Sunday, September 27, 2009
From what you may have read, you might think that the swine flu vaccine is the answer to swine flu. Unfortunately this is not true and until we know that the vaccine is safe, I cannot in good conscience recommend it to most of my patients.
From the outset, let me say, I am not anti all vaccinations, rather I am pro vaccine safety and freedom of choice.
This is why am I not recommending the swine flu vaccine
1) At this stage, for the most part the swine flu seems benign.
Over a million people in the US have already come down with swine flu, many of them without even knowing that they had it. The vast majority of people who get the swine flu recover after a week or so of high fever, aches, and respiratory distress. It's not pleasant, but except in rare circumstances, it is not fatal. Most people who've been infected by swine flu think so little of it, they believe they just had a really bad cold or a regular flu. So unless the swine flu evolves to a much more virulent form, there's no need for mass vaccination.
2) We don't know if the vaccine will be effective.
Vaccines are only useful against the specific viral strain that was available at the time of their manufacture. But influenza viruses mutate quickly, and as the WHO has already said, the real concern with H1N1 swine flu is that it will combine with seasonal flu in the Fall, creating a new strain that will of course be immune to all available vaccines.
3) We don't know if the vaccine is safe.
The FDA has authorized an expedited approval process for the swine flu vaccine but we don't know yet if it is safe. Even GlaxoSmithKline, one of the vaccine manufacturers has said, 'The total population studied in clinical trials will be limited, due to the need to provide the vaccine to governments as quickly as possible. Additional studies will therefore be required and conducted after the vaccine is made available.'
In other words, the only thing that is safe, is to say that no one knows. Since it's never been used before and they have not had time to conduct any sufficient human testing, by getting vaccinated you are being a human guinea pig.
4) Vaccine manufacturers have been insulated from liability by the government.
The Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius has granted legal immunity not only to the makers of the 2 drugs being used to treat swine flu, Tamiflu and Relenza, but also to the swine flu vaccine makers, for damages due to their use against swine flu. By effectively manipulating the legal system, the Pharmaceutical Industry through their powerful lobbyists have acquired almost complete and total insulation from any liability for their vaccines and adjuvants, which are additives added to generate a stronger immune response. It is believed that it is these adjuvants which often cause the problems. The last time the government embarked on a major vaccine campaign against a new swine flu was in 1976. Thousands filed claims for side effects such as paralysis caused by the vaccine and a number of people died. I am sure that the researchers know more now than they did last time and no one can say for certain that bad things will happen again or that you will suffer dire consequences if you get vaccinated. But this time you have no legal recourse even though this vaccine involves new factors, which makes it therefore experimental and unpredictable.
By shielding the manufacturers from any responsibility for any harm caused, the pharmaceutical firms have no financial incentive to make the safest product. In fact, they have a negative incentive to test it for safety, because if they are aware of problems, then they could potentially be held liable for willful misconduct.
Instead I advise my patients to build up and strengthen their immune systems to prevent viral infections.
Here are my top 10 recommendations:
1) Optimize your vit D level
Adequate levels of Vitamin D are essential for our immune systems to function optimally. Unfortunately there are no significant dietary sources of Vitamin D, most of our intake comes from exposure to sunlight. If you live far from the equator, you simply don't get enough sun through Fall and Winter to make all the vitamin D you need. So unless you supplement during this period, your innate immunity will be compromised. Vitamin D plays such a crucial role in so many aspects of your body's functioning, that supplementing with it makes sense whether you decide to get the flu shot or not.
We know that influenza always gets worse during the winter months. Now there is good evidence to suggest that this is because as sunlight hours lessen during the winter, the people living in the northern hemisphere become vitamin D deficient and are susceptible to influenza infections of all kinds. Here's a great article available at NIH pertaining to this topic.
There is also some evidence that supplementation with a sufficient amount of vitamin D can help to prevent the onset of a flu or cold.
The current recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: from 200 to 600 IU/day depending on one's age, are way too low. These values were originally chosen because they were found to prevent osteomalacia (bone softening) and rickets. It is now recognized that vitamin D has many additional physiological functions, for which these levels are totally inadequate. A number of scientists are therefore calling for the Food and Nutrition Board in the U.S. and its counterparts abroad to reassess their current recommendations.
