Testing It Up

In Focus: Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin that is essential to help optimize conversion of food into energy needed by the body to utilize numerous physiologic processes such as respiration, blood circulation, and immune system response. Vitamin B12 also helps maintain healthy nerve cells in the body and is needed by the red blood cells for the formation and production of Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA).

This vitamin can be found in different kinds of foods such as fish, shellfish, meat and daily products. It is stored in the body for several years, thus deficiency of Vitamin B12 is rare. It may be rare, but it still affects hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Factors that may predispose one to Vitamin B12 deficiency are age, diet and loss of the protein called intrinsic factor.

Old people are at risk of deficiency and so are strict vegetarians since vitamin B12 is seen less in vegetables. The loss of intrinsic factor by the intestines is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency since this protein aids in the absorption of Vitamin B12.

Megaloblastic anemia may result from a deficiency in Vitamin B12. This is a type of anemia in which there is a malformation of the red blood cells. These red blood cells are found to be larger than normal and the ratio of the nucleus is way too increased than that of the cell cytoplasm. One main cause is alcohol abuse, wherein alcohol intake depletes the Vitamin B12 in the body. Symptoms include change in skin color, diarrhea and headache.

Vitamin B12 deficiency has also been connected with neurological and psychiatric problems. Patients with this deficiency may display muscle weakness, visual problems, incontinence, hypotension or the lowering of blood pressure, psychosis, dementia and mood disturbances.

Learn more about Vitamin B12 deficiency here.

January 31, 2009 at 8:04 pm Comment (1)

5 Ways to Keep Yourself Away from Date Rape Drugs

For people who are fond of partying out, this one is for you. To ensure that you do not fall prey to sexual predators, you must always be mindful of what you drink or eat when you’re out having fun.

A ‘date rape drug’ is any kind of drug that is added to foods or drinks at parties with the aim of knocking a person down so he or she can be taken without resistance. Pretty cruel, right? So how can you prevent yourself from being a victim?

wine1) Never go out alone. Always be in the company of trusted friends so that you can watch out for one another.

2) Never accept open drinks in a party, whether it’s alcoholic or not, especially from strangers. Avoid drinks which are in punch bowls, pitchers or tubs. Stick to drinks in unopened bottles or cans.

3) Get your drink straight from the bartender and never from a stranger. Also, hold your drink at all times since it would be easy for somebody to slip the drug into your drink if it’s unattended.

4) Be observant. If you feel that there’s something wrong or overheard someone talking about anything related to drugs, leave the place immediately. It is very important that you don’t drink too much and stay sober while partying so you can keep yourself safe all night long.

5) Finally, you may bring along a date rape drug test kit. It is a brand new defense against date rape drugs. It is simple to use – you just have to dip the testing strips or coasters into your drink and if they change color, then it was spiked with date rape drugs.

January 31, 2009 at 8:30 am Comments (5)

Is Your Child on Drugs? Check These Signs.

As your teens grow up, they become more exposed to the dangers of the outside world – their time is spent mostly outside the home, with strangers they call ‘friends’. Temptations surround them, and unfortunately, many have fallen to the traps of drug abuse. To determine if your teen is abusing drugs, consider the following signs:

1) Sudden change of physical appearance
a) lack of interest in keeping proper grooming
b) physical coordination is poor
c) weight loss or gain
d) needle marks on some parts of the body
e) runny nose, hacking cough, and red, watery eyes
f) tremors or shakes of hands, feet or head

cocaine2) Change in behavior
a) oversensitivity and moodiness
b) temper tantrums or mood swings
c) extreme hyperactivity
d) abusive treatment towards others

3) New set of friends
a) avoids  to talk about his/her new pals

4) Secretiveness
a) locks himself in his room and suddenly seems very concerned about privacy

5) Poor performance in school
a) cuts or skips classes and often arrives late
b) gets very low grades

6) Change in cash flow
a) unexplainable need of money
b) constant borrowing of money or stealing

7) Presence of drug paraphernalia
a) unusual odors on their clothes or in their room like solvent smell of inhalants or marijuana smell
b) you may check his room for things like pipes, bongs, cigars, rolling papers, butane lighters, roach clips, syringes, tourniquets, burned tinfoils, spoons

Remember that these seven signs can also be due to stress or other factors. Whatever the cause is, these signs should still alarm parents as they could mean that something is wrong and that your child may need really your help.

January 30, 2009 at 1:51 pm Comments (2)

Your Hair Tells All (through Hair Follicle Testing)

There are several methods of detecting alcohol and drugs in a person’s body. This includes urine, saliva, spray or sweat, and hair follicle tests. Hair follicle testing is considered to be highly accurate and can verify the presence of prescription drugs, controlled drugs and even nicotine from smoking. It can also provide information about the quantity of consumption and the pattern of use.

hair strandIn hair follicle drug testing, it is not the follicle that is being analyzed but the shaft of the hair. Ingested drugs are carried throughout your blood vessels and are deposited in the papilla, the one which produces the hair strand. The drug metabolites on the papilla are grown into the cortex or the middle region of the hair. This is why shampooing your hair like crazy will not help you cheat on this test.

