Magnets! How do they work to relieve arthritis pain? LOL they don't.

In the NYT, an item on new research that reveals what many of us grumpy med-skeptics have self-righteously known all along: those copper bracelets and magnets your grandparents and arthritis-suffering friends are suckered into purchasing, to relieve their pain? Total quackery.

Medical terminology named after Nazis

Surprisingly, there are a good half-dozen medical eponyms that come from Nazi doctors who performed experiments on unwilling human subjects or used bodies of executed prisoners in their work — often in the course of discovering the very things that now bear their names. Clara cells, for instance, are a type of cell that lines small airways in your lungs. They're named for Max Clara, who discovered them by dissecting executed political prisoners.

The missing body of Addie Mae Collins

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, a major event in the history of civil rights in the United States. Members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a box of dynamite at the church, which was a major organizing center for the black community and civil rights protests. The resulting explosion killed four girls — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair.

That part of the story is pretty well-known. What isn't well known is the fact that one of those girls, Addie Mae Collins, may well have been a victim of racism after her death, thanks to a longstanding tradition where white medical schools raided black cemeteries for dissection cadavers. I happened to stumble across this story last week, while reading Harriet Washington's book, Medical Apartheid. The tale, and how it connects to racism both historical and modern, haunted me all day yesterday.

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The history of zits

These are the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that are thought to refer to acne. They're part of a nifty piece by Hilda Bastian that looks at the history of our understanding about zits — where people thought they came from before we knew about their relationship to hormones and bacteria. And how some of the myths that originated in that pre-scientific understanding still affect our cultural attitudes about acne and the way anti-acne products are marketed to us today.

Snake wine drinker suffers bite

NewImage

A Chinese woman reportedly suffered a snake bite when the reptile jumped from her wine bottle and struck her hand. Apparently, the woman from Shuangcheng, Heilongjiang Province had been drinking pickled snake wine to treat her rheumatism, but this particular snake was still living. Snake wine is a common curative in traditional Chinese medicine. (Global Times)

(image: Genghiskhanviet/Wikipedia/CC)

Completely heartbreaking medical case report

A 3-year-old girl enters a hospital with severe Vitamin A deficiency and micronutrient malnutrition. The cause: Her parents had self-diagnosed her with so many food allergies that her entire diet consisted of chickpea milk, bison meat, and salicylate-free vegetables. (Which, basically, means very few vegetables.) An older sister on the same diet had developed scurvy and rickets. The case report is technical and dry, but the story you can see happening underneath is just heart-wrenching. Especially the point at which the parents refuse Vitamin A supplementation and the doctors have to call child protective services.

Don't listen to Mom (or observational data): Breakfast isn't necessarily the most important meal of the day

Here's a great piece by Anahad O'Connor that looks at the dozens of studies that are supposed to link the act of eating breakfast with weight loss — and the problems that very quickly arise when you look at them closely. The biggest issue: Most of the advice you get telling you to eat breakfast if you want to lose weight is based on observational studies — large collections of information about people's lives and health that scientists then comb through looking for correlations. Like any correlation, those associations should be thought of as jumping-off points for more research, not proof of how you should live your life. With breakfast and weight loss, the truth seems to be that the two things may not be connected at all. For every study that shows them inextricably linked, another found no relationship at all ... or even an inverse relationship, where skipping breakfast led to weight loss.

How much booze is too much booze?

At Forbes, Katie Kelly Bell has an interesting look at the extremely subjective measurements happening behind the seemingly objective instruction to drink only "in moderation".

16th-century nose jobs

Swords: A major cause of nose loss in 16th-century Europe. (Also a problem: syphilis.) The good news is that somebody had a plan for how to replace your missing nose. The bad news is that there was no anesthesia, the process could kill you, and you had to spend two weeks with your nose in your own armpit.

What would have killed your 19th-century doppelgänger?

Slate is doing a series of articles on life expectancy in the United States, both how it's changed and why. It kicks off with a piece that gives a broad overview of the medical and public health factors involved in our increased longevity — from clean water and the germ theory of disease, to generally increased wealth and nutrition, to vaccination. But author Laura Helmuth also offers up a morbidly fun challenge, asking you to think about how many times you might have already died had you been born before all these revolutionary changes happened.

It’s a fun conversation starter: Why are you not dead yet? It turns out almost everybody has a story, but we rarely hear them; life-saving treatments have become routine. I asked around, and here is a small sample of what would have killed my friends and acquaintances:

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Placebos work, so how do we ethically use them?

The head of Harvard's placebo program is trying to figure out a good answer that question.

The Elephant Man's secrets

"The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, was an object of curiosity and ridicule throughout his life - studied, prodded and examined by the Victorian medical establishment. Now, 123 years after his death, scientists believe his bones contain secrets about his condition which could benefit medical science today." [Andrew Bomford / BBC]

A moving account of how hospitals negotiate complicated cases of patient rights

Yesterday, a story about human experimentation spurred an interesting discussion in the comments about patient rights — can somebody who is dying make the informed decision to accept a treatment that could lead to them dying sooner? At Scientific American today, an HIV doctor has written a moving account of dealing with a very similar question, as one of his patients made the choice to refuse food, and her family and doctors were faced with the task of deciding whether or not to feed her through a stomach tube.

China says it will stop harvesting organs from prisoners

More than half of China's donated organs come from executed prisoners. The Chinese government now says it will begin phasing out that practice, starting in November. All new organ donors must volunteer. Of course, there's good reason to be skeptical of this announcement. As Smithsonian points out, the practice has already been illegal since 2006 with not much done to change it. Meanwhile, a harrowing 2011 investigative report by Ethan Gutmann in the Weekly Standard revealed a system that leaves plenty of room for "volunteer" loopholes.

How the stethoscope was invented

The first stethoscope was a sheaf of rolled paper. It later evolved into a foot-long wooden tube. The inspiration: Possibly a couple of French street urchins playing on top of a pile of lumber.