David Fajgenbaum was the fittest of his friends at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, a 6-foot-3 gym addict and former quarterback at Georgetown. His mammoth hands seemed more suited to spiraling footballs than the fine fingerwork a doctor-in-training might need. He had endurance to match, taking multiple hits and returning to the field to play on.
“This guy was a physical specimen,” said his former roommate, Grant Mitchell, who used to walk to work with him. When they would arrive at the hospital for his obstetrics rotation, his friend recalled, “he would basically coerce me into doing pull-ups on the tree outside.”
In July 2010, that all changed. The 25-year-old woke up at night drenched in sweat. His lymph nodes were swollen. He felt stabs of abdominal pain, and odd red bumps began sprouting across his chest. Most bizarre of all, he felt very tired — so tired that he began slipping into empty exam rooms between patients, stealing five-minute naps to get through the day.
“Guys, I think I’m dying,” he recalled telling his friends.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed his fears. A doctor told him that his liver, kidneys and bone marrow were not working properly. Even more troubling, the doctor had no idea why his body was failing. “What do you think is going on?” he remembers the doctor asking him. [continue]
Stories abound that undermine the notion that elite athletes are healthy. From the running world, marathoner Alberto Salazar, at the age of 48, suffered a heart attack and lay dead for 14 minutes before a cardiologist placed a stent in a blocked artery, saving his life. Micah True, the ultra-marathoner and protagonist of the bestselling book Born to Run, went for a 12-mile run in the New Mexico wilderness and was later found dead.
Of course, these tragic tales are preceded by the origin story of an endurance athlete running himself, literally, to death. An enlarged, thickened heart with patchy scar tissue is common in long-term endurance athletes and is dubbed “Pheidippides cardiomyopathy” after the 40-year-old running messenger (and prototypical masters endurance athlete) who died after bringing the news of Greek victory at the battle of Marathon to Athens. Pheidippides was a hemerodrome, (an all-day running courier in Ancient Greece), and he had run 240km over two days to request help from Sparta against the Persians at Marathon, before expiring after running the additional 42km (26.2 miles) back from the battlefield. We celebrate his death by running marathons.
These deaths are even more alarming when you consider the subjects — highly trained athletes in what many would consider peak physical condition. Isn’t exercise supposed to prevent us from falling to a heart attack? [read the whole article]
If you’re an endurance athlete, does this give you pause for thought?
New genetic research from an international team including McMaster University, University of Helsinki, Vilnius University and the University of Sydney, suggests that smallpox, a pathogen that caused millions of deaths worldwide, may not be an ancient disease but a much more modern killer that went on to become the first human disease eradicated by vaccination.
Well, how cool is that?
The findings, published in the journal Current Biology, raise new questions about the role smallpox may have played in human history and fuels a longstanding debate over when the virus that causes smallpox, variola, first emerged and later evolved in response to inoculation and vaccination.
“Scientists don’t yet fully comprehend where smallpox came from and when it jumped into humans,” says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, senior author of the study, director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and a researcher with Michael G. DeGroote Institute of Infectious Disease Research. “This research raises some interesting possibilities about our perception and age of the disease.”
Smallpox, one of the most devastating viral diseases ever to strike humankind, had long been thought to have appeared in human populations thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, India and China, with some historical accounts suggesting that the pharaoh Ramses V -who died in 1145 BC — suffered from smallpox.
In an attempt to better understand its evolutionary history, [continue]
If you have the slightest interest in medical history, medieval images, or just plain cool and fascinating stuff, go read The Many Lives of the Medieval Wound Man at The Public Domain Review. Article summary:
Sliced, stabbed, punctured, bleeding, harassed on all sides by various weaponry, the curious image of Wound Man is a rare yet intriguing presence in the world of medieval and early modern medical manuscripts. Jack Hartnell explores this enigmatic figure’s journey through the centuries.
The article includes fantastic images and all sort of interesting information.
Scientists in Sweden are launching their own mead — an alcoholic beverage made from a fermented mix of honey and water — based on old recipes they say could help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Together with a brewery, the scientists, who have long studied bees and their honey, have launched their own mead drink: Honey Hunter’s Elixir.
Lund University researcher Tobias Olofsson said mead had a long track record in bringing positive effects on health.
“Mead is an alcoholic drink made with just honey and water, and it was regarded as the drink of the gods and you could become immortal or sustain a better health if you drank it,” Olofsson said. “It was drunk by the Vikings for example and other cultures such as the Mayas, the Egyptians, and it was a drink that was regarded as a very beneficial drink.”
Honey production is key to the research. In previous research published in 2014, Olofsson and Alejandra Vasquez discovered that lactic-acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees, mixed with honey itself, could cure chronic wounds in horses that had proved resistant to treatment.
They said their research had proved that these bacteria had the power to collaborate and kill off all the human pathogens they have been tested against, including resistant ones. They are doing so by producing hundreds of antibacterial antibiotic-like substances. [continue]
Well. Alcohol + Vikings + history + medicine. So much cool stuff in one article!
It’s 1898. You wake up on a cold morning and the full effects of a cold hit you: coughing, sneezing, and a terrible fever. Like any self-respecting American in the latter half of the 19th century, you pop on over to your local post office or hairdresser in search of a remedy. There, you buy a small vial of liquid with some fantastic name like “Dr. Seth Arnold’s Balsam” or “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup”. The packaging claims that it cures anything from a toothache to a full-blown cold just five minutes flat. What the packaging doesn’t say, of course, is that the ‘medicine,’ which is applied topically to the skin, contains opium, morphine, and alcohol.
Welcome to the world of patent medicine.
Patent medicines reached peak popularity at the turn of the 20th century. While the name implies some sort of regulation behind the creation of these compounds, nothing could be further from the truth. Patent medicines were anything that people trademarked and sold as medicine–whether or not they actually worked was beside the point. Manufacturers intentionally suppressed the true ingredients of their remedies in order to woo new customers. If it doesn’t actually cure your cold, the high dose of cocaine might trick you into thinking otherwise. [continue]
The article includes images. You’ve got to see them, my dears.
The first time Grigory Kessel held the ancient manuscript, its animal-hide pages more than 1,000 years old, it seemed oddly familiar.
A Syriac scholar at Philipps University in Marburg, Germany, Dr. Kessel was sitting in the library of the manuscript’s owner, a wealthy collector of rare scientific material in Baltimore. At that moment, Dr. Kessel realized that just three weeks earlier, in a library at Harvard University, he had seen a single orphaned page that was too similar to these pages to be coincidence.
The manuscript he held contained a hidden translation of an ancient, influential medical text by Galen of Pergamon, a Greco-Roman physician and philosopher who died in 200 A.D. It was missing pages and Dr. Kessel was suddenly convinced one of them was in Boston.
Dr. Kessel’s realization in February 2013 marked the beginning of a global hunt for the other lost leaves, a search that culminated in May with the digitization of the final rediscovered page in Paris. [continue]
I love it when a story relates to so many of my interests. (History, books, medicine, old manuscripts, digitization, Vatican library… and on and on!)