Medicine

Opioids Don’t Treat Depression, Yet People Turn to Them Anyway

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A man makes his way home from work on a bus as darkness falls on October 10, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Much of modern medicine does not consider emotions as a root cause of physical pain. It’s as if humans can divide bodies into psychology and neurology, handled by those respective disciplines, and turn to gastrointestinal specialists, cardiologists, and orthopaedic surgeons for fleshly concerns. While sometimes warranted this persistent division of mind and body is unfortunate.

While the cause of pain is not always apparent it’s also easy to misidentify the problem. Sometimes multiple issues converge in your body, each influencing the others. Instead of implementing a holistic yet scientifically credible approach to healing we remain caught in a hamster wheel of specialization. General physicians purposely overbook to maximize profits while minimizing time with each patient, sending them off to doctors who only treat one specific problem or, worse, whipping out a prescription pad before a proper diagnosis is rendered.

And now, with the promise of smart phone apps removing yet another layer of actual communication with doctors, self-prescription is becoming more prevalent. Since we’re not always adept at diagnosing our problems—“you’re your own best doctor” plays more like an excuse than medicine—and since we’re accustomed to a five minute chat before driving to the pharmacy, it turns out many people are treating emotional pain with opioids. As Olga Khazan reports at the Atlantic,

People with depression show abnormalities in the body’s release of its own, endogenous, opioid chemicals. Depression tends to exacerbate pain—it makes chronic pain last longer and hurts the recovery process after surgery.

Relief offered by a temporary decrease in physical pain might lead to chronic problems, such as addiction and deeper depression, as some opioids have antidepressant properties, Khazan writes. On top of the initial problem a whole slew of tragic reactions begin to occur.

This comes during a time when pharmaceutical companies are being sued

Medieval Textbooks and Modern Medicine

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Scale is sometimes hard to understand. When someone reaches one hundred years of age we often shakes our heads in disbelief, hoping the same for ourselves while trying to mine their secrets. Compare a hundred years against the age of the earth and—you’ve likely heard the one about human existence being a mere second if all of history were stretched to a year.

Before, germ theory and vaccines medicine moved slowly. No serious physician would diagnose based on humors today, though that does not mean Hippocrates was completely misguided. His therapy allowed nature to run its course through the patient’s body, which is terrible advice when considering cancer but effectively all one can do when dealing with colds and flus. Sometimes, as we know, the remedy proves to be worse than the sickness. Humoral doctors also tailored specific treatments to each patient, an emerging practice that’s slowly replacing the one-size-fits-all prescription.

So while romanticizing a pre-vaccine world is for fringe quackery and conspiracy theorists, that does not mean old wisdom is always ineffective. That’s why ancientbiotics, an international group of chemists, microbiologists, parasitologists, data scientists, mathematicians, and other professionals, are scouring ancient texts in search of medicines that stand up to modern scrutiny.

As you are probably aware antibiotics are no longer working so well. Overuse in our bodies (as well as in farm feed) has created super microbial strains that resist our resistance. Seven hundred thousand people die every year from drug-resistant infections. As the University of Pennsylvania’s Erin Connelly writes, if new treatments are not developed such infections will kill ten million people annually by 2050.

And so Connelly and others are creating a database of “medieval medical recipes” in hopes of discovering what wisdom folk cultures really accumulated. I immediately thought of quinine,…

MDMA and Psilocybin: The Future of Anxiety Medication?

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When my wife texted me from the other side of the apartment last Thursday I knew things could not be good. Four simple words: Chris Cornell is dead. While I haven’t remained up on Soundgarden or Cornell’s solo career over the last two decades, Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, along with the Temple of the Dog record, were essential high school and college listening, memories for life.

Of course you want to know what happened at such times. The NY Times initially reported potential suicide, a claim quickly verified around the web. Impatient animals we are, song lyrics and life episodes were immediately dissected for clues, including the fact that the last song Soundgarden performed was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” All so poetic, this story wrapped up with the perfect bow of rock star misery.

Or is it? Cornell’s family rebutted that his medication is to blame. He might have taken a higher dosage of Ativan than usual, an anti-anxiety drug also prescribed for insomnia. Side effects include suicidal thoughts, mood swings, confusion, hallucinations, feeling unsteady, and memory problems. Cornell’s wife noticed that he was slurring his words earlier that evening.

While we’ve gotten better at solving hardware problems—torn meniscuses, faulty heart valves, various cancers—we’re still working with an ancient operating system when it comes to our software. One of the failures of modern medicine is its inability to treat emotional pain, writes neuroscientist Marc Lewis and addiction specialist Shaun Shelly:

Modern medicine has confirmed the overlap of bodily and mental maladies through painstaking research, and yet treatment for psychological problems lags far behind a cascade of stunning advances in the treatment of physical ills – advances that have doubled the human lifespan and improved our quality of life immeasurably.

