How Safe are Genetically Modified Foods?

As with anything new, GM foods too have generated more than their share of controversy – from conspiracy theories to realistic concerns, we have seen the gamut of reactions against foods that are modified genetically. How safe are these foods for human consumption – this is the question that is uppermost on people’s minds. However, how many people know that 60 to 70 percent of the processed foods on US grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients? With soy, maize, cotton and rapeseed oil being the most common GM foods, almost all or most of the foods made with corn or with high fructose corn syrup contain genetically modified ingredients. This includes most breakfast cereals, sodas, and processed snacks that you wouldn’t think twice about buying off a supermarket shelf.

The safety aspect rears its head in four ways:

  • Toxicity: Is the resultant genetic structure toxic to human health when consumed or when it comes into contact with human beings? With regular foods, we know by now which parts are toxic (like the seeds of some fruits) and which are not. With GM foods, it is hard to tell because there haven’t been many tests conducted on even animals, leave alone human beings.
  • Allergenicity: Do these foods induce allergies in people, and would the allergic reactions be fatal? Many people are allergic to normal foods like peanuts, gluten, and even dairy. They know they must avoid these foods because they could become severely ill, suffer serious respiratory problems, or even die due to anaphylactic shock. However, with GM foods, it is hard to know whether they’re going to trigger existing allergies and/or cause new ones. And if the boxes are not labeled (they are not in the USA), then there is practically no way of knowing what brought on the allergic reaction.
  • Gene transfer: What happens if the new gene transfers from the food into the human body? Will it cause antibiotics to function less effectively? There is a distinct probability of this, especially if the gene that is used to modify food hasn’t been tested properly in the human system.
  • Outcrossing: What happens when the gene crosses over from one kind of food to another either in the fields or during transportation or storage? There was an incident where GM maize which had been approved for animal consumption contaminated regular maize crops which were intended for human consumption. This could severely affect food safety and security on a massive scale.

In spite of all these drawbacks and negative aspects of GM foods, why do organizations persist with it? There are many reasons being cited for this, including the fact that GM foods are more resistant to pests and so don’t need the use of harmful and toxic pesticides and herbicides. Also, GM foods can be the answer to combating food shortages during times of crop loss and damage because of inclement weather and other calamities, natural or manmade. However, the bottom line is money and power – with patents being provided for GM foods, there is a beeline to jump on this bandwagon, and I’m sure most in the line are not doing it just for altruistic reasons.

What Do You Do if Your Child Insists on Junk Food?

It’s sort of an irony that food, which is very important for our survival, is the very thing that can hasten bad health and death as well. If you don’t eat right, there’s always something wrong with you – you fall ill more often, you’re prone to disease and suffering, and you’re always battling to keep your weight down. And since childhood is the best time to inculcate good habits in your kids, you must start early in teaching them to eat healthy and avoid junk foods and others that are not conducive to good health. However, you cannot supervise your child at all times or insulate them from outside influences; so you must be prepared for them to want to eat unhealthy food because their peers are doing it and because it seems much tastier and appetizing. So what do you do if they insist on eating junk food in spite of your advice against it?

  • Explain to them why junk food is bad: Kids don’t take too well to being ordered around; it’s in their nature to rebel against authority. So instead of shouting at them and forbidding them to eat junk food, sit them down and discuss the negative aspects of unhealthy food with them. Tell them why you insist on eating healthy instead of giving them ultimatums and “or elses”. When you ask reasonably instead of demanding and ordering them around, they tend to listen to you more. They may not altogether stop eating junk food, but they might limit it to the minimum.
  • Use strategic arguments: If they’re pre-teens or teens who are just beginning to accord importance to the way they look, point out to them how junk food will increase their weight and make them obese. Also, the grease and sugar in unhealthy food wreak havoc on their skin and makes them break out into acne or pimples. Tell your daughters that healthy food gives them a glowing complexion and tell your sons that foods rich in protein and vitamins helps grow muscles faster and stronger. When you plan your words in ways that are sure to get through to them, it’s easier to keep them off junk food.
  • Allow them to indulge once in a while: Starvation is the fastest route to binge eating because you’re so desperate for food that you eat much more than you’re supposed to when you get your hands on it. Similarly, if you ban junk food from your kids’ lives altogether, you’re only setting them up to binge when they’re with friends who’re at a fast food joint or not too particular about what they eat. So allow them to eat junk food once in a while, as long as it does not form part of most of their meals and a compulsion whenever they have access to it.
  • Get them to exercise more: And finally, get your kids more interested in exercise to make them feel good about themselves and helps to boost their health and keep their weight down. They don’t have to work out like adults, it’s enough for them to take up a sport and play it enthusiastically. When they get to exercise more, they start to eat less junk food too because they begin to care about the way they look and the state of their health.

You know your kids best, so keep improvising and coming up with new ways to keep them off junk food and food that’s unhealthy.

Depression, Anti-Depressants and Health

The very word depression causes red flags to be raised – some people feel that it is not really a medical condition and that’s up to the individual to pull themselves out of this condition; others know that it’s not that easy to relieve clinical depression and that medication and therapy go a long way in helping people manage their symptoms and lead a near-normal life. Even so, we tend to accord a wide berth to people with depression – after all, it’s a kind of mental illness, isn’t it?

Yes, it is mental in that it affects the brain and causes chemical imbalances which in turn affect your mood. But if you knew that people who have been prescribed anti-depressants stand a better chance at good heart health than you, if you knew that depression would make you feel better about yourself after a cosmetic surgery, would it change the way you perceived depression?

Researchers at the Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood have found that certain antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) reduced the risk of platelets (the tiny blood cells that are involved in the process of clotting) lumping together and so boost heart health. This means that patients with depression who are normally at a higher risk for heart disease stand to benefit by the ingestion of SSRIs.

