November 13, 2009

Random health notes

1. Over the last decade, I've occasionally preached the prudence of using hand sanitizing alcohol gel. For example, keep a dispenser in your car for when you go through the Drive-Thru. This slowly seems to be catching on. Another habit to develop is to stop rubbing your eyes. Hand-eye contact is an important pathway for germs into your body. It's really not that hard of a habit to break. If you have to rub an eye, use the collar of your shirt.

2. A new study discussed in the NYT finds that various germs may contribute to strokes:
The infections in order of significance are Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, according to the study, published online on Nov. 9 in The Archives of Neurology. The report will appear in the print edition of the journal in January.

This is more evidence for the Cochran-Ewald theory that germs play an underestimated role in illness. More money has gone into genetic research in recent years, but your genes didn't evolve to kill you. All else being equal, germs would prefer not to kill you -- you make a nice host -- but they don't really care about you all that much.

3. Gina Kolata has an article in the NYT entitled "Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken," noting that there are apparently useful preventative drugs for prostate cancer (finasteride and dutaseride) and breast cancer (tamoxifen), but few people take them to avoid getting cancer in the first place.

4. "Is it time to retire the football helmet?" ask Reed Albergotti and Shirley S. Wang in the WSJ, noting that Australian Rules football, where they don't wear helmets, seems to have fewer head injuries than American football, although, judging from promotional videos, kneeing a guy in the back of the head while jumping up to catch ("mark") a kicked ball seems to be considered the essence of sport by all true Australians. They do have tackling in Aussie football, although, lacking helmets, it's a lot more gingerly done than, say, Ryan Clark knocking Willis McGahee out cold with a helmet-to-helmet hit in last year's AFC Conference title game. The Australians tackle by tilting their heads back out of the way and trying to wrap the ballcarrier up and grapple him to the ground.

American football might be safer if helmets were never invented, but how would you make the transition with players trained to charge head-first suddenly playing unhelmeted?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

51 comments:

Cordelia said...

OT: I understand that rates of recombination (during meiosis) differ between men and women (rates being greater in women).

'Spose there's any differences in recomination rates between different races?

CJ said...

The microbial ideas are really timely and interesting. The Cochran-Ewald hypothesis is persuasive, since our lives are spent virtually swimming in viruses and bacteria ... so, what I want to talk about is football helmets.

Why can't football helmets be soft on the outside? They used to be made of leather in college football 70 years ago, but we don't have to go back to that. Maybe you could add a layer of light but durable foam on the outside of existing helmets. That would at least cut down the helmet-to-helmet thwack that is probably brain-damaging football players now. It would certainly cut down the "spearing" problem of defensive players aggressively leading with the helmet.

Or, maybe better, we could take advantage of modern materials to make a completely different kind of helmet. How about some kind of Kevlar foam/bubble wrap that would fit snugly around the head and neck, kind of like a three-or-four-inch-thick super-tough bathing cap, but with air passages for cooling like bicycle helmets have? Is the hard shell of existing helmets really necessary? Helmets that were somewhat compressible could reduce the shock waves that rock the brain inside the skull, but still protect the skull.

And, hang the expense of making them super-tough and ultra-light. When the NFL minimum wage is a half-million dollars a year, why shouldn't a helmet cost a couple of thousand dead presidents? We're talking about long-term brain damage to people and short-term loss of valuable assets to football teams. Any entrepreneurs ready to tackle this one?

Aaron said...

Wasn't it Ditka who said several years ago that they should remove the facemasks, because guys go in head-first a lot more now that their faces are protected?

agnostic said...

The football helmet is a special case of the Peltzman Effect -- greater safety standards like seatbelts will lead to riskier behavior since they feel protected.

Podcast with Peltzman

headache said...

Seems obvious that helmeted players would take more chances than non-helmeted ones. Maybe this has also affected warfare, with all their Kevlar body armour and bullet-proof helmets. Are the soldiers taking more chances?

l said...