We’ve put a lot of faith—too much, Lewis and Shelly argue—on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by—well, no one is exactly sure, which is a big part of the problem. If you’re suffering from mild or moderate anxiety or depression side effects likely outweigh benefits. And yet in numerous countries they are the most commonly prescribed group of pharmaceuticals for treating emotional distress. One JAMA report stated that 16.7 percent of American adults filled at least one psychiatric drug…

What To Eat (And Not To Eat) When You Are Suffering From Inflammation!

Inflammation. You may hear that word and think of inflamed muscles or sprained ankles. Maybe you think of an anti-inflammatory capsule you always have on hand in your medicine cabinet. Or maybe you think of arthritis and problems you don’t yet have. But inflammation can happen to anyone.

Inflammation is not infection. In fact, inflammation is a good thing your body does in an attempt to protect itself. When something irritating or even dangerous affects a part of your body, there is a biological response to fight it. This is done through inflammation. 1 That swelling you’ve seen when you blow out your ankle or a knee may look scary (and sometimes really, really bad), but it’s actually the result of your body releasing white blood cells into your blood and other affected tissues. The sudden release of cells increases blood flow to the damaged area, thus causing some redness and warmth. 2

What does inflammation feel like?

While it may seem counter-intuitive, inflammation can be a bit painful. Everyone experiences it differently, so for some it’s more of a discomfort, while others undergo stiffness and pulsating, pinching sensations. Inflammation causes this pain because the swelling can push against nerve endings telling your brain something hurts. In a bizarre fact, we’re pretty much in pain all day long (as far as our nerve endings are concerned), but our brain chooses to ignore those signals. However, inflammation is a unique pain that differs from what we feel 24/7. Therefore, we are more sensitive toward it.

Inflammation can be detrimental if occurring too often

Inflammation not only occurs when we do something like twist an ankle or wrist or land wrong on a knee or elbow, it can also occur if we are unhealthy.

In a recent study, researchers found that overweight men are at greater risk of inflammation than men of the same age who are more fit. This was largely due to unfit men having a higher white blood cell count than healthier men. For women, inflammation drops when they lose weight. A different study found that obese women who lost more than 5% of their body weight had lower levels of inflammation markers.

While inflammation can help a body heal, it has a time and place. That means if we are unhealthy and causing our bodies to become inflamed regularly, we can be at risk for several types of cancer and even heart disease.

Perhaps most shocking, if inflammation is occurring so often that it becomes a part of your every day life, it can lead to hyperactive healing that can damage tissues and even result in chronic inflammation. If inflammation becomes a chronic issue, your immune system begins to go into overdrive. Once this happens, inflammation can kill bad cells all the time, sure, but it can also begin to kill off the good, healthy cells. When this happens, inflammation can become a killer. In fact, medical experts trace it to 90% of all serious illnesses as well as autoimmune disorders and arthritis, diverticulitis and cystitis. 3

Your food may be causing your inflammation!

While it can seem overwhelming to try to get all the vitamins, minerals, vegetables and water servings into our hectic daily lives, some of the things we snack on out of habit can actually be leading to inflammation and ultimately, diseases! Here are some things to avoid to protect yourself from unhealthy inflammation levels:

Here’s the thing, humans don’t need milk. Nature made milk for calves. Are you a baby cow? No. Calves need milk in order to gain weight quickly. Last I checked, most of us aren’t trying to gain weight, and even if we are, that milk we buy in stores usually doesn’t come straight from the udder.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But milk makes our bones strong! We do need it!”

Wrong.

Bone strength doesn’t come from milk or any other dairy product. In fact, we get that bone strength from plants! Dairy is highly inflammatory for most people, and drinking more processed milk (skim) actually makes the inflammation even worse. 4

Still not convinced? In 1994, a study showed that consuming dairy products, even at a young age, was associated with an increased risk of hip fracture later in life. 5

French Fries

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but french fries are just plain bad for you. Well really, all fried foods are bad for you. While we all know they have a bad habit of making us gain weight (despite how incredibly yummy they can be!), if we cut out fried foods, we cut out inflammation. 6

Doughnuts

Okay,…

Microsoft’s HoloLens gets a new medical app using augmented reality for spinal surgery

Augmented reality (AR) isn’t just for Pokémon Go and Snapchat masks, the technology will can have practical applications in areas like medicine, too.

At least that’s the promise of the new Scopis Holographic Navigation Platform, which is designed to be used with the Microsoft HoloLens to help doctors perform spinal surgery.

