Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Mae Sai Mai, a Bengal tiger in the Sriracha Tiger Zoo, is "giving back".  She was nursed by a pig for 4 months when she was just a cub.

Friday, October 28, 2011

You've Got Worms?!

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal.  Enjoy!

You've got worms?!

When you heard about someone having worms, it's usually something that they are getting treated for, not  a treatment.

But today, you will learn that some worms are actually being used to help people fight some pretty serious disorders: Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's disease and Type I Diabetes to name a few.

Don't see the connection?  It turns out that the these diseases, along with other autoimmune diseases are a result of an overactive immune system.  So the thought behind using the worms, or "helminthic therapy" as it's called, is that your body now has something to fight, besides itself.

Interesting theory, right?

Well one guy named Jasper Lawrence was so determined to try hookworms to cure his asthma that he went to Cameroon (the one place the World Health Organization mentioned as having hookworms).  You can read about his adventure and how he traveled to Africa with the sole purpose of getting infected with hookworms.

He now, is a vendor of hookworms and his asthma is in remission.

Jasper sounds pretty extreme and maybe that might put you off from thinking about helminthic therapy, but he's not the only one with these findings.  Here's a website that lists many studies and their results for people with diseases ranging from allergies and asthma to autism and psychiatric disorders.

All of the studies seem to agree, that the more sterile we become, the more likely we are to have our bodies attack themselves.  We have an immune system, let's put it to work in a positive way!

Pass the dirt please!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spiderman, Spiderman. Does Whatever a Spider Can

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal.  Enjoy!

Arachnophobia is a very common fear.  Even I get a few goosebumps after seeing this picture:
But would your feelings change if you learned that spiders could help you become bulletproof?  Now, I'm not talking about getting bit by a radioactive spider and suddenly developing "spidey senses" like Spiderman.

There is real medical research that involves spiders and helping people heal.  The best part is, you don't have to get bit by a spider.  In fact, you don't need to interact with the spider at all, instead, it's the spider's web that is the real healer.

The web from spiders have been used in the past as natural adhesive bandages. Again, I got this information from Diana Gabaldon's character, Claire, in Outlander.  (It's amazing what you learn when you read!)  Claire was cleaning out the medical supplies and among a lot of useless things (horse dung, mouse ears, and mummy dust) she came upon some spider webs.

I had considered a large packet of cobwebs for some time, hesitating between the piles.  Both Beaton's Guide and my own dim memories of folk medicine held that spider's web was efficacious in dressing wounds.  While my own inclination was to consider such usage unhygienic in the extreme, my experience with linen bandages by the roadside had shown me the desirability of having something with adhesive as well as absorbent properties for dressings.  At last, I set the cobwebs back in the cupboard, resolving to see whether there might be a way of sterilizing them.  Not boiling, I thought.  Maybe steam would cleanse them without destroying the stickiness? 
(Diana Gabaldon, Outlander 1991.)

But with the advances in research and modern medicine, they've found that spider webs can do more than just protect an open wound.  They can actually be used to grow new skin cells on, both dermal and epidermal layers.  And since spider's silk is known for it's strength, one study tested the skin/silk hybrid and determined that skin merged with the spider's silk can stop bullets fired at a reduced speed.
He might not stop bullets, but he probably stops traffic.
Side note: you don't want to just any spider's webbing.  We've got a couple of dangerous spiders here in the US including the black widow and brown recluse.  This is a video of a brown widow my husband found in the backyard.  (We thought it was a black widow.)  

(That is my dog panting, not my husband)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lovely, Little, Flesh Eaters

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal. Enjoy!

Yesterday I talked about how to close a wound using ants, but sometimes it's better for a wound not to be closed.  Even the ones that you do close, you usually want to clean them out first. 

That's where maggots come in handy.

Again, I was introduced to these creatures' healing power through Diana Gabaldon, an amazing author who writes books that take place in the 18th century (as well as other time periods).  This time the reference is in the book Drums of Autumn.  Here's the quote from that book:

"It works," I said, frowning slightly as I opened another incision and deposited three of the wiggling white larvae. "Much better than the usual means of debridement; for that, I'd have to open up your foot much more extensively, and physically scrape out as much dead tissue as I could reach-which would not only hurt like the dickens, it would likely cripple you permanently.  Our little friends here eat dead tissue, though; they can get into tiny places where I couldn't reach, and do a nice, thorough job."
"Our friends the maggots," Brianna muttered.  "God, Mama!"
"What, exactly, is going to stop them eating my entire leg?" Roger asked with a thoroughly spurious attempt at detachment.  "They ... um ... they spread, don't they?"
"Oh, no," I assured him cheerfully.  "Maggots are larval forms; they don't breed.  They also don't eat live tissue- only the nasty dead stuff.  If there's enough to get them through their pupal cycle, they'll develop into tiny flies and fly off- if not, when the food's exhausted, they'll simply crawl out, searching for more."
(Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autum 1997.)

Not all maggots are equal though.
Blowfly larva = good guys
These guys are actually baby "house flies"
that we shoo away from our food and drinks.
Screwworm fly larva = bad guys
These guys are biters when they grow up as well.
Some maggots will eat live flesh so you can't just walk outside and just collect random maggots to use.  In fact, you will need to get a prescription from a doctor and get the prescription filled, but you are able to apply the maggots yourself.  

The doctor might take some convincing that maggots are the way to go but you can show your doctor the research.  One study found maggots more cost effective, L82 for complete maggot treatment versus L503 for traditional debridement.  Plus, they helped the wound heal much quicker!  You could also lead your doctor to this cool site that addresses common misconceptions about maggot therapy.