To optimize your vit D levels, you will need to
Take at least 2,000 IU of a Vitamin D3 supplement daily.
Get your 25 hydroxy Vitamin D level checked by your doctor (if that is not an option, you can self test your level with ZRT labs)
Although the current normal range is between 20 and 50ng/ml, this is much too low for optimal health. You want your level to be between 50 and 70ng/ml. This is the most important step you can take to prevent the flu!! It may require a number of months taking 5,000 to 10,000 IU of Vit D3 daily (especially during winter) under a doctor's supervision, to optimize your blood level. Monitor your 25 hydroxy vitamin D status every 3 months until you are in the optimal range, then cut back to a maintenance dose of at least 2,000 IU a day.
2) Get adequate sleep, this is an indispensable requirement for a strong immune system.
3) Get adequate exercise, this keeps you robust.
4) Take actions to lower your stress levels
Do breathing exercises, meditate, practice yoga, spend time doing something that makes you happy. Feeling spent, overwhelmed, and/or mentally run down has a causal relationship to your physical health.
5) Wash your hands frequently but not excessively
It decreases your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. Be sure you don't use antibacterial soap because of the risk of creating resistant bacteria. Rather use a simple chemical-free soap.
6) Avoid sugar and processed foods as they decrease your immune function dramatically.
7) Eat phytonutrient rich meals (lots of colorful salads and dark greens)
8) Eat lots of garlic, it works as a broad spectrum antibiotic.
9) Take a probiotic daily (look for one with 10-20 billion organisms).
A strong immune system relies heavily on having a strong foundation in the gut.
10) Keep a supply of antiviral herbal supplements on hand.
As opposed to antiviral drugs, antiviral herbs do not cause resistant strains because they are multifaceted and contain literally thousands of different medicinal compounds. Thus they are able to attack viruses with a full spectrum of synergistic substances. Andrographis, Olive leaf extract, Grapefruit seed extract and Elderberry extract, all have antiviral properties. Use one or a combination of some of them as a prophylactic measure, for ex.whenever you travel (airports) or enter a potentially compromised environment such as a large office, auditorium, stadium, theater etc.
And if you really want to go all out, here are 4 more tips:
11) Take 1-2 grams of fish oils daily, its beneficial for immune function.
12) Take 2 grams of Vitamin C daily, yes it does help.
13) Stock your home pharmacy with an immune building formula.
Look for one that contains Cordyceps and Astragulus. Take it throughout the flu season.
14) Keep homeopathic Oscillococcinum on hand
Take it at the earliest sign of a cold or flu. Early intervention is essential. If you are exposed to someone with the flu directly, you can take one dose twice a day for two days. You can also take one vial once a week throughout the winter, and two or three times a week during flu season, as a preventative measure.
Frank Lipman MD, is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC a center whose emphasis is on preventive health care and patient education. His personal blend of Western and Eastern Medicine combined with the many other complimentary modalities he has studied, has helped thousands of people recover their energy and zest for life. He is the author of the recent SPENT: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again (2009) and Total Renewal; 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003).
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Last month, I published Part 1 of my Guide To Music On The Web, which covered music recommendation sites, Web radio, independent music sites, playlists, and music visualizations. Today, in Part II we’ll take a tour of music search engines, Web players, ways to share music on Twitter, and music mixing apps.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your comments and insights on my previous post and of course, took them under consideration while creating this second part. Please bear in mind that I can’t list ALL the music applications out there. I really tried to find the best and the most used applications that will probably still be here to serve you tomorrow too.
So readers’ main concern was the companies’ business model. You are right. A few of the services might make an exit, and most of them are probably not going to have one, and some are just for fun. I think music services can make money by being innovative enough to get it. Anyway, I don’t want to get into the business model stuff too much, but I will tell you this: The Internet is too competitive, you may be succeed by just being simple, but you may also need to be sophisticated. The era where creating an application first, then two years later thinking how to make money from it, is bygone now, and companies will need to think how to make money sooner than later if they aim for it – This is where innovation comes in and usually wins.
