Medical Myths: The Disturbing Truth About Milk

Growing up I remember always being told both at home and in school, to finish up all my milk if I wanted to have strong, healthy bones and teeth.

Even today, I still see many people and companies advocating for this.

Interestingly, there is no research that shows that drinking lots of milk strengthens our bones.

There is also no research showing a society that has healthier bones than others due to drinking milk daily or often.

I think corporations have definitely pulled a fast one on all of us, by making us believe so strongly that milk is what we need for a healthy life.

In fact, milk often causes more harm than good.

Humans seem to be the only living things that seek milk after infancy. Not only that, humans drink milk from other mammals who have totally different digestive systems and nutrient requirements.

“It seems almost moronic to believe that breast milk could be swapped out as an even exchange for cow’s milk as if the two were the same,” says Dr. Bobby J. Price, a certified plant-based nutritionist, exercise physiologist and Doctor of Pharmacy. “

“Cow’s milk is specifically designed to super-size an 85-pound baby calf into a 500-pound cow in less than a year. We’re genetically and structurally incompatible with cows, yet we’ve made cow’s milk the elixir of life for strong bones.”

The components in cow’s milk are nowhere near those in human breast milk.

In fact, many of the same components are responsible for the allergies and recurrent infections that we see so often in young children like sinusitis, ear infections, respiratory infections, eczema and digestive problems.

If your child has recurrent infections and allergies, try and cut out dairy for sometime and look out for improvement.

Milk also contains large quantities of whey and casein. Whey is rapidly absorbed into the blood and has been related to the production and spread of cancerous cells in adults.

Casein is digested and absorbed by the body at a much slower rate, which causes the production of morphine-like substances in the gut. This is one of the reasons that milk seems to be so comforting and addictive.

How To Get Calcium The Right Way

1) Dark green leafy veggies – kale, spinach, collard greens

2) Sesame seeds and chia seeds

3) Flaxseed – you can try and add one cup to a green smoothie or salad

4) Fruits like oranges, strawberries, kiwis and pineapples tend to be rich in calcium

5) Fish like salmon and sardines

If you eat these daily you shouldn’t have any problems with calcium deficiency.

I’ve definitely noticed a huge difference in my skin since I reduced my dairy intake. It wasn’t easy at first, because I love a cup of coffee in the morning, but it was definitely worth it.

Would you consider cutting dairy out of your diet?

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Coming Back Home after Studying Medicine Abroad

What To Expect as an IMG After Studying Medicine Abroad

If you’ve been following this blog then you know I did my undergraduate medical training in Ukraine.

After my graduation in 2018, I travelled back to my home country to begin life as a young doctor.

If you want to know the process on return for international medical graduates here’s a summary of how it goes:

1) Registration with the Kenyan Medical Practitioners and Dentist’s Board

2) Registration and payment for the board licensing exam

3) Pre-internship training for four months – this is essentially rotation in the Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Obs/Gyn and Surgical departments. The point is essentially to get you acclimatized to the Kenyan hospital system.

4) Sit for the board exams – a grueling experience. Not to put you off, but this was one of the most challenging exams I’ve ever done. it consists of two papers sat on 2-3 days, consisting of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) and practicals/OSCEs.

5) Once you pass your exam, you’re given a temporary license and you proceed to the balloting process for internship placement. Balloting is pretty straightforward, you just pick a piece of paper from a box and whatever you pick is the hospital you will be posted to. Government hospitals in Kenya are structured in different levels. The lowest level is the dispensaries, then health centers, then sub-district hospitals, district hospitals, provincial hospitals then national referral hospitals. National referral hospitals are often referred to as Level 6 hospitals, provincial as level 5 and so on.

6) Internship program – a 12 month, notoriously grueling experience in all four departments. The current program is a little different, with the addition of rotation in the departments of Psychiatry and Community Health.

7) On completion of the internship program you are granted registration as a general practitioner with the medical board, given a permanent license (that must be renewed annually at a fee) and are finally able to seek and gain employment at any facility if your choice.

Are there any specific questions you’d like to know about this process? Let me know in the comments below. Would you like to know anything about the medical field? Feel free to send me your questions.

Let’s Talk About Meat Baby

How To Get The Most Nutrition Out Of Your Meat and Improve Your Health

There’s been a lot of talk about meat, and if you are anything like me you’ve probably heard about meat being one of the more dangerous food groups. I still come across so many different ideas about how meat does this and that to the body.

