The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, October 5, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Like many, many other people, I come from a family with a history of Type 2 diabetes. One study estimates that about 30% of Americans have a family history of diabetes. My grandfather was diabetic, my mother was diagnosed in her elderly years, and her brother (my uncle) developed diabetes at age 50. I’ve reached 62 and so far I’m still OK (my recent physical included both a fasting glucose test and a hemoglobin A1C test, and both came back in the normal range — thank goodness!). But diabetes is something that I’ve been aware of most of my life (when I was a kid, my mother would sometimes make me test my urine for blood sugar with some kind of yellow strips — not a very accurate way to test for diabetes, but perhaps the best that was available to the common person back in 1965). My recent tests inspired me to do some further research on the topic. I thought that I’d share some observations here from my readings. [WITH THE USUAL CAVEAT — I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR MEDICAL EXPERT, JUST AN INTERESTED LAYPERSON WHO HAS DONE SOME RESEARCH]

First off, type 2 diabetes is not one simple, easily defined condition. There are a variety of “flavors” to it. Each version, though, involves the process by which glucose enters the bloodstream from the stomach and intestines after food ingestion, and by which glucose exits, either through conversion into ATP to fuel the muscles and organs which do the body’s work (i.e., cellular respiration); or by being pushed into the fat cells as a storehouse for future ATP conversion if needed (e.g. if there is a famine — something that was once very common for many humans, up thru the 18th Century). Insulin from the pancreas helps to kick start and regulate that process, allowing glucose to enter the cells of muscles and organs in the right amounts. When there is more than enough glucose to cover the current cellular respiration needs, insulin does the dirty work of pushing the excess glucose into the fat cells (i.e., making you fatter, at least temporarily), and signalling the liver to cut back on production. If the glucose stays in the blood for too long and reaches high concentrations, it can start gumming up the works in sensitive places like the heart, eyes and kidneys, causing damage.

Diabetes type 2 occurs when insulin and its regulation mechanisms aren’t doing the job properly; either too much glucose builds up in the blood, or too much glucose is pushed aside by it and there isn’t enough to support the level of cellular respiration needed  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:07 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 11, 2015
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

Being a vegetarian, I am also something of a health food nut . . . well, I don’t get too exotic about it, but I try to keep salt and fats and sugary carbs under control. I’ve also been getting more strict on starchy carbs now too, despite the fact that I love to eat them; they’re the last available ‘comfort food’ for people like me who avoid meat, eggs and dairy products. And yes, despite all the anti-vitamin and anti-supplement backlash that has been published of late, I still regularly pop a handful of OTC pills (and liquid drops) every day. I take varying levels of Vitamins B, C, D and E (mixed tocopheral, of course), algae oil (in lieu of fish oil), ginko, alpha lipolic acid, acetyl-carnatine, and MitoQ. But again, all in moderation; no “mega-doses” (except for the B vitamins – can’t get enough of them — and maybe a little bit over the “recommended daily allowance” for D).

As such, I’m something of an alternative-medicine sympathizer. But one area that I never got very involved with was homeopathic medicine. It seems so weird to me, despite the fact that it has a lot of followers; you can find plenty of web sites devoted to it. The problem is that when you go on these web sites and try to find out just what’s in the various potions that are recommended and why they might be effective, you see a lot of hocus-pocus. These remedies always come with a list of what is in the mix, but just what those ingredients are remains rather mysterious. E.g., Calcarea Iodata, which is recommended for “enlarged glands, tonsils . . . thyroid enlargements about time of puberty . . . flabby children subject to colds . . . adenoids . . . uterine fibroids”

Or how about Grindelia Robusta, said to be useful for “asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:48 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Medicine ... Politics ... Web Site/Blog ...

I guess that I’m just not a Twitter person. I don’t have an account, and I hardly ever look at anyone else’s tweets. It’s kind of like Buffalo wings — lots of skin, sauce, bone and grease, but no meat. (Yes, I am a vegetarian, but I had some wings in the years prior to my conversion back in the mid-80s).

But I thought I’d give it a try here, just for the heck of it. Let’s see what I might say in a tweet about Jeb Bush:

WSJ sez Jeb is hanging out on Wall Street looking for cash. And probably finding some, probably finding a LOT. Just viewed some videos on Jeb and his lovely Mexican wife Columba. Smart, calm dude, friendly, no twangy accent. Looks like the Bush family is going to pull off the first presidential hat trick.