Also, if you’re on anti-depressants, you’re more likely to be satisfied with the results of your cosmetic surgery. Sounds funny and unrelated? No, not if you were to believe a study conducted at the University of Michigan which found that patients who were in therapy or taking antidepressants for depression and who underwent a cosmetic surgery (such as a nose job) were much more likely to be satisfied with the results of the surgery than those who were not clinically depressed. The study also found that age, medical history, marital status, education and personality had a role to play in the level of satisfaction after a cosmetic procedure.

Another study conducted at the Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, Iran, found that certain antidepressants helped women with a very low sex drive (known as hypoactive sex drive disorder) show improvement. Low sex drive is associated with depression or side effects from other medication.

A word of warning – even though antidepressants are proving to be beneficial in so many more ways than just helping to cope with and beat depression, it is not advisable to take them without a prescription or without valid reason.

Radiologists as Bearers of Bad News – Areas of Improvement

There’s bad news, and then there’s really bad news. You can bear the first, but the second kind takes a really long time to sink in, and once it does, you know life will never be the same again. Probably the worst part of a radiologist’s work is that they are often forced to be the bearer of really bad news –  no one likes to hear the words tumor or cancer, even if it’s benign or just the beginning of the dreaded disease. So when radiologists see bad news, they’re hesitant about breaking it to the patient, either because they don’t know how to or because they feel that the family physician is the best person for the job.

But patients today are an impatient and intelligent lot – they’re chomping at the bit to know the outcome of their scan, and if you don’t tell them, they start to imagine the worst even if there’s no bad news. So it more or less falls to the radiologist to be the one to break the diagnosis to them, and if they mess up the process, they could end up causing much more mental trauma to the already stricken patient. There are a few areas where radiologists could work on their communication skills with patients, especially when they have to give them bad news. In general, radiologists could do the following:

  • Avoid technical and medical jargon and stick to human-speak: Not everyone is familiar with even the simplest of medical terms, so don’t use terms that your patients are unlikely to understand. Keep it simple and straightforward, and get to the point without beating around the bush.
  • Make sure a loved one is with the patient: It’s best to ensure that a spouse or loved one is present when you break bad news that could cause emotional trauma. It makes the tragedy a little easier to bear.
  • Read the patients’ reactions before giving them more bad news: Don’t push on with delivering the news even when you can see that the patient is suffering an emotional breakdown. Learn how to read their emotions before you finish what you have to say.
  • Break the bad news into smaller portions: In general, it’s best to break the bad news into smaller portions that are easier to take. If it’s cancer or a malignant tumor, patients react badly because they know what to expect – the worst. So it’s ok if you don’t tell them everything in one go.
  • Avoid giving them false hope or unnecessary reasons to worry: Don’t scare your patients by making their illness more serious than it actually is or give them false hope when you know there is none. Give them the facts in a humane manner, be kind and gentle when delivering the news, and let them react as they should.
  • Direct them to talk to their physician: Encourage patients to meet with their primary care providers at the earliest so that any future treatment can be charted out.
  • Allow them to give vent to their emotions: And finally, don’t judge patients for giving vent to their emotions. There is bound to be a range of them – anger, denial, guilt, sadness, misery, shock, and others. So allow them some time alone, and if they’re not with family or friends, encourage them to call someone they can trust with the news.

When bad news is delivered in the right way, it makes a significant difference in the way patients cope with the disease.

Dual Eligibles – What Does The Future of Healthcare Reform Hold?

There’s a lot you can say about the healthcare reform and its future, and unfortunately, opinion is divided. Probably one good thing you can say is that it seeks to eliminate waste and bring about transparency and accountability in the way healthcare services are provided to the citizens of the USA. Right now, even though an enormous amount of money is being spent, those who deserve the most care are not really getting what they need. And what’s more, there is no accountability for this waste.

If you consider the dual eligibles – the approximately 9 million seniors and adults with disabilities who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare, they currently account for $250 billion every year, a sum that is almost half of the total Medicaid expenditure and one fourth of total Medicare costs. Even with all this money being earmarked for them, most of them are still in fee-for-service care.

More than half of the dual eligibles are above the age of 65, and of those who are younger, half are disabled or affected by chronic illness that requires them to seek continuous and constant care. Around 25 percent of dual eligibles are in very poor health and need skilled nursing care around the clock. Also, those who belong to lower income groups suffer from more health conditions like diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s only natural that this group, because of its specialized needs, costs more to serve. In general, the cost of care provided to dual eligibles is twice as much as that given to other Medicare beneficiaries. And with younger members of this group living longer than their older counterparts, you can see why the cost of providing care for them is very high.

The problem with the current system is that when it comes to dual eligibles, there is cost shifting from Medicaid to Medicare and vice versa because both want to optimize their revenues. Also, healthcare providers do not have any incentives to be cost-efficient and effective in the care they provide. They are usually looking out for their financial viability first. This gives rise to waste (unnecessary admissions and readmissions in hospitals and other acts that waste healthcare resources), and the shifting of responsibility and accountability from Medicare to Medicaid and in the reverse direction. There is confusion regarding coverage and payment, especially when it comes to benefits that overlap.

The healthcare reform seeks to identify how states can improve the efficacy of the care provided to dual eligibles. In general, the reforms hope to focus the system of care on the beneficiary and remove ambiguity by merging the services so that administrative hassles over different ID cards, services, providers and administrative providers become a thing of the past. If the healthcare reform is able to achieve coordination between Medicare and Medicaid with respect to the care accorded to dual eligibles and remove the fragmentation that currently exists in the system, the future of dual eligibles seems bright – finally, they will receive the quality care they deserve.