This simply isn’t the truth. Don’t get me wrong, eaten in excess, anything can cause disease. But eaten in the right amounts and cooked the right way, meat can be one of the most nutritious and important meals in our diet. Here me out…

First of all, talking about food in terms of calories, level of fats, proteins and carbohydrates is unnatural and in my opinion, bad for your overall outlook on food. In 1896 Fannie Farmer published a book entitled “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.” It was one of the most famous cook books in it’s time. In the preface, Farmer stated, “It is my wish that it may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.”

This scientific knowledge included facts about the differences between organic and inorganic food. It also gave detailed descriptions on the categories of foods i.e fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Many would say this recipe book is why we started speaking about food in the way we do now. “I need to add some protein to my diet”, “Please don’t serve me any carbs”. We need to stop talking about food like chemists and start talking about it like, well, food!

Additionally, the source of food is what is really important. For example, carrots are so nutritious, but if the soil that the carrots grew in was depleted and toxic, those carrots will only have toxic chemicals. The same goes for animal meats; if the produce given to the animals is bereft of nutritious and natural substances, those toxins are passed into our systems.

Our ancestors didn’t think of food in terms of carbs and protein and fat. They thought more in terms of good soil, healthy animals and freshly picked produce. I talked about the Four Pillars of World Cuisine in a previous post about nutrition. Today I’d like to share a bit more about the first pillar, which is meat on the bone.

There’s a variety of ways to prepare meat and enjoy it. The big question is, how to prepare meat so that it’s nutritious and also delicious. So what’s the big secret? Leave it on the bone.

I recently had dinner with some friends from Spain, who prepared a delicious traditional meal of oxtail and brown rice. What I found most fascinating about the meal was that it had been on the fire for a good 8 hours! Served with a delicious bottle of wine, the meat turned out to be soft, succulent and one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in a while.

So when cooking meat, the more everything stays together—fat, bone, marrow, skin and other connective tissue—the better. There are some simple techniques you can use use to make meat taste more succulent, flavorful and complex and I’m going to share them all with you.

Rule Number One: Don’t Overcook It

According to Catherine Shanahan MD, overcooked meat is tough because its fat, protein and sugar molecules have gotten tangled and fused together during a wild, heat-crazed chemical orgy. “The result is a kind of tissue polymer that requires more work to cut with a knife and more chewing, as well as more time to digest. The worst part is that so many of the nutrients we need are ruined.”

These ruined nutrients don’t just magically disappear. The chemicals that result from the damage of these nutrients are actually carcinogenic, including aromatic hydrocarbons and cyclic amines as well as other chemical compounds that damage the kidneys and blood vessels.

“When meat is cooked properly, fewer harmful reactions occur. The nutrients and flavor compounds survive, and can now be gently released into the meat’s juices where they are more bioavailable, and more readily tasted and absorbed.”

Rule Number Two: Use Moisture, Time, and Parts

It’s interesting that when a chef talks about flavor and how some flavors take time to develop, he is also talking about nutrients, i.e. it takes time for some nutrients to be released.

Slow cooked meat gives time for flavors and nutrients to be released therefore enhancing the taste of the food. The meat may include muscle, tendon, bone, fat, skin, blood, and glands—diversity increases the complexity of the meal which in turn increases its flavor and quality.

Here a slow cooker will do wonders for you, but if you don’t have one you can always use moisture, time and parts. Moisture is important because at gentle temperatures, water helps to break down tough strands, and makes the meat tender.

Another thing to note, is that mineral salts are also released from the bone and cartilage. These tissues are mineral warehouses, rich in calcium, potassium, iron, sulfate, phosphate and, of course, sodium and chloride. It really seems like the perfect natural cocktail of nutrients!

Rule Number Three: Use the Fat

Animal fat has a really bad rep in my opinion. Avoid scraping off or discarding animal fat before you cook your meat.

Fat, like sugar, is an important source of energy for our bodies. Unlike sugar however, fat is a major building block of our cells making up 30 to 80 percent of our cell membranes. Also, fat does not trigger the release of insulin, which promotes weight gain. Most importantly, we need fat to be able to absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K.

Rule Number Four: Make Bone Stock

Collagen is an important part of joint, bone, skin, hair and even arterial health. Healthy joints depend on the health of the collagen in your ligaments, tendons, and on the ends of your bones.

