “it’s time for concrete action to put an end to the suffering and deaths.”

The WHO will establish a Sub-Regional Control Center in Guinea to coordinate, consolidate and harmonize all actions. Nations affected will also be advised to convene national inter-sectoral meetings, mobilize community, religious and political leaders to improve awareness, deploy resources to hot spots and commit additional domestic financial resources to help resolve the problem.

WHO partners are also urged to continue providing technical and financial support to effectively coordinate the international response.

Since March, the outbreak has killed at least 390 of the more than 600 people it has infected in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the WHO.

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Study: People Would Rather Suffer Electrical Shock Than Sit Silently

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new study found that many people would rather subject themselves to an unpleasant electrical shock than sit silently doing nothing.

The study, published in the journal Science, involved a selection of participants who were told to entertain themselves only with their own thoughts for 15 minutes. During that time, they were allowed to either sit doing nothing, or they could sit for the same length of time and give themselves a shock.

Researchers at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville said that each participant had experienced the shock before the beginning of the study and said that they would pay money to avoid feeling it again.

Still, when forced to either sit alone with their thoughts or experience the shock to take their minds off of it, 25 percent of women and 67 percent of men opted for the shock. About half of the participants said later that they did not enjoy the experience and 90 percent said they couldn’t keep their mind from wandering.

Researchers say that culture, which has trained many to enjoy constant stimulation, may render quiet introspection difficult.

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Journal That Published Facebook Study Responds to Backlash

Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The scientific journal that published Facebook’s controversial social experiment has issued a statement expressing “concern” over the lack of informed consent from Facebook users who unknowingly participated.

The study by researchers from Facebook and Cornell University sparked outrage this week after word spread that the Facebook feeds of nearly 700,000 users had been secretly manipulated to study the social network’s emotional impact. The researchers claimed the Facebook users consented to the study by, well, being Facebook users.

According to statements from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Cornell, Facebook did not need the type of informed consent typically required for studies because it’s a private company and is therefore held to different standards than universities and scientific journals.

“It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out,” the journal’s editor-in-chief, Inder Verma, said in the statement.

According to the study footnote, researchers from Cornell joined a researcher from Facebook to design the study, but sat out the controversial step of collecting and analyzing data from Facebook users. They then returned to write the paper.

“As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research,” read the study.

This is where the “ethical conundrum” begins, said bioethicist and lawyer Leslie Meltzer Henry, who works at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.

“The type of one-click consent that Facebook users provide when they agree to the site’s data use policy is very different from the type of informed consent that’s ethically and legally required” of most biomedical or behavioral studies, said Meltzer Henry, adding that one-click-consent “is inadequate to cover the potential harm” that can come from participation in a study that involves emotional manipulation.

According to a Cornell statement, its researchers “analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users” and “did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data.”

But Meltzer Henry isn’t so sure the study should have been exempt from informed consent.

“The problem here is that I don’t think this could possibly be a [pre-existing] dataset,” she said before Cornell issued its statement. “According to the [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] article, all three authors were involved in designing the study and the news feed algorithm, which strongly suggests that the dataset did not exist before the research study, and therefore required informed consent.”

Lead researcher and Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer took to Facebook to defend the study last weekend.

“We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook,” Kramer wrote.

He went on to explain that the “actual impact on people” was the minimum needed to conclude that Facebook feeds influenced users’ emotions. Though they expected happy news would make people feel sad, they found that people with a little more positive news in their feeds included more happy words in their posts.

“Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone,” he wrote in the post. “I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”

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Four Percent of US Adults Admit to Falling Asleep Behind the Wheel

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday indicated that 4.2 percent of adults surveyed admitted to dozing off while driving within the previous month.

Previous reports have suggested that drowsy driving may be a factor in as many as 7,500 fatal motor vehicle crashes each year, about 25 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. The CDC report also showed that drowsy driving was more common among drivers who engaged in other risky driving behaviors such as binge drinking and failure to wear a seatbelt.

The CDC has previously labeled motor vehicle injury prevention as one of its 10 “winnable battles,” noting that such crashes are frequently caused by risky driving behaviors.

The CDC says that law enforcement strategies designed to reduce drowsy driving, drinking and driving, and driving without a seatbelt are needed. In particular, the agency recommends interventions be aimed at men aged 18-24, who were in the highest risk group for all three risky behaviors studied.

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How to Help Dogs Brace for July 4 Fireworks

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Between fireworks and thunder from Hurricane Arthur, the Fourth of July long weekend is shaping up to be a tough one for dogs.

Dogs become anxious when they hear loud noises like fireworks and thunder as part of their natural instincts for survival, said Dr. Clark Fobian, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. And because their senses are sharper than ours, they can detect a storm coming sooner.

