Three out of four African Americans are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance means that if you drink milk, eat yogurt, have cheese, or any other dairy-based product in large amounts, your digestive system will have difficulty digesting it. Most people report feeling bloated and later have loose gassy stool (sorry . . . but these are the facts).
If you are not near a toilet (of your choice), this can be an embarrassing problem. The stomach’s reaction to not being able to digest lactose (a sugar in dairy products) is to simply flush it through its system. For a majority, lactose intolerance in African Americans simply leads to the avoidance of milk and milk-related products.
If only one serving of dairy causes stomach upset and loose stool . . . what will three servings cause? That question is what many African Americans ask themselves, and the answer has been very clear. African Americans drink significantly less milk and eat substantially less cheese and yogurt when compared to the rest of the American population.
The decreased dairy consumption leads to decreased intake of essential nutrients that are found in milk and cheeses. Studies show that African Americans’ intake of the required nutrients calcium, vitamin D, and potassium were all lower than white and Hispanic Americans. And it has been well known in medical circles that African Americans have significantly lower vitamin D levels in their blood.
A Genetic Link for Lactose Intolerance??
The choice for African Americans to avoid milk and related products is not voluntary. Lactose intolerance in African Americans may be due to a genetic design. Research has shown that the proportion of people that are lactose intolerant can be tied to their region of genetic origin. Put simply, regions where dairy herds could be raised safely and efficiently produced people that could digest lactose. Harsher climates in African and Asia restricted the availability of milk, and produced people with much more lactose intolerance, a study at Cornell University found. Researchers found a wide range of lactose intolerances with as low as 2 percent of the population of Denmark descendants as unable to have dairy products compared to nearly 100 percent of the people with Zambian African origin.
Their survey “found that lactose intolerance decreases with increasing latitude and increases with rising temperature”.
Newer information has revealed that maybe there are not as many purely lactose intolerant African Americans as previously thought. Nutritionists have advised that adding milk to a larger meal helps with successful digestion. Some find that having smaller amounts of dairy over time improves digestion and decreases symptoms.
Dr. Hall’s Podcast “Better Black Health” discusses multiple issues related to African American health . . . take a listen.
Lactose Intolerance Solutions
Others advise to simply take a lactose enzyme supplement (Lactaid, for example), and the problem is solved because milk, yogurt, or cheese is then easily broken down normally and naturally . . . while the dairy products again provide improved nutrient supplementation.
Other ways of replacing the missing nutrients resulting from low dairy consumption has become fairly easy due to multiple milk equivalents including soy, almond, coconut, and other ‘milks’ that can be used as part of a healthy breakfast. All have been ‘fortified’ with calcium and vitamin D if needed. Oatmeal and/or whole grain cereals with milk equivalents can make a fast and nutritionally efficient meal.
A ‘new’ problem is that African Americans consistently eat fewer breakfasts, and therefore the “opportunity” to have milk, yogurt, cheese, or milk equivalents has substantially decreased. Look at my article on “Diet Differences in African Americans” for more details. Also check out the multivitamins I designed to compensate for the decreased vitamin D due to lactose intolerance and urban living — SEQUENCE Multivitamins for African Americans.
Many of my patients have high cholesterol and are on cholesterol lowering medicines called statins like Lipitor (atorvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin), and Crestor (rosuvastatin). Occasionally they will come in saying some well-meaning friend told them that “cholesterol medicine is bad for them.” They ask me: “Is cholesterol lowering medicine bad for you?”
My answer is almost always: Absolutely NOT. But where does this notion this come from? Where does it say that statins (what we call this group of medicines) are bad for you?
Some of the interest in statins is purely from its widespread use. Over 30 million people are on statins and some recommendations predicts that over 70 million would benefit. African Americans have significantly higher heart disease, diabetes, and circulation problems so the odds of an African American being recommended to start a statin are high.
What do statins do?
Essentially, statins lower your cholesterol (total cholesterol and bad cholesterol) and by lowering the cholesterol, the “clogging” of the arteries with cholesterol is lessened. It’s that simple.
The higher the cholesterol, the more clogging of arteries. If you clog the arteries in your brain, you get a stroke. Clog the arteries in your heart, you have a heart attack. Clog the arteries in your legs, you get poor circulation to your feet which could cause infections that could lead to amputation. By lowering the amount of cholesterol, you lower the chance of clogging . . . anywhere.
Scientists have also found that lowering a high cholesterol also reverses clogging that may have already happened. Mainly, the HDL “GOOD” cholesterol serves this artery-cleaning purpose and by lowering the overall burden of clogged arteries, it can “catch up” with clearing the narrow passages that could lead to total blockage.
What should my Lipid levels be?
