Author Archives: Carey Goldberg

Project Louise: On Exercise, Sex, Free Stuff And The Secret Of Life

(Edson Fong via Compfight)

(Edson Fong via Compfight)

 

Dear Louise,

Let me be blunt: I’m afraid you’ve been having sex without orgasms.

When it comes to exercise, that is.

To extend this ham-handed metaphor a bit farther: I know some people say there’s no such thing as bad sex unless it hurts you. And of course there’s no such thing as bad exercise unless it hurts you. Any bit of activity, any rise from the couch, any flight of stairs, is good.

But I worry that halfway through your Project Louise year, while you’ve made truly laudable progress on healthier eating and emotional self-care, you clearly have yet to catch the exercise bug. Oh, you’ve tried, heroically, from bike rides to hot yoga to personal training. But it somehow hasn’t stuck.

So that’s the purpose of this letter: To try to jump-start your fitness, to remind you that in your original goals you listed “Create and follow a regular, sustainable exercise plan”; and most importantly, to try to persuade you that exercise — daily exercise, moderate to vigorous — is the magical secret of life.

(Readers, won’t you help? As in, let’s all pile on Louise! I end this letter with a few of my own quirky personal tips for making exercise a daily habit. If you’ll add a few of your own in the comments section, or whatever arguments you think might most help Louise get going, you’ll be rewarded not only by knowing you’ve helped but with a bit of WBUR swag. Just send an email to membership@wbur.org with “exercise tips” in the subject line, and specify whether you want a WBUR cup or baseball cap sent to the address you give.

And we can also all help with accountability. Louise has agreed that beginning tomorrow, she’ll get some form of activity or exercise every day by 7 p.m. and report in on it by 11 p.m. in the comments section below.)

True, we’re aiming for sustainable change and reporting to an online audience every day does not seem like a lifelong practice. But this is just for the month, just to try to establish the habit.

Some say it takes just 21 days to establish a new habit; it’s surely more complex than that – some research suggests the average is more like two months — but here’s how you know you’re there: It’s harder not to do it than to do it.

Louise, I do believe that’s the key. You’ve said that you don’t make time for exercise the way you do for reading because it’s not as pleasurable. I’d so love you to reach the point I’ve reached: I do enjoy the exercise in and of itself, but what most motivates me is the desire not to feel like crap on a given day. It’s harder to face the torpor and irritability of not doing it than the brief sweaty effort of doing it. Continue reading

Control: Why We Get Sucked Into Insanity (And Other Intense Workout Programs)

My insanity workout in my recycling bin, waiting for regifting (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

“Insanity” workout in the recycling bin, waiting for regifting (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth intern

It’s time to come clean: Like my colleague, Carey, I too am an “Insanity” dropout.

Some people may say we’re weak or wimpy or quitters—in fact, many commenters declare just that—but a new study suggests that we fell into a very common marketing trap. We were bored by the same old exercises and hungry for something new—something intense. What we didn’t realize was that we might well be looking to intensity as a way to reassert control.

The new study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that when a person’s sense of control is jeopardized, they are more likely to buy products that require hard work.

And man, are those workout programs hard. My first time trying Insanity—a high-intensity interval training program—I thought the 9-minute warmup was the actual workout. But Sean T, my glistening TV trainer, encouraged me to dig deeper. While simultaneously cursing his existence, I also managed to convince myself that somewhere deep, deep inside me I did have the strength to finish.

Turns out, my need to complete the workout every day for a month may have been about something more than just a boost to my usual fitness routine. According to the study, I may have been using ski jumps and burpees to regain some sense of control over my life.

From the press release:

“Intuitively, it would seem that feeling a loss of control might cause consumers to seek out a product that does NOT require them to exert very much effort. But we find that consumers actually look to products that require hard work to restore their belief that they can drive their own positive outcomes,” write authors Keisha M. Cutright (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) and Adriana Samper (Arizona State University).