“Collagens are a large family of biomolecules, which include the glycosaminoglycans, very special molecules that help keep our joints healthy. People used to eat soup and stock made from bones all the time, and doing so supplied their bodies with the whole family of glycosaminoglycans, which used to protect people’s joints. Now that few people make bone stock anymore, many of us are limping into doctors’ offices for prescriptions, surgeries and, lately, recommendations to buy over-the-counter joint supplements containing glucosamine. And what is glucosamine? One of the members of the glycosaminoglycan family of joint-building molecules.”

I think broth soups are far better than glucosamine tablets for one main reason; the tablets have only one or two components of collagen while bone broth soup has several natural components that can’t be manufactured, as well as vitamins and minerals.

Did you know that Native Americans and lots of other native tribes across the colder regions would supplement their diet of dried fish by deliberately breaking animal bones before stewing them? For thousands of years, our ancestors from all over the world made use of every last bit of animal consumed. Knowing this, it would make sense why a lack of these nutrients would create large deficiencies in our bodies and therefore a rapid decline in our overall health.

When was the last time you had a bowl of hot bone broth soup? Know anyone with bone and joint problems? Get them to incorporate some of these tips over some months to see significant changes in their health. What are some traditional ways of cooking meat do you have in your culture?

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Medical Mysteries: Prosopagnosia

Sekina hurriedly locked the front door of her house and dashed to her car. She wanted to pick her 10 month-old son Adamu from daycare early so that she could make it to her favorite local fish market before the best fresh cat fish was sold out.

She got to her son’s daycare and walked over to the playground where a number of young babies were enjoying their time outdoors.

It was a cold, windy afternoon so most of the babies had hoods over their little heads to keep them warm.

She saw a little baby boy with a large fire truck in his hands, happily playing by the sandpit. “There’s my sweet boy”, she said to herself happily as she started to walk towards him.

From where she was, she could make out the figures of Marie and Safi, two of the oldest caretakers at the daycare whom she had known for years since her now teenage daughter was a baby. They both seemed to be staring at her as she approached the little boy who was now smiling at her and cooing. She played with him a little, pushing the truck back and forth as he watched and smiled, finding it very odd that the caretakers were still staring at her and the baby.

Sekina noticed that he wasn’t wearing the jacket or clothes she had dressed him in early that morning.

“Why isn’t he wearing his jacket?” she asked loudly. They just stared at her in silence, not sure if she was joking or not.

That was when she felt that something wasn’t right.

Her heart was racing with fear and trepidation as she pulled off his hood and studied the face of the child in her arms intently. He was still cooing and talking baby language, his hands on her cheeks.

How could she not know her own child? The mother-child bond was meant to be the strongest bond there was and yet she was peering at the baby’s eyes, then nose, then mouth, ears…searching desperately for anything that would give her a clue as to whether or not this was her child.

Overcome with mortification, she walked over to the caretakers, who looked somewhat horrified, and asked them to help her find her son.

* * * *

Imagine not being able to recognize a face, including your parents, siblings, spouse, even your own child. This is a daily experience for people with a rare condition known as prosopagnosia.

Believe it or not, I wrote the above story based on a true story about a woman named Jayne Kalmar, who along with her father and sister, were diagnosed with prosopagnosia. In one of her many experiences with the disease, when she went to her son’s day-care center, she picked up the wrong baby.

Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize faces, including one’s own face, otherwise known as “face blindness”. People with this remarkable condition are able to look at a photograph of a nose, eye, chin, eyebrows individually and know what they are. However as soon as they are combined into a face, it all goes blank.

What are the causes?

There are theories that the problem is essentially neurological – caused by a connection somewhere in the brain that just isn’t happening. The latest studies, using MRIs to examine the communication pathways in the brain, have shown that people with “proso” have some disturbance in how the brain speaks to itself i.e. when it comes to faces the brain just isn’t able to put together the pieces.

Another theory is that the fusiform area of the brain in the right lower hemisphere in these patients has a decreased size and doesn’t seem to be as stimulated completely, as in normal patients.

It’s important to note that while many patients develop prosopagnosia after major head trauma, many people are actually born with this rare condition. The incidence is about 2.5% worldwide.