OK, that’s 310 characters — about twice the Twitter limit. I gather that  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:39 pm       Read Comments (11) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Health / Nutrition ... Medicine ...

As I discussed in my last entry, there’s just something about hospitals, some kind of bad karma attached to most of them. I guess that you can’t expect many good vibes from a place where most people are sick and suffering. But still, there seems to be some sort of “feng shui” problem, some type of institutional coldness, some brand of bad thinking that everyone brings to the place on top of all the problems of the patients. It seems to go all the way back to the people who designed and built the hospital. I’ve heard that modern hospitals are becoming aware of this and are trying to overcome it. (The British NHS even hired a feng shui expert to help their hospitals.)

Unfortunately, my mother’s hospital is stuck with the old look and the old feel. Here’s a shot that I took from the outside. Even from this distance, you can just feel the hospital vibes. You know that this is a hospital; and even if they get all the medicine and therapy right, both patients and family members are in for a rough ride. Also, from what I heard, the folks who work there aren’t exactly crazy about the place either (but most of them still do their best out of sympathy for the patients).

Thank goodness that my mother is now out of there, and let’s hope that she doesn’t need to go back again. I now understand why my brother was so frantic to have someone there with her at all times; you have to bring your own healing atmosphere. Medicare doesn’t pay for it, so the hospital doesn’t provide it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:23 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Medicine ...

As noted in my last two or three entries, I haven’t been writing much lately due to an illness in the family. My mother was in the hospital since Dec. 9 following a respiratory arrest. The medical people weren’t very optimistic about her chances at first, but God and my mother conspired to beat the odds. So she went home yesterday, 39 days after her “lung attack” (it was similar to a heart attack in many ways; in fact, her heart had stopped during the incident).

Thirty-nine days . . . . which is just shy of 40 days, recalling Jesus’s fast in the desert, Jonah’s timeline for the destruction of Ninevah, and Ezikiel’s sufferings for the sins of Judah. Yes, this incident was almost “Biblical in scope”.

The doctors never did give us a good explanation of what happened to my mother. In the end, we had to settle for the fact that the airway passages in her lungs got severely inflamed for awhile and nearly choked her. They couldn’t pin it on an infection, an environmental exposure like smoking or asbestos, or some other medical condition. I myself still think it was an autoimmune reaction. My mother never had a major immune disease (like lupus, MS, Crohn’s Disease, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Type 1 Diabetes, etc.). However, she has had rheumatoidal arthritis for a while now; not surprising for someone in their mid-eighties. So she has had some autoimmune activity in her body.

Another little factoid from her hospital stay: on her fourth day in the intensive care unit, my mother’s blood hemoglobin levels were found to be critically low, so the doctors ordered a blood transfusion. Following medical protocol, they performed a Coombs test to search for any antibodies in her blood that might interfere with the new blood. And they found them! They asked my brother and me whether she had any previous transfusions; we and her doctor had no such recollection. The hospital where she had a cancer operation eight years ago also had no record of any transfusions. So — why all the killer antibodies in her blood? Maybe they were the same antibodies that had attacked her lungs (and her kidneys, which were also in trouble for a while there)? The doctors brushed my suggestion off, of course.

Nonetheless, there is a lot of interest today in autoimmune disease in the medical research field. Some people feel that what we presently know about autoimmune disease is just the tip of an iceberg. I.e., the medical establishment knows a lot about the most apparent autoimmune conditions (again, like lupus and MS and now arthritis), and has come up with some treatments. However, medicine is not even close to coming up with a cure; the immune system is an extremely complex thing, second only to the brain. In effect it has a “mind of its own”, as it monitors, responds and learns from changing body conditions and internal threats that come from germs and other bad stuff (including when our own cells go awry, i.e. cancer). We don’t understand it, and thus can’t do much to put it right when it makes its own mistakes.

Over the past 30 years, the government and private funders have put millions, maybe billions, into finding the cause for cancer and then finding a cure. It’s starting to seem to me that this is like a child trying to dance or ice skate before it knows how to walk. There’s something we need to get a grip on before we take on cancer, and I’m now thinking that a thorough understanding of the immune system is a big part of it. Immune disease isn’t very “sexy” right now, because it seems so limited; only a relatively small percentage of people will develop one of the known forms of serious autoimmune disease. But again, that turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg. We’re now starting to see just how tied-in the immune system is to all sorts of disease, ranging from cancer itself, to pandemic infections (i.e., immune system response is what make bird flu such a threat), to heart disease, to the aging process.

