Is our food safe yet?

This is just WRONG.

First they thought it was the tomatoes.

Then after months and months of seeing letters about Salmonella in tomatoes posted in supermarkets and fast food chains, they decided it wasn’t the tomatoes after all.  But not before the tomato industry was destroyed for the season.  Now they say it was the jalapeno peppers.  Really?  No matter, I have both tomatoes and jalapenos in the garden.

It used to be that America had safe food and safe water.  That’s what made us different from other countries.  Anyone who has ever gotten a dose of Montezuma’s revenge while enjoying Mexico’s beaches, or a touch of fever after eating the wild boar in Kathmandu can appreciate America’s tradition of eating food without having to take antibiotics afterwards. But all that has changed now.

Where is the government that used to protect our food?

Oh, yeah, that’s right. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary Mike Leavitt is busy these days trying to get contraception redefined as abortion.

Posted in Government, Health, Public Policy. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Is our food safe yet?

West Nile Virus speads under Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt

Last night my neighbor told me she was keeping the children inside because West Nile Virus had just been discovered in several of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods, including this one.  Just a few streets over, they still didn’t have electric services restored after the heavy storms and rains that have swept through in the last few days.  And now, with more  standing water in the alleys and nearby nature preserves, we’re in for even more mosquitoes.  Sick, diseased mosquitoes.

Getting infected with West Nile isn’t like catching a cold either. Since the first two dead cows in 2001 confirmed that West Nile had entered the state, 94 people have died from the disease, just in Illinois.  While the epicenter of West Nile deaths has move westward form Illinois to Colorado to California, a hot spot remains in urban Chicago.

When I lived in Jordan back in 2000, there was an outbreak of West Nile virus in Israel just across the border, a 40-minute cab ride away.  I saw notices in the newspaper, films of mosquitoes on channel 2  (the only channel I could pull in), and after dusk chemical trucks spraying the streets on either side of Abdali bus station in central Amman.  Nobody died from West Nile in Jordan.

In the last 7 years, West Nile virus has entered this country and spread like wildfire, killing 94 people and preventing children from playing outdoors in the summer.  Where is our government?  In the past we have seen the federal government take the lead in controlling and even wiping out numerous diseases like influenza and polio.  It used to be that fearing mosquitoes was something that happened in third world malaria prone areas like Africa.  Where is the federal government now?  Oh, yeah, that’s right.  They’re busy trying to impose their religion on everybody else by trying to redefine contraceptives as abortion.

Posted in Government, Health, الأردن. Tags: , . Comments Off on West Nile Virus speads under Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt

Bush Department of Health and Human Services tries to re-write contraception laws

The Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is attempting to redefine abortion to include common contraception methods such as the pill. The legislation is being written now. The proposed legislation could have sweeping effects on women’s health services and could prevent victims of sexual assault from getting emergency contraception.

According to the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA)

…the draft rules propose to re-define abortion to include most modern forms of contraception, a radical new definition that directly contradicts the definitions of pregnancy ascribed to by the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among other leading medical authorities. Defining “abortion” in this manner will limit access to the full range of comprehensive family planning services for women and men most in need of them – the low-income and uninsured beneficiaries of programs like Title X and Medicaid.

Moreover, by potentially invalidating a number of hard-won state laws that protect women’s access to contraceptive services, the draft regulations would be a major step backwards for women’s health. The very laws described as “the problem” in the draft regulations, like the twenty-seven state laws that require equity in prescription coverage for contraceptives, and the eleven state laws requiring the provision of emergency contraception to rape victims in the emergency room – are common-sense, compassionate provisions that are broadly supported by a majority of Americans.

These new regulations could severely limit access to counseling, education, contraception and preventive health services for those who need it most, low-income and uninsured women and men. Americans – including the nine in ten who support federal funding for access to family planning services for those who cannot afford them…

To oppose this legislation, you can send an email message through the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) |here| and send a message to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt through HillPac |here|.

Got a touch of COPD?–How To Quit Smoking

It has now been more than three years since I quit smoking.

