Category Archives: Health

Two fun (and important!) benefits to add to your calendar (now with 100% more goats!)

Photo from goatalympics.com
Photo from goatalympics.com

I don’t know about you, but I like my philanthropy to include some unrestrained joy to go along with the (sincere!) thank yous. So I think there are two events that fit that criteria that I’m using this space to plug.

The first is this Saturday (tomorrow!) and it’s the Goatalympics, which will require a drive out to Monroe, but should be worth it. Here’s what I’m told you can expect:

A free, family-friendly event, the Goatalympics is ridiculously fun!  Come watch goats and their people compete in foot races, obstacle courses and more.  Take your guess as to who will win Best Trick, Most Spots, Longest Beard and other exciting contests.  Vote in the People’s Choice Awards for Adult and Youth costume contests.

The Goatalympics is not your typical livestock event.  Rather than focus on conformation and production, as seen at a typical County Fair, the Goatalympics is all about having fun with pet goats.  It’s a chance for people to show off their ruminants’ skills, with events ranging from obstacle courses and races to costume and stall decorating contests. Last year’s costumes included Supergoat, a safari guide with her “exotic”goats, Pope Francis and more.  In addition to goat contests, there will be a mega-raffle and silent auction.  Of course, there will be adorable, adoptable goats for people to meet.  Several photographers will be on site as well, covering the fun from every angle and photos will be available for purchase online after the event.

The Goatalympics is a fundraiser for New Moon Farm, a goat rescue and sanctuary. This all goes down Saturday, July 12 at Evergreen Fairgrounds in Monroe from 10am until 4pm.

I would also remiss if I didn’t give a plug for this worthy show: next Friday, Nectar is hosting a benefit for Planned Parenthood Northwest with lots of excellent music. It’s headlined by La Luz and includes Jason Webley, Golden Gardens, and The Gods Themselves, playing what I think will be their second show ever (Tony recommended their first last weekend, and people I trust say that it was a great time). Tickets and more information can be found here.

A New Patch to Keep Mosquitoes from Sniffing You Out

Kite_Patch

Thanks to “pilot” funding from the Gates Foundation for Olfactor Laboratories, Inc. (OLI), some day you could paste on your clothing a small Kite patch designed to keep mosquitoes from sniffing out your existence…for 48 hours.

That funding was part of the larger Gates Foundation fight against malaria and dengue fever; they’ve disbursed more than $2 billion so far, for research and development on “more effective treatments, diagnostics, mosquito-control measures, and a safe and effective malaria vaccine.”

OLI’s research, supported as well by the National Institute of Health, focused on how to keep mosquitoes from catching scent of that tasty CO2 people exhale. When you breathe, mosquitoes up to 150 feet away think “Ooh! A smoothie!” They sniff out other things from closer in from your sweat and skin (“O negative, my favorite!”), but the CO2 seems to be the primary trigger that inspires them to track people down at a distance.

OLI, then, has discovered a non-toxic compound (2,3-butanedione) that creates “ultra-prolonged activation of CO2-detecting neurons in three major disease-transmitting mosquitoes: Anopheles gambiae, Culex quinquefasciatus and A. aegypti.” This burns out the mosquitoes’ sense of smell for a few minutes, disorienting them. (They spent a lot of time watching mosquitoes fly around wind tunnels.)

The researchers have also discovered odors that inhibit CO2-detecting, and some (2-butanone) that smell like the mosquito-world equivalent of a juicy steak on the grill (which could be used as a lure). That there are different kinds of mosquitoes is one reason mosquito repellent isn’t one-smell-fits-all; the discovery of multiple ways to disrupt the mosquito sense of smell means it won’t be as easy for them to evolve resistance.

Still, it’s a long way from the lab to the real world; besides the function of the compounds themselves, there are a host of practical questions to be addressed (the popularity of a patch, how strongly it adheres to clothing). In mid-July, Kite launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a test-patch project in Uganda. Originally the goal was $75,000. They’ve raised more that $545,000 with some 60 hours to go. (Pending U.S. EPA approval, donors at different levels get Kite Patches to try themselves.)