Ah yes, the aging process — that’s where my mother comes into the picture. I’m getting the feeling that many sorts of illness and breakdowns in old age are related to immune system failures, but are analyzed and treated on a more immediate, localized basis (e.g., heart condition, liver condition, lung condition, etc.). Since we are only starting to understand the immune system and what happens when age or environmental factors (toxins, pollution, smoking, viruses, etc.) mess it up, there are few or no practical therapies, never mind any cures. Most doctors probably don’t even want to talk about it (my mother’s doctors included). It’s frustrating to me, thinking that my mother has a condition that medicine is just not ready for yet.

SIDENOTE: Many of the classic autoimmune diseases are NOT old-age related; they manifest earlier in life, when the immune system is most potent. However, the control mechanisms for the immune system clearly deteriorate with age. So, if a person still has a strong immune response in their later years, as my mother does, the chance that their strength will turn against them increases.

I took a look on Google and the Amazon to see if there are any other autoimmune disciples out there. There does seem to be one; her name is Donna Jackson Nakazawa. She has a book out titled “The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance”. I’ve just ordered a copy of it; given my mother’s recent experience, I will give it priority over the many other interesting books stacked up in my apartment waiting to be read. The reviews and previews for Ms. Nakazawa’s book indicate that she focuses a lot on environmental factors, e.g. pollution and toxins in the air and water and our foods. She is mainly concerned about the possibility that a lot of people in their prime, and even children, are becoming weak and even sick before their time because of non-specific (and thus-far non-diagnosed) autoimmune processes triggered by these poisons.

My mother is now 86 and was fairly healthy most of her life. So, I can’t complain that the high levels of nasty stuff that we live with here in northern New Jersey prematurely robbed her of her vitality. But still, it’s a shame to think that perhaps she could have been up and kicking even longer if our industrial economy had done more to keep its noxious by-products from mucking up our planet (and if we knew how to eat the right things and avoid the wrong things so as to strengthen ourselves against it — which Ms. Nakazawa dwells on in her book).

And also if our medical establishment had not tried to jump over the immune system in its attempt to deal with cancer. Hopefully, the public and the political process will someday learn that medical researchers would do better right now by focusing on intermediate topics like the immune system; and thus stop throwing so much tax money at a problem that we just don’t have the tools yet to deal with (i.e., cancer). Let’s take a decade or two to develop those tools; that’s what make sense to me. But the researchers don’t want to say that out loud for fear of losing government and foundation grants. Oh well, such is the way of the world. I wish Ms. Nakazawa much success, but for now she seems to be a prophet crying out in the desert. Ah yes, back to the “40 days” theme!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:31 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Medicine ...

As discussed in my last two entries, my mother is recovering, albeit slowly, from a respiratory arrest that occurred three weeks ago. About a week before that, Mom was in the hospital briefly for tests regarding her lungs. She had been experiencing coughing and breathing difficulties for some time, and my brother and the doctor wisely decided to order some tests.

However, those tests didn’t say much. My mother’s heart seemed fine, as did most of her other organs. Her chest X-ray didn’t show much, other than minor congestion. There was no indication of pneumonia or other big infection; she didn’t have a fever and her white blood cell count was normal. It probably wasn’t the flu, as she had gotten a flu shot more than a month before. So maybe it was just a minor bacterial infection. They gave her some antibiotics and let it go at that. My brother took her home and she soon seemed better.

Five days later, her breathing just stopped. And thus began her stay in the intensive care unit. The new X-rays clearly showed something — but what? Again, it wasn’t pneumonia. All the doctors could say was that her lungs were inflamed. As to the cause of that inflammation, they were rather hazy; she never smoked and had no appreciable asbestos exposure. The medical experts said that it was probably some kind of infection, even though culture tests couldn’t identify an infectious germ. So what was it?

My mother’s case is a reminder that medicine still does NOT know it all. She was not suffering from any super-rare, exotic symptoms; she was coughing and having trouble breathing. And yet, the experts cannot tell us for sure what’s going on. So what can it be? I’m not a doctor or medical researcher, but I decided to take a stupid wild-assed guess: maybe the inflammation had something to do with an auto-immune response, something akin to rheumatoid arthritis or MS or lupus (clearly my mother did not have the latter two diseases, although she has had bouts of arthritis). I did some web searches, and found out that the University of Pittsburgh is currently researching a possible connection between autoimmune attacks and lung inflammation for people with COPD (my mother was previously diagnosed with a mild form of COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — although not to the point of emphysema). They seem to have made some progress in establishing such a link.

