Medicine For People!

July 2010

The Black Box Revealed – Three Ways to Look Inside Yourself

We think of the ecosystem as existing in the wild, in nature, not in us. Yet we ourselves make up a pretty complex ecosystem on our own. It's difficult to look inside and see our inner environment, but it affects us profoundly. Each of articles below presents a unique way of looking at that mysterious black box – the inside of the human being.

Our Microbial Overlords

Inside our bodies lives a universe of microscopic creatures – 100 trillion at last count. Discover Magazine blogger, Carl Zimmer, compares the human body to a luxury liner full of hidden passengers. You can pick up a disease from an errant sneeze or an undercooked piece of chicken, but do not despair. On your side you have an army of helpful microbes you got from your mothers at birth. If you need more, you can boost the good populations with probiotics and fermented foods. For a more detailed look at the beneficial and harmful bacteria that make up your inner ecosystem, see our January 2009 Newsletter

The Pros and Cons of Happy Pills

Most of us humans have little trouble enjoying life despite our knowledge of good and evil. Sometimes, however, we get depressed. Should we go to the doc and get a prescription for anti-depressants or should we tough it out and build character through suffering? There is no easy answer, and Louis Menand's New Yorker article, "Head Case: Can Psychiatry Be a Science?" surveys the pros and cons and makes for meaty reading.

Depression is a mystery and psychiatric opinion is divided about whether we should even call it a disease. "There is little agreement about what causes depression and no consensus about what cures it," Menand tells us. Nor is it entirely clear why anti-depressants work. The brain chemicals they produce seem to cheer folks up, but some studies show that placebos work almost as well. Menand's thoughtful article follows the research and debate that surrounds this fascinating topic.

Addiction, It's All about Motive

Whether it's a haunted-looking heroin addict on the streets or the alcoholic you meet at a pub, conventional wisdom tells us that substance abuse is a brain-chemistry problem. Once you're hooked, it's almost impossible to get free. "Addiction," according to the National Institute on Drug abuse, "is a chronic and relapsing brain disease." The New Republic Writer Sally Satel reviews a new book, Addiction: A Disorder of Choice by Gene M. Heyman, that challenges the conventional view. Addicts, says the author, do have a choice. For example, addicts given monetary rewards abstained more completely than a control group given the usual addiction treatment. Addicted physicians and pilots face major consequences for failure to eliminate addiction, and they have much higher recovery rates than people with less to lose. Were addiction an inescapable consequence of abnormal brain function, then addicts would have no greater chance of attaining a normal life than would someone with Alzheimer's. Check out this interesting review and see if you agree.

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In Coming Issues of Medicine for People

Colon cancer screening
Multiple vitamins

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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.