Music Search Engine:
Back in 2007, SkreemR was truly my favorite MP3 search engine. SkreemR locates MP3 files on blogs and webpages, then indexes them on its site, allowing anyone to listen to their favorite music right on the spot. There is no registration required, all you need to do is to search for your desired song/artist, and browse the results. See something that you like? You can play it, rate it, buy it on Amazon, get the song lyrics, watch the video, find related photos on flickr, find concert tickets, download as a ringtone, and finally – yes – you can also share and tweet about it. Unfortunately, now SkreemR has jumping ads all over the site. I understand the need to make money, but did they have to choose the most annoying way to achieve that goal?
I remember the hype around Songza when it first launched… it is a slick Ajax-designed service, which makes it easy to stream music on the web. Well, it still does. Songza became popular for its great usability and the fact that you can easily create playlists, and share music with your friends. At first Songza aggregated music from Seeqpod, then switched to YouTube videos and imeem (where imeem = 30 seconds of a song, and Youtube = full video, low quality). Somewhere around October 2008, the service was acquired by Amie Street for its marketing potential.
Another acquired service is FoxyTunes, this time by Yahoo! in February 2008. FoxyTunes Firefox toolbar extension (launched in 2004) enables control of your favorite music player from the Firefox browser. It supports almost any media player and lets you also find lyrics, covers, videos, bios and much more – all from the comfort of your browser. Today, it has more than 50,000 weekly downloads, and a cumulative total of nearly 11,000,000 downloads! FoxyTunes also released an additional add-on called TwittyTunes, which allows you to post your currently playing songs to Twitter with a click. On their behalf I have to say, they where the first to offer that. Their search engine: FoxyTunes Planet, is a mashup Netvibes-like page, that gathers music information from Rhapsody, Yahoo!, Flickr, Last.fm, Youtube, Pandora, Amazon, and more.
I sure noticed the difference when I tried Mufin. Looks like they put an emphasis on the site’s usability and design. The interface is so clean and easy to use. Like other services, Mufin will search for your favorite music and will play it on the spot, via Youtube (what else?) It also lets you create playlists in a snap. But what makes it unique is its visualization tool (vision) that lets you discover more music, based on similar artists. Mufin also provides a player which can be downloaded to your desktop for free. The player will help you organize your music, create playlists, find similar music, share tracks with friends on Last.fm, Twitter or Facebook, and so much more.
Fizy’s search engine has no special feature really, it’s just built really well. The service has a simple look & feel, which allows you to listen to music that streams from Youtube, and create playlists if you are logged in. You can connect your Twitter, Friendfeed or Facebook accounts, and share with your friends’ music in realtime. There’s not much to say other than that.
Qloud has quite an impressive history since they launched way back in 2006; At first, it was just a plug-in allowing you to organize your own library better, so you would be able to find the right song at the right time. Then Qloud released ‘My-Music’: A music app for social networks (Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, Myspace, etc), which led them to 1M Facebook users! And finally today, it’s all of the above, plus a real-time music search engine, and a pretty good one. You can search and find music that you like, save and organize your favorites, share music with friends, or find new friends based on shared music taste. You can also import your iTunes or Windows Media Player library, and play your playlist directly from your browser. There’s a rumor that Qloud was acquired by Buzznet last year, but I couldn’t find any formal confirmation about this at either site (Qloud or Buznet).
And finally MySpace Music: A massive hub of free music on the web. MySpace Music gathers all of its music accounts into one searchable page by genre. You can see the entire discography of your favorite artists from anywhere on the globe: view the artists’ music pages, listen to their music, track local concerts and much more. You can also search entire collections of free-to-watch video uploaded by artists or users. Read reviews by users, blog posts by both users and artists, and basically dive into an endless amount of content. Addictive.
