Does stress make you sick? What we know about stress and the immune system

How does stress impact your health? That question has been studied intensely by psychoneuroimmunology researchers for over 30 years. Continue reading


NY Times doctor ignores decades of research

A man who can not control his blood sugar levels (he’s diabetic) comes into a medical clinic with gangrene so aggressive that people in the clinic hallway can smell his rotting flesh. This is the story Dr. Pauline W. Chen writes about in her NY Times Health article, “When Doctor’s Advice is Ignored at Home”.
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FDA New Cigarette Warning Labels

If you’ve been following the news lately, you may have read about the FDA’s new cigarette warning labels. Beginning in September of 2012, cigarette packages will begin to have warning labels that include pictures and will be displayed much more prominently on packages and in advertisements. Many of the warning labels include photographs of different aspects of the risks of smoking (mouth cancer, tracheotomy, premature babies, etc). To view these images and find out more information, visit the FDA website. It’s been 25 years since the FDA has changed cigarette warning labels and it’s about time. In the past 25 years, research has progressed and found that cigarette smoking can increase your risk of a range of diseases, not just lung cancer. In fact, smoking causes more premature and preventable deaths than any other behavior. But most importantly, research has found that the earlier you quit, the faster your body can reverse the damage done by smoking. This suggests there is hope!  Continue reading

What can we learn from the placebo effect?

An article in The Economist this week – “Think yourself better” – examined the effectiveness of alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture, crystal healing, Reiki channelling, and herbal remedies.  Alternative medicine a booming business.  Survey results released by the US National Institutes of Health found that in 2002 62.1% of adults in the country had used some form of alternative treatment in the past 12 months and 75% across lifespan.  Alternative treatments are typically not proven effective using scientific methods, and according to Dr. Edzard Ernst, one of the few to run clinical trials on these treatments, around 95% of these treatments are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments.

If these treatments are no more effective than a placebo and the high usage rates are increasing, are we looking at a serious public health problem?  Maybe.  There are certainly cases of alternative treatments that harm the patient, either directly, or more commonly- by replacing more conventional treatments that have been proven effective.  However, we should pay attention to what’s going on with this placebo effect.  There are many examples of this strange phenomena- one example is that telling someone that you are giving him morphine provides more pain relief than saying you are giving him aspirin, even when both are just sugar pills.  What’s going on here?  If we can figure it out, it has great potential to positively impact the medical field.  We may be starting to… Continue reading

Cutting edge research: environmental influences on genetics

Throw out what you learned in 9th grade biology class. The age old idea that your genetic profile is static and there is nothing you can do to change the DNA hand you’ve been dealt, is likely not true. A new article in the American Psychological Association’s magazine the Monitor on Psychology nicely reviews the cutting edge research UCLA professor Dr. Steve Cole and his colleagues.  It’s a hot and controversial new area of research that is definitely worth learning about: how the environment influences gene functioning. Check it out at:

Children with ADHD have greater likelihood of trying substances and developing substance use disorders.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in childhood. In fact, estimates of the rates of ADHD had found that between 5-10 percent of all children meet diagnostic criteria for the disorder. Children with and without ADHD, at a group level, show several differences, including poorer school performance, more peer rejection, and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and acting out behavior. Following children over time is a common way to study the long term effects associated with psychological problems. Many scientists have used follow-up (longitudinal) studies to examine whether children with ADHD are a greater risk for substance use and abuse/dependence than children without ADHD. Any single study may be imperfect, as studies differ in the way ADHD is measures, substance use or abuse/dependence is measures, the group of children that were followed, or how much time passed between the follow-up assessment. One way to help find clarity in multiple studies of the same question is to conduct a meta-analysis. Meta-analyses run one major analysis using all of the data collected using different groups – more heavily weighting the results from larger studies. Earlier this year, a meta-analysis on the association between a childhood diagnosis of ADHD and trying alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, as well as a substance use disorder (substance abuse or dependence/addiction) was conducted. Continue reading