Claudia Kalb

Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • The Great Back Pain Debate

    Stop rubbing your sore back for a minute and take a quick tour of Mother Nature's engineering masterpiece: the human spine. Pretend you are Alice, so tiny you can climb among the muscles, nerves, bones and ligaments that make up the very core of your body. Crawl down the 24 vertebrae that encase and protect the spinal cord, from the cervical spine to the thoracic area to the lumbar region, that pesky lower back. Note the 23 rubbery white discs: the cartilage inner tubes that cushion the vertebrae. Observe the dozens of spinal nerves threading out from the cord between the bones. Poke the bands of muscle that wrap and support the bony column. Now focus on the tugs and thuds of daily life. The quick bend when you pick up your sobbing 2-year-old, the pounding of your feet as you run to catch the bus, the steady pull of your untoned belly, the dull pressure as you sit bleary-eyed in front of your computer, the sudden twist of your golf swing. Feel, too, the constant emotional stress we...
  • Home: A Thorny Pastime

    Ah, the joys of gardening: spring sunshine, muddy knees, gorgeous pink peonies. It's good for both body and soul. But tending to your flower or veggie bed can also do damage--especially to your back and joints. Before you even start the digging, do a five-minute warm-up: stretch your arms and legs, take a quick walk around the yard. Reduce your odds of strains and sprains by avoiding the squats and bends as much as possible. Long-handled tools limit the awkward stretching that can hurt your back, which should be flat, not twisted. Cushioning pads or a sitting stool will reduce pressure on the knees. And shears with soft grips can help ward off repetitive-stress problems. Be sure to mix up the tasks. "Dig one or two holes, then do some pruning," says horticulturist Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association (garden.org). "That way you're not stressing the same area of the body over and over again." Wear a hat and gloves, drink lots of water and slap on the sunscreen. And,...
  • The Great Back Debate

    IS MASSAGE BETTER FOR YOU THAN SURGERY? AS MILLIONS OF AMERICANS SEEK RELIEF FROM THIS ANCIENT AILMENT, DOCTORS ARE TRYING SIMPLER, LESS INVASIVE WAYS TO END THE AGONY
  • BRAND-NEW STEM CELLS

    It was more than just a scientific feat. Last week Harvard biologist Doug Melton announced the creation of 17 new lines of human embryonic stem cells, ready to ship to any scientist who wants them. Cost: free, except for postage. "They're very user-friendly," says Melton. They're also very politically symbolic. Melton, whose two children have juvenile diabetes--a disease he believes could potentially be cured by stem cells--says he tried to use government-approved cell lines ($5,000 per vial) for his research, but he found them difficult to obtain and questioned their quality. So instead, in an arrangement with the fertility clinic Boston IVF, he collected embryos donated by couples and, in his basement lab at Harvard, teased out the prized little blobs that scientists consider precursors of a medical revolution. "I tend to be an impatient person," says Melton, whose two-year project was privately funded by Harvard, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Howard Hughes Medical...
  • A NEW CLONING DEBATE

    It was an electric moment--the declaration of a milestone--couched in the precise language of science. "I am happy to announce the successful derivation of human embryonic stem cells from cloned human blastocysts," Dr. Woo Suk Hwang told a packed audience in Seattle last week. Hwang, of Seoul National University, and his team harvested 242 eggs from 16 female donors, added the DNA of adult cells and developed 30 cloned embryos. One embryo produced stem cells--the prized blank slates that scientists believe can be coaxed into brain, muscle and other cells so that one day illnesses like Parkinson's can be cured and hearts can be patched as easily as bicycle tires. The achievement, says Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, a U.S. firm working toward similar goals, "could help spur a medical revolution as important as antibiotics and vaccines."The experiment, published in the journal Science, quickly accentuated the divide between those who believe cloning should be outlawed...
  • Brave New Babies

    Parents now have the power to choose the sex of their children. But as technology answers prayers, it also raises some troubling questions.
  • A Step Past Chemotherapy

    Cancer researchers are a stubborn lot. They know the numbers: more than 16,000 people die from cancer every day. They know the enemy: an insidious disease that ravages virtually every organ in the body. And they know that they desperately need new treatments so that patients like Amelia Gilardi, 72, become the norm, not the exception. In 1998, Gilardi was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and told she had no more than three years to live. After traditional chemotherapy failed, Gilardi enrolled in a clinical trial of a then experimental drug called Velcade. Eight months later she was in remission. "It was wonderful that there was something else out there," she says.For decades, doctors have relied on conventional chemotherapy to poison cancer cells. The treatment has saved many lives, but because chemo attacks healthy cells, too, patients suffer a slew of toxic side effects. And they often become resistant to treatment or die from complications. Today, thanks to an increasingly...
  • Growing Up Healthy, Afterward

