Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Q-link Pendant

Have you ever seen someone wearing one of these?

They are called Q-Link pendants and you wear them as a necklace. They are sold on a website found here and other places such as Amazon.  

I've seen them before.  Lindsey Lohan wore one (I don't know if she still does but I recall seeing a picture of her wearing one) and several other celebs (Madonna, Dennis Hopper, Salma Hayek) and several athletes - especially golfers - are reported to have worn them. They come in a variety of colors and shapes in prices ranging from $99 to $3099 for the high-end gold tag pendant and are also available in bracelets.  You can buy them for your pets, as well.  

What are they supposed to do? Q-link pendants and bracelets are supposed to neutralize the "harmful effects" of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Electromagnetic fields are created by electric appliances, microwaves, power lines, etc.  Many people believe that EMFs cause cancer although there are no studies showing a connection between EMFs and cancer. Q-link doesn't say anything about cancer but claims that EMFs can cause stress and fatigue.  

What are they made of? Dr. Ben Goldacre opened one up to find out. Turns out that that they contain a circuit board that isn't connected to anything and a zero-ohm resistor (a resistor that has no resistance) that is not connected to anything. He ran a variety of tests and could find no evidence that it was, in fact, doing anything - which makes sense as a circuit board needs to be attached to something to do something.

So... we have a product that does nothing that is sold to do something that cannot be proven and costs a pretty penny to purchase - but hardly anything to produce.  Sounds to me like we have the makings of a scam here.  Despite endorsement by Dr. Oz (or perhaps because of it), I cannot recommend you spend any money on these products.  There is no evidence that the problem they claim to neutralize even exists and no evidence that these products do anything at all.

Image found here 

Monday, February 25, 2013

5 Health Myths and Facts

A lot of people have advice on how to live a healthier life!

We've all received advice from our mothers and grandmothers, our friends, doctors, doctors on television shows, magazine articles, and heard results of studies that sometimes contradict each other.  Sometimes the advice we receive might not be based in fact.  We should always try to take advice with a grain of salt and investigate - especially if something sounds too good to be true or too ridiculous.  I'm not saying that you should disregard what your doctor tells you.  He or she is a good source of information*. You should always be wary of advice from other sources -especially if they are trying to sell you something.

  1. The average adult should drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.  No one knows for sure where this came from but the person who wrote this article seems to think it might have come from a book written in 1974 called Nutrition for Good Health by Dr. Frederick J. Stare.  The problem is, he is taken a bit out of context. His actual quote from the book reads, "How much water each day? This is usually well regulated by various physiological mechanisms but, for the average adult, somewhere around 6 to 8 glasses per 24 hours and this can be in the form of coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, beer, etc. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water."  So it seems like the doctor is telling us that our bodies naturally will prompt us to take in the amount of liquid that is needed and that we can get the liquid from different sources.  We do not, in fact, need to drink all that water every day.
  2. Peptic ulcers are caused by stress.  I'm not sure if this is still a common belief but I remember hearing it a lot while I was growing up.  The thing is:  there is no basis in fact.  Ulcers are most often caused by a bacterial infection and but sometimes by the use of over-the-counter pain medications.  They can be exasperated by heavy alcohol use and smoking. They are not, however, caused by stress.
  3. Eating too much sugar will cause hyperactivity in young children. You know how it goes... You take your young child to a birthday party and when you arrive to pick her up, you are faced with an over-excited child who is practically bouncing off the walls!  It must be the sugar, you think.  You'd be wrong, however. There is no evidence that this is true.  Study after study has shown no connection between attention or hyperactivity and sugar. 
  4. You'll gain weight if you eat too late.  I'm sure most of us have heard this one!  The theory seems to be that you will not burn as many calories while you sleep as you do while awake so you don't want to fill your stomach before bedtime. Problem is, this appears to be incorrect!  Our bodies continue to burn calories while we sleep   The amount of calories consumed versus the amount of calories burned will indicate whether or not you gain weight.  It has nothing to do with when the food is eaten!  As long as you aren't going over the number of calories that you should eat each day, you shouldn't gain weight.
  5. Fish is brain food.  It seems like grandma got it right with this one!  Fish is, indeed, good for our brains! Studies seem to indicate that elderly people who ate fish at least once a week did better on memory test than their peers who didn't.  Other studies seem to suggest a reduced chance of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease.  Additionally, eating fish at least twice a week may help to reduce your chances of having a stroke.  This is good news to me as I'm a fish and seafood lover!  One does have to try to avoid eating fish that might contain higher levels of mercury.  This chart and others like it will help you identify the fish that is safer to eat.
Have you heard any health myths that seem too good to be true?  How about ones that sound too ridiculous?  

