Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adding to the Archives

Welcome to the new blog, StoneAgeDocArchives

      Since June 2005 we have posted more than 450 newspaper columns that have appeared in The Stone Age Doc and that are now archived at The columns have ranged from 400 to 500 words in length and cover a myriad of health topics, many of which are based on my 35 years of clinical pediatric practice and 40 years of teaching at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

      A change in servers required a new format and the popularity of blogs made this one a logical choice. The column below, Toasted thighs and other laptop hazards, was published in January 2014.

          I welcome your comments and suggestions. Feel free to contact me at

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Toasted thighs and other laptop hazards       
            Toasted skin syndrome is a modern malady blamed on laptop computers but it’s something that our grandparents were aware of. Hot water bottles, those ugly, unwieldy red rubber bags that were applied to sore muscles and painful backs sometimes caused superficial burns when the water that was poured into them was too hot. A generation later the careless use of heating pads caused the same problem, pain and redness that took a couple of days to go away. The heating pad is obviously a technological improvement but because it can produce heat for a much longer time than a hot water bottle it can lead to more severe burns, especially in patients with diabetes, who often have poor sensation in the legs.
            Laptop computers are the latest reason for toasted skin syndrome and the area affected – no surprise – is the front of the upper thigh. On airplanes, in student lounges and coffee shops I have watched young persons casually typing away on a laptop perched – where else – on the lap. The designers of those convenient computers are aware of the heat that they generate and some of them warn users about the hazards. Most do not.
            The first sign of toasted skin syndrome is sunburn-like reddening of the skin but a mottled appearance occurs with longer exposure. If the condition is ignored there may be long-term discoloration and degeneration of the skin. Some dermatologists warn that skin cancer is a potential hazard. That has not yet been seen in laptop users but there are numerous reports of skin cancer from other sources of heat injury. Time will tell.
            The cure is simple: use the laptop on a desk or table. For the dedicated laptopper there are plenty of gadgets available to use as heat shields but something as simple as a magazine placed under the unit will solve the problem.
            The propensity for young people to assume uncomfortable-looking positions while using laptop and notebook computers is a more likely cause of problems. Neck, shoulder and back pain are common complaints, sometimes as a result of carrying a three- or four-pound computer on a shoulder strap.
            There is a glimmer of hope in the recent trend toward smaller notebook-type and tablet computers. They aren’t well suited to the lap, they generate less heat and they are so light that carrying one all day isn’t likely to cause much discomfort.

            Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers, 2005. Read his archived columns at Contact him at



Should you eat and run?                       
                Is it OK to exercise after a meal? There are many variables in that question but the most important one is “How much?” It applies both to the activity and the food. For the simplest answer, let’s go back to the Stone Age.
            We were grazers until we became civilized, eating food as we found it and being quite active in doing so. Observations on modern hunter-gatherer societies reveal that they walk about nine miles a day. People without wheels use muscle power whenever anything has to be moved; the simplest tasks are done using no or only primitive tools. Until relatively recently we all lived that way. Because Stone Agers probably never ate a big meal and daily life required frequent but not very strenuous activity, there was no reason to be concerned about discomfort after eating. The question that opened this column is usually posed by someone who might run or work out after dinner.
            If you would like to include a 30-minute run during your lunch break or to pump iron after work the best time is before the meal but there is something else to consider. Don’t run during the lunch hour if you haven’t had breakfast. An overnight fast will deplete your energy stores and a bran muffin or whole grain bagel during your coffee break will solve that problem. Note that a jelly donut, Danish pastry or sugary soft drink are not the best choices. Refined flour and sugar cause a spike in blood sugar and a burst of insulin, resulting in a drop in energy just when you need it an hour or  two later.
            Resistance exercise that involves weights and machines, if done properly and with adequate intensity, demands that you pay attention to protein intake. A protein shake that contains about 20-40 grams of protein (depending on your size and the vigorousness of your workout) will help to rebuild the muscle cells that break down during exercise and that increase in size and strength as they heal. A protein shake with a few ounces of fruit juice will provide carbohydrate calories too and it’s best to take about half the shake before the workout and half afterwards. That will give good muscle-building results and you can still enjoy dinner, albeit perhaps a lighter one. Come to think of it, that’s probably not a bad idea.