Of course, people in the U.S. are troubled be mosquitoes, too, which may account for that level of interest. As OLI points out, incidences of West Nile Virus in the U.S. are rising. Washington’s Department of Health has a West Nile Virus guide online, as more mosquitoes test positive for the virus. A Silverdale man is seriously ill after picking up the virus on a trip to Arizona. Effective, non-toxic mosquito repellent may not be arriving any too soon.

Dementia Fed by High Blood Sugar Levels? A Definite Maybe.

Table 2 from "Glucose Levels and Risk of Dementia," NEJM 369;6
Table 2 from “Glucose Levels and Risk of Dementia,” NEJM 369;6

“Higher glucose levels may be a risk factor for dementia,” report the thirteen authors of a National Institutes of Health-funded study, “even among persons without diabetes.”

But the takeaway for the health conscious, given that the risk increases identified are not great compared to other factors, is that higher than average blood sugar levels may be subtly affecting optimal brain function, leading to decline over time. A diagnosis of clinical dementia is, after all, a mental Rubicon. Leading up to that is a lot of shaky memory and thinking errors, in which daily glycemic levels have already been implicated.

The new study, titled “Glucose Levels and Risk of Dementia” and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is based on a study of 2,067 Group Health patients 65 years of age and older — 232 with diabetes.

Researchers were associated with the Group Health Research Institute, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, University of Washington, and the Swedish Neuroscience Institute — all in Seattle — in addition to Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Dr. Paul Crane
Dr. Paul Crane

Patients’ blood glucose levels were tracked for a median of 6.8 years — that’s more than 35,000 fasting and random tests, in addition to glycated hemoglobin tests — during which time, about 25 percent developed some form of dementia, Alzheimer’s in the majority. (Lead author Dr. Paul Crane notes, though, that in older patients “most dementias have mixed pathologies.” Pure vascular dementia, he says, is fairly rare, but it’s often a component of a broader dementia diagnosis.)

Among those without diabetes, higher than average blood sugar levels meant the “hazard ratio” for dementia increased by 18 percent. (Specifically, for the range of 105 to 115 mg/dL, dementia risk jumped from 10 to 18 percent.) For people with diabetes, glucose levels above 190 mg/dL correlated with a 40 percent increase in risk. At 95 mg/dL and below, you were sitting pretty.

Because the study was set up to answer a single question (“Do higher glucose levels increase the risk of dementia?”), it can’t be used as proof that you should lower your blood sugar levels, even if you’re not at risk of diabetes. The mechanism behind the risk has yet to be explained. (Research continues on useful biomarkers that can set off alarms earlier in the course of dementia.) But if you were considering exercising more and talking to a nutritionist, you wouldn’t be making an irresponsible inference.

Gay Activists Fight the Squick Factor in Blood-Donation Ban

GiveTwiceTwo years ago, about this time, we asked “How Long Until Gay People Can Give Blood?” As it stood — as it stands — the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has placed a lifetime ban on blood donation from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 (“the beginning of the AIDS epidemic”). That policy is under review, but without much fanfare about progress, given the controversy the topic generates.

Last June, the American Medical Association turned up the heat by voting to oppose the lifetime ban, saying gay men could be treated like other high-risk groups. That development was followed by a nationwide protest last week, as gay men volunteered to visit blood donation centers and go through the humiliating process of being publicly told they couldn’t donate. (In Seattle, the Puget Sound Blood Center has long said the lifetime ban is not scientifically supported, but has been bound to follow FDA regulations.)

The activists — in support of the Banned4Life Project — hoped to draw attention to how wrenching it is to be forbidden to donate blood that could help save someone’s life.

Keeping the nation’s blood supply safe is a fearsome responsibility, even with testing. The West Nile Virus, for instance, has sneaked past in low viral concentrations, and so more sensitive testing has been called for. To this day, if you spent six months or more in the UK between six months or more between 1980 and 1996, you’re considered a possible “mad cow” disease vector, and involuntarily excused from donation.

Nor is anyone arguing that the overall population of men who have sex with men (MSM) aren’t at substantial risk for HIV infection compared to other populations. But the accuracy of HIV tests after a two-week window approaches 99.9 percent (which is not to mention they generally err on the side of false positives, no small thing for those tested).

