Health Notes

Get a younger brain in minutes 

The first time I heard the acronym GABA, I thought they were talking about my former mother-in-law. But it turns out GABA is a brain chemical that, combined with a certain drug, may be helpful in senile brain disease, usually (incorrectly) called Alzheimer’s disease.

I never thought I would see the day when I would, even guardedly, recommend a tranquilizer drug for anything or anybody (with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton), but here goes.

The slowdown of the brain with old age happens as a result of the lack GABA. And certain drugs, especially the benzodiazepines like Valium, stimulate the production of GABA.

So researchers at the University of Utah decided to test GABA’s effects on aging monkeys. When the researchers injected small amounts of GABA into the monkeys’ neurons, the animals responded at the level of their much younger cohorts. They became more active and had improved visual recognition and understanding of language.

Delivering GABA calms the neurons down and they become more selective, says neuroscientist Audie Leventhal, who led the study.

By helping neurons to respond only to specific stimuli, GABA enables the brain to make sense of the vast quantity of incoming information, Leventhal explained. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it, and, apparently, GABA and a GABA-enhancing drug like Valium (diazepam) will do the job. The researchers noticed an increase in mental acuity in the monkeys within minutes.

I’m basically opposed to the use of drugs-especially tranquilizers and antidepressants, but we must keep an open mind on this important new avenue of research. So I’ll report back after they do some research with humans. I doubt Dr. Leventhal will have difficulty finding volunteers.


“GABA and Its Agonists Improved Visual Cortical Function in Senescent Monkeys,” Science 2003; 300(5,620): 812-815

“Study: Chemical May Improve Aging Brains,” The Associated Press, 5/1/03

The two sides of the selenium story-which one you should believe 

It is interesting to compare what the FDA says about a nutrient and what a respectable university and medical journal say about that same mineral.

The FDA says: “Some scientific evidence suggests that consumption of selenium may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. However, FDA has determined that this evidence is limited and not conclusive.”

The University of Surrey (England), reported in the medical journal, Lancet: “The essential trace mineral, selenium, is of fundamental importance to human health... An elevated selenium intake may be associated with reduced cancer risk. Large clinical trials are now planned to confirm or refute this hypothesis. In the context of these health effects, low or diminishing selenium status in some parts of the world, notably in some European countries, is giving cause for concern.”

“Findings have been equivocal in linking selenium to cardiovascular disease risk although other conditions involving oxidative stress and inflammation have shown benefits of a higher selenium status,” report the researchers from the University of Surrey.

The FDA report doesn’t lie; it just ignores the actual research and evidence so that it doesn’t have to present selenium in a particularly positive light. In the military, this sort of tactic is called “damnation through slight praise.” The FDA is not above using this type of insidious approach on any natural therapy that might interfere with the pharmaceutical industry’s profits.

Action to take:

Studies have shown that the selenium concentration in an area’s soil has a strong correlation with the rates of cancer in that area. The more selenium, the less cancer. Since it is rather difficult to know whether or not the soil where you live is selenium-rich, and since the foods you buy in the supermarket are grown all over the country, it’s best to take supplemental selenium.

A dose of 200 micrograms a day is a safe amount. Selenium supplements are available in most health food and drug stores. If you prefer food sources of selenium, try eating Brazil nuts, which are the richest natural source of this vital nutrient.


“Selenium, phosphatidylserine get qualified nod from FDA,” Alternative Health News Online (, 4/28/03

U.S. health care: Are you really getting what you pay for?

We’re being taken to the cleaners. Private health spending-including people’s health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for services not covered by insurance-in the U.S. is far higher than anywhere else.

According to a new study on U.S. health care costs, Americans’ private per capita health spending was $2,580 in 2000, more than five times that of the $451 average per capita spending in the 30 countries making up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). That includes the French, who are the greatest hypochondriacs in the world, constantly dosing themselves for some ailment, real or imagined.

Why? Well, for starters, health care workers’ salaries, medical equipment, and pharmaceuticals are all more expensive in the U.S. Plus, “the highly fragmented and complex U.S. payment system, for example, requires more administrative personnel in hospitals than would be needed in countries with simpler payment systems,” reported investigators.

So do these high health care costs mean that we are getting better medical care than the other advanced countries? Not really, the study concluded (although it is still one of the best).

Well, then, that just reinforces my original thinking on the matter. The system is designed to benefit bureaucrats first, the health care “industry” second, and the patients last.


“New study: United States spends substantially more on health care than any other country; yet does not provide more services,” Health Affairs (press release,

“It’s The Prices, Stupid: Why The United States Is So Different From Other Countries,” Health Affairs 2003; 22(3): 89-105

“U.S. pays more for health care, doesn’t get more,” Reuters Health news (, 5/8/03

A wrinkle in the case against smoking 

Since the “experts” think smoking causes everything, I have come to believe it causes nothing. Of course, I’m not referring to the heavy smokers -the two-packs-a-day huffers, coughers, and puffers. (And even then, since these types of people are prone to overdo everything-excess alcohol, excess sugar, excess exercise, no exercise, excess worry, excess talking -I would only give heavy smoking part of the blame for any potential problem they might encounter.)

The anti-smoking zealots will stop at nothing to prove their case, even when it is obviously a hoax. Apparently, wrinkles are the latest “consequence” of smoking.

New Scientist magazine reports that university researchers at Nagoya City University Medical School in Japan tested the impact of cigarette smoke by pumping it through a saline solution and adding the resulting mixture to collagen-producing skin cells. The cells produced an excess of an enzyme that breaks down skin cells.

I wonder what they would find if they added fluoride, Pepsi, chlorine, anti-wrinkle cream, or sunscreen to skin cells in a dish. They might also try sugar and unsaturated vegetable oils. I suspect that the results, in every case, would be the same.

Just to drive home the point, the article I read showed a picture of poet W.H. Auden, who was a heavy smoker for most of his life. The picture shows him in all his severely wrinkled glory, cigarette in hand, standing before a graveyard. Pretty graphic stuff and a powerful implied message: “CIGARETTES KILL!” He died at age 66; not old by today’s standards but certainly not young. Did he die of lung disease? Well, the article didn’t bother to make that distinction. In fact, it didn’t mention Auden at all-just used him as an unwitting anti-smoking poster boy.

I am not trying to make a case for smoking cigarettes. But to make the case that smoking, as harmful as it can be when done to excess, causes every problem known to man only destroys the “experts’” credibility. They have a good case against heavy use of marijuana, but like the environmental cukoos, they lost their credibility when they started blaming tobacco for everything from breast cancer to skin wrinkling to tooth decay. Taking my stand for the medical importance of medicinal tobacco will undoubtedly cause some of you to think I’ve lost it, but read my book The Smoker’s Paradox (available from Rhino Publishing, before jumping to conclusions. Promise?


“Japanese researchers: Skin renewal impaired by smoke,” ABC news (, 4/12/00

“Smoking link to premature ageing,” BBC News (, 4/12/00