Cheese addicted middle schoolers

Cheese is a mixture of heroin and over-the-counter cold medication. An NPR story this morning covered the epidemic usage of this drug among Hispanic elementary school children in Dallas. Cheese is extremely cheap — only $1 or $2 a dose, and “well within a middle-schooler’s lunch budget.” Dr. Carlos Tirado at the University of Texas had the following chilling quote:

“We didn’t know what to do with a 9-year-old in opiate withdrawal, or what the treatment ramifications of that are. Do you send a 9-year-old to an AA meeting?”

Unbelievable stuff.

The myth of short sleepers

I was fascinated by a piece on yesterday’s Morning Edition about sleep, In today’s world, the well-rested lose respect. A myth has been created by America’s most successful politicians, businesspeople and other luminaries that their success is in some way tied to a physical condition, short sleeping, that allows them to have more productive hours than the rest of us.

Sleep researchers believe that short sleepers are not prevalent , and that those who claim to be short sleepers are simply redefining what sleep is (and sleeping on the job, in the limo, on the plane, etc.) or are just used to functioning on insufficient rest.

So I ask, what’s more likely:

  • A superbreed of humans with the ability to stay awake longer than the rest of the population has taken over the powerful positions of the world in the middle of the night
  • A third, independent variable, namely drive or motivation, has led to both the success and stress-induced insomnia that come with being in a powerful position

This story is so powerful that one of the interviewees had the following to say about her daughter:

My daughter, who has a life-threatening disease, when I asked her if there’s one thing you could change about yourself physically, I’d expect her to say she’d like to get rid of her life-threatening condition. No way. She’d say “I would abolish the need for sleep, so I could get more done.”

I find it really tragic that our society has arrived at this position, and that people want to sleep less. I like to sleep 8 hours nightly, and if I’m ever powerful enough to be asked how I got to where I am, I’ll say it was the sleep.

Healthy snacks in disguise

I am a big advocate of eating right. I participate in the No-Corn-Syrup Diet. To this end, I’m always really frustrated when marketing gets in the way of people making the right decision. Take for instance the 100 Calorie Pack by Nabisco, which come with the following message:

Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, creamy — what kind of snack are you craving? 100 Calorie Packs come in all of your favorites from Oreo to Wheat Thins. Now you can indulge and still know that you’re making the right choice!

Instead of optimizing for nutritional components (calories, fat, carbs, etc., etc.), I eat the snacks that I understand. My gym sells Sahale Snacks, little tasty nut blends that are high in fat, and contain tons of calories. One of my favorite varieties is the Ksar blend which is comprised of:

Pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, sesame seeds, organic evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup, sea salt, organic honey

I know what each of those ingredients is! A company that takes this even further is Larabar, which I also eat quite regularly. Here are the ingredients for a few of their snack bars:

  • Pistachio Bar: dates, pistachios, cashews
  • Banana Cookie: almonds, dates, unsweetened bananas
  • Pecan Pie: dates, pecans, almonds
  • Cocoa Mole: dates, almonds, walnuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, chile

Like other simple snacks, they don’t fare well with the nutrition information scrutinizer: high in calories, high in fat. I think they’re pretty tasty, and they really satiate my hunger in a way that processed foods don’t seem to. Maybe there’s some fancy science behind my intuition, but I’m willing to believe in the gospel of Pollan for now.

Health Month 2008

Every year, Rick Webb and his fellow Barbarians take an incredible health pledge for a month to clear their systems of the unwholesome indiscretions of the holiday season. This involves no alcohol, no caffeine, no fat, and a laundry list of other rules. The fun commences after Keith Butters birthday, January 5, or the following Monday should his birthday fall on a weekend (i.e. this coming Monday at 12:01am).

I’m in. Scratch the caffeine clause. Add swimming 4 times/week.

If you’d like to take part, or just show your support, join the Health Month Facebook group. Wish us luck, we’ll need it.

On hypothermia

On days like today (high of 20°F in New York City), I often wonder how close I am to hypothermia. Wikipedia defines three stages of a cooling body temperature:

  • Stage 1 (1-2°C below normal body temperature): light shivering and goosebumps (which are ineffective in humans)
  • Stage 2 (2-4°C below normal body temperature): with strong shivering, pale skin and blue extremities
  • Stage 3 (8°C below normal body temperature): puffy blue skin, cognitive failures, “terminal burrowing,” “paradoxical undressing,” and eventually death

The verdict: keep your head covered and don’t fall in the water when it’s butt cold outside. If you take off all your clothes and start burrowing, the end is probably near.

