Claudia Kalb

Stories by Claudia Kalb

  • Good News About Giving Up Booze

    Even with the best interventions, alcoholism is notoriously difficult to treat. So although a new pill called acamprosate troubles those who fear it will be viewed as a quick fix, it's also raising hopes. Data from U.S. trials in 601 patients have not been released, but principal investigator Barbara Mason, director of the University of Miami's Division of Substance Abuse, told NEWSWEEK that in patients motivated to quit drinking, the drug boosted abstinence at rates comparable to those found in a group of European studies. In one important measurement of efficacy in those trials, patients taking acamprosate increased the number of days they didn't drink by about 10 to 25 percent over a placebo.Mason says the pill--which appears to work by quieting neurotransmitters associated with alcohol dependence without serious side effects--must be used together with behavioral therapy. The FDA is expected to review trial data by the end of the year. "It's not magic," says Mason, a research...
  • Learning Right From Wrong

    To the legal system, the answer is clear: children have the requisite moral sense--the ability to tell right from wrong--by age 7 to 15, depending on which state they live in, and so can be held responsible for their actions. The Roman Catholic Church pegs it at the early end of that range: children reach the "age of reason" by the tender age of 7, a milestone marked by their first confession of sin and holy communion. Developmental psychologists and other researchers who study the question are not so sure. How old a child must be to both know in his mind and feel in his heart that lying, stealing, cheating, hurting--let alone murdering--are morally wrong is a matter of scientific debate.But the question of when is not nearly so fraught as the question of how. Although they pretty much agree that living in a crack house--with people who respond to challenges with violence, and bereft of parental love, supervision and models of moral behavior--can leave a child's conscience stillborn...
  • Drugged-Out Toddlers

    We thought toddlers had it easy. No bills to pay, no bosses to please--just ice cream and a little mischief on the brain. But America's tiniest citizens, some still in diapers, are now the newest members of the Ritalin and Prozac nation. The numbers are small, but in a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association last week, researchers reported that the use of certain psychotropic drugs, like antidepressants and stimulants, in 2- to 4-year-olds doubled or even tripled between 1991 and 1995.The study gave no reasons for the increase, but experts say frustrated parents, agitated day-care workers and 10-minute pediatric visits all contribute to quick fixes for emotional and behavioral problems. Even with the best of intentions, says Julie Magno Zito of the University of Maryland and the study's lead author, "you have a confluence of social forces together who collectively say, 'I don't have time for anything else'."The new data raises serious questions about how...
  • A Time To Decide

    Women diagnosed with breast cancer know one basic fact: the earlier their malignant cells were detected, the better the odds for survival. But things aren't so simple when it comes to treatment--especially if the diagnosis is ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS. Many patients have never even heard of the condition and doctors, who call it everything from pre-cancer to noninvasive breast cancer, are still trying to figure out the best treatment: Mastectomy? Lumpectomy? Radiation? "There's a lot of confusion out there," says Dr. Kimberly Van Zee of New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.Unlike tumor cells, which ball up into lumps, DCIS fans out along the milk ducts--patients usually can't feel a thing. But thanks to mammography, DCIS detection has soared over the last three decades, now making up almost 20 percent of new breast-cancer diagnoses. This year alone, it will strike 43,000 American women. On its own, DCIS stays confined to the ducts and is highly curable. The...
  • Coping With The Darkness

    Anne Breon had been through it all before. For seven years she watched an aunt who had Alzheimer's disease languish in a traditional nursing home. The care was adequate, but Breon was desperate to do better for her aunt's sister, 88-year-old Lillian Reinke. Last fall she moved Reinke into a special Alzheimer's unit at Brighton Gardens, an assisted-living facility in suburban Chicago, where residents take field trips to a nearby arboretum, feed Daisy, the house dog, and visit a beauty shop to have their hair done. Even though some residents are in the middle stage of the disease, they seem to like the bustle and activity. Reinke can stroll from the kitchen through the sun porch to an enclosed garden without feeling trapped--but Breon doesn't have to worry that she'll wander out and get lost. A new Alzheimer's innovation, a personalized "memory box," which holds Reinke's old Christmas decorations and other mementos, helps guide her to her room. "Coming here is a joy," says Breon. At...
  • Mideast: The First Steps In A Delicate Dance