From your Desktop to the Web, Moof allows you to have a full back up of your own music. Export an xml file of your iTunes library, and listen to your favorite music from any computer. If you don’t want to do that, you can still browse through the Moof music library and play any song you like on-demand from the Web. Moof looks and behaves like a desktop player, with the additional ability to share and see music from friends. If your friends are on Moof, you can browse their entire collection of music, and add favorites to your own personal library. Overall, it’s a great way to find new music. Note that Moof has the coolest registration form ever
Spool.fm is so awesome, but fails to explain the service to its users. What you see when you enter the site is a Web Music Player that lets you find the music you want, then play it right away. What you don’t see is the powerful feature that allows you to see what your friends are listening to in real-time! How it works: Just sign up for the service, invite your friends to join in, and each time you play music on the site, your friends will be able to see what you’re listening to as you listen to it, and vice versa. The music streams from all kinds of free sources—not Youtube.
Like most of the Web Players, Grooveshark allows users to find any song in the world and listen to it instantly. But there are several things that makes it different than the rest; first off, the application’s UI is stunning, and the experience using this site is absolutely a joy. Other than that, there’s so much that you can do: search, find, organize, favorite and add music that you like. Also interact with people in the community, and discover new music from others’ choices. With a team of 40 people they must have a business model (or a lot of VC cash). Grooveshark has a paid VIP version with some exclusive features, and a special interface for VIP users ($3/month or $30/year)
Youtube probably has the largest music database in the Internet, but finding music can be very frustrating since it’s not well organized. I’ve already recommended Jogli as a service that gathers Youtube music into albums in the first part of this guide. JukeFly does the same but also lets you listen to the music as if it was on your desktop music player, only it’s on the Web. JukeFly prepares everything for you, so you don’t really need to create playlists, you just need to choose from a variety of content already made for you. Additionally, JukeFly can stream music from your desktop, but you’ll have to download their plug-in to be able to do so. The player has more features and functionality, which you may or may not need, so don’t be surprised if eventually you find yourself using it as your new music center on the Web. JukeFly is working on a newer version, which will include an iPhone app, concert information, chat, fan-clubs, and Internet radio.
MixTape.me searches an entire database of songs in addition to the millions of songs indexed by MP3 search engine SkreemR to bring you the best results possible. If you sign up for the service you will be able to save your favorite songs, create playlists by simply dragging & dropping tracks into a box, and share playlists with anyone. Users can upload custom album art to any playlist, then embed the playlist at their blog/site. All from a sexy web interface.
How disappointing is it to find out that Lala works only in the U.S when everyone keeps telling me how great this service is… Anyway, I can give you a brief overview of the service from the information I picked up on the site. Windows users can move their entire music collection from the desktop to Lala on the web. Most of your music will be matched to Lala’s catalog and will be available online in minutes; The rest and unmatched music can be uploaded to Lala. If your personal music collection is not enough, you can play over 7 million songs once for free. If you’d like to add songs to your collection, it’ll cost 10 cents per song, and your first 25 songs are free.
JustHearIt plays music over a nicely done application with a great visual experience. The application was created by two students trying to change the stereotype that access to free music is an illegal activity while immersing the user in a unique visual experience. So what can you do at the site? You can listen to music you like, create online music collections & multiple playlists, and hopefully share favorite tracks with friends (it doesn’t say this anywhere, but I presume it does) – not much different from the rest of the services here, except for its nifty UI. BTW, even with their goal to show the world that music can be free and legal, they use Youtube like most services, so I’m not sure what’s unique about that.
Since Seeqpod.com’s service is mostly dead, every service that used them switched to Youtube instead. The pros: Its video ability. The cons: The music quality (but hey, at least we have free music). Same applies to Streamzy, an Ajax-based media player that lives on the web and allows users to create quick playlists from their favorite music. Streamzy says it merely provides search results for media being hosted elsewhere on the Internet – Well, I can’t argue with that. Anyhow, sign in if you want to save playlist, or use it as an alternative music player occasionally.
Post Music on Twitter:
Blip.fm is by far my favorite Twitter music service. It is also the first service that allowed people to send music to twitter in a very easy way, which is what made it what it is today. What makes it so great is that you can use it with or without a Twitter account. Some use it via the Twitter connection, other use it as their main music playlist and enjoy the community within the site only. Anyhow, you can discover new music, and new friends based on your collections. Once you sign up to the site, you can set Twitter to send notifications each time you suggest a new song to friends. It looks like Twitter, it behaves like Twitter, but angled around music only.