Syndromic surveillance

some crowd in danger of diarrheaAfter 9/11/01, the CDC Division of Public Health Surveillance with help from Homeland Security implemented a new program for tracking possible bioterrorist threats, known as syndromic surveillance. Instead of relying on medical diagnosis of individual doctors, the system looks for statistical anomalies across the symptoms reported in recent emergency room visits and notifies epidemiologists when attention is needed. Doctors tend to use the Occam’s Razor approach to diagnosis, assuming that common illnesses are the cause for most medical visits; without any awareness of hospital- or city-wide statistics, a bioterrorist assault could go undetected for weeks until initial cases had progressed into more severe symptoms.

This approach to surveillance strikes me as ultra-futuristic, allowing machine intelligence to process large amounts of data that no individual doctor could take into perspective. While the system is developed (and funded) for the purpose of thwarting bioterrorist attacks, it’s easy to imagine a number of other uses for syndromic surveillance: seasonal viruses, STDs, macroparasites, and so on. Given an appropriate sensitivity, it could even be used to replace Erin Brockovich, finding carcinogenic sites based on a few reported cases and an abnormality in symptoms. Of course there will be a number of unexpected uses as well.

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Bacterial media

After nearly reaching eradication in America, syphilis rates have been on the rise among gay and bisexual men for the past few years. Most major cities have seen exponential growth in the number of cases over the past two years, and this is causing alarm in many state health departments.

Syphilis is a curable STD. After the initial infection, symptoms can disappear while the individual is still able to pass along the disease to others. Syphilis prevention then is largely targetted around creating awareness of the disease and an urgency for testing among those who think they may have contracted it.

Two complementary awareness campaigns have been started in Los Angeles and San Francisco aimed at gay and bisexual men. The former features a anthropomorphized syphilis sore named Phil while the latter is in the image of a healthy and personable penis. Of course these two campaigns struck my attention because their purpose is to reach as wide of an audience as possible. And in an ironic twist of fate, the syphilis sore beat the penis.

phil the sore vs. healthy penis

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Eat, drink and be healthy

So it’s definitely not SARS. For the past few days I’ve been bedridden with some mysterious virus, perhaps the first EVER summer malady in my life. And of course I did what I always do when I get stuck with a tough cold: consume. In the past three days I’ve gone through two gallons of OJ, four movies, one box of tissue brand tissue, five cups of tea, and two new yorkers, among other things.

It’s all that one can do when the body is debilitated. I feel like most of my life is spent in input/output or even just output mode. Writing email, talking on the phone, cooking dinner, writing code, having meetings.. BLAH! I think getting sick is one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. Input only. Pure, unadulterated, lazier-than-thou input. And I feel great now. Er.. I think I’m still sick. I’ll get back to you on that in the morning.

Homeopathic insanity

Somehow I’ve come down with a cold in the middle of the summer. Is that possible? Maybe by definition is has to be the flu, or at least it goes by another name (perhaps “a balmy” or “the humid”). Anyway, in this sort of heat, the standard homeopathic remedies aren’t very appealing: chicken soup, hot toddies and the like. While tossing and turning feverishly in bed last night, I remember something that my high school German teacher (Rolf Scheel) had mentioned.

Rolf was a former Baltimore Oriole’s pitcher, coach of the UCSB baseball team, and at the time I knew him, part-time German teacher and part-time marathon runner. I think he still holds some marathon records in the over 65 age group. Anyway, Rolf had some pretty rare comments about health throughout my time in his class, the best of which was a tried and tested cure for the common cold (which he claimed was based on science, you make the call). He claimed that every time he had felt a cold coming on in the past twenty years of his life, this method cured him without ever contracting the full symptoms, or spending a day in bed. At one point he cured a cold epidemic in the entire UCSB baseball team right before a game that they tirelessly won in the bottom of the 10th inning. So without further adieu, the Rolf Scheel cure for the common cold:

  1. At the first feeling of cold/flu symptoms, act immediately
  2. Eat one large red onion, raw
  3. Eat one head of garlic, peeled
  4. Eat one orange, peeled
  5. Drink 1 pint (470 ml) blackberry schnapps
  6. Run 10 miles
  7. Upon return, jump into the shower immediately
  8. Shower with hot water only for 5 minutes
  9. Shower with cold water only for 5 minutes
  10. Lie down, feet above your head for 30 minutes

He claimed that no one had ever used this method and not been immediately cured. Apparently one sits up at the end feeling completely rejuvenated and ready to conquer the day. I’ve always been a bit skeptical, but given my current state, I might just have to try it. Of course, given that I’m only half as crazy as Rolf (and half as fit), I think I might halve the recipe. Assuming I’m still alive, I’ll let you know how it goes.