* Contrary to popular belief, doctors are taught all about nutrition in medical school so don't believe the myth that they don't know anything about it!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Six - February 23, 2013

1. Y is for YACHT: What’s the biggest boat, ship or vessel you’ve set foot on? A cruise ship to the Bahamas.

2. Y is for YAM: What kind of potato do you prefer most: the traditional white potato or the sweet potato? White potatoes are more versatile but I prefer the flavor of sweet potatoes.

3. Y is for YAWN: You see someone yawn: how likely are you to yawn within a minute after that? Very likely unless I concentrate on not yawning!

4. Y is for YELLOW: Look around you: what’s the first yellow thing you see? A small yellow, lined tablet.

5. Y is for YOGURT: Which flavor of yogurt is your favorite? Blueberry

6. Y is for YOLK: If you were to eat eggs for breakfast, how would you prefer them cooked? Fried over hard, no dippy.

These are the Saturday Six from Patrick's Place!

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Rights Do Smokers Have?

I've seen a lot of changes to laws concerning smoking over the years.

I still remember going over to visit friends when I was growing up who had parents who smoked.  I hadn't met anyone who smoked before.  My parents didn't nor did any other family members I was familiar with.  I had seen smokers on television and in the movies, however, and they still had cigarette ads in magazines back then. No one went outside away from the children to indulge in their habit back then.  No one thought that there was any harm caused to anyone by being in a room with a smoker.

 It took quite a few scientific studies but once it because obvious that secondhand smoke was a problem for the non-smoking public, laws and our mindset started changing.

It started with separate smoking areas of restaurants but that didn't help the employees who had to work in the smoking areas and were exposed to the smoke even if they didn't smoke themselves and frankly, the smoke didn't stay in the smoking area anyway.  Over time, restaurants became smoke-free - at least here in Pennsylvania where it is now the law.

A lot of workplaces have banned smoking indoors.  The company I work for has done so.  They supply outdoor smoking areas with roofs to protect the employees from the elements.

Some companies have taken this farther and banned smoking on their property entirely!  This causes a problem as it doesn't stop smokers from smoking.  They simply walk across the street or down the block to smoke - oftentimes leaving their cigarette butts behind.

I think, perhaps, the people who run these companies think that if they make it more difficult for people to smoke, they will just quit.  This ignores the problem of addiction - and yes, many smokers I know would love to quit and have tried several times and have not been able to quit.  It is not easy.

Now we are seeing companies where they have decided to stop hiring people who smoke.  Yes. You read that right.  Even if they only smoke at home, these companies won't hire them.

I understand the concept.  Companies are concerned with ever-increasing health insurance costs and see this as a way to save money.  This raises a number of issues, however.

1 in 5 Americans smoke and smoking is not illegal.  Policies such as refusing to hire them are obviously discriminatory.  There are even states that have laws that prevent companies from enacting these policies because they believe it is discrimination.  Do we really want to treat that many people as if they are lower class individuals simply because they are addicted to nicotine?  What does that say about us?

If we are going to allow this sort of policy, then why stop at smokers?  What about people who are obese or those who eat red meat? What about people who ride motorcycles without a helmet?  What about people with dangerous hobbies - mountain climbing or sky diving?  Should we ban them from being hired next?  

Wouldn't a better solution be to allow the smoking employees to pay some of the extra cost for their higher insurance coverage?  We do this with smokers and life insurance - why not health insurance as well?

As a former smoker I know it took me years to quit smoking for good and it isn't easy.  Expecting people to quit so that they can get a job is unrealistic.  Many can't quit for the sake of their own health. If it were easy to quit then most people wouldn't smoke! I think we have to find a way to approach the problem of higher health costs for smokers that doesn't involve refusing to hire them.

What do you think?  Is it reasonable for a company to ban the hiring of smokers?

Image found here

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Alternative Medicine Called Reiki

As a skeptic, I'm generally suspicious of what people call "alternative medicine". When I hear that term, I am reminded of the lyrics from Tim Minchin's song, "Storm":  By definition ... alternative medicine ... has either not been proved to work, or has been proved not to work. You know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine.

I've recently discovered the existence of an alternative medicine called Reiki.  This isn't anything new, by the way.  Wikipedia informs me that it's been around since the 1920s .  It is just new to me and apparently quite popular.  The latest fad, if you will.