When doctors measure your cholesterol (Lipid Panel), they look for a total cholesterol less than 200 and a LDL or “bad” cholesterol of less than 120. In people with existing diagnoses of diabetes, circulation problems, heart attack, stroke, or a family history of early heart attacks or strokes, we shoot for an even lower LDL that is less than 100 . . . or even lower!
African Americans have “better” cholesterol levels.
Curiously, in general African Americans tend to have “better” cholesterol numbers than White Americans.
With disproportionally higher heart disease in African Americans, researchers have wondered how these better lipid profiles coincide with the documented worse outcomes. The variability seen based on race is yet another curiosity given doctors’ accepted association of bad cholesterol levels equaling worse health, and good levels leading to improved health.
Years earlier, scientists attributed elevated Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) levels, the enzyme responsible for breaking down fat, and lower levels of other components, as principally responsible for the improved cholesterol picture in African Americans. Others have confirmed that the better lipid profiles in African Americans is not due to diet and lifestyle considerations noting worse fat content in foods and less exercise in African American populations compared to White Americans.
Attempts to drill down to why good lipids do not lead to better outcomes in African Americans have continued to baffle doctors, but the assumption is the impact of uncontrolled high blood pressure, obesity, and higher diabetes rates overwhelm the beneficial impact of the improved cholesterol levels. It is also possible that African Americans patients should start cholesterol lowering medications at different (lower) thresholds.
Less Prescribed & Less Taken
Unfortunately, African Americans have a poor track record of taking cholesterol lowering medicines when prescribed after a stroke, heart attack, or most other reasons for starting the medication. And doctors are less likely to prescribe statins in African Americans across the board. The result is a deadly combination of a doctor that is less likely to give a medication to a patient . . . and a patient that is less likely to take it. This inconsistency speaks to the trust issues African Americans have with doctors.
Overall statin use and lowering cholesterol saves lives. Dr. Carol Watson, a Black cardiologist said it best in her article “Let the evidence speak”
“These trials thus confirm that significant benefits can occur from statin use in African Americans. Despite this, however, statins remain underutilized in the African American population, thus those that might stand to benefit most, are least likely to receive these life saving medications.”
So the question: Is cholesterol lowering medicine bad for you?
The answer for African Americans is crystal clear: lower cholesterol leads to fewer heart attacks, fewer strokes, better kidney function, better circulation, fewer amputations, and longer lives. Don’t get it twisted . . .
And when a stroke occurs, African Americans have them earlier in life and present with more severe and disabling conditions. The “Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes” group concluded that “compared with other race/ethnicity groups, (African American) patients were less likely to receive IV tissue-type plasminogen activator <3 hours, early antithrombotics, antithrombotics at discharge, and lipid-lowering medication prescribed at discharge,” a study looking at over 200,000 patients showed.
Not surprisingly, with these prescriptive deficiencies in play, data analysis also showed a persistently increased re-hospitalization rate in African Americans at both 30 days and one year for all causes. African Americans also have a 2.4 times higher rate of recurrent strokes than white Americans, and the highest death rate of any racial group.
Stroke patients overseen by neurologists were almost 4 times more likely to receive IV clot dissolving medicine than those seen by non-neurologists for all races and ethnicities (study from the Baylor College of Medicine ), but unfortunately African Americans were half as likely as whites to be seen by a neurologist when presenting with a stroke.
Aspirin to reduce Strokes in African Americans
Aspirin use is decreased among African Americans as compared to whites while the indications for aspirin use are actually higher in African Americans. If you have a high risk for heart attack or stroke, your doctor will likely put you on aspirin. People with a lower risk should not be on aspirin because the risk for bleeding is higher than the risk for a cardiovascular event.
Recommendations for aspirin change when newer information becomes available. Always remind your provider every medication or supplement you take. You may have been put on aspirin in the past, but now that better information is available, it may not be the right thing now. Watch and read this CNN report that has an important update.
Overall, prevention experts (USPSTF ) recommend referring adults who have stroke risk factors and are obese to intense behavioral counseling to promote a healthy diet and more physical activity. That means going to your doctor and having a detailed conversation about what you do . . . and what you eat. For example, by decreasing your intake of salt and fried foods, lowering the blood pressure and getting proper exercise, strokes in African Americans can greatly decrease.
Take a look at this video that explains why you need to start your medicine, keep taking it, and come in to make sure it is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. Take care.
Heart failure in African-Americans occurs more often and is more deadly. African Americans have a significantly higher risk and earlier onset of heart failure and heart-related death compared to all other populations in the United States. In fact, African Americans are two and a half times more likely to die from heart failure than Whites, and it occurs at an earlier age. Much of the added occurrence of heart failure can be attributed to poor blood pressure control and being on the right medications to better control your blood pressure (take a look at my article “Are you on the right blood pressure medicine?”). But there are also other causes to know.
