Heavy metal-laden African morning sickness remedy now found in New York City

Just before Christmas, the US FDA issued a warning regarding a clay-based traditional West African remedy for morning sickness called Nzu or Calabar or Calabash clay. We discussed this topic here when the initial health warning came out from Texas.
The problem with the product is that it contains high levels of lead and arsenic that could be toxic to both fetus and mother.
And now the problem has expanded beyond Texas.
Scott Gavura at his excellent Science-Based Pharmacy blog tweeted earlier that the New York City Department of Health issued a similar warning today:

Calabash chalk.jpgFebruary 16, 2010 – A traditional morning sickness remedy, commonly known as calabash chalk, has been found to contain lead and arsenic, the Health Department warned today. The agency warns pregnant women not to use the product, which was recently found in local New York City stores selling African remedies. The Health Department was alerted to the potential hazard by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chalk-like substance – also known as calabash clay, nzu, poto, calabar stone, mabele, argile or la craie – can be sold as large pellets or in blocks that resemble clay or mud. It is often packaged in clear plastic bags, with or without labeling. The remedy is used mainly by women from West African communities.

As shown above, the product looks like innocuous chalk. But the city is alerting both consumers and health care providers:

“Using calabash chalk is unhealthy for pregnant women and their unborn children,” said Nancy Clark, assistant commissioner for the Health Department’s Environmental Disease Prevention Bureau. “And the sale of these products is illegal.” Anyone who has used calabash chalk should call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (764-7667). The Poison Control Center does not check immigration status, and its services are available in many languages. . .
. . .The Health Department is also alerting city healthcare providers about the use of calabash chalk. If you suspect you may have been poisoned, call the Poison Control Center at 212-POISONS (764-7667) or 212-VENENOS (836-3667) for Spanish speakers.

As we have quite a few readers in the New York City Tri-State area, please pass the word around, particularly if you work with colleagues who are from West African countries.

Are testosterone-deficient men responsible for shortages of a life-saving drug for women with breast cancer?

From Monday’s issue of The Press in York, England:

A breast cancer patient from York says she is “disgusted” by a shortage of the drug she and hundreds of other women rely on to reduce the risk of the disease returning.
Mother-of-two Marion Barclay, 45, said the situation became so serious last Friday, she faced the prospect of missing her daily dose of Arimidex tablets.

Marion Barclay Arimidex.jpgThis story is one of several reports on sporadic, worldwide shortages of Arimidex®, the brand of anastrozole sold by AstraZeneca. Anastrozole is a competitive inhibitor of the cytochrome P450 monooxygenase isozyme known as CYP19 or aromatase. Aromatase catalyzes the conversion of testosterone to 17β-estradiol and its inhibition is critical to the long-term management of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancers.
However, the off-label use of anastrozole for men with testosterone deficiency, or hypogonadism, has been a topic discussed at ScienceBlogs since self-help guru James Ray was found in possession of the drug when his Sedona resort room was searched following the deaths of three people in the infamous sweat lodge incident.
Related to this story, a commenter recently criticized endocrinologists in a thread at White Coat Underground saying that:

That is why they don’t know how to use aromatase inhibitors, such as Arimidex (anastrozole), stating it is “only for female breast cancer patients. So why are there between 100 and 1,000 times more men than women on it? Astra Zeneca is laughing all the way to the bank.

This is a peculiar statement because AstraZeneca can only promote the drug in the US for FDA-approved indications. Of course, with their patent on the drug expiring in June 2010 it would not be a surprise if they were seeking approval for a new indication: use in TRT. Indeed, small studies have shown that anastrozole may be effective in managing gynecomastia caused by testosterone conversion to estradiol in men receiving testosterone replacement therapy.
But if “between 100 and 1,000 times more men than women” are currently taking anastrozole, where would that data come from and why would it be publicly available?
And if true, could the alleged masses of men taking anastrozole for testosterone deficiency be indirectly responsible for women with breast cancer facing shortages of a drug essential for their survival?
Photo credit: The Press (York, UK)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: NOT just for scientists

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 250px.jpgThis past weekend’s international science communication conference, ScienceOnline2010, also saw the first, final hardback copies of Rebecca Skloot’s long-awaited book make it into the hands of the science and journalism consuming public. Moreover, an excerpt of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has just appeared in the new issue of Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. And already, those online science communicators who left the conference with Skloot’s book are registering their praise via this Twitter feed that was so active it was a trending topic at the science aggregator, SciencePond.
The story of the rural, Virginia woman who descended from slaves and developed cervical cancer in the early 1950s is notable most obviously for her tumors giving rise to HeLa, the first immortalized human cell line continuously maintained in culture. I have noted previously my enthusiasm for this story as both a long-time admirer of Skloot’s writing and the fact that HeLa played a central role in my PhD thesis work and first papers from my independent laboratory.
But as a historically black college professor at a predominantly liberal arts school, I want to make clear that Skloot’s book is of far broader appeal than just the scientific community. So I was delighted to see some page referral hits from Skloot’s site which told me that my pre-press comments in that regard had been posted in academic publicity of the book.
So here is my “blurb” from the page, “What Professors Are Saying About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”:

