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Dogs and Cancer, Vitamin D, Staying Well, Travelling Safely

Can dogs detect cancer? You bet they can and much better and less invasively (and expensively) than most medical testing can. "Recent research suggests that dogs can detect scent in the measure of one part per trillion." (Nicolas Broffman, Pine Street Clinic, San Anselmo, Ca. in his paper called "Diagnostic Accuracy of Canine Scent Detection in Early and Late-stage Lung and Breast Cancers, 2006.)

Apparently there is a "scent signature" to cancer cells in a patient's breath, possibly through the decay of cancer cells. These chemicals can then be "sniffed out" before tumors are found through current scanning equipment such as x-rays or CAT scans. This theory was confirmed in a 2011 article in the journal GUT. In this study a trained Lab's sniffing ability was 99% accurate and equaled the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment.

"The canine method has some advantages as a potential cancer-screening method, due to its non-invasiveness, simplicity of odor sampling and storage, ease of testing and interpretation of results and relatively low costs." (Tadeusz Jezierski, Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding of the Polish Academy of Sciences). I would rather be "dog-scanned" than CAT-scanned, wouldn't you?

Vitamin D redux: I know that I yap a lot about vitamin D, but here's why higher levels are so vital to good health: Most MD's know the connection between bones and vitamin D - look at OJ and his bowed legs  that was a result of vitamin D deficiency and it's called rickets. But, it's more than about healthy bones. Higher levels in the range of 50-80 ng/mL are associated with reduced mortality and a better immune system. More research documents deficient vitamin D with SHARPLY higher risks of cancer, vascular disease and chronic inflammation. The NEJM reported in 2009 a striking 45% mortality rate in vitamin D-deficient ICU patients compared to only a 16% mortality rate in sufficient vitamin D patients.

Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to stroke. Studies show that those with optimal vitamin D levels decrease stroke risk and reduce the odds of permanent disability in the event of a stroke. Lower vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk for multiple sclerosis and more than 90% of people with MS have deficient vitamin D levels. Geographically, in the USA, MS will occur more frequently in those states with less sun, like the Midwest. Low levels of D are also associated with low birth weight babies. (Many years ago, I was diagnosed with very low vitamin D levels (6) and yes, I had low birth weight babies.) Lastly, low levels are linked with psychiatric disorders such as ADHD and schizophrenia.

So what are some signs that you may be deficient in vitamin D? The best measure, of course, is a blood test and you know that I can get shrill about asking you to get your testing done. But here are some other signs:

1) You have darker skin. Darker skin does not absorb vitamin D from the sun like the lighter skins and you may need 10X more sun exposure to produce the same amount of D as a person with pale skin.

2) You feel depressed. Serotonin  the feel good neurotransmitter  rises with exposure to bright light and falls with decreased sun exposure. Those UV sun lamps really do work it you have this problem. McGuckin's carries them.

3) You are 50 or older. Let's face it, nothing works as well now, including your absorption of vitamin D. Plus, your kidneys become less efficient at converting the vitamin D into its usable form.

4) You are overweight or obese or have a higher muscle mass. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means fat cells "collect" it. If you have more fat, you need more D. Same with more muscle.

5) Your bones ache or you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia or CFS. There is a defect in putting calcium into the collagen matrix into your skeleton, and as a result you may have aching bone pain.

6) Does your head sweat? Yeah, I know. Kind of weird. But it's a classic sign. I remember long before I was tested for vitamin D noticing that my head sweat an alarming amount when I played tennis in the hot sun. Sweaty heads in babies will also herald a vitamin D deficiency.

7) You have gut trouble. If you have gut trouble, you will have also have trouble absorbing vitamin D, since it is fat soluble. I had undiagnosed gluten intolerance for years which probably contributed to my horribly low levels of vitamin D.

Now is not the time to get careless! It feels like spring is almost here and I am already hallucinating little green things sprouting out of the ground. But we are still in winter and we are still very vulnerable to colds and flus and we need to be super careful about being around people with colds and flus by doing just a few things, easy things, like taking advantage of the cart wipes at WF's, moving your seat at the movies if you are sitting by a sniffling person holding a wet Kleenex, wearing a mask on the airplane. I guess I am talking primarily to myself, as last March I was down for a 14 day count with the achy-breaky flu, my first illness in years. I guess I touched the wrong door knob.

As a reminder to me and to you, here are the 10 most germ infested (bodily fluids and fecal matter) places in public: Playgrounds are number one. Then comes bus rails and armrests. Public bathrooms. Shopping cart handles. Escalator handrails. Chair arm rests. Vending machine buttons. Shared pens. Public telephones, and number 10  elevator buttons. Use your elbow and to heck if you look crazy pushing that button to the third floor.

Americans touch about 300 different surfaces every 30 minutes, so it's pretty much impossible to avoid all germs. However, the best defense is constant hand washing. This means before you eat, before you prepare foods and after you come home from anywhere "out there."

Safer Air Travel: Dr. Oz had some good information a while back about keeping healthy while flying and here's what I scribbled down on the back of an old envelope for us: First of all, the safest place to sit in an airplane is not the first four rows, which I have heretofore PAID EXTRA for, I guess so I can die first. The best place in case of a crash is mid-plane over the wings. But your chance of dying in a plane crash is 90 million to 1. Pretty good odds.

OK. So the germiest place in an airplane is the headrest, which for some weird reason doesn't worry me too much. Then tray tables which are really disgusting: 60% of tray tables tested positive for norovirus and MRSA! Then the buckle and the flush buttons. I think from now on I will travel with wipes and thoroughly wipe off the tray tables and the buckle before touching.

Poor Sleep and Health: There is more and more evidence linking chronic poor sleep to respiratory infections. It's all about the immune system which seems to take a nosedive with faulty sleep patterns. One study published in the journal Sleep in Sept, 2015 reported that adults who slept less than 5 or 6 hours a night  and that is one in five adults - were 4.2 times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept at least 7 hours.

Another study, an observational one, of nearly 60,000 women suggested that sleep patterns may affect pneumonia risk. Those women who slept 5 hours or less were more likely to develop pneumonia, although, paradoxically, those women who slept excessively, or more than 9 hours per night were also at higher risk. And, I have read lately that the magic number of sleep hours for health is actually 7 ½-8. On either side of these numbers the returns start diminishing.

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