The “heart failure” name is not the best (in my opinion) to describe the situation with the heart because it gives an impression of impending and unavoidable “failure” of the heart. In reality, people are admitted to hospitals across the nation with the diagnosis of “heart failure” and then are given medications that readily reverses the “failure.” The term “congestive” heart failure is also used and reflects the situation of too much fluid for the heart to process. The “congestion” in the heart effects its proper function like the congestion in your nose when you have a cold. In congestive heart failure, “water pills” and other medications are given and the “extra” fluid is flushed (urinated) out.
The problem with heart failure is complicated, but for our purposes can be considered a combination of
too much fluid in the body
too much heart muscle (from high blood pressure)
abnormal squeezing (or relaxation) of the heart muscles
The occurrence of heart failure, although not as ominous as it sounds in the short term, is a sign of a serious heart condition that can bring premature death. Like many other health conditions, heart failure occurs more frequently in African Americans. The major drivers to this racial disparity is a higher incidence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity, and smoking. To see if you are at risk, let’s review each risk factor.
A significant number of African Americans are obese by a number of standards. A strict criteria starts obesity at a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30. Your body mass index tries to predict an ideal weight based on your height. Look at the chart below and find your height on the left and then tract across to your weight. If you are in the red, many will say you are “obese.”
You and I both know that African Americans culturally prefer being “meatier” and many African Americans in the red areas are completely happy with their weight and size. Others have suggested a different (more racially appropriate) chart be used for African Americans and other racial groups, but there is not widespread acceptance.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) that is untreated is the biggest risk for having heart failure in African Americans. Having your blood pressure controlled to less than 130 over less than 80 is a huge step in the right direction. And being on the correct medicines for the treatment of high blood pressure and watching how salt impacts your health is important as well.
Type 2 Diabetes is the most common type in African Americans and occurs with an 80 percent greater chance. Getting control of blood sugars with medications and diet adjustments is critical to avoiding poor control that could lead to heart failure. Shooting for a HbA1c near 7.0 or below is an indication of good control. There are other important differences in the medical care of diabetes in African Americans and you can review them HERE.
A lack of physical activity is bad for your health and that alone can be a risk factor for heart failure. Studies have consistently shown that physical activity reduces risks of heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. By walking, running, biking, dancing and more you can make great progress in decreasing the risk for heart failure. Set a schedule, track your steps, and get started making the rest of your life more health drama-free. If you swim use this waterproof Fitbit to track your performance.
Heart failure is real and touches almost ever African American family. We all know family members with diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and smokers. They are on the road to heart failure and because they are related to us . . . we are at risk too.
Multiple studies over an extended period of time confirm what most doctors and providers already knew, African Americans are more likely to distrust doctors and other healthcare providers than patients of other racial or ethnic groups.
What many of us did not know was why. As providers, we spent many years training to help others. Medicine is a service profession. Why would anyone suspect our intentions, question our motives, or assign us collectively as untrustworthy? The answer lies in the historical experience African Americans had with America’s doctors, hospitals, and researchers.
A History of Abuse
While the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is a ‘classic example’ of abuse based purely on race, unfortunately the American experience has many more examples of why African Americans mistrust the medical community.
From African American’s earliest days in this country, abuse based on race was commonplace. Slaves were frequently used as subjects for dissection, surgical experimentation, and medical testing. J. Marion Sims, MD, the so-called father of modern gynecology perfected many of his surgical techniques on slave girls without anesthesia. Stories of doctors kidnapping and killing southern blacks for experimentation consistently appear in literature throughout American history.
As Vanesa Northington Gamble, MD, PhD put in her article “Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care” tales of ‘medical student’ grave robbers, recount the exploitation of southern blacks as their deceased family members would be stolen and sent to northern medical schools for anatomy dissection. Dr. Gable writes:
“These historical examples clearly demonstrate that African Americans’ distrust of the medical profession has a longer history than the public revelations of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. There is a collective memory among African Americans about their exploitation by the medical establishment.”
Racial Differences in Trust
Chanita Hughes Halbert published a study in JAMA in 2006 looking at racial differences in trust in healthcare providers. Her study of almost one thousand white American and African American patients found that “compared with whites, African Americans were most likely to report low trust in health care providers.”
“Trust has been described as an expectation that medical care providers (physicians, nurses, and others) will act in ways that demonstrate that the patient’s interests are a priority. Trust is a multidimensional construct that includes perceptions of the health care provider’s technical ability, interpersonal skills, and the extent to which the patient perceives that his or her welfare is placed above other considerations. Trust is an important determinant of adherence to treatment and screening recommendations and the length and quality of relationships with health care providers.”
Fortunately, the level of trust a patient has for any specific provider is not stagnant, it can be earned. Increased exposure to providers in general, and to the same provider in specific, has been shown to improve trust.