    New cancer drugs may have their biggest impact on the littlest patients. Conventional treatments have worked wonders in children with cancer: before 1970, young patients had little chance of survival; today, three quarters make it past the critical five-year mark. But standard chemotherapy and radiation can ravage a child's body and brain in ways that may not show up until years later. Greta Greer, manager of the American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network, says: "It's not all over when the treatment is over."In the 1970s and '80s, when the majority of today's adult survivors of childhood cancer were treated, pediatric oncologists were focused first and foremost on saving their patients, despite the toxic cost. Children with leukemia, for example, routinely received radiation to their heads and spines to prevent cancer cells from infiltrating the fluid around their brains. While the treatment helped contain the cancer, it also damaged healthy neurons, leading to learning...
  • A Step Past Chemotherapy

    Cancer researchers are a stubborn lot. They know the numbers: more than 1,500 Americans die from cancer every day. They know the enemy: an insidious disease that ravages virtually every organ in the body, killing children and adults alike. And they know that they desperately need new treatments so that patients like Amelia Gilardi become the norm, not the exception. In 1998, more than a decade after beating breast cancer, Gilardi was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, and told she had no more than three years to live. After traditional chemotherapy failed, Gilardi enrolled in a clinical trial of a then experimental drug called Velcade. Eight months later she was in complete remission. "I had gone the gamut of what was available," says Gilardi, now 72. "It was wonderful that there was something else out there."For decades, doctors have relied on conventional chemo-therapy to poison cancer cells. The treatment has saved many lives, but because chemo launches...
  • The Critic: 'Religion Is A Private Matter'

    Richard Sloan, director of behavioral medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, ignited the debate about the role of religion in medicine in 1999. By far the most outspoken critic, he is now writing a book on the topic. He talked with NEWSWEEK's Claudia Kalb:> KALB: What got you interested in religion and health?SLOAN: I became skeptical of the many reports in the popular media about the benefits of religious experience for health.How would you rate the existing research?Weak. The strongest area is the epidemiologic studies linking attendance at religious services to mortality. A great deal of [the studies] have methodological flaws serious enough to question the conclusions that they draw.Do you think this research should be done at all?Yes, but I'm not sure that we can learn very much that applies to clinical practice.Should medical students be required to take a religion-and-health course?Medical students need to be able to treat their patients as people and not lumps of...
  • Faith & Healing

    Can Religion Improve Health? While The Debate Rages In Journals And Med Schools, More Americans Ask For Doctors' Prayers
  • The Advocate: 'Patients Want To Be Talked To'

    Harold Koenig, director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke, has been studying the role of faith in healing for almost 20 years. A leading researcher in the field, he recently wrote "Spirituality in Patient Care." He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Claudia Kalb:KALB: How did you get interested in the intersection of religion and health?KOENIG: It seemed amazing that some patients with devastating illnesses like stroke or cancer coped as well as they did. And so I wanted to find out what they did to help them through these difficult circumstances.How accurate would you rate the research?In the area of mental health, I think it's pretty good. So many studies have been done in so many different populations by so many investigators with the vast majority--two thirds--finding significant association between religious beliefs and well-being: life satisfaction, hope, purpose, meaning, lower rates of depression, less anxiety, lower suicide rates. The research in...
  • Health: Women's Studies

    Attention, all women: science wants you. Men have long been the subjects of clinical trials (one reason: they don't get pregnant), but the findings don't always translate to the other sex. Already, doctors know that women's bodies differ from men's (heart disease, for example--the No. 1 killer for both men and women--typically manifests about 10 years later in women). "There are big gaps in our knowledge," says Harvard's Dr. Francine Welty. Want to participate? Learn more (including critical questions you should ask before taking part) at the Society for Women's Health Research (womancando.org) and the National Institutes of Health (clinicaltrials.gov).
  • Dalai Lama: Moment For Meditation