Animals, humans included, have evolved to live synergistically with bacteria. Our guts are full of a variety of bacteria that help us digest food and absorb nutrients. These bacteria also compete with each other for space. Anything we do to help one strain vs. another will change the composition of the gut
s bacteria population and change our ability to digest and absorb -- thus it happens that people who take antibiotics will have digestive problems. The same thing happens on the skin. Antibacterial lotions and soaps can lead to skin problems.
Taking a foreign substance (antibiotic, vaccine) that overrides the immune system weakens the immune system. You need exposure to germs and viruses in order to keep your immune in shape.
All things in moderation, tho. Exposure to high levels of filth can overwhelm the immune system. TB, Hepatitis and AIDS patients typically have very dyshygeinic lifestyles. (It wasn't Ronald Reagan's indifference that caused the AIDS epidemic, it was dirty butt sex.) It's best to avoid close contact with such folk.

Usually Lurking said...

About the helmets: former Bruins head coach, and now commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry has said more than once that when helmets became more common in Hockey, players became more cavalier in how they controlled their sticks (i.e. High Sticking). Al MacInnis, who had a slap shot that got over 100 mph, said that, at least early in his career, would not take a slap shot if certain players were in a vulnerable position. Nowadays, I would be surprised to hear that from any player.

Anonymous said...

The Australians tackle by tilting their heads back out of the way and trying to wrap the ballcarrier up and grapple him to the ground.

Chuck Bednarik* [the last man to play on both sides of the field - and no, that's not some Anderson Cooper-esque double entendre] had a reputation for being the meanest, baddest, nastiest SOB to ever play the game [or at least the baddest since Jim Thorpe], but if you get an opportunity to watch some old film of him, then you'll notice that his tackling style was to run up next to an opponent and sling him to the ground [pretty much exactly as you've described with Australian rules football].

Nowadays that would be derisively dismissed as "arm-tackling".


American football might be safer if helmets were never invented, but how would you make the transition with players trained to charge head-first suddenly playing unhelmeted?

EVERYTHING gets back to the rules, and whether or not they are enforced by the leagues [cf my ranting about what David Stern has done to the NBA, and the particularly shocking example of Brandon Jennings].

Helmet tackling is SUPPOSED to be a 15-yard penalty, called "spearing", but I haven't seen a "spearing" call in 15 or 20 years [if not more - heck, I honestly can't remember the last time that I saw a flag thrown for "spearing"].

I have talked to my brother about this at length, and we both agree that the NFL is getting so violent that it is very possible that a player could die from on-field injuries [unless maybe they're lining all their pads and helmets with something like kevlar?].

If you get two guys accelerating up towards 25MPH, and hitting helmets at full speed, then that's upwards of a 50MPH impact, which would total most modern automobiles [and maybe even a few SUVs].




*PS: If you notice how small Bednarik's ostensible parents were, then you have to wonder whether maybe a cuckoo might have dropped an egg in Mrs. Bednarik's nest...

PPS: Bednarik went to an Ivy League school [AFTER he flew 30 missions over Germany as a B-24 machine gunner...].

Anonymous said...

The gels are good. The sanitizing wipes are much, much better. Get the individual wipes in a box and throw a few in your pockets, suitcase, purse. Try the Purell wipes or the more natural ones that have hand conditioner too, a bit more expensive but they smell nice and sanitize just as well. Perfect for after mass transit, after shopping, etc...

Nully said...

I heard on the radio just today that studies have shown that soap and warm water are more effective than alcohol gels in fighting germs.

Anonymous said...

Rugby union is probably more applicable a comparison than Aussie rules. Here is a rugby hits compilation video I found that illustrates a variety of different helmet-less tackling styles that would certainly appeal to an American audience.

There is an element of spearing there, but they just shift their head slightly to move past the body and hit with the shoulder.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8v-qZFVYnc&feature=related

silly girl said...

It took them a while of combing through the data to find a group of aggrieved folk suffering more than average from the recession. Their determination paid off. What a relief.