    They never shook hands, not even in private. So say U.S. officials describing the chilly if historic two-day meeting in Washington between Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. But Barak certainly tried to defrost the atmosphere. The Israeli leader managed to engage the reserved Shara in small talk several times, at one point discussing savory Yemenite shellfish--"I can't eat it," lamented Barak, alluding to Kosher laws--and trading stories about their kids. Barak's schmoozing may help when negotiations resume Jan. 3. While the two made little headway on key border issues, negotiators note that Shara and the Syrian press have stopped demanding a return to the "June 4, 1967" border--which for years has been Damascus's code for all of the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee and its shoreline. If Syria is willing to compromise there, it could produce a major breakthrough. Even so, U.S. officials expect several rounds of talks before a peace deal...
  • The War On Disease Goes Miniature

    The future of medicine is vast--and it's also amazingly small. One day in the next century, thanks to the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, you could walk out of the doctor's office with a prescription for cancer detectors so tiny you can't see them. In this Lilliputian world, units are measured in nanometers--10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair. The idea is that if we can build new drugs and devices molecule by molecule, the way the tissues and organs in our own bodies are formed, we can make them much more targeted and effective.One of the hottest areas of nanoresearch is better drug delivery. Scientists are now working on a miniaturized sensor for diabetics that mimics the glucose-detection system in a healthy body. The device, possibly implanted under the skin, would monitor blood-sugar levels, then release insulin as needed. And researchers at MIT recently made a prototype for an entire mini-pharmacy: a microchip (implanted or swallowed) with as many...
  • A Debate On The Origins Of A Plague

    It is an ironic and unsettling hypothesis--that the effort to fight one great human scourge might have given rise to another. But in "The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS," British writer Edward Hooper builds a case for the possibility that the HIV-1 virus first reached humans in oral polio vaccines given to a million people in Africa between 1957 and 1960. The theory first gained attention in a 1992 Rolling Stone article, then was debunked by a scientific committee. Now Hooper, after 600 interviews and a decade of research, has assembled a vast body of circumstantial evidence, increasing, as one scientist puts it, "the plausibility factor." He details the African vaccine trials, then carefully maps out a coincidence in time and place with early AIDS cases. He says he's "97 percent persuaded" the hypothesis is right.Scientists generally agree that HIV-1, which most closely resembles a virus found in chimpanzees, jumped from chimp to human--probably as hunters...
  • Viagra May Still Be Mostly A Guy Thing

    Viagra's got a pretty solid record when it comes to performance in men. But will it work for women, too? Some swear by it, and a small pilot study of women has found that the drug can boost sexual response significantly. But the reality for big populations may be less promising. NEWSWEEK has learned that in the first large-scale clinical trial involving women, Viagra does not appear to work miracles. Dr. Raymond Rosen, a Pfizer consultant, told researchers at a medical conference at Boston University last month that the data is "not going to show broad or robust effects" in females. Later, Rosen told NEWSWEEK his comments were based on informal feedback from investigators. Pfizer wouldn't comment on the trial results, which they plan to release at a scientific meeting next year.Pfizer's study included 800 pre- and postmenopausal women in Europe who suffered from sexual dysfunction, which can mean anything from lack of libido to difficulties with arousal or orgasm. Future studies...
  • What Dreams Are Made Of

    The stuff of dreams--bizarre, fleeting and mysterious. But are they significant? Psychoanalysts and neuroscientists have been on opposite sides of the couch over that question for decades. Dreams, the analysts say, are what Freud called the "royal road to the unconscious," revealing our deepest hidden desires in symbolic imagery. Scientists, however, have long viewed dreams as mechanical, the byproduct of random brain activity--neurons that blast off automatically.As psychoanalysts celebrate the 100th anniversary of Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams" this week, fresh scientific research is reinvigorating the debate. Studies show that brain areas responsible for emotion and perhaps even motivation may play a role in the dreaming process. Analysts are touting the findings as vindication of Freudian thinking, which has been under harsh attack in recent years. Most scientists stop far short of boosting Freud. But, says Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a Harvard neuroscientist who has helped...
  • How Parents Can Help