At the time, I googled it and found absolutely NOTHING helpful online. Oh, there was some lightweight psychobabble written apparently by people who had never smoked but were marketing products–products you would be sure to buy more of if you were unsuccessful in your quest. And there was a CD that came with the nicotine patches I bought–more lightweight nonsense. Who can tolerate being talked down to like that when in the throes of incipient nicotine withdrawal? Aaack!

So here is how I did it and what I learned in the process.


  • Believe it is possible. Of course it’s possible to quite smoking. Other people have done it. I have done it. I did it once for two years before starting again. Once I even quit for several weeks while my late husband, a pack a day smoker, blew smoke in my face. After I quit this time around, I happened on a website that calculated your chances of quitting based on how many time you had tried and what system you used. My chances were 7%. Ha! Don’t listen to these websites. They are not about YOU. For me, the breakthrough came one day at my boyfriend’s place when I had the worst flu I had ever had in my life. While foisting some Fisherman’s Friend cough drops and WalMart knockout syrup on me, he nonchalantly mentioned that he had bought a box of nicotine patches to help him quit. He goes in for a lot of New Age stuff I have a hard time with, but this time his faith was contagious. The moment he said that, a mental door opened for me, and a few weeks later I walked through it.
  • Don’t worry about failure. The more times you try to quit and are unsuccessful, the greater your chances of quitting next time. If you start smoking again, you will not suddenly become an evil ogre. You will still be the same person–nice or not nice-that you are now. Don’t think of it as a make or break deal. Just go for it and see what happens. In my opinion, all the stuff they tell you to do–making circles on a calendar, thinking more than ten minutes in advance, telling all your friends so you will be embarrassed if it doesn’t work out–that just puts more psychological pressure on you at a time when you want to remove as many stress factors from your life as possible.
  • Think about the money. Patches are expensive. I found patches on sale at Walgreen’s that made them the same price as a carton of cigs. Think of the cigs as another type of nicotine delivery system. If you can quit, sure, you will save money on the long run, but I had to think of it in terms of my weekly budget.
  • Do it your way. When I got the box of patches home, I opened the box and put one on. If you use a patch or a chewing gum, play with it. See how you feel after having the patch on for a while. Do you feel the cravings stop? After how long? For me it was about an hour before I got any relief. For the first week I kept smoking but had the patch on too. Later, when I read the instructions, I found out I wasn’t supposed to do that. I also found out I wasn’t dead yet. Forget the instructions and the control freaks who write them. Do what feels right for you.
  • Keep evaluating how things are going for you. Is the first cigarette of the morning the hardest one not to smoke? Of course. You just went 8 hours without adding any nicotine to your bloodstream. Try putting the new patch on at bedtime and see if you don’t wake up without cravings. Do you start feeling cravings and then find out the patch came unstuck? Try putting it on your side where you can keep better track of it, or put some hospital tape around the edges when you put it on. Pay attention to how you feel and what is happening, and keep adjusting to whatever happens.
  • If you postpone the cigarette, the craving will go away. This is the single most useful piece of information I got from anywhere. It means that if you can just postpone having that cigarette for maybe ten minutes, the bad feeling will pass, and you won’t want it anymore. So you don’t have to worry about all day and tomorrow and next week. All you have to do is get through the next ten minutes and you’ll be okay.
  • Short circuit your unconscious habits. The book that comes with the CD shows –shudder–holding your last pack of cigarettes over a faucet and running cold water over them. No way. Do they have any idea how much those things cost? I put mine in the trunk of my car. That way, if I really really wanted one, they would still be there. I would have to put my coat on and go outside in the winter and open the trunk and fish around for the brown paper bag way in the back–yes, I would have to work hard for it–but they were still there if I wanted one, and the decision was still mine to make. I never went out and got one, and when I sold the car, they were still there.
  • Substitute something for the cigarette. If you absolutely can’t stop yourself from getting up and going for that cigarette, have something else you can make a detour and go for instead. I shopped for a variety of food to stuff in my mouth when I wanted that cig. Hard candy that would take some time to dissolve. Then I thought about the calories and went for sugar free candy, only to discover that most sugar substitutes eaten in any quantity will cause diarrhea. Candy gave way to the pretzel cigar. “Workers of the world, unite,” I would mutter in my best Castro imitation voice, while slobbering on a cigar-shaped pretzel. Finally I settled on a package of carrots (“What’s up, doc?”, Bugs Bunny style), discreetly on the side of a lower shelf, which I kept on hand for maybe a year after quitting.
  • You can cut the time they say to use the patch. If you have weaned yourself down to where the patch you have feels comfortable, you don’t have to go the whole amount of time they tell you. You can just keep pushing to the next lower lever patch, if you want. Go by how you feel. Or if you need a little rest, you can maintain at the same level for a few more days. For me it was a constant juggle between how much antsiness I could take, and how quickly I wanted to wean myself off the nicotine. At the end, I decided that if I had gone from 28mg to 14 mg, I didn’t really need the 7 mg patch. I was right. Going from 14mg to zero, I could do without a patch.