It was an astonishing discovery when I found out that Brad Pitt and Jane Goodall are two famous people with this disorder. Speaking with GQ in July 2022, Brad Pitt admitted that although he hasn’t officially been diagnosed with the condition he finds it difficult to recognize people’s faces, which often leads to people thinking he’s aloof and self-absorbed.

“That’s why I stay at home,” he admitted. “So many people hate me because they think I’m disrespecting them,” Pitt said at the time. “You get this thing, like, ‘You’re being egotistical. You’re being conceited.’ But it’s a mystery to me, man. I can’t grasp a face and yet I come from such a design/aesthetic point of view.”

I can’t imagine not being able to recognize my husband’s face in a crowd, or my sister sitting right next to me. The condition is often accompanied by depression, anxiety and alienation especially in children.

Unfortunately at the moment there is no known cure for the disease, most people affected have to find ways to live with it by compensatory mechanisms like memorizing a person’s height, weight, hair or gait. Can you imagine looking in the mirror and not being able to recognize your own face, let alone know what you or your loved ones really look like.

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Busting Medical Myths: Safe Use of Antibiotics

Image by 21saturday from Pixabay

How often do you take antibiotics as soon as you develop flu symptoms?

There is a common myth that taking an antibiotic will get you over your runny nose, cough or ear-ache faster. The reality is that taking a course of antibiotics is not taken as seriously as it should be.

Taking an antibiotic can have an alarming impact on your health; it can be dangerous while taking it and it can also cause long-term adverse effects. If an infection doesn’t respond to antibiotics then there is absolutely no use in taking them.

I think the pursuit of money has led to the audacious abuse of antibiotics. Doctors will often prescribe them for viral infections (especially the common cold), mostly in attempts to placate mothers with sick children. It’s not uncommon in my own practice to see a mother who implores me to prescribe for her child antibiotics despite an outcome of relatively normal or positive viral lab results. It certainly doesn’t help that a lot of mothers just don’t believe their child will recover without a course of antibiotics. The situation is so bad in Kenya that either you prescribe the antibiotic or they get it easily over the counter…ugh so frustrating!

The truth is that a lot of infections go away on their own without the need for antibiotics. In my opinion, when left to do its work, our immune system is a powerful force against infections and can often do so without antibiotics.

Of course, using them can be life-saving to treat a variety of bacterial infections when used appropriately.

There’s also been a belief about bacteria that most of us tend to learn in childhood, and this is that germs and bacteria are bad and we should destroy them every chance we get. Every homemakers’ dream of a perfectly clean home includes a bacterial count of zero!

It turns out that the goal of a bacteria-free life is somewhat of an delusion.

We have lived with bacteria, both on us and inside us, since ancient times. Some can be lethal, but the vast majority of them are either neutral or beneficial.

Interestingly, bacterial DNA actually outnumbers your DNA by a hundred to one! It’s no surprise then that when one takes antibiotics unnecessarily, they may end up with gut AND skin problems.

In conclusion, only take antibiotics, or give them to children if a bacterial cause is ACTUALLY the reason for infection. You have a right to ask your doctor all these questions and any concerns you may have before you leave the hospital with prescribed medications.

If you’re interested in reading more about good bacteria and other fascinating information, check out this book by Alanna Collen titled, “10% Human. How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness”.

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Why I Haven’t Blogged In Forever

Apart from a few major life updates, I’ve honestly been struggling with MAJOR writer’s imposter system coupled with writer’s block, I mean why wouldn’t I with all the brilliant authors, writers and bloggers I’ve met and discovered over the past few months. I finally decided to accept my imperfections and hope to write a lot more frequently and hopefully improve my writing in the process.

One thing that I’ve been spending a lot of time doing is working. I’ve had to acclimatize to new work roles in the A&D and inpatient departments at the hospital I work at, and that’s been challenging and interesting.

Also, my older brother got married last month! After months of careful planning it was an absolutely beautiful fairy tale kinda day.

I’ve also recently started studying for USMLE Step 1, which is one of three major and notoriously gruelling entrance exams for International Medical Graduates before they can work in the U.S, and I will keeping giving you updates on this.

Lastly, I’m so delighted about the fact that I’m back to my book worm habits. Not the best time, as I’m now preparing for exams, but I’m sure I’ll find a balance. After years of reading nothing but medical literature, it’s been a refreshing change. I’ve been reading mainly African fiction and poetry and it has given me so much joy.

I’ll be sharing more soon.