    One day they're crawling around in the sandbox; the next day they're prowling the Internet. Tweens like to think of themselves as all grown up--but they still need plenty of support and guidance from parents. Some tips: ...
  • Weighing The Health Risks, In Your Body

    In this overweight nation, there's a feeding frenzy for weight-loss pills. Metabolife International says it expects to sell $900 million worth of supplements this year. At its peak, Fen-Phen was taken by millions of Americans eager for a quick way to shed extra pounds. More than 1 million have tried the drug Meridia since its debut in 1998. And earlier this year, after just one month on the market, close to 100,000 prescriptions had been written for a competitor pill, Xenical.But the wish for an effective, risk-free diet pill is about as realistic as the search for a free lunch. Both Xenical and Meridia (like Fen-Phen) are prescription diet drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Metabolife, by contrast, is a "dietary supplement." The FDA considers it a food, not a drug, so it doesn't require government approval before landing in stores. The supplement contains a smattering of herbal components, including bee pollen, ginger and goldenseal. Its most active--and...
  • The Miracle Of Motion

    The body's joints are amazing contraptions. When they work well, we take them for granted. But for the 2.1 million Americans who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis--most of them women struck between the ages of 25 and 50--the joints are enemy terrain. They swell, they stiffen, they ache with excruciating intensity. In severe cases, as cartilage and bones erode, patients are crippled in the prime of their lives. Researchers are far from a cure, but they're excited about a bold new approach to treatment. Unpublished data, to be presented at the American College of Rheumatology's annual meeting next month, shows that biologically engineered drugs that inhibit a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF) not only significantly ease symptoms, they slow the rate at which further joint damage occurs. Response has been so positive that some patients are throwing away their canes within weeks of treatment. "This is the most dramatic thing I've seen in 30 years in rheumatology," says Dr....
  • Necessary Shots?

    Since the birth of her twin daughters last May, Theresa Sakamoto of Santa Monica, Calif., hasn't been getting much sleep. It's not just the babies who are keeping her up--it's Sakamoto's own internal debate over whether to vaccinate them. "If I knew my kids wouldn't have any [adverse] reaction, I would just do it. But I don't know that," she says. "On the other hand, not vaccinating them scares me... I still don't know what to do."A generation ago, parents like Sakamoto didn't think much about the adverse effects of vaccines--they worried about the horrors of infectious disease. Today, potential killers like polio, diphtheria and now even measles are virtually unknown in the United States, while children are receiving more inoculations than ever--currently 19 for 10 different diseases. Now some parents are asking which is the greater threat: the viruses or the vaccines?It's a fair question. Fear of viruses isn't what it used to be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC...
  • A Deadly Strain Of Staph

    Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium known by its nickname "staph," has been the bane of medical experts for decades. Not just because it can trigger nasty blood, bone and skin infections, but because the stubborn microbe has a striking ability to mutate and thwart antibiotic drugs. Until recently, such resistant strains appeared to be confined to hospital settings and nursing homes--where infections can spread rapidly--and were of little concern to the public. But last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that over the past two years, drug-resistant staph had killed four otherwise healthy children in Minnesota and North Dakota. And the bug had made at least 200 other people in the region sick. Whether the strain escaped from a hospital and spread or originated at the community level is still unclear. But, either way, "this signifies another step backward in our battle against resistant bacteria," says lead investigator Dr. Tim Naimi.The children who died, aged...
  • Schools On The Alert