By looking across five smaller studies, the authors assessed how people’s feelings of control over health or fitness influenced their selection of products demanding either high or low effort. Those who felt a low sense of control were likelier to choose tougher programs and mantras. For instance, one study found that basketball players just defeated in a game were more likely to purchase shoes with the tagline, “Work harder, Jump higher.” Continue reading

Winning The Lottery: Study Links School Quality To Teen Health

 

(Compfight)

(Compfight)

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth Intern

Successful high schools don’t just mean higher academic achievement, a new study finds. They may also mean healthier behaviors among teens.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, compared students from highly rated charter high schools with those from regular public high schools—all located in low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The researchers found that students from the charter schools not only performed much better on math and English standard tests. These students also reported less very risky health behaviors, including unprotected sex, carrying a weapon, and gang membership, compared to district school students.

Retention in the same school may be the most important factor, they found.

However, the effects were much less dramatic when it came to more moderate health risks. In fact, when the researchers looked at recent use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, there was virtually no difference between the two groups.

To select the two groups of students, the researchers took advantage of the lottery admissions system used by many charter schools. Continue reading

Inspired By Family Illness, Philanthropist Gives $650 Million For Psychiatric Research

The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT  summer student Lydia Emerson and aesearch associate Aldo Amaya. (Courtesy/Kelly Davidson Photography)

Researchers at the Broad Institute plan to use Ted Stanley’s money to catalog all the genetic variations that contribute to severe psychiatric disorders. (Courtesy/Kelly Davidson Photography)

In the largest-ever donation to psychiatric research, Connecticut businessman Ted Stanley is giving $650 million to the Eli and Edythe Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The goal — to find and treat the genetic underpinnings of mental illnesses — was inspired by a family experience.

Ted Stanley made his fortune in the collectibles business. He founded The Danbury Mint, a company (later MBI, Inc.) whose first product was a series of medals commemorating the biggest scientific achievement of its time: the moon landing in 1969. While his business grew, his son Jonathan Stanley grew up as a normal Connecticut kid. Until, at age 19, Jonathan came down with bipolar disorder with psychosis, which got worse over the next three years.

“We’ll call it the epiphany from my dad’s standpoint at least,” Jonathan Stanley remembered of the turning point in his illness. “I went three days straight running through the streets of New York, no food, no water, no money, running from secret agents. And not surprisingly, after I stripped naked in a deli, ended up in a psychiatric facility.”

Jonathan was a college junior at the time.

“My dad came to visit, and he got to see his beloved son in a straitjacket,” Jonathan Stanley said.

The Stanleys were lucky. Jonathan responded well to the lithium, then a newly-approved drug. He went on to graduate from college and law school, too. Yet along the way, his father had met other fathers whose sons did not respond to treatment. He met other families who had to keep living with uncontrolled mental illness.

Ted Stanley said that gave him a focus for his philanthropy.

There was something out there that our son could take, and it made the problem go away,” he said. “And I’d like to see that happen for a lot of other people. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

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Boston Doc At AIDS Conference Reports Shock, Grief For Colleagues

A pro-Russian fighter inspects the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

A pro-Russian fighter inspects the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth Intern

The 20th International AIDS Conference began Sunday in Melbourne, Australia, as attendees mourned the loss of colleagues in last week’s plane crash in Ukraine. Yesterday, the International AIDS Society released a statement confirming that at least six delegates traveling to the conference were onboard the Malaysian Airlines flight.

Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School who is attending the conference, said the attendees are reeling in disbelief.

“The mood is somber, people are in shock,” he told WBUR’s Kassandra Sundt. “And it’s certainly not the type of discussions that people were planning to have here.”

Despite the tragedy, he said there was no discussion of canceling the conference, which is scheduled to continue through Friday.

‘A lot of people’s lives are saved because of his work.’

“There are clearly statements of sorrow and condolences and moments of silence throughout the scientific sessions, throughout the conference dinners, and privately,” he says. “But from the start everyone acknowledged that it would be the desire of all those who died tragically in this plane crash to have the work go on.”

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Medical Marijuana 101: 10 Things You Should Know Before Using The Drug

As medical marijuana is introduced in Massachusetts, here are 10 things to know about using it.

Whether you are using marijuana for the first time, or trying it for a new ailment, those who praise its benefits say you should be prepared for a period of trial and error. Because:

1) What works for one patient may not work for you. The difference may be in the marijuana, but patients also respond to drugs differently based on age, race, gender, genetics and other factors. (The Food and Drug Administration takes many of these factors into account when testing legal drugs.)

