The journals: A potpourri for the new year

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Lots of us have taken drugs at one time or another. I began and ended my personal experience with a bad one, when I was in my junior year of medical school.

Like most drug users, I had an excuse and expect a sympathetic ear. I was pounding out long hours in class, evenings studying, and working a night shift every third night to make money for basics, transportation and White Castle burgers.

A legal drug detail man convinced me to try a new weight-reduction medicine that had a side effect of increased alertness. It was legal or accepted practice, I’m not sure which.

Small print suggested it might increase my heart rate and affect my thought processes. I learned the risks on my own and was scared into common sense. I disposed of the remaining tablets and became more cautious.

I recalled this episode when I read about a presentation at a radiology convention in December 2013.

  1. A German researcher studied heart function in volunteers, before and after taking an energy drink containing caffeine and taurine. The volunteers demonstrated increased heart strain following ingestion of the drink. They used MRIs to do the evaluations.

My assessment: Be careful. Commercial media have reported deaths following the use of 5-hour energy and Monster Energy.

The MRI report was presented at a meeting, but it hasn’t appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.

The manufacturers claim their products are safe. Manufacturers don’t stick the drug label on these products, and the FDA has been restricted in dealing with things labeled as supplements.

These products are heavily lobbied for. Until the agency has very compelling evidence of harm, the consumer has to make decisions on his or her own.

  1. The Union-Bulletin and other newspapers reported on a study indicating that eating nuts will keep us alive longer.

The study appeared in the NEJM, Nov. 21, 2013. The researchers followed 121,700 female nurses and 51,529 male health professionals. Nutritional questionnaires were obtained every two to four years. Death recording came from the national death index.

After decades, many patterns have been uncovered. This most recent publication shows an inverse relationship between longevity and nut consumption. More nut consumption was associated with a lower death rate.

The article is loaded with data analyses to find explanations that might link the effects to some other lifestyle pattern.

For example, nut consumption was higher in people who exercised more and drank more alcohol. The large number in the study made it possible to look at these and other factors and conclude that nut ingestion, including peanuts, lowered mortality rates.

Participants who ate nuts seven or more times per week had a 20 percent lower mortality than non-nut eaters.

My assessment: I’d encourage nuts — as a dietary staple. The favorable effects extend to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a wide range of illnesses I’ve clustered under the metabolic syndrome.

Those articles appear here every other Sunday. We are still learning, and maybe that’s the best and most exciting part of this piece and science in general.

The Adventist Health Study and many other reports show similar results. The advantage of this one lies in the size and the ability to analyze multiple variables.

  1. Wallula was mentioned in the December 2013 issue of the Scientific American. This summer, engineers injected nearly 1,000 metric tons of CO2 into layered basalt that exists in our area.

Chemistry predicts it should bind the surfaces and create new rock formations, called carbonates. The process will take years, but, at least, not decades or millennia. It could offer a significant contribution to stabilizing our climate.

There are some concerns about the project, including whether or not the carbonates can be isolated from water sources that could dissolve them.

The scientific goal is protection of the climate. The economic interest relates to the possibility of a carbon tax, which would make CO2 recovery a viable investment.

My assessment: I’ve read a financial report in The New York Times, that major industries are preparing for the probable need for a carbon tax to deal with global warming — OK — climate change.

I’m writing this article on Dec. 7, while it’s 15 degrees outside my window. I want to tell myself that climate change isn’t a threat to our grandchildren, but I know that the data and most experts tell me that I’m fooling myself.

Some times, on a plane, I’m asked what I believe about some claim of a cancer cure, or about climate change or evolution. I usually answer that I am a man who holds firm beliefs, but they aren’t relevant to the discussion, with one exception.

We should be held responsible for other people in our lives, for support of our country and for a role in protecting the environment. The pilot flying the plane needs to watch the gauges. So do we.

  1. The Nov. 15 issue of Science, published an article that excites people like me. We embrace discoveries found in nature, and rapamycin is one that might interest you, as well.

It was isolated from bacteria on Easter Island and studied as an immune suppressant. The surprise came when rats taking the drug lived 9 percent to 17 percent longer.

Rapamycin seemed to slow the stiffening of tendons and changes in the liver that occur with age. That has resulted in a small trial on humans.

It may take a long time to produce results, but I’m hoping that Walla Walla High School and our colleges have some marvelous nerds who will pick up the trail where my generation has left off.

Happy New Year — one marked by good health, good work and an active brain.

Dr. Larry Mulkerin is a retired clinical professor and oncologist who lives in Walla Walla. A former U.S. Army Green Berets medical officer with experience in the Middle East, he also is the author of “The Ayatollah’s Suitcase,” a novel available at amazon.com and other online book retailers. He can be reached at mulkerin@charter.net.

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