    It has been only a few months, but life has changed radically at Permian High in Odessa, Texas. Last May, when the dismissal bell rang out the old academic year, students were Jane and John Anonymous, and the closest thing to surveillance was a couple of security guards passing through the hallways. Last week, when students returned for the new year, they stepped into the new age of high-tech school safety. Every student is now required to wear a computer-coded ID badge. Seventeen surveillance cameras monitor the parking lot and school entrance. And "black boxes," some (no one knows which) containing cameras with audiotape, had been installed in some classrooms by engineers from Sandia National Laboratories, which designs security systems for the U.S. Mint and FBI. Permian, which has 2,100 students, isn't an especially dangerous campus. Still, "we're never satisfied," says principal Brian Rosson. "We're taking proactive steps to make this as safe a place as it can be." But can any...
  • Doctors Go Dot.Com

    Dina Wildey of Owings Mills, Md., is one wired woman. She uses e-mail every day to keep in touch with family members, and she spends hours browsing the Web--especially the health sites. She's not just reading brochures. Wildey recently discovered that she could chat, free of charge, with a cyberspace doctor. Curious to know about the possible side effects of a diet drug, she logged onto AmericasDoctor.com and posed her question to an anonymous physician. Within a few minutes she received information about the product--enough to convince her to forget about taking it. "I think it's wonderful," she says. "It's quick. You can do it just about any time and you don't have to catch a doctor between appointments."Health sites are among the Web's biggest draws. Last year alone almost 25 million patients reported going online, and that number is expected to reach more than 33 million by the end of 2000. Until recently the offerings have consisted mainly of support groups, reference materials...
  • Our Quest To Be Perfect

    Ten years ago, when she was only 25, Holly Lagalante shelled out $2,500 for an eyelid lift. The tab nearly maxed out her credit card, but the results--more bright-eyed, less droopy--left her absolutely giddy. Two years later, Lagalante, a petite blonde from suburban Chicago, was back for liposuction on her thighs ("I'd love to have Heather Locklear's body," she says). Then varicose-vein removal. And, later, a forehead peel. Last year she had $7,000 left to pay off when she lost her $9-an-hour job managing a health-food store, moved in with her mother and filed for bankruptcy. Still, she claims she's happier and more self-confident since her body overhaul and has no regrets. She now has a new job as a salesclerk at a local mall and says that when she finishes paying off her debt she'd like to reward herself--with a forehead lift or maybe liposuction to fix her saggy knees. "It's been tough on me financially, but it's worth every penny," she says. "It's life-changing."Not so long ago...
  • Our Quest To Be Perfect

    Ten years ago, when she was only 25, Holly Lagalante shelled out $2,500 for an eyelid lift. The tab nearly maxed out her credit card, but the results--more bright-eyed, less droopy--left her absolutely giddy. Two years later, Lagalante, a petite blonde from suburban Chicago, was back for liposuction on her thighs ("I'd love to have Heather Locklear's body," she says). Then varicose-vein removal. And, later, a forehead peel. Last year she had $7,000 left to pay off when she lost her $9-an-hour job managing a health-food store, moved in with her mother and filed for bankruptcy. Still, she claims she's happier and more self-confident since her body overhaul and has no regrets. She now has a new job as a salesclerk at a local mall and says that when she finishes paying off her debt she'd like to reward herself--with a forehead lift or maybe liposuction to fix her saggy knees. "It's been tough on me financially, but it's worth every penny," she says. "It's life-changing."Not so long ago...
  • Beware The Unruly Sun

    The summer sun. It warms the sand and the soul. But as Kathleen Black will remind you, those brilliant rays can also ravage the body. Just weeks before her 35th birthday last fall, Black was told that the funny-looking spot on her left shin--no bigger than a pencil eraser--was a deadly form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma. "Boy, those two words will echo in your brain," she says. "I saw my life flashing in front of me."In the United States, the incidence of melanoma is rising faster than almost any other cancer, striking Americans at twice the rate today as it did two decades ago. This year alone more than 44,000 people are expected to be diagnosed, and 7,300 could die. "The increase is absolutely astounding," says Dr. Martin Weinstock, chair of the American Cancer Society's (ACS) skin-cancer advisory group. "This is a major public-health problem."But there's good news, too. Melanoma offers its victims an unusual grace period: diagnosed early--before it's had time to burrow...
  • Fighting Cellulite

