News on Health & Science

Say No to Pneumonia

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This year once again Pneumonia Day (November 12) came and went without much fanfare. Although great progress has been made in preventing and treating the disease, it still affects three in 1,000 people annually and has a 10-15 per cent rate of mortality.
Pneumonia can occur as a result of infection with a wide spectrum of organisms, with viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites implicated. Infection can be acquired from others in the community. It can develop as a complication of prolonged hospitalisation for other illnesses or surgery.

In infants less than three weeks, the organism is often acquired from the birth canal. School-going children may get it from their peers. Adults are more likely to develop pneumonia if they smoke, drink, are obese or have diabetes. People who are immune-compromised (the system doesn’t work as well as it should) as a result of steroids, treatment for cancer or if they have AIDS are also at a higher risk.

Our stomach contains partially digested food that is held back by sphincters (muscles that constrict or relax passages as required). Sometimes the sphincters become lax and the food may regurgitate into the lungs. This is “aspiration pneumonia” and can occur with loss of consciousness or a stroke, after surgery, or when a person is fed through a tube. The infection is “mixed” with a bouquet of organisms and is difficult to treat.

The mouth contains many organisms, which proliferate with dental caries or gum disease. These organisms may pass inadvertently into the lungs during sleep causing pneumonia.

Influenza can cause viral pneumonia. This is seasonal and is often associated with conjunctivitis or diarrhoea. It can be severe like in SARS, avian flu or swine flu. Initially, it is difficult to distinguish between a viral pneumonia (which doesn’t require or respond to antibiotics) and a bacterial infection. Many viral pneumonias progress to bacterial infections.

The cilia (fine hair) lining the lungs initially try to push out infecting organisms. The lung cells then secrete antibody-containing mucous in which the organisms get trapped. Cough reflexes set in trying to expel the organism. When this fails, the organism gains a foothold, starts to proliferate and causes pneumonia.

Tobacco contains nicotine which paralyses the protective cilia. They became inactive, inefficient and ineffective. This is why smokers develop pneumonia frequently. Others (particularly women and children) who live with smokers are also affected similarly by the smoke filled environment.

The common signs of pneumonia are fever, rapid breathing, a cough, breathlessness, sweating, chills, headache, muscle pain and tiredness. The chest overlying the affected portion of the lung may hurt while breathing.

These typical symptoms may not occur in older people. The temperature may fall below normal instead of rising. The breathing may become shallow and ineffective. Coughing may become difficult.

Pneumonia was a dangerous and fatal disease before the antibiotic era. Timely, adequate and appropriate treatment has considerably reduced its mortality. It can still be life threatening.

If you have been diagnosed with pneumonia, take the medication as prescribed without resorting to alternative systems of medicine. Seven to 14 days of antibiotics may be required to eliminate the infection. Pneumonia can recur if inadequately treated. Also, drink plenty of fluids. This helps keep the secretions fluid, making it easy to cough out. Do not be in a hurry to return to school or work. If you do so before you are fully cured, you will spread the infection.

Pneumonia is often a complication of seasonal influenza. A vaccine is available against seasonal flu and certain types like swine flu. Timely immunisation prevents infection.

Two of the common bacteria casing pneumonia are H. infuenzae and Strep pneumonia. Immunisation is available against both and should be given to children. Pneumococcal vaccine is available for adults too. It should be taken after the age of 55, preferably by all adults and definitely by those with diabetes, asthma, kidney or liver disease.

Contaminated hands efficiently carry bacteria. Washing your hands frequently helps remove disease-causing bacteria and reduces the incidence of pneumonia.

Visit a dentist regularly and take care of your teeth. Maintain your health and immunity. You can do this not by consuming tonics, rejuvenators and health supplements, but by maintaining your ideal body weight, exercising regularly, and adding fresh fruits and raw vegetables to your diet.

Source : The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)

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News on Health & Science

Lung Taste Receptors Discovery May Improve Asthma Treatment

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Researchers have discovered that bitter taste receptors are not just located in the mouth but also in human lungs. What they learned about the role of the receptors could revolutionize the treatment of asthma and other obstructive lung diseases.