2) All pot is not alike. Every strain of marijuana has a different balance of cannabinoids, the chemical compounds that are unique to marijuana, some of which have medicinal value. The two most common are THC, which can make people high, and CBD, which offsets the effects of THC and is believed to prevent muscle spasms and seizures.

3) Even within the same strain, the intensity of cannabinoids will vary. Take Blue Dream, one of the more popular strains these days. Blue Dream from one grower might have 5 percent THC, but if you change buyers, your next batch of Blue Dream might have 25 percent THC and produce a strong high. Continue reading

Medical Marijuana 101: What’s In Your Drug?

Jack Boyle reaches across the marble island in his kitchen for a small blue glass bottle with a black rubber cap. He holds it to the light, shaking the liquid, a marijuana concentrate.

“The person who made this didn’t make it properly,” Boyle says.

Boyle’s wife Susan Lucas uses the marijuana concentrate, or tincture, to prevent epileptic seizures. The first batch helped, so Boyle went back for more.

But then, “Sue started seeing her symptoms coming back,” he says. “We immediately took [the new batch] to the lab, had it tested. It didn’t have the CBD in it.”

The second batch, it seems, wasn’t heated enough to activate CBD, one of the compounds in marijuana that supporters say helps with muscle spasms and seizures.

Now Boyle is learning how to make a perfect concentrate on his own, in his kitchen in Stow. He bought a Crock-pot and found a recipe for marijuana tinctures online.

“I’ll make a batch and have Michael Kahn test it again, and if [it] matches up to at least as strong as the first batch then we’re good to go for six months to a year,” Boyle says. “It’s my wife, I just want to do the best I can.”

Michael Kahn is an analytical chemist and president of Massachusetts Cannabis Research, or MCR Labs, in Framingham. It’s the first marijuana testing lab to open in Massachusetts.

“We provide quality control,” Kahn says.

With all the attention to dispensaries that will grow and sell marijuana for medical use, the question of who will test the drug has been largely overlooked. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) is expected to issue testing protocols soon, but they may be a work in progress — at least for the first few years — as this industry takes shape across the country.
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Mourning The AIDS Researchers Killed In Ukraine Plane Crash

A pro-Russian fighter inspects the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

A pro-Russian fighter inspects the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

With an estimated 100 HIV/AIDS researchers believed to have been on the Malaysian Airlines flight that went down in Ukraine, the official mourning has begun and will surely grow as names and details emerge. This just in from James Friedman, executive director of the American Academy of HIV Medicine:

It is with heavy heart we learn many of those that perished in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were leading HIV/AIDS researchers traveling to the International AIDS Conference scheduled to begin on Sunday in Australia. While all names have not yet been released, the passing of Dr. Joep Lange, a leading HIV/AIDS researcher, has been confirmed.

It is due to their continued dedication to HIV/AIDS patients worldwide that they were making this journey. Not only did this tragedy take the lives of these researchers, but also robbed the world of their future discoveries and contributions to the HIV/AIDS patients they served.

The HIV/AIDS community mourns the loss of these talented and compassionate researchers and HIV care providers. Our condolences to the families of all those affected by the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tragedy.

The New York Times profiles Dr. Lange here, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that Canadian HIV researcher Trevor Stratton said the crash was a huge loss to the AIDS research world.

“What if the cure for AIDS was on that plane? Really? We don’t know,” he said.

“There were some really prominent researchers that have been doing this for a very long time and we’re getting close to vaccines and people are talking about cures and the end of AIDS.

Please Discuss: ‘Gene Drives,’ Sci-Fi Scary Or Cool Leap Forward?

Scientists say new "gene drive" technology could help fight malaria by affecting the mosquitoes that carry it. (Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists say new “gene drive” technology could help fight malaria by affecting the mosquitoes that carry it. (Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps you’ve followed that teeny tiny controversy around genetically modified foods, the “GMO” debate. Or you watched the fierce back-and-forth over whether it was a good idea to modify a strain of avian flu in the lab to make it spread more easily, in order to study it.

