The skeletal system is made up of bones and joints and provides support, mobility, and protection to various organs in the body. We are born with more than 300 bones. Many of them, such as the skull bones, fuse together and as an adult we have 206 bones. The largest bone in the human body is the femur (thigh bone) and the smallest bones in the human body are the three bones of the middle ear. Maximum bone growth occurs during childhood and puberty, and tapers off as the person approaches 16-18 years of age. While the bones do not grow in size after 18-20 years, they do not remain just as stagnant, hard and inert structures. Continuous metabolic processes called bone remodeling, during which bone is resorbed and formed again occur throughout our life. A major role in this process is played by specialized cells in the skeletal system called osteoblasts which are bone lining cells, and osteoclasts which are bone dissolving cells. Our entire skeleton is renewed every few years and it is estimated that at any time about 20% of an adult bone is undergoing remodeling.
We are exposed to a variety of infectious agents in the environment such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. One of the recently published studies indicates that viruses can spread from one person to another through very fine air particles exchanged just by breathing.1 The tiny particles stay suspended in the air for a long time, even when the person may not be symptomatically ill. That means a sick person does not need to be coughing or sneezing to spread the virus. Any seasonal change challenges our immune system with new pathogens; therefore, our immune system needs to be functioning at its optimum to fight infectious agents.
Influenza (flu) season in the northern hemisphere starts in late fall and peaks in winter. Flu is a common viral disease and affects up to 20% of the world’s population every year. This year the flu season has become more severe and serious. In most cases the flu is benign but it can also have serious consequences, especially in people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and children. Worldwide, the flu is estimated to cause 250,000 to 500,000 deaths each year.
Approximately half the population in western countries takes supplements on a daily basis. Women, children, a growing aging population, and increasing consumer awareness about general health heavily contributes to the popularity of supplements. The global supplement market is $82 billion and the US contributes $37 billion to that number. Faced with countless options and a worldwide market, choosing supplements can be overwhelming. Rarely are consumers supplied with sufficient scientific information upon which to base their decisions and they usually rely on a company’s marketing materials.
In our last issue of the Health Science News Page, we discussed the hazards of radiation exposure. Body imaging through X rays and CT scans are extremely essential and can be lifesavers in many cases of emergencies. However, due to non-invasive, fast and painless ways of diagnosing, X rays and CT scans have been used in excessive amounts.
In the past few decades, everyone gets excessive and unmeasured radiation exposure through sources such as substances in the earth’s crust and space, microwave ovens, electric power lines, radio signals, cell phones, airport scanners and even transcontinental flights. A recent study highlighted that even the minimal dose of radiation received from these sources has a cumulative effect and is proven to lead to damage to cellular DNA, which could lead to cancers decades after the exposure.
Despite ever increasing prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs knows as statins, cardiovascular disease continues and is expected to increase 40% worldwide by 2030. Atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes, causes a staggering 17 million deaths each year.
This disease persists because conventional medicine has consistently failed to address its root causes; instead it focuses merely on its symptoms by mechanical lowering of blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar with drugs. It is now becoming evident that targeting blood cholesterol has not been successful in controlling heart disease.
In the last issue of our Health Science News Page we discussed aspects of skin cancer and the damage caused by excessive sun exposure. The most common risk factor of non-melanoma skin cancer is excessive exposure sunlight. However, it is important to note that the non-melanoma skin cancers, basal and squamous cell carcinomas are not as lethal as melanoma which can also occur on areas of the skin not exposed to the sun. Sun exposure can cause free radical damage in the skin cells leading to DNA damage and skin ageing, and may eventually cause skin cancer, however, that is not the only risk factor.
With the arrival of summer people become acutely aware of sun exposure, skin cancers and the use of sunscreen. Worldwide, one in three diagnosed cancers is classified under skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are the most common forms of skin cancers, and malignant melanoma is the most fatal.
According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that nearly 9,500 people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer every day and 161,790 new cases of melanoma are estimated to be diagnosed in the US in 2017. Males over 50 and women younger than 50 are reported to have an increased risk of developing melanoma. In fact, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women between the ages of 15-29. The annual cost for treating melanoma has grown faster than the annual treatment costs for all other cancers combined.
Worldwide, kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers in both men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates 63,990 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2017. Kidney tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and since they tend to grow quickly without any specific symptoms, they are usually removed before any diagnostic biopsy is done. Males tend to get kidney cancer twice as often as females. Common risk factors for kidney cancer include smoking, obesity, and exposure to chemicals like benzene, asbestos, and certain pesticides. Being African American or a family history of hypertension, lymphoma or kidney cancer, and certain genetic conditions further increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
Head and neck cancers are a group of tumors originating from several areas above the collarbone. They include cancers of the larynx, salivary glands, tongue, thyroid, and nasopharyngeal area. Annually there are 60,000 new cases of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) in the US, and more than 13,000 deaths. Squamous cells are a type of cells found in the outer layer of the skin and in the mucous membranes and include the cells lining airways and intestines.
The biggest risk factor for head and neck cancers include tobacco use and smoking (this includes the smokeless tobacco), and alcohol - all of which are highly preventable causes. Additionally, sun exposure, and occupational exposure to substances like chromium, radium, leather, and wood dust can also increase the risk of developing HNSCC. Hence, the ears, nose, and throat happen to be the most common affected areas.