W. Gifford-Jones MD.

  • A little red meat now and then doesn't kill

    YES, waiter, I want my steak blue!” I’ve found that statement the easiest way to get a rare steak. But should I be eating meat, rare or not? A recent report in the Nutrition Action newsletter, which often provides sound advice, gives six reasons why a high intake of red meat is associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and premature death.
  • Unintended adverse drug reactions can be fatal

    Napoleon Bonaparte was not only a brilliant military strategist, but he hit the bull's-eye when he remarked, "Most men die from their medicine, rather than from their disease." Now a report published by the Canadian Institute of Health says adverse drug reactions send too many seniors to hospital. It's because North Americans have become the most over-drugged society in history.
  • Living will lets you die the way you want to

    A skeptical patient recently asked "Why should I have a living will?" I replied, "Because no one in this world will care as much about how you die as you will." So don't say "no" to a living will because of unfounded myths, such as the following.
  • With cholesterol drugs, devil's in the data

    Is it getting easier for patients to make the right health decision today compared to 50 years ago? It should be, considering the huge advances in medical knowledge since that time. But unless you're blessed with the wisdom of Solomon, these advances may merely help you exchange one disease for another. Or, as one wise sage remarked, "Life would be easier if there were no 'buts.' "
  • Got a stubborn yeast infection? Check pets

    Why did this patient and her partner repeatedly suffer yeast infection in spite of treatment? It's often said there is nothing new under the sun. But just when you believe you've seen everything, something new and surprising turns up. So please don't teach your dog this patient's trick! It can give you more than you bargained for.
  • True or false: My medical IQ grew in 2011

    How much did you learn from this column last year? It's always the hope of a medical journalist that at least some medical topics didn't go in one ear and out the other. There's the other possibility, however, of a lousy teacher. Let's see how many of these true-or-false questions you can get right. 1. The millimetre wave machine, used in the U.S., is a safe human body scanner for airport security. But flyers should refuse to have their bodies exposed to "backscatter" devices and demand they have a body pat-down instead.
  • Admit it or not, mammography unreliable

    Several years ago, a friend asked if I'd talk to a women's organization about breast cancer, how mammography could detect malignancy in its early stages. But when I gave her a short version of what I intended to say, she remarked, "But they would not like to hear that!" End of the talk. So what do women not want to hear? Any time I've questioned the use of mammography, it's been like damning motherhood and apple pie. Now, a blue-ribbon panel of experts reports that women under 50 years of age should not have mammograms, and that post-menopausal women should submit to this procedure only every two or three years rather than annually.
  • Battling obesity epidemic one child at a time

    What will it take to eliminate the current obesity epidemic in children? There's no easy answer and every year children are putting on more pounds. So why not try a new approach? The one veteran politicians use to get elected, the grassroots approach? This is what Dr. Stafford Dobbin, a wily Irishman and family physician, decided to try in the Niagara Region. It should set a standard for the nation. Dr. Dobbin, a graduate of Queen's University in Belfast, and a family doctor, has a hero. He's Prof. Frank Pantridge, a cardiologist in Belfast who invented the cardiac ambulance. Pantridge was the first to realize that if ambulances carried defibrillators, countless lives of coronary victims would be saved in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
  • Prostate cancer test, treatment up to you and doc

    Lately, many of the emails I've received have been from men. Why? Because a panel of U.S. experts recently reported that healthy men should say "No" to the PSA test that diagnoses prostate cancer. To many, this is like damning motherhood and apple pie, as thousands of men routinely get this test every year. Several cancer specialists in Canada have openly criticized this report. They argue that the PSA test, although not perfect, does save lives. But the U.S. panel claims it has no significant effect on the number of deaths, and often the end result is serious complications from treatment. So who is right?
  • Hear this: Go big with vitamin C

