Mary Carmichael

Stories by Mary Carmichael

  • Take Botox And Call Me In The A.M.

    If a salesman told you a single drug could cure headaches, obesity, sore muscles and even body odor, all for the low, low price of $300, you'd probably think he was selling snake oil. But many scientists now say there's a drug that does all that and more--and believe it or not, it's Botox. The poison that erases wrinkles may be an effective therapy for many of life's other bodily indignities. Doctors are administering it for a wide range of ailments it isn't approved for (yet). "People said using Botox off-label would be a waste of time," says New York ear, nose and throat doctor Andrew Blitzer. "But a lot more patients are going to benefit."The most promising new use for Botox is headache treatment. It's unclear how Botulinum toxin soothes an aching brain--it may inhibit the nerves that transmit pain--but large studies confirm that people get fewer headaches after being Botoxed. Blitzer cites a patient whose migraines kept her from work four days a month, despite conventional drug...
  • In Sync

    Steven Strogatz has just written a book arguing that the universe is an orderly place marked by harmony and cooperation. In an era of war, terror and chaos, his viewpoint sounds a bit curious. But if "Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order" is, well, out of sync with global news, it's certainly in tune with the scientific world. Human affairs may be disorderly, but the rest of nature is humming along just fine, thanks to intrinsic properties that emphasize teamwork and synchrony from the atomic level up.Anyone who's seen the aquatic ballet of schooling fish knows that nature provides glorious examples of synchrony--the rhythmic interplay of parts that unconsciously combine in patterns to make up a greater whole. But advanced computing and sophisticated math have shown recently that sync also underlies some of the most complex and perplexing phenomena around--from fads and traffic to human consciousness. Sync is embedded in the rules of nature, rules we've never been able to...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    Claritin is Claritin, no matter how you get it. But now that the drug's patent has expired, its maker, Schering-Plough, is touting another prescription drug, Clarinex, to replace it. The company says it's better for indoor allergies. Many doctors, however, think it's merely better for Schering-Plough--Clarinex is a breakdown product of Claritin. Prescription drugs cost more; the old Claritin raked in $2.3 billion a year, but OTC it may earn $500 million. That's one reason it's OTC now--insurers got tired of paying billions and sued.
  • Health: Botox's Bad Side

    Nine months after its rollout across the United States, Botox is making headlines again--and this time the news ain't pretty. Sure, Botox gets rid of those lines between your brows. But patients say new wrinkles show up in other places. It's more than a matter of contrast: according to a recent paper in Cosmetic Dermatology, Botoxed beauties may work previously unused muscle areas while trying to frown, unwittingly giving themselves new wrinkles. The article's author, David Becker, avoids the new lines in his patients by using a lighter dose to weaken, not freeze, the muscles. "But most patients don't want that," says dermatologist Lisa Donofrio. Unless those wrinkles are low on the brow--the one area most doctors find too risky to treat--you can always plop down cash for more injections. So don't expect Botox use to go down any time soon--it may actually go up.
  • Health: Botox's Bad Side

    Nine months after its nationwide roll-out, Botox is making headlines again--and this time the news ain't pretty. Sure, Botox gets rid of those lines between your brows. But patients say new wrinkles show up in other places. It's more than a matter of contrast: according to a recent paper in Cosmetic Dermatology, Botoxed beauties may work previously unused muscle areas while trying to frown, unwittingly giving themselves new wrinkles. The article's author, David Becker, avoids the new lines in his patients by using a lighter dose to weaken, not freeze, the muscles. "But most patients don't want that," says dermatologist Lisa Donofrio. Unless those new wrinkles are low on the brow--the one area most doctors find too risky to treat--you can always plop down cash for more injections. So don't expect Botox use to go down any time soon--it may actually go up.
  • Health: Use Rmr, Lose Lbs