You may click to see :Sensory Transducers :

The ability to taste isn’t limited to the mouth, and researchers say that discovery might one day lead to better treatments for diseases such as asthma.

“The detection of functioning taste receptors on smooth muscle of the bronchus in the lungs was so unexpected that we were at first quite skeptical ourselves,” says the study’s senior author, Stephen B. Liggett.

Dr. Liggett, a pulmonologist, says his team found the taste receptors by accident, during an earlier, unrelated study of human lung muscle receptors that regulate airway contraction and relaxation. The airways are the pathways that move air in and out of the lungs, one of several critical steps in the process of delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. In asthma, the smooth muscle airways contract or tighten, impeding the flow of air, causing wheezing and shortness of breath.

The taste receptors in the lungs are the same as those on the tongue. The tongue’s receptors are clustered in taste buds, which send signals to the brain. The researchers say that in the lung, the taste receptors are not clustered in buds and do not send signals to the brain, yet they respond to substances that have a bitter taste.

For the current study, Dr. Liggett’s team exposed bitter-tasting compounds to human and mouse airways, individual airway smooth muscle cells, and to mice with asthma. The findings are published online in Nature Medicine.

Most plant-based poisons are bitter, so the researchers thought the purpose of the lung’s taste receptors was similar to those in the tongue – to warn against poisons. “I initially thought the bitter-taste receptors in the lungs would prompt a ‘fight or flight’ response to a noxious inhalant, causing chest tightness and coughing so you would leave the toxic environment, but that’s not what we found,” says Dr. Liggett.

There are thousands of compounds that activate the body’s bitter taste receptors but are not toxic in appropriate doses. Many are synthetic agents, developed for different purposes, and others come from natural origins, such as certain vegetables, flowers, berries and trees.

The researchers tested a few standard bitter substances known to activate these receptors. “It turns out that the bitter compounds worked the opposite way from what we thought,” says Dr. Liggett. “They all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” Dr. Liggett says this observation could have implications for new therapies.

Dr. Liggett cautions that eating bitter tasting foods or compounds would not help in the treatment of asthma.

Another paradoxical aspect of their discovery is the unexpected role that the mineral calcium plays when the lung’s taste receptors are activated. The study’s principal author, Deepak A. Deshpande, is an expert in how calcium controls muscles. “We always assumed that increased calcium in the smooth muscle cell caused it to contract, but we found that bitter compounds increase calcium and cause relaxation of airway muscle in a unique way,” says Dr. Deshpande. “It appears that these taste receptors are wired to a special pool of calcium that is right at the edge of these cells,” he says.



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Healthy Tips

Take a Deep Breath

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Adults take anywhere from 17,000 to 30,000 breaths a day, on average, most of the time without even realizing they’re doing it. Breathing is so natural that we usually take it for granted; that is, until something happens that threatens our ability to breathe.


When you’re swimming underwater, you’re focused intently on breathing; namely how long you can hold your breath. Strenuous exercise is another good example; the more fatigued you get, the more you become conscious of your breathing, usually because it becomes heavier and more labored.

Many people actually don’t breathe correctly, at least not on a consistent basis. “Correctly” means breathing that maximizes oxygen exchange in the lower lobes of the lungs. More oxygen equals more nourishment for cells.

A structure called the diaphragm separates the heart, lungs and ribs (the thoracic cavity) from the abdominal cavity. As we inhale, the diaphragm contracts, enlarging the thoracic cavity and helping the lungs fill with oxygen. As the diaphragm relaxes, we exhale, forcing carbon dioxide out of the lungs. This is why correct breathing technique is referred to as diaphragmatic breathing.

In more simple terms, ideal breathing is known as “abdominal” or “belly” breathing; it should engage the belly button, rather than the upper chest. Visually, if you’re breathing properly, your lower belly will rise more than your chest.

There are many reasons why healthy people don’t breathe correctly; everything from stress to fear to holding in your stomach to make it look tighter. Doing any of these things consistently will lead to shallow breathing, which will impair oxygen exchange.

