Saturday, March 29, 2014

Health Conspiracies

This past week, a group of us have been having an interesting discussion about the NPR story “Half of Americans Believe in Medical Conspiracy Theories,” which is a review of the results of a survey published in the March 17th JAMA Internal Medicine.  Half of Americans subscribe to medical conspiracy theories, with more than one-third of people thinking that the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately keeping natural cures for cancer off the market because of pressure from drug companies, a survey finds.

Twenty percent of people said that cellphones cause cancer — and that large corporations are keeping health officials from doing anything about it. And another 20 percent think doctors and the government want to vaccinate children despite knowing that vaccines cause autism. 

From time to time, everyone has a preconceived idea about things. However, conspiratorial thinking goes beyond that ignoring any evidence that is contrary to the theory.

The single most important factor leading to conspiracy belief is that it gives people a sense of control. Someone, rather than random events, is to blame. If a person feels discriminated against or even is unsure about their job, this can increase the likelihood they’ll believe in a conspiracy.

Working in AIDS, I heard a lot of discussion about the government creating HIV and the polio vaccine was the reason so many people were infected. It was interesting to note that as more effective treatments became available, and people had more control over their disease, a lot of the conspiracy theory dropped out of the conversation.

While the Tuskegee Institute’s  study of the natural course of syphilis in the 1930s on black men is very well known, a lot of people are not aware of the eugenics movement that swept the United States in the first half of the 20th Century. This resulted in the sterilization of over 60,000 people who were considered “disabled” due to mental illness or belonging to a socially disadvantaged group. Thirty states had sterilization laws, with some of them continuing this practice into the 1970s. Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States.

Chemical and drug maker Bayer AG, knowingly sold Factor VIII, a blood clotting agent for people with hemophilia, in the 1980s to Latin America and Asia, while marketing a newer safer product in the United States and Europe. Since Factor VIII used 10,000 or more donors to create this product, until there was screening for HIV thousands of people with hemophilia became infected with the AIDS virus. Ultimately, Bayer and three other companies paid about $600 million to settle more than 15 years of lawsuits. Associated Press 

With just these 3 examples, it’s not surprising that people believe in medically related conspiracy theories. In the JAMA study, people were asked about six theories. In addition to the three listed above, the other three are: the CIA deliberately infected African Americans with HIV; genetically modified foods are a conspiracy to reduce population worldwide; and water fluoridation is used to cover up pollution.

While there is good research that refutes most of these conspiracy theories, half of the American population believes in one or more of them. This is a problem since it results in people not receiving needed care and children not receiving vaccinations and so conditions like pertussis (whooping cough) are on the rise.

How do we change this? Can we change it? My sense is that the humans have always done some version of this because it makes them feel more certain and secure. The availability of the Internet may be adding more to it, since all kinds of “faux” research is now easily available. Ultimately though, we each need to make decisions about our medical care. As much as possible, choices should be made based on our own situations and hopefully with the support of a medical provider we trust. Finally, we all need to keep an open mind as much as possible. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Take a Break: Try Container Gardening

The calendar reads spring, but my yard says mid winter. With the increasing sunlight, I have the urge to start planting. Besides weather, I have an additional challenge, deer.

Our trusty dog Haunter kept them, and other critters, at bay from my gardens. Sadly, at almost 15 years of age, Haunter passed on in January. While we’ve been very sad, the deer are doing the happy dance and have taken over the back yard. Needing some other ways to garden, I’m trying a variety of containers this year.

Scrounge around your house or check out the local thrift store, as there are lots of things that will work as a container: old strainer, rubber boots, glass jars, the fish bowl that you have left under the sink, tin cans, baskets, bowls, buckets etc. One of my favorites is a wheelbarrow.  Not only does it hold a lot, you can wheel it outside for maximum sunshine, yet in the event of an overnight frost, it’s easy to wheel indoors. For more inspiration, check out 12 Unusual and Upcycled Container Gardens. 

• First things first, herbs. I’ve been saving my glass jars all winter so I can grow my basil, thyme, rosemary, dill and whatever else in doors this summer.  Last year, I grew herbs in window boxes in the kitchen so I wouldn’t have to trek out to the garden. While my neighbors were complaining about slugs and other critters nibbling on their herbs, I was contently clipping what I needed for cooking and even had enough to get me through the winter. Put stones in the bottom of the glass container-important for drainage-before adding soil. 

• How to Container Garden to Grow Fresh Vegetables: Good website to learn the basics. 

• How to Grow Veggies in a Pot: Video on planting tomatoes in a container. 

While I’m very oriented to a garden I can eat, if you are more interested in ornamentals, check out 48 Cool Container Gardens for inspiration. 

