Lecithin: The Dark Side of a Dietary Supplement

Dov Michaeli

Posted 1/25/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

by Dov Michaelli

Incredulous Dov

Lecithin as a dietary supplement has been heavily promoted as a panacea for:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Liver and cell function
  • Fat transport and fat metabolism
  • Reproduction and child development
  • Physical performance and muscle function
  • Cell communication
  • Improvement in memory, learning and reaction time
  • relief of arthritis
  • Healthy hair and skin
  • Treatment for gallstones

If you believe any of that please let me know -I happen to have a bridge to sell you. I always suspected promotions that promise to cure all human ailments. But recently I came across a paper that prompted me to examine the evidence behind those claims. I’ll save you an excrutiatingly detailed account -none of the claims has any credible evidence to back it up.

Continue reading “Lecithin: The Dark Side of a Dietary Supplement”

The Wonderful World of Parasites

Dov Michaeli

Posted 1/24/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

Incredulous Dov

Today we are going to go on a circuitous and fascinating journey that will start with, brace yourself…cockroaches, but will end up in the brain of…maybe your own.

I recently came across a mind-blowing article in the Scientist online edition on how parasites manipulate the brain, and behavior, of their victims.

Describing the rich tapestry of host-parasite interactions is close to impossible, so I’d like to highlight only two of them.

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The Coming War on Mosquitoes

Dov Michaeli

Posted 1/14/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

Aedes Aegypti. Caught in the act.

I consider myself an animal lover; I am even fascinated by insects. But Mosquitoes? they are a class by themselves. To paraphrase Rick Perry, if every single one of them gets “executed” I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it. My granddaughter once asked me plaintively “why do we have mosquitoes?” I mumbled somthing inane about the ecology. But why indeed?

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The Making of a Revolution (of Genomic Medicine)

Dov Michaeli

Posted 12/7/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Incredulous Dov

In response to a previous column (TDWI, Dec.2, 2011) The Era of Individualized Cancer Therapy has ArrivedI received an email from my friend Michael Millenson saying, in part:

Like a true advocate, you write here in what I call “present tense hopeful.” In actual English, “has arrived” means something is here. And so it is for a very few cancers in a very few ways, none of which are generally curative. (See current Medscape article that came out this week.)

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The Era of Individualized Cancer Treatment Has Arrived

Dov Michaeli

Posted 12/2/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

As any oncologist would tell you –carpet bombing cancer cells with chemotherapeutics is less than satisfactory. To borrow an example from warfare, it would be like indiscriminately bombing the whole country of Afghanistan with “dumb” bombs, killing thousands of civilians in the hope of getting a few terrorists. A much more effective solution would be to send a few drones, armed with “smart” bombs with an accuracy of 1 meter, constantly patrolling the skies, and ready to strike at the first sign of danger.

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Give Thanks, Be Happy, and Live Longer

Dov Michaeli

Posted 11/24/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Thanksgiving Day. I am sitting here amid the aromas wafting from the oven, the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, the family playing a card game and whooping it up –how can’t you be happy? Turns out, it’s also good for your health.

There are many studies showing a relationship between happiness and longevity, some of which are scientifically excellent. I’ll cover one that I really like, because of its rigor.

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Minor Complications Can Kill

By Dov Michaeli

Posted 11/22/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Incredulous Dov

When I was in my medical training I was astonished one day, when I made my morning rounds, to meet G, a research mentor and dear friend, walking down the corridor dressed in a hospital gown. He was diagnosed having acoustic neuroma, a benign growth on his acoustic nerve.

G opted to get his surgery done at a New York medical center, where a well-known surgeon specializing in acoustic neuroma surgery was based.

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Who Shapes Our Personalities?

By Dov Michaeli

Posted 11/14/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Incredulous Dov

This question was, and still is, the subject of debate among philosophers, neuroscientists and psychologists. Do we have free will?

In that case it is primarily us who shape our own personality. And if neuroscientists’ contention that free will is just an illusion, then what are the factors that contribute to our personality? Not surprisingly, our mothers have a major effect on who we become in later life.

Music’s effect on the baby’s brain

What does music have to do with motherhood? I am using music as a “hook”, as an entréto studies showing the influence of pregnant mothers on the fetus.

Continue reading “Who Shapes Our Personalities?”

Who is in Charge of Naming These Drugs?

Brian Klepper

Wiseacre Wife Elaine
Incredulous Scientist Dov

Over at The Doctor Weighs In, C&C regular Dov Michaeli posted a column on exercise and longevity, in which he asks as an aside, “Who is in charge of naming these drugs?”

My wiseacre wife Elaine, unable to resist such a delicious opening, offered the following as a retort:

I have always thought that meds’ ridiculous names sound like some medieval story.

Once upon a time, King Zocor and Queen Zetia ruled over the tiny kingdom of eastern Niaspan.  One day they were attacked by an army of evil Lipitors who were in search of hidden treasures. But King Zocor called out his army of giant Vytorin warriors who crushed the Lipitors.  The king bestowed the highest honor, the order of the Crestor, upon his army and they all lived happily ever after.

Stay tuned for the story of the three headed Torceptrapib.


PS   Do taxane and carboplatin maybe sound like fossil fuels?

