Friday, October 24, 2008

The first discoveries of natural gas seeps were made in Iran between 6000 and 2000 bc. Many early writers described the natural petroleum seeps in the Middle East, especially in the Baku region of what is now Azerbaijan. The gas seeps, probably first ignited by lightning, provided the fuel for the “eternal fires” of the fire-worshiping religion of the ancient Persians.

However still the Natural gas is believed to have been first discovered and used by the Chinese, perhaps as early as 1000 B.C. Shallow stores of natural gas were released from just beneath the ground and piped short distances to be used as a fuel source. Natural gas provided a continuous source of energy for flames. These "eternal fires" were found in temples and also used as attractions for visitors.

Around 2300 years ago, when no one in Europe or the Middle East could melt even one ounce of iron the Chinese were casting multi-ton iron objects. It was not until the mid-1700's in Europe that such feats of metallurgy were achieved in Britain, the technically most advanced country of Europe. The early success in iron-casting in China was due to a superior form of bellows that delivered a continuous stream of air to a furnace instead of an interrupted stream as from the type of bellows used in the West. No one beforehand would have given much thought or attention to such a seemingly unimportant device as the Chinese bellows, but it turned out to be a crucial technological development.

In the search for salt wells the ancient Chinese developed a technology of driving bamboo poles deep into the earth. Depths up to a kilometer were achieved through this technique. In addition to brine this drilling also often tapped into reservoirs of natural gas. This natural gas was captured in barrels and used as fuel to evaporate the water from brine to produce salt.

The use of natural gas was mentioned in China about 900 bc. It was in China in 211 bc that the first known well was drilled for natural gas to reported depths of 150 metres (500 feet). The Chinese drilled their wells with bamboo poles and primitive percussion bits for the express purpose of searching for gas in Late Triassic limestones (more than 208,000,000 years old) in an anticline west of modern Chungking. The gas was burned to dry the rock salt found interbedded in the limestone. Eventually wells were drilled to depths approaching 1,000 metres, and more than 1,100 wells had been drilled into the anticline by 1900.

Natural gas was unknown in Europe until its discovery in England in 1659, and even then it did not come into wide use. Instead, gas obtained from carbonized coal (known as town gas) became the primary fuel for illuminating streets and houses throughout much of Europe from 1790 on.

One of the earliest attempts to harness it for economic use occurred in 1824 in Fredonia, New York and led to the formation of the first natural gas company in the United States, the Fredonia Gas Light Company, in 1859. Toward the latter part of the nineteenth century large industrial cities began to use natural gas. Pipelines were constructed to conduct the gas to these areas. Steady growth in the use of gas marked the early and mid-twentieth century. However, it was the shortages of crude oil in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that forced major industrial nations to seek energy alternatives. Since those events, gas has become a central fossil fuel energy source

Even higher than the number of people who die from medication errors is the number of people who die from medication, period. Even when a prescription drug is dispensed properly, there's no guarantee it won't end up killing you. A remarkable study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that

prescription drugs kill around 106,000 people in the US every year, which ranks prescription drugs as the fourth leading cause of death. Furthermore, each years sees 2,216,000 serious adverse drug reactions (defined as "those that required hospitalization, were permanently disabling, or resulted in death").

The authors of this 1998 study performed a meta-analysis on 39 previous studies covering 32 years. They factored out such things as medication errors, abuse of prescription drugs, and adverse reactions not considered serious. Plus, the study

involved only people who had either been hospitalized due to drug reactions or who experienced reactions while in the hospital. People who died immediately (and, thus, never went to the hospital) and those whose deaths weren't realized to be due to prescription drugs were not included, so the true figure is probably higher. Four years later, another study in the JAMA warned:

Patient exposure to new drugs with unknown toxic effects may be extensive. Nearly 20 million patients in the United States took at least 1 of the 5 drugs withdrawn from the market between September 1997 and September 1998. Three of these 5 drugs were new, having been on the market for less than 2 years. Seven drugs approved since 1993 and subsequently withdrawn from the market have been reported as possibly contributing to 1002 deaths.