Unmarried women have higher unemployment than married women.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/11/employment_decline.html

Uh, wait, aren't married women "oppressed" by marriage? And now unmarried women are "oppressed" by unemployment. Poor chicks just can't win! WAAAAA!

Could this mean that unmarried women are less compatible/agreeable/competent at work, just like when they are not at work? Just askin'.

October unemployment according to the article:

married women: 5.7%
unmarried women: 10.3%
single mothers: 12.6%

married men: 6.5%
unmarried men: 14.1%
single dads: not listed (nobody cares about them)

All this whining about how bad it is for unmarried women, when it is even worse for unmarried men!

"The differences in unemployment between married and unmarried women may in part reflect other demographics that come into play in unemployment rates, in that women (and men) who are unmarried tend to be younger, have less education, and are more racially and ethnically diverse than married women (and men). All of these groups face higher-than-average unemployment. For example, in October 15.0 percent of African-American unmarried women were unemployed, as were 11.1 percent of unmarried Hispanic women, both far above the national average unemployment rate, compared to 9.2 percent of white unmarried women (see figure below). Since African-American women are more likely than white women to be unmarried, this pushes the overall unemployment rate for unmarried women upward."

The real kicker is the title.

The Recession Brings Higher Unemployment to Unmarried Women

Anonymous said...

Over the last decade, I've occasionally preached the prudence of using hand sanitizing alcohol gel.

The alcohol worries me a little because I suspect that (in worst case scenarios) it might prove to be flammable.

Walmart has a hand santizer called Germ-X Advanced which is based on Benzalkonium Chloride (and which contains no alcohol).

Also, I have often cleaned my hands with Windex because it feels like the ammonia might help to sanitize them.

In fact, I've toyed with the idea of mixing my own water-ammonia solution to use as a hand sanitizer.

eh said...

An interesting blog about diet and health:

The Heart Scan Blog

Anonymous said...

Some of the cancer-preventing drugs you mention are expensive and have serious side effects. Consider tamoxifen:

The known, serious side effects of tamoxifen are blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer, and cataracts (see Questions 5–8). Other side effects of tamoxifen are similar to the symptoms of menopause. The most common side effects are hot flashes and vaginal discharge. Some women experience irregular menstrual periods, headaches, fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting, vaginal dryness or itching, irritation of the skin around the vagina, and skin rash. As with menopause, not all women who take tamoxifen have these symptoms. Men who take tamoxifen may experience headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, skin rash, impotence, or a decrease in sexual interest.

- Black Death

rosserw said...

Spend a few minutes at propeciahelp.com and then see if you still want to take finasteride as a preventative measure for prostate cancer.

Anonymous said...

Flossing your teeth is being shown to have health care advantages beyond nice breath and good gums.

Bacteria/germs thrive in that environment.

Matra said...

Aussie Rules is not a good comparison; rugby is better as there is more contact.

Recently rugby players have taken to wearing padded headgear similar to what you see in movies about football from the 1930s and 40s. However, studies have shown it doesn't reduce concussions or head injuries.

Having lived in rugby countries before moving to North America the first thing I noticed about American footballers is their inability to tackle properly. The emphasis is on hitting even when tackling would be far more effective. (The only 'drawback' would be that tackling provides fewer opportunities for sack dances and other embarrassing showboating than does a clean hit).

Perhaps they would learn to tackle if they didn't wear any protective gear, not just helmets. It would probably reduce injuries (including to the person doing the tackling) without lessening contact as the players would have a better sense of their limitations.

Anonymous said...

It's about time infection/inflammation etiologies got more attention--and dollars. But will it? Really? Or are the geneticists still raking in the research dollars? And now the epigeneticists?

Anonymous said...

I thought you were leaving the hypochondria-blogging to Kaus. Oh well...

On the issue of hand sanitizer, here's an interesting CDC alert on it: http://bit.ly/bKSaP The conclusion seems to be that the ethanol level in the sanitizer is related to its efficiency in sanitizing. Seems obvious.