    It's just not fair. Here you are on the treadmill with yet another futile New Year's resolution to lose weight, and your skinny friend is snarfing down brownies. What's she got that you don't? Try good genes--and a high resting metabolic rate, which makes her body burn calories faster. At least now there's something you can do about it. A small group of health providers and gyms, including the nationwide chain Bally Total Fitness, is offering sessions with a new inhaler-like device that measures your RMR--the number of calories you burn per day--faster than you can say "Atkins diet." Breathe into the BodyGem for a few minutes, get your magic number, eat fewer calories than that number and you're on the way to weight loss. Exercise will increase your RMR, so you'll need to use the BodyGem to track it. That kind of plan wasn't practical before; the physician-only RMR measuring equipment was too cumbersome. Now the only drawback is that you'll look ridiculous breathing into the device....
  • Rx: Two Martinis A Day

    Just when you've gotten over your New Year's Eve hangover, there might be a good reason to belly up to the bar again--with your doctor's blessing. A study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine found that regular, moderate consumption of beer, wine and even hard liquor might actually be good for you. The 12-year study, conducted by researchers at Harvard, followed almost 40,000 men and found that those who drank a glass or two, three to seven times a week, cut their risk of a heart attack by a third.This isn't the first time scientists have found health benefits from alcohol. Way back in 1974, Arthur Klatsky, now a senior cardiology consultant with Kaiser Permanente, stumbled across evidence that drinkers were less likely to have heart attacks. "That was before we even had a biological explanation," says Klatsky. "Since then, there have been literally dozens of studies." Many have shown the benefits of drinking wine--both red and white--partially because it's...
  • Magazines: A Smart (-Alecky) Read

    Ah, college. Where else but in lectures and late-night bull sessions could you spend hours pondering the mysteries of the universe, the wonders of civilization, the truth about Pop Rocks and soda? Well, there's Mental Floss. The year-old magazine is a lot like that professor of yours who peppered his tests with raunchy jokes: it makes learning fun. The current issue, for instance, reveals that "unlike people," stars get hotter as they age. Oh, and Pop Rocks and soda won't kill you.The original five Mental Floss staffers had no journalistic experience, except for one kid who'd worked on his high-school newspaper. Now they run a bimonthly with 10,000 subscribers and a newsstand presence of 50,000 copies. Sixty percent of those get sold, an almost unheard-of statistic for new magazines. Recently the staff has inked deals for a book series, a board game, radio spots and a syndicated column. "We haven't spent a dime on marketing," says cofounder Will Pearson. "We still don't know why it...
  • The Bloom Is Off The Rose

    No one ever expects Axl Rose to show up on time for his concerts. He likes to keep the fans waiting. He sings about it in "Mr. Brownstone," one of the sleazier hits from Guns N' Roses' debut album, "Appetite for Destruction": Show usually starts around 7 / We go on stage around 9.True to form, two weeks ago in Albany, N.Y., a Guns N' Roses show was starting at 7 p.m. Then it was 9. Then it was 10, and Axl was nowhere in sight, maybe not even in the building. One of the cameramen distracted the crowd by training his camera on girls in the audience, egging them on to bare their breasts. But this didn't keep people's attention for long. It was 10:45 p.m. Axl had ditched the "Chinese Democracy" tour's kickoff date in Vancouver a few weeks earlier. It looked like he was ditching this show, too.And then the lights went down. There he was, Axl Rose backed up by a battalion of new musicians, wearing braids and a baggy jersey and screeching the opening of "Welcome to the Jungle" like it was...
  • Medicine: Not A Cure For Cancer, But Close

    Cervical cancer has never triggered the kind of fears American women reserve for breast cancer--largely because annual Pap smears can detect most precancerous cells in the cervix. But human papillomavirus (HPV)--a sexually transmitted disease that causes genital warts in both sexes and also causes most cases of cervical cancer if left untreated--is still a plague in this country. Doctors estimate that half (yes, half) of Americans have been exposed. And in the developing world, cervical cancer caused by HPV terrorizes women who don't have the benefit of regular testing, killing more than 200,000 every year. So the development of a vaccine against HPV--the culmination of two decades of research, announced last week in The New England Journal of Medicine--is a major advance.For the vaccine to fulfill its promise, the next five years may be just as crucial as the last 20. Merck plans to bring it to market by 2007. The pharmaceutical giant will need to conduct more tests to ensure...
  • Ginkgo On Your Mind?