After quitting:

Quitting is no guarantee you will not have more health problems. Three months after I quit, I started having chest pains and was diagnosed with obstructive lung disease. There ain’t no justice.

You get very little warning before getting COPD. Typically you will have a harder than usual flu or cold season for two years or so, then BAM! You supposedly get it after about 30 years of smoking, so counting the two years I quit back in my twenties, that’s about right.

Having no health insurance, I have had to rely on student health services and sliding scale clinics for even bare bones treatments, but here is what I learned so far:

Cigarettes change your metabolism.

I learned this from a book about quitting smoking written by an MD which I have now misplaced. He said the cigarettes change the way the body manufactures insulin, which takes sugar from your bloodstreams and pops it into your cells, making you fatter. Cigarettes depress insulin production. No nicotine equals more insulin equals more fat.

While you are quitting you will do whatever you have to do and eat whatever you have to eat to get through it, but once you quit, you can start paying attention to what you eat. I can never count calories or units or any of those other trick diet things. Instead I look at fat labels. This book suggested 25g of fat per day, max. If you eat at McDonald’s one time, you will go over that, but there are a lot of changes you can make. Low fat salad dressings. If you have a chocolate craving you can get those chocolate covered mints instead of candy bars. Just start reading labels and see what you are eating.

If you see a diet book, say in a used book sale, skim it and see if it is stupid or if it has something in it you can use. I have any number of used books I paid a nickel or a dime for that gave me some piece of helpful advice.

Flu shots and especially pneumonia shots.

I have never gotten flu shots before because they generally made me almost as sick as having the flu. I preferred to take my chances. Those days are gone.

Once you have a lung condition, every time you have the flu or a respiratory illness, you will go downhill progressively more. If you are over 50 or have a lung condition you might be able to get the pneumonia shot free at the same place you get the flu shot.


I found this one out from someone I met in the book section of a second hand store who was carting around a small oxygen bottle. They had an actual exercise physical therapy for lung patients she said had helped her. I started walking more regularly and found that sure enough, after about 40 minutes, I had a sensation of my breathing opening up. If you get that elephant-on-the-chest sensation, regular walking is your lifeline.

Vitamin C.

I can find no documentation on this, but I swear I feel better when I take time-release Vitamin C. Today I took 500mg. During flu season I take Airborne which has 1000 mg of Vit. C as well as a zillion other esoteric supplements, again an introduction from my boyfriend. He offered me one and I dissolved it in my mouth. Was that ever a surprise. It effervesces, so you’re supposed to dissolve it in a glass of water.

Vitamin C has long been used to treat pregnancy-related cravings for pickles and such, but the scientific underpinnings for Vitamin C for lung disease has to do with antioxidants. Antioxidants are supposed to have a preventative effect on the tissues of the lungs. I remember one lecture in pathophysiology class, the molecular diagram of a contaminant like bleach or cigarette smoke started a chain reaction on the molecule that lines the lungs. The effect was just like unzipping a zipper, as the lung tissue was destroyed with just one contaminant molecule. Adding an antioxidant like Vitamin C or Vitamin E did not repair the damage, but did stop the chain reaction, as that molecule was substituted in the chain. Just like a broken tooth in a zipper. I like to think of the Vitamin C lurking in my lungs, just waiting to prevent further damage. They say lung damage can’t be repaired, but wouldn’t the healthy lung cells just keep dividing?

