Richard G. Petty, MD

Happy Birthday to Charles Dickens


Today is the 200 hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Born this day in 1812, he only lived to be 58 years old, dying from the effects of a number of cerebrovascular accidents.

He said a great many things of importance in his life.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.”

“A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.”  

“There is a wisdom of the head, and… a wisdom of the heart.”                     

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”                      

“Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families; and in families not regulated by that pervading influence which sanctifies while it enhances… in short, by the influence of woman, in the lofty character of wife, they may be expected with confidence, and must be borne with philosophy.”           

“Such is hope, Heaven’s own gift to struggling mortals, pervading, like some subtle essence from the skies, all things both good and bad.”

“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”

“Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. If a man habituated to a narrow circle of cares and pleasures, out of which he seldom travels, step beyond it, though for never so brief a space, his departure from the monotonous scene on which he has been an actor of importance would seem to be the signal for instant confusion. The mine which Time has slowly dug beneath familiar objects is sprung in an instant; and what was rock before, becomes but sand and dust.”

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy, walk and be healthy. ‘The best of all ways to lengthen our days” is not, as Mr. Thomas Moore has it, “to steal a few hours from night, my love;” but, with leave be it spoken, to walk steadily and with a purpose. The wandering man knows of certain ancients, far gone in years, who have staved off infirmities and dissolution by earnest walking,–hale fellows close upon eighty and ninety, but brisk as boys.”

“Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”                               

“Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks.”                                    

“Every human creature is a profound secret and mystery to every other.”

“Every man, however obscure, however far removed from the general recognition, is one of a group of men impressible for good, and impressible for evil, and it is in the nature of things that he cannot really improve himself without in some degree improving other men.”     

“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

“I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time…”

Minocycline and Neurological Disease

We recently talked about the fascinating new data on the use of the antibiotic minocycline for treating stroke. The reason is that minocycline is also an anti-inflammatory and it also prevents “apoptosis” or programmed cell death. It has been found to be neuroprotective in animal models of stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative disorders. Minocycline also prolongs survival and reduces the loss of motor neurons in transgenic mouse models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a.k.a. motor neuron disease, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But as with any new research, we always have to go back and re-check and replicate everything. How many times have you heard a news item about some major breakthrough, and then you never again hear anything about it?

An article in today’s issue of the Lancet has indicated that minocycline may be harmful to people with ALS. This is important and will have implications for several clinical trials that are either planned or in progress for trying minocycline in people with dementia, stroke, Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

The United States Western ALS Study Group based at Columbia University in New York, undertook a randomized phase III trial to test the efficacy of minocycline as a treatment for ALS in 412 patients. Patients who took minocycline deteriorated at a 25% faster rate compared with people on placebo.

Therefore the authors suggest that trials of minocycline in other neurological diseases should be reassessed. It is possible that minocycline might be detrimental in patients with other neurological diseases as well.

There is also an editorial comment by Mike Swash, who was once one of my teachers. He talks about the importance of early diagnosis in ALS:

“Clinicians and patients alike would prefer ALS therapy to be tested as early as possible, but there are unresolved difficulties with accurate early diagnosis, particularly the absence of a specific diagnostic test. Might some of the compounds that have failed in clinical trials show benefit if tested at disease onset in human beings?” He concludes that the time has come for new approaches to trial design: “The aim must be to design informative, short, inexpensive, and sensitive phase I/II studies before large phase III studies are attempted”.

This is another one of those examples where a medicine introduced for one indication may have many others. In contrast to an antibiotic being used to treat neurological problems, there has recently also been a great deal of interest in the antibiotic potential of some medicines used to treat depression and psychosis.

There is a mountain of new information on this topic, which promises to revolutionize many of our concepts of health and disease. I shall keep you posted as more material is published.

An Antibiotic to Treat Stroke

It is fascinating to see a medicine or a therapy that is used for one thing being applied in a completely different area. A good example is thalidomide, a drug that was introduced in 1957 to treat morning sickness. It was pulled from the market because it could cause terrible fetal malformations. Years later it was discovered that it could be very helpful in the treatment of multiple myeloma, leprosy and Behcet’s disease.

Now a new study has shown that people treated with the antibiotic minocycline within six to 24 hours after a stroke (cerebrovascular accident) had significantly fewer disabilities.

In the study 152 men and women received either an oral dose of minocycline or placebo for five days following stroke. People who received minocycline were treated on average within 13 hours of the onset of the stroke compared to 12 hours for the placebo group. Patients were followed up for three months.

People treated with minocycline had significantly better outcomes than those treated with placebo. By three months, the minocycline group performed four times better than the placebo group on the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale, which measures vision, facial palsy, movement, and speaking ability.

Minocycline appears to be neuroprotective and to prevent programmed cell death or apoptosis.