    When Cellasene made its debut in drugstores across America this March, women eagerly shelled out $40 for a 10-day supply of the heavily advertised pill, which its manufacturer promises will help "eliminate cellulite" in a "natural, safe, effective" way. Doctors, on the other hand, were quick to condemn it. Their problem: no good data to prove either efficacy or safety. Last week Medestea Internazionale, the Italian manufacturer of Cellasene, fought back against the critics. The company and its American distributor, Rexall Sundown, announced the unpublished findings of three studies, which they say prove that Cellasene--a soft-gel capsule made of herbal ingredients--reduced cellulite in about 90 percent of patients who were on the pill eight weeks. One participant, 39-year-old New Yorker Tracy Aron, says the texture of her legs "improved dramatically." The company also claimed that the compound reduced skin thickness and the circumference of hips and thighs. Says Debbie DeSantis,...
  • The Jock V. The Clock

    Julie Anderson was one of those dazzling childhood athletes. A ballerina, and tap and jazz dancer. A top-ranked gymnast and a competitive freestyle skier. Aside from an ankle injury, her body was just about invincible. But last August, Anderson turned the big 4-0--and two months later, she was in surgery for a ripped knee ligament. Anderson has accepted that her body is aging. "I don't ski as fast, and I'm much more careful," she says. But she still bikes, Rollerblades, kayaks and plays tennis. "I'm not trying to be who I was at 25," she says, "but I refuse to not do anything." And her friends, she says, are right there with her. "We won't be sitting in rocking chairs. We won't be giving up sports unless we absolutely have to."Anderson and her friends are the reason knee surgery has almost become a rite of passage for aging boomer jocks. "You cannot treat your body at 50 the way you did at 20," says Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons ...
  • Pen, Paper, Power!

    For decades, Lori Galloway had recurring dreams about shooting or bombing her father and stepfather. Years of sexual abuse as a child left her feeling like "the most worthless person on the face of the earth." Just talking about the trauma prompted a physical response: "I would shake violently and my voice would quiver," she says. She also suffered frequent migraine headaches. At 40, Galloway had been in and out of counseling, on and off antidepressants; nothing did much good.Several months ago, she tried something new. In three 30-minute sessions, Galloway sat at her computer and wrote intensively about how the abuse made her feel. The first entry was incoherent, she says. But by the third, she had gained a sense of freedom from her past. She soon felt better physically, too. The shaking has stopped, and the headaches have now disappeared. "The writing," she says, "has completely changed my life."Confessional writing has been around at least since the Renaissance, but new research...
  • Hormones And The Mind

    You hop into your car, but, wait, where are the keys? You meet someone new, but her name is gone before the handshake's over. Those are failures of your short-term, or "working," memory--the place you file information for immediate, everyday retrieval. It isn't perfect. But researchers are increasingly convinced that the hormone estrogen could play a key role in maintaining and perhaps even improving memory. Last week a team of Yale scientists provided dramatic new evidence that bolsters the theory. Using MRIs--detailed snapshots of the brain--researchers found that women taking estrogen show significantly more activity in brain areas associated with memory than women on a placebo. "This is very exciting," says Yale's Dr. Sally Shaywitz. "It means that the brain circuitry for memory had altered."After menopause, when estrogen levels plummet, some women become forgetful. Past research has demonstrated that those who take estrogen do better on memory tests than their nonmedicated...
  • Baby Boom: The $50,000 Egg

    With high-tech babies come high-tech quandaries. The latest: should people with bigger bucks be able to buy better genes? The question stems from an ad recently placed in Ivy League newspapers by an infertile couple seeking an "intelligent, athletic" egg donor who is at least 5 feet 10 and has an SAT score of 1400 or better. The payoff: $50,000 for one cycle's worth of viable eggs. "They want to be generous," says Thomas Pinkerton, an attorney for the "well-educated, tall" and anonymous couple.The going rate for donors--whose eggs are fertilized with the intended father's sperm and then implanted in his partner's womb--is $1,500 to $5,000. That fee is intended not as reward money, says Dr. Benjamin Younger, head of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but as compensation for potent hormone injections and minor surgery to retrieve the eggs. Some worry that upping the ante will turn the "gift of life" into a commodity. "We should not call this woman an egg donor," says Ruth...
  • A One-Two Vs. Cancer