When I hear about a new alternative medicine my inner skeptic nudges me to find out more about it.  Here is what I've discovered.

What is it? Reiki is a form of energy healing.  In Japan, ki is what chi is in China - a life energy or force that cannot be detected by scientific instruments but apparently can be felt and manipulated by people. Reiki healers try to channel the universe's ki into the patient to heal them.  This is done by holding the hands over a person's body - or lightly touching them. Ki flows through the body of the healer into the patient.

Does it work?  Reiki may seem to work because of a placebo affect or the power of suggestion but there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective therapy for any medical condition.

Have there been scientific studies of Reiki? Yes. This 2008 study concluded "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition" and this 2011 study showed that reiki was just as effective as "sham" reiki (where a person pretended to be a reiki healer but just went through the motions).

Is it dangerous? Since only light touch or no touch is involved in the therapy, it should not be dangerous to undergo a treatment session.  The only danger involved would be if one were to rely on this therapy over actual medicine to treat a disease or serious illness.

What sort of training does a Reiki healer go through? It can only be learned from a reiki master through a process called attunement where the student's chakras are opened to create a link between the student and the reiki source. This is described as a spiritual process. There are three levels of training.  Level one is described here with links to level II and III on that page.  It seems like level I and II training costs anywhere from $150 to $350 and level III (or master training) costs from $350 to $10,000.

What does treatment cost? I checked a few places near me who had websites indicating cost.  A one hour session of just reiki costs $60 to $70  but some places offered sessions combined with massage that were more expensive.  It's not cheap, then!

Conclusion:  Reiki is not proven to work any better than "sham" reiki.  It is not harmful in itself - though it could cause some damage to your bank account over time.  It seems best to steer clear of this "therapy" as paying for it will only encourage healers to continue with the practice and we need a little less "woo" and more science in this world.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia and found here

Monday, February 18, 2013

5 Winter Myths and Facts

I enjoy fact-checking things I hear or read that don't seem right. This has been known to annoy some family members who forward me emails of outrageous things that the government is doing or conspiracy theories or generally ridiculous claims without checking them first. They soon learn either to check things out before they forward them or perhaps they have just learned not to send them to me. I guess I ruin some of the "fun" but I can't help it.  I'm a natural skeptic.

Misconceptions such as old wives tales are oftentimes repeated and taken as fact as we don't always think about their validity.  I know that there are several things that I learned when I was young and believed that I never really thought about until much later. We really should stop and consider things - especially if they don't seem exactly right - and check into them before we take them as fact.

Here are some common beliefs we hear this time of year that deserve a second look.

  1. You lose 40 to 45% of your body heat through your head so you need to cover it when it is cold out. This one has been around for a long, long time! Even the authors of the US Army field manual in the 1970s fell for this one! The truth is that you don't lose more heat through your head than you do through other body parts.  Yes. You should wear a hat or hood to help keep warm but you should also cover other parts of your body for the same reason. 
  2. You will catch a cold if you get cold or stay outside too long.  I know this one isn't true but I catch myself thinking this way in spite of myself! Remember:  Colds are caused by being exposed to a cold virus.  You get a cold from someone who already has one himself not by getting cold or failing to cover up properly.
  3. Your car needs to be warmed up before you drive in cold weather to prevent damage to your engine. This is something that I wish my neighbors would learn is a myth!  I have to walk past their idling - and polluting - vehicle in the mornings on the way to work when this is doing them no good at all.  Modern vehicles with fuel-injection do not need to be warmed up before you drive - although I've read that if the temperature is below 20 degrees you should let it idle an extra minute before you drive. Idling your engine for more than a couple minutes is just a waste of gas.
  4. Chicken soup can help you get over your cold. There might actually be some truth to this one but the jury is still out. There may be something in this soup that helps us when we are sick and it might be more than just a placebo effect. None of the research is conclusive but two different studies seem to suggest that chicken soup might help us when we have a cold. In the meantime there is nothing bad about eating soup if you don't feel well while we wait for more studies to be conducted.  Personally, I'll skip the chicken part of the soup as I don't eat it but I find meatless soups to be just as soothing to me!
  5. Poinsettias are poisonous to humans and pets. I even thought this one was true until not too long ago. Turns out that they aren't poisonous but could cause some minor problems so they shouldn't be ingested. No. They aren't toxic enough to affect animals, either.

