January 30, 2015

Ashwagandha: The Brand You Buy Does Make A Difference

Years ago, I got carried away with all the hoopla surrounding the benefits of over-the-counter vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements. I was already taking some of them. Then, a new nutritionist I consulted began recommending I take even more. Before I knew it, each day I was swallowing about a dozen pills, most of which could only be found on the shelves of the pharmacy connected with his clinic.

Additional internet research helped me understand the developing consensus in the medical community: we are much better off getting the vitamins and minerals we need from food, not pills. Very little scientific evidence exists to support the claims of pill hucksters like Dr. Oz.

So, typically for me, I veered to the other side of the road. No pills, no way. No more daily aspirin, no more multivitamins, no CoQ10, no fish oil, etc.

January 29, 2015

Big Jump in Drug Costs from 2013 to 2104

If you’re an average citizen who required prescription medication in 2014, you paid about 10.9% more than you did in 2013.

So says Truveris, a research firm that tracks drug costs. The sample was certainly significant; the company evaluated more than 300 million payments to American pharmacies. That’s nearly one prescription for every man, woman, and child in the United States.

When Truveris broke costs out according to drug category, the year-to-year increases broke down this way:
  • +14.8% for brand name drugs,
  • +9.7% for specialty drugs (These meds require special handling, administration, or monitoring, and are used to treat complicated and chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, and hemophilia.)
  • +4.9% for generic meds

While there was particular controversy about increases in drugs for cancer and hepatitis C, the rise in generics also caused surprise, since this category has always been seen as the low-cost option to pricey brand name drugs.

Based on composites of brand name, specialty, and generic drugs, treatment for several conditions showed especially dramatic increases:

January 28, 2015

Two Gay Men, Two Apples, and 60 Years of Dramatic Progress

June 7, 1954
Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who led the team that broke Germany's Enigma code during World War II -- thereby shortening the war and saving thousands of lives -- is found dead in his home as a result of cyanide poisoning. A half-eaten apple found by his beside is suspected as delivery device for the deadly cyanide. Turing's suicide follows his conviction for "gross indecency" after admitting to a homosexual affair and his sentencing to a year of hormonal treatment that amounted to chemical castration.

October 30, 2014
APPLE CEO TIM COOK SAYS "I'M PROUD TO BE GAY" -- Headline on Bloomberg terminals following Tim Cook's essay for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Yesterday I 
posted about Alan Turing because I had just seen The Imagination Game, the film about Turing and the cracking of Germany's Enigma code. The movie has received "best picture" nominations for both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. The film's conclusion -- which described Turing's suicide after his arrest for having admitted to a homosexual relationship -- brought me to tears.

But my spirits lifted when I thought about the dramatic turnaround in the general public's attitude toward homosexuality today compared to 60 years ago when Turing killed himself.

In researching Turing's story -- searching on "gays" and computers" -- I discovered links to last fall's "I'm proud to be gay" announcement by Tim Cook, the current president of Apple, the world's most valuable company and top computer manufacturer. His matter-of-fact, no-big-deal essay for Bloomberg Businessweek was a perfect illustration of today's calm acceptance of homosexuality by the general public.

It would be nice, in light of these events, if the following mythology proved true.

Turing and the Apple Computer Logo
Here's the story line: The Apple logo on the back of your iPhone or Mac is a tribute to Turing, the man who laid the foundation for  the modern computer, pioneered research into artificial intelligence, and unlocked German wartime codes. His death provides the link with Apple.

Almost a decade after war ended, Turing -- unrecognized for his work, convicted of "gross indecency" for admitting to a homosexual relationship, and humiliated by being sentenced to weekly estrogen injections to "cure" his homosexuality -- bit into an apple he had laced with cyanide. He died in obscurity on June 7, 1954, ten years and a day after the Normandy landings... a massive, successful invasion made possible by intelligence uncovered by Turing and his code-breaking team at Bletchley Park.

So when two Stanford entrepreneurs -- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak --thought about a logo for their brand new computer company, they remembered Turing and his ground-breaking contribution to their field. They chose an apple -- not a complete one, but one with a bite taken out of it.

Isn't that a beautiful story? Would that it were true.

January 27, 2015

Alan Turing's Arrest and Mine: Reflections on "The Imagination Game"

The 2012 Olympic Torch is passed in front of Turing's statue in Manchester, England.

I don't get to the movies as often as I'd like. Every year, I try to catch some of the films that earned Academy Award or Golden Globes nominations.

This year, I started with The Imagination Game, the true story of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and cryptanalyst who led the team that eventually cracked the supposedly unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma Machine. Historians have suggested that Turing's amazing success may have shortened the war in Europe by several years and saved thousands of lives.

The movie also depicts the subsequent arrest and conviction of Turing on charges of "gross indecency" for acknowledging a homosexual relationship. He was given probation rather than a jail sentence only after he agreed to undergo the equivalent of chemical castration. As a gay man who had been arrested for homosexual conduct at about the same time, I found myself in tears by the end of the film.

Later, I began to feel upbeat, recognizing the 
dramatic turnaround in the general public's views about homosexuality in the 60 years since Turing died. I'm not sure we've ever seen such a rapid change in any other variety of deep-seated bigotry through the centuries.

After the movie, I researched Turing's life and arrest. When I compared them to mine, I recognized again the key role that serendipity has played in my own life story.

Turing's Arrest and the Aftermath
In December 1951, Turing, then 39, began a relationship with Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old unemployed man. Turing met Murray just before Christmas outside a movie house in Manchester, England, and invited him to lunch. Murray met Turing at his home several times over the next weeks, and spent at least one night there.

In January 1952, Turing's house was burgled. Murray told Turing that the burglar was an acquaintance of his, and Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation, he acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray.

Homosexual acts were criminal offenses in the United Kingdom at that time. Both men were charged with gross indecency. On the advice of his brother and his solicitor, Turing entered a guilty plea. When he was convicted in March 1952, Turing declined the prison option and instead chose probation, which would include hormonal treatment designed to reduce his libido.

That treatment involved weekly injections of a synthetic estrogen. For the year they continued, the 
injections rendered Turing impotent, and transformed him into a bloated monster.