    The Dalai Lama always stirs up plenty of karmic excitement when he comes to town. But a sold-out conference--"Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and the Biobehavioral Sciences on How the Mind Works"--held last week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a bunch of Western scientists downright giddy. For 15 years they've been holding invitation-only meetings with the Dalai Lama at his residence in India to discuss the science of Buddhism; the fact that this year's rendezvous was cosponsored by the venerable McGovern Institute for Brain Research--with celebs like Richard Gere attending--is a giant boost for the field. Says one participant: "This is really a coming-out party in Kresge Auditorium."Plenty of Americans have become enamored with Buddhism--or at least the meditative tradition it follows--in recent years. Enrollments have soared at meditation workshops, and the practice has become so mainstream that Walmart.com sells meditation books and CDs, and...
  • Playing Ye Olde Way

    It is 7 p.m. in Cleveland, and the Knotts family is living it up in the warm summer air. Dad's grilling, Mom's weeding the flower beds and the kids are zipping around on their wheels. "I'm Spider-Man, yay!" yells Erik, 4, as he speeds by on his scooter. Brother B.J., 7, is vainly trying to lift his bike's front tire in the air. "I love to pretend this is a dirt bike," he says. The boys also attend after-school activities and play computer games, but mom Kris Knotts makes sure they have unstructured, old-fashioned downtime, too--no high-tech gizmos, no pressure, no deadlines. "Kids need the time to play, just play," she says. Daughter Elyssa, 11, gets right to the point: "How much fun could you possibly have if you didn't use your imagination?"Plenty of adults are asking the same question. Children in the United States devote some 40 hours a week to television, videogames and the Internet. In this new era of supercharged technology, could their imaginations be at risk? Are invisible...
  • TELEVISION--MUST SEE: MENTAL HEALTH GETS REEL

    There is Hollywood's too-perfect version of mental illness--"Ordinary People," "Rain Man," "A Beautiful Mind." And then there's the raw stuff of "West 47th Street," a documentary airing this week and next on public-television stations nation-wide (check local listings at pbs.org/pov/pov2003/west47thstreet). Filming for three years, producers Bill Lichtenstein (who has battled manic depression himself) and June Peoples follow four residents of a New York City rehab house as they struggle with joblessness, anger, drugs--or the internal voices of schizophrenia. Shot in the tradition of cinema verite (straight dialogue, no script), the film offers a powerful lens into the world of serious mental illness. Despite their obvious demons, the four subjects are on a quest for dignity and satisfaction in their lives. They shout, they cry, they laugh--you feel their suffering, but also their moments of joy. The film debuts at a time when the country's mental-health system is under fire. A...
  • Challenging 'Extreme' Shyness

    It starts out just fine. You get invited to a party. You plan what you're going to wear, dream about whom you might meet. Then the big night arrives and, wham, the excitement sputters into nervousness. You stand around awkwardly, nurse a drink and ogle the chatty people around you. You feel shy.You're not as alone as you think. Just about everyone is timid at some point, and plenty of people--almost half the population--qualify as shy most of the time. But what if every human encounter made you blush, tremble or perspire? What if your mind whirred incessantly with self-doubt ("I'm so stupid," "I sound like a moron")? What if an obsession about what others were thinking kept you from keeping a job, even getting married? You may be suffering from social anxiety disorder, a diagnosable mental-health condition.Most Americans, and even many doctors, have never heard of social anxiety disorder, yet it affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental...
  • Race And Anorexia

    Eating disorders are generally thought of as a plague of affluent white girls, but minorities aren't immune. In a study of just over 2,000 women (average age: 21) published in The American Journal of Psychiatry last week, Ruth Striegel-Moore of Wesleyan University found that whites were more likely than blacks to suffer from bulimia (23 cases to 4) and anorexia (15 to 0). But the numbers were closer for binge-eating (27 to 15), and other recent studies have found that behavior to be a problem among Hispanic girls, too.Researchers are also zeroing in on genes and environmental factors associated with eating disorders. Striegel-Moore found similar rates of extreme behaviors (like vomiting) in more-affluent blacks and whites, suggesting that higher social status--and the pressure to be thin that comes along with it--could lead to more problems. Overall, eating disorders are rare among all races and ethnicities, but obesity is out of control. We need to be on the lookout for both.
  • Safety: Summer Survival