    Memory aids based on Ginkgo biloba, a Chinese plant that is the oldest living tree species on earth, have been used in China for centuries. Americans now spend more than $240 million each year on gingko-based remedies, hoping to sustain strong memories in their own old age. But do the supplements work? Though ginkgo is one of the most thoroughly examined remedies in complementary medicine, the verdict isn't in yet. The latest study, published in August in The Journal of the American Medical Association, suggested that ginkgo doesn't help healthy people. When given routine mental tasks, such as memorizing a shopping list, healthy seniors who took ginkgo capsules performed no better than those given decoy pills. But another recent study found that Alzheimer's patients declined more slowly while taking ginkgo than patients who were treated with placebos. And other research has found that ginkgo, which thins the blood, can reduce tinnitus (ringing in the ears).A six-year trial started...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    The body likes to keep the blood's ratio of salt to fluid constant, so when too much salt gets into the bloodstream, it reacts by raising fluid levels. The heart has to work harder to push all that blood through bulging arteries. Some people are genetically more "salt sensitive" than others, but we all need to watch our salt consumption. Last week the American Public Health Association asked restaurants to halve the amount of sodium in their food by 2012. The APHA estimates the move could save 150,000 lives a year.
  • Your Next...

    Eco-Friendly FashionKarin Carter's clothes are trashy. We mean that as a compliment. Her "sustainable fashion," in the form of a leathery, waterproof fabric made from recycled plastic grocery bags, is poised to bring environmentalism to the runway. Carter, who invented the fabric, has already made a line of colorful purses and rain gear and hopes to extend the idea to lampshades, shower curtains and umbrellas. She's also transformed packing peanuts into insulation for a parka that doubles as a sleeping bag. Eco-conscious campers, take note.Hi, I'm Your Name TagStill stuck on those "Hi! I'm [your name, scrawled with a Sharpie]" name tags? The creators of N-Tag have a different idea: "smart" name tags. Based on MIT Media Lab technology, the clip-ons store info about the wearer's interests ("I'm looking for a zillionaire to invest in a hot company") and use infrared sensing to read other tags. When two tags discover a matching interest, a small screen displays the info ("I don't have...
  • The Tough Critics Speak

    Is the new Harry Potter movie better than the first one? When Harry hugs Hermione in the preview, is it the start of something icky, like flirting? And why is Dobby the House Elf so ugly? These are the questions occupying the minds of the nation's children--or at least those children who haven't been listening to playground chatter in New York and Los Angeles, where the few lucky kids who've seen advance media screenings of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" are already doling out the answers. (For the record: said answers are "yes," "no" and "who you callin' ugly?") It seems the kids aren't worried about spoilers. "I thought my friends wouldn't want me to tell them anything," says Regina Sobel, 13. "But they were, like, 'Tell me everything!' "Here at NEWSWEEK we were, like, the same way. Last year we talked to dozens of kids who loved the first Potter movie, critics be darned. The follow-up may be an even bigger hit. Most of the kids we talked to this year preferred the new ...
  • Health | Pearly Whites

