Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loneliness, poor health appear to be linked

University of Arizona (2010, June 21). Loneliness, poor health appear to be linked. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 23, 2010, from Science Daily. Two studies have found that hoarding friends doesn't necessarily diminish forlorn feelings and that loneliness is a matter of perception. Superficial relationships, researchers say, can not only result in feelings of detachment, but also contribute to certain health-related problems.

Remember Robert Putnam's book several years ago, Bowling Alone.  He made a startling statement in that book, the lack of social connectedness was worse for your life expectancy than smoking.  If he was correct, and the current studies from the University of Arizona support his hypothesis, then what is to become of all the folks who sit at home alone playing computer games?  Do on-line social networks count?  I'd be interested to see what the researchers think about that.  As more of us develop our virtual friendships, how does the quality of those connections compare with real-life?  The Arizona studies found that quality of relationships was more important than quantity.

I like my social networks and find them comforting.  It's validating to put thoughts out there and have folks comment on them, whether the comments are for or against.  I find other humans fascinating so I like it when I see some posts that people are doing their laundry, preparing to paint the living room, or returning from vacation. I even like reading what people eat.  Personally, I love the virtual world but I wouldn't swap it for real life friends.

Living with all life's joys and burdens is a pleasure for sure. Without someone to share it all, it loses its flavor.  It's easy to see why daily stresses can build over time and threaten a person's well-being.  Too much adrenaline suppresses the immune system.  The effect is so pronounced that certain military units have had to curb the the rigors of their training, because soldiers were becoming sick with opportunistic infections.  Adrenaline is also given to patients whose immune system is over-reacting in the acute and serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.  Consider a person who is lonely and stressed and whose adrenaline perhaps never gets a break.  It is easy to see how chronic feelings of isolation might suppress our immune systems and make us sick over time.

Loneliness is a terrible thing and it seems our bodies don't like it any more than our minds.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McDonald's faces lawsuit over Happy Meals -

McDonald's faces lawsuit over Happy Meals -
This article suggests McDonald's is negligent for attracting young and impressionable toddlers with a cute toy in their Happy Meal. Since when does the toddler in the house make the decisions about what he or she will eat? I understand the wailing kid in the back seat blubbering that everyone else has that toy except him and now he'll be left out... blah, blah. I went through this with my kids. They can be VERY persuasive but at the end of the day, parents are the ones who should be saying no if they don't like the idea of the Happy Meal.

McDonald's built a business on fast, unhealthy food that sells to millions and millions. We all know the deal. Perhaps the problem with McDonald's is not the enticing Happy Meal toys, but rather the disgracefully cheap dollar deals that let you feed a family of five for about ten bucks. This seems to be a more criminal aspect in my view. Try driving around with a car full of hungry teens and a meager $20 left in your pocket to feed them. The dollar menu calls. It's fast, easy and filling but of course lacking in significant nutrient value.

Should we picket Micky D's to take away the dollar menu, withdraw the Happy Meal toys, or better still, shut their doors altogether? In my opinion it is none of these. Fast fat food is everywhere. It's just cheaper at Micky D's and the like. A walk around the supermarket will tell you that our whole diet has degenerated into an artificial, sugary mess. Even yogurts are stuffed full of sugar and we tend to put those in the health category. The latest Dannon yogurt I ate had 23 grams of sugar!!

So, let McDonald's advertise the toys. And parents out there... teach your children to resist early. It doesn't get any easier as we get older. As big business continues to push the calories, it is up to us to say no and the earlier we learn that life skill the better. No-one will do it for us.

Now what did I do with that Twinkie.....

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hospital acquired infections

On a trip to England last year, I saw hand washing stations outside each hospital ward, and surprisingly, most people were using them before they visited their loved ones. I remember, more than 20 years ago, the hoopla about MRSA in the hospital I worked in in London. We practiced barrier methods to keep the bugs from spreading and washed our hands relentlessly. People generally came to hospital to get rid of their infections, not pick them up. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Today, the chances of getting an infection while in hospital appears to be staggeringly high. The World Health Association estimates that any any given time, 1.4 million people worldwide are suffering from infections they got while in a healthcare establishment. Healthcare- associated infections (HAI) costs the US alone almost $7 billion each year. What is worse, some of these infections can be quite difficult to treat. The levels of antibiotic resistance is increasing and along with it our chances of having to take a more risky antibiotic to treat our infections. Unbelievable as it sounds in this day and age, people can and do die of infections that cannot be treated with known antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance makes hospital visits that much more scary. Imagine you go in for a life-saving procedure, for a burst appendix perhaps, and come out without your appendix but with a HAI that takes you weeks to recover from. Or imagine that you go in for a little liposuction and endure months of prolonged pain as a result of something you became infected with while in the hospital. These scenarios are becoming more common and with it, an increased reticence about going in for that operation in the first place.

Hospital acquired infections would be much less worrisome if many of them were not drug resistant. There are many efforts across the globe to better understand antibiotic resistance and to ensure we have drugs available for emerging resistance strains. Some bugs of concern, so-called Gram negatives, including the particularly nasty Acinetobacter are difficult to treat to begin with. WIth resistance accelerating to even newer antibiotics, there are few drugs in the pharmaceutical pipeline to keep up with resistance. MRSA still remains a problem even though it tends to stay out of the headlines these days. Once a hospital-acquired infection, MRSA is now just as likely to be contracted in the community. Infection control for some microorganisms has been improved in many hospitals. However, some centers still have a way to go. Just this week the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article that suggests lax infection practices may plague the nation's more than 5,000 outpatient centers. Patients coming in for day surgeries are leaving with more than they signed up for in more and more hospitals. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement that her department is expanding its hospital infection control action plan to include ambulatory surgical centers and dialysis centers.
Reporting infections is important and in general, is on the increase although some doctors still fail to report incidences at their hospital.

In the future it is conceivable that minor operations may not be widely accessible due t the high risks of acquired infections in the hospital. Patients may have to think twice about procedures we now take for granted such as C-sections, joint replacement surgeries and cosmetic procedures for example. With the risk of HAI growing, the future of medicine may see a very limited list of surgical options for patients in non-life-threatening situations.

For people interested in learning more about HAIs, there are a couple of places to go. The first is a website put together by Kimberly-Clark at Folks can sign up for newsletter and browse around for general information particularly on two of the most common HAIs; ventilator- associated pneumonia and surgical skin infections (SSI). The CDC also provides more information at