Category Archives: Complementary medicine

Wanna replace all those medicines?

eCigarettes: A Smoking Gun?

Isn’t this just replacing one addition with another?

Relief for your Nose

This week’s announcement that CVS pharmacies will stop selling cigarettes is welcome news to us. Aside from undisputed concerns about smoking leading to death and disease, our resident allergy and sinus expert often lectures patients about the allergic reactions smokers and their nearby victims can experience.

smoking, asthma, allergies, vapor, The chemicals and noxious particles from smoking cigarettes causes inflammation and swelling of nasal passages resulting in sneezing, itchy sinuses, and runny, stuffy noses. For people with asthma, these allergic reactions can lead to more serious symptoms.

Some smokers trying to avoid the potential for disease may resort to the newly popular electronic cigarettes which purport to have fewer amounts of nicotine and chemicals among other benefits. The eCigarettes are battery operated and emit a vapor so the user simulates smoking.

But the Food and Drug Association is not so quick to sign off on this alternative, citing a need for more research. Because…

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Why Does Vitamin D work?

Asthma sufferers may benefit more from inhaling vitamin D than the steroids usually prescribed for the condition.  And besides, aren’t we all concerned with side effects from steroids? A new study from the U.K. identifies a mechanism through which the vitamin can significantly reduce asthma symptoms and suggests it may offer a new method of treatment. Continue reading Why Does Vitamin D work?

Vitamin D isn’t just for Rickets anymore!

Sunset at the Florida Keys!
Sunset at the Florida Keys!

While on vacation in the Florida Keys, I was impressed with how quickly my legs and forehead turned from white to lobster red…ouch another sunburn!  Surely there must be some benefit (and definitely beauty) for all this pain.  Your answer awaits….it’s Vitamin D.

Natural medicine and traditional medicine often don’t see “eye to eye”, but Vitamin D is different.  In fact, Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all, it’s a hormone.  Vitamins can’t be produced by the body without an external source in foods or other supplements.  Hormones, on the other hand, are manufactured by brain/endocrine cells, and in the case of Vitamin D by the skin. 

So why as an allergist do I really care about getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D?

  • It appears that Vitamin D may be one of the few supplements that reduces infections.  (sinusitis and pneumonia)
  • Vitamin D has a role in reducing allergy and asthma.  This beneficial effect has the proof of clinical trials. 
  • Asthma patients on inhaled corticosteroids are at risk of developing osteoporosis if Vitamin D levels are too low. 
  • Your body can’t utilize calcium if your vitamin D level is low. 
  • If your Vitamin D level isn’t > 30, you need to supplement with 1,000-2,000 units per day. (available over-the-counter)

New Hope 360 says it best in this video:

For the full article, click here– New Hope 360 full article

Don’t ask….don’t tell!

If patients don’t think you as a doctor are open to discussion about complementary medicine, guess what? 

Ask your doctor about complementary medicine–don’t be silent any longer!

They won’t talk!  This web site is to prove that the Federal Government is interested in “bridging the gap” between traditional medicine and the complementary approach.  I would advise you to visit with your doctor about complementary medicines and treatment for allergies & asthma. 

NCCAM website

Provocative study!

 Or at least as sexy as you can get for a vitamin.  Of all the vitamins out there, vitamin D has the most PROVEN benefit for allergies & asthma.  Remember the cod liver oilWhat we grew up on for Vit D!Of course you don’t….you’re not that old!

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012;12(1):13-17. © 2012

The importance of vitamin D as an essential nutrient is well known, given its role in calcium and phosphate homeostasis. Over the past two decades, the influence of vitamin D on the immune system has become increasingly clear.  Recent work has elucidated that vitamin D harbors actions more akin to hormones and pro-hormones. The discovery of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) has stimulated more research into the nature of this vitamin which has, subsequently, been shown to be a steroid hormone. This steroid constitutes a component of a complex endocrine pathway termed the ‘Vitamin D endocrine system’.  Investigators have found that vitamin D plays an integral role in the induction of cell differentiation, inhibition of cell growth, immunomodulation, and regulation of other hormonal systems.  This review seeks to highlight the recent research with respect to vitamin D and its role in chronic rhinitis and chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS).  The results show higher levels of Vit D are associated with fewer problems with allergy and sinusitis.