Standard hair follicle screen covers a period of 30 to 90 days. The growth of hair is usually at the rate of 1.5 inches per month. The hair sample is cut as close to the scalp and 80 to 120 strands of hair are needed for the test. In the absence of hair on the head, body hair can be used as an acceptable substitute.

Drugs that can be detected in a standard hair test are cocaine, marijuana, opiates (Codeine, Morphine & 6-Monacteyl Morphine), methamphetamines (Methamphetamine/Amphetamine & Ecstasy), and phencyclidine (PCP).

Hair follicle testing has received a lot of attention, with debates on the issue of parents using this method on their children getting some heat. While some parents saw the convenience of submitting their child’s hair clippings for drug tests, some groups still argue that this violates the child’s rights. Well, how about the parent’s rights (as well as duty) to look after his or her child?

January 30, 2009 at 8:54 am Comments (4)

Toxins Found in Contained Ash Spill in Tennessee

Last month, 1.1 billion gallons of sludge which contained 5.4 cubic yards of coal ash breached an earthen holding facility at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant. The mishap caused damage to nearby lakeside homes and is now considered as an environmental threat to the community.

arsenicJust last Wednesday, Duke University scientists working with the United Mountain Defense reported high levels of arsenic and radioactive radium in the ash spill. These results raise concerns about the need to store ash and emphasize the need to be careful during cleanup to make sure that these toxins do not escape the confines of the site.

The observations were from samples taken last January 9, about 3 weeks after the accident. These were taken from two areas: an ash-filled inlet of the Emory River and about two miles downstream.

Arsenic and radium are both considered as potential carcinogens, and exposure to these substances may have adverse effects on the health of the people in the vicinity of the plant.

To date, the Tennessee Valley Authority is shelling out about a million dollars a day for the recovery effort. This includes the vacuuming of ash particles from the river and scooping sludge out of inlets. They also built temporary dams and distributed more than 80 tons of grass seed through a helicopter to ensure that the rest of the spill is held in place. The effort is supervised by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, with assistance from the Tennessee Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The good news, though, is that contamination seems to be confined in the accident site. Drinking water was safe and the air quality was still clean. Only trace amounts of arsenic was found in areas away from the site, as opposed to the heavier concentration of the toxin found in the site.

January 29, 2009 at 12:04 pm Comment (1)

Treating Male Infertility

While the majority of factors that affect the inability for couples to conceive can be attributed to female deficiencies, almost 50% can be attributed to either male factors or a combination of factors from both partners. This is still a significant percentage, which is why male infertility still warrants the same attention and study as female infertility.

Male Reproductive System

This month, the Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield opened a new fertility and in vitro fertilization center. The center boasts of the ability to provide holistic programs with the intention of finding ways to assist infertile couples. In addition to offering treatment programs designed to address female infertility as well as couples programs, the SIU Fertility and IVF Center also offers expertise in the field of male infertility.

Men who have been diagnosed as the cause of a couple’s inability to conceive have a number of treatment options at the center. These include drug or medicine-based therapy, non-surgical sperm aspiration, therapeutic testicular biopsy, intracytoplasmic sperm injection with IVF and vasectomy reversal.

Fertility medication, while common to women, is not as common or as effective in men. As little as 5% of males who take fertility drugs actually benefit from the therapy. Fertility drugs normally correct hormone imbalance, and it is for the same reason that these drugs are prescribed for men. Depending on the patient’s medical condition – such as unexplained infertility or low sperm count – therapy with gonadotropins, antiestrogen agents, bromocriptine and testosterone may be administered.

Testicular biopsy, while mainly used for diagnostic purposes, can also be used as a treatment method. Its techniques are applied for sperm retrieval to assist in conception.  If the patient prefers a non-invasive method of sperm retrieval, non-surgical sperm aspiration may be used instead. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which is used for in vitro fertilization, is the most common procedure used to overcome male infertility.

January 29, 2009 at 2:51 am Comments (3)

Increasing Cancer Drug Costs May Affect Medicare

Medicare, the US government social insurance program for its citizens aged 65 and older or for those who qualify under other special criteria, may be adversely affected from a financial standpoint due to financing the treatment of their beneficiaries who are suffering from cancer.

CancerLaws that are currently in effect in the United States have limited the ability of Medicare to control the costs for the treatment of cancer. Over the last seven years, a significant 267% increase in the overall spending on drugs administered in a doctor’s clinic was noted by the program, of which the majority consists of cancer treatment drugs.

In an attempt to be of help to the cancer patient, various laws now require Medicare to allow the cancer patient wide access to cancer drugs. Medicare is currently required to reimburse doctors or patients for practically almost all cancer drugs. This includes expensive drugs and treatments that may have counterparts that can be administered at a lower cost, or experimental drugs which have not yet received approval from the Food and Drug Administration. This ruling does not hold true for other types of drugs.

The disadvantage is that this higher spending for cancer treatment does not necessarily translate into benefits. It is common in cancer therapy that several experimental or off-label drugs are used by oncologists until they find one that works against the tumor. This means that not all of the drugs – and, by extension, the costs that they incur – were actually able to help the patient. In some cases, these drugs may even have side effects that will necessitate an entirely different line of treatment to counteract the effects.

What Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York recommends in order to fix the situation is for Congress to establish a “center for comparative effectiveness”. This will enable the identification of whether the use of a cancer drug is reasonable and necessary based on clinical research, a concept that is reportedly supported by the Obama administration.

New York Drug Screening

January 28, 2009 at 11:09 am Comments (2)

Coming Soon: Nicotine-Free Tobacco

For those who simply cannot stop smoking, there may be a way to light up a stick without having to breathe in nicotine.

tobacco plantationA group of Japanese researchers led by Professor Kazufumi Yazaki from the Kyoto University Research Institute for Sustainable Humanosphere have identified a gene that is responsible for transporting nicotine within the tobacco plant.

It is already common knowledge in botany that nicotine is produced by the tobacco plant in its roots, and it is eventually carried to the leaves. Tobacco leaves are what find their way into commercial cigarettes.

This is, however, the first time that a gene that performs this transportation of nicotine is isolated, as stated by one of the researchers. The purpose of the gene, NT-JAT1, is to transport nicotine to bags that contain water and other substances located in the cells of tobacco leaves. This was confirmed through an experiment that was carried out jointly with Ghent University of Belgium.

This significant discovery may lead to the development of a tobacco plant variety that does not contain nicotine in its leaves. Should this happen, it may result in the ability to come up with nicotine-free tobacco products such as cigarettes.

This means that nicotine addiction may be curbed without refraining from the act of smoking or the use of artificial anti-smoking products. Non-smokers may also benefit from such a product as they will no longer be exposed to nicotine-laden second hand smoke.

The discovery of the gene may also result in advances in medicine. Nicotine belongs to a group of compounds called alkaloids, and there are alkaloids derived from plants that are used to treat cancer. If the gene can transport nicotine, then it is possible that is can also be used to transport other alkaloids. If so, they can be used to trigger an increase in the level of useful alkaloids in plants, which can in turn be extracted for medical purposes.

January 28, 2009 at 7:48 am Comments (9)

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Incidents in Chicago and Portsmouth

Several children were sent to the hospital in separate incidents in Chicago and Portsmouth.

carbon-monoxideAbout 50 teenagers attending an event at a Boys and Girls Club in Chicago’s West Side on Monday afternoon were evacuated after a carbon monoxide leak was detected on the premises. They were in the club to listen to NFL players from the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings speak. The guests had already left before the club was evacuated.

The leak was said to have been caused by a faulty furnace. The club called in the fire department after three kids started showing signs of carbon monoxide intoxication. They conducted a test on the air, which confirmed high levels of carbon monoxide than normal. Eleven children were sent to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but no one was reported seriously injured.

The same afternoon, 14 people, which included 12 children between the ages of 2 and 14 and two adults, were taken to local hospitals for evaluation for carbon monoxide poisoning in Portsmouth. The children in the day care center of the Centenary United Methodist Church suddenly started throwing up inexplicably, which prompted the people responsible to call in the fire department.

Just as in Chicago, a test of the surrounding air resulted in high carbon monoxide levels. All of the children in the day care center were assessed, and some displayed minor symptoms of intoxication. The 14 people sent to the hospital were treated as a precaution. A boiler on the first floor of the building was determined as the source of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a compound that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. As such, it is rather difficult to monitor its levels in the surrounding air. Since it is highly toxic, it is beneficial to install carbon monoxide detectors or to have carbon monoxide test kits available in enclosed areas, especially those with children.

Chicago Health Screening

January 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm Comments (4)

Medications Detected in Treated Montreal Waste Water

We often hear that ‘one man’s cure may be another’s poison’. This may be true not just among people, but between humans and the environment he lives in.

A study funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Council for Science and Technology of Mexico, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the St. Lawrence Action Plan and Health Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan on the St. Lawrence River downstream from the sewage treatment facility in Montreal found traces of medication in the water.

water1Conducted by researchers from the University of Montreal, the study found quantities of high blood pressure and cholesterol drugs in water samples which were taken half a kilometer from where treated wastewater from the sewage facility flowed into the river.

Although the quantities are minimal, there is no knowledge yet about how this build up will affect the environment according to Prof. Sebastien Suave, an environmental chemist who led the study. They are nevertheless not taking these observations lightly as it shows that there may be a buildup of compounds and pathogens in the environment because sewage processing systems fail to neutralize them.

The team tested for the presence of five different drugs, which included two kinds of chemotherapy drugs that are known to be highly toxic and carcinogenic, cholesterol drugs statin and bezafibrate, and the hypertension medication enalapril.

With the exception of statin, the team found traces of drugs in the waste water entering the treatment facility. After treatment, only the chemotherapy drugs were no longer present in water samples taken downstream. Bezafibrate and enalapril were still present. Other studies have reportedly also found traces of antidepressants, estrogen and antibiotics in bodies of fresh water.

The next logical step after this will be to study the effects of these observations to marine life. The team likewise cautions communities further downstream to subject water drawn from the river to further treatment before using.

January 27, 2009 at 7:13 am Comments (4)

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