Archives for March 2011

Radiation concerns from Japan

Radiation concerns from Japan

There is mounting concern that radiation leaking from the Japanese Fukushima nuclear power plants could affect human health. It is very difficult to get solid information, but reports I have seen indicate that the radioactive isotopes of concern are iodine 131, strontium 90,cesium 137 and plutonium 239. Iodine 131 is the most immediate concern because iodine forms the structural basis of thyroxine, a hormone synthesized by the thyroid gland. Free iodine is taken up by the thyroid and stored until it is utilized or otherwise eliminated from the body. Given the thyroid's affinity for iodine, radioactive iodine is rapidly taken up by the thyroid, where it emits radiation (beta/gamma particles) that promotes local cell mutations that can lead to thyroid cancer. In acute exposure to iodine 131 people are counselled to take potassium iodide to fill up the thyroid with iodine so that the radioactive iodine is not absorbed instead. While this does protect against specific damage to the … [Read more...]

Hyperlipidemia 101

Hyperlipidemia 101

A couple days ago I blogged on the issue of hypertension and whether it is actually disease. I described it as a self-reinforcing concept that appears to be true, but only if you accept the erroneous premise of the argument. Hypertension, I argued, is not a disease but merely a diagnostic sign, and that by treating a diagnostic sign we mask our ability to monitor the progression of the disease. There are many other diseases in Western medicine that are defined, at least in terms of treatment, not by their symptomology or cause, but by their diagnostic signs. A similar issue is hyperlipidemia, or ‘high cholesterol’. For years now people have been worried about their cholesterol levels, which like hypertension, is just a simple measurement of a very narrow parameter of physiological function. Like hypertension, you can walk around with elevated cholesterol and not know it. On its own, elevated cholesterol doesn't cause any problem, and there are no noticeable symptoms. Yet despite this, … [Read more...]

Is hypertension a disease?

Is hypertension a disease?

Simply put, hypertension is an increase in blood pressure. It is a diagnostic feature developed during the early 1900s with the invention of the sphygmomanometer, and over the last 100 years or so of experimental evidence has been associated with an increased risk of chronic illness and death. Very clearly chronic high blood pressure is not a good sign, and as such it has received a lot of attention. Most hypertension is diagnosed as 'essential' hypertension.  It has no observable cause but nonetheless enjoys the prestige of being an important disease, right up there with necrotizing fasciitis and cancer.  Perhaps this doesn't confuse anyone with a strict medical background, but unlike bacterial infections and tumors, both of which have very clear causes, the induction of hypertension into the Hall of Disease seems rather over-reaching.  In Ayurveda the concept of diagnosis is called 'nidana', which itself means 'causes'.  In other words diseases aren't named unless the cause is … [Read more...]