The effects of Vitamin D

Although these results are extremely compelling, the Mulligan study suffers from a small sample size. Future work may extrapolate these data to a larger patient set, ideally through a prospective study, which would help clarify the role of vitamin D in the pathophysiology of CRS. Systemic vitamin D levels could, potentially, be added to the routine workup of patients suffering from CRS and these data could be used to help determine the disease severity and possibly even treatment. To this end, a recent Polish study evaluated the role of vitamin D in the reduction of fibroblast proliferation in vitro from nasal polyps in patients with CRS.  A statistically significant decrease in fibroblast proliferation was noted with calcitriol and tacalcitol treatment. Furthermore, increasingly higher doses induced a greater suppressive effect on fibroblast proliferation. This study is a first step towards investigating the utility of topical vitamin D analogs for the treatment of CRS.  Wow–topical Vitamin D for treatment of sinusitis?!

Conclusions from this work:

  • Early research suggests that vitamin D is involved in the pathophysiology of chronic rhinitis and chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS).
  • It is intriguing to consider the possibility that abnormal vitamin D blood levels – or even the local tissue concentration of vitamin D – could be a critical influencing factor in chronic rhinitis and CRS pathophysiology.
  • The concept of the unified airway “one airway, one disease” would suggest that similar associations from the asthma literature will be found with regards to allergic rhinitis, chronic rhinitis, and CRS.
  • Randomized controlled trials are needed to further evaluate vitamin D and its relationship to allergic rhinitis, chronic rhinitis, and CRS.
  • These findings may then direct researchers to pursue clinical trials aimed at evaluating vitamin D and its analogs as potential therapeutic interventions.

So…..in other words, OPEN UP! 

I usually don’t trash talk, but….

 You should be concerned about the effects of asthma medication on the developing fetus; fortunately, birth defects are rare and often overstated, but you always have to maintain vigilance for new developments.
 
Why the concern about atresia? 
 

Maternal Asthma Medication Use May Cause Certain Birth Defects

Approximately 4% to 12% of pregnant women have asthma. Current clinical guidelines recommend that women with asthma maintain asthma therapy use during pregnancy. These medications act in 2 ways: as bronchodilators or anti-inflammatories. Few studies have examined the effects of maternal asthma medication use on birth defects.

The aim of this study by Lin and colleagues was to examine whether maternal asthma medication use during early pregnancy increases the risk for selected birth defects.  (Pediatrics. Published online January 16, 2012)

Study Synopsis and Perspective

A recent study found a statistically significant increase in the risk for isolated esophageal atresia, isolated anorectal atresia, and omphalocele in infants whose mothers used asthma medications within the month before conception or during the first 3 months of pregnancy.

Shao Lin, PhD, from the Center for Environmental Health, New York State Department of Health, Troy, and colleagues reported their study results in an article published online January 16 in Pediatrics.

The researchers used data collected for the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, an ongoing, multicenter, population-based, case-control study of the causes of birth defects that has been collecting data from 10 states in the United States since 1997 by conducting interviews with mothers and analyzing DNA obtained from cheek swabs from family members. That study includes both infants with 1 or more specified birth defects (diaphragmatic hernia, esophageal atresia, small intestinal atresia, anorectal atresia, neural tube defects, omphalocele, or limb deficiencies) and control infants without those birth defects.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data from a case group consisting of 2853 live births, stillbirths, or elective terminations with estimated dates of delivery from October 1, 1997, through December 31, 2005, and with 1 or more of the identified birth defects. The control group comprised 6726 infants born alive and without birth defects during the same period, randomly selected from birth hospital information or birth certificates.

Dr. Lin’s team concentrated on periconceptional use of anti-inflammatory medications, bronchodilators, or both. They defined exposure as use of asthma medication once or more from 1 month before conception through the third month of gestation. Mothers who described their medication use as only “as needed” and who could not provide an exact time frame for use were excluded from the study.  (This is a good study design to exclude these patients…doesn’t give you biased results for minimal exposure)

The study found a statistically significant association between isolated esophageal atresia and bronchodilator use only (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.39; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.23 – 4.66). The aORs for esophageal atresia and anti-inflammatory use only (aOR, 1.61; 95% CI, 0.69 – 3.76) and for use of both bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications (aOR, 2.93; 95% CI, 0.88 – 9.75) were elevated, but were not statistically significant.

There was a statistically significant increase in the risk for isolated anorectal atresia associated with anti-inflammatory use only (aOR, 2.12; 95% CI, 1.09 – 4.12).

Use of both bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications was associated with a statistically significant increase in the risk for isolated omphalocele (aOR, 4.13; 95% CI, 1.43 – 11.95).

The results are not all bad however.  The medications studied were not significantly associated with 6 other birth defects studied (neural tube defects, anencephaly, spina bifida, small intestinal atresia, limb deficiency, and diaphragmatic hernia).