You can also look for foods that contain antioxidants, like cereals (Special K has one type) and soy milk (Silk brand has both a “Very Vanilla” with extra vitamins for children and an “enhanced” that I find in the more geriatric neighborhood that has almost identical antioxidants).


So that’s it, that’s what I know about quitting smoking and dealing with smoking-related breathing problems. When I hit the “publish” button, I will have placed the most usable bit of information available anywhere on the web within reach of anyone who can google. And it shouldn’t be like that.

The health system is geared towards prescriptions of pills, so if there isn’t a pill for it, the medical establishment isn’t interested. The free market is interested in marketing nicotine delivery systems and is rewarded when those trying to quit either fail or prolong their use longer than necessary. Their information is geared towards more sales.

Somewhere, someone has done research on this and knows exactly what nicotine and smoking does to your metabolism, as well as the effects of withdrawal. But if it is anywhere online, I sure can’t find it. Smoking is such a public health issue–why is there not more information about it?–I mean information written for adults above a tenth grade level that doesn’t insult the intelligence. There should be a blog, and there should be a forum where people can go to ask physicians and former smokers about their knowledge and experiences. But nothing exists.

UPDATE: Allen Carr’s book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking is rated very highly, with many comments about people who were successful with the book after being unsuccessful with other methods.

Senator Obama needs to work on that Illinois health care plan some more

You know that Illinois heath care plan Senator Obama talked about being so proud of in the debate the other night?

Well, I live in Illinois. I don’t have health insurance and I don’t have children either. But even though I can’t get health care myself, my state taxes go to pay for doctors for other people’s children. That is WRONG.

Posted in Government, Health, Illinois, Obama. Comments Off on Senator Obama needs to work on that Illinois health care plan some more

Heating food in plastic containers linked to dioxin and cancer

Received this in an Email from a relative who is a breast cancer survivor. Don’t have a link for it yet. In the meantime, if you are fixing something to eat right now, don’t use that plastic refrigerator container in the microwave.

Subject: FW: Cancer News from Johns Hopkins

Cancer News from Johns Hopkins:
1. No plastic containers in microwave ovens. This means NONE, not even the ones that claim to be microwave safe.

2. No water bottles in freezer.

3. No plastic wrap in microwave.

Johns Hopkins has recently sent this out in its newsletters. This information is being circulated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as well. Dioxin chemicals causes cancer, especially breast cancer.

Dioxins are highly poisonous to the cells of our bodies. Don’t freeze your plastic bottles with water in them as this releases dioxins from the plastic.

Recently, Dr. Edward Fujimoto, Wellness Program Manager at Castle Hospital, was on a TV program to explain this health hazard. He talked about dioxins and how bad they are for us.

He said that we should not be heating our food in the microwave using plastic containers. This especially applies to foods that contain fat. He said that the combination of fat, high heat, and plastics releases dioxin into the food and ultimately into the cells of the body.

Instead, he recommends using glass, such as Corning Ware, Pyrex or ceramic containers for heating food. You get the same results, only without the dioxin. So such things as TV dinners, instant ramen and soups, etc., should be removed from the container and heated in something else. Paper isn’t bad but you don’t know what is in the paper. It’s just safer to use tempered glass, Corning Ware, etc.

He reminded us that a while ago some of the fast food restaurants moved away from the foam containers to paper. The dioxin problem is one of the reasons.

Also, he pointed out that plastic wrap, such as Saran, is just as dangerous when placed over foods to be cooked in the microwave. As the food is nuked, the high heat causes poisonous toxins to actually melt out of the plastic wrap and drip into the food. Cover food with a paper towel instead.

This is an article that should be sent to anyone important in your life!

Update: this piece was migrated from a different site. Comments and links have been retained.