In the “Medscape Internist Lifestyle Report 2017”, Carol Peckham looked at internist’s admitted explicit biases “toward specific types or groups of patients” and found wide differences between racial groups in bias for a number of influences. The study further examined if the physician bias actually impacted care delivery, and almost one in five providers (18%) admitted that their bias did impact the quality of their care.
Generally these biases are positive toward white American patients and negative toward African American patients as a study by Oliver et al demonstrated at the University of Virginia. They found providers explicitly preferred white Americans to African Americans with “significantly higher feelings of warmth toward white people” and also found that white American patients were “more medically cooperative than African Americans”. This study found no significant difference in the quality of care between the racial groups.
Biases that effect medical care can be consciously counteracted, and admitting the existence of biases is the critical first step in canceling its effect on medical care. Having a doctor who professes to treating “everyone the same” will undoubtedly provide inferior care to patients that are different.
A study done at Johns Hopkins by Lisa Cooper and colleagues found that primary care physicians who hold unconscious racial biases tend to dominate conversations with African-American patients during routine visits, paying less attention to patients’ social and emotional needs, and making these patients feel less involved in decision making related to their health. These patients also reported reduced trust in their doctors, less respectful treatment, and a lower likelihood of recommending the physician to a friend.
Because there are a limited number of physicians to provide care to African Americans, many patients simply “put up” with biases and unequal treatment . . . with others avoiding healthcare altogether until they they arrive in Emergency Departments with very advanced disease.
Patient Centered Care Improves Quality
Patient centered care can positively improve care, specifically for African Americans. Although this seems obvious, spending time with patients is an easy approach to establishing trust. Fiscella and colleagues measured patient trust against the time spent with a patient and found a one-to-one correlation: the more time spent led to more perceived trust on the part of the patient. Making suggestions about diet changes requires a trusting relationship that involves a non-judgmental regard for the current diet.
Many delays in diagnosis and treatment are simply an outgrowth of the lack of trust. You will not accept someone’s advice if you don’t trust them.
Kidney disease in African Americans is one the most dramatically different occurrences of a disease, and results in significant suffering and death. Generally kidney disease is the result of diabetes and high blood pressure, and given the increased number of both of these in African Americans, there is a six to twelve-fold increased occurrence compared to whites. Additionally, there is a 17-fold greater rate of high blood pressure as a cause of kidney failure in African Americans. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, or both, your risk for kidney failure resulting in needing dialysis is MUCH higher if you are African American. Having diabetes and high blood pressure that is controlled on medications almost erases this increased risk. This is why it is critical that if you have high blood pressure, you should take medication to bring it down. If you have diabetes, you should make sure your blood sugars are controlled because if you don’t, your risk for needing dialysis is very high.
Risk for Requiring Dialysis is High
While African Americans are 13 percent of the general population, we make up 35 percent of all patients on chronic dialysis. Diabetes as the leading cause of kidney failure and high blood pressure is the second most common cause. Not having medical insurance or access to medical facilities and the increased number of people with high blood pressure contribute greatly to kidney disease in African Americans. Having high blood pressure but being on the wrong medications can contribute as well.
Well designed studies have failed to fully account for the excess proportion of kidney disease in Blacks. Anatomically, despite equivalent age, blood pressure, and other factors, African Americans tend to have reduced kidney blood flow. Despite similar dietary salt intake, the kidney’s processing of bodily fluids are somewhat different in African Americans compared to whites. Reducing salt in your diet can greatly improve health.
A Possible Genetic Cause?
Some of the increased risk for kidney disease in African Americans is attributed to a genetic variant (APOL1) found in more than 30% of African Americans and largely absent in white Americans. It is thought that this gene offered protection from African Sleeping Sickness (a frequently deadly disease known in medical circles as African trypanosomiasis) that was carried by the Tsetse fly. Basically, having this gene gave protection from the African Sleeping Sickness and was beneficial in African regions where the tsetse fly lived. Scientists believe that the increased risk for kidney disease seen in African Americans is equal to the increased occurrence of the same gene that offered protection from the deadly African Sleeping Sickness.
With all of the kidney disease in the African American community, there is one last bit of curious news. African Americans have a better survival rate on dialysis than white Americans. This paradox of improved survival in African Americans after initiation of dialysis has puzzled researchers. Researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine suggest that the improved survival may also be due to the very gene that causes the problem . . . the APOL1 gene. In this case the APOL1 gene gives protection against hardening of the arteries while on dialysis.
Here’s What You Need To Do . . .
Kidney disease in African Americans can be a confusing topic to understand and there is a lot to consider. The most important points are:
If you have high blood pressure, take your medicine and watch your salt intake so that your pressure stays normal. That will allow your kidneys to stay normal.