The researchers performed a stratified analysis by time of medication use, using the periconceptional period and the period from the fourth through ninth month of gestation. The positive associations were found only in infants of women who took the medications during the periconceptional period, and not in infants whose mothers took the medications only in the fourth through ninth months of pregnancy. 

My comment—>by the time you know you’re pregnant, you’ve had the exposure!

The authors write that from 60% to 67% of mothers of infants with esophageal atresia, anorectal atresia, and omphalocele used bronchodilators during their entire pregnancy, although these data were not shown.

This is a key point–“With the interview information available for analysis, we were unable to distinguish between the effects of asthma and those of asthma medications; however, we did observe that mothers with possible indicators of uncontrolled asthma or severe asthma episodes (eg, use of multiple bronchodilators) were at higher risk for delivering a child with 1 of the defects studied than those who used 1 bronchodilator,” the authors write.

“When regular use of bronchodilators is required, an activated inflammatory process is implied; thus, use of bronchodilators throughout pregnancy might indicate that these mothers had frequent or ongoing inflammatory exacerbations during pregnancy,” they add.

Noting the importance of controlling asthma during pregnancy, the authors write, “The current clinical guidelines and specific recommendations for aggressive asthma management during pregnancy should remain unchanged.”

“Given the low baseline prevalence of these defects, if the observed association proved to be causal, the absolute risks of asthma medications on these rare defects would be small,” they conclude.

The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Clinical Implications

  • Clinical guidelines recommend that women with asthma maintain asthma medication use during pregnancy.
  • In the current study, positive associations were observed for anorectal atresia, esophageal atresia, and omphalocele and maternal periconceptional use of asthma medications, but not for other birth defects studied.

You must want to know how to treat esophageal atresia?

New book on the market–has anyone read this? Opinions are welcome!

I don’t usually post articles about political subjects in medicine, but this one caught my eye.  Let me know what you think. 

ATLANTA – The woman walked quietly into the busy emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta’s safety net hospital for the poor and uninsured. She waited four or five hours to be seen, sitting patiently on a gurney and clutching a plastic bag.

  • By Otis Brawley, professor of hematology and oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, visits with patients at Grady Memorial Hospital. He is accompanied by Amanda Yassin, Pharmacy student at South University, and Brian Lingerfelt, oncology fellow at Grady Memorial Hospital.Michael A. Schwarz, USA TODAY (full link to the article)
  • Otis Brawley, professor of hematology and oncology at the Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, visits with patients at Grady Memorial Hospital. He is accompanied by Amanda Yassin, Pharmacy student at South University, and Brian Lingerfelt, oncology fellow at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Inside the bag was a moist blue towel. Wrapped inside that towel was her right breast. She was hoping it could be reattached.

Doctors in the United States don’t see cancer patients like this every day. A mixture of fear, poverty and lack of paid sick leave had led her to delay cancer treatment for years. Eventually, the tumor grew so large that it cut off the blood supply, causing her right breast to die and fall off, says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, who saw the woman in the ER that morning in 2003.

In his new book, How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America, Brawley presents the woman’s suffering as a metaphor for a rotting health system that is run, he says, “by the greedy serving the gluttonous.”

Americans often assume that more is better. But supersizing

Supersize Me!

your healthcare — by getting tests and procedures that you don’t really need and which aren’t based on sound science — can kill you, according to a revealing new book by the American Cancer Society’s chief medical officer, Otis Brawley. 

A nation of extremes

Brawley uses the book, on sale this week (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99) and co-written with journalist Paul Goldberg, to show that ours is a nation of extremes, with the poor or uninsured frequently denied even the most basic care while the well-insured often are “overtreated,” receiving unproven drugs and procedures that can cause real harm.

On the other end, he writes, “wealth in America is no protection from getting lousy care.… Wealth can increase your risk of getting lousy care. If you have more money, doctors sell you more of what they sell, and they just might kill you.”

Brawley says he doesn’t want to ration care or dash the hopes of desperate patients who are willing to gamble on experimental therapies. But he says he’s tired of those hopes being exploited by a medical system that’s too lazy to insist that care be based on science rather than profit or best guesses.

Patient advocates such as Fran Visco, a breast cancer survivor, welcome Brawley’s call to action. “We pour so much money into overtreatment,” says Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. “All of that could be channeled into getting more people care.”

Brawley’s message may resonate with policymakers because of his high rank within the cancer society, says Dartmouth Medical School professor Lisa Schwartz, who co-wrote a book last year called Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. Brawley’s folksy style and sense of humor — his take on medicine is often darkly funny — makes complex issues easy for the public to understand, says Barry Kramer, director of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute.

