Saturday, March 31, 2012

Are You A Cyberchondriac?

We have all met hypochondriacs and we have all probably been guilty of being one at some point in our lives. We can easily recognize the signs of someone who constantly claims that there is something wrong with them. Week after week they claim to suffer from one ailment or another. Usually, we ignore them and brush off their symptoms because let's face it, nine times out of ten there is nothing really wrong. 

Now, however, these hypochondriacs come armed with the power of the internet. Not only do they believe that there is something wrong with them, but they now are also trying to diagnose themselves with websites such as WebMD. This phenomenon has become such a widespread issue that the term cyberchondria has been coined. By definition, a cyberchondriac is someone who consistently tries to diagnose their own conditions through the use of the internet. Getting a sense of what may be ailing you is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a bad thing, however, when you replace an experienced and educated physician with a website. 

In theory, WebMD is a decent resource if you want to look up a condition or to look up some medication that you may be taking. The thing that makes WebMD troublesome is their symptom checker. This tool makes it all too easy for people to type in their symptoms and receive a diagnosis. For example, if I enter in chest pain with a dull achy pain localized to one side WebMD will tell me to seek emergency help before giving me my probable diagnosis. This is great and this is exactly what the website should do, but then it gives me a list of conditions. The first diagnosis is muscle strain and the second is asthma. Neither of these conditions strike me as terribly ominous, especially if I do not have asthma, so why would I seek emergency care? In reality, I could be having a heart attack. WebMD told me to call 911, but then they said it was a muscle pull. Most people, do not want to have a life threatening condition and a lot of people will accept the diagnosis of a muscle pull over the chance that they could be having a heart attack. This, my friends, is where WebMD, in my opinion, is flawed.

I have used WebMD in the past and it has worked okay, but recently, I have found a new website. This healthcare information website is W3Clinic . This website makes no attempt to diagnose your symptoms and honestly, I think it is better that way. It does however provide in depth information for a wide range of conditions, medications, different medical tests, first aid, nutrition, and even a dictionary to look up technical medical jargon. The best part about W3Clinic is that the content is written and moderated by board-certified physicians.

As always, never attempt to diagnose yourself and never take medication without consulting your doctor. Healthcare information websites are meant for informational purposes only and should never be used in place of emergency or standard care. 


The trouble with being a hypochondriac these days is that antibiotics have cured all the good diseases.
-Caskie Stinnett

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deepest Solo Dive

Yesterday, James Cameron, the director of Avatar and Titanic, completed the world's deepest solo dive into the Mariana Trench. The dive, which was around 30,000 feet marks the first time anyone has visited the trench since the 1960's. 

The goal was for Cameron to collect samples of rocks, sediments, and small marine life. He also was responsible for collecting images of never before seen surroundings. It is expected that his journey will appear on the National Geographic Channel. It is also noteworthy that his images may appear on Google Earth as trenches such as the Mariana Trench are the only regions on earth without Google data.

It is also expected that his experiences will provide inspiration for the next Avatar movie. Coincidentally, the plot of the next movie revolves around an unexplored underwater world. You can be sure that the creatures seen in the movie will have some resemblance to the creatures seen 30,000 feet under. 

Cameron described the Trench as a "completely black world" and said that the marine life are white and have obviously adapted to live under extreme pressure. He went on to describe how completely overwhelming the surroundings are and compared the experience to the Apollo moon landing. In a very real sense, his experience does mark a giant leap for mankind into the watery abyss.

It is hopeful that there will be more dives in the immediate future. The potential for this new terrain is massive. Who knows what kind of new creatures will be found and what kinds of medicinal properties lie hidden. I personally cannot wait to see the images and I am looking forward to the discoveries that arise from this exploration.


Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean.
-Christopher Reeve

Monday, March 19, 2012

Frozen Planet

Last night was the season premier of Discovery Channel and the BBC's co-production Frozen Planet. This was a great documentary about both the Arctic and the Antarctic. If you are interested in nature or animal life at all, I highly recommend watching this series. While yesterday was a two hour premier, the normally one hour series will continue on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM Eastern/Pacific Time. 

The series monitors and records various groups of animals, including polar bears, penguins, wolves, whales, and even caterpillars, as they interact in the wild. With the emergence of high definition technology, the footage is unbelievable. It is remarkable how different species interact and have optimized their lifestyles to survive in such a harsh environment. I guarantee that you will learn something interesting and new from watching this series and be absolutely blown away by the quality and clarity of the images. 

Personally, I learned that the Woolly bear caterpillar can live for 14 years before undergoing metamorphosis and turning into a moth. That makes it the oldest living caterpillar species. During the winter months the caterpillar actually is frozen solid and its organs shut down, but a natural antifreeze protects ice crystals from forming inside its cells. When the spring thaw comes, the caterpillar wakes up and continues right where it left off! I find this absolutely amazing and a tribute to the mysterious works of nature. 

For more information and a live penguin cam check out the Frozen Planet page.