Grooveshark’s project Twisten.fm, came out a bit later than Blip.fm and offers pretty much the same service. Sign-up with your Twitter credentials, and share music with your friends on Twitter. The site streams music from Grooveshark, allowing you to enjoy the quality of music played there (blip.fm streams music mostly from Youtube). Overall, it’s a cool place to save your music into playlists, and share directly with your Twitter friends. I wish that both Blip.fm & Twisten.fm would allow people to buy mixed CDs created from their playlist, instead of having to buy each song separately.
Funnel is the new kid on the block, basically the same as Blip.fm and Twisten.fm except with a killer tool—a nifty Bookmarklet! While you play songs on Youtube or Myspace, you can immediately add them to your playlist in Funnel. Another unparalleled feature is the ability to integrate your Twitter account or Tweet only the songs that you want. This way, you don’t feel bad about inundating your Twitter stream with too many of those annoying music updates. Also, you can easily comment on songs that you like.
If you wish to share MP3 links with your Twitter friends, you can do it with the help of Song.ly. Enter an MP3 link, and Song.ly will generate a small player for easy listening over the web. I have to admit that the whole process is somewhat an unnecessary hassle. After all, who’s uploading songs these days when everything is searchable on the web already? On the other hand, you can enjoy a list of songs that’s already been uploaded by others, and are of very good quality, of course. I’d summarize it as a user generated MP3 search engine.
Another successful service, is Twt.fm which finds music that you like and posts it to Twitter in a cool way. All you need to do is to log in via Twitter, type in an artist/track and click preview. Twt.fm then generates a track page using your Twitter page design. Post it on Twitter and your friends will be able to leave you comments on the same page – Example.
Mix & Share:
Not a pure mix service but it still falls into this category, 8tracks allows you to create a Mix (playlist) with your favorite songs. It’s actually very similar to a service that already shut down, Mixwit—so if you missed it, you might as well try 8tracks. Once you sign up to the service you can start searching for music, or uploading it from your computer to build your Mix. You can publish a Mix of no more than 8 tracks and only two of these can be from the same artist. Visitors at the site can listen to Mixes without signing into the service—but for creation and music uploads, you’ll have to become a member.
A fun service to close the list with, Jamglue brings music and fans together. Any artist can sign up for a free Jamglue account and upload music in multi-track format for others to remix. There are several Creative Commons licenses to choose from. These licenses allow others to share and remix work, as long as they follow the artist’s restrictions. Fans can remix other folks’ stuff, and share the results.
To summarize this whole guide, I have to admit that I’m somewhat concerned: Let’s say Youtube closes its doors tomorrow or decides to stop streaming music—there goes about 80% of what I’ve listed. Which brings me to my next point, the future of music on the Web doesn’t looks so bright right now. Not if every service depends on Youtube so heavily as its music source. For once, I wouldn’t mind paying a yearly fee if it meant listening to an unlimited source of any music that I like with good streaming & with awesome quality. And, I don’t even need to download the songs to my computer, all I really want is a place where I can play my favorite music based on monthly/year fee. Is it too much to ask? Oh wait, this is exactly what Rhapsody offers; Unfortunately, only in the U.S. . . .
For now, I suggest you try the services above and enjoy them as long as they last. For some reason, music services don’t stay around very long but I guess that’s the way they roll.
Since I can’t list them all, please feel free to add services that I’ve missed in your comments and make them handy for everyone.
Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Fitness gadget Fitbit was a hit at last year’s TechCrunch50, where it created a ton of buzz and was a runner-up for the top prize. Of course, we all know that it takes hardware companies longer to launch than software startups and since last September, Fitbit has been working tirelessly to refine the product, establish distributions channels and tweak its online platform. Now we won’t have to wait any longer, since Fitbit will officially open up to the public on Tuesday. The site you see currently is the beta version and will feature a redesign as well on Tuesday.