My concern with hand sanitizers is potential hazard deriving from overuse. Could this lead to hardier, hard-to-kill bacteria?

There's truly no substitute for regular, thorough handwashing. ESPECIALLY before handling food or eating.

Anonymous said...

One of the most interesting research findings of the last few years has been that strep infection causes in some kids weird neurological behaviors. PANDAS--the acronym is for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections.

While these behaviors are quite visible and the illness is acute, it makes you think about how often we've all had something as common as strep and other bugs. Surely they cause chronic problems as yet unidentified and other bugs, viral and bacterial, do the same. Even the common cold viruses...what might they do? And, what about transmission of chronic illness from sexual transmission? I mean, there's cervical cancer from HPV. Surely bugs see sex as a great way to spread and reproduce. Prostate cancer...the same thing? Bugs?

Anonymous said...

I'd keep the helmets, but stop training them to tackle head-first. Use your shoulder.

Lost Pilgrim said...

My brother suffered from Malaria and Dengue fever for a couple of years before having a series of strokes. I've always thought they were related.

MontyHigh said...

Off-topic... Here's my comment on the Fort Hood shooting: Hypocrisy Watch: Why no talk of hate crimes? There's plenty evidence the guy was shooting people based on religion. Doesn't that qualify as a hate crime?

Feel free to run with this if you like.

Anonymous said...

People who have never played football don't realize that the helmet is integral to the way the game is played. Players are taught to lead with their face. In the pros players like to "blow up" the other guy rather than wrapping up and dragging him to the ground.

If the helmet weren't there blocking and tackling technique would change drastically.

James said...

Hand sanitizer could help prevent chlamydia I guess. Just not when used as directed.

robert61 said...

Do you take finasteride and/or dutaseride?

RP-in-TX said...

American football without the helmets would be far too boring to ever watch. This smells like a conspiracy by Major League Baseball. The helmet and pads really make things interesting because you can hit hard.

In my high school if you could crack your helmet during a game, the coaches would saw it in half and mount it as a trophy for you. It was pretty rare for someone to pull that off, and for us offensive linemen it was a great incentive to use it as a weapon. Good times!

albertosaurus said...

My first job out of grad school was as a consultant in Nixon's War on Cancer. We were told at that time that at most there was only one or two cancers that were caused by any form of infection. I read Ewald's book a month or two ago. He reports that now most cancers are known to be the result of some infectious agent and thinks soon all be be be known to be from some contagion.

It's probably wise to invest in hand gels and wipes. Adrian Monk doesn't seem so silly anymore.

BTW the football helmet seems to have the same sort of effect as the boxing glove - by providing more protection to the player it allows participants to inflict lethal blows on each other.

Perry Komodo said...

American football without the helmets would be far too boring to ever watch.

Yeah, it's boring enough as it is.

LaChiffre said...

Here's what you can do without helmets. That try once voted #1 in the BBC's list of 100 Great Sporting Moments.

Eric said...

The football helmet is a special case of the Peltzman Effect -- greater safety standards like seatbelts will lead to riskier behavior since they feel protected.

I think this is true in a lot of areas. Over the last few years there has been lot of hand-wringing where I live over a resurgence in new AIDS infections and the fact that high-risk groups seem to have returned to their early-1980s habits. Apparently the existence of treatments has shifted the risk/reward equation back toward promiscuity.

A buddy of mine from high school bought a sports car and started driving like an idiot. Because he had anti-lock brakes, you see.

kudzu bob said...

I find it odd that while microbes commonly evolve resistance to man-made antibiotics after a few years or decades, naturally occurring substances such as garlic and propolis still retain at least some degree of antibacterial activity despite having been around for many millions of years. Why is this?

Anonymous said...

American football without the helmets would be far too boring to ever watch. This smells like a conspiracy by Major League Baseball. The helmet and pads really make things interesting because you can hit hard.