    I T’S arthritis month and millions of North Americans are suffering from osteoarthritis, the wear and tear type, associated with aging. Why must this happen, and why does one remedy never hit the headlines? A French professor started his class by saying, “This has been said before, but must be said again, because no one listened.” So it must be said again about osteoarthritis because not enough people listened!
  • Don't fail your kidneys -- dump painkillers, weight

    Who are the master chemists that control water balance in our bodies, keep the blood neither too acid nor alkaline, rid us of dangerous waste, filter every drop of blood in our bodies every 30 minutes and weigh a mere five ounces? They're our kidneys. But millions of North Americans are so abusing this vital organ that their lives depend solely on renal dialysis. What lethal mistakes are they making? History provides much of the answer. Fifty years ago in Australia, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, people developed a bad habit. They were using mixtures of Aspirin, codeine, phenacetin and caffeine not only for pain relief but also for their mood-altering qualities. In fact, at watch factories in Switzerland, workers were encouraged to take this combination and provided free samples. That resulted in injured kidneys.
  • Small bowls can curb appetites

    Why do people eat more than they should? You say you've heard all the reasons, but I bet you're dead wrong. Why? Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., directs the Food and Brand Lab.
  • MitraL-valve surgery Heart's gatekeeper sometimes needs fix

    What do the swinging doors of a western movie have to do with mitral-valve surgery? They're the easiest way to describe what's wrong with the heart's valves and what surgical procedure is needed to correct mitral-valve prolapse (MVP). To get a first-hand look, I watched Dr. Tirone David, one the world's great cardiac surgeons, perform this operation at the Toronto General Hospital. The mitral valve separates the two left chambers of the heart. Each time the heart beats, the valves open, like the swinging doors of a western saloon. But after opening, they firmly close while the heart pumps blood to the body.
  • Shyness doesn't always pay health dividends

    Is it a benign mole or malignant melanoma? This is an important question as the number of cases of melanoma continues to increase. It's shocking that the incidence of new cases is now greater than the combined number of breast, lung, prostate and large bowel cancers. So how can you prevent dying from this disease? Rudyard Kipling, the English novelist, gave some sound advice when he wrote, "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun." Too much sun exposure is the cause of many melanomas. Remember that if your shadow is shorter than you, it's time to get out of the sun.
  • Consumers killing themselves with salt Wrong lesson for food firms

    If your company makes soup, what's the best way to shoot yourself in the foot? Try selling soup with a little less salt. In 2009 Campbell Soup made a brave and healthy decision. Each serving of its soup would have 32 per cent less sodium to help tame one of North America's big killers: hypertension. Now foolish consumers have forced Campbell's soup in the United States to put sodium back in again. Fortunately, this decision at the moment does not affect Campbell's soup in Canada. Moreover, there are also other products here that are helping to combat these common diseases. For instance, Loblaw's President's Choice Blue Menu line of products contains both decreased salt and calories. Blue Menu soup has only 400 milligrams of salt compared to 800 or more milligrams in other soups.
  • A second serving keeps the doctor away

    What shocks my friends when I order a "blue" steak? No, it's not the fact that it's extra rare that gets their attention. It's the fact that I also always tell the waiter, "Don't forget the double order of mashed potatoes!" Now, a report from the University of California shows I'm not committing a mortal, dietary sin. In fact, potatoes can even help weight loss. Critics of mashed potatoes contend they have a high glycemic index (GI). This means that potatoes are quickly broken down into sugar, triggering a rapid increase in blood sugar and production of insulin. But it's a myth that the potato's high GI is responsible for the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Gynecology research takes the measure of a man's fertility

    How would you react if your doctor said, "Remove your pants and bend over," then picked up a ruler and measured the distance from the middle of the anus to the base of the scrotum, the anal-genital distance (AGD)? You might decide this doctor is wacky, and quickly find another physician. Dr. Shanna Swan, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, New York, reports an unusual finding in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Swan and her colleagues discovered pregnant rats exposed to phthalates, commonly used chemicals suspected of having adverse effects on hormones, produced infertile offspring.
  • Many ways to lower level of bad cholesterol

