Justification for my addiction: Coffee Top Source of Antioxidants for Americans

I love the java, the joe, the coffee. I have worried about the health affects because I have high blood pressure, but my doctor told me it was OK.

Reuter's reported on Monday, 08/29/05, that coffee is beneficial in many ways including the high levels of antioxidants that coffee contains which helps prevent liver and colon cancer among other things.

I'm drinking my first cup of the day as I write this.

Link: MedlinePlus: Coffee Top Source of Antioxidants for Americans.

Alcohol Not Good for Lactation, Despite Folklore

Reuters reported on Monday, April 11, 2005, on a study in the April, 2005, issue of the the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism that drinking alcohol does not enhance lactation in breastfeeding mothers, contrary to the "old wive's tales" prevalent in many cultures.

"Alcohol does not seem to boost the mother's production of breastmilk, and actually has a counterproductive effect, the report indicates.

"If a lactating woman is drinking alcohol just because she's been told to drink (to increase her milk production) there is no scientific evidence that supports this lore," study author Dr. Julie A. Mennella told Reuters Health. In her study, drinking alcohol before breastfeeding diminished the mother's production of breastmilk."

Link: MedlinePlus: Alcohol Not Good for Lactation, Despite Folklore.

Heavy Drinking More Common on Campus Than Off

What is it about college that encourages drinking? Is it the extension of adolescence with few responsibilities? Is it that college students have more time on their hands and more flexible schedules? Is it the tribal type socialization that occurs on college campuses? Or could it be other things?

At any rate, here is a report in Reuters about a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry which once again finds that college students age 19 - 21 drink more than their non college peers.

"The 2001 survey of 6,300 people aged 19 to 21 found 18 percent of college students reported alcohol-related problems compared to 15 percent of those not in college."

"So what", you ask?

"Alcohol is involved in about 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries, 600,000 assaults, and 70,000 sexual assaults each year on U.S. college campuses, said the report published in the Archives of General Psychiatry."

It appears that fun and games, blowing off steam, hangin with buds, getting loaded, has serious and deadly consequences. Maybe Spring break isn't all that the brewery and distillery advertisements try to make it out to be.

Link: MedlinePlus: Heavy Drinking More Common on Campus Than Off - Study.

R.I.P. Brigid and Ryan Markham

It is twelve years ago tonight that two sheriff's deputies showed up at my door at about 10:30 PM to tell me that my wife had been in a car accident and that she and one of my children had been taken to Strong Memorial Hospital. Below is the first part of a memoir I am writing about that experience entitled "Are You There Alone".

Before you, gentle reader, get to the memoir let me share with you my love for my two children Brigid Kathleen Markham and Ryan John Patrick Markham who were both killed in a drunk driving crash on March 10, 1993. Brigid was 5 and would be 17 this year, and Ryan was 8 and would be 20. Brigie and Ryan had 7 older brothers and sisters and now would have 7 nieces and nephews as well as one sister in law and two brothers in law. Life goes on and I have alot to be thankful for and I am a very blessed man, but there is a hole in our family which will always be there.

Our family is not unique. In 2003, 17,401 people were killed in the United States in alcohol related traffic fatalities. This happens year after year after year. This is 8 times the number of people killed on 9/11. Terrorism is not some foreign enemy but your friends and neighbors brought to you compliments of Budweiser.

Are You There Alone?

“Are you there alone,” she asked, “or is there someone there with you.?”

“My daughter is here,” I answered.

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I understand the situation you are in and since I know you, I’m sorry to tell you that Brigid is dead.”

            My heart sank, but I had known the answer to the question before I asked her, “Do you have Brigid there?”

            She had said “Yes” and I had asked, “And how is she?”

            The two deputies at my door a few minutes before 11:00 PM looking very somber and serious, maybe even a little scared, had the duty to tell me that my wife had been in a car crash and she and my son had been taken to Strong Memorial Medical Center. They told me that I should go there immediately.

            I asked, of course, “How is she and my son?”

            “You need to go there and talk to her and she can give you that information.”

            This made no sense to me. If she could tell me what was going on I was sure she would have called me herself.

            “Talk to her?”, I stammered.

            “Yes, she will tell you what is going on’” was the hesitant reply.

            I knew they were lying. Maybe not lying, but they weren’t telling me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, like police officers and others involved in the criminal justice system are supposed to do.

            “My son is there, too,” I croaked.

            “Yes, and your wife can tell you what is going on.”

            They shuffled their feet as if to leave, their duty done.

            “Wait a minute,” I said. “You mentioned my wife and son, where are the other kids?”

            The two deputies looked like deer caught in the headlights. For a few seconds they just stared at me as if they were collecting their thoughts trying to figure out what to say to me.

            “Well,” said the shorter of the two, “ the 12 year old is at Park Ridge Hospital, your daughter is at Genesee,” and the other deputy chimed in, “and your other daughter is at Lakeside.” They stood awkwardly waiting for me to absorb this.

            “Oh, God,” I thought to myself, “this is really serious.”