Aging Healthier, Not Just Longer

Dov Michaeli

Posted 11/8/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

“Methus’lah lived nine hundred years; Methus’lah lived nine hundred years; But who calls dat livin’ when no gal’ll give in To no man what’s nine hundred years.”

“It Ain’t Necessarily So,” Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin

Isn’t that the ideal most people strive for? Never mind living to 120; what we want is to live healthy to whatever age biology allotted us. Age is the major risk factor for most cancers and for chronic diseases like arthritis. Why is it? Evolutionary biologists tell us that this is nature’s way of clearing us off the stage, so as not to compete with the young for resources. Maybe. I find this theory a bit unsatisfying, if for no other reason than the fact that lower species, like bacteria and fungi, basically live almost forever (they do eventually do die out by senescence) because every mother cell simply divides into two brand new daughter cells. Other species, invertebrates as well as some vertebrates, use the process of parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction involving the egg only without fertilization by the sperm (no fun there, except for some man-haters who love the concept), thus forming genetic clones of the mother.  Also, most organisms in nature rarely live to their biologically-determined limit –they fall prey to disease and predators. So aging per se couldn’t be a major selective force.

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The Saga of Red Wine and Long Life – Continued

Dov Michaeli

Posted 11/3/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Remember resveratrol? In case you forgot, this is the chemical in the red wine that allegedly allowed the French to live happily and long despite consuming fois gras , cheeses and sweetbreads. In animal experiment the stuff extended the lifespan of mice by 40%. Imagine that if your lifespan is say, 80 years. Take the magic stuff and, voilá, you are going live to 112. Small problem: the amounts present in wine are so minuscule that to duplicate the effect in humans would require hundreds of bottles of wine, daily. Sounds like a fun way to live longer, except that your liver and heart would give out within weeks or at best, months after embarking on the debauchery.  The answer was to quickly start a company to commercialize the discovery, by synthesizing chemical analogues that would be hundreds of time more potent than the natural stuff.

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Who Is Not A Person?

Dov Michaeli

We intuitively know who is a person; we don’t need a dictionary definition for it –we know it when we see it. Certainly, Goldman Sachs is not the first thing that comes to mind. But here is a question that on the face of it sounds ridiculous: who, or more appropriately what, is not a person. The obvious answer is: anything that is not a person. But this is circular logic. In order to break the cycle we need to define what we mean by “a person”, and then classify everything else as a non-person. Now, before I tell you why I am wasting your time on such abstruse philosophical issues, let’s look at the definition of “a person”.

Charles Taylor: (The Concept of a Person”, Philosophical Papers. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, 97-114.):

“person (plural: persons or people; from Latin: persona, meaning “mask”) is a human being, or an entity that has certain capacities or attributes strongly associated with being human (collectively called personhood), for example in a particular moral or legal context. Such capacities or attributes can include agency, self-awareness, a notion of the past and future, and the possession of rights and duties, among others”. An entity possessing moral duties? We now know that moral values, altruism, cooperation, all those good things are hard-wired in human beings’ brain. Where do they reside in an inaminate entity? In the corporate server? The CEO?

But the story doesn’t end here. As so often happens, when scholars, politicians, lawyers, theologians and other assorted self-appointed sages argue an issue among themselves, the conversation becomes progressively abstruse and divorced from the physical reality we live in. The outcome: reams of serious manuscripts on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (the answer, for whatever it’s worth, is 3). Or think of the philosophers struggling to define what is “life”. The vitalist school posited something called “life force”; nobody saw it or found evidence for it; nevertheless they did develop a whole school of thought based on philosophical argumentations devoid of any relationship to the physical world.

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Clash of the Memes: the Future Battlefield of Ideas

Dov Michaeli

Posted 10/23/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

In his book “The Selfish Gene” Richard Dawkins, the population geneticist, proposed the idea of a meme as a target of natural selection. What in the world is a meme?

Essentially everything stored in your brain is a meme. Remember the joke about the guy in the bar? You didn’t invent it –you heard it somewhere, stored it, and probably told it to a friend, helping to spread it. How many people ever heard of the German composer Richard Wagner? With the exception of readers of this blog –not very many. How many listened to his operas? Even fewer. How many listened to his opera Lohengrin? Fewer yet.

But everybody knows the music to “here comes the bride” which was taken from the Wedding March in Lohengrin.

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Dietary Supplements? They Never Made Sense

Dov Michaeli

Posted 10/13/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

How many people do you know who are not taking their daily multivitamin pill? Not many, I’d bet. Heck, even I, a just-the-facts-ma’am kind of guy, succumbed to the general belief that supplements at worst provide insurance against deficiencies; at best they may protect us from a whole raft of diseases, from the flu to arthritis and even Alzheimer’s, and thus make us healthier, help us live longer, be happier, perform better in our favorite sport, become sexual athletes –and this is only a partial list of the promised miracles. Except that the age of miracles has long passed, and none of the promises have been borne out.

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On Expiration Dates

Dov Michaeli

Posted 10/09/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Have you ever looked at the label of an old medicine bottle before you deigned to take the pill?  Of course you have. You were looking for the expiration date. And how many of you threw away the bottle of aspirin because it exceeded its allotted lifetime and expired? I am sure the majority among us have done it. Now, I am not a conspiracy theorist, but having had the privilege of an inside look at the working of drug companies I can’t escape the feeling that it’s time to critically examine the process behind those menacing word of “warning: do not take after…”.

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