This could turn out to be very important because current stroke treatments only work during the first few hours after the onset of symptoms, and many people do not get to the hospital in time to be treated.

Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease

There a very important piece of research published in this week’s issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, indicating that air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, at least in women. The whole article is available for free download.

Researchers from the University of Washington studied 65,893 postmenopausal women without previous cardiovascular disease in 36 U.S. metropolitan areas from 1994 to 1998, with a median follow-up of 6 years. All the participants were aged 50 to 79 and part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a major US Government funded investigation into the causes of heart disease in women. A total of 1,816 women suffered one or more cardiovascular event.

The investigators were particularly interested in tiny airborne particles called particulates, which are less than 2.5 microns across, and can lodge in the lungs. Previous research had incriminated them in heart disease. These are the dense clouds that you see coming out of chimneys or exhaust pipes. They found that pollution levels varied between four to nearly 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

Each 10 microgram rise was matched by a 76% rise in the chances of dying from heart disease or stroke. For women living within, rather than between, cities, the risk more than doubled, increasing by 128%, with each step up in pollution levels.

It is not clear whether women are more susceptible to pollution than men. Women’s coronary arteries are smaller and this might render them more vulnerable.

These results suggest that the risk from air pollution is far greater than most doctors previously thought, though it is still not clear how these sooty particles lead to the development of heart disease.

I live just outside a city where we often have smog advisories for weeks at a time in the summer. This research adds to the growing evidence that air pollution should be taken seriously as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

That also means that when localized air pollution is particularly high, people with chronic lung disease or coronary heart disease should avoid staying outside.

This problem will likely get worse as the summers be progressively warmer.

Yet another reason for taking climate change seriously.

“For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.”
–Rachel Carson (American Biologist and Writer, 1907-1964)

Cranberries and the Inflammation Associated With Severe Gum Disease

There is an interesting study from a team of researchers from Quebec, Canada. The findings, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, reveal that natural compounds in cranberries may help ward off periodontitis, or severe gum disease, by serving as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. This anti-inflammatory effect may be attributed to unique compounds in the fruit that prevent the bacterium P. gingivalis from adhering to the teeth below the gum line. Though it is early days, this new research offers promise for the estimated 67 million Americans affected by periodontitis, the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.

The reason for the study was that cranberries have what are known as "anti-adhesion" activity. This helps guard the body from certain harmful bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), gastric ulcers and gum disease. This anti-adhesion activity is primarily due to molecules called proanthocyanidins (PACs) found naturally in cranberries and other foods. Cranberry PACs contain a unique A-type structure that is responsible for this anti-adhesion mechanism of action, while most other foods contain only the more-common B-type PACs.

Researchers discovered that cranberry compounds can reduce the growth of P. gingivalis and subsequent plaque development — the initial step in the development of periodontitis. Periodontitis occurs when inflammation or infection of the gums is left untreated or treatment is delayed. Infection and inflammation spreads from the gums to the ligaments and bones that support the teeth and eventually leads to tooth loss.

In a paper in the Journal of Dental Research the same researchers had previously shown that cells treated with cranberry juice showed significantly less inflammation than cells that were not treated.

Not only can cranberry compounds decrease the growth of P. gingivalis, they may also prevent certain oral bacteria from directly destroying gum tissue itself — another major factor contributing to periodontitis. This may have more widespread implications as recent studies have also linked severe gum disease with an increased likelihood for heart disease and stroke.

The study was part funded by the Ocean Spray agricultural cooperative that sells cranberry juice.

Brushing, flossing and regular professional cleaning reduces the risk of developing periodontitis by helping to prevent the onset of gingivitis, or gum infection. Cranberries may provide an interesting ingredient in the development of new therapeutic approaches for treatment of periodontitis.

Technorati tags:

Mel's Madness

In the midst of all the furor about Mel Gibson and his self-admittedly foul behavior while under the influence of alcohol, an important point has been missed: when someone is drunk or brain damaged, is their behavior just disinhibition? Are they behaving this way because they’ve lost the cerebral censor that normally maintains our social demeanor? The Romans certainly thought so: in banqueting halls they would have roses carved into columns and the ceiling. The rose – the symbol of secrets – was a reminder to be discrete when alcohol might begin to lossen the tongue.

When the frontal lobes are on strike, does our “true” personality emerge? Or can alcohol, drugs and brain injury produce brand new behaviors that are not just totally out of character, but predictable by the drug or type of injury?

The answer is a mixture of the two. I know a man who is in the running for the Nobel Prize in medicine. But a couple of years ago it was all over the press when he shattered the arm of an innocent man in the middle of an alcohol-fueled frenzy. Was it the alcohol? Yes, I’m sure that it was. But the scientist has had a very long history of anger problems and of bullying younger colleagues. The alcohol was the catalyst to behavior that he normally keeps in check, but which was just waiting to come out of its cage. I’ve treated hundreds of alcohol abusing people, and the amiable ones far outnumber the violent ones. And the majority of the violent ones had also been violent when not drinking.