This journey is not over. Our education initiatives have so much momentum, and we're committed to sharing even more stories from the Arctic when we return.
-Ann Bancroft

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Meditation is one of those things that some people feel is strange and they are not really sure if it works or not. It seems that people who actively meditate are firm believers in its effects and denounce those who claim otherwise. On the other hand, people who do not meditate tend to dismiss it as a time waster, a hoax, and unproven. 

While I neither meditate, nor do I have a strong opinion on it, I feel that credit is deserved. It turns out, that a recent study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has conclusively shown a positive correlation between brain health and meditation. A series of individuals participated in MRI's to look for strengths and weakness in their brains. Of the participants, roughly half were active mediators who had been practicing the craft for 20 years while the other half did not practice meditation. It turns out, that the group of people who meditated had an increased mental activity and a visible strengthening of the brain in those areas of the brain that control emotions, awareness, and self-regulation. What does that all mean? It means they were overall happier and more at peace with their lives. And let's face it, who wants to complain about having a stronger brain?

After all those years debating about the effects of meditation, we now have scientific proof. It also lends to the old saying, "Don't knock it until you try it."


I write, or used to write, to explain to myself situations I couldn't otherwise solve or understand. Meditation comes very naturally to me.
-Anne Stevenson

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Painless Vaccinations

Branching off of my prior post dealing with vaccinations, I have found that there is a new method of vaccination in the works. This new method is called a microneedle vaccine patch. 

As can be seen from the picture above, the vaccine patch is very small. Believe it or not, this small little patch can be coated with the vaccine of choice and still be as effective as the traditional "shot" method. This patch is placed on the skin and is kept there for about 5 minutes. Unlike getting a shot, this method is relatively painless and requires very little skill to administer. The production patches will probable look less like a microchip and look more like a Bandaid.

 You can't really see them, but there really are needles in that white square!

While it is probably a few years out, this new method could revolutionize the way we think about vaccination. The common complaint is that people are afraid of needles and this is the reason why they do not get vaccinated. As a result, the rest of us have to suffer with people sniffling and sneezing around us. With this new method, what is there to be afraid of? I predict that this microneedle method will cause a jump in the amount of people vaccinated every year. This means less sniffling, less sneezing, and an overall better environment to live in.


Be able to sneeze without sounding ridiculous. That means neither stifling yourself or spraying your immediate vicinity.
-Marilyn vos Savant

Additional Reading:

Maria del Pilar Martin, William C. Weldon, Vladimir G. Zarnitsyn, Dimitrios G. Koutsonanos, Hamed Akbari, Ioanna Skountzou, Joshy Jacob, Mark R. Prausnitz, and Richard W. Compans. Local Response to Microneedle-Based Influenza Immunization in the Skin. mBio, March/April 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012


There seems to be a controversy regarding the use of vaccines. Believe it or not, there are groups of activists who are firmly against vaccination. They seem to believe that vaccines cause autism, that they cause cancer, that they will anger God, and that there is no need for them. Now, I admit that there have been problems with vaccination and that the system has not always been perfect, but as with any aspect of medicine, it is an evolving science and continues to improve.

Some activists insist that vaccines directly cause autism. This claim has been thoroughly investigated time and time again. Each time this claim is found to be unjustified and false. There is not a scrap of evidence that shows vaccines are even remotely related to autism. The only basis for this accusation is that children who are diagnosed with autism have received vaccines. Think about it, children who are not autistic have also received these same vaccines and are just fine. 

Some other argument against vaccination center around the chemicals that are in vaccines. Activists want these chemicals, such as aluminum, removed. These compounds are called adjuvants. The activists' argument is that these adjuvants cause the body harm and are not necessary. Clearly a basic immunology course was not included in activist training. 

We can all agree that the sole purpose of a vaccine is to protect us against from getting some disease in the future. Vaccines work by giving us a small dose of either the non-infectious form of the disease causing agent, or the dead form. Our immune system, however, will not waste its time on something that is not harming us. So, how are we supposed to build immunity against something when our bodies won't give it the time a day. The answer is simple, adjuvants. These chemicals irritate our bodies just enough so that they send a 'danger single' to our immune systems and cause them to launch a response against the vaccine. This response is what builds up long-term immunity, called memory, and protects us from the diseases in the future. What happens if we listen to the activists and get rid of these chemicals? Simple, we start injecting ourselves with water because it will be just as effective as an adjuvant-free vaccine.

How quickly we forget diseases such as polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, and rubella. Older generations remember these diseases and remember the pain and suffering that victims felt. Younger generations, however, do not know what these diseases are and probably have never seen anyone with them. I can assure you that these diseases did not disappear on their own. Vaccination is what caused the decrease of these diseases and vaccination is what will continue to protect us. 

Unfortunately, as these activists gain strength, the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children is on the rise. Unfortunately, people are choosing to put their trust in individuals who are uneducated in the sciences. As a result, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases of polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. These activists fail to report that these diseases, if survived, can maim their victims for life. Think carefully when considering vaccination. I strongly suggest you to follow your doctor's recommendation. 


Do not let yourself be tainted with a barren skepticism.
-Louis Pasteur