I relayed this fact to my mother’s physician, and he told me that even if this turns out to be true and then if it actually applies to my mother, there aren’t any therapies. I then asked, “if you can’t control the autoimmune reaction, what about drugs to control the inflammation, as they have for arthritis? The doc said that nothing really exists for lung inflammation; they’ve never developed drugs specific to lung inflammation. (Steroid inhalants are sometimes used for people who smoked or have asbestos conditions, but they have many side-effects and might backfire on someone my mother’s age). This amazed me; with millions of people suffering with lung problems from smoking, pollution, asbestos, etc., the researchers and drug companies haven’t yet come across anything to specifically alleviate lung inflammation (with acceptable side-effect risks).

My quick research indicates that medical science is still in an early stage of understanding (and appreciating) inflammation, especially in the context of autoimmune responses. Given that lung tissue is extremely complex, it may be a long time until medical science fills this void. But this situation still surprises me. Sure, it’s not hard to understand why medicine is having a hard time with cancer and brain disorders, but a seemingly apparent thing like lung inflammation? Medicine may be a modern miracle, but there are still plenty of gaps in that miracle!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:25 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 2, 2005
Current Affairs ... Medicine ... Public Policy ...

I had a chance the other day to download and read the original court decision that started the whole Terri Schiavo fracas (In Re Guardianship of Theresa Marie Schiavo, Incapacitated, Feb. 11, 2000, Cir. Ct. for Pinellas County, Fla.). To be honest, Judge Greer’s description of the decision process gives me jitters about how the legal system responds to artificial life-support situations. I don’t want to second guess Judge Greer, or all of the appeals courts that upheld him. I firmly believe that he carried out the law in a responsible manner. But I wonder if the law is truly ready for cases like this. Remember, the laws and procedures that apply to situations like this derive from English Common Law, which basically goes back to the Magna Carta. However, the technology that makes a Terri Schiavo situation possible only goes back maybe 25 years.

The first thing that you should ask about a legal case is, who is the moving party – who is starting the whole thing (in this case, initiating a request to terminate extraordinary medical efforts that were being used to keep a human body alive). Well, that’s not so hard; the moving party was Michael Schiavo, the husband of the late Ms. Schiavo. OK, next question: does the moving party have legal authority to request what he is requesting? In this case, yes, Michael Schiavo had such legal authority, given that as husband, he was the recognized legal guardian. So what about the parents? Were they just chopped liver? No, not quite. They were allowed to be heard in court. And they were. They hired an attorney who made legal and factual arguments, presented witnesses, and cross examined the witnesses presented by Mr. Schiavo. Even though a spouse trumps a parent with regard to legal authority over an incapacitated person, the parents still got their day in court.

In the decision allowing “discontinuance of artificial life support for Theresa Marie Schiavo”, Judge Greer made it clear that he carefully considered everything that both sides presented. He weighed up the veracity and relevance of all evidence, and found that it tipped, however slightly, towards the conclusion that Terri Schiavo would want the feeding tube removed if she could had envisioned the present situation while she was still conscious. That was the axis and the focal point of the law and the decision. That was what everything revolved around. And that’s where I’m having trouble.

NOT that I think that there was a murder here. I believe that for all practical purposes, Terri Schiavo was dead – dead UNTO HERSELF, that is, and dead for mind-conscious people like myself. But most people are more body-conscious (yes, there I go again, using a mind-body Cartesian dualism, the scourge of hip philosophers over the past 50 years or so; but maybe this case shows why that dualism was invented and retains its power). So, for many people, most notably Mr. and Mrs. Schindler, Terri was NOT dead, despite not having any brain or mind. Quick footnote: my brother said that he liked the pictures of Terri Schiavo as an attractive young woman, as she possessed a certain look – the svelte look of the 80’s, the “big hair” look. He said that he misses the “body consciousness” of that period. Not surprisingly, then, he feels that removing the tube was wrong. (Ironically, excessive body consciousness might have contributed to Ms. Schiavo’s heart attack.)