Image by Espen Faugstad and found here

Saturday Six - February 16, 2013

1. X is for XENIAL: Are you more likely to be the person who hosts out-of-town visitors or the person who stays with someone else when you’re the one out of town? Neither, really, but I suppose more likely to host myself.  I don't really have a guest room - though one of these days I want to turn one of the spare bedrooms into one. That said, I suppose I could host a family member as we do have a sofa bed. I'm not really comfortable with the idea of staying in other people's homes when visiting.  Despite the fact that it would save money, I'd rather stay in a hotel than in a friend's house.

2. X is for XEROX: What is the last thing you recall making a copy of? A recipe for a co-worker.

3. X is for XIPHOPAGUS: If you could have a twin for the day, who would you play a prank on first? I do have a twin but, sadly, we are not identical so we couldn't pretend to be each other.  If we were, we would have had a lot of fun with it!  I suppose we'd have to trick a family member first.  Perhaps we'd dress alike and appear in two different rooms of their house or something.  We'd have great fun with it!

4. X is for XMAS: Have you ever complained about the use of Xmas as an abbreviation for Christmas? Nope!  Xmas actually means Christmas and there is no disrespect intended most times by its use. Even when I was a Christian, I was not offended by it. I remember my father always used Xmas to mark the boxes containing Christmas items stored in the attic during the rest of the year and he was very much a devout Christian.  If he used it, it wasn't offensive, in my opinion.

5. X is for XYLITOL: Which artificial sweeter do you prefer if you’re avoiding sugar? I prefer natural sugar, to be honest, and go out of my way to avoid artificial sweeteners.  If I had to use one, I guess I'd go with Splenda as it tastes most like sugar.

6. X is for XYSTER: How many times have you been operated on? Twice.  I had some teeth cut out when I was young (and at that time this required an overnight hospital stay) and I had my tubes tied after my third child was born as I was finished! 

These are the Saturday Six from Patrick's Place!  Feel free to visit his site and play along!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Too Young to Die

I saw two unrelated stories today that I think I need to present together.

The first one is this article about a patron - and unofficial greeter - of the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas who died of a heart attack at the age of 52.  The Heart Attack Grill is famous for the medical theme of the restaurant combined with its high calorie menu.  He is not the first person to have medical problems that might be connected to eating regularly at the restaurant.

The second article is about a 31 year-old woman who's death is being linked to her extreme consumption of Coca Cola. She frequently drank more than 2 gallons of soda a day.  She had a cardiac arrhythmia, smoked heavily and was known to skip meals but the coroner made a special note of her soda addiction as a substantial contributor in her death.

What these two stories have in common are the consequences of excess.

In the first story, it would be difficult to believe that the man's high fat, high calorie diet had nothing to do with his young death.  Yes, his family had a history of heart disease but the appropriate reaction to that knowledge is not to ignore those risks and eat what you want.  The correct response is to do what you can to avoid an early death by heart disease.

In the second story, although the woman smoked and didn't eat well, the soda - with all that sugar - had to have something to do with her young death.  Seriously.  She had to have her teeth removed because they were so rotted from the sugar she consumed. She consumed way too much sugar for one person.  Did I mention that she was a mother?  Yeah.

It appears that both of these people could have taken measures that might have made a difference in their lives - or how early those lives ended -but they chose not to.  It's a shame for those who were left behind and should serve as a lesson to the rest of us.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Thoughts on the Grammys

Did you watch the Grammy Awards last night?  I absolutely did!  There are two award shows I try not to miss:  The Grammys and the Oscars.

Here are my (rather random) thoughts on the show this year:

