Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Do TCM doctors have a shorter life span than doctors of western medicine?

It's a common theme on the Internet of the Chinese language: "台湾中医比西医短命六七岁" (Taiwanese Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors have a shorter life span than doctors of western medicine by six to seven years). Like almost all popular articles written in Chinese, the source of claim is not verified. In this case, it's simply stated as "台湾《联合报》报道" (according to the report of Taiwanese United Daily News), or "根据台湾医学会最新调查" (according to the latest investigation of the Taiwanese Medical Society"), without giving a link.

After some Googling, I managed to locate the earliest webpage that carried this information. At blog.udn.com/giveman/4346332 posted at 2010/08/23 15:08, the blogger attributed this claim to the Taiwanese 衛生署 (Ministry of Health) and 婦產科醫學會 (Taiwanese Gynecological Society) by quoting a reporter by the name of 陳惠惠. Unfortunately, there's no further link. One week later, on 2010/8/30, Professor 黃文璋 (Wen-Jang Huang) of National University of Kaohsiung wrote that "雖未能找到台灣婦產科醫學會的調查報告,但在網路上查到..." (Although the investigative report by the Taiwanese Gynecological Society was not found, I searched and found on the Internet that ..."

Literature search aside, the fact that a statement claiming that TCM doctors live shorter than non-TCM counterparts can quickly become popular and continue floating on the Internet for many years is an interesting one. Indeed, TCM is said to be strong at 养生 (maintaining health) and not so at medical treatment, as most people believe. Then, why would TCM practitioners themselves die younger? If that turns out to be true based on quality statistics, there may be one factor at play: TCM doctors are not fully appreciative of the toxicity of some ingredients (they know but choose to make light of them), or have not kept abreast of some latest studies (as in the case of 马兜铃酸 or aristolochic acid found to exist in much more herbs than previously thought).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Better be fat, if you're a man with cancer

"Obesity associated with longer survival for men with metastatic melanoma"

"Obese patients with metastatic melanoma (note: the most dangerous type of skin cancer) who are treated with targeted or immune therapies live significantly longer than those with a normal body mass index... This effect, referred to as the 'Obesity Paradox', principally manifested itself in men... The researchers found no significant differences in survival between women with normal, overweight or obese BMI... Women with metastatic melanoma have long been known to have better outcomes compared to men. In this study obesity overcame that survival disadvantage for men, leading researchers to now look at the possible impact of sex hormones in this effect... Recent studies have shown a similar survival benefit for obese patients with colorectal or kidney cancer."

The researcher, Dr. Jennifer McQuade at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, consistently rated the best cancer hospital in the US, said, “The public health message is not that obesity is good. Obesity is a proven risk factor for many diseases,... Even within our metastatic melanoma population, we would not suggest that patients intentionally gain weight. We need to figure out what is driving this paradox and learn how to use this information to benefit all of our patients.”

Nevertheless, the temptation for a male cancer patient in this situation to gain weight is so strong that the politically correct public health message could be ignored. Unless the cause of this "Obesity Paradox" is soon identified, it may be wise to advise these patients to try temporarily accumulating body fat in order to improve survival. Obesity is no doubt an evil. But what evil is more bad than cancer? The researcher in this study is reluctant to advocate weight gain even in this very specific case. That is understandable as they are neither interested nor specialized in making an exception to the overall healthy advice.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Olive oil: three brands are good

An article is circulating on the Internet titled something like Studies Uncover 14 Fake And 11 Real Olive Oil Brands (With 4-Step DIY Authenticity Test) or its variant. There are a few problems with this article.

  • The word "fake" is misused. Those olive oils not meeting the test requirements are not really fake, but mostly just do not have sufficient olive oil component in the blend.
  • The DIY authenticity test such as storing olive oil in the fridge to see if the oil solidifies is not reliable.
  • The biggest problem may be the brands not matching those in the ultimately quoted research article.

I'd like to focus on the last point. The above mentioned article lists these brands in the section "Who Were Keeping It Real?", i.e. not "fake" in the author's language

    Kirkland Organic
    Corto Olive
    California Olive Ranch
    Bariani Olive Oil
    Cobram Estate
    McEvoy Ranch Organic
    Olea Estates
and, at the bottom of the Web page, reveals the source, http://www.healthyfoodhouse.com/14-fake-olive-oil-companies-revealed-stop-buying-brands-now/, which in turn claims to be based on http://livetheorganicdream.com/fake-olive-oil-companies-revealed-stop-buying-these-brands-now/, which finally indicates the trustworthy research done at olivecenter.ucdavis.edu. That 2011 University of California at Davis article, titled Report: Evaluation of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sold in California, does not list all the above 11 good brands. I checked each of them against the Report. Only three out of the 11 are truly listed as good brands. They are
    California Olive Ranch
    Cobram Estate
This is not too bad in the sense that we as non-specialists only need to memorize three names when we shop for olive oil at a grocery store.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Birth month and risk of disease

A Columbia University research on the data of 1.7 million patients in a New York hospital shows that 55 diseases are associated with birth month. Averaged on all the diseases, people born in October and November have the highest risk and those born in May have the lowest.

Breaking down to specific diseases: Born in March you have a higher risk of nine types of heart disease. Born in December, higher in reproductive diseases. Born in November, higher in respiratory and neurological diseases. See the bar graphs in the Washington Post article.

But the strength of correlation with birth month varies too. See the circle at the bottom of the Columbia University article where the distance of the dot from the center represents the strength of correlation. Thus, acute bronchiolitis is very strongly associated with a birth at the end of November, viral infection strongly associated with a birth in mid-November, ADHD somewhat associated with a birth at the beginning of November, and hypertension rather weakly with a birth month in mid-January.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Centipedes in TCM contributes to passing through blood-brain barrier

Chinese Central Television aired a video about a touching story. In 2009, a Henan-province doctor, Song Zhaopu, went to Hotan, Xinjiang, to treat young children suffering cerebral palsy, where the disease is widespread due to under-developed economy and people's lack of knowledge of health of newborn babies. In addition to massage or physical therapy and acupuncture, Dr. Song used the following TCM medicines in the treatment: 龟甲 (tortoise shell), 鳖甲 (turtle shell), 蜈蚣 (centipede), 党参 (codonopsis), 鸡内金 (membrane of chicken gizzard). The main ingredients are the first two. Codonopsis is for nourishing yin and promoting qi, and membrane of chicken gizzard is for improving digestion. What interests me is the centipede, which, according to Dr. Song, acts as the transport agent carrying the medications into the brain, because it can go through the blood-brain barrier (see the snippet near 3:10 of the third video page). This is apparently a TCM concept interpreted in the terminology of modern medical science and Dr. Song acknowledged that. If the centipede or the molecules in the blood as a result of it are capable of literally passing through the blood-brain barrier, it is a wonderful gift from mother nature because many other diseaes such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer can benefit from it. Due to the blood-brain barrier, delivering any medication to the brain is always a challenge, even though it's not the major obstacle. I did not find any research article studying the effect of dried centipedes in passing through the blood-brain barrier. But such research may be worth the effort.