Examining warnings added to drug labels through the years, the study's authors found that of the new chemical entities approved from 1975 to 1999, 10 percent "acquired a new black box warning or were withdrawn from the market" by 2000. Using some kind of high-falutin' statistical process, they estimate that the "probability of a new drug acquiring black box warnings or being withdrawn from the market over 25 years was 20%." A statement released by one of the study's coauthors — Sidney Wolfe, MD, Director of Public Citizen's Health Studies Group — warned:

In 1997, 39 new drugs were approved by the FDA. As of now [May 2002], five of them (Rezulin, Posicor, Duract, Raxar and Baycol) have been taken off the market and an additional two (Trovan, an antibiotic and Orgaran, an anticoagulant) have had new box warnings. Thus, seven drugs approved that year (18% of the 39 drugs approved) have already been withdrawn or had a black box warning in just four years after approval. Based on our study, 20% of drugs will be withdrawn or have a black box warning within 25 years of coming on the market. The drugs approved in 1997 have already almost "achieved" this in only four years — with 21 years to go.

How does this happen? Before the FDA approves a new drug, it must undergo clinical trials. These trials aren't performed by the FDA, though — they're done by the drug companies themselves. These trials often use relatively few patients, and they usually select patients most likely to react well to the drug. On top of that, the trials are often for a short period of time (weeks), even though real-world users may be on a drug for months or years at a time. Dr. Wolfe points out that even when adverse effects show up during clinical trials, the drugs are sometimes

released anyway, and they end up being taken off the market because of those same adverse effects. Postmarketing reporting of adverse effects isn't much better. The FDA runs a program to collect reports of problems with drugs, but compliance is voluntary. The generally accepted estimate in the medical community is that a scant 10 percent of individual instances of adverse effects are

reported to the FDA, which would mean that the problem is ten times worse than we currently believe. Drugs aren't released when they've been proven safe; they're released when enough FDA bureaucrats — many of whom have worked for the pharmaceutical companies or will work for them in the future — can be convinced that it's kinda safe. Basically, the use of prescription drugs by the general public can be seen as widespread, long-term clinical trials to determine their

true safety. We are all guinea pigs.

Next time you get a prescription filled, look at the label very carefully. Getting the wrong drug or the wrong dosage kills hundreds or thousands of people each year, with many times that number getting injured. Renegade health reporter Nicholas Regush — a self-imposed exile from ABC News — provides ii long list of specific problems:

Poor handwriting. Verbal orders. Ambiguous orders. Prescribing errors. Failure to write orders. Unapproved uses. When the order is not modified or cancelled. Look-alike and sound-alike drug names. Dangerous abbreviations. Faulty drug distribution systems in hospital. Failure to read the label or poor labeling. Lack of knowledge about drugs. Lack of knowledge concerning proper dose. Lack of knowledge concerning route of administration. Ad nauseam. After pouring over death certificates, sociology professor David Philips — an expert in mortality

statistics — determined that drug errors kill 7,000 people each year in the US. His study was published in The Lancet, probably the most prestigious medical journal in the world. The Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies of Science, also estimated 7,000. Interestingly, the Food and Drug Administration published the lowball figure of 365 annually (one per day). But even the FDA admits that such bungling injures 1.3 million people each year. New York Newsday cited several specific cases, such as: "In 1995, a Texas doctor wrote an illegible prescription causing the patient to receive not only the wrong medication, but at eight times the drug's usually recommended strength. The patient, Ramon Vasquez, died. In 1999, a court ordered the doctor and pharmacy to pay the patient's family a total of $450,000, the largest amount ever awarded in an illegible prescription case." Besides doctors' indecipherable chicken scratch, similar-sounding drug names are another big culprit. Pharmaceutical companies have even started warning medical professionals to be careful with the cookie-cutter names of their products. In a typical example, Celebrex, Cerebyx, Celexa,

and Zyprexa sometimes get confused. (Respectively, they're used to treat arthritis, seizures, depression, and psychosis.) According to WebMD: "Bruce Lambert, an assistant professor of pharmacy administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says there are 100,000 potential pairings of drug names that could be confused."

