Friday, October 31, 2014

Ebola virus - should I panic?

English: Color-enhanced electron micrograph of...
English: Color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles. Polski: Mikrofotografia elektronowa cząsteczek wirusa Ebola w fałszywych kolorach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This will be my first post on the current issue of ebola virus, which is taking the world in the outbreaks, the cause of which we know at least, and the scattered incidents of individuals who have worked in facilities, and have contracted the virus themselves.

Should I panic?

No. As always said by health authorities, with proper precaution and care, no. There is no reason to panic.

First, it is not like the common cold virus, which is airborne. If it is, then I would panic. But then again, I don't want to be ahead and worry without cause.

Second, even if I do contract the virus, the country where I live is prepared to handle the situation. As if everyone is entitled to say it, "Our health facilities and personnel are at par, if not the best in the world." So, why should I panic?

I don't even worry. That could lower my resistance, and that could make me susceptible to other known, though weaker, viruses, and it may not be the ebola virus that will bring me down.

So, are you worried? Are you panicking?

You should not.

Till then!

Symmetry in the Body Holds Clues to Illnesses

Matthew Baillie (1761 - 1823), physician
Matthew Baillie (1761 - 1823), physician (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Courtyard of East Pyne Hall, Princeton Univers...
Courtyard of East Pyne Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Mirror image of heart and lungs. Adap...
English: Mirror image of heart and lungs. Adapted from Gray's Anatomy. Mirrored and labels removed for possible use on Situs inversus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One day in 1788, students at the Hunterian School of Medicine in London were opening a cadaver when they discovered something startling. The dead man’s anatomy was a mirror image of normal. His liver was on his left side instead of the right. His heart had grown on his right side, not his left.

The report by their teacher, the Scottish physician Matthew Baillie, was the first detailed description of the condition, which came to be known as situs inversus and is thought to occur in about one in 20,000 people. Baillie argued that the condition might help doctors understand how our bodies normally tell the right side from the left.

Mutations that cause situs inversus can lead to a number of serious disorders, including congenital heart defects. Deciphering the effort of mutated genes could lead to diagnoses and treatments for those conditions.

“Understanding how you put this axis together has a lot of implications for understanding congenital heart disease,” said Rebecca Burdine, a molecular biologist at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Dominic P. Norris, a developmental biologist at the Medical Research Council in Harwell, England, and other scientists are beginning to solve that puzzle. They have pinpointed some of the steps by which embryos’ organs develop on the left or right.

“I know what it is, you know what it is, but how does the embryo learn what it is?” Dr.Norris said.

Our bodies start out symmetrical, the left side a perfect reflection of the right. Asymmetry in the human body begins to show after six weeks.

The heart comes first. Starting out as a simple tube, it loops to the left, later growing different chambers and vessels on each side.

But those visible changes arise long after the embryo has developed differences on its left and right. Experiments have revealed that the early embryo produces different proteins on each side while it still looks symmetrical.

Biologist have pinpointed a single spot where that symmetry breaking starts: a tiny pit called the node, on the embryo’s midline. The interior of the node is lined with hundreds of tiny hairs, called cilia, which spin at a rate of 10 times a second.

“It’s like a blender,” Dr.Norris said. “It just goes round and round. “Tilted, the cilia all push the fluid surrounding the embryo in one direction, from right to left. When scientists reversed that flow in mouse embryos, it resulted in reversed organs.

Once the fluid starts flowing, it takes only three or four hours for the left and right sides to be determined.

The rim of the node is ringed by cilia that respond to the flow without spinning. “We don’t know the nitty-gritty,” Dr. Norris said. “We don’t know the actual mechanics in these cells of what is happening.”

Those cilia may then release calcium atoms that spread to surrounding cells. Those cells respond by spewing out a protein called Nodal, which spreads through the left side of the embryo, leaving the left side loaded with Nodal and the right with almost none.

“Nodal seems to be directly telling the cells on the left side to move faster than the ones on the right,” Dr. Burdine said.

The fast-moving cells on the left side drag the entire heart clockwise. From that initial twist, the heart then develops its distinctive left and right sides.

Some studies suggest that these early signals also influence brain development. Scientists have long known that the two sides of the human brain have some important differences. The right hemisphere, for example, plays a big role in understanding the mental lives of other people; the left hemisphere is important for focusing attention.

As they look at those biological signals, scientists are also studying disorders that may be tied to their disruption.

Situs inversus, the complete flip of the organs that Baillie described in 1788, may be the most dramatic of the disorders, but it is also one of the most harmless. The reversal is relatively safe because all the organs line up. The real danger is in incomplete reversal – “when you get a confusion, when you get things not quite meeting,” Dr.Norris said.

Most worrisome are cases affecting the heart. “If you put the heart in the wrong place, and everything else is correct,” Dr. Burdine said, “that’s almost always fatal.”