    We hate to be a buzzkill. But the great outdoors can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. Dr. Paul Auerbach, author of "Medicine for the Outdoors," gives his top tips on staying out of trouble this season:First, the obvious. Liberally apply 15 SPF sunscreen, even under clothes (white cotton provides an SPF of only 5 to 8). And get plenty of liquids. In hot, humid conditions, that can mean up to a quart an hour.Jellyfish stings appear to be on the rise. Carry a small bottle of vinegar or rubbing alcohol in your beach bag. If you get stung, it'll ease the pain.If you touch poison ivy, oak or sumac, remove the irritating resin as soon as possible with rubbing alcohol followed by a soap-and-water rinse. In a pinch use just soap and water.For kids under 6, don't use insect repellent that's more than 15 percent DEET.If you see lightning, get away from water, hilltops and clearings. Tents and ragtop cars aren't protective.
  • Treating The Tiniest Patients

    Samuel Armas, a chattering, brown-eyed 3-year-old, has no idea what "fetus" means. Nor does he realize that he was one of the most celebrated in medical history. At a mere 21 weeks of gestational age--long before it was time to leave his mother's womb--Samuel underwent a bold and experimental surgical procedure to close a hole at the bottom of his spinal cord, the telltale characteristic of myelomeningocele, or spina bifida. Samuel's parents, Julie and Alex, could have terminated Julie's pregnancy at 15 weeks when they learned about their son's condition, which can result in lifelong physical and mental disabilities. But the Armases do not believe in abortion. Instead, in August 1999, they drove 250 miles from their home in Villa Rica, Ga., to Nashville, Tenn., where Dr. Joseph Bruner, of Vanderbilt University, performed a surgery bordering on the fantastical. Bruner cut into Julie's abdomen, lifted her balloonlike uterus out of her body, made an incision in the taut muscle, removed...
  • Taking A New Look At Pain

    Why Do We Hurt? Scientists Are Gaining Bold New Insights Into The Nature And Dynamics Of Pain--And They're Racing To Develop Stronger, Safer Treatments. Here's What The Future May Hold
  • From Needle To Nose

    First, there's the brilliant idea: figure out a way to inhale insulin, so diabetics can ditch the dreaded needle. But then comes the long slog to market. For John Patton, cofounder and chief scientific officer of Nektar Therapeutics in San Carlos, Calif.--and a pioneer in the technology known as pulmonary or inhaled-drug delivery--the journey began in 1990. Early on, big drug companies were reluctant to invest in a new approach. More important, there were major technological challenges. But now, as the inhaled version of insulin he helped develop (brand name: Exubera) makes its way through final testing, Patton will soon face the business moment of truth: will the Food and Drug Administration deem it safe enough to send to market? Patton, 56, is antsy, but he's also confident. "I'm not overstating it when I say this has the potential to be the biggest change in drug delivery ever," he says.Diabetes is an ideal place to start the revolution--and perhaps to cash in. The disease, which...
  • Viagra: Don't Feed The Yaks

    Scientists are testing Viagra on Mount Everest climbers. No, not for that. For pulmonary hypertension (PHT), a dangerous disorder in which blood pressure in the lung's main artery increases, impeding breathing. PHT kills several thousand Americans a year, and there's no cure. Because Viagra relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, lung experts are interested in its effect on PHT. Last year a group of German physicians reported that the drug helped relieve pressure--specifically in the lungs--in a group of 16 PHT patients and was more effective than available treatments. Now, with the help of 120 porters, 50 yaks, 6 Sherpas and funding from the German Research Foundation and drug manufacturer Pfizer, the docs will see if Viagra improves the lung function and exercise capacity of men and women exposed to the oxygen deprivation of thin air--a condition that mimics lung changes developed over years in PHT patients. The climbing world is buzzing about Viagra as an antidote to high...
  • The Mystery Of Sars

    As This Strange New Virus Continues Its Spree, Killing Hundreds And Infecting Thousands More, Scientists Are Working Overtime, Trying To Keep People From Harm
  • Stopping A Killer

    What is a pulmonary embolism? We hear about them occurring on airplanes--some airlines have started handing out exercise tips to prevent them on long-haul flights--and they're a potential side effect of birth-control pills and hormone therapy. In fact, says Dr. Victor Tapson of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, we should all learn more about them. In the United States, they kill more people than breast cancer and traffic accidents combined. The condition occurs when a blood clot, usually in a vessel deep inside the leg, breaks off and travels to the lung, cutting off arteries that carry oxygen and causing heart failure. Among the risk factors: inactivity, dehydration, age (over 40), pregnancy, hospitalization, heart attack, obesity and prior clots. As many as 5 percent of the population also have a defective clotting gene that makes them more susceptible. (Doctors rarely test for the defect, since there's no consensus on what to do if you have it.) If you have a risk factor...
  • Stopping A Killer