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Another addition to the tribe and honor for physician and humanitarian, Dr. Robert A. Hingson

Arlenna baby.JPGIn discussing the Christmas birth of a son to ScienceBlogs launcher and science journalist Christopher Mims and his wife, I neglected to note another addition to our tribe of science, from a science blogger specifically.
ChemicalBiLOLogy blogger, Arlenna, gave birth on Christmas Eve to a beautiful girl, pictured here with Mr. Arlenna. In her brief post, “I had a baby!,” Arlenna posited:

. . .whoever invented epidurals and started using them in childbirth should win the Nobel Prize.

Despite my lack of training in anesthesiology or obstetrics, I thought I might look into this a bit. I had pondered this question before on behalf of PharmGirl, for whom epidural anesthesia played a prominent role in the Caesarian delivery of the PharmKid.

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I am not worthy

[Sort of a repost from the last three years, updated appropriately – APB]

Seven years ago at 11:24 am EDT (1524 GMT), your humble blogger was handed the keys to a whole new vocabulary of love.

The gift came in the form of a 7 lb 13 oz (3,544 gm), 20.5 inch (52 cm) bundle of drooling, peeing, meconium-pooping bundle of baby girl, yanked from an incision in PharmGirl’s abdomen.

The lessons of compassion and unconditional love I have been taught by these two women have comprised the most formative experiences of my life.

In return, PharmGirl has suffered tremendous indignities on my behalf: the necessary biological machinations required to mix haploid DNA following our post-9/11 sorrow gave way to fatigue and sickness that all but ruined our previously-planned vacations to Mexico and Key West.

Even the positive pee stick that greeted us on Christmas morning, 2001, could not make up for the suffering that lie ahead during weeks 25-38 of gestation in the unforgiving North Carolina summer heat. Not to mention her having to resubmit NIH grant applications, deal with the academic patriarchy, and care for family members and cancer patients of her own, all the while.

Perhaps the worst, however, was immediately following this nine months of constant discomfort: post C-section complications and the unanticipated loss of 1400 mL of blood that required twice-daily massage of her abdomen and uterus that had only been sliced open 24-48 hours earlier. Her collegiate athletic career could not provide adequate preparation for the pain I witnessed.

Gents, we men are not man enough to be women.

And my dear daughter, who must now be known to the blogosphere as PharmKid given her transition into second grade this past month – the one who proudly calls me Daddy – the one who wanted to go see Jeff Tweedy play a few summers ago because, “he seems like a good daddy, too.”

This year, we seem to be more into Taylor Swift, Katie Perry, Demi Lovato, Miranda Cosgrove, and the Jonas Brothers. However, I keep playing Marley, Coltrane, and Monk in the car – to keep laying the foundation.

I have never ever loved anyone or anything more than this girl. More surprisingly, to me at least, I had never known I was even capable of such a depth of emotion.

So, perhaps, just for today, I will put aside thoughts of my worthiness and just enjoy the gifts.

Happy Birthday….and thank you my sweet peas.

I am not worthy

[Sort of a repost from the last two years, updated appropriately – APB]
Six years ago at 11:24 am EDT (1624 GMT), your humble blogger was handed the keys to a whole new vocabulary of love.
The gift came in the form of a 7 lb. 13 oz. (3,544 gm), 20.5 inch (52 cm) bundle of drooling, peeing, meconium-pooping bundle of baby girl, yanked from an incision in PharmGirl’s abdomen.
The lessons of compassion and unconditional love I have been taught by these two women have comprised the most formative experiences of my life.
In return, PharmGirl has suffered tremendous indignancies on my behalf: the necessary biological machinations required to mix haploid DNA following our post-9/11 sorrow gave way to fatigue and sickness that all but ruined our previously-planned vacations to Mexico and Key West.
Even the positive pee stick that greeted us on Christmas morning, 2001, could not make up for the suffering that lie ahead during weeks 25-38 of gestation in the unforgiving North Carolina summer heat. Not to mention her having to resubmit NIH grant applications, deal with the academic patriarchy, and care for family members and cancer patients of her own, all the while.
Perhaps the worst, however, was immediately following this nine months of constant discomfort: post C-section complications and the unanticipated loss of 1400 mL of blood that required twice-daily massage of her abdomen and uterus that had only been sliced open 24-48 hours earlier. Her collegiate athletic career could not provide adequate preparation for the pain I witnessed.
Gents, we men are not man enough to be women.
And my dear daughter, who must now be known to the blogosphere as PharmKid given her transition into first grade this past month – the one who proudly calls me Daddy – the one who wanted to go see Jeff Tweedy play two summers ago because, “he seems like a good daddy, too.”
This year, we seem to be more into Hannah Montana, Camp Rock, and the Jonas Brothers. However, I keep playing Marley, Coltrane, and Monk in the car – to keep laying the foundation.
I have never ever loved anyone or anything more than this girl. More surprisingly, to me at least, I had never known I was even capable of such a depth of emotion.
So, perhaps, just for today, I will put aside thoughts of my worthiness and just enjoy the gifts.
Happy Birthday….and thank you my sweet peas.