Even the most stealthy HIV infection will most likely be detected at six months, so in Japan, Brazil, the UK, and Australia (Wikipedia is keeping count), men who have abstained from sexual contact with men for one year can donate blood. In the U.S., by contrast, if you are a woman who has had sex with someone who falls in the MSM category, you must wait one year before donating again; for a man, it’s a lifetime ban.

No test is perfect, HIV or otherwise. The Red Cross references a study that puts the current odds of contracting HIV from a blood transfusion in the U.S. at one in two million. That’s also the odds “of an HIV-positive blood sample testing negative after the 7 to-10-day window,” Barry Zingman, M.D., medical director of the AIDS Center at Montefiore Medical Center told NBC News. (That NBC story notes that: “Even with a clean bill of health, a gay man is considered more of a threat to the blood supply than a straight man who was treated for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal warts, and genital herpes within the past year.”)

What’s often unaddressed in this discussion, at least until you reach the comments section, is an underlying homophobic resistance combined with that visceral fear people have about blood in general. While the general public often misses the fact that MSM would still belong to a high-risk category, and face that stringent year-long sexual-abstinence barrier, others just don’t want “queer” blood (see comments here and here). The lifetime ban seems to authorize those prejudices, while keeping even gay medical professionals from donating.

None of this debate changes this statistic: About 97 percent of the population didn’t make a blood donation last year. (In fairness, fewer than 38 percent are even eligible.) Blood banks are chronically low on reserves, given that whole blood comes with an expiration date. People who say they’d rather die than risk “gay blood,” and vow to fight an FDA change, are even now making that choice for others.

Why That Fish You Ordered is Holding Up the State Budget

"Harry and his Fish," courtesy of our Flick pool's Great Beyond
“Harry and his Fish,” courtesy of our Flick pool’s Great Beyond

Yesterday afternoon, the Everett Herald‘s Jerry Cornfield reported that the delay in approving a Washington State budget was truly fishy: “Boeing’s opposition to fish study a sticking point in budget,” went the headline. With a government shutdown to come in fewer than five days, it might seem strange that negotiations are getting hung up on a mundane study of how often people eat fish.

But state industries, including 800-lb. gorilla Boeing, are very nervous about how often you dine on sushi, because that consumption rate factors into an algorithmic assessment of “acceptable” water pollution. Our April 2013 story, “Washington State’s Water-Pollution Regs Assume People Hate Fish,” looked into the Department of Ecology’s struggle to balance a directive from the U.S. EPA with political realities.

Northwest Native American tribes, who eat fish daily, have been pitted against the business community. Industry hackles shot up when Oregon raised its fish consumption rate to 175 grams per day. Washington’s guideline rate, in contrast, is 6.5 grams. Any change on the order of Oregon’s could mean a huge difference in businesses’ liabilities.

For a related story, “How Clean is Our Water? How Clean Should It Be?” we spoke with Boeing’s Terry Mutter. “What we’re asking for is something environmentally beneficial, technically feasible, and economically viable,” he argued, claiming that Boeing wasn’t against cleaner waters, per se, but that the adjustment of a multi-factor formula driven by a single variable, fish consumption, could generate impossible standards.

Cornfield’s story notes that the Senate, in special session, added a request for funds for “a comprehensive study to figure out how much fin fish and shell fish each resident will consume over their lifetime,” though the amount was not specified. Studies of fish consumption, though, aren’t hard to come by, and the ones Ecology relies on have already been given U.S. EPA approval, so it’s not clear what the new study would accomplish besides delay.

“House Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee,” writes Cornfield, “strongly oppose the Senate approach.” Budget director David Schumacher confirmed for the AP that the issue has taken up “time and attention” during these last few days of budget negotiations.

Sex Educator Gets Ducked by “I Rub My Duckie” Sex-Toy Maker

tony-levine-300wWith a day job of sex educator, I try to keep up on trends, including sex toys. Intrigued by the VërSpanken (“a new kind of home entertainment system for men”) and Water Wieners, I went to Woodland Hills (Los Angeles) to meet the man who invented them and to see how all this sex stuff started for him.

I spent an hour with Tony Levine (pictured, right) and a collection of his Duckies, learning about the internationally acclaimed I Rub My Duckie vibrator—or should I say personal massager? Levine’s company, Big Teaze Toys, sports the slogan “Toys that Play with You,” and the Duckie does just that. Introduced in 1999, there’s now quite a line of these Duckie characters, including Bondage Duckie, “Paris” Duckie, and even custom Duckies for Sephora.