    It is impossible to know whether NBC reporter David Bloom's death could have been prevented. But one thing's certain: we should all learn more about the ailment that killed him, says Dr. Victor Tapson of Duke University--a pulmonary embolism, responsible for as many as 200,000 deaths annually in the United States. That's more than breast cancer and traffic accidents combined.The condition occurs when a blood clot, usually in a vessel deep inside the leg, breaks off and travels to the lung, cutting off arteries that carry oxygen and causing heart failure. Among the risk factors: inactivity, dehydration, age (over 40), pregnancy, hospitalization, heart attack, obesity and prior clots. As many as 5 percent of Americans also have a defective clotting gene that makes us more susceptible. (Doctors rarely test for the defect, since there's no consensus on what to do if you have it.) If you have a history of clots or another risk factor and you'll be traveling in a plane or car for more...
  • Preemies Grow Up

    Next month Danny Schuster will celebrate his 10th birthday. His parents, Carol and Jim, will celebrate his resiliency, his spirit--his life. Born more than three months early, at 1 pound, 15 ounces, Danny entered a world of needles, tubes and sensors. Just after birth, delicate blood vessels leaked in his brain, causing a stroke on his right side and mild cerebral palsy. His undeveloped lungs, still sticky and stiff, worked, but only with the help of medication and a breathing machine. Carol cried when she saw him, so small and fragile in his incubator. He didn't walk until 17 months, then wore a leg brace to stretch his calf muscles. His doctors warned the Schusters that Danny could face chronic problems and would probably never play sports. But with extra help and lots of love, he has triumphed. Today, Danny is a good student, an avid soccer and baseball player, and a happy kid. "He was a miracle baby," says Carol.Babies are never meant to be born so early. But for a host of...
  • Coping With Anxiety

    There's Cipro, potassium iodide and the smallpox vaccine to ward off biological agents. But is there an antidote to anxiety? "I'm very frightened," said Julie White, as she exited Manhattan's Sonic Yoga last week. But she has a remedy: the stretching and deep breathing of yoga. The practice is so calming that after the terror upgrade, White made an upgrade of her own--from one class a day to two. Yoga, she says, "is my tranquilizer."You may find the lotus pose hopelessly warm and fuzzy in the face of terror. But there are a host of activities, from working out to going for a massage, that can temper the anxiety. Many of these techniques have been used for decades, if not centuries; now advances in science are showing they can reduce the hormones associated with stress and even affect brain activity. The common trait among all: maintaining control and recognizing that our concerns are a natural response to the world we live in. "We're justified in having this fear," says Dr. Herbert...
  • An Old Enemy Is Back

    It was supposed to be on its way out. Just four years ago, syphilis--the "great pox" of the 15th century--had declined to rates so low in this country that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a bold new plan to eliminate the disease by 2005. But the stubborn scourge has come bounding back, with outbreaks from Miami to Seattle. Last week New York City health officials announced a 50 percent increase in syphilis diagnoses between 2001 and 2002. San Francisco's numbers more than doubled in the same period. And health officials who'd hoped to herald the disease's demise are putting the public on high alert.The concern isn't just about the spike in the disease, but what it could foreshadow for a deadlier epidemic. The sores that mark syphilis increase the risk of HIV transmission two- to fivefold. That people are even contracting syphilis suggests the erosion of safe-sex practices. "Every case of syphilis might mean one more transmission of HIV," says Dr. Thomas...
  • Farewell To 'Aunt Flo'

    Ask a bunch of women if they enjoy getting monthly periods and a significant majority (at least according to our own water-cooler survey) will answer "No!" Still, a woman's cycle has long been seen as a healthy and inevitable part of reproductive life. That could soon change with a new version of the birth-control pill that dramatically reduces the number of periods a woman has every year, from 13 to 4. Now even menstruation turns out to be a lifestyle choice.Doctors have been prescribing "menstrual suppression" off-label for years to treat endometriosis (an overgrowth of uterine tissue), menstrual migraines and PMS. And plenty of women have altered the pill's regimen to enjoy period-free vacations. Now, in addition to the new version of the pill, which manufacturer Barr Laboratories has submitted for FDA approval, makers of the birth-control patch and vaginal ring are also testing their products for continuous use. If the pill, called Seasonale, passes muster, women could reprogram...