“I think we have to be aware of the tremendous sensory acuity that our pets have,” he said. “If any animal were out on its own and a thunderstorm comes up…that is potentially a very dangerous threat.”

Though many dogs are afraid, they don’t always show it the same way, according to professional dog trainer Mikkel Becker. Some dogs hide under beds or in corners with eyes darting all around. Others try to self-sooth with excessive grooming, not unlike human nail-biters. And others move from window-to-window and bark.

“What you want to do when the dog acts upset, is you want to redirect them to something different,” Becker said.

Instead of simply petting a scared pet, which doesn’t distract them from the scary noise, Becker suggested whipping out a special treat or playing a really good game of fetch.

For example, her parents’ dog, Quixote, goes into his thunder reaction on road trips when the car goes over a rumble strip on the highway, she said. So they all start to howl, and soon their Yorkie-Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix howls right along with them.

“He’ll forget what he’s afraid of,” she said. “Sometimes, a crazy thing can be the best solution for that dog.”

If you know thunder or fireworks are coming, Becker suggested setting up a special space for your dog ahead of time with a few favorite toys and blankets. If your dog tends to move to a certain bathroom or walk-in closet when stormy weather rolls in, that’s a good place to start.

Closing the blinds, playing music and adding a calming scent can help, too, Becker said. She recommended Adaptil, which mimics calming maternal hormones, or lavender oil, as long as it’s out of reach.

Some dogs like heavy thunder garments, like shirts and vests, which aim to comfort dogs in the same way swaddling helps calm babies, Becker said. But they don’t work for every dog.

Fobian said medications should only be used as a last resort, and never without help from a veterinarian.

Though an estimated 2.8 million dog owners give their dogs calming and anxiety medicines like Prozac each year, according to the National Pet Owners Survey of the American Pet Products Association, Becker said there are other, more natural products made from green tea and milk extracts that work, too. But again, always seek a veterinarian’s guidance, she said.

Other tips:

  • Don’t bring your dog to a fireworks show — even if they seem to be OK with noise at home.
  • Never try to pull a scared dog out of hiding by force. An already anxious dog can become aggressive.
  • Don’t leave a dog home alone during the noise. Ask a friend to dog sit or find somewhere for your dog to stay where he or she won’t be alone.

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Strangers Donate Kidneys to Keep Country’s Longest Donor Chain Going

ABC News(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — It’s Sunday afternoon, and Dr. Jayme Locke, director of the Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center, is preparing for a marathon.

“We are going to be doing 14 operations this week,” she said, checking in on her patients.

Sprinkled among the rooms up on the eighth floor are patients waiting to receive the gift of life — a new kidney. Also among the patients are the living donors bearing those gifts, people who are willingly giving up one of their two kidneys to help a stranger.

“We are anxious, all of us are, to hear the story of our recipient,” said Pastor Derek Lambert, one of the donors. “I don’t know if this is perhaps a young mother who’s feared leaving her kids, or a young man who is unable to provide for the needs of his family and this would give these types of individuals a new lease on life.”

They are all part of an intricate living donor kidney transplant chain that began last December. By the end of the week, 21 patients will have received kidney transplants making it the longest, ongoing, single-institution chain in the country. The catch? In order to receive a kidney from a stranger, each recipient must have someone in their life willing to donate a kidney to a stranger in their honor to keep the chain going.

For donor Courtney McLaughlin, the decision to donate in her cousin’s honor was easy. “She’s been on a waiting list for a deceased donor for years and with no end in sight, and we’ve been on this list for three months and here we are,” she said.

More than 100,000 Americans are currently in need of a kidney transplant. For some, the wait for a kidney from a deceased donor can stretch as long as eight to 10 years. These living donor kidney chains can expand the pool of both donors and recipients and have the possibility of shortening wait times to just months. They also can provide recipients with more compatible matches and younger organs.

A year ago, Katelyn Pickel, an 18-year-old high school student, suddenly became severely ill, wound up on dialysis and required a kidney transplant. Her father Earl was a potential match for her, but by the two of them joining the chain, two things happened: Katelyn received a kidney from a much younger donor, and someone else waiting on the list was able to receive her father’s kidney.

“I have prayed to God that he would send an answer to my child. And He has,” Earl Pickel said. “How can I refuse someone else when somebody stepped up for me?”

Mickey Little had suffered from a rare kidney disease for more than a decade and he had become dependent on dialysis that kept him tied up to a machine for 8 hours every night. A previous transplant that failed after just a few days had left him with a less than one percent chance of finding a match. It took a while, but Dr. Locke was able to find him not only a match, but a perfect one.