Lastly, your pets don't need to miss out on maggot therapy!  Horses can have maggots clean out their hoof wounds.

Maybe we should start looking at maggots lovingly, like this:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Stitch in Time, Saves... Lives?

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal.  Enjoy!

Most of us know that ants are hard workers.

But, a lesser known fact is that some have given their lives to medicine.

I grew up in New York (the state, not the city) and we had lots of ants.  I played with sugar ants which are so little and cute and carpenter ants which are much bigger and more robust, but still cool.  I'd let them crawl on my hand and it would tickle.

When we moved down to Florida, my feeling for ants changed.  In Florida, they have fire ants which should not be picked up and played with.  These guys will bite you to hold you still and then use their stinger on their abdomen to inject a kind of venom.  Don't worry, this post won't tell you that fire ants are actually really beneficial medically.  You can still go on hating them.

Army ants are the healers.

With looks like that, it might be hard to believe that they are useful, but several groups of people use Army ants (along with other large ants with big mandibles) to close wounds.  Here's a video where they explain how to use a "suture ant" in a pinch. (ha ha).

So basically, bring edges of wound together, apply ants, allow them to bite down, rip their bodies off and presto, dissolvable sutures!  Something to keep in mind when you're in the wilderness and you get hurt.

Suture ants in action ... in a decapitated way

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Want to Suck Your Blood! (in a good way)

In honor of Halloween coming up, I figured that this week I will spotlight "creepy crawly" critters and their ability to help us heal.  Enjoy!

There's been a lot of interest in vampires lately.

I wonder if this is due to the fact that real blood suckers are being revived again in medical practices.  In 2004, the FDA approved the use of leeches as medicinal devices but, leeches have actually been used in medicine long before this.  

My favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, is the one that showed me the benefits of leeches.  Before that, my only experience with the creatures was when I was very young (5 or 6 years old).  My mother had one on her leg, although I'm not sure how she got it, and all I remember was her absolutely losing control, she was completely upset and panicked.  

So when I read in Outlander, a book taking place in the 18th century, about a women applying leeches to the swelling on a man's face after he got punched, I was confused.  How is that going to help anything?  Luckily, the woman explained why she was doing it.  It turns out that leeches are useful when a bruise is new and the blood is still flowing under the skin.  They will take care of the excess blood and bring down the swelling.  She warned that as with anything, there's such a thing as overuse.  Leeches are only good for new/fresh bruises.  If you put them on an old bruise, they will just take the new healthy blood.  I think one of the coolest parts in the scene is that when the leeches are full, they just fall off all by themselves.
People would keep leeches in decorative urns with holes in the top to allow the leeches to breathe.  Seems like an easy, free way to deal with swelling and bruises.  Besides, the urn looks really nice!
As far as their use in hospitals, one article at mentions:
"Leeches are already widely used in American hospitals, and companies that raised and sold them here before 1976 were allowed to continue doing so. However, the medical device law passed that year required newcomers to the field to seek approval."
Evidently, medicinal leeches cost about $8 each and are non-returnable, in case you are interested in checking them out. Otherwise, next time you go to the hospital, ask if they use leeches there, you might be surprised!

Friday, October 7, 2011

What My Dog Teaches Me

Mid-term exams are over and I'm finally able to hang out with my husband, cat and dog again.  The weather was gorgeous today and I took full advantage of it by playing outside with my dog for a few hours.  While we were hanging out, I realized that even though my exams are over (for now) and I'm not in class, my dog was acting as my teacher today.

Things I Learned from My Dog:
1. Don't Quit: Once my dog starts playing fetch with a ball/stick/rock/whatever, he recognizes that object as his "toy".  Today while playing fetch, he lost track of what I threw and when I told him "get your toy", the hunt was on.  Boaz, did not give up the search even though it was hard.  He didn't come whining to me, or try to get a new "toy".  He stuck with it and eventually he found it and was able to continue playing.

2. Look Around: Boaz and I went to the levee to play and we haven't been there in a while.  Initially, I was annoyed that he was stopping every few feet to check out the smells and add some of his own.  Then I realized that he was taking time to enjoy the walk, not just rushing to get to the endpoint.  Once I slowed down and looked around I witnessed two red shouldered hawks flying with a vulture.  I enjoyed the wind and just the fact that I was outside instead of in front of a computer and studying school books.

3. Find the Fun: When we play fetch, you can tell my dog has some retriever in him.  He will play fetch for an hour (he actually did today).  So how can doing the same thing over and over not get boring?  Why doesn't Boaz see the uselessness of bringing me the toy if I'm just going to throw it and ask for him to get it again?  Because for him, it's fun.  He sees it as a game, so it is a game.  The next time there's some mindless task to be done, I'm going to realize that I'm "playing fetch" and find a way to make it fun.

4. Be Flexible: We weren't the only ones enjoying the nice weather and the water.  Usually when people see Boaz follow the throw into the water, they are impressed.  Today was no exception.  The gentleman watching us picked up a stick and threw it in the water for his dog, who unfortunately was uninterested to say the least.  To Boaz, it didn't matter who was throwing what, if something was thrown, then it needed to be retrieved. 

5. Kisses Make Everything Better: After being outside for hours playing fetch, walking and running I was getting tired.  While I wanted to lay down in the grass, Boaz wasn't ready to call it quits yet.  He still was full of energy and a bit clumsy, stepping on me.  Of course I wanted to be mad at him, but then he comes over and starts licking my face and all is forgiven.

I enjoy spending time with my dog.  I wonder what else he will teach me.
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