            I thanked them for the information. They nodded solemnly and left.

            My 17 year old daughter, Mary, said “What do we do now dad?”

            She looked scared. I knew that she knew that we had a grave situation on our hands.

            “Call Colleen,” I said, “ and tell her to come down here.”

            “Don’t we have to go to Strong, dad?” she said.

             I choked. I could feel the knot in my throat. “Breath more deeply, Dave”, I said to myself. “I’m not going anywhere until I find out about the other kids. Call Colleen,” I said.

            Colleen lived in her own apartment about 2 miles away. She came right away and arrived in 15 minutes with a look of fear in her eyes.

            I told her quickly what I had been told by the Deputies.

“You call Park Ridge,”  I said, “on the house phone, while I call Genesee on the office phone.”

When the woman at Genesee had told me that Brigid had died she asked if there was anything else she could do for me. Just as she asked, Colleen hung up from Park Ridge and said, “They told me they can’t give out any information over the phone, you have to come down there.”

            “I can’t go down there!”, I barked.

            “Look”, I said to the woman on the phone from Genesee, “can you call Park Ridge and find out the condition of my son there?”      

            “Sure” she said as she put me on hold.

            Colleen said, “What’s happening, dad?”

            “She is going to find out about Joe for me”, I said.

            I could feel the dread rise in me.

            “I’m sorry, Dave”, she said, “Your son is deceased at Park Ridge.”

            “Thank you”, I said. “Thank you very much for helping me find out.”    

            “I’m very sorry, Dave,” was what she said as she hung up.

            “Breath, Dave,” I said to myself as my two daughters, Colleen, age 20, and Mary age 17, studied me with fear and consternation written on their faces.

            “Are we going to Strong”, Colleen asked?

            “I have one more phone call to make,” I said. “I need to find out how Maureen is.”

            When I called Lakeside I found out that Maureen was there and going to be OK. She may have broken some ribs, had a severe belt burn over her collar bone from the seat belt, and the doctor was worried that fluid could build up around her heart in the pericardial cavity so he wanted to keep Maureen for observation.

            The nurse told me that Maureen was distraught over not knowing the condition of her mother, two brothers, and sister. I told the nurse that Brigid and Joe had died and that Angela was at Strong with Ryan and that I was about to leave to go the 22 miles to the hospital to find out how they were doing. The nurse asked if I wanted Maureen to know about Brigid and Joe’s deaths. I told her no, I would tell her myself when I could get out there sometime the next morning.

            I looked at Colleen and Mary. “Let’s go”, was all I could think to say.

To Be Continued

Studies offer help in detecting, hope for overcoming fetal alcohol syndrome

There can be physical symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Symdrome, yet most often there are no apparent physical symptoms but soft neurological signs that don't show up until the child enters school and then gets diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Whether these neurological symptoms are the result of FAS is always hard to determine because there is no clearcut biological test for it. Now there may be a way to test for the possibility of FAS.

"A test of a newborn's stool that can show whether a mom drank heavily during pregnancy suggests that more than three per cent of Canadian children are born with some form of fetal alcohol syndrome, researchers say.

Doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children have been testing newborns' first bowel movements - called meconium - in one area of Ontario to determine how many women drank enough alcohol while pregnant to put their babies at risk. The test detects a metabolite of alcohol that shows up if a mother was drinking heavily during her second and/or third trimesters.

"For the first time in Canada, and for that matter other countries, we'll know how much of that problem we have," Dr. Gideon Koren, head of the Sick Kids' Motherisk Program and senior researcher on the study, said Thursday.

"Until now, we were guessing."

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a kind of umbrella term for the many forms and degrees of the condition, is the No. 1 cause of mental disability in Canada. It has been estimated to affect up to one per cent of the population. But Koren said the study of newborns in Ontario's Bruce County - a city-town-rural mix that he calls a "mini-Canada" - suggests that the actual rate is much higher."

I hope this doesn't turn into a "blame the mother" kind of thing. Rather, this information could be used to provide accomodations and extra help later on in life should it be necessary, understanding that symptoms of the child are not "bad behavior" but rather a neurological condition requiring assistance.

Link: MedlinePlus: Studies offer help in detecting, hope for overcoming fetal alcohol syndrome.

Study Shows State Laws Can Curb College Binge Drinking

"Students who attend college in states with strong alcohol control laws are less likely to be binge drinkers, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that campus binge drinking rates were one-third lower in states that had four or more laws targeting high volumes of alcohol sales than states that did not.

"The good news is that if more states and communities take relatively straightforward actions -- such as enacting laws that discourage high-volume sales -- they could see fewer drinking problems on college campuses and in their broader populations as well," said Toben Nelson, the studies author.

"Environmental factors such as low prices, special promotions of alcohol, and high density of alcohol outlets near college campuses support heavier drinking by college students," Nelson said.

Binge drinking -- often defined as five or more drinks in a row on a single occasion -- has been linked to 1,400 college student deaths every year, as well as injuries, rapes, assaults, unsafe sex and poor student performance.