So what does Fitbit do? The sleek little device clips onto your clothing and tracks your movement, sleep and calorie burn throughout the day and night. Fitbit, which costs $99, uses the information it gathers about your movement to help you determine how much exercise you’ve been getting and how many calories you’ve burnt. It can also tell you how many steps you have taken and how well you’ve slept, all based on its internal motion detector. By clicking a little button on the device, you’ll see a small blue LED screen that will alternate between the steps you’ve taken, the calories you’ve burned, your distance, and gives you a gauge of how high your activity level is. This is shown via a small flower that will grow as you exercise more (though I’m told that you will be able to switch your icon).
Here’s the really innovative part—the device is wireless so all data gets automatically synchronized to your computer and then the web through a wireless base station, so you don’t even have to plug it in. If you are within 10 feet of the device (it plugs into your computer via a USB cord), the station will sync with your device. In order for the wireless functionality to work you need to install a syncing software that runs on both Macs and PCs. Once synced, you can view your health dashboard online.
The dashboard is fairly simple and organized. You input your age, height, weight, and gender and are given basic info of how many steps you’ve made in a day and a breakdown of how active you are within the day, showing the highs and lows of your activity. The site will even break down particular activities and measure the intensity of workout. In terms of caloric burn and intake, Fitbit will calculate how many calories you burn in a given day, and if you log in your nutritional info, will also compare that to how much your intake was, making it ideal for anyone who wants to lose weight. And Fitbit has made it easy to input any type of food by already integrating the nutritional value of most types of food, cuisine and even restaurant chain foods, which cuts out a large amount of work for you.
One of the features that I find particularly compelling is the ability to monitor your sleep pattern. If you wear the device while sleeping, it will give you a snapshot of your “sleep health.” As you fall in and out of sleep, the Fitbit tracks the movements that your body makes and can tell you how long it took you to fall asleep, how many times you woke up throughout the night and the actual time you were asleep vs the time you were in bed. You will be able to see all of this detailed information on your dashboard. And to make sure that the device is comfortable for people to wear during the night, you can slide Fitbit onto a wristband that is provided.
Fitbit’s co-founder and CEO, James Park, told me that when it comes to running and walking, Fitbit is 99 percent accurate in its reporting of steps and 90 percent accurate for caloric burn. But Fitbit isn’t as accurate for other types of activities, like weight-lifting and biking. To mitigate this problem, the online dashboard lets you input exercise types and times manually and Fitbit will calculate how many calories you burned based on health information it has collected.
On Tuesday, the site will be open to the public and all of those individuals who pre-ordered the device over the past year will finally receive their Fitbit. While the site will be the only place you can order the Fitbit, Park says that in Q4 you’ll be able to buy the Fitbit online and in retail stores but declined to name which stores he’s partnered with. Fitbit raised a cool $2 million last October and Park says they are looking to raise more to up manufacturing and distribution channels.
Fitbit will also become more social, letting users form groups where they can compare their fitness goals and activities. The site will also take a page out of Mint.com’s book by letting you compare your activity and fitness with other anonymous people who have similar weight, height, and gender. While using the personalized dashboard is free, Fitbit will soon be rolling out premium paid features such as customized fitness coaching and guidance.
So what’s the competition? There are similar products on the market that offer the same functionality as Fitbit, such as the Philips Activity Monitor or the BodyBugg or Nike/iPod gear (which doesn’t measure sleep patterns). But the beauty of fitbit is in it’s pricing and in its sleek structure. It fits in any pocket and is so small and unobtrusive that it could be hooked into a bra. Both the Philips and BodyBugg products are bulky, making it difficult to wear 24-hours per day. The advantage of the BodyBugg is that it measures calories burn by heat, which is a more efficient and accurate way of measuring calorie burn. Fitbit counts calories via motion, but that’s also why it’s easy to wear.
I wasn’t at TechCrunch50 last year but after seeing a demo, I’m already excited about this product after being frustrated with the limitations of pedometers that I’ve used. The ability to wirelessly connect to the online dashboard takes a lot of the work out of actually making sense of the data. And being able to understand your optimal balance of diet, workouts and sleep is valuable. It seems that Fitbit was worth the wait.
Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.