Friday, August 11, 2017

Your Pet is Not Actually Making You Healthier

An assortment of animals looking directly at the camera, including: two dogs, two cats, a bunny, a guinea pig, and a mouse.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a recent study suggests that Spot isn't actually making you any healthier.

Since the 1980s, we've heard that having a pet leads to better health, whether it's higher survival rates from myocardial infarction, a lower number of GP visits, reduced risk of asthma, or better physical and psychological well-being, particularly in the elderly. And there's no question that having a pet provides companionship—and the opportunity to get more human interaction (just visit any dog park for evidence of this!).

Trouble is, there are so many factors that go into determining the correlation between having a pet and being healthy, it's hard to know if one can really cause the other.

The most recent study, courtesy of RAND and run by Harvard-trained biostatician Layla Parast, found that it's less about the pets and more about what they signify: namely, that families with pets tend to be better off financially, which means they can afford bigger homes and better healthcare.

The study looked at more than 5,000 households and analyzed children's health, comparing kids in homes with cats versus children in homes without cats. (Don't worry, dog-lovers: portions of the study included dogs as well.) While researchers found that children from cat-owning homes did tend to have "better general health" and parents who were less concerned about their mood, behavior, or learning abilities, there was no direct evidence that the pets had anything to do with it.

"I think there are many other positive benefits to owning a pet besides thinking that it will improve your health," said Parast. "Obviously having a pet brings joy and companionship and a multitude of other things." 

She added that, as a pet owner herself, she'd be very pleased to see future research supporting the idea that pets can have a positive influence on their owners' health. "It would be great to have a reason to hand out cuddly puppies to everyone who needs better health," she was quick to add. "I would be completely in favor of that. But there's no scientific evidence right now that shows that."

Friday, August 4, 2017

Study Finds Moderate Drinking Can Improve Cognitive Health

A happy elderly couple drinking wine.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in La Jolla have found a link between modest alcohol consumption and prolonged cognitive health. Dr. Linda McEvoy, senior study author, believes that the finding is groundbreaking. Indeed, it does appear to be the first study of its kind to take into account the effect of alcohol on an older population.

"This study is unique because we considered men and women's cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age," Dr. McEvoy stated.

The research is based off data gathered from 1,344 adults728 of which were women and 616 of which were men. However, as Medical News Today points out, almost all participants were white (99.4 percent) and belonged to the middle or upper-middle class.

Information was collected over a period of 29 years. Participants’ cognitive health was analyzed at baseline, and again every four years.

It’s also important to know that “moderate alcohol consumption” was defined as one standard drink per day for women of all ages and men aged 65 or older. Men under the age of 65 were afforded two standard drinks per day. 

"This study shows that moderate drinking may be part of a healthy lifestyle to maintain cognitive fitness in aging,” said Erin Richard, lead author of the study. “However, it is not a recommendation for everyone to drink. Some people have health problems that are made worse by alcohol, and others cannot limit their drinking to only a glass or two per day. For these people, drinking can have negative consequences."

In other words, great news for those of us that enjoy an alcoholic beverage here and there! Here’s to better cognitive health! Cheers!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Read This Before Taking Xanax

A photo of Xanax pills.
Photo courtesy of Dean 812 at Flickr Creative Commons. 
Anxiety sufferers: heed my advice. There are some serious side effects and risks that you should know about before taking Xanax. Please understand that my motive is not to dissuade you from taking prescription medications for anxietyrather, I merely want to educate you on the complications that can occur as a result of taking one of the most potent benzodiazepines on the market.

The first thing you should know is that Xanax can be incredibly addictive. In fact, according to the Journal of Addictive Behaviors, up to 44% of chronic benzodiazepine users become physically dependent on the drug. Again, I don’t say this to scare you; I say it so that you’ll be cautious before taking it.

If you want to know what a Xanax addiction is like, look no further than this article published in Salon magazine. The following quote is attributed to Ashley Zlatopolsky, who formed a heavy addiction to the medication.

“Even when I forced myself to go out, I still felt so alone. It’s incredible how lonely the road of addiction can be, especially when you’re surrounded by people who love you. Addicts are always alone on the inside, but perhaps the loneliest part of all is feeling like the drugs are your only friends when your real friends are sitting at your side staring at you and wondering why you won’t say a word. It’s kind of hard to talk when you’re that far gone.”

