Friday 5: Get your flu shot, drink your milk, and take your placebo.

September 18, 2009

You little bastard, you've killed us all (pic of toddler licking a pig)A single dose of H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine may be enough, something of a surprise because initial reports from the CDC said it might have to be a two-shot vaccine. That means twice as many people can be vaccinated with the available doses. There was a swine flu shot available in 1976, and people vaccinated or exposed back then (or in 1918!) seem to be protected against this year’s strain. Seasonal flu immunity somehow “primes” H1N1 immunity even though the seasonal flu shot doesn’t, by itself, confer full immunity to H1N1. Bottom line: get a seasonal flu shot (available now) and a single dose of H1N1 vaccine (available in October).

Placebos are getting more effective. If your new drug doesn’t perform any better than a sugar pill, does that mean it’s useless? Some already-approved drugs perform just as badly, even though they stacked up well against placebos when they were first tested. Meanwhile, placebos are useful for more than just testing: “The fact that even dummy capsules can kick-start the body’s recovery engine became a problem for drug developers to overcome, rather than a phenomenon that could guide doctors toward a better understanding of the healing process and how to drive it most effectively.” How do placebos work, anyway? Can you get around anti-doping rules by giving an athlete fake steroids? Can you even really compare today’s Prozac trial results to the originals, given our changing understanding of depression? Good questions in this article from Wired.

Skim milk isn’t automatically better than full-fat, something I’ve been trying to tell people for years. “‘Probably most people who think of themselves as nutrition-savvy would be astonished to learn that evidence of whole milk’s being a ticket to an early grave is conspicuous by its absence,’ says food historian Anne Mendelson in Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages.” Also notable is the type of fat in milk from pastured (grass-fed) cows – more omega-3’s and less of the supposedly “bad” fats.

Will my son be born late, like I was? OK, so this isn’t a national news item but rather something of personal interest. I was two weeks late myself. A study of 77,000 Norwegians found that “Gestational age of the child at birth increased on average 0.58 days for each additional week in the father’s gestational age (95% confidence interval 0.48-0.67) and 1.22 days for each additional week in the mother’s gestational age (1.21-1.32).” Meanwhile a Danish study suggests that gestation length is 23-30% genetic (but they didn’t find a paternal component).

Midnight snacks pack on the pounds. The research, done in rats and involving high-fat foods, isn’t exactly ready for sweeping extrapolation. But I liked the article for this quote specifically: “‘How or why a person gains weight is very complicated, but it clearly is not just calories in and calories out,’ says Fred Turek, professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern University and director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology.” (Contrary to popular belief, people are not bunsen burners.)

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