In the course of our hour-long conversation, conducted with kids screaming in the background, we’d discuss cat butts, the porn industry, the perfect blowjob, and much more. Part of the interview:

What’s a nice guy like you doing in a business like this?

I’d been half-engineer, half-artist, and ended up going into product design. I was basically an inventor, doing all kinds of stuff: automotive, electronics, health care, and products of my own that I thought needed to be made. One afternoon I walked into an adult store, looked around at the products that were there, and thought: These are disgusting. They were poorly made, they smelled, and for somebody who was a newbie, they simply scared the crap out of me.

So I started doing some research and seeing what the industry was like. You couldn’t find out anything. There was no public information. So I kind of had to put my ideas on the backburner for a while.

You needed money to develop a business like this, and a cat butt did it, right?

Yes. So my first job was for a toy company called Worlds of Wonder that developed Teddy Ruxpin. When I left this company I started my own business with a friend of mine and we did a product called the Krushed Kitty. Garfield was popular, suction-cupped in so many cars, so we made a product that was a half of one crushed in the trunk of cars. We sold a shitload of those, and that helped finance my other interests.

So what happened next?

I started finding out I had more friends in the porn industry than I thought. I went with them to some of the shows, and they started to show me what the structure was like. That’s when I decided it was time to bring up the adult toy thing again. One year, a company gave me one square foot of its booth table at one of the adult conventions, and that’s when I started trying to explain to people what the hell you do with a vibrating duck.

duckie-banner-640

How did the Duckie idea happen?

I get inspired by a lot of things. One day I was walking through a store, and I turn my head and see this yellow flash. It was nothing but a yellow box, but just then the Duckie idea popped into my head. It’s sweet and fun and you can leave it out. People are accustomed to being intimate and naked with a rubber duckie ever since they were children. And it’s so cute you want to pick it up and hold it.

That was the first boundary I had to break: to get people comfortable. I created something that wouldn’t be threatening to guys, something that would be discreet, something a single woman could use or a couple could use, and a product that didn’t compete with the big guys, as I’d have been smashed. The Duckie for us was something where we could stand out. We didn’t look like the Rabbit and the other things out there. It was fun, and we confused people at the same time.

Did a duck vibrator cause any controversy?

Some people were upset, as they felt that it was a child’s toy because it’s a rubber duck. But look at our packaging. We don’t say it’s for sex. It was designed to be safe for anybody three years and over. We don’t say where it goes. The adult industry chose where it was to go.

What does your family think of your Big Teaze business?

Most of my family is not around anymore, so that’s kind of easy, but I know my mom would be freaking proud. She would laugh her ass off at this.

duckie-travel-bondageWho’s buying the Duckie?

Americans are the least open on friendly types of toys. Compared to Europe, Asia, and Australia, we want more hardcore stuff. The Duckie in France is like Jerry Lewis, as it’s in almost every store. The French realize it’s fun and playful and you don’t take it so seriously. But the younger generation here is completely changing the dynamic of everything. They’re more open and less serious about stuff.

Women are the majority of buyers. Some love that it’s so discreet that they can leave it out and nobody knows what it is. It’s provocative, allowing them a little secret.

What’s the trick to selling the Duckie?

I look at the Duckie not as this killer sex toy, but as an object of foreplay. Start by using it for massage.

I began doing this thing called Ducking at trade shows. You can’t just look at a toy; you have to hold it, feel it, and experience it as much as possible. I can’t show people how to sexually use the product, so I invite them for some Ducking—demonstrating how to use the Duckie right, and how good it feels on the shoulders, arms, and neck. I also show how to use two Duckies at once. It’s above-the-waist stuff, but they understand where to go from there. When I do demonstrations to couples, about 30 percent of the time I sell two of the big Duckies.

Have you ever been Ducked, actually?

Epilogue: After an above-the-waist demonstration, I can’t say I had sex with an inanimate (albeit vibrating) object, but I can tell you that I walked away from the interview with Duckies of my own. More than two, actually!

(Photos courtesy of Bigteazetoys.com)