The company claims that its system can use 3D tracking with the HoloLens to help accurately find…

Scientists turn toy into valuable tool for medical diagnosis

paper centrifuge
paper centrifuge

Medical lab equipment often showcases high-tech at its best. Devices can perform complicated tasks, such as separating blood into its parts, quickly and easily. But these machines often are difficult — even impossible — to use in poor countries or at remote field clinics. Often expensive and bulky, they tend to require training to use. And most are powered by electricity. But researchers have just unveiled a simple, low-cost human-powered device useful for medical diagnoses. It can separate blood into its different parts.

Best of all, it’s so simple a child could run it. Indeed, it is based on a toy that’s been around for thousands of years.

Manu Prakash is a bioengineer at Stanford University in California. There, he designs medical devices that can be used easily by anyone anywhere in the world. A few years back, his team invented a microscope made largely of paper that costs less than a dollar to make.

On a trip to the East African nation of Uganda, a few years ago, Prakash was surprised to see an expensive centrifuge being used as a doorstop. Medical labs use these devices to separate liquid mixtures, such as blood or muddy water, into their different components. Based on what they learn from those components, doctors will tailor a patient’s treatment.

But the clinic did not have electricity. So no one could use this machine.

centrifuge machine
This centrifuge can separate blood or other liquids into their various parts to aid in disease diagnosis. But these machines are costly and need electrical power. And that can prevent their use in many poorer parts of the world.

The key part of a centrifuge is its rapidly rotating interior. Think of it as a small version of a top-loading washing machine. In a centrifuge, though, the interior chamber spins faster than the parts in a car’s engine. Anything inside a spinning centrifuge experiences a force that slings it away from the center of rotation and toward the device’s rim. This is similar to how wet clothes in the washer get squished against the inside wall of the drum during the spin cycle.

When a centrifuge spins a test tube of blood to separate out its various parts, the vial is loaded in with its base pointing outward. Rotation forces outward the densest parts of the blood — platelets and blood cells. Lighter parts, such as the fluid or plasma, stay on top. Doctors or lab technicians can then separate each layer for tests that guide treatment. Without a centrifuge, such tests become difficult, if not impossible.

The centrifuge that had become an expensive doorstop inspired Prakash’s team to invent something that could serve the same purpose. Their device would have to spin very quickly. It would have to be cheap to make and easy to use. And it would have to run without electricity.

Previously, Prakash notes, people had suggested employing kitchen devices as a low-cost centrifuge, such as an egg beater or handheld mixer. But these tools could…

9 Little-Known Contributions to Medicine

Before you tune in to National Geographic’s next episode of Origins (Mondays at 9/8 CST) to see how medicine shaped the course of human history, get to know an assortment of under-sung or oft-forgotten scientists, whose discoveries and inventions played important roles in saving individual lives—and arguably, entire civilizations.

Little is known about Metrodora, an ancient Greek physician who likely lived sometime between the third to fifth centuries CE—except that she’s credited for being the first-known woman to write a medical text. Called On the Diseases and Cures of Women, or On Women’s Diseases, it outlined various topics related to women’s health (including gynecology), and listed various herbal remedies. Other Greek and Roman physicians relied on Metrodora’s work, and it was also referenced in Medieval Europe.

2. JAMES BLUNDELL, THE FIRST MAN TO PERFORM A SUCCESSFUL HUMAN-TO-HUMAN BLOOD TRANSFUSION

In 1818, a British obstetrician named James Blundell performed the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion. One of his patients suffered from postpartum hemorrhage, so Blundell used a syringe to extract several ounces of blood from her husband’s arm, and transferred it to the suffering mother. Blundell would go on to perform more transfusions—half of them effective—between 1825 and 1830, and he also published his findings and developed medical equipment for the procedure.

In 1931, Owen Wangensteen, the chief of surgery at the University of Minnesota, invented a suction technique—using what became known as a “Wangensteen tube”—that would eventually save millions of lives. Back then, trauma to the stomach region often resulted in an intestinal blockage that led to eventual—yet nearly certain—death. The surgeon was able to prevent this by threading his tube through patients’ noses, through the esophagus, and down into the stomach and intestines, where it sucked out gases and fluids. The invention eventually became commonplace, but the surgeon refused to patent his device, as he believed that everyone should benefit from its potential.

An 11th-century Persian scholar named Ibn Sina (known in Europe as Avicenna) produced a famous, five-volume medical reference work called Kitab al-Qanun fi al-tibb (Canon of Medicine). The work’s second volume discusses the characteristics of basic drugs—and the second chapter, “On knowledge of the potency of drugs through experimentation,” provides scientific guidelines to follow while assessing their effects. Today, it’s considered to…