You should also know that combining Xanax with other substances is extremely dangerous. Mixing Xanax with alcohol or other drugs can lead to respiratory arrest, coma, and even death. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Lastly, receiving the correct dosage is very important. This shouldn’t be a problem for those of you who are receiving the medication via doctor prescription. However, there’s a whole new added level of risk the minute you start doubling up on pills or taking someone else’s prescription.

Taking too high of a dosage can lead to blackout, loss of motor function, and death. Again, please don’t risk it.

With that being said, the decision is yours as far as whether you still want to take the medication or not. Also know that there are safer alternatives as well.

I know I’ve said it a million times before, but I’m always here to offer my support and advice should you need it. Feel free to email me, comment below, or message me on Twitter.


Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Have “The Talk” With Your Parents About Elder Care

A middle-aged man speaking to his elderly father.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Elder care is on a lot of people’s minds. Whether it’s Baby Boomers starting to plan for their own retirement years or Gen-Xers starting to face the reality that their parents are aging, how best to care for senior relatives has become a topic of discussion at many dinner tables.

Discussions about elder care have become a topic in the financial community, too. In fact, William E. Ford, CEO of private equity firm General Atlantic, said in a recent interview that healthcare companies are responsible for significant innovation as they try to address issues of cost and improving quality of care in an efficient manner.

But all of this talk about elder care doesn’t make it any easier to have that discussion with your parents, or to navigate the many options available. Here are some tips for having that sensitive discussion.

Talk with other family members first. Give everyone a chance to discuss their concerns so that all of you agree on the need for the conversation. Decide who should be present. Remember, though, that if too many people are present, your parents could feel like you’re ganging up on them.

Pick the right time and place. If you know your parents get tired late in the day, you may want to have the conversation after breakfast or lunch, for example. If there’s a place where your parents feel the most relaxed, you might want to talk there. You know your parents best, so you can make the call on the place.

Have a respected professional facilitate the conversation. Your parents’ doctor, attorney, or spiritual advisor (priest, pastor, rabbi, etc.) could be a good person to help your parents make the decision to enter care.

Ask questions to direct the discussion. You can ask your parents what they would do if they fell at home or if they could no longer do basic tasks such as showering safely. “Asking questions and letting them come to the answer is a good approach,” says JoAnn Abraham, Vice President of Sales for Porter Hills Retirement Community & Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You may be surprised to learn that your parents are also worried or feel unsafe, and they’ll be relieved to know support is available.

Be prepared for denial. Nobody wants to admit that they’re getting to a place in their life where they can’t manage on their own. But remember, a successful conversation doesn’t necessarily mean you come to an agreement. Success, in this case, is just opening the door to further discussion.

Know what resources are available. Your local agency on aging, council on aging, state department of elder services, and other free referral services like A Place for Mom can help you and your parents come to a decision about what solutions work best for everyone.

With the steadily increasing demand for elder services, it’s not surprising that private equity firms like General Atlantic and Silver Lake are investing in A Place for Mom. I imagine that with the aging population, the need for A Place for Mom and other services like it will only grow in the future.

Have you had to have “the talk” with your parents? How did it go? Do you have any tips from your experience? Please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Why Some People React Badly to Marijuana

A jar full of marijuana with two joints in it.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
These days, everyone seems to be touting the benefits of marijuana. Those with anxiety say it helps them to relax. Those with depression say it elevates their mood. Some even say that marijuana relieves the symptoms of PTSD.

But for a small segment of the population, the effects of marijuana are more hellish than anything else. Do a quick search online and you’ll find countless forums on people who have had adverse reactions to it. Some of the most common complaints include terrifying hallucinations, paranoia, dizziness, vomiting, and panic attacks.

So why does marijuana produce euphoria in some and misery in others? Research points to genetics.

A recent study published in Translation Psychiatry identified a variation of the AKT1 gene as being the reason why some are more sensitive to the mind-altering effects of marijuana than others.

Dr. Celia Morgan, lead author of the study, says that while some studies suggest only 1-5% of the marijuana users end up experiencing a psychotic episode, it’s ultimately the ATKT1 gene that makes a person more susceptible to it. 

“We know relatively little about what makes certain people vulnerable to developing psychosis from smoking cannabis but this research suggests one piece in the puzzle might be this genetic difference,” Dr. Morgan stated. “Cannabis and its extracts are being increasingly recognized for their medical uses so this is another reason why it is key to keep trying to find ways of predicting who will experience negative effects from its use.”