    ‘Should I stop taking my cholesterol- lowering drug (CLD) and switch to the natural product Sytrinol?” "Can I take this remedy along with a CLD?"
  • Research could overcome spinal-cord injuries

    What's the most catastrophic illness that can befall us? To me it's a spinal-cord injury (SCI) that results in total paralysis. During a recent visit to Israel, I interviewed Dr. Shimon Rochkind, a world-renowned neurosurgeon at the Tel Aviv University Sourasky Medical Center and an expert on SCI. Every year, 12,000 North Americans sustain spinal-cord injury. The people involved are usually under the age of 30 and 80 per cent are males. Some, like Christopher Reeve of Superman fame, fall from a horse. Others dive into shallow water or are involved in car accidents.
  • Placebo cures: Studies show mind can be great healer

    Would you jump at the chance of back surgery that has zero risk of post-operative complications, is free of pain and provides relief of all your symptoms? Or would you choose a back operation that provides none of these guarantees? The first choice may sound like being sold swampland in Florida, but a recent study shows this is not science fiction.
  • Canada's poor record on end-of-life pain relief

    Woody Allen once joked, "I'm not afraid of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens." A global survey by the Lien Foundation in Singapore recently reported the primary worry of the elderly is dying in pain. It listed England as the best place to die. Canada and the U.S. tied for 9th place. As a physician I've always known that pain is the overwhelming fear, particularly for cancer patients. I've also known that heroin has been available in Britain for 90 years to ease the final agony of death. This knowledge triggered a visit to England to witness its use and to question why it wasn't used for this purpose in Canada. I didn't realize my probe would engender so much controversy.
  • Common Japanese breakfast would help us all

    What do the Japanese eat for breakfast that could help North Americans? Every year 7.5 billion packages of natto are sold in Japan. The government has made it an integral part of the school breakfast program. Natto contains vitamin K2, a largely unknown vitamin on this continent and it packs a whammy. Studies show K2 helps to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones) and cardiovascular disease. In 1929, Danish scientist Dr. Henrik Dam, discovered vitamin K. Later, Japanese researchers reported women living in Tokyo, where natto, a centuries-old Japanese food is popular, had increased bone density. But women living in Western Japan, where natto is not popular, showed a decline in bone density. Further research determined vitamin K2 in natto was responsible for this benefit.
  • Childhood obesity a cause for parents' concern

    What is the greatest tragedy that can befall parents? It's that a child will die before they do. It's tragic when this happens and we may see it more often. Many years ago I attended a service in Westminster Abbey in London, England. I can't recall the sermon. But I do remember seeing chubby choir boys. I realized then how obesity was starting to affect children. Since then several studies have shown the growing extent of childhood obesity.
  • Osteoporosis drug can pose risk

    Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor, says: "Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing." What is true in economics is equally true in medicine, particularly when taking medication. A recent report from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration has a sobering message about bisphosphonates, drugs such as Fosamax, Actonel, Atelvia, Boniva and Reclast, used to prevent osteoporosis (fragile bones). It's an ironic situation. The FDA warns that prolonged use of drugs to decrease the risk of fracture can actually result in an increase in "unusual fractures of the thigh." In fact, three years ago, The Harvard Women's Health Watch Report wrote about these fractures when they started to appear.
  • Treatment helps put lilt back into your step

    Why was it so hard for me to have a good night's sleep? It wasn't the continuing uncertain state of the economy. Rather, every time I rolled over in bed, my shoulder reminded me it wasn't happy. This wouldn't have happened if I'd been smarter and taken my own advice about prevention. But luckily, Low Intensive Laser Therapy (LILT) has saved me from surgery a second time. Several years ago, I became involved with trap shooting. I enjoyed the eye-to-hand co-ordination that's required, but one day I got careless and shot too many rounds. That's when the excessive recoil of the gun caused a rotator cuff tear (RCT) in my shoulder. I would have told anyone else to lock up the gun for several weeks to allow healing. But I didn't do it.


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