There is always another opinion about every book published and here it is—>

“I’m quite sure Otis remembers the patients who didn’t do well, more than the patients who did, because that’s the kind of caring individual he is,” says Michael Friedman, director of City of Hope cancer center in Duarte, Calif. “It’s not that Otis has all the answers, but he’s asking all the right questions.”

Some point out that doctors aren’t deliberately trying to harm their patients.

But doctors may not question the system, either, says Thomas Smith, director of palliative care at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. “Most doctors are sleepwalkers, not evildoers,” Smith says.

“A lot of people are trying to do their best in a broken system,” Schwartz says, adding that it’s too simple to say it’s all about greed. “It’s about how hard it is to come up with a system that gives people what they need.”

Making the best decision about care — such as when to provide hospice care, for example, rather than more invasive procedures — can be complicated and doesn’t necessarily reflect a doctor’s desire to make money, says Smith.

Smith agrees with Brawley that changing the system will require educating patients and families. “This can’t come just from doctors and nurses. It will require some changes in society and people, to accept the medical facts,” Smith says.

Patients affect care, too

Brawley notes that patients themselves often ask for unproven treatments, even demanding that insurers pay for them. In many cases, however, those extra tests and treatments aren’t in patients’ best interests. “Prostate-cancer screening and aggressive treatment may save lives,” Brawley writes, “but it definitely sells adult diapers.”

Standing at the window of Grady’s tenth-floor cancer center, in his white doctor’s coat, Brawley points out Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King once preached, and the building where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference met. “This is the cradle of the civil rights movement,” Brawley says.

And like the civil rights movement, change will have to come from the bottom up, Brawley says, and from patients who have had enough.

“The health care system is dramatically broken,” Brawley says. “All of us need to radically change. I’m convinced that health care transformation is a civil rights issue.”

Brawley has broken ranks with his peers before, often by saying things on the record — clearly, and in colorful language — that others acknowledge only in private.

While his supervisors at the cancer society have always supported him — Brawley says he was a “known commodity” when hired in 2007 — his unvarnished assessments of cancer drugs and screening tests have often gotten him in hot water with patient advocates, and even cancer society members. While Brawley recommends mammograms, he says doctors should be honest with women about their limitations and risks: “There is this pervasive belief,” he says, “that mammography is better than it is.”

Prostate cancer advocate Tom Kirk is familiar with Brawley’s arguments, and his rhetorical flourishes. “There are a great number of us who have learned to engage with Otis, and it is rare that he says something about prostate cancer where there isn’t a chorus of us who respond,” says Kirk, president and chief executive officer of the group Us TOO. While Kirk says he appreciates Brawley’s efforts to get men to think carefully about health care decisions, he also fears that men could use Brawley’s words as an excuse to avoid doctors entirely. Men “have come too far in this country not to play an active role in our health care,” Kirk says.

Brawley praises other patient-led efforts, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD. The free training program teaches patients and their supporters to understand medical evidence, and advocate for treatments and policies that reflect the best science.

Consumers typically misinterpret any attempt to limit care as a cost-saving scheme, Schwartz says. “Even if we had all the money in the world,” Schwartz says, “we would still want to make better decisions about how to make people feel better and live longer.”

Some of Brawley’s concerns are already being addressed, says John McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Beginning next year, Medicare will penalize facilities where patients get a lot of hospital-acquired infections, and where a lot of patients are readmitted shortly after being discharged, McDonough says.

The Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law championed by the Obama administration, also provided funding for a research center that compares existing treatments against each other, something that’s not ordinarily done when new drugs are approved, McDonough says.

The Affordable Care Act also creates community groups, called accountable care organizations, through which hospitals can work with local groups to improve community health, says Gerard Anderson, of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

But McDonough also says it’s not possible to make the system work perfectly. “The notion that there is a pure, rational way to do something, on which everyone could agree, just doesn’t fit reality,” McDonough says.

And Anderson says that even the most educated and empowered patients may still have trouble challenging their doctors.

“When your doctor says, ‘You need this procedure,’ it’s really hard to say, ‘Really? I don’t think I need that,’ ” Anderson says.

“We just don’t have enough information as consumers.”

Too much of a good thing? 

Here are some of my thoughts about procedures in allergy & asthma:

  • Are too many allergy patients placed on immunotherapy (allergy shots)?
  • Testing for lung function (PFTs) can be expensive, but this test is very helpful for the proper diagnosis.  Is the cost worth it for you?
  • This article didn’t mention the legal aspect of NOT performing a test.  Doctors won’t get a break in court if they didn’t perform a test and say “I was trying to save the patient money.” 

Don’t think we’ll get this solved today but let’s have fun with it.