    If you want to whiten your teeth, you've got plenty of options--dentist Richard Price says to pick the right one, "you'll need a Ph.D." Or at least this chart.WHITESTRIPSFlexible and coated with bleaching gel, Crest's strips really do remove stains in two weeks. The gel tastes gross, but the price is pretty appetizing. $39.99WHITENING TOOTHPASTEThe cheapest choice, toothpastes are also the least effective--they scrub away only surface stains, much like a regular dental cleaning. "I've had patients tell me they don't work," says Price. At least they're convenient. $4.99LIGHT EXPOSURELasers are a thing of the past. BriteSmile and Zoom! use gentler lights to bleach teeth in an hour. But expect some temporary tooth sensitivity. $600CUSTOM TRAYSUse gel at home for two weeks. Not pain-free, but "itty-bitty night guards" are easier on gums than light treatment, says dentist Jason Psillakis. $300
  • Medicine: Codes Of Help

    To most nurses, a "code" is what happens when a patient's vital signs dip into the dangerous range. To the nurses at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, it's what keeps that from happening in the first place. In a move designed to cut down on medical errors, which claim more than 40,000 lives each year nationwide, the hospital is trying out a new system called Horizon Outlook that uses bar-code scanners--yes, the same thing cashiers use in grocery stores--to make sure the right patients are getting the right doses of drugs. The FDA has already started pushing for heavier bar-code labeling on individual bottles and packets of drugs. But since a third of hospital errors occur when IV pumps are programmed incorrectly--a problem that wouldn't be entirely solved by the FDA's proposal--the new system takes the concept further by automating the programming process. Prescription labels generated in the hospital pharmacy are stuck to IV bags. Nurses scan bar codes on the labels to make...
  • Health: It Stinks

    Garlic is often touted as a superfood--it has a rep for lowering cholesterol and preventing colds. Problem is, garlic reeks. Odorless pills containing allicin--a compound in garlic that at high levels may clear the arteries--were supposed to solve the smell, but a report released last week suggests that many are useless. ConsumerLab tested 14 garlic supplements and found that half of them didn't contain enough allicin to have even a chance of working. Looks like you'll have to smell bad to feel good.
  • In The News: It Just Stinks

    Garlic is often touted as a superfood--and indeed, what other pantry staple has a reputation for lowering cholesterol, preventing colds and adding zing to buttery bread? Then again, garlic reeks. Odorless pills were supposed to solve that, but a report released last week suggests that many are as effective at warding off heart disease as they are at, say, keeping vampires at bay. Garlic contains the compound allicin, which at high levels--3,000 micrograms or more--may clear the arteries. ConsumerLab, a firm that regularly debunks supplement makers' claims, tested 14 garlic supplements and found that half of them contained less than 3,000 micrograms, including Jamieson Laboratories', which was advertised as "allicin rich." Seven brands, like Garlinase 2000 and Nutrilite, really were allicin-rich. But while numerous studies have shown that garlic lowers cholesterol, scientists still aren't sure whether it's allicin or something else in garlic that has health benefits. If it's...
  • Medicine: An Earful At The Mall

    Last week doctors warned that piercing the cartilage in the upper ear can lead to infection and permanent deformity, and moms everywhere nodded in agreement. The warning came after seven Oregon kids got their upper ears pierced at a mall kiosk and developed nasty abscesses, some of which required reconstructive surgery. Doctors say it's best not to pierce the upper ear at all, since it takes longer to heal than the earlobe. But if you must have that second (or third, or fourth) hole, you can avoid infection by watching your piercer closely. In the Oregon case, a kiosk employee mistakenly sprayed the starter earrings, called studs, with disinfectant, which apparently wasn't doing its job well either--health-department investigators cultured bacteria off the bottle. Doctors advise against using disinfectant, since the studs are sterilized before shipping. They also oppose piercing guns, which--unlike needles--can rip apart the delicate upper ear. But needles have drawbacks, too, says...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    Can elephants sneeze?-ALEX SHEFTIC, JR., DADEVILLE, ALA.The elephant with a head cold is a staple of kiddle lit, featured in at least three children's books (" 'Stand Back,' Said the Elephant, 'I'm Going to Sneeze!' "). Unfortunately, elephants don't sneeze at all. But they do sometimes blow their noses, which looks even sillier. According to Marie Galloway, elephant manager at the National Zoo, "they flatten the end of their trunk shut, twist it back and forth several times and then expel air out loudly and forcefully, sending mucus flying." So if you ever see an elephant with a twitchy trunk, you'd be wise to stand back.To submit a question, go to Newsweek.MSNBC.com and click on Tip Sheet.
  • A Worry For Ravers

