Word of the Day: Telomere

January 28, 2010

Telomeres

Telomeres are the little white ends

What if I told you one of the most important words in your health vocabulary should be telomere.  Let me give you a quick definition and you should immediately understand what I am talking about.  A telomere is the end of a chromosome. These specialized structures are involved in the replication and stability of linear DNA molecules.

Wait….what?

In all seriosness, anti aging experts now believe that telomeres may be the key to staying young and more importantly staying healthy.  What the experts now know is when the telomere shortens the cell it is living in dies.  This is important in that cell death can lead to serious disease as well as pre mature aging.

The experts are now focusing creating therapies to lengthen already shortened telomeres or even better yet, how to prevent them from shortening in the first place.

What have they found works well in preventing telomere shortening….Exercise.  Research shows that people who exercise have less erosion of their telomeres than people who are healthy but are not very active.

Last post I encouraged people to get out and vote.  This post I am encouraging you to just plain get out and get moving….your telomeres are depending on it.

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Should a 22 Year Old Alcoholic Get a Liver Transplant?

July 20, 2009

UPDATE: The 22 year old patient that I speak of below passed away.  Very, very sad.

There is an interesting debate in London right now as to whether or not a 22 year old alcoholic deserves a liver transplant.

First a little background.  The patient in question started drinking alcohol with friends when he was 13.  Now nine years later he has the worst case of cirrhosis doctors have ever seen in someone this age.

As you can imagine livers are in short supply, with 400 people dying on the waiting list last year in Britain alone.

Doctors at University College Hospital in London have given Reinbach the most advanced therapies, including a one-off treatment with an artificial liver from San Diego, Calif. But all have failed and they believe only a transplant will save him.

The problem is they don’t want to give him one.  In Britian you must be able to prove that you can be abstinent if you want a transplant due to excessive drinking.  Wait, WHAT?  How on earth can you prove that you will be abstinent?  Supposedly they send you home for a period of time and if you don’t drink you are getting your liver.  Fantastic, but what about the day after the patient gets home, is abstinence still a requirement?

Look, maybe this person can prove that they will stay abstinent, although I have no idea how.  This raises a fascinating question.  Should we be able to decide who gets organs that they need or should everyone go into the candidate pool?

Aren’t we heading down a really slippery slope here?  If a smoker needs a new lung do they have to swear they won’t smoke again?  Easy answer says yes, however, what if they start back up again?  Can we take the lung back?

Let’s look at something more murky.  What if a person needs a new heart, must they swear off hamburgers for the rest of their life?  What if they are poor and can only afford junk food?

Can you see the problem here?  What if I live under a power line and get liver cancer as a result, must I move?  What if I can’t?

Is it possible there may be some class warfare here?

In the case of this young man, he began drinking at 13, well before he could possibly understand the consequences of his actions long term.  I am all for personal responsibility here, however, 13 is way too young to grasp the consequences of hardcore drinking.  Of course the question that you could ask is where were his parents???  His mom reports that she was working full time and had no idea that he was drinking this heavily.

All of this makes me nervous as we go forward with our healthcare debate in this country.  How are going to reasonably make the decisions on who gets what when it comes to health care.  Should we spend less on the 86 year old grandmother when trying to save her life as opposed to the 34 year old?  If we think a person is likely to keep smoking should we really try to save their life if they have a heart attack?

I wish I had the answer…I do have an idea though.

I will write about how I think health insurance should be address in the next couple of days.  It is too big for this post.  Sorry for the tease!!!

I am very interested in how you think Britian should proceed, please comment below.


Marijuana May Cause Cancer

June 24, 2009

There has been a long held belief that marijuana, while known to cause certain conditions, did not cause cancer. A ruling from California and a latest study are challenging that belief.

The state of California recently added marijuana smoke to the list of chemicals that regulators claim causes cancer. A spokesman for the state said that says the state agency found marijuana (cannabis) smoke contains 33 of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke. Where many studies have shown that tobacco smoke damages DNA in a way that boosts risk for lung and other cancers, until now, it’s been unclear whether cannabis smoke could do the same.

Quick physiology lesson. Cancer is any malignant growth or tumor caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division. See when a healthy cell DNA divides everything is cool, when a cell DNA divides abnormally, there is now a problem.

A recent study by Scientists at the University of Leicester contends that marijuana (cannabis) smoke alters DNA, the genetic material located in cells of the human body. Some forms of DNA damage can lead to cancer.

Using newer chemistry techniques, researchers showed that a dangerous chemical, acetaldehyde, is now found in marijuana smoke. It was previously thought that it was only found in tobacco smoke. In a lab setting this chemical caused DNA damage.

The discovery suggests that marijuana smoke may be as harmful, or perhaps even more toxic, than tobacco smoke. In fact, study researchers say that smoking three to four marijuana cigarettes a day causes as much airway damage as smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day.

The state of Massachusetts recently “decriminalized” marijuana. If you get caught with less than an ounce, you get a fine, much like a building code infraction. Where I work with an eclectic group of people, including a lot of 18-24 year olds, I asked them if this decriminalization would make it more likely they would smoke pot.

For the most part people said they wouldn’t change their habits, based whether or not it was decriminalized. These same people did believe, however, that smoking marijuana was not that bad for you.

If you smoke pot or have a friend, child, etc., make sure they take a look at this article. They may be doing more harm to themselves than they think.

The findings of the study I mention above appear in this month’s issue of Chemical Research in Toxicology.