If you have diabetes, take your medicine and watch your diet so that your blood sugars stay normal.
Watch your weight because the bigger you are, the higher your chance for kidney disease.
Atrial fibrillation in African Americans, also called “A Fib”, effects one in nine before the age of 80 andis the most prevalent arrhythmia in the US and is associated with significant bad outcomes that include stroke, heart failure, and increased death. Surprisingly, studies also confirm a decreased atrial fibrillation incidence in African Americans (41% lower risk of being diagnosed than European Americans) but a greatly increased occurrence of stroke and sudden death in African Americans with atrial fibrillation. So compared to whites, African Americans are less likely to get atrial fibrillation, more commonly called “A Fib”, but if they get it, are more likely to have complications. This is just one of many “important differences” that exist in the care of African Americans.
Some have suggested that the decreased incidence of atrial fibrillation in African Americans is actually under-diagnosis, but others have called it a “racial paradox” where despite atrial fibrillation being a result of increased high blood pressure, diabetes, over-weight, heart failure, and heart attacks, all of which are higher in African Americans, the incidence of atrial fibrillation is surprisingly lower.
African Americans were also less likely to be aware they have A Fib, and much less likely to be treated with blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) that prevent the heart attacks and strokes that having A Fib causes. Even more surprising was this decreased use of warfarin in African Americans was regardless of whether the person had insurance or made more money. It is truly stunning that a medication to prevent strokes is used LESS in a group of people who are prone to have MORE strokes and this was found in a study by Meschia and colleagues who looked at over 30,000 patients:
“We also found that among those who were aware that they had AF (atrial fibrillation) and who had confirmation of the diagnosis of AF, (African Americans) were about one quarter as likely to be treated with warfarin as whites. In striking contrast, risk of stroke as stratified by the CHADS2 score was not a predictor of warfarin use. The fact that risk of future stroke did not significantly alter the likelihood of warfarin use would seem to reflect an evidence-practice gap.”
A Higher Risk for Death
The risk for death in the presence of atrial fibrillation (A Fib) in the first four months after diagnosis was very high with heart disease, heart failure and stroke accounting for the most of the deaths, the study also found. The risk for hospitalization in African Americans from atrial fibrillation doubled as did the risk for recurrent stroke, and related dementia from repeated “little strokes” (multi-infarct dementia).
What is the Best Medication for A Fib?
So the medical evidence would suggest that African Americans should receive MORE treatment with blood thinning medications like warfarin and other newer medications like dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), or apixaban (Eliquis) . . . and in fact they receive LESS.
Some of the complaints about warfarin is the need to have relatively frequent blood tests to confirm the “thin-ness” of your blood. These tests called “PT / INR” shoots for an INR between 2.0 and 3.0. Less than 2.0 means your blood is “too thick” and more than 3.0 means it is “too thin.” The newer medications to replace warfarin do not need blood tests.
Keep in mind that African Americans have an increased risk for complications from bleeding on some of these newer medications like dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), or apixaban (Eliquis), so although it can be more inconvenient with frequent blood draws, warfarin may be best for now until more information is available. There is also significant evidence that there are warfarin dosing differences between European Americans and African Americans that need to be anticipated and considered.
What You Need to Know . . .
While this topic may seem a little confusing, here are the main points:
If you have atrial fibrillation (A Fib), you are at a much greater risk for stroke or another major event.
Being on a blood thinner, like warfarin, can significantly decrease your risk for stroke (or another event).
Being on a blood thinner increases your risk for bleeding . . . but not as much as it decreases your risk for stroke. So while you risk a bleed, your risk for stroke is much higher.
It’s silly that I have to write an article about something so obvious: Love your kids, not your guns. I’ve wrongly stayed neutral about gun control because so many of my patients have and love guns. And frankly, I didn’t want to alienate them. I’ve said to myself, if they want to have assault weapons and an arsenal in the basement of their home, who am I to say what they do . . . . or what they have? Some people collect stamps and other people collect guns. Collecting stamps never impacted so many other lives as collecting guns.
The people that collect stamps really get into it. They travel to foreign lands just to personally buy incredibly valuable stamps, and many I’m told, can never stop. Their stamp collection is never complete. Many of my friends and patients with guns have the same “story” where they collect various guns of different fashions and capacities . . . and their collections seem boundless as well. Up to one third of adults engage in some form of “collecting” and for many Americans, guns are their passion.
357 Million Guns
Americans, by far, own the most guns per capita in the world, with over one gun per person. But gun ownership is highly concentrated with only about a third of Americans admitting to owning one. And these numbers are decreasing from numbers in the 1970’s where the majority of Americans had guns.