So, how are you breathing? Find a quiet place and take a few slow, deep breaths, concentrating on letting your abdomen expand fully with incoming air. Place one hand just below your belly button; it should rise and fall about 1 inch with each breath. If you’re breathing incorrectly, practice doing it the right way; proper breathing can aid in relaxation, reduce blood pressure and heart rate, and of course, help deliver the most oxygen to body tissues.

Source:to your Health. July, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 07)

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Hunger for Air

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“I can’t breathe,” said the woman, panic stricken and one hand clutched at her chest. Her forehead was lined with sweat and fear of death etched on her face. Breathing, after all, is essential for life.


We take breathing or respiration for granted. It is an involuntary, autonomous and automatic reflex that is present from birth to death. We can consciously take deep or shallow breaths, but we cannot stop breathing at will. In short, you cannot commit suicide by voluntarily ceasing to breathe.

Breathing difficulty is a perception. Some people may have fairly severe lung restriction, but be able to continue their normal activities. Others may feel breathless with the slightest unaccustomed exertion. This is more likely to occur if the person is unfit, obese and unaccustomed to exercise. A sudden “panic attack” owing to an external factor can be “breath stopping”. High altitudes and high temperature can also cause similar problems.

Breathing difficulty can occur suddenly because of a foreign body like a peanut which has got lodged in the food pipe. This then becomes a medical emergency. Immediately stand behind the person, make a fist with both hands and exert a sudden forceful upward thrust in the stomach area below the chest bone (sternum). This is called a “Heimlich maneuver” and it has saved many lives.

Mucous secretions — watery in case of viral infections and allergy, and thick and viscous in case of secondary bacterial infection — can clog the nasal passages and bronchi. Some of these secretions can drip backwards into the throat, causing a post nasal drip with a sense of suffocation.

The nasal passages can be cleared with nose drops. It is important to use saline nasal drops. This is commercially manufactured by many companies. It needs to be used every two hours. Nasal drops containing chemicals may provide faster relief. But as the effect wears off, they may cause “rebound congestion” with worse blockage. Long-term frequent usage of chemical nose drops may cause habituation, wherein the body stops responding to the medication. If the nasal block is due to an allergy, prescribed locally acting steroid nasal sprays are very effective.

The bronchi can narrow in response to exposure to ingested allergens like peanuts and food colour, or inhaled ones like cigarette or wood smoke, room fresheners and mosquito repellents. This is called reactive airways disease or asthma.

Smokers may have damaged their lungs structure permanently, causing a disease called COAD (chronic obstructive airways disease). This sets in around 20-30 years after the first puff. It attacks people in their 40s and 50s. They become breathless with exertion and sometimes even at rest. Some require continuous artificial oxygen supply.

Initially — that is, before damage sets in — airway constriction is reversible. Inhalers or rotahalers deliver relief producing bronchodilating medication directly to the bronchi. The respite is immediate and sustained if the medication is “puffed” as prescribed. Direct delivery systems make medication more effective and are less likely to cause side effects.

The rate of breathing increases during pregnancy because of the oxygen demand of the baby. Moreover, pregnancy causes the uterus to enlarge which pushes the abdominal contents upwards. This may cause a feeling of inadequacy while breathing. This is self-limited and disappears with delivery.

Congenital heart disease, heart failure and myocarditis (disease of the heart muscles) can cause difficulty in breathing and a feeling of air hunger. This is because a failing heart provides inefficient circulation of blood and insufficient oxygenation to the tissues of the body. The blood carrying capacity of the body itself may be compromised because of anaemia. Specific medication for the diseases will help with the problem.

Breathlessness needs to be evaluated if:

The difficulty occurred suddenly for no apparent reason

• It was accompanied by chest discomfort, pain or pressure

• It comes with a slight exertion or at rest

• There is an inability to lie down flat and sleep

• It is accompanied by fever

• There is pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the chest.

Good breathing techniques require the co-ordinated use of intercostals (groups of muscles that run between the ribs, and help form and move the chest wall), diaphragm and stomach muscles. As the breath goes in, the intercostals and stomach expand and the latter moves outwards. And as we breathe out, the chest contracts, the diaphragm moves up and the stomach moves in. Breathing is a natural response and occurs normally and naturally in children. As age advances, we tend to lose the ability to breathe efficiently.