Is it really a spider bite?                                                        
                If we wake up some morning with a small, painful red bump somewhere on our body we’re likely to blame it on a spider. That’s correct only about 20 percent of the time according to entomologists who have looked into this problem. Sometimes it’s not an insect bite at all. An increasing number of emergency room visits for so-called spider bites reveal that it’s because of a different kind of “bug” known as MRSA – Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.
            On any given day about half of us carry various strains of “staph” bacteria on our skin or in our nose. The overwhelming majority of these are entirely harmless but about 2 percent belong to the MRSA group. In 2007 they caused nearly 100,000 hospital admissions and may have been responsible for about 18,000 deaths. Most of the time they cause nothing more than a painful, reddened area of skin that surrounds a bubble-like pustule but that can progress to a serious infection requiring intensive treatment. Occasionally it requires the surgical removal of all or part of a limb and sometimes the disease has a fatal outcome.
            When MRSA emerged several years ago it was primarily a hospital-associated (nosocomial) infection but most cases now occur in the community at large. If there is any good news it is that hospital-related cases are decreasing. The most likely reason is that efforts to control the spread of this bacterium are effective. On the other hand, staphylococcal infections tend to occur in 25- to 30-year cycles and we may be seeing a natural downturn in the current cycle.
            The most common problem caused by the staphylococcus bacterium is a localized skin abscess. In many cases an antibiotic is not needed. Simply opening up the abscess and providing adequate drainage results in complete cure, making antibiotic resistance a non-issue. Caution: don’t do this by yourself at home. Get immediate medical care if you develop fever or the lesion gets worse.
            It’s possible to dramatically lower the risk of acquiring MRSA infection. Make it a habit to wash your hands several times every day, using ordinary soap. Lather thoroughly while humming the Happy Birthday song – twice. Avoid personal items such as towels, washcloths or clothing that others have used without laundering. Never use someone else’s razor.
            If you have any open wound or what looks like a bug bite, keep it covered.
            And give spiders a break.


It’s the berries.              
            Berries are the in health food – blue, rasp or black – all are generously endowed with antioxidants. There’s little to argue with that although all varieties of each of these nuggets of nutrients are not of equal value. Their dark colors are clues to their high concentration of antioxidants that come in the form of phytonutrients. Each berry contains hundreds of different
chemicals: anthocyanins, quercetin, flavonoids and the dozens of similar-sounding names that plant scientists have given them. All berries are nutritious but the ones that are most popular are especially so. It isn’t necessary to pay more for the less common but more expensive ones.
            Nutritionists urge us to have a couple of servings of blueberries every week. They cite the many health benefits of their antioxidants including prevention of heart disease, cancer and aging but most studies have been done in animals, not humans. There is some research on human subjects and that has been favorable, including improving the markers of heart disease and stroke and in boosting memory.
            Freezing does not significantly affect the nutritional value of blueberries and heating actually boosts it. The blueberries that have been cooked into pies and muffins have measurably more antioxidant capacity but pastries inevitably contain sugar and refined flour, which have no redeeming health benefits.
            Blackberries have more fiber and anthocyanins than blueberries but they are less sweet and thus not as popular. Raspberries contain more fiber than blueberries or blackberries but they have a very short shelf life. A nice feature of raspberries is that they can grow nearly anywhere and almost any backyard can yield hundreds of them for weeks during the summer season.
            Consider visiting your nearest farmer’s market for these common berries and for those that are less familiar but which expand the variety of plant nutrients that should be part of our diet. Usually locally grown, the produce at these markets is thus fresher than most of that which is sold in supermarkets. You can also ask the sellers about their use of pesticides, time since harvest, etc.
            There are few desserts that are as nutritious, low-calorie and fiber-rich as berries. According to author Jo Robinson (Eating on the Wild Side, Little, Brown and Co., New York 2013), berries have four times as much antioxidant activity as other fruits and ten times more than most vegetables.
            Berries are an opportunity not to be missed.