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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Medicine

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What people living with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) need to know

Black-and-white ketch of an eye with long lashes; tiny blue pills on the iris and a drug molecule on the pupil are the only source of color.
Black-and-white ketch of an eye with long lashes; tiny blue pills on the iris and a drug molecule on the pupil are the only source of color.
Illustration by Christi Williams for Elemental

“I couldn’t open or close my eyes without pain. It was like salt or shards of glass… all I could do was go to bed,” said 71-year-old Beth, who was diagnosed with age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) in both eyes last year.

Beth is one of 11 million Americans — a number expected to double by 2050 — suffering from this leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. …


How pharma weaseled its way into the bedroom and left us wanting

Animation: Julia Moburg/Medium; Source: Getty Images

Female sexual desire has always been suspended on a tricky societal tightrope. In the past, it was something to be repressed and undiscussed. Violate these norms — or just appear to — and the consequences were grim. Today, for many women, the pendulum has swung in the other direction: Wanting and having a lot of sex is frequently portrayed as an integral part of leading a healthy, balanced, modern life.

Despite these complex expectations, female sexuality remains under-researched and little-understood. This extends to common sexual issues, including a drop-off or complete disappearance of sexual desire, which most women experience at…


‘Illness and disability are not ways to measure the value of a human life’

Close-up of a reflected pill on a reflective surface. Colorful lights background.
Close-up of a reflected pill on a reflective surface. Colorful lights background.
Photo: Aitor Diago/Getty Images

There is a common, problematic way that many of us conceive of “health.” Too often we equate the absence of illness with morality. This leads down many troublesome paths both on a personal and a policy level. It seems we need to be reminded periodically that health is not a moral virtue.

Diet and lifestyle are probably the most commonly moralized aspects of health. How many times have you heard disparaging comments about “lazy” people who “pop pills”? Or the notion that medication is an easy substitute for the hard work of eating “clean” and exercising?

As a family physician…


The next frontier of medicine is based in mRNA

Illustration by Virginia Gabrielli for Elemental

I can depend on my body. My muscles contract when I want them to — to carry me up mountains and down ski slopes, to pull my kayak paddle through the water, and move my hands across piano keys. When I drink my favorite red wine, my liver metabolizes the alcohol, and my digestive system handles all the carbonara I throw at it and then asks for more. My brain secretes adrenaline that protects me in dangerous situations and serotonin that reminds me how good it is to be alive.

My muscles, metabolism, and mind do all the things I…


Outcomes are improving, but many people don’t get the therapies they need

Image: sirawit99/Getty Images

Scientists and doctors have made significant progress in treating Covid-19. But the available therapies are few, the evidence for each is at least somewhat mixed, and they all have considerable limitations. Meanwhile, many Americans at the greatest risk for the worst outcomes don’t have access to key therapies that only work early on to help prevent severe symptoms and hospitalization.

“We are much better off than we were last spring,” says Manish Sagar, MD, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of medicine and microbiology at Boston University School of Medicine. “We have a number of…


Observations from an integrative medicine physician

Photo: Volodymyr Zakharov/Getty Images

“Sex was painful,” she said. Three years post-menopause, my patient had no other bothersome symptoms. No hot flashes, no night sweats, no moodiness, nor many of the other complaints menopausal women sometimes have. “But I don’t want to take hormones, because my mom had breast cancer.”

As an integrative medicine physician who focuses on women’s health, I have versions of this conversation often.

Estrogen and progesterone, the predominant female hormones, decline dramatically during menopause. Testosterone production, which keeps muscles strong and libido intact, also drops, but assuming a woman still has her ovaries, this happens much more slowly. Lower levels…


Weight stigma in health care can impact the care people get for Covid-19

Illustration by Anson Chan for Elemental

On October 24, Amanda Martinez Beck of Longview, Texas, told her husband: “You need to take me to the ER.” Their whole family had tested positive for Covid-19 a week earlier — Beck’s husband, Zachary, is an English professor and their best guess is that he brought the virus home from campus, or that Beck picked it up at the community pool where she sometimes swims. Within a few days, Zachary and their four children were all on the mend. But despite prescription albuterol, steroids, and antibiotics, Beck was still coughing and sleeping in a recliner at night because staying…


‘What would have happened if my parents did not have an oncologist-in-training as their daughter? What happens to the Black patients?’

Photo: Stígur Már Karlsson,Heimsmyndir/Getty Images

Part one: It’s everywhere

My first prostate cancer patient was my father. He is the man who taught me to be frugal. He is parsimonious until he gets to talking, and then all you want to do is listen. His laugh is boisterous and genuine. It is pure magic when it rises from someone who otherwise seems so stern. He worked two jobs when I was very little, one as a United States Postal Service mail carrier and the other delivering papers for a now-defunct newspaper in Denver. His father left his mother and eight siblings when he was young when they lived in…


A physician shares her pandemic story

Photo: Joe Cicak/Getty Images

Doctors didn’t know what we were doing those first few weeks of the pandemic. I’d argue that we still don’t really know what we’re doing, but at least now we have a bit of experience. Physicians like me have our years of training and our fount of clinical knowledge, but this virus caught us completely off guard. In the beginning of the pandemic nothing seemed to be certain except that it was unlike anything that we’d ever seen, and that it was deadly. Each day brought a slew of new casualties and case reports. We quickly learned how much of…


The fizzing may be fun, but it’s not helping you heal

Photo: Jupiterimages/Getty Images

When I was a child, hydrogen peroxide was a staple of our family’s first aid kit. The dark brown bottle contained clear liquid that stung and bubbled when applied to cuts or scrapes. “Don’t worry,” I was told when I complained about the sting. “It kills bacteria, so your wound won’t get infected.”

This statement is technically correct. Hydrogen peroxide does kill bacteria. But current research suggests you should stop putting it on cuts, scrapes, and wounds — and take it out of your first aid kit altogether.

How hydrogen peroxide works

To understand hydrogen peroxide’s mechanism, let’s start with what it is. The…

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