Claudia Kalb

Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • Research: The Gift Of Stem Cells

    Go west, young scientist. Last week California offered its latest thumbs up to stem-cell research when Stanford announced it had received a $12 million anonymous donation to fund the new Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. After last year's ban on federal money for the creation of new human stem-cell lines, private investors are stepping up with their own dollars for research. The news comes just months after the University of California, San Francisco, launched its own program with $5 million from Intel chair Andy Grove. And in September, Gov. Gray Davis signed landmark legislation promoting stem-cell research in California--a move that may be echoed by other states.The activity at the state level is encouraging for scientists who say stem cells could lead to a better understanding of diseases and perhaps even cures. At the federal level, the president's August 2001 announcement still stands, allowing federal funds to be used in research on the few dozen human stem...
  • Cruise Virus:Why Ship Happens

    It's not pretty out there. Last week a fourth cruise ship departing a U.S. port since October reported vomiting and diarrhea among passengers and crew. And a ship that had been cleaned after an initial outbreak, Carnival's Fascination, returned to land on Friday with a small new batch of victims. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the Norwalk virus, a.k.a. the "winter vomiting disease," as the culprit on two of the ships, Holland America's Amsterdam and Disney's Magic. The new boat, P&O U.K.'s Oceana, is being investigated at sea; as for the Fascination, the first outbreak may remain a mystery, the CDC's Dave Forney told NEWSWEEK, because stool samples from infected passengers were never collected. The yuck factor may continue. Gastrointestinal viruses are extremely common and contagious, striking an estimated 23 million Americans a year in enclosed places on both land and water. The CDC says the bug, which affected a minority of passengers, probably...
  • Mind And Moods: How To Lift The Mind

    They are invisible--no bandages or scars--but the mental and physical pain of mood disorders can be unbearable. Anxiety overwhelms the mind with worry, fear and dread. Depression hijacks a person's sense of well-being, manifesting itself not just in the brain but in an array of physical symptoms--weight loss, stomachaches, headaches. The joy of life is seized and "everything is pretty much flat," says Robin Goad, 46, who suffers from depression. "It's real easy to give up."That hopelessness is especially grave in people who do not respond to conventional treatments. The psychiatric field has made great strides in recent years: researchers are teasing out the chemical pathways responsible for mood disorders, and new classes of drugs are helping to relieve the agony for millions. Still, the brain is an enormously complex organ, and people's conditions vary widely. A drug that works wonders for one patient will do nothing for another. And medications come with an array of side effects-...
  • A Natural Way To Age

    Enter any health-food store and you will be overwhelmed by an alphabet of products promising menopausal relief. Black cohosh. Chasteberry. Dong quai. Licorice. Red clover. Soy. And then there are the blends of herbs, the creams and the gels. Before the National Institutes of Health (NIH) dropped its bombshell in July--a landmark trial of hormone-replacement therapy would be halted early because of slight increased risks of blood clots, heart disease, stroke and breast cancer--hormone therapy was the treatment of choice for many women. But now that thousands have gone off HRT, the spotlight is on alternatives. And confusion is rampant. "It's very chaotic," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventative medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and "very difficult for women to get a clear message on what to do."The first thing to do is understand the NIH study. Researchers tested a combination of estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, and found the risks...
  • Coping After Hrt

    When the National Institutes of Health halted its trial of Prempro--the combination hormone therapy--in July, citing long-term risk factors, Susan Carroll threw away her drugs and hoped she'd escaped any harm. Then she began to sweat. Life, says Carroll, 52, has been "hell." Hot flashes burn through her body. Sleeping? Forget about it. "I can't believe going through menopause naturally would be like this," she says. "I am about to go out of my mind."She's not the only one. The NIH trial reported critical long-term data: the slight increased risks (heart attack, stroke and breast cancer) of taking combination therapy outweighed the benefits (bone protection and lower colon-cancer rates). But what the study did not address were the short-term benefits of hormone-replacement therapy, such as suppression of hot flashes and improved sleep, which Carroll had been enjoying for years. Nor could investigators predict what would happen to the thousands of other women who also stopped taking...
  • Cheat Sheet | Contraceptives

