Another good reason to have pets – Pets can detect cancer

Posted in Pets, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 14, 2008 by Dr. CJ

My wife and I are big-time lovers of dogs.  We have a couple cats, too, but the dogs are our passion.  They are basically our kids for the time being, and they certainly demand that kind of treatment. 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like without them, but that image seems so boring to me.  As much as a handful they can be, there are innumerable moments of bliss as a dog-owner. 

I’m often reminded of a bumper sticker I once saw:

The more people I meet, the more I love my dog.

Here’s another bonus of being a pet-owner.  Just in the last several years, some anecdotes about dogs detecting cancers in their owners have surfaced and have actually prompted some research studies.  The article describes a study for bladder cancers, in which the dogs were trained to sniff the urine and were 3x more successful at detecting presence of cancer than chance alone (41% vs. 14%). 

My favorite part of that study is that one of the so-called “normals”, a healthy control subject was consistently identified by the dogs as having cancer.  Further investigation led to the discovery of a kidney cancer.

Another study demonstrated that dogs were 99 percent accurate in their identification of lung cancer  and 88 percent accurate in identifying breast cancer by breath samples.  Pretty amazing results.  They note, however, that the control subjects were all healthy, and thus it would be important to verify that the dogs could distinguish cancer from some other condition, e.g. infection.

This could be an interesting area of research, particularly if an abnormality can be identified and consistently measured in a laboratory setting. 

Don’t be a wimp – play golf the way it was meant to be played

Posted in Exercise with tags , , , on May 8, 2008 by Dr. CJ

Taking advantage of an absolutely gorgeous day (read 70 and sunny), I managed my first golf outing of the year this week. Even though I felt like auctioning off my clubs after the first hole (and almost each one thereafter), I had a pretty good time . . . and actually got a decent workout.

Huh? Did he say “workout” and “golf” in the same sentence??? Just like I make softball a workout for myself, I ensure that my golf outings aren’t lazy drunken debacles. Some of that is by design; some of that is by virtue of my amazing lack of skill.

We unskilled golfers who just love the game for the sake of the game know and fully understand one of golf’s unspoken truths: Bad golfers get more exercise. Between walking a zigzag pattern down the fairway, hunting for balls in other fairways or out of bounds, and taking more than a par’s worth of swings, a lousy golfer is certainly working harder on the course than a scratch or other low-handicap golfer. But, it’s that PGA-material shot that you can pull off only 10% of the time that makes the game all worthwhile.

The particular course I played is a beautiful, wooded course with a layout that creates a significant amount of distance between several of the holes. The actual yardage of the holes alone (from the second tee’s, not the lady’s tees) is 5463 yards, which amounts to roughly 3.1 miles (if you play straight down the fairway). By no means is that a long course, by golf course standards, but it’s the between-holes walking that make it a trip. I don’t even dare estimate how much further I walked, but it was a decent distance.

As you are probably guessing, I’m not a golf cart kind of guy. In fact, I am quite opposed to golf carts and actually snicker under my breath at those who can’t fathom golfing a round without one. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve golfed with a cart, and that number doesn’t grow very quickly.

  • For the 70-year-old with a hip replacement who is addicted to golf . . . great, you, sir, deserve a cart.
  • For the typical American guy with no major medical crises . . . you may, in fact, need the exercise.

There are a few flavors of golf, depending on the level of fitness one is willing to incorporate into his (or her) game (in ascending order):

  • Golf cart – minimal walking, only as far as the cart won’t allow one to get to certain areas of the course. Don’t pat yourself on the back at the end of the day for getting your exercise – you just did the equivalent of a day at the driving range.
  • Remote cart – what in the world are these things? I could not believe my eyes when I first saw one of these. Only in America, I thought. I’ve gotta know – does the value of the satisfaction of owning one of those come anywhere close to what it costs to have one? These carts actually give the sport a lazy name.
  • Caddy – same as the remote cart. Must be nice. I wouldn’t want the poor thing cringing at my shots all day.
  • Push cart – decent, but still taking the easy way out. To me, any one who thinks they’re fit enough to swing a golf club at least 70 times should at least be able to push a cart for a few miles.
  • Carry your own clubs – the way golf was meant to be played. Here’s a calculator to help you estimate how many calories/hour you would burn while carrying your own clubs while golfing. My golf bag with clubs weighs 21 pounds, hardly a strain on any one.

Give it a whirl – make your next golf outing a bonus addition to your fitness plan. It still amazes me that people are willing to pay to exercise in a sweaty, unsanitary gym and then also pay to avoid exercise on a beautiful golf course. Think of how easy it would be to satisfy exercise requirements by putting in a couple rounds of golf weekly – on foot.

Back in the swing

Posted in Exercise, My training updates with tags , , , on May 5, 2008 by Dr. CJ

This is my favorite time of year, by far.  I love the in-between feeling of Spring and Summer, the emerging green grass and leaves, and, best yet, the start of softball

I had my first game last night and am geared up for more.  Many criticize baseball/softball as a lazy sport, where there’s not a consistent level of activity and thus is not good exercise.  Very true for some people . . . not me.

A little background, first – I’m on a co-ed team with a few people who have never played organized sports, let alone softball (makes for interesting moments).  On top of that, we were short two players last night.  In a situation like that, I become the ultimate utility player, trying to cover shortstop and most of left field, trying to snag any fly ball in the same zip code.  I was huffing and puffing nearly the whole game.  Amazingly, or maybe because the other team was lacking skill, we managed to win short-handed.

There are plenty of sprinting opportunities during a game, between batting/running bases and chasing balls in the field on defense – at times, it felt a little like one of my HIIT workouts. I’m also feeling some DOMS already, from tapping into those base-running muscles.