I guess it depends on what you find interesting. I'd prefer they lost the stupid helmets and learned to tackle properly, and not spend all their time trying for "hits" sutable for the damned highlight reel. This is a big part of the reason I don't consider American football a real sport. It's half-way to pro wrestling.

kurt9 said...

Gina Kolata has an article in the NYT entitled "Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Are Not Taken," noting that there are apparently useful preventative drugs for prostate cancer (finasteride and dutaseride) and breast cancer (tamoxifen), but few people take them to avoid getting cancer in the first place.

NO, Steve, lots of us take these compounds (finasteride and dutasteride) in order to reduce or prevent head hair loss. I have been using these compounds topically since '93. I order these compounds in pill form, then grind them up and put the resultant power into my Rogaine solution. It has worked out quite well for me.

n/a said...

"And, what about transmission of chronic illness from sexual transmission? I mean, there's cervical cancer from HPV. Surely bugs see sex as a great way to spread and reproduce. Prostate cancer...the same thing?"

Yes, probably.

Dahlia said...

I love "The New Germ Theory" and would love to hear more about it in the Steveosphere...

Funny, while I found persuasive some of their argument about the Ashkenazim in the 10,000 Year Explosion, I felt Cochran needed to return *back* to germs to help explain Jewish intelligence (and that the two underestimated the Jewish intelligence of the Classical Antiquity period). The Jews are clean! And unlike the Arabs, they are strongly against incest.
I took a year of Bible history which I followed immediately with microbiology and other prep classes for nursing. I was taken aback at how much of Jewish Law seemed to be aimed at maximum fitness, particularly in regards to germ avoidance. It is hard for us to appreciate the differences between us and them 2,000 years ago because Christianity closed the gap so much (whereupon we adopted most of their practices). For example, we take it for granted that sex with animals is disgusting, but read the letters of St. Paul in the New Testament warning disciples ahead of time for what they are about to encounter when coming upon some communities. Another: pork is meat that has to be cooked thoroughly and would have been far more prone to human error in the Classical period and before than it is today.

Anonymous said...

I'd keep the helmets, but stop training them to tackle head-first. Use your shoulder.

I played D-line in high school, and taught or not, I always tackled with my shoulder. Part of the reason was I had a neck injury which scared the shit out of me, but it was mostly because using the shoulder anywhere from the hips to the numbers allowed me to wrap up and drive through and put the hurt on the guy. You can go lower for better leverage, maintain control and assure the takedown better that way than leading with the helmet, IMO.

But anyway, your comment assumes that it's helmet tackling that leads to the injuries. The hard hits I remember taking were blocks given or received on special teams or in the open field on a regular play. I don't ever remember being stunned or anything from either a tackle I made or from just standard action on the line of scrimmage.

You can't really avoid taking some shots to the head in these open-field situations unless you are yellow about it, and then you shouldn't be playing. As RP-in-TX noted, the game is fun because you can hit hard, and if you take that away, you might as well go play soccer.

I will say that all this talk about brain damage from cumulative (even non-concussive) hits sort of makes me want to steer my sons away from the game, even though I think it's absolutely the best sport for young men in terms of life lessons, personal development, and all that sort of thing.

Dahlia said...

I don't want to make it sound like I believed the Jewish laws and traditions reached the pinnacle for cleanliness and fitness. I believe Christianity was a big leap forward because they lowered the barriers so much that this offshoot of a mostly ethno-religion was now universalist in a way its parent can never be. Christians avoid that perpetual "Minority" status and thus avoid the chronic persecutions.
As an aside, one of the reasons Christianity spread so rapidly was that Judaism had many admirers, especially among the Greeks, but was too hard to join. Christianity was a way around this and, indeed, one of the four Gospel writers was Greek.

Howard Hughes said...

Pikers.

Charles Darwin said...

My concern with hand sanitizers is potential hazard deriving from overuse. Could this lead to hardier, hard-to-kill bacteria?

There's truly no substitute for regular, thorough handwashing. ESPECIALLY before handling food or eating.