5 Responses to “Heating food in plastic containers linked to dioxin and cancer”

  1. Christopher Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 12:19 pm Well, not quite.Snopes has already debunked this particular urban myth in its entry called “Plastic-tac-toe”, but if you want to see what Johns Hopkins actually says about it (as opposed to the paragraph ascribed to Johns Hopkins but in reality added by some unknown Internet user back in early 2004), visit the interview with Rolf Halden, Ph.D. (Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).Here is a relevant excerpt:

    What about cooking with plastics?

    RH: In general, whenever you heat something you increase the likelihood of pulling chemicals out. Chemicals can be released from plastic packaging materials like the kinds used in some microwave meals. Some drinking straws say on the label “not for hot beverages.” Most people think the warning is because someone might be burned. If you put that straw into a boiling cup of hot coffee, you basically have a hot water extraction going on, where the chemicals in the straw are being extracted into your nice cup of coffee. We use the same process in the lab to extract chemicals from materials we want to analyze.

    If you are cooking with plastics or using plastic utensils, the best thing to do is to follow the directions and only use plastics that are specifically meant for cooking. Inert containers are best, for example heat-resistant glass, ceramics and good old stainless steel.

    Even the Mayo clinic has entered the debate with the following statement:

    Other claims have suggested that plastics contain dioxins, a group of contaminants labeled as a “likely human carcinogen” by the Environmental Protection Agency. But according to the FDA, there is no evidence that plastic containers or wraps contain dioxins.

    Again, however, there is the admonition to only use plastics that have been approved for microwaves.

    As for the e-mail warning, it is among those that recommends not sending on. Their very complete analysis of the issue can be found in their article, “Microwaves, Plastics, and Dioxins — Oh My!”

  2. Christopher Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 12:58 pm Damn. I wrote out a whole snark on this perennial e-mail “warning,” which, when I submitted it, “softly and suddenly vanished away.”Apparently my Snark was a Boojum.Okay, so I’ll try my snark again, this time without quotations and summaries (but I’ll ask you to check out the links.)To begin with, this e-mail warning has nothing to do with Johns Hopkins — an attribution that was added early in 2004.

    This particular urban legend has been very roundly debunked by snopes (“Plastic-tac-toe”, Break the Chain (“Microwaves, Plastics, and Dioxins…Oh My!”, the Mayo clinic (“Plastic containers in the microwave: A cause of cancer?”), and even Johns Hopkins itself (“Researcher Dispels Myth of Dioxins and Plastic Water Bottles”).

    The upshot of all these replies is that you should only use plastics that have been deemed microwave-safe, but otherwise not to worry. is requesting that this particular e-mail no longer be passed on because: “As we can see, the perceived reliability of the message’s source can be deceiving.”

    Every e-mail warning should be checked out before passing along. It is generally quite easy to do so, often involving nothing more than a quick Google search using a few of the key words. Nine out of ten times they are either hoaxes or such a mish-mash of partial facts with wild speculation as to be useless.

  3. David Clark Says:
    September 3rd, 2006 at 3:19 pm So far, this is an urban legend. has information about it here.
  4. Christopher Says:
    September 4th, 2006 at 11:22 am Oops. Obviously there is a delay feature involved in posting comments, so the comment I thought had disappeared was just caught up in a queue of some sort.Sorry about the double post (which are called “waffles” at
  5. Anonymous Says:
    September 4th, 2006 at 12:22 pm I was hoping some of these links would state unequivically that plastic is not harmful, but none of them do that. Instead they say the person presenting the information was a public health official and not a medical doctor, that the substance migrating into the food from the plastic was not dioxin but some other hormone-like compound, or that the information did not originate from an offical source within the hospital but was merely being passed to friends on hospital Email accounts by hospital employees. Nothing in the links that would alarm the plastic industry, is there.Instead we are told to be sure to use plastic that is clearly labeled as safe for microwave and not to let the plastic actually touch the food. The plastic has to stay one inch away from the food. Not very reassuring. I have also heard the stories about breast cancer and links to caffeine and BBQ charcoal. As someone who already has a family history of breast cancer, I don’t know what to think. Somehow I don’t expect there will be more research on the subject soon.