“I won’t be restricted because of dialysis,” Little said. “I should be back to a normal life again which is amazing to me.’

“[He] certainly beat the odds,” said Dr. Locke. “He found his one in a million.”

[Click here for the infographic explaining UAB's kidney donation chain.]

Actually, Dr. Locke and her lead operating room nurse Katie Stegner found Mickey Little’s match. It is a painstaking process full of false starts and broken hopes as Stegner pores over patient files hoping to find matches to continue the chain and change people’s lives. When her computer can’t make the match, she does it by hand.

“I have tons of paper with different options,” Stegner said. “[I] kind of put it together like a mathematical equation.”

When she and Dr. Locke think they have a possible match, they confirm it in the lab, comparing tissue and blood samples.

The white boards lining her office are filled with dozens of permutations of possible matches. “There are so many patients on the list that come in just begging to be a part of it,” Stegner said, turning away to hide tears.

Stegner may have seen it all in the 14 years she has worked in the OR, but diving into these patients’ charts, working to make matches by hand has softened her heart.

“At my old job…I was involved solely in the OR and they were just abdomens,” she said. “Now they are really people. They really are.”

This current chain is unusual because it all started with what is called an “altruistic” donor. Paula Kok, who started the chain, simply wanted to donate a kidney to a stranger. She had no one in her life who needed one in return.

“It was as if the Holy Spirit of God was just saying to me, you are somebody’s stranger. I have put in you the means to let somebody else enjoy the rest of their life,” Kok said.

“I think what Mrs. Kok did is truly profound,” Dr. Locke said. “She came forward and what she did was she literally set off the equivalent of a domino. This chain can go until we decide to stop it.”

Potential donors face the risks associated with any major surgery, but they are evaluated by the team at UAB to ensure that they can go on to lead a totally normal life with just one kidney.

For Dr. Locke, these chains could potentially be game changers, especially if they could be created through a national system.

“I think it’s really going to require us to come together as a country and create one national system. Right now there are a lot of private entities that are doing it,” she said. “But if we could that then I really think we would be able to optimize living kidney donation in this country in a way that we have never been able to do before. And I think we could actually begin to make a significant dent in our waiting list.”

During the course of a week, Dr. Locke personally sewed four kidneys into their new homes. What goes through her mind when the kidney transplant starts to work right there on the operating table?

“How fortunate I am to have just witnessed another miracle, because to me that’s what these are, to the patients that what this is,” she said. “You look into people’s eyes and you see hope that wasn’t there before. You see the promise of a future they weren’t sure they were going to have. This is life-changing and life-saving and you see that. …It is so humbling to be able to be a part of this and be able to help people really realize the gift of life.”

Starting in early July, the chain will continue once again at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center. They hope to complete 50 transplants by the end of the year.

Read more about the UAB kidney chain, including stories from many of those involved, at To become a living kidney donor, visit
, or to indicate your interest in donating your organs after death, visit

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No Substitute for Education When Forming Views on Food Ingredients

iStock/Thinkstock(ITHACA, N.Y.) — Want to be a smarter, savvier consumer, especially when it comes to shopping for food?

Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink recommends educating yourself, rather than taking everything at face value from the Internet.

Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Labs, says that too often these days, people base their opinions of additives such as MSG, sodium benzoate and pink slime on others’ opinions, whether right or wrong, that are found on social media sites.

In a study of a thousand moms in the U.S., those who were worried about the effects of high-fructose corn syrup tended to get their information from the Internet instead of TV and were more prone to share their fears with others.

Meanwhile, the same group was asked to rate the safety of the sweetener Stevia by either being given a summation of its history or no information at all. Generally, those who got the background information gave Stevia a higher health ranking.

Again, Wansink contends that to get the real story about food ingredients, “Learn the science, history and the process of how the ingredient is made.”

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Unintentional Injuries a Major Cause of Young Deaths in US

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on deaths of Americans 30 years old and younger finds that 79 percent of these fatalities are caused by injuries, with over half of them unintentional.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 60 percent of deaths by unintentional injury in 2010 involved such causes as falls, fires and car accidents. Meanwhile, the remaining percentage of young people’s deaths by injury was split evenly between homicides and suicides.

Meanwhile, of those between the ages of one and 30 who didn’t die by injury, 20 percent succumbed to disease while one percent died from an infection.

The CDC said the number of all Americans who died from unintentional injuries in 2010 totaled 121,000 while 55,000 lost their lives to violence in 2010.

Meanwhile, an estimated 31 million people survived injuries, either intentional or otherwise, or about one in ten Americans. Researchers say many of these victims suffer long-term physical, emotional and financial problems.

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