A Curious Case of Bird Mites

During one of my afternoon shifts at the A&E, a young lady and her 5 year old son walked in with a sudden history of a generalized itchy rash on their bodies. The boy’s aunt who lived with them but hadn’t accompanied them, was also affected by this mysterious rash and all the over-the-counter remedies they had tried had been of no avail.

I asked if I could see what the rash looked like so she raised the little boys shirt so that I could have a look at his back. On seeing the rash I was silent for a few seconds because it was unlike any rash I had ever seen. There were numerous small lesions on his chest, back, trunk, neck, upper and lower limbs that looked like tiny pimples with the surrounding skin appearing inflamed and irritated.

Interestingly, his mother explained to me that the itching and rash started after she and her family moved into a new home.

“One of the rooms in the house had a small opening in the roof,” his mother expounded. “I noticed that there were many birds that have made their home in between the lining and the overhanging roof. I’ve patched up the ceiling now but I have a feeling that there are some things dropping into the house from there.”

She further explained how the pimples were usually preceded by a sharp, painful bite followed by intense itching that lasted days.

I prescribed appropriate medications but explained to her that it was important to fumigate the house and possible find a way to get rid of the birds since it’s a real health hazard to live so close to wild birds.

A quick google search of bird mites will show you some images of their characteristic rash. These little creatures love to breed on and around birds especially when the birds are in a group. Sometimes the mites can fall from trees or roofs and land on humans causing painful bites and and itchy rash.

Bird mites are actually very similar to bed bugs but fortunately, they can’t really live for long periods on human skin which makes it difficult for them to be transferred from human to human. I’m not a dermatologist but I’ve definitely stored this case in my memory for future differentials of sudden onset of an itchy rash.

Finally, it’s always good to note that while most rashes in children are self-limited or disappear with medication, some can be a sign of serious infection like measles or chicken pox or an allergic reaction.

How To Reduce Pain After an Injection

No one likes injections, but sometimes it’s inevitable. Honestly, my heart always goes out to people like diabetics, who have to get daily injections sometimes up to three times a day just to stay alive.

Also, during these times of COVID-19, although only about 1% of Africans have been fully vaccinated, it’s good to prepare for any post-vaccination inflammation you may experience once you get the vaccine.

Occasionally, intramuscular and subcutaneous injections can cause pain and swelling in the site of injection. This is commonly due to a reaction to the needle or the substance being injected. In general, the inflammation should decrease after 72 hours, and in the worst cases scenarios, within a week. Here are a few helpful tips for such situations:

  1. Try to relax. Tense muscles are one of the main causes of pain after intramuscular injections so try to make sure you are in a position where all your muscles are relaxed. I know it’s hard not to tense up but trust me, this will save you from days of pain.
  2. Use ice packs to help reduce the pain, redness and swelling. Hot showers, baths and massage can also help to decrease the pain.
  3. Over-the-counter medications like paracetamol and brufen can help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

There are a few cases where you should see a health care professional:

  1. Rashes or hives
  2. Swollen lips, tongue or throat
  3. Persistent fever >38°C
  4. Headache, vomiting or dizziness

I’ll share more tips on how to deal with some of the specific side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines soon so do follow the blog for more posts.

Have you had any weird experiences after getting an injection? Please share in the comment box below!

“You Look Too Young To Be A Doctor”

Three times this week I’ve been told I look too young to be a doctor. Outside the hospital I would be beaming from ear to ear feeling like I still gat it! However, hearing this from patients often makes me uneasy. I get concerned that they think they’re getting lousy or inferior medical attention. It is well known that Africans have a firm positive perception of more mature doctors, as they associate age with wisdom and experience.

While this is true for the most part, younger doctors should by all means be fully trusted until proven otherwise. For one thing, younger doctors are usually more up to date on the latest news in medicine including updated diagnostic methods and management protocols (internet and social media education sources for the win).

The most important things to note in good doctors regardless of their age are:

1) They know how to recognize a variety of disorders and come to a reasonable preliminary diagnosis and differentials.

2) They know how to send a patient for relevant diagnostic tests. Unnecessary tests are expensive and time wasters and can cause the patient considerable distress.

3) They know when to refer a patient to a specialist with more experience in the field. It’s important to know when something is beyond your level.

Has a patient made an interesting remark about your age? Or have you had a memorable moment with a seemingly young doctor? Let me know in the comments below!