She hopes that research on left-right disorders will lead to genetic tests that can predict the risk of hidden heart defects. She even sees an application to attempts to rebuild damaged hearts with stem cells.

“It’s going to be more than just making the right cells,” she said, adding that they would need to be placed in the proper three-dimensional structure and given the correct signals on where to go.

“And one of those signals, “she said, “is the left-right signal.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, June 15, 2013

Artificial Connections

Capsule of right knee-joint (distended). Poste...
Capsule of right knee-joint (distended). Posterior aspect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For joint replacements, like a knee or hip, is muscle attached to the artificial implant?

Ordinarily “no muscle attaches to any hip or knee implant,” said Dr. Mathias P. Bostrom of the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. The only human tissue that adheres to an implanted joint is bone.

The link is made either with cement or directly to the bone. When the connection is direct, the bone-producing cells grow new material that forms a bond with the implant, a process called osseointegration.

“A lot of knee implants use a kind of cement, really more of a grout, that fixes to the bone itself,”
 Dr.Bostrom said. “It is an acrylic, similar to Plexiglas, called PMMA, for polymethyl methacrylate.”

In the case of a tumor prosthesis for a bone like the femur – in which a lot of bone is removed and large segments are replaced with metal – there may be some linkage of muscle and tendon to implant, he said.

In most joint implants, however, the muscle is still attached to the bone via the tendon, and the surgeon especially tries to avoid detaching any muscle insertion in the hip or knee.

“We want the tendon’s attachment to the bone to be intact,” Dr. Bostrom said.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, June 15, 2013

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Striking a Pose In Midair

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...
English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga posture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't do yoga, but this gives me an idea of how I can do exercises while in mid-air...


Fliers nowadays expect to walk off planes with stiff hips and strained backs, thanks to narrow airplane seats with little legroom. Even top yoga instructors who can fold their bodies like origami say they abhor airplane seats. So how do you emerge from a plane without feeling like Quasimodo?

Cyndi Lee, the founder of the Om Yoga brand in New York, is among the most flexible frequent fliers. She shared some airplane friendly poses that can be done in a seat or in the aisle. Many of the poses can be performed by yoga novices; others are for seasoned yogis – or those who dare to try a tree pose at 9,000 meters.

“A lot of what you’re doing with these stretches is just increasing the circulation,” said Ms. Lee, explaining that fluids tend to pool in lower regions, making fliers “feel sluggish and thick.”

To improve circulation through your lower back on long flights, be sure to twist every so often. While in your seat, plant your feet on the floor and twists to the right. Always include your head and neck in the twist. Switch sides.

If you have enough room and flexibility, from your seat you can also try ankle-to-knee (with one leg) pose, which is a complicated way of saying place your ankle on top of the opposite knee. To deepen the stretch, lean forward a little and place your forearms on top of your legs. Then switch legs. To improve circulation while in that position, flex and point your raised foot, and squeeze and spread your toes. Mind the drinks cart.

Now, on to your upper back. The hug can be done sitting or standing. Just wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, aiming to touch your shoulder blades with your fingertips. From there you can stretch your neck by pressing your right ear to your right shoulder; repeat on the other side.

In the space near the lavatory, you can counteract rounded shoulders and relieve a tight upper back with a shoulder stretch. Reach behind you with both arms outstretched until your hands meet, then interlace your fingers, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Look up and lift your chest. Depending on your level of comfort, you can lift your arms up and away from your back a bit.

Other experts offered similar advice. Alexandria Crow, a yoga instructor and teacher trainer at Yoga Works in Santa Monica, California, suggest putting your palms on either side of the aisle wall near the bathroom and leaning forward, as if stretching your chest through an open doorway.

Even simply hanging forward from the waist – folding at the hips and grabbing each elbow with the opposite hand – can make you feel better, she said.

To prevent swollen ankles, she puts her feet on the bulkhead wall, the back of the seat in front of her or the back edge of the armrest in front of her. That may be good for your ankles, though not necessarily for your relationship with fellow passengers.

For regular yoga practitioners, “tree pose is a no-brainer,” Ms. Lee said, referring to the standing pose in which you place the sole of one foot against the inner thigh of your other leg and raise your arms to your chest or over your head. This pose can open up tight hips and relieve lower back pain – a small price to pay the possible eyebrow raise from another passenger.

“I do these things and nobody even cares,” Ms. Lee said. “In fact, I think some people are thinking, ‘That’s a good idea.’ ”

Don’t forget to breathe deeply, which will help you become calmer. Ms. Lee, the author of “May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind,” practices sama vritti, equal breathing in and out. She inhales for a count of four, five or six, then exhales for the same amount of time.

She also recommends that fliers try lion pose: scrunching up your face and then, as you exhale, sticking out your tongue and looking up at the space between your eyebrows.