Using extended doses of encircling X-rays, CAT scans give a detailed look inside your body, revealing not only bones but soft tissue and blood vessels, as well. According to the health site tumors, heart disease, osteoporosis, blood clots, spinal fractures, nerve damage, and lots of other problems. Because it can uncover so much, its use has become widespread and continues to rise. In fact, healthy people are getting scans just to see if anything might be wrong, kind of like a

routine check-up. The downside, and it's a doozy, is that a CAT scan jolts you with 100 to 250 times the dose of radiation that you get from a chest X-ray. What's even more alarming is that most doctors apparently don't know this. An emergency physician from the Yale School of Medicine surveyed 45 of his colleagues about the pros and cons of CAT scans. A mere nine of them said that they tell patients about the radiation. This might be just as well, in a weird way, since most of them had absolutely no clue about how much radiation CAT scans give off. When asked to compare the blast from a chest Xray to the blast from a CAT scan, only 22 percent of the docs got it right. As for the other threequarters,

The Medical Post relates:

Three of the doctors said the dose was either less than or equal to a chest X-ray.

Twenty (44%) of the doctors said the dose was greater than a chest X-ray, but less than 10 times the dose. Just over one-fifth of the doctors (22%) said the radiation dose from a CT was more than 10 times that of an X-ray but less than 100 times the dose.

Only ten of them knew that a single CAT scan equals 100 to 250 chest X-rays, while two thought that the scans were even worse than that. Feel free to give your doc a pop quiz during your next office visit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bovine leukemia virus is a cancer-causing microbe in cattle. Just how many cows have it? The US Department of Agriculture reports that nationwide, 89 percent of herds contain cows with BLV. The most infected region is the Southeast, where 99 percent of herds have the tumor-causing bug. In some herds across the country, almost every single animal is infected. A 1980 study across Canada uncovered a

lower but none-too-reassuring rate of 40 percent. BLV is transmitted through milk. Since the milk from all cows in a herd is mixed before processing, if even a single

cow is infected, all milk from that herd will have BLV swimming in it. Citing an article in Science, oncologist Robert Kradjian, MD, warns that 90 to 95 percent of milk starts out tainted. Of course, pasteurization — when done the right way — kills BLV, but the process isn't perfect. And if you drink raw milk, odds are you're gulping down bovine leukemia virus. Between dairy cows and their cousins that are used for meat (who tend to be infected at lower rates), it appears that a whole lot of BLV is getting inside us. A 2001 study in Breast Cancer Research detected antibodies to the bovine leukemia virus in blood samples from 77 out of 100

volunteers. Furthermore, BLV showed up more often in breast tissue from women with breast cancer than in the tissue from healthy women. Several medical studies have found positive correlations between higher intake of milk/beef and increased incidence of leukemia or lymphoma in humans, although other studies haven't found a correlation. No hard evidence has yet linked BLV to diseases in humans, but do you feel comfortable knowing that cow cancer cells are in your body?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The fact that smoking causes lung disease and oral cancer isn't exactly news, and only tobacco industry executives would express (feigned) shock at being told. But cigarettes can lead to a whole slew of problems involving every system of your tar-filled body, and most people aren'l aware of this. The American Council on Science and Health's book Cigarettes: What the Warning Label Doesn't Tell You is the first comprehensive look at the medical evidence of all types of harm triggered by smoking. Referencing over 450 articles from medical journals and reviewed by 45

experts — mainly medical doctors and PhDs — if this book doesn't convince you to quit, nothing will.