    Seven years ago Johns Hopkins neurologist George Ricaurte started a major battle in the war on drugs with a single image--a monkey brain on MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy. The brain was shot through with holes where its neurons should have been busy making serotonin. The implications seemed obvious. If ecstasy could eat away at a monkey, it could do the same to us. The National Institute on Drug Abuse promptly put Ricaurte's brain scans at the core of its anti-ecstasy efforts. At least two groups weren't so quick to embrace Ricaurte's results: the club kids who keep the rave scene going and a faction of scientists led by Charles Grob. A UCLA psychiatrist, Grob became Ricaurte's foil, publicly attacking his experimental methods, subjects, even the wording of his press releases.This week the two are at it again. Ricaurte has just published research in the journal Science indicating that one night's worth of ecstasy also kills the brain cells that produce dopamine,...
  • Facing Up To Smallpox

    The writers of "ER" have always tried to be topical, but even they couldn't have expected their art to imitate life as eerily as it did last week. The show's season premiere, which revolved around a suspected smallpox outbreak, aired three days after the Centers for Disease Control issued a blueprint for vaccinating the entire U.S. population against the deadly disease. The plan requires states to set up instant clinics and inoculate anyone who wants the vaccine--even if the nearest smallpox cases are thousands of miles away. The move indicates a growing belief that an outbreak of smallpox, which hasn't been seen in the United States for decades, would be evidence of a terrorist attack. And while an attack isn't necessarily more imminent now than it was before the report--the CDC says there's no link between the emergency plan and President George W. Bush's efforts to build support for ousting Saddam Hussein--the new guidelines underscore how seriously the agency is taking the...
  • In The News: A Shot Shortage?

    As flu season approaches and kindergartners bring home their first fall colds, parents are finding there's something more contagious than germs--fear. Unprecedented national and regional shortages of childhood vaccines have made headlines all year, and last week a GAO report suggested more are imminent. In response, schools are temporarily relaxing immunization requirements for incoming students, and more than 40 states are rationing doses. But parents shouldn't worry themselves sick yet. Most vaccines that were in short supply, including varicella (chickenpox) and MMR shots, are now back in production and should arrive at clinics soon, if they're not there already. As for the flu, "there's no shortage anticipated whatsoever," says Dr. Deborah Wexler of the Immunization Action Coalition.Only one vaccine is still scarce nationwide: PCV-7, or Prevnar, which prevents pneumococcal pneumonia and meningitis. Several recent shortages occurred because the only companies making certain...
  • Beyond The Lab In Biotech

    Biotechnology stocks have slumped all year. Several vaunted experimental drugs--Provenge, Bexxar, ImClone's infamous Erbitux--have failed in clinical trials or FDA tests. BioWorld Financial Watch editor Randall Osborne says investors have "grave doubt about even the possibility of optimism."But biotech is really just going through some growing pains. The spate of failures, which caused the stocks' slide, doesn't mean long-term trouble for the industry. After all, with 350 new drugs in trials--more than ever before--it's inevitable that failures will occur, industry experts note. Biotech's high payoffs have always come at high risk, and the industry has hit this kind of snag before. Every time, it's rebounded.Though biotech refers to a wide variety of life-science products--from genetically modified foods to micron-size drug-delivery devices called MEMs--the industry is essentially made up of small firms searching for medicines based on large molecules like proteins and DNA, a class...
  • The 'Golden' Age