I’m not going to advocate for softball as a replacement for regular workouts, but it certainly has a place in my fitness regimen.  Every summer, I drop several pounds, which I largely attribute to the summer sports, primarily softball.  I also have the opportunity to play Monday nights as well, but I’ve decided to limit it to one night/week so I can maintain my weightlifting regimen ideally 3 days/week.

MS Walk ’08

Posted in Exercise, Medicine with tags , , , on May 4, 2008 by Dr. CJ

I participated in the MS Walk for the first time this morning, an event to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in their fight against Multiple Sclerosis.

Briefly, Multiple Sclerosis is a degenerative neurologic disease with varying manifestations and varying courses. Some people live with minimal to no recurrences, whereas others suffer severe, debilitating progression leading to rapid death. There is a roughly 2:1 predilection for women, and it typically occurs between the ages of 20 and 50.

Couple reasons I did the walk: 1) I was part of a group walking in support of someone with MS, and 2) I have patients with MS and believe it’s an important area for further research (or maybe “search” is a better term).

The walk in my area was a 6.5 mile route. In talking to people at the registration area, I learned that it was 9 miles last year, 12 the year before, and once was actually 18 miles.

I couldn’t help but think this steady drop in walking distance was related to the steady decline in people’s interest in their health. I’m sure it was also a matter of getting as many people to walk (and thereby raise more money) without turning away people who are weary of physical activity. I wonder: are all charity walk distances on the decline?

You can imagine the comments along the route, too. “Is that only mile four?” “I wonder how much longer it is.” It’s too bad that 6.5 miles is an extraordinary distance for so many people. I don’t expect that everyone be in tip-top shape, but a leisurely 6.5 mile walk should be almost routine.

On average, it takes 2000 steps to walk a mile. The 6.5 mile walk would then require roughly 13,000 steps. There has been a push for the past several years to encourage people to walk 10,000 steps in a day, with pedometers even being handed out at fast-food restaurants (ah, the irony), as a general guideline to increase physical activity. If one can manage 10,000 steps in a day (which isn’t actually that hard – I’ve monitored mine in the past), today’s walk would have been only a 30% improvement in distance from a regular day.

Regardless, thanks to everyone who participated in their local MS Walk or other charity walks, for that matter. Even if you don’t manage to secure a large amount of contributions, your presence is important as a show of support.

May 4, 2008

Posted in My training updates on May 4, 2008 by Dr. CJ

After a break from blogging for 2 weeks, I hope to be back in the mix.  Just too much going on lately – unfortunately my workouts have also suffered.  It started when I fell ill again; I had a nasty sore throat for several days and was just drained.  It’s been difficult to motivate myself since then.  We’ll see how it goes – my schedule never really slows down unless I take a vacation.

Lifestyle recommendations to lower your risk of cancer

Posted in Preventive Medicine with tags , , on April 20, 2008 by Dr. CJ

For what it’s worth, here is a summary of an updated report issued jointly by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), titled Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective

  1. Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight.
  2. Be physically active.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
  4. Eat mostly foods of plant origin.
  5. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat.
  6. Limit alcohol drinks.
  7. Limit consumption of salt.
  8. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone.
  9. Exclusively breastfeed infacts (no other liquids) for up to six months.
  10. Cancer survivors should follow the recommendation for cancer prevention.

Being overweight or obese was found to impose a much higher risk of cancer compared to lean individuals.

I offer #11: Pick your parents wisely – family history is a big factor.

The Dalai Lama goes to Mayo

Posted in Preventive Medicine, Rants and Raves with tags , , , , on April 16, 2008 by Dr. CJ

Here’s the type of news piece that gives me a good, long laugh – another worldly figure travels across the world to get an annual physical exam at the Mayo Clinic

No doubt, the Mayo Clinic is capable of doing great things – they have specialists so specialized that they have forgotten how to treat a common cold.  Who wouldn’t want an “expert” to manage an unusual condition?  Few people have unusual conditions, though.

I’ve seen patients in my clinic who go there for their annual exam.  For some reason, they feel that getting a clean bill of health from Mayo is some kind of blessing for eternal wellness.  Mayo is, in fact, good at coordinating a ridiculous number of labs, imaging, diagnostic tests, and doctor visits into a comprehensive day-long physical exam.  They are masters at communication and planning, apparently.  However, is there any benefit to this kind of overwhelmingly thorough evaluation?

This shotgun approach to an annual health exam is a dangerous venture for a few reasons. 

  1. It’s expensive.  I’d hate to be your insurance company staring at a list of charges you rack up on that one day.
  2. It cultivates a sense of urgency to “do everything” all the time.  People love to feel pampered – talk to your insurance company or whoever is actually paying for those charges.
  3. It leads to unnecessary follow-up testing.  Not all “abnormal” results are necessarily abnormal.  But, if you go fishing for everything when there’s no focus on a particular problem, you’re going to find a lot of junk, and you won’t know how to interpret it.
  4. It’s a poor use of resources.  Common things being common, most people don’t have “rare” diagnoses that require an expert on minutiae.  In an ideal world, we could find a way to maximize the efforts of the highly-specialized physicians who really don’t need to be dealing with routine conditions that could be managed by any other competent physician.  Do you need a world expert on obesity and metabolism to tell you that you need to eat better and exercise more? 

I don’t question their value in managing rare or difficult-to-treat conditions, but for the average individual it’s a complete waste of time and money.  It’s all about perspective – the things that are going to kill you are staring you in the face every day and are simple to manage.  There’s nothing glamorous about searching high and low to come up with weird explanations for common problems. 

Then again, I don’t know Buddha’s take on health.