According to the study, college students spend more than $5.5 billion a year on alcohol -- more than they spend on textbooks, soft drinks, tea, milk, juice and coffee combined."

I learned this stuff from Michael Klitzner. Using the public health model is a way to conceptualize what it will take to save lives in a three pronged approach: change community norms, decrease access, and enhance regulatory enforcement. Holy smokes, here is more evidence that it works.

Link: MedlinePlus: Study Shows State Laws Can Curb College Binge Drinking.

Teen Binge Drinking Can Do Long-term Brain Damage

Reuters reported on February 14, 2005 on a study published in the February, 2005 issue of Alcohol: Experimental and Clincial Research that found that heavy drinking can damage developing adolescent brains. This is especially upseting when across the country about 1/3, or 34%, or 1 out 3 11th graders say that they had binge drank (5 drinks or more on a single occasion) in the previous 30 days.

"Mounting evidence shows that the still-maturing teenage brain is particularly susceptible to damage from heavy drinking, according to a report published Monday.

A number of recent studies have shown that teenagers who abuse alcohol have problems with memory, learning and other brain functions compared with their peers, while animal research suggests such effects could last into adulthood.

Such research, coming from a number of scientific areas, is making it more and more clear that the teenage brain is particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol, according to Dr. Peter M. Monti of Brown University in Providence. Rhode Island."

Link: MedlinePlus: Teen Binge Drinking Can Do Long-term Brain Damage.

Does eating at McDonald's make us any happier?

Eating_at_mcdonalds As a 59 year old man it is interesting to note that in the last 50 years the percentage of their budget that Americans spend on restaurant food has almost doubled from about 25% in 1955 to 46% today. I remember when going out to eat was a real treat and now it is common place. As the oldest of five children, I don't think I can remember more than five times going out to eat in a restaurant with my family and this was on one vacation we took to Washington, DC.

Gregg Easterbrook points out in his book, The Progress Paradox, that many Americans today believe that times are hard, but compared to previous generations we live like royalty. I have been reviewing some of the indicators for "quality of life" which Easterbrook discusses.  I wonder how many people would say that the ease, convenience, and delectibility of eating in restaurants has improved their satisfaction with their lives as compared to a "home cooked meal"?

Occasion Drinking Accounts for More Injuries - the prevention paradox

Toasting More injuries in our society occur to people drinking moderate amounts of alcohol than to people drinking large amounts of alcohol even though the likelihood of injury is greater for people drinking large amounts of alcohol.

So, if you were being paid to prevent the number of injuries increased by drinking alcohol where would you focus your interventions?

Reuters reported on Tuesday, Feb 1, 2005 about a study published in the Jan/Feb 2005 issue of the journal, Annals of Family Medicine. 10% of people visiting emergency rooms in Missouri were there for assessment and treatment of injuries sustained while under the influence of alcohol.

It is estimated that approximately 1 million Americans wind up in emergency rooms every year because of injuries sustained after drinking small amounts of alcohol (less than five drinks).

The costs in medical care dollars, loss time at work, pain and suffering are huge. From a public health perspective, would it be worthwhile to try to decrease this problem?

These findings suggest that the amount of alcohol considered "safe" is not completely so, study author Dr. Daniel C. Vinson, of the University of Missouri-Columbia, told Reuters Health.

"Be aware that if you drink two, three, or four drinks you are slightly increasing your risk of injury," Vinson advised. "Be more careful."

Most prevention efforts have been focused on heavy drinkers and the destruction that occurs to themselves and to society such as alcohol poisonings, cirrhosis, DWI, etc. Would it save society more in negative costs to focus on the social and recreational drinkers?

Of course, these strategies are not mutually exclusive. We should do both.

Link: MedlinePlus: Occasion Drinking Accounts for More Injuries.

Factors associated with drinking by women who might become pregnant or who are pregnant

At the end of the previous article on this blog about the MMWR article about alcohol consumption among women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant I asked the question about what factors might be associated with this high risk behavior. As I looked more at the data, I found some interesting things. I will bullet my observations:

  • The younger the woman the more likely she will engage in this risk behavior. Women 18 -24 had more than twice the rate than women 35 - 44.
  • White women had twice the rate of nonwhite or hispanic women.
  • Women with less than a college degree had a higher rate than women who were college educated.
  • Women who smoke had almost three times the rate of women who do not smoke.
  • Unmarried women had a higher rate than married women.
  • Women with an annual income over $25,000.00 had a lower rate than women with incomes of less than $25,000.00.
  • Women who were employed had a higher rate than women unemployed.
  • Women who reported that they may have driven when perhaps they had had too much to drink had a rate almost 9 times the rate of women who hadn't.
  • Women without health insurance coverage had a higher rate than women without health insurance.

So, it would appear that a prevention/education program should be targeted towards white women aged 18 - 24 who are unmarried, smoke, make less than $25,000.00 per year, have no health insurance, who have less than a college degree, and who may have driven drunk.