She noted that this is good for waking up and reminding you to breathe.

She added: “You can do that one in the bathroom.”

Taken from TODAY, Saturday Edition, June 1, 2013

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Posture Guru Takes On the Office Slouch

Mark O. Hatfield Research Center at the Oregon...
Mark O. Hatfield Research Center at the Oregon Health & Scienc University in Portland, OR. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: This is one of the huge welcoming sig...
English: This is one of the huge welcoming signs for Google plex in the silicon valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oregon Health Sciences University.
Oregon Health Sciences University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Apple's headquarters at Infinite Loop...
English: Apple's headquarters at Infinite Loop in Cupertino, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Campus Photo
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Campus Photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oracle Corporation world HQ
Oracle Corporation world HQ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Office workers around the world are chained to their technology, hunched over desktop, laptops, smartphone, and tablet, and it’s all taken a toll on their bodies.

Esther Gokhale, 52, a posture guru in Silicon Valley, believes that people suffer from pain and dysfunction because they have forgotten how to use their bodies. It’s not the act of sitting for long periods that causes us pain, she says, it’s the way we position ourselves.

Ms. Gokhale is not helping aching office workers with high-tech gadgets and medical therapies. Rather, she says she is reintroducing her clients to what she calls “primal posture” – a way of holding themselves that is shared by older babies and toddlers, and that she says was common among our ancestor before slouching became a way of life. It is also a posture that Ms. Gokhale observed during research she conducted in a dozen other countries, as well as in India, where she was raised.

Her method, based not on technology but primarily on observations of people, has been embraced by executives, board members and staff members at some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies, including Google and Oracle; and heavy users of technology.

Clients sit upright and relaxed with a forward-tilting pelvis and a well-stacked spine.

“I need to do things that make sense and that I can see results from. Esther’s work is like that,” said Susan Wojcicki, 44, one of Google’s senior vice president, who has suffered from back and neck pain that she attributes to doing too much work at her desk.

Ms. Gokhale is not the first to suggest that changing posture is the key to a healthy spine. Practitioners of the Alexander Technique and the creators of the Aplomb Institute in Paris similarly help clients find more natural and comfortable ways to position themselves. Pilates and physical therapy can improve posture and bring awareness to it. A handful of companies, like Lumo BodyTech, sell posture monitors, offering smartphone users feedback about the way they hold their bodies.

Ms. Gokhale says that many people sit on a tucked pelvis with a C-shaped spine.

Ms. Gokhale’s methods have not been tested scientifically, though a doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation is planning on conducting clinical trials by the end of the year.

Backaches affect most Americans – about 8 in 10 deal with the pain at some point in their lifetimes, said Dr. Richard Deyo, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

The expenses are huge as well. By one estimate that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the national cost of treating people with back and neck pain was $86 billion in 2005 in the United States. And with back pain one of the top reasons for worker disability, missed work because of these aches may cost employers close to $7 billion a year, according to one study.

Others sit tensely on a tucked pelvis with an arched back (like an S shape).

For most people with back pain, the aches are short-lived, Dr. Deyo said. But methods to help those with chronic pain are diverse. Using a standing desk at work has become a popular way to ease discomfort. Exercise, yoga, acupuncture and chiropractic have also been shown to reduce pain. Medical treatments continue to be important option, doctors says, even amid concerns that these have been overused.
Ms. Gokhale had to deal with her own pain in her lower back, first as a college student practicing yoga, then as a young mother with sciatica. She eventually had surgery for a herniated disk, but it failed, she said. When doctors suggested she try a second time, Ms. Gokhale began a search for other answers.

In Ms. Gokhale’s courses, students relearn how to sit, stand, sleep and walk. She says most people tend to be relaxed and slumped (think of a C-shaped spine), or arched up and tense (an S shape), the stand-up-straight style of posture that some parents demand on their children. She helps her students return their bodies to the stance that she says nature intended: upright and relaxed (a tall J spine).

With care, Ms. Gokhale adjusts clients’ bodies from the bottom to top. She helps clients relax the front of the pelvis downward, so the belt line slants forward and the butt angles back, so “your behind is behind you, not under you.”

Ms. Gokhale guides students’ rib cages that sway too far back, so they are flush with the stomach. She takes their hunched shoulders, rolls them up and brings them gently back and down. And she helps student release tension in their necks by recentering their heads over their spines and pulling upward slightly. The result is an elongated and well-stacked spine that many students say they can maintain.

Ray Bingham, 67, the presiding director of Oracle’s board, was referred to Ms. Gokhale last fall for his lower back pain. Mr. Bingham says he has found relief after using her methods and he diligently practices his newfound ways of sitting, walking and standing.

“This is not an approach like physical therapy with a beginning and an end; this is a new way of being from now on,” Mr. Bingham said.

Taken from TODAY, Saturday Edition, June 1, 2013