Posted by on June 1, 2015 - 9:20am

Scientists at Northwestern Medicine recently made an exciting discovery regarding why there is a higher prevalence rate for women than men in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases. They found that the innate lymphoid cell, which is a type of white blood cell, works differently in males versus females.

Most labs that study MS use female mice because they are much more likely than male mice to get the disease. Typically, two groups of female mice are used: one group of normal mice used as a control group and one group of mice with a genetic mutation in a growth factor receptor, which blocks the development of a subset of immune cells. However, a graduate student in the lab made an honest mistake and used two sets of male mice instead of female mice. At the end of the experiment, the male mice who had the mutation were extremely sick, which led to the realization that the mutation was acting differently in females and males.

The mice with the mutation were found to lack type 2 innate lymphoid cells, which are normally present in bone marrow, lymph nodes, and the thymus of both females and males. These cells are not found in the males with the mutation, which leads to a drastic change in the immune response of the mice and means that they are not protected against MS. In the normal male mice, these lymphoid cells were activated and protected the mice from the disease.

While female mice have the same lymphoid cells that male mice do, they do not become activated and therefore do no protect them from developing MS. This discovery in the lab has led to the current investigation into why these cells are activated more so in males than females and subsequently if it is possible to activate them in females in order to reduce their vulnerability to contracting MS.

Background on MS

Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which your immune system attacks your central nervous system, which is made up of your brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. More specifically, the protective layer (myelin) that covers your nerves is attacked and subsequently damaged, disrupting the crucial communication between your brain and the rest of your body. The distortion and disturbance of nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain generate a wide variety of symptoms, depending on which nerves are affected and how damaged they become.



Northwestern Press Release

Original Publishes Findings in The Journal of Immunology

National Multiple Sclerosis Society

Mayo Clinic



Posted by on June 1, 2015 - 9:00am

A new slow-release formulation of peppermint 0il has been shown to reduce the severe abdominal symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome  (IBS) according to a study researchers  at the U of Alabama.  Peppermint has been used to relieve  stomach problems for generations but this is a new look at an old remedy.    The main component of peppermint oil is  L-menthol which has properties that help with intestinal bloating, cramping, and infections.  Until recently, the main source has been typically over-the-counter capsules or gel caps but the dosing has not been well regulated.    Too much of the oil at the beginning of the GI tract can lead to heartburn and dyspepsia.   Too much release at the end of the track can lead to lower bowel symptoms.

According to the researchers, IBgard is a new ultra pure formulation of peppermint oil with a unique delivery system that gets the product out of the stomach quickly  and into the small intestine where it will have its primary effect.  IBS symptoms can be severe and include adominable pain, bloating, constipation and flatulence.

The new slow release formula will be on the market soon, but as with every herbal related product, users should check with their health care provider before taking it.


Posted by on May 27, 2015 - 1:19pm

Planning on hiking, camping, or gardening this summer? If so, be careful of ticks and Lyme disease! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there were over 30,000 cases of Lyme disease in 2013, a number that is estimated to grow each year.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Infected ticks spread the bacteria by biting animals and people. The two types of ticks that carry Lyme disease in the United States are Deer ticks, which are primarily found in the Northeast and the Midwest, and Western black-legged ticks, which are found along the Pacific coast. These ticks are brown and can be very small – often they are around the size of the head of a pin – and often attach to moist or hairy areas of the body.

In order to contract Lyme disease, a tick carrying the bacteria must bite you. In general, the tick must be attached for between 36 and 48 hours in order to transmit the disease. The bacteria enter your body through the bite, making its way into your bloodstream.

This disease is also known as “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms mimic a host of other diseases and it affects more than one system in the human body, including skin, joints, and the nervous system. Early signs and symptoms of Lyme include a rash in a bull’s eye pattern that has a red outer ring surrounding the site of the tick bite. This rash may also be found on other parts of your body, not just where the bite was. Other early symptoms may mimic the flu, including fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and joint pain. Later symptoms, which develop several weeks after you’ve been infected, include severe joint pain and neurological problems such as temporary paralysis of one side of your face or impaired muscle movement. If left undiagnosed or untreated, the disease may become late-stage or chronic. The disease can spread to other parts of the body and can cause neurological symptoms, cognitive defects, chronic joint inflammation, and heart rhythm irregularities.