Some drugs and chronic alcohol abuse can produce stereotyped hallucinations and behaviors. Some alcoholic people really do see bugs and pink elephants, and there are many other examples of predictable perceptual and behavioral disturbances with drugs and with brain injuries.

Students of the healing arts learn that damage to certain regions of the brain is associated with specific behavioral and emotional consequences. This teaching goes back more than a century, and generations of students have been told that, “Damage here causes depression, and damage here causes mania, and over there a lesions will damage one type of language.” Yet for three decades we have known that much of this teaching is fictitious. I was taught brain localization by some of the finest neurologists in the world, and yet each would admit the inaccuracy of their methods. A new study from Brisbane, Australia supports that nihilism. The investigators examined 61 consecutive people admitted to a stroke unit. “Strokes” are either vascular blockage or bleeds affecting the brain.

They could find no significant relationship between the side or location of a lesion and the development of post-stroke depression. But the kinds of people that they were before the stroke had a big impact:  pre-morbid neuroticism and a past history of mental disorder were important predictors of depression following stroke.

So why all the fuss about Mel? Because people are asking if deep down inside he really has been harboring some of the dark, mean spirited thoughts that he expressed to the police, and that the alcohol was the catalyst and not the creator of his diatribe.

“The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves. We injure our own cause in the opinion of the world when we too passionately defend it.”
— Charles Caleb Colton (English Clergyman and Author, c.1780-1832)

Technorati tags:

A New Way of Looking at – and Treating – Inflammation

Diseases of both large and small blood vessels are two of the biggest problem facing people with diabetes. Not only is it a huge clinical challenge, but also nature sometimes does our experiments for us. The high rates of coronary and peripheral vascular disease in diabetes can be seen as a kind of experiment of nature: a recognizable set of chemical abnormalities that might shed light on vascular diseases in general. It was those twin factors: a huge clinical problem, and an experiment of nature, that lead me to pick the topic of my research doctorate. 

When I was working on my research doctorate in the mid 1980s, I came across a lot of old research that seemed to show links between inflammatory and autoimmune conditions like systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatic fever, and the eventual development of coronary artery disease. There was also a lot of old and largely forgotten research about the link between some viral infections and the development of coronary artery disease and acute coronary artery occlusions, because some infections can make blood more “sticky.” Inflammation evolved as one of the body’s defence mechanisms.

So I made the proposal – revolutionary at the time – that diabetes, coronary artery disease and a range of other illnesses might be inflammatory rather than degenerative. I soon found inflammatory markers in people with diabetes, that helped predict when someone was running into trouble with their eyes, kidneys or heart.  Even with stacks of data, I had to spend a lot of time defending that position, because it also implied that some illnesses thought to be irreversible might not be.

With the passage of time, it has tuned out that I was probably correct. Chronic inflammation, wherever it starts, mat have long-term effects on the body and on the mind. Chronic inflammation increases the risk of diseases of many blood vessels, as well as causing anemia, organic depression and cognitive impairment. Here is a partial list of common conditions in which inflammation is a prominent factor:
1.  Rheumatoid arthritis
2.  Systemic lupus erythematosus
3.  Fibromyalgia
4.  Chronic infections
5.  Insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome
6.  Arteriosclerosis
7.  Diabetes mellitus
8.  Hypertension
9.  Asthma
10. Inflammatory bowel disease
11. Psoriasis
12. Migraine
13. Peripheral neuropathy
14. Alzheimer’s disease
15. Autism
16. Gingivitis
17. Cystitis

The reason for raising the issue is not to say “told you so!”

It is instead that we need to think about inflammation a little differently. There is a mountain of information about the physical aspects of inflammation. We can stop at the simple description of inflammation as a condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and usually painful, or we can look below the surface: we can examine inflammation not only as a physical problem, but also as a psychological, social, subtle and spiritual problem. Why bother? Because the deeper approach allows us to understand and to treat and transcend inflammation as never before.

I am going to write some more about specific ways to address inflammation and what it means in future articles. I would also like to direct you to the book Healing, Meaning and Purpose, in which I talk about specific approaches in more detail.

But I would like to start with this.

In Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicine, inflammation is a sign of an imbalance in the vital forces of the body, and the traditional Chinese system agrees: here inflammation is usually a manifestation of an excess of Yang Qi, or a deficiency of Yin Qi. Most of our lives are seriously out of balance: Yang Qi is like a rampaging lion that has been stimulated by:
Acidic foods;
Environmental toxins;
Unwanted sexual stimulation:
Discordant music:
Constant demands from others:
Toxic relationships;
Years spent in front of television sets and limitless multi-tasking.