Not interested in today’s activity? Check out the Take a Break Pinterest site for lots of different ideas. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Take an Art Break: Iris folding

A week ago, I was looking for new projects for a workshop and came across Iris Folding. Developed by a Dutchmen, using scraps of envelopes, in the early 1900’s, it's a very easy way to use left over bits of paper, ribbon, and fabric and create something beautiful. Following a pattern, folded paper is lined up on a pattern, with the result looking a bit like the closing lenses of a camera.

I've been experimenting with different designs available for free online. Not only is it very easy, but it’s a bit meditative as you place the pieces of paper on the pattern. While the one side looks like a mess, the right side pops the “wow!” factor.

Links to help you get started:
• How to do Iris Folding: Good video to explain how to Iris fold. Note that you can use regular tape throughout.  

 Simplicity of Iris Folding: Website offers a variety of free templates.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Plus Side of Problems-Mindfulness

Starting in my 20’s, my mother would at various times (like my birthday) pass on the advise of her mother and her very elderly aunts, of which two lived into their 100s and another well into their 90s. “Have a little something wrong with you.  Not enough to kill you, but enough to make you think about what your doing.”

The older I become, the better I understand this advise. Due to various aches and ills, I’m a lot more mindful of what I eat, how I exercise etc. etc. I’ve noticed that when I’m fully present, not only do I remember things better, but I figure out solutions to problems, am more sensitive to the people I’m interacting with and ultimately my sense of well-being and contentment, is significantly increased.

While aging has certainly made me more mindful, the real key to learning how to do it came about as I was trying to solve a costume problem.

Our town was celebrating its 250th anniversary and I needed to make a number of Revolutionary period men’s outfits. I was stumped about how to make a “shirt waist.” I decided to take a close look at how men’s shirts were made, and stared at every male that walked into the gym where I was working out. After observing the first two men, I had it figured out.

In the course of any given day, I saw lots of men in shirts, but I wasn’t paying attention. By focusing and being mindful, I was able to solve my problem in less than 10 minutes. Finding that solution, gave me a burst of energy and enthusiasm the rest of the day.

Problems, mistakes and negative experiences have a purpose, whether they are apparent at the time or not. It’s how you approach them that makes the difference. According to Dr. Ellen Langer, the Harvard researcher, specializing in mindfulness, “We suffer from an illusion of certainty and would prosper from realizing that since everything is always changing and everything looks different from different perspectives, this ‘certainty’ is mindless and robs us of control.”

Langer specializes in non-meditative mindfulness, which she defines as the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. (Langer, 1997, The Power of Mindful Learning p. 4).

From her research on mindfulness in people living with chronic conditions, Langer concluded three things: "The first is you see you don't have it all the time, so it's not quite as bad as you thought. You know, people are depressed, they think they're depressed all the time. No one is anything all the time. People who are dyslexic, it turns out that most words, over 90 percent of the words, they're reading they tend to read correctly, yet they define themselves by their illness.

"So what happens is first you see you're not as bad as you thought you were. Second, by seeing that sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse leads you to ask the question — well, why? And you may well come up with a solution. And the third, even if you don't, that whole process is mindful, and the 35-or-so years of research we've done shows that that kind of noticing new things leads to health and longevity." Thinking Counter Clockwise to BeatStress.” 

To develop mindfulness, Langer recommends five steps:
 • Seek out, create and notice new things
• Realize how behavior can be understood differently in different contexts:  All statements can be true based on the context in which they are delivered.
• Reframe mistakes into successes. How can a failure  be helpful to you in another way.
• Be aware that stress-indeed all emotion-is a result of our views about events.
• Be authentic. Be true to yourself.

Learn more about mindfulness, as described by Langer:

Mindfulness in theAge of Complexity: Harvard Business Review The Magazine March 2014 Interview with Ellen Langer 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Take a Break: Welcome Spring/Say Good bye to winter

The first day of the spring equinox is March 20. So today, March 19, you can either say “so long winter,”  and drink up the last of the hot chocolate by a roaring fire, or get ready to say “hello spring.”

• Provide nesting materials for the birds. Take handfuls of yarn scraps (4-8 inches in length) and stuff them into a suet feeder or some other device (maybe the bag onions came in) that the birds can easily access. In the days that follow, watch the yarn disappear and be on the look out for brightly colored nests Learn other ways to help the birds this spring at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Make melted snowman cookies and share with friends. 

• Make crepe paper Daffodils: The Dollar Store is a good place to shop for crepe paper in lots of different colors. 
Video version       

• Treat yourself to a pedicure, since sandal season isn’t that far off. Check out Easy at-home pedicure shortcuts for2,5 or 35 minutes. 

• Get your camera/cell phone ready to take pictures on the first day of spring.