However, Dr. Morgan was also quick to note that “much more work is needed” to fully identify what puts a person at risk, as it’s likely to be a large number of genes.

But not everyone believes that genetics are responsible for a bad trip. In fact, most marijuana websites and forums say that ingesting too much or using the wrong strain is the reason why people have bad trips. However, it’s worth noting that these are not medical experts, so take that advice for what you will.

What was your experience with marijuana? Why do you think some people react badly to it? Let me know in the comments below!   

Friday, July 7, 2017

Lab-Grown Meat: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A piece of meat in a petri dish.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The idea of lab-grown meat is enough to makes most peoples’ skin crawl. But a lot of the fear and negativity surrounding in vitro meat is due to a lack of understanding on the public’s behalf. If the public were made more aware of the benefits of cultured meat, then perhaps there wouldn’t be such a stigma around it.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t any downfalls to lab-grown meat, because there certainly are. However, for now I want to focus on the pros. I’ll touch on the cons later.

Perhaps the biggest case for producing lab-grown meat is how it could reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation of grazing land. According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The farm animal sector is the single largest anthropogenic user of land, contributing to many environmental problems, including global warming and climate change.”

What’s worse is that the global production of meat has more than double since 1970. The good news is that cultured meat could provide the perfect solution to this problem.

According to, “Researchers comparing the production of cultured and conventional meat found that producing 1,000 kilograms of cultured meat involves approximately 7 percent to 45 percent lower energy use, 78 percent to 96 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, 99 percent lower land use and 82 percent to 96 percent lower water use.”

So what’s the catch, then? Cultured meat is expensivereally expensive.  

In 2013, a researcher by the name of Mark Post actually produced the world’s first burger made from bovine stem cells. It cost over $300,000 to make. So yeah, there’s that.

However, scientists do believe that the cost of producing in vitro meat will decrease as researchers refine the process. In other words, it’s going to take time.

Tell me: would you try lab-grown meat? Do you believe that the government should invest more money into sponsoring this type of agricultural development? 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Kintalk Gets Families Talking About Cancer

A group of women stand together in support of one another. They are all wearing pink ribbons which symbolize breast cancer awareness.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Cancer can be a scary disease—and what’s worse, it can be really isolating for the people suffering from it and their families.

Enter Kintalk.

Kintalk, founded by the University of California San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, is more than just a resource for people with cancer: it’s a place where they can gather support and information about the genetic aspects of the disease, as well as getting up-to-date medical research and advice from doctors whose work focuses on cancer treatments. The site also offers information about screening and a secure location to store medical information so that families can connect and get a good understanding of genetic issues that could lead to cancer.

The biggest win for Kintalk, though, is that it offers a secure, easily accessible place where families can upload their genetic information and share it with each other. That means a better chance of earlier cancer detection where there’s a genetic predisposition.

Kintalk wouldn’t exist without generous donations like the one from Thom Weisel, a Silicon Valley businessman with a background in tech. Back in 2013, Weisel met with Kintalk Board Director and gastroenterologist Jonathan Terdiman, MD, about Terdiman’s vision for a centralized, online location for families to share genetic information that could help patients detect cancer earlier and more efficiently. Weisel was on board immediately.

“Although medicine is often notoriously bad at using technology to address problems,” Weisel observed, “this is clearly a great application of technology. What’s really neat is that it can be applied to lots of other areas. Whether it’s a certain type of cancer or some other medical issue, it puts an affinity group—members who share the same issues—in a secure environment, and allows them to talk to each other.”

The medical experts behind Kintalk include genetic counselors, gastroenterologists, oncologists, surgeons, and nurses, all of whom specialize in hereditary cancer syndromes.

Kintalk focuses on two main areas of cancer: hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) and Lynch syndrome (a genetic condition that often leads to colorectal or ovarian cancer). About 5-10% of breast cancer and 15% of ovarian cancers are believed to be hereditary, while about one in 370 people have Lynch syndrome. That’s why it’s so important for families with a history of these genetic mutations to communicate with each other and get tested early to nip cancer in the bud before it becomes potentially life threatening.

Kintalk allows families keep in touch with each other—and with others dealing with these issues—and get all the information and support they need to stay as healthy as possible.

The best part about all of this is that the tech behind Kintalk could easily be used to provide support and education around other medical scenarios as well, like Weisel suggested. By connecting fellow sufferers with professional support, Kintalk and any offshoot programs will keep people healthier and more in the know about their options.