It should be no surprise to learn that all of these inflammatory conditions are increasing rapidly throughout the Western world. Not because we are getting better at identifying them, or we are living longer, but genuinely increasing.

It is wrong to put all the blame on poor diets or inadequate exercise. The problem is more subtle and is a reflection of distorted Information being fed to our bodies, minds, relationships, subtle systems and spiritual relationships.

The great news is that this simple conceptual shift gives us a whole load of new tools for handling these problems, and for using them as catalysts to growth.

In the next few weeks, I am going to drill down and give you some specific guidance that ties into the material in Healing, Meaning and Purpose and the next two that are on the launch pad.

Fasten your seat belt!

Technorati tags:  

Insulin Resistance, Insulin Resistance Syndrome and Race

I often hear clinicians say that they are not too clear about the differences between insulin resistance and insulin resistance syndrome. Let me define them, and then tell you why they are so important, and why everyone needs to be informed about them.

First, insulin is a hormone produced primarily in the cells of the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. It has over 500 functions in the human body, but its main actions are on the regulation of the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Insulin enables glucose – one of the major sources of energy – to move into many of the cells in the body. Insulin is also involved in the conversion of glucose to glycogen. These two actions lower the blood glucose level.

Insulin resistance is defined as an impaired biological response to insulin. It is a condition in which many of the cells of the body – mainly in the liver, fat and muscle – become resistant to the effects of insulin. The normal responses to a given amount of insulin are reduced. As a result, higher levels of insulin are needed in order for insulin to have its effects. There are many potential causes of insulin resistance: genetic; an increase in intra-abdominal fat; smoking cigarettes; being of low birth weight; and there are some prescription medicines that can cause insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is one of the underlying causes of type 2 (maturity onset) diabetes mellitus, as well as an array of other illnesses including polycystic ovarian syndrome. Most studies have suggested that around a third of people living in the United States and Western Europe have insulin resistance, and there are marked ethnic differences.

The insulin resistance syndrome has several other names: Metabolic syndrome; (Metabolic) Syndrome X; Dysmetabolic syndrome; Reaven’s syndrome; multiple metabolic syndrome. There are several sets of criteria for defining the insulin resistance syndrome. In the USA it is usually defined as the presence of 3 or more of the following:
1. Abdominal obesity (Waist circumference >40 inches in men; >35 inches in women
2. Glucose intolerance (fasting glucose ≥110 mg/dL)
3. Elevated blood pressure ≥130/85 mmHg
4. Triglycerides >150 mg/dL
5. Low HDL (Men: <40 mg/dL; women: <50 mg/dL)

There is a constant debate in the medical literature about whether insulin resistance syndrome is an illness, and what should be included in it. It is important, because it appears to predict the development of diabetes and coronary artery disease, and between 20 and 25% of the population of the Western world has it. So what normally happens is that a person develops insulin resistance, which eventually evolves into the insulin resistance syndrome, before diabetes and heart disease appears. There can be as long as twelve years between the development of insulin resistance, and the diagnosis of diabetes, and we have very good evidence that lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce the risk of moving from insulin resistance to the insulin resistance syndrome and diabetes.

It has become quite well-known that people of African and Asian Indian heritage are at increased risk of developing insulin resistance, and some of the sequelae of insulin resistance: insulin resistance syndrome, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and gout. These may in turn lead to increased rates of myocardial infarction and strokes. A study presented last Monday at ENDO 2006, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston helps further clarify some of these ethnic differences. Researchers analyzed data from the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study (IRAS), designed to assess relationships between insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease in a large multi-ethnic population.

The investigators divided data from female IRAS participants into different groups based on body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of less than 25 is usually considered "normal." The analysis revealed that 47 percent of black women of normal weight had insulin resistance, compared to less than 20 percent of the Hispanic or White women. Both insulin resistance and the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes increase as obesity increases. It had long been suspected that there was an independent effect of race, but this study not only shows that race alone may influence insulin resistance, but that we may therefore need to change the definition of obesity in women of African heritage.

The news reports on this important finding failed to mention that previous research has found something very similar in Asians from India, China and Japan. Each of these ethnic groups may develop insulin resistance, insulin resistance syndrome and diabetes without being obese, though obesity dramatically increases their risks of running into trouble.

It is relatively simple and inexpensive to measure insulin resistance, and many metabolic experts, including your humble reporter, have, for more than a decade, been measuring it in high-risk individuals. Clearly we cannot do anything much about an ethnic or genetic risk, but we can alter the way in which the body responds to that risk. If a person is insulin resistant, diet, exercise, specific nutritional and herbal interventions and occasionally medications, may all reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Technorati tags:

logo logo logo logo logo logo