Long hours at work seated in a sloppy posture, obesity or an inactive life without the mandatory one hour of aerobic activity (running, swimming, jogging or cycling) results in inefficient and inadequate breathing, even in a normal individual.

Place a hand on your abdomen, stand in front of a mirror and breathe in and out to check if your breathing is correct. Consciously correct deficiencies and practise breathing exercises (yoga pranayam) for a healthier tomorrow.

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Health Alert Healthy Tips

Health Tips For 2010

As Written by :DR GITA MATHAI

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Somehow the spirit of the New Year affects everyone, including cynics. It is time for all those resolutions that will change your life and make you a better person. After all, before you “heal the world (and) make it a better place,” you have to change “the man in the mirror”.

The changes must be effected on a war footing. India is already known as the world’s diabetic and ischaemic heart disease capital. The statistics are alarming. Unless we get going right now, many of us will not live to see our grandchildren. And even those who survive may be too sickly to enjoy them.

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IN GOOD COMPANY: Join a group if exercising alone seems uninspiring

Recommendations for fitness have increased over the last five years from walking half an hour three or four times a week to one hour every day. However, a one-hour stroll in bathroom slippers will not do the trick — walking or jogging should be at a steady pace where conversation is not possible. At least four to five kilometres have to be covered in 60 minutes. If you feel you can walk for an hour in the evening as well, your health may improve further.

At times, taking walks outdoors may be dangerous, especially for women. There are no nearby walkers’ parks. Don’t lose heart — it’s possible to get almost similar benefits by spot jogging. This means standing in one spot and running vigorously, moving the arms as well. You must wear jogging shoes. The right foot has to hit the ground 45 times in one minute. Gradually, try to work up to 45 minutes a day. It is less effective than a using a treadmill or running on the road as there is no forward propulsion, but it definitely has health benefits and is better than doing nothing.

Jogging or walking helps reduce weight, trim the waistline and tone the body, controls blood pressure, boosts the immune system, and decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, fracture and mental disease. Depression and insomnia are far less. Walkers have also been shown to live to a healthy, mentally active old age in greater numbers than their inactive counterparts.

People are always asking for a magic pill for health, a single ingredient to prevent disease and treat all illnesses……. Regular speed walking or jogging is an activity that provides an answer to all these.

Diabetes, hypertension and ischaemic heart disease develop in susceptible genetically predisposed individuals when the environment is right. Even if the disease appears inevitable, the onset of these diseases can be delayed 10 years or more by maintaining a body mass index (BMI) of 23. This can be calculated by dividing the weight in kilograms by the height in metre squared. The only variable in this formula is the weight, as adult height does not change.

Walking or running alone will not help maintain your BMI. Diet has to be factored in by eating 20 calories per kilogram of expected weight. This, combined with jogging or walking, will help maintain your BMI. Calories are hidden everywhere — a cube of chocolate means 60 calories, a ladoo 280 calories and a plate of bhel puri 400 calories! Each teaspoon of sugar in juice adds 20 calories, 100gm of peanuts 550 calories and a teaspoon of oil around 50 calories.

A good way to chart progress is to maintain a diary and record the kilometres covered daily along with the approximate number of calories consumed. The weight should be recorded once a week.

It takes a negative balance of 3,500 calories to lose half a kg of body weight. This cannot be achieved by dieting alone. Walking or jogging builds up the calf muscles. It also increases the BMR (basal metabolic rate) so that more calories are utilised even at rest.

If exercising alone is a bother, get yourself good company. I am a member of groups such as Runners for Life, Chennai Runners and Chain Reaxion. I participated in the Chennai Half Marathon and two 47-km cycling events. To my pleasant surprise, I found a group of enthusiastic young people determined to propagate a healthy lifestyle. I also discovered that contrary to common belief, age is not a bar. Nor does running cause your knees to develop osteoarthritis!

Take the example of 97-year-old Fauja Singh who goes around the world running marathons. He is the Adidas poster boy for their slogan “nothing is impossible”.

So as we move into 2010, let us make the figure our walking milestone and cover 2,010 km in 365 days

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