    In cancer research, the next best thing to finding a cure is upping the odds of survival. Last week the National Cancer Institute announced a new treatment for cervical cancer that can do just that. Five clinical trials of 1,700 women showed that adding chemotherapy to standard radiation treatment reduced patients' risk of dying by 30 to 50 percent. "To see such a big difference was amazing," says Dr. Mitchell Morris, who led one trial at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.Invasive cervical cancer is expected to strike 12,800 women this year, killing one third. For decades, doctors have treated the disease by surgically removing tumors or by targeting the pelvic area with radiation. Chemotherapy, a bodywide assault, seemed unnecessary. But the new studies suggest that chemo works synergistically with radiation, inhibiting cancer cells' ability to repair themselves after treatment. And it has only moderate side effects, such as nausea.The best weapon against cervical cancer is...
  • Autoimmune Disorders

    Joann Anastasi never imagined that her body would betray her. At 51, she was a full-time hair stylist with plenty of extra energy for dancing and handicrafts. "I was always busy," she says. "I was a whirlwind." But all that changed when Anastasi began to feel sluggish and achy. At first, she assumed she was simply "running out of steam" as she aged. But over the course of several months, her symptoms intensified into a full-body assault--overwhelming fatigue, painful joints and muscles, hypersensitivity to cold, and hands so swollen she had to quit her job and her hobbies. On top of all that was the mystery of it all: nobody could tell her what was wrong. "I think they thought it was all in my head or I was just stressed or menopausal," she says. Finally--after more than a year of visits to four different specialists (an endocrinologist, an orthopedist and two rheumatologists, one of whom suggested antidepressants)--Anastasi, now 53, got a diagnosis. She had scleroderma, a "crazy...
  • A Little Help In The Bedroom

    Ah, that little blue pill. You know the one. It knocked the shame out of impotence. It boosted virility. It rattled the stock market. But, you may wonder, what has Viagra done for me?Possibly a lot--even if you've never set eyes on the drug. It turns out that one of Viagra's most powerful side effects is being felt not in the bodies of men, but in homes and labs across the nation: it is sounding a wake-up call about sexual problems in women. Women's gynecological health is routinely monitored through Pap smears and pelvic exams, and yet the closest most doctors come to asking about sex is "What kind of birth control are you using?" Despite a plethora of ORGASM! headlines and sex-advice columns, scientists still have little more than a superficial understanding of how female arousal works, let alone how to fix it when something goes wrong. But sexual dysfunction--everything from lack of libido, arousal or orgasm to painful intercourse--affects millions of American women. Now women...
  • The Octuplet Question

    FOR WEEKS, NKEM CHUKWU AND THE babies in her belly had defied gravity. In her Houston hospital bed, the 27-year-old lay tilted head down, feet in the air, as doctors tried desperately to withhold from the world--and medical history--a major delivery. The later the date, the better the babies' odds. Though one, a girl, had already pushed her way out of Chukwu's womb, seven were still inside. Fourteen arms, 14 legs, 7 umbilical cords, all jammed one against the other. But five days before Christmas, Chukwu went into labor--13 weeks early--delivering five more girls and two boys, the world's first live octuplets.The littlest died one week later from heart and lung failure. The rest, their tiny heads the size of oranges, their hands not much bigger than thumbnails, were fighting to stay alive last week at Texas Children's Hospital. Blankets with blue and pink hearts helped keep them warm. Tubes snaked out of their noses, heads and feet. Monitors buzzed with vital signs. And a dozen...
  • In Boston, Banishing Blame And Shame

    Impotence. What an assignment. Millions of men suffer it, but most won't discuss it with a brother, let alone, I feared, a female reporter. For women, health talk starts at puberty and never stops. My generation grew up with "Our Bodies, Ourselves," the '70s self-help book that demystified the female body. We bonded over annual gynecological exams, stirrups and all. But men have long kept their health woes closeted--especially when that most prized organ is involved. ...