But let me go back to the first question for a moment. Judge Greer had no problem with Michael Schiavo’s authority as husband and guardian over Terri Schiavo. And again, I have no reason to think that the Judge was messing up. But I do have trouble with the law that he was applying (which, again, is based partially on unwritten Common Law principals and partially defined by written constitutions and statutory laws passed by our State and Federal legislatures). In a case like this, where the definition of life is fuzzy and a whole lot is at stake, I would like the law to require the judge to ask more questions. Such as, has the spouse in question been loyal and devoted entirely to the incapacitated spouse, just as we would expect in any other marriage? The answer in this case might be no.

Hey, not that I think that Michael Schiavo was evil or bad in finding another girlfriend and getting on with his life. It’s just that when the stakes are so high, maybe you can’t have it both ways – if you’re not the perfect husband, then maybe you shouldn’t have the biggest say when the question comes down to what is life and what is death. (I think that the law should still allow a not-quite-perfect husband like Mr. Schiavo to have SOME say, maybe a BIG say, but not THE say, as the law required here).

Now, back to the question of determining intent in a situation like this, where there are no written instructions. (If there IS a living will and it’s very clear that you don’t want your body kept going if you’re brain dead, no matter who thinks what about it, then the law must respect that – just my $0.02). Judge Greer based his decision on some casual comments that Terri Schiavo had made at some point to her husband and to his brother and sister-in-law. These comments indicated that she didn’t think that artificial life support in hopeless cases was such a good idea. I.e., Mr. Schiavo and his brother and sister-in-law testified in court as to what they remember Terri saying, and were subject to cross-examination by the parents’ lawyer.

In the decision, Judge Greer seemed to acknowledge that this wasn’t much to stand on. However, the cross-examination by the parents’ lawyer didn’t seem to fluster anyone, so the testimony was accepted as factual. The parents didn’t offer anything indicating otherwise (other than some comments that Terri made about the Karen Ann Quinlan case when she was around 12 years old, which the Judge discounted because of Terri’s age). So, using standard legal mechanics, a judgment was rendered: Terri would want to pull the plug here.

What bothers me about the legal process (again, not about Judge Greer, who was doing his job) is that it tried to come up with a simulation of Terri Schiavo’s mind, i.e. what she would have wanted if faced with this terribly complex and wrenching situation. More troubling, it based that simulation upon just a few passing comments. To me, it would have been more intellectually honest for the law to have admitted that a few comments were not enough to build a reliable model of how Terri Schiavo’s mind would work in an extremely important and complex situation. So, maybe we have to allow the Judge to step in and build a more general “decision model”, one that considers what we do know about Terri Schavio’s statements and expressed beliefs, but that also allows consideration of what is currently at stake. In such a process, I think it would be legitimate to ask, just how would pulling the plug affect other people. In this situation, it obviously affected the parents quite negatively. (It also hurt George W. Bush and Tom DeLay and all the Roman Catholic toadies, but their cynical interests disqualify them from ANY consideration whatsoever.)

The Schindlers were obviously locked into a typical parental body philosophy. Every human being presents both a body and a mind to others. Some people are more affected by our bodies and some people latch on more to our minds (I personally am more of a mind person, or try to be). Ms. Schiavo’s parents appeared to tip more towards the body side (which parents naturally tend towards, given that they helped to create the body of their child). So, maybe the court should have been allowed to ask, is Terri still “alive” to the parents? (I would disqualify consideration of anyone outside of immediate family, especially Tom DeLay and all the wacko priests and pro-life nuts who cynically professed their eternal body-love for Ms. Schiavo). Perhaps Terri Schiavo would have wanted to have been kept alive if she could have known how her parents responded . . . . at least so long as they were alive and conscious.

Well, as far as I am concerned, Terri Schiavo died a long time ago. But I appreciate the fact that other people have other viewpoints on that, and I especially sympathize with the parents’ viewpoint. (Not that I condemn Michael Schiavo either; I believe that he honestly represented the Terri Schiavo that he knew – but in marriage, you never really know the dynamics of the relationship that your spouse has with her or his parents — believe me, I know that from bitter experience!). I’m troubled that the law did not allow this to be considered. Then again, I’m also troubled by the notion of spending gobs of taxpayer money keeping brain-dead people alive for their elderly parents, while leaving younger parents who don’t have health insurance unable to provide basic care for their children. Well, there’s no easy answer here. All I can say right now (in a spiritual fashion) is rest in peace, Ms. Schiavo, and may the scars heal amidst those who were close to you. And thanks for making us all think, however inadvertently, about many things in our nation that need thinking about.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:14 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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