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The Risks of Self-Medicating

A few months ago, I received samples of an herbal supplement called kratom in the mail. Apparently, the company was hoping I would carry their product in my office and sell it to patients for pain-related conditions. I had never heard of this herbal remedy and I contacted the company and requested literature and research about it on two separate occasions. They never sent me anything, so when I did my homework, I learned that kratom interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors, is not approved by the FDA, and is quite controversial because of its potentially addictive qualities and other side effects (including nausea, itching, constipation, seizures, hallucinations and so on). Without even passing judgment on the herb itself, the fact that this company targets practitioners like me and expects us to dispense it without any background information is absurd, irresponsible, and completely unethical. It violates the established methodology of clinical trials and centuries of empirical research through which all accepted supplements and medications are investigated and approved. This reckless marketing approach made me think about how alluring the promise of a cure can be to suffering patients or gullible practitioners who desperately want to find a solution. (more…)

Horror Films & the Kidneys

It’s that time of year again: horror movie season! While costumes, Jack O’Lanterns and tricks or treats are fine for most people, there seem to be strong feelings- love them or hate them- about haunted houses and scary movies. Fear causes physical reactions such as muscle tension, increased heart rate and eye movement, sweating, elevated cortisol levels, and a rush of both dopamine and adrenaline. These changes are adaptive and normal reactions to perceived threats as they enable us to move quickly and efficiently away from any danger. Of course, even though we know it’s just a fictional depiction we are watching onscreen, the physiological reactions happen just as though we are experiencing the horror in real life. Why do some people seek out these thrills while others avoid them at all cost? I have read several articles about people’s reactions to horror films. Some suggest that your response is partly genetic. Both dopamine and adrenaline may cause sensations of pleasure in some, but on the other hand, viewing scary images may even reignite PTSD or traumatic memories in others. Some articles caution that the fright experience may make you susceptible to a heart attack or stroke, while others suggest that if you watch enough of these flicks, you will become desensitized and thereby lower your overall anxiety levels! Pay attention to your reaction as you watch your next scary film, and notice how your body reacts. Do you jump out of your seat? Do you scream when something unexpected happens? Do you feel very tense physically? Can you sleep well afterwards? Was it overall a good or fun experience for you, or did you feel disturbed by it? (more…)

A Brief Glimpse at Chinese Medicine and the Mind-Body Connection

In Chinese medicine, there is no separation between physical and emotional well-being. They are simply differing aspects of a whole, like yin and yang. Symptoms may manifest in either dimension because of imbalance, and sometimes in both simultaneously. You need look no further than a case of “butterflies” in the stomach, in which anxiety directly causes a very real sensation, if not full blown digestive symptoms. Tension headaches are another obvious example of emotional stress directly causing acute physical pain. (more…)

Recent Research Shows Scary Statistic on Mortality Rates

I feel the need to share and comment on an article I read a couple of weeks ago about a startling statistic. The New York Times published a piece (see link below) that discussed the disturbing results of research conducted by two economists (Angus Deaton and Anne Case) on mortality rates. They discovered that the death rates of middle-aged Caucasian Americans (aged 45-54), specifically those without college educations, had significantly increased from 1999 to 2014. Evidently, the cause of this higher incidence of death was largely due to suicide and to complications from alcoholism or drug addiction. This brings up a number of complex issues, most obviously the socioeconomic reasons why people in this demographic have been feeling hopeless and turning to suicide or using substances to handle their troubles. People are speculating about things like recent economic downturn, unemployment, age discrimination and poor health as sources of distress for these folks. However, the data also show that many of these deceased had suffered from chronic pain. The next question then becomes why are less educated white people experiencing so much chronic pain? (White patients are apparently prescribed painkillers much more frequently by doctors than African-American patients, which is yet another conundrum, although this actually helps prevent more addiction/dependency on prescription drugs in the African-American population.) Do whites in this demographic have less access to healthcare than educated whites and other groups? Is this category of people unaware of all the options available for the treatment of chronic pain? The mortality rate for middle-aged Hispanics is much lower, and while for African Americans it is overall higher, their rate has decreased significantly in recent years, the study shows. So, these new statistics on mortality rates are quite a surprise. (more…)