First the holiday. Our favourite camping spot up north. We leave the screens at home, camp on the edge of the water and hang out for a week or two with friends, reading, swimming, kayaking, hiking and eating. This is a car-less campground where everything has to be carried over the hill at the right.
I love reading, and when camping I usually get through a few randomly picked books (race to the library and grab a dozen books). Not the best way to pick books, but it is surprising how many interesting books I’ve found this way.
The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, James Le Fanu, MD. Published 1999.
Firstly in ‘the Rise’ Le Fanu covers major events such as the discovery of penicillin and cortisone. Helicobacter causing peptic ulcers. It is amazing that most were discovered via random events, which were noticed by curious dot-connecting minds.
He also has a very interesting chapter on heart disease in his section on ‘the Fall’, again like many others, completely debunking the saturated fat heart disease link. One factor Le Fanu pointed out was the link between clamydia infection and coronary plaques. He notes it’s rise and fall of the incidence of heart disease is more like that of an infectious disease. A more recent article on the subject: The role of Chlamydia in coronary heart disease—fact or fiction?
It was only 1984 that helicobacter was discovered to cause peptic ulcers (not stress). It’s possible that many more diseases will have an as yet undiscovered viral, bacterial or other pathogenic cause. Le Fanu notices that other increases in diseases look like they conform to an increase in an infectious disease, for example the increase in Multiple Sclerosis cases.
Prediction – Many diseases that we currently don’t know the cause of, may be discovered to have a pathogen as the cause.
Identical Strangers, A memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein. Random House 2007.
A fascinating first hand, alternating account written by adopted sisters – identical twins who only discovered that they had a twin in their mid thirties. Each had been adopted to a different family and unknown to them were part of a study on nature / nurture. A number of identical twins and triplets born to mothers with mental illness were adopted out by an adoption agency in the 1970’s into different families, and followed throughout their lives to see what impact different environments might have to their risk of developing a mental illness that they may have inherited or been predisposed to. Entwined into the account is their research into some of the other adopted children who comprised part of this study and an exploration of the nature / nurture science, specifically as it relates to their own situation. They then search for more information on their birth mother and her mental illness, especially interesting to the twins as they both suffered the onset severe depression around the age of 20.
I love this nature / nurture science and also enjoyed reading Nature via Nurture by Matt Ridley, which expands on the theory that “Nature loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”.
With regards to Studies on Nature / Nurture, The University of Otago in New Zealand is doing world renowned research in this area. In 1973, every child born in Dunedin (about 1000) has been followed since birth in a longitudinal study. (Edit: It was actually 1037 babies born in Dunedin, New Zealand between 1 April 1972 and 31 March 1973 at the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital. Of those 1037 babies, 535 were boys, 502 were girls, 1013 singletons and 24 twins. 1014 of the original cohort are still alive today.)
This study is unique in that the researchers make an extraordinary effort to retain participants. It has by far lowest drop out rate of any other longitudinal study. 1100 papers have been published to date. This recent publication is interesting. Childhood Stress and Lifelong Health. New research indicates adverse effects on physical health, for decades. Excerpt:
We have published reports that New Zealand children mistreated in the first decade of their lives show elevated levels of biomarkers (C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, white blood cell count) by the age of thirty. These biomarkers signal inflammation. When we studied the children born more recently in Britain, some of those mistreated in the first decade already indicate mildly abnormal inflammation by the age of twelve. Other researchers have previously demonstrated the inflammation biomarkers as predictors for heart attacks and dementia in adults. Not all of the mistreated children in our studies show abnormal biomarkers and it is still not entirely clear why some do and some do not. Those who do show biological changes also demonstrate serious emotional symptoms of depression and anxiety.
This information is exciting to scientists and parents alike because it opens the door to early intervention and even prevention. Life expectancy is growing longer and longer. Demographic trends tell us that the current generation of children may live well beyond 100 years of age. Of course, we all want these extra years of life to be healthy, productive and enjoyable, not years of disease, disability, and dependence on others. Past medical research has shown that treating patients after they have contracted illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or dementia generally does not fully restore their quality of life. The hope of increasing our children’s lifelong productivity, health and well being calls for research to identify prevention methods that can be applied well before a disease takes hold.
And for an article along different lines, but guaranteed to scare you out of taking prescription medicine unless absolutely necessary, read this from latest Vanity Fair, January 2011. “Deadly medicine”:
Prescription drugs kill some 200,000 Americans every year. Will that number go up, now that most clinical trials are conducted overseas—on sick Russians, homeless Poles, and slum-dwelling Chinese—in places where regulation is virtually nonexistent, the F.D.A. doesn’t reach, and “mistakes” can end up in pauper’s graves? The authors investigate the globalization of the pharmaceutical industry, and the U.S. Government’s failure to rein in a lethal profit machine.
If you do need to take prescription medicine, take the time to research it, both clinical studies and reported side effects.