Among some of the things that cancer sticks do:

��Besides cancers of the head, neck, and lungs, ciggies are especially connected to cancers of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. Newer evidence is adding leukemia and colorectal cancer to the list. Recent studies have also found at least a doubling of risk among smokers for cancers of the vulva and penis, as well as an eight-fold risk of anal cancer for men and a nine-fold risk for women.

��Smoking trashes the ability of blood to flow, which results in a sixteen-fold greater risk of peripheral vascular disease. This triggers pain in the legs and arms, which often leads to an inability to walk and, in some instances, gangrene and/or amputation. Seventy-six percent of all cases are caused by smoking, more than for any other factor, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

��Smokers are at least two to three times more likely to develop the heartbreak of psoriasis. Even if that doesn't happen, they'll look old before their time. The American Council tells us, "Smokers in their 40s have facial wrinkles similar to those of nonsmokers in their 60s."

��Smokers require more anesthesia for surgery, and they recover much more slowly. In fact, wounds of all kinds take longer to heal for smokers.

��Puffing helps to weaken bones, soft tissue, and spinal discs, causing all kinds of musculoskeletal pain, more broken bones and ruptured discs, and longer healing time. "A non-smoker's leg heals an average of 80 percent faster than a smoker's broken leg."

��Smoking is heavily related to osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass, which results in brittle bones and more breaks.

��Cigarettes interfere with your ability to have kids. "The fertility rates of women who smoke are about 30 percent lower than those of nonsmokers." If you're an idiot who continues to smoke while you're expecting — even in this day and age, some people, including stars Catherine Zeta Jones and Courtney Love, do this — you increase the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, underdevelopment, and cleft pallet. If your child is able to survive outside the womb, it will have a heavily elevated risk of crib death (SIDS), allergies, and

intellectual impairment.

��Smoking also does a serious number on sperm, resulting in more deformed cells, less ability of them to swim, smaller loads, and a drastic decrease in overall number of the little fellas. The larger population of misshapen sperm probably increases the risk of miscarriages and birth defects, so even if mommy doesn't smoke, daddy could still cause problems. What's more, because smoking hurts blood flow, male smokers are at least twice as likely to be unable to get it up.

��Besides shutting down blood flow to the little head, smoking interferes with the blood going to the big head in both sexes. This causes one quarter of all strokes. It also makes these strokes more likely to occur earlier in life and more likely to be fatal.

��"Depression — whether viewed as a trait, a symptom or a diagnosable disorder — is overrepresented among smokers." Unfortunately, it's unclear how the two are related. Does smoking cause depression, or does depression lead to smoking? Or, most likely, do the two feed on each other in a vicious cycle?

��"Smokers experience sudden hearing loss an average of 16 years earlier than do never smokers."

��Smokers and former smokers have an increased risk of developing cataracts, abnormal eye movements, inflammation of the optic nerve, permanent blindness from lack of blood flow, and the most severe form of macular degeneration.

��Lighting up increases plaque, gum disease, and tooth loss.

��It also makes it likelier that you'll develop diabetes, stomach ulcers, colon polyps, and Crohn's disease.

��Smoking trashes the immune system in myriad ways, with the overall result being that you're more susceptible to disease and allergies.

��And let's not forget that second-hand smoke has horrible effects on the estimated 42 percent of toddlers and infants who are forced to inhale it in their homes:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children's "passive smoking," as it is called, results in hundreds of thousands of cases of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and worsened asthma. Worse yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 702 children younger than one year die each year as a result of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), worsened asthma and serious respiratory infections.

IIt's very surprising to note that smoking can have a few health benefits. Because they zap women's estrogen levels, cigarettes can lead to less endometriosis and other conditions related to the hormone. Smoking also decreases the risk of developing osteoarthritis in the knees, perhaps because the pliability of thin bones takes some pressure off of the cartilage. And because it jacks up dopamine levels, it helps ward off Parkinson's disease. Of course, these benefits seem to be side effects of the hazards of smoking, so the trade-off hardly seems worth it.


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