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And Speaking of Sugar

Last night I ate a small piece of candy, an Easter egg with a cream filling. I had an immediate and scary reaction: my throat felt weird, it started to hurt and I began coughing and didn’t stop for the next three hours.

The ingredients don’t seem to have anything that should make me wary. The label lists milk chocolate made with sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter and soy lecithin; vanillan (artificial flavor), sugar, corn syrup, egg albumen, salt, vanilla, invertase (an enzyme), and sodium hydroxide. Made on machines used with peanuts, tree nuts and wheat.

As far as I know, I’m not allergic to any of that stuff. But I have to tell you, the experience scared the crap out of me.

Sugar, Sugar

Despite what those commercials made by the food manufacturers claim, high fructose corn syrup is demonstrably bad for you:

In results published online March 18 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.

“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” In addition to Hoebel and Bocarsly, the research team included Princeton undergraduate Elyse Powell and visiting research associate Nicole Avena, who was affiliated with Rockefeller University during the study and is now on the faculty at the University of Florida. The Princeton researchers note that they do not know yet why high-fructose corn syrup fed to rats in their study generated more triglycerides, and more body fat that resulted in obesity.

Unraveling

So last night I was sitting on the couch reading (my default activity) and turned to get up when BOOM! The pain hit me.

It’s hard to describe. It’s like a bundle of nerves and muscles all clustered in the center of my back decided to bring themselves to my attention. It hurt so much, I thought I was having a heart attack.

But then I realized the pain didn’t go that deep, and figured it had something to do with my massage treatments. So I called Angelo, my massage therapist, and left a message.

He called me back this morning and I described the pain. “That’s just great! This is good news!” he said. “This is what needed to happen next.” He laughed.

“I live to amuse you,” I said.

He told me my spine was all out of whack from limping for so long, and it had exacerbated a curve in the upper back to keep me tilted when I walked. “Think of this as a hunchback, unraveling,” he said. “Because it is.”

“Okay, so how long will it hurt like this?”

“With me, it was about seven months,” he said.

Oh swell.

So I’m unraveling. But it hurts, and it makes me cranky.

Antibiotic Resistance

It’s kind of Zen, don’t you think? The response to being overpowered is… stop fighting!

OSLO, Norway — Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia last year, soaring virtually unchecked.

The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway’s public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

Now a spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway’s model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying these deaths — 19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS — are unnecessary.

“It’s a very sad situation that in some places so many are dying from this, because we have shown here in Norway that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] can be controlled, and with not too much effort,” said Jan Hendrik-Binder, Oslo’s MRSA medical advisor. “But you have to take it seriously, you have to give it attention and you must not give up.”

The World Health Organization says antibiotic resistance is one of the leading public health threats on the planet. A six-month investigation by The Associated Press found overuse and misuse of medicines has led to mutations in once curable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, making them harder and in some cases impossible to treat.

Imagine That

I found a tirade against acupuncture at one of those “scientific” skeptic sites to which people always refer me to prove their own superiority, and I had to laugh. Some people are so determined to protest anything that can’t be measured in a test tube. Never mind that it actually, you know, works for at least some things:

Acupuncture designed to treat depression appears to improve symptoms in pregnant women, suggesting it as an alternative to antidepressant medication during pregnancy, a study found.

The study, published Monday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, is the largest to date examining the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat depression in pregnant women. It was funded by a grant from the government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. “Acupuncture that we have tested works for pregnant, depressed women,” said Rachel Manber, a study author and professor at Stanford University. However, “no single study is enough to make policy recommendations,” she said.

Depression in pregnancy is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is associated in some studies with poorer cognitive and emotional development in children. Some have linked depression in pregnancy and low birth weight.

Public Service

I had yet another suspicious-looking mole removed last night. I left the house at 4:30 and got out of the doctor’s office at 8. This is a lot of aggravation (not to mention the $50 co-pays) but since I’m already at high risk for skin cancer (three stage-2 sunburns, blonde hair, light eyes), I gotta do it while I still have insurance.

So far, all but one biopsy has contained cells in the early stages of various skin cancers – squamous, basal cell – so I’m glad they’re gone. The doctor was suspicious this one might be a melanoma. (And here, I thought it was just a tiny dark freckle.)

This time, because it was my leg and not my back, I got to watch. I didn’t realize they actually punch out a core of tissue and then stitch it closed. (If you like that sort of thing, you can watch how it’s done here.)

I had a push: A friend who went through the full cycle of chemo and radiation for malignant melanoma and now peers at everyone else’s uncovered skin. “That’s what mine looked like. You really need to get that checked out,” she says to everyone she meets. (Thanks, Jean, I did!)

And now I’m pushing you. The only really painful part is the co-pay – that, and the long wait in the waiting room. But if you have a skin growth that concerns you, or you’ve never been checked by a dermatologist, go get it done.

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