Oh noes! Fool! If hand sanitizers breed superbugs then so does handwashing!

Anonymous said...

"Recently rugby players have taken to wearing padded headgear similar to what you see in movies about football from the 1930s and 40s. However, studies have shown it doesn't reduce concussions or head injuries."

They are (or were) called scrum caps and their purpose is (was) to protect the ears and brows from being cut and bruised in the scrum. Nowdays you sometimes see non scrummaging players wearing them, but there really is no point since they don't offer any real protection against impact.


"People who have never played football don't realize that the helmet is integral to the way the game is played. Players are taught to lead with their face. In the pros players like to "blow up" the other guy rather than wrapping up and dragging him to the ground."

When and where did you play? What you have just described is not only illegal (bringing a major penalty and the risk of ejection) it is also likely to be less effective than using the shoulder. With the shoulder it's easier to wrap up and drive through, which not only makes more effective tackle, but also allows you make those impressive impacts. Try and find a source where a coach recommends that a defender should attempt to tackle with the crown of his helmet.

Anonymous said...

They're baa-aack:

Napolitano Announces Obama Administration Plan to Give Amnesty to Illegal Aliens
By Penny Starr, Senior Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009
cnsnews.com

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that the Obama administration will push for “immigration reform” by giving the estimated 14 million people who are in the United States illegally "fair pathway to earned legal status"...

"Think about it: unions will never achieve the best terms for workers when a large part of the workforce is illegal and operates in a shadow economy," Napolitano said. "By contrast, the status quo not only hurts American workers, it also stifles potential opportunities to grow our economy"...

Anonymous said...

I was taken aback at how much of Jewish Law seemed to be aimed at maximum fitness, particularly in regards to germ avoidance.

Jews don't maximize fitness. It's anti-Semitic to believe otherwise.

Anonymous said...

The Jews are clean! And unlike the Arabs, they are strongly against incest.

Really?

Anonymous said...

"2. A new study discussed in the NYT finds that various germs may contribute to strokes:

The infections in order of significance are Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, according to the study, published online on Nov. 9 in The Archives of Neurology. The report will appear in the print edition of the journal in January."

Perhaps it is the drugs people take to combat these germs that cause the strokes.

Anonymous said...

"Oh noes! Fool! If hand sanitizers breed superbugs then so does handwashing!"

No. Hand sanitizers kill by chemicals. Bugs can breed resistance to molecules. Same as drug resistance.
Hand washing works by the mechanical act of removing them and washing them down the drain. So no chance to breed biological molecule handling apparati in the germ.
Unless they figure out how to manufacture glues?

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Finasteride (Proscar) is $3 a day, every day. That's a lot for most people to spend on a preventative medicine.

rob said...

Unless they figure out how to manufacture glues?

Biofilms. Google 'em, there's prolly a wikipedia article about it.

Anonymous said...

This meme seems to be gaining steam:

Environmental Chemicals Are Feminizing Boys
Sunday, November 15, 2009
science.slashdot.org

Two-year-olds at risk from 'gender-bending' chemicals, report says
Friday, 6 November, 2009
guardian.co.uk

I don't know how much truth there is to it - it seems to be coming from the same crowd who brought us the hoax of global warming, but I think it's something we need to keep an eye on [plus it would be kinda nice if that crowd has decided to relent just a little in their war on boys].

I think that obesity [little boys with "man-boobs"] and fatherless homes [which I think are the leading cause of the homosexuality epidemic] probably contribute more to the feminization of boys [and of course there's also the dyke- and NAMBLA-influenced proselytization in the government schools], but I don't think we should dismiss this stuff about sperm counts out of hand.

[Er - no pun intended.]

David said...

Does one risk as much germ resistance by splashing a bit of alcohol on one's hands as one does by taking oral antibiotics? I worked in a hospital a few years ago, and the administrators whooped up hand sanitizers (just alcohol plus foam) constantly. Not soap but alcohol on the hands they declared "the safest and most effective way" to prevent germspread. Wrong?