    Sick of the daily pill? You now have other options. And stay tuned: a version of the pill that limits periods to four times a year may be available in about a year. Remember that all drugs containing hormones can have side effects like breast tenderness and nausea. Smoking increases the most serious, but rare, risks--stroke and heart attack.PatchApply a new patch (a combo of estrogen and progestin) weekly. Go patch-free one week per month.Pros: Noninvasive, lasts a week, water-resistantCons: May get rough or dirty at edges, irritate skin; not always discreetCost per month: $30 to $35RingInserted into the vagina, emitting low doses of hormones. Wear it three weeks, then remove for one.Pros: Easy insertion--no precise placement necessaryCons: May be hard to reach at removal; definitely not for the squeamishCost per month: $35 to $40InjectionGiven once a month at the doc's office. Microcrystals containing hormones dissolve over 30 days.Pros: Fast, convenient; out of your hands for a...
  • Operating On Accuracy

    It's a Thursday morning on the set of "ER" and actress Alex Kingston (Dr. Elizabeth Corday) is tripping over her lines. "I need 30 'migs' per kilo of methylprednisolone," she says, rushing to a gunshot victim. "Entry wound left mid-, sterno... cleido... uh... I'll never get that," she says, smiling at Jon Fong, an osteopath and one of "ER's" on-set medical advisers. "Dr. Jon" sounds it out: "Sterno-cleido-mas-toid." Soon, everyone, including Noah Wyle (Dr. John Carter) and director Richard Thorpe, begins chanting together: "Sterno-cleido-mas-toid. Sterno-cleido-mas-toid." Thorpe even kicks into a jig to pound the jargon into Kingston's head. Finally, she gets it--and Thorpe shouts the magic words: "Cut. Let's print.""ER," one of television's most successful dramas ever--despite, or perhaps because of, its excruciating medical accuracy--has long been the envy of Hollywood. This week, as the show kicks off its ninth season, two new medical dramas will fill prime-time slots on CBS and...
  • Health: Dancing Babies

    Ads for general Electric's new 4-D ultrasound promise to let you see your baby's face before it's born. Who wouldn't want one?But so far the "4-D" scans, which create high-resolution moving images, are available at only 300 sites nationwide. They're used mostly to spot problems in high-risk pregnancies. No insurer will cover, and no doctor should perform, a scan solely for your scrapbook. For now, if you and your fetus are healthy, you'll have to wait it out.
  • How Are We Doing?

    We all know that the nation's psyche was badly battered on September 11. But how badly? And for how long? Now researchers have quantified the scope of the problem. Among the findings published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association: one to two months after the attacks, 11 percent of New Yorkers had symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder--almost three times the national average. The condition, which can last a lifetime at its worst, "has the potential of creating a substantial public-health problem," says lead author William Schlenger.The Web-based survey of 2,273 Americans is the latest in a new and growing field: the psychological aftermath of 9-11. The study of posttraumatic stress increased with Vietnam vets, but the disorder did not became a medical diagnosis until 1980. Since then research has been conducted after all kinds of trauma, from rapes to earthquakes to Oklahoma City. But within days of 9-11 it became clear that while prior findings could...
  • What's A Woman To Do?

    No doubt you're confused about hormone-replacement therapy. And, like thousands of women who bombarded their doctors' offices and sent help! messages to Internet bulletin boards last week, you're probably wondering what to do. Sammy Stevens, 60, started Prempro seven years ago to protect herself "for the future" against heart disease, stroke, maybe even Alzheimer's. But now that future seems more muddled than ever, and Stevens has decided to quit the drug. Taking it is like playing Russian roulette, she says. As Stevens ages, she will never know if Prempro did any good--or any harm. "I think there should be clear, definitive answers, but of course there aren't," she says. "I hate these studies."Millions of American women feel exactly the same way. Despite those very precise statistics ("seven more heart attacks per 10,000 women"), last week's announcement did not suggest any specific alternative treatments. Marcia Stefanick, chair of the Women's Health Initiative's steering...