    People who meet me in bars think I'm a normal 23-year-old girl. I do all the normal 23-year-old-girl things; I wear tank tops and read Elle and own "Bridget Jones' Diary" on DVD. But I have a dirty little secret, an unexpected passion--an addiction, really--that I have admitted, sotto voce, only when pressed, until now.I LOVE "THE Golden Girls."There. I said it. I love those ladies from Miami, especially Sophia. At heart, I'm no twentysomething--I'm a wisecracking old Sicilian lady. On weeknights, when I should be out dancing, I find myself glued to the TV for that crucial hour between 11 p.m. and midnight, when Lifetime follows up its 6 and 6:30 p.m. shows with two more back-to-back reruns.This is not a show that's supposed to appeal to my age group and certainly not to the sushi-eating, city-living, DKNY-wearing segment of it. But each week, 1.8 million different viewers watch at least one broadcast in the late-night time slot, and 17 percent of us belong to the coveted 18-34...
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    Some over-the-counter medications are also available by prescription in stronger versions. Why bother--can't you just take more of the OTC strength? --Scot Wilson, Sarasota, Fla.Believe it or not, "that's OK," says Susan Winckler, an American Pharmaceutical Association official. But be cautious. First, make sure the drugs are perfectly identical, right down to how fast the tablets dissolve. Second, tell your doctor and pharmacist--they might unwittingly give you drugs that would interact with the OTC medicine. And if it takes a lot of medicine for you to feel OK, you really should see a doctor. You may have a more serious problem than you realize.
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    How can a whale survive the water pressure at 3,000 feet below sea level?-JESS KINSER, CORRALITOS, CALIF.Not all of them can--most whales don't go farther than 500 feet. But some, like sperm whales, use an unusual strategy to dive deeper: collapsing under pressure. The weight of deep water can crush a human's rib cage, puncturing lungs with the splintered bones. Whales have ribs made of flexible cartilage that doesn't break as easily as human bones. When the pressure's on, a whale's rib cage will partially collapse, compressing the air in the lungs into a smaller space to equalize the pressure of the water above.
  • It's Just A Fish Story

    If this were the weekly World News, the headline would be household products turn boys into girls. A new study says common water pollutants from detergent ingredients to "new-car smell"--not just estrogen-like compounds, the usual suspects--can turn male embryos into females and male adults into sissies too shy to chase potential mates. The shemales in question, though, are Chesapeake Bay fish. Humans aren't affected.
  • Ask Tip Sheet

    With all the news about hormone replacement, I'm worried. Isn't most birth control also hormone-based?--Tina Mattsson, Ogden, UtahYes. In fact, the Pill contains more estrogens and progestins than HRT drugs, but studies show it's safe. That's because it's aimed at younger women who aren't prone to breast cancer and cardiovascular trouble--the risks with HRT. (Older women who used to take the Pill aren't at greater risk, either, says Dr. Nananda Col: "It seems when they stop taking it, they go back to normal.") Unless you smoke or have a family history of breast cancer, pregnancy poses more health risks than hormone-based birth control. -Mary Carmichael
  • Simcity, Real Life

    As local legend has it, Eureka Township, Minn., was born in 1855 when explorers planted a flag on the banks of a nearby river, exclaiming exactly what you think. Not much has changed there since 1855, but the surrounding area, including the Twin Cities, is booming. By last year the tiny farming town was worried about river pollution and encroaching strip malls. Keeping its rural charm would require a eureka moment, indeed.Luckily, the town got one in the form of smart-growth software that maps development plans and allows residents to "stroll" through the 3-D results--a sort of SimCity for real life. The program, called CommunityViz (and not made by the SimCity folks), is a big jump for small-town citizens who previously had to make do with flat maps. In Missoula, Mont., it's helping prevent wildfire hazards. In Steamboat Springs, Colo., it's assisting low-income-housing designers. And in Eureka, a planning board hopes to let townspeople "explore" four computer-generated scenarios...