The best ways to protect yourself from Lyme disease are to avoid heavily wooded, bushy areas where ticks live, and wear long pants and long sleeves when walking through these types of areas. Check yourself, your kids, and your pets for ticks regularly, especially after spending time in the woods. Since ticks can be the size of a poppy seed, make sure to search carefully and thoroughly. If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible by gently getting ahold of the tick with tweezers and pulling it carefully away from the skin. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick. If you think you’ve been bitten by a tick and start to experience symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your doctor immediately!



Mayo Clinic

Posted by on May 20, 2015 - 11:18am

It is almost summer, which means many of you may be thinking about laying outside on the beach, by the pool, or in your backyard to soak up some sun! While being outside in the sun can help make us happier and help our bodies produce Vitamin D, sunlight can also cause a lot of damage to our skin, so much so that the most common type of cancer in the United States is skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 73,800 people in the United States will be diagnosed with skin cancer in 2015.

Sunlight travels to the Earth in both long and short waves. While long waves are harmless to humans, short waves, such as ultraviolet light, are harmful to people. Sunburns are caused when the human body is exposed to too much ultraviolet light from the sun. There are two major affects that this can have on the human body. The first is that too much exposure to these rays makes your skin thicker, leading to wrinkled, aged skin. The other affect that sunlight has is much more dangerous and severe: it can cause skin cancer.

When ultraviolet light enters the skin, it causes a disruption in the growth process of skin cells. This damage causes changes to the cells that make them grow and divide uncontrollably, leading to the growth of tumors, just like other forms of cancer. These typically appear as a small spot on your skin and can be sometimes hard to notice. The spots, however small, reach deep and invade the surrounding tissue. This can eventually cause the cancer to spread to other parts of your body, making it harder to cure.

The best way to protect your skin and help prevent skin cancer is to first limit your exposure to the sun. This includes avoiding long periods of time in the direct sunlight, choosing to sit in the shade, and wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen when you will be in the sun. Sunscreen is especially important as it can protect every inch of skin if used properly. Different sunscreens can be found in every drugstore and they come labeled in different sun protection factor (SPF) levels, from as low as 15 to as high as 75. An SPF labeling of 30, for instance, means it will take you 30 times as long to burn from the sun than if you were not wearing sunscreen at all.

Remember to be safe in the sun and protect your skin from wrinkles and disease!



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


National Cancer Institute

Posted by on May 13, 2015 - 12:30pm

 Manicures and pedicures used to be reserved for special occasions but they have now become a staple for all ages of women across the economic spectrum.    

 Two recent articles in the New York Times, have exposed the harsh reality of the price nail workers pay so we can have those ‘pretty toes’

 The first, a May 7th NYT article explores how salon workers are underpaid, mistreated and even abused.   This exploitation by salon owners mainly focuses on Asian and Hispanic immigrant workers.  The majority of them are paid below the minimum wage---if they are even paid!    Some salons charge new employees a fee during their ‘training period’ and even when they are paid, many report wages as low at $1.50 an hour with no overtime pay.   Some salons skim tips and dock workers for mishaps that they may or may not have caused.

 The second NYT article,  focuses on the growing number of health problems reported by salon workers that may be due to the environmental dangers associated with the ingredients found in nail polishes and other beauty products.  There is more and more evidence showing a link between chemicals used by the industry to health problems including  miscarriages, respiratory diseases, cancer and abnormal fetal development.  Research on these issues is long overdue and organizations that work with immigrants are demanding more.  Laws that regulate the beauty industry are weak and outdated. Unfortunately, the beauty industry manufacturers are fighting more stringent regulations which may cut profits.

 Read the articles –they are truly enlightening and troublesome!   It is a classic example of exploiting the most vulnerable for the benefit of those with money to spend on personal pleasures.

 What can we do??    Ask a few questions about the salon you visit ---especially if it has really cheap prices (an indication that they DO NOT pay well).  If it looks like the workers are being exploited, report it and stop patronizing that place.    Give your tips in cash directly to your manicurist (not to a tip jar or on your credit card). 

 Well groomed nails are an important part of our personal hygiene plan and we all like a bargain.   But take a good look at the working conditions of your salon, ask a few questions, and only support salons that treat their staff well---even if it costs a few dollars more.  