  • I was somewhat pleased to see that CBS's guidelines were followed by most of the people at the Grammys.  The dresses were getting a bit extreme, in my opinion, and it was time to take a step back.  We're interested in the music, after all, not how much skin a star can show. 
  • I thought that Janelle Monae was adorable in her matador style outfit!  She didn't present an award - that I saw - but the camera kept finding her in the audience during the show.
  • I was tweeting while watching the Grammys and I have to say that some people are really rude and mean!  Seriously, people!  How would you hold up if you had someone watching you constantly and critiquing your "look"?
  • That said... Seriously, Katy Perry.  That mint green dress was ugly and it's sole purpose seemed to be to highlight your... attributes.   You can put them away now.  We've seen them.
  • Adele, dear... I adore you but... oh, dear.  Perhaps a nice sold color would have been better than that print you wore.  From the neck up you were perfection, as usual.  The dress was an unfortunate choice.
  • I really, truly, try to like Mumford and Sons but... the banjo? I have a hard time with that sound. Reminds me of Hee Haw.  I keep expecting to see people popping up out of a cornfield.
  • Justin Timberlake - OMG.  Loved the performance!!  
  • Speaking of performances, thumbs up to Taylor Swift's opening Alice in Wonderland/circus number!  Awesome!
  • Best performance of the evening?  The Black Keys doing Lonely Boy with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  
  • I don't know who had the idea to show video on Carrie Underwood's dress while she sang but I hated it!  Take a look at the pictures here if you aren't sure what I'm talking about.  She really put in a fabulous performance but I was so distracted by the dress that I hardly heard it!!  Seriously stupid idea.
  • Speaking of voices, O.M.G. Kelly Clarkson!  I keep forgetting just how versatile her voice is but her Patty Page/Carole King tribute was awesome! Her dress, however...  well, oh my.  Everyone knows that if one is a bit wider in the middle, a big swatch of color around your waist is a bad idea.  There are more flattering looks.  That's all I'm saying. (And the dress she wore to accept her award was much, much more flattering!)
  • Yes, I know I said that I liked the more conservative dresses but this outfit that Kimbra wore was lovely on her! It really did seem to cover everything, though, so perhaps it was alright.
  • I enjoyed listening to Rihanna - and she was impeccably dressed - but I just can't ignore seeing her with Chris Brown - the man who beat her up a year ago.  I'm seriously concerned for her safety.  Yes, I know.  He says he's sorry.  They all say that and maybe they even believe it.  Then they behave badly again.  Unless he gets serious help, it'll happen again.  I only hope that she isn't too badly injured next time.
  • The tribute to Bob Marley was nice - and it was terrific hearing/seeing Sting perform!  He hasn't lost a bit of his voice as he's aged!  (and Bruno Mars was good, as well)
Did you see the awards show?  What did you think?  Did your favorite artists win?

Image found here.

Saturday Six - February 9, 2013

1. W is for WAKING: What time do you usually get up if you truly consider yourself having “slept in?”  Any time after 7:30 AM, I guess.

2. W is for WALKING: How much time do you spend walking in a typical day? Well, I walk to and from work so that's about 8-10 minutes each way.  Sometimes I walk on my treadmill so that'd be another 30 - 45 minutes.  Other than that, just the usual walking from point A to point B.

3. W is for WARMONGER: Do you tend to be the hothead who’s ready to fight or the peacemaker? Peacemaker.  I have a temper but it takes a lot to get me hotheaded.  I'm more likely to try to resolve an argument peacefully.

4. W is for WEDDING: What would be your “dream site” to hold a wedding? I don't know...  Somewhere in the mountains, maybe? Ooo!  Overlooking Pine Creek Gorge would be a lovely place for a wedding!

5. W is for WRINKLE: When you look in the mirror, do you feel that you look younger than you really are, older than you really are, or about the age you really are? Oh, heck!  I don't know!  I don't think I look bad for my age...

6. W is for WRITE: How often do you handwrite a letter to a friend or relative? Not often.  I'm more likely to email a person.

These are the Saturday Six from Patrick's Place!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday Six - February 2, 2013

1. V is for VACCINE: Do you believe children should be required to be vaccinated before they’re allowed to attend public schools? Why or why not? Oh my!  Did you open a can of worms with this one!!  Children should ABSOLUTELY be vaccinated before they're allowed to attend public schools - unless there is a medical reason that they cannot be vaccinated. It is irresponsible for a parent to not vaccinate their children.  There is no valid reason not to.  (and I'm going to stop right there)

2. V is for VALOR: Whom do you know personally that you consider to be particularly courageous? Good question. Yes. I know someone who fits this description but I'm not going to embarrass her by naming her. (in case she happens to stop by and read this)

3. V is for VALUE: Which store do you feel generally offers the best deals on things you want? Unfortunately, Walmart is the answer.  I'm not happy to shop there because I question some of their business practices but, frankly, I'm not made of money so I must shop at the stores where I will save the most money.

4. V is for VEGETABLE: Which single vegetable do you tend to use most when you cook?  Onions!  I use a lot of onions as they are so versatile.

5. V is for VERTIGO: What’s the tallest building you've been inside? Hmm...  I think it might be the Empire State building.  We may have visited the World Trade Centers while they still stood but I don't recall going up in them.  (did they have an observation deck?)

6. V is for VULCAN: Who is your favorite Star Trek character? Which Star Trek? In the original series, it would have to be Spock.  Next Gen: Worf (or maybe Jean-Luc Picard).  Deep Space Nine: Dax or Odo. Voyager: Kathryn Janeway.  I didn't watch Enterprise.

These are the Saturday Six from Patrick's Place!