Among these “normal” gun owners is a small subset of “gun super-owners” who have huge collections that can result in well over one hundred guns. Once they collect the usual hand guns and rifles for hunting or home protection, they migrate into bigger and more impressive gun collections that have the capacity for wide-spread devastation. They buy rapid fire machine guns, grenades, silencers, and more. They are not planning to attack anyone, but if someone attacks them . . . there’s going to be trouble. This small number of law-abiding collectors do not want their ability, or access, to guns and ammunition impeded by laws that restrict what they can “collect.”
Why have all of these guns?
When admiring their gun collection, some “super owners” confess to imagining jumping into action at a moment’s notice. They fantasize about heroic acts that will finally validate their collection. Do I have enough guns to fight off an invasion of aliens like in the movie “Independence Day?” What if aliens attack us? Who will protect us? The neighbor “gun super-owner” will come to our rescue.
That’s silly. Aliens won’t attack.
What about some virus that “goes bad” and turns half of the world into the “Walking Dead” or zombies like in “World War Z”? Then I’d bet you wish you had rapid fire assault machine guns to kill all of those “walkers”! But how much ammunition would you need? Would it run out?
Wait. That’s silly. You couldn’t store enough ammunition for that. The zombies would eventually get us.
What about some sort of invasion of the Russians (or whoever), and somehow the United States military would “break down” and then we would need to defend our homes and community from “the enemy?” Then we’d be happy we had military grade guns and ammunition to defend our freedom.
That’s silly too. They would just drop a bomb.
These “gun super-owners” are collectors.
They are not mass murderers. They are also not saviors from some potential apocalyptic attack. They are collectors that are simply obsessed with guns. But their well-meaning obsession puts highly destructive weapons within the reach of other people who shouldn’t have them. The gun collectors, like the stamp collectors, think they pose no threat. But they do, and they have.
That basement arsenal can be accessed by children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, or simple criminals who would have no other access to these weapons except for your less-than-secure home security system. Are you ready to take responsibility for your guns no matter where they go, or what they do?
The usual approach of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” can no longer apply. Over-prescribing opioids by doctors has been rightfully blamed for some of the opioid epidemic. If the pills had not been in the medicine cabinet, the kids wouldn’t have experimented, and the addiction could have been avoided in some. A massive campaign has begun to decrease the amount of opioids that are readily available . . . and no one has objected. Where are the “pain pills don’t kill people, abusing pain pills kills people” objectors? They simply do not exist because its a silly argument.
Gun super-owners mean well, but their right to bear arms (or collect arms) shouldn’t extend into our ability to educate our children in an environment free of military-style attacks. Assault weapons have no place in a civilized society.
Love your kids, not your guns.
Almost half of people between 18 and 35 have tattoos, and almost one in four regrets it, according to a 2016 Harris Poll. Based on an estimate of about 60 million people in that age group, that would mean that about 7.5 million people have tattoo regret.
As a primary care physician, I’ve noticed anecdotally that many of my younger patients have regrets about their tattoos. When I ask about them, many say that they got them when they were young, and at the time put little or no research into the decision.
With no source (reliable or otherwise) of tattoo information to suggest to my patients, I began to investigate the topic myself. My goal was to write a quick reference for teens that reviewed the health and social issues they might encounter after getting a tattoo.
What I found was myriad unexpected and sometimes shocking concerns that everyone should know. To my surprise, there were a host of reports of ink complications, infections, toxin effects, scarring, burns, chronic irritations and much more.
The ink goes more than skin deep
Among the concerns are the long-term effects tattoo inks can have on the immune system, pathology specimen interpretation and other unforeseen health complications.
The European Society of Tattoo and Pigment Research was established in 2013 with a mission of educating the public about the “fundamental facts about tattooing” which many in the younger generations ignore. That group found barium, copper, mercury and other unsafe components in tattoo inks. Their research also found a disheartening mismatch between the listed ink container contents and its actual chemical composition found on testing.
More recently, the Food and Drug Administration has become more involved with tattoo inks, stating “Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.” Like the studies started overseas, the agency is now examining the chemical composition of inks and pigments and how they break down in the body, as well their short- and long-term safety.
Tattoos have led to errors in medical treatment, testing
Metal-based ink tattoos can react with magnetic resonance imaging studies. For instance, two case studies detail patients who suffered MRI-induced burns in their tattoos that were attributed to iron compounds in tattoo pigments. Radiologists say this magnet-based reaction is rare, but some have suggested simply avoiding iron-based tattoo inks.
Pathologists, meanwhile, are reporting tattoo ink in surgical biopsy specimens of lymph nodes. For instance, a 2015 report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology detailed the case of a young woman with cervical cancer which doctors believed had spread to her lymph nodes. After surgery to remove the nodes, they discovered that what appeared to be malignant cells in a scan was actually tattoo ink. A similar misdiagnosis occurred in another patient with melanoma.