10-year anniversary of Viagra (sildenafil) approval – what about the women???

Only time for a short post today but many news outlets are just now picking up on a 12 March WaPo article by David Segal on the 10th anniversary of the US FDA approval of the erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra. As we noted in yesterday’s post, the active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil, is so popular that even dietary supplement manufacturers are doping their products (illegally) with it and other related compounds.
While some may be cracking silly jokes today, Segal’s article focuses primarily on the complexities of the female side of sexual relationships and the challenges in psychology and medicine. He addresses the very serious issues of how a pill cannot be expected to improve dysfunctional relationships, why there isn’t a similar pill for women, and why insurance carriers will cover the cost of Viagra for men but not always for counseling related to sexual issues.
Segal interviews those who applaud the increasing attention given to decreased female libido, particularly as it occurs in peri- and post-menopausal women. However, he also presents the side of women like NYU’s Dr Leonore Tiefer who protest “the medicalization of women’s sexuality.”
So, while women might take a pass on reading this widely-reprinted article today, our female readers should give the original a good read since it’s all about you.
Thanks, Mr Segal, for your attention to these underappreciated issues.

Beware of alternative medicine sites offering breast cancer advice

There are responsible ways to present medical information and irresponsible ways. I will say at the outset that I have no ethical issues with discussing complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with cancer patients, as long as the information presented is based in fact.
ResearchBlogging.orgSo it was no surprise to me and actually quite alarming to read a recent report suggesting that while only 1 in 20 breast cancer websites offer incorrect information, CAM-focused websites were 15 times more likely to contain inaccurate or incorrect information. The study to which I refer will appear in the 15 March issue of Cancer (and has just appeared online if you have access to the journal; abstract here.)

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Breast Cancer Cure from Dirt?

Perhaps not a cure but certainly another critical tool in the anticancer armamentarium.
If you’ve ever read our introduction to the left in my profile as to why this blog is called Terra Sigillata, you’d know that the first trademarked drug was dirt itself (or soil to be exact). Terra Sigillata was a special fatty clay harvested from the Greek isle of Lemnos and then punched into planchets with a special seal. Because it contained kaolin, a component of Kaopectate, it was useful for treating gastrointestinal disorders, and its high mineral content was useful for treating deficiencies that were common in the day (around 500 B.C.).
Well, the soil has given us a new compound whose semi-synthetic derivative is about to be reviewed for approval by the US FDA’s Oncological Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC).

Continue reading

I am not worthy

[Sort of a repost from last year, updated appropriately – APB]
Five years ago at 11:24 am EDT (1624 GMT), your humble blogger was handed the keys to a whole new vocabulary of love.
The gift came in the form of a 7 lb. 13 oz. (3,544 gm), 20.5 inch (52 cm) bundle of drooling, peeing, meconium-pooping bundle of baby girl, yanked from an incision in PharmGirl’s abdomen.
The lessons of compassion and unconditional love I have been taught by these two women have comprised the most formative experiences of my life.
In return, PharmGirl has suffered tremendous indignancies on my behalf: the necessary biological machinations required to mix haploid DNA following our post-9/11 sorrow gave way to fatigue and sickness that all but ruined our previously-planned vacations to Mexico and Key West.
Even the positive pee stick that greeted us on Christmas morning, 2001, could not make up for the suffering that lie ahead during weeks 25-38 of gestation in the unforgiving North Carolina summer heat. Not to mention her having to resubmit NIH grant applications, deal with the academic patriarchy, and care for family members and cancer patients of her own, all the while.
Perhaps the worst, however, was immediately following this nine months of constant discomfort: post C-section complications and the unanticipated loss of 1400 mL of blood that required twice-daily massage of her abdomen and uterus that had only been sliced open 24-48 hours earlier. Her collegiate athletic career could not provide adequate preparation for the pain I witnessed.
Gents, we men are not man enough to be women.
And my dear daughter, who, she reminded me yesterday, must now be known to the blogosphere as PharmKindergartener given her transition out of preschool this past month – the one who proudly calls me Daddy – the one who wanted to go see Jeff Tweedy play last summer because, “he seems like a good daddy, too.”
I have never ever loved anyone or anything more than this girl. More surprisingly, to me at least, I had never known I was even capable of such a depth of emotion.
So, perhaps, just for today, I will put aside thoughts of my worthiness and just enjoy the gifts.
Happy Birthday….and thank you, m’ladies.