If this is your kind of spectator sport, it’s time to learn about gene drives, a powerful new genetic technology that basically flips Charles Darwin on his head, allowing a sort of artificial selection to help chosen genes come to dominate in a population.

A paper just out in the journal eLife outlines a way to use gene drives to spread just about any altered gene through wild populations that use sex to reproduce. And a related paper just out in the journal Science calls for greater oversight and a public discourse about the potential risks and benefits of gene drive technology — now, while it’s still in early stages and confined to labs.

I can already imagine the “pro” side of the debate: “This could eradicate malaria. Reduce the use of pesticides. Bolster agriculture for a crowded planet.” And the “con” side: “But what if it goes wrong out in the wild? Have you read no science fiction?”

I spoke with two of the paper’s co-authors: Kevin Esvelt, a technology development fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School, who is also the lead author of the eLife paper; and Kenneth Oye, Professor in Engineering Systems and Political Science at MIT and director of policy and practices of the National Science Foundation’s Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center. Our conversation, edited:

CG: So what exactly is a gene drive and why are we talking about it now?

Kevin Esvelt: A gene drive is a potential new technology that may let us alter the traits of wild populations but only over many generations. We think that gene drives have the potential to fix a lot of the problems that we’re currently facing, and that natural ecosystems are facing, because it allows us to alter wild populations in a way that we could never do before.

We would really like to start a public conversation about how we can develop it and use it responsibly, because we all depend on healthy ecosystems and share a responsibility to pass them on to future generations.

So how do they work? The reason we haven’t been able to alter wild populations to date is natural selection. When you say natural selection, you think, ‘How many organisms survive and reproduce?’ And that’s pretty much how it works. The more likely you are to survive and reproduce, then the more copies of your genes there are going to be. So genes that help an organism reproduce more often are going to be favored.

The problem is, when we want to alter a species, the way we want to alter it usually doesn’t help it survive and reproduce in nature. But that’s not the only way that a gene can reproduce. We have two copies of each gene, and when organisms have children, each of the offspring has a 50% chance of getting either copy. But you can imagine that a gene could gain an advantage if it could stack the deck — if it could ensure that it, rather than the alternate version, was inherited 70%, 80%, 90%, or 99% of the time.

How gene drives affect which genes are passed down (Courtesy Kevin Esvelt)

How gene drives affect which genes are passed down (Courtesy Kevin Esvelt)

There are a lot of genes in nature that do exactly this; they’ve figured out an incredible variety of ways of doing that. Almost every species in nature has what we would call an ‘inheritance-biasing gene drive’ somewhere in its genome, or at the very least the broken remnants of one. They’re actually all over the place in nature.

The idea that we could harness these to spread our alterations through populations has actually been around for a long time. Continue reading

New Concerns About Coakley-Partners Deal

There are new concerns about an agreement Attorney General Martha Coakley negotiated to try and control the prices and market power of Partners HealthCare. The implication, from a commission created to help reduce health spending, is that the deal does not go far enough.

“Without lasting change to the market structures,” the Health Policy Commission (HPC) writes in comments to be filed in court, “price caps may not be effective in keeping costs down.”

Price caps?

The commission dug in on a portion of the deal Coakley reached with Partners — the part that says network prices could not rise faster than inflation for six and a half years.

“Prices themselves, they are important,” said commission chairman Stuart Altman, “but they’re not the end of the game.”

To explain why, picture a colleague, neighbor, maybe your grandmother — someone who’s had hip replacement surgery. Now picture two hospitals.

“In one place,” said Altman, “a hip costs $10,000 to replace. In another, it’s $15,000.”

Under Coakley’s deal, prices at each of these Partners hospitals would rise slowly. But there’s nothing to keep Partners from sending more patients to the $15,000 facility. If more patients have hips replaced at the higher-cost hospital, then total health care costs would go up, even if prices don’t.

“Total medical expenditures, when we finally figure it out, is going to up by a lot, but yet the price increases were fine,” Altman said.

Coakley would have someone monitoring Partners, who could, in theory, intervene if a significant number of patients shift from lower- to higher-cost hospitals. But that monitor would only have access to spending for patients covered by a global budget, which Partners says is about 25 percent of its business.
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