Three percent of tattoos get infected, and almost four percent of people who get tattoos recount pain lasting more than a month, a 2015 study from Tulane University School of Medicine found. About 22 percent of participants with new tattoos reported persistent itching that lasted more than a month.
A spate of mycobacterial skin infections in 22 people across four states in 2011 and 2012 was tied to a few specific brands of ink. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with local departments of public health, were able to contain these infections through intense tracking and investigation.
A study reported in Hepatology found that “tattoo exposure is associated with HCV (hepatitis C virus) infection, even among those without traditional risk factors. All patients who have tattoos should be considered at higher risk for HCV infection and should be offered HCV counseling and testing.”
Hepatitis, which is 10 times more infectious than HIV, can be transmitted through needles used by tattoo artists. It is the reason the American Red Cross restricts blood donations from individuals with newer tattoos done outside of regulated tattoo facilities.
A study from Tulane University added credence to these blood donation restrictions by showing that 17 percent of all participants had at least one tattoo done somewhere other than a tattoo parlor, and 21 percent admitted to being intoxicated while receiving at least one of their tattoos.
A youthful decision with adult implications
The primary reason Harris Poll respondents reported tattoo regret was they “were too young when they had it done.” The second most common reason, which coincides with the first, is the tattoo “didn’t fit their present lifestyle.”
Whether a tattoo depicts a name, a person, a place or a thing, its meaning and perception are in constant flux. Eric Madfis and Tammi Arford, writing about the dilemma of symbols and tattoo regret, note that “Symbols are dynamic in that they are time-specific, ever-changing, and always in a state of gradual transition.”
Tattoos have a different meaning depending on the interpreter, their relative history and knowledge, and they are dynamic because they can take on different meanings through time and experience. The first person to get a barbed wire tattoo on an upper arm could be seen as clever, inventive, unique and trail-blazing. The one-hundredth person to get the same tattoo was none of these things, and with time, if either was seen in public, both would receive the same reaction.
The “emotional response in the beholder” of any given tattoo can be based on “social stratification” and is not consistently predictable, according to Andrew Timmings at the University of St Andrews in the United Kingdom. Their interviews of hiring managers showed that tattoos can actually hurt job prospects.
Researchers at the Harris Poll found that older respondents are less tolerant of visible tattoos as the prestige of the job position rises. While a vast majority of people age 51 and above are comfortable with professional athletes having tattoos, the acceptance decreases significantly when doctors, primary school teachers and presidential candidates are included.
Understandably, people who have many friends and family with tattoos are generally less stigmatized regarding their tattoo, and tend to suffer less tattoo regret, a study in The Social Science Journal reported in 2014. But the study also found that when tattooed respondents were exposed to individuals without tattoos, like in the workplace or institutions of higher learning, more stigma victimization occurred, and those impacted were more likely to suffer regret and ponder removal.
Getting a tattoo, which is akin to a life-changing (and body-changing) decision, when young is really no different from getting married young (32 percent regret rate) or choosing a college major (37 percent change rate). For many, making a major decision when young is rife with regret. The difference with tattoos is having to face that regret on a daily basis.
Current lasers still have limitations in the colors they can erase with added difficulty stemming from more vibrant tattoo colors. Darker pigmented people tend to have less success with certain lasers and require more sessions to avoid skin damage.
Because the laser shatters the pigment particles under the skin for removal by the body, the issues with infections, scarring and the ink spreading become a concern again. Tattoos covering extensive areas of the body are simply too large to tackle in one session, and could take years to remove.
Laser complications include pain, blistering, scarring and, in some cases, a darkening of the tattoo ink can occur, according to dermatologists.
As technology and the demand for tattoo removal advances, some of the limitations of current lasers will shrink. Newer, easy-to-remove inks are being patented, which may represent a healthier approach due to biodegradable ingredients, and a more predictable laser response. Picosecond lasers are also dramatically decreasing the number of sessions needed in select populations.
Education is the key
With such a large number considering tattoos at a young age, informing young people of the health and social risks could help them avoid tattoos they may come to regret. Adding permanent body art education to health classes could mitigate some of these mistakes and decrease later regret.
With the startling death of Prince at the age of 57,
many began to reflect on the seemingly ‘premature’ death of ground-breaking artists like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, or Hank Williams. Even as a physician, I began to wonder a number of questions. Do great music artists die young? Are there certain conditions that are more likely to cause a star’s demise? And finally, is there some lesson to be learned that might help our remaining beloved music artists?
I began by tabulating the vital statistics on the 252 members of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists” from the music industry. The list ranged from the #1 group The Beatles with two members that met a premature death (John Lennon at age 40 and George Harrison at age 58) to the #100 group The Talking Heads without a death amongst them. In between, were stars like Jimi Hendricks who died at age 27 from a drug overdose, Bob Marley who passed at 36 from skin cancer, and Marvin Gaye who was shot and killed by his father at age 44. In all, 82 of the 252 members of this elite group had died.