Posted by on May 10, 2015 - 9:55am

This June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will release a revision to prescription guidelines--the first since 1979.   These new guidelines will provide  up-to-date and specific information to doctors about the risks and benefits of medication that pregnant women may need to control other conditions.   The rule of thumb over the years has just been to tough it out and not take any medicines that may (or may not) hurt the mother or the fetus. Research in this area is limited because pregnant women are excluded from most drug trials.  Dr. Katherine Wisner, WHRI Leadership Council Member and expert on mood disorders at Northwestern U, "Pregnant women get sick and sex women get pregnant.   But somehow we have created this myth of the medication-free pregnancy."   We've all heard stories about pregnant women who have serious depression and stop their meds---harming themselves or their baby because their condition is out of control. 

The old system used a scoring system of A, B, C, D, and X with ' X" being the most dangerous.  The new system will have three components:

  • Information on dosing and risks to the fetus
  • Known risks about the drug's impact on breast feeding (e.g. will it concentrate in the milk)
  • Drug's impact on fertility.

According to the CDC, about 90% of pregnant women are on at least one prescribed or OTC medication.  Providing doctors more labeling information with help them determine safe options for treatment and help women have a healthier pregnancy.. 

Read more in the Chicago Tribune.

Posted by on May 7, 2015 - 1:46pm

Spring finally came to the Midwest this weekend and like many homeowners, it was time to check out my garden and see what perennials survived the long winter.   As I washed up after clearing dead foliage, I ran my hand at the back of my head and felt a small "scab"...but soon found out it was a little reddish tick that had not yet embedded in my skin and was alive and well!!

So, all you outdoor types, it is time to start tick patrol!    Lyme disease--spread by tick bites,  is the most common occurring vector-borne disease in the United States.  An estimated 300,000 infections occur each year only about 10% get reported by state health departments.    The risk is greatest in New England, the mid- Atlantic states and the upper Midwest (my cottage is in the Indiana Dunes--- a hotbed for ticks!).

Here are a few ways to protect yourself:

  • Avoid tall grassy and wooded areas
  • Use a repellent with DEET (skin and clothing--up to 20% concentrate)  or permethrin (clothing and gear)
  • Perform daily tick checks then you come inside.  Be sure to check under the arms, around the ears, belly button, back of knees, around all body hair, between legs and around waist.
  • Remove any tick (
  • If you find a tick that has been attached to your skin for 24 hours or more, after removal, continue to check for any rashes especially one that looks like a bullet target and see a health provider if you do.
  • Check your family pets and if you are in a woody area, consider a tick collar.
  • Modify your landscape making it less desirable for ticks (remove litter, clear vegetation around your patio, etc.)
  • Don't encourage deer to hang out on your property...they are pretty, but adult ticks thrive on them!
  • Remember, they are very tiny and easy to miss!

 To learn more about Lyme disease visit:

With some precautions, enjoy the summer!






Posted by on May 5, 2015 - 12:32pm

An estimated 300 million people worldwide are living with asthma, a chronic disease that inflames and narrows the airways of the lungs, causing wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing. Globally, an estimated 15 million years of life are lost each year due to asthma-related disability or early death. Asthma is a leading cause of hospitalization and missed school and work days in the United States, and managing the condition can be costly for families and health care systems.


To learn more about asthma, visit the CDC site:

Posted by on April 30, 2015 - 9:49am

Interesting in learning about men's health issues?   Join Northwestern Medicine Physicians as they discuss men's health at a free seminar.  Spouses and partners are welcome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015
5:15 pm - 8 pm
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Feinberg Pavilion, 3rd Floor
251 E. Huron Street

Space limited.   Register on line at or call 312-926-7975

Date & Time: 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - 5:15pm to 8:00pm
Posted by on April 27, 2015 - 8:52am

The percentage of women faculty at medical schools has greatly increased in the past two decades, but women are significantly underrepresented in leadership positions. This report provides a snapshot of the number of women in leadership positions at U.S. medical schools. The authors conclude by suggesting that institutions strive to increase representation of women in leadership positions, arguing that doing so would result in significant organizational and productivity benefits.

Posted by Diana Lautenbreger, Claudia Raezer, and Susan Bunton in February 2015 for the Association of American Medical Colleges