Homicides and Accidental Deaths
There were six homicides for various reasons ranging from a psychiatric obsession that lead to the shooting of John Lennon, to the planned ‘hits’ on rappers Tupac Shakur and Jam Master Jay. There is still a good deal of controversy surrounding the shooting of Sam Cooke by a female hotel manager who was likely protecting a prostitute who had robbed him. Al Jackson Jr., the renowned drummer with Booker T & the MGs, was shot 5 times in the back by a burglar in his home amongst mysterious circumstances that still baffle authorities.
An accident can happen to anyone, but the “100 Greatest ” have more than their share. There were numerous accidental overdoses including Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols at age 21, David Ruffin of the Temptations at age 50, Rudy Lewis at age 27 of The Drifters, and country great Gram Parsons who was found dead at age 26.
While your odds of dying in a plane crash are about 1 in 5 million, if you are one of the “100 Greatest” those odds jump to 1 in 84. Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, and Ronnie Van Zant of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band all died in airplane accidents while on tour.
Increased Liver Disease
While liver-related diseases make up only 1.4% of the general population’s cause of death, it comprised over three times that number among the “100 Greatest Artists” deaths. The increased occurrence of these diseases is probably related to the elevated alcohol and drug use in this group. Liver bile duct cancers that are normally extremely rare in the general population ran suspiciously high in our small but esteemed group with Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Tommy Ramone of the Ramones both dying prematurely from a condition that normally effects less than one in a thousand .
Tobacco Use Effects
The vast majority of the “Great 100” were born in the 1940’s and reached maturity during the 1960’s when tobacco smoking peaked. As a result, an increased number of artists died from lung cancer including George Harrison age 58 of the Beatles, Carl Wilson of the Beachboys at age 51, Richard White of Pink Floyd at age 65, Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations at age 52, and Obie Benson of the Four Tops at age 69. Throat cancer, also linked with smoking, caused the deaths of country great Carl Perkins at 65 and Levon Helm of The Band at 71.
A good number of the “100 Greatest” had heart attacks or heart failure and included Ian Stewart age 47 of the Rolling Stones, blues greats Muddy Waters age 70, Howlin Wolf age 65, Roy Orbison age 52, and Jackie Wilson at age 49.
We recently saw Glenn Frey succumb to pneumonia, but so did Jackie Wilson at age 49, nine years after a having a massive heart attack. James Brown complained of a persistent cough and declining health before he passed at age 73 with the cause listed as congestive heart failure as a result of pneumonia.
Among those dead, the average age was 49.
One of the two shocking outcomes deals with life expectancy. While the average American male has a life expectancy of about 75 years, the males in the “100 Greatest Artists” who have died had an average age of just over 49 years and makes up almost one third of the entire group. Factoring their birth year and a life expectancy of 75 years, only 44 should have died by now, instead of the 82. Incidentally, of the 44 that should have died based on life expectancy, 19 are still alive.
Alcohol and drug abuse
The second shocking outcome was the sobering and disproportional occurrence of alcohol and drug-related deaths ranging from Kurt Cobain’s gunshot suicide while intoxicated to Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers accidental death on a motorcycle while impaired. Members of legendary bands like The Who (John Entwistle age 57 and Keith Moon age 32), The Doors (Jim Morrison age 27), The Byrds (Gene Clark age 46 and Micheal Clarke age 47), The Band (Rick Danko age 55 and Richard Manuel age 42), and others all succumbing to alcohol or drug-induced death.
There were many including The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and country star Hank Williams who declined more slowly over the years from substance abuse while their organs deteriorated, and the official cause of death was heart-related, but in reality the cause may have been more directly related to substance abuse.
Alcohol and drugs accounted for at least one in ten deaths of these great artists, while nationally substance abuse as a cause of death effects one in 33. The threefold difference points to the much greater access and use of drugs and alcohol among these ultra-talented artists.
Too Much Opioid Use & Abuse
Currently, the US is in the midst of a opioid abuse epidemic with heroin and prescription drug overdoses setting records across the country. Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, Gram Parsons, Whitney Houston (who didn’t make this 100 Greatest List), Michael Jackson, and now possibly Prince all dying from accidental opioid overdose. While it is still unclear what the cause of death will be in Prince’s case, early evidence points toward opioids.
Controlling the effects of oxycodone, fentanyl, heroin or morphine and thereby reducing accidental death is difficult, and for these stars and countless others across the world, in the end . . . impossible. Put another way, without the inappropriate use of opioids or their addiction, all of these stars could still be alive.
What music could those who died young have created if they were given the chance to live and flourish? And more importantly for us, who’s next?