A pharmacist's look at the supermarket and beyond

Month: November 2015

Nuke News

Some bits of nuclear news caught my eye. First off, I read about California’s last operational nuclear power plant in California’s Diablo Canyon. This old power plant uses a “once-through” water cooling system that sucks about 2.5 billion gallons of Pacific ocean water from the sea and returns most of that much warmer than it started. As if we don’t have enough carbon dioxide warming already!! Then I read a little further and discovered that the plant is a mere 650 yards from one of California’s known fault lines. Despite all this the owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Company is seeking to extend its permit another twenty year to 2045. With alternative energy sources like wind and solar gaining ground, most experts agree that the nuclear plant is really not needed. Why is PG&E trying for an extension? Silly question with the obvious answer: Money!

Meanwhile a closed radioactive waste dump north of Las Vegas had an explosion large enough to blow 55 gallon drums out of the ground and over the fence! The cause was reported as rainwater leaking past the “waterproof tarp” came into contact with elemental sodium that was buried in oil filled drums. Most of the drums here were buried forty years ago and despite some precautions, there has obviously been some degradation of safeguards. This particular dump was closed in 1992, although there is another 40 acre dump site adjacent to it that is still operated by US Ecology, Inc., the original operators of the one that is now blowing up. No escaped radiation was reported to be detected by first responders or subsequent investigators. I still don’t feel comfortable with these waste dumps if stuff can explode in a way that blasts 55 gallon drums up and over a fence!

But take heart! I’m currently reading the book Spark (The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain) by John J. Ratey, M.D. in which he discusses a a US Dept. of Energy study back in the 80’s that looked at the health effects of sustained low-level radiation exposure. Ther study compared two groups of shipyard workers with similar jobs, with one group exposed to very low levels of radiation. The 60, 000 workers were tracked for 8 years. About 28,000 workers made up the radiation exposure group. The study found that the radiated group actually had a 24% LOWER mortality rate than in those unexposed. It is suggested that the low level stress of exposure to radiation, which at high levels can be deadly, made body cells stronger in some way. A good example of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

Here are good places to learn more about nuclear power and radiation:
10 Things to Know about Power Plant Water Use, 10 Reasons to Care from the Grace Communications Foundation
The Union of Concerned Scientists has a nice PDF on Nuclear Power and Water
The American Nuclear Society has a nifty DOSE CHART to calculate your exposure from environmental sources. Includes outer space!
Here is PG&E’s position on the Diablo Canyon power plant.
The Wall Street Journal had a look at US nuclear waste dumps.

Oral Giants

A supermarket in any market usually offers a bonanza of products across hundreds of categories. Oral care is no exception. There are yards and yards of toothpaste in a typical supermarket. Although offering far too many choices for the typical consumer to consider and decide to purchase, brand loyalty plays an important role in market share. With over 250 million tubes of toothpaste sold each year, the battle for market share is furious. Three giants are dominating this aisle. They are Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble, and GlaxoSmithKline.

If you look at the top ten toothpaste brands in terms of dollar sales you will find that three companies are responsible for all top brands. Colgate Total is number one with over $170 million in sales for 2014. Colgate Total is joined in the top ten by sister brands Optic White, 3D White, Max Fresh, and plain old Colgate toothpaste takes sixth place with about $109 million in sales. I was expecting to see Proctor and Gamble’s Crest right up there but Crest 3D White tops the P&G stable at fifth place with over $125 million in sales. Plain old Crest was just slightly behind plain old Colgate. Two other Crest brands, Whitening Plus Scope and Pro-Health take the 9 and 10 spots.

In the battle for market share, P&G is promoting Crest to the Hispanic market with ads featuring Gina Rodriguez, Golden Globe winning actress of CW TV’s Jane the Virgin. With over 55 million Hispanics in the U.S. and an average age of 29, this could be a smart move. We’ll see what next year’s numbers look like.

The surprise for me was that the second and third spots were Sensodyne and Sensodyne ProNamel! Kudos to GlaxoSmithKline to elbowing their way into the exclusive toothpaste club. Who knew so many people have sensitive teeth? GSK, apparently. GSK purchased Block Drug in 2000. Pharmacist Alexander Block of New York City started the company in 1907 and it was Block Drug that first marketed Sensodyne in 1961. That formulation relied on strontium chloride for its desensitizing action. In 1980 a new, additional formula using potassium nitrate was launched. Click to this previous blog for more on potassium nitrate. GSK, which also owns Biotene, by the way, introduced the ProNamel formulation to the US market in 2006. It boasts 5% potassium nitrate.

In 2010 GSK added to their oral armory by acquiring NovaMin technologies, a company that developed and patented a bioactive glass based on calcium sodium phosphosilcate. This product is purported to form a crystal calcium phosphate layer when used in toothpaste. So far, though, toothpastes with NovaMin are only available outside the U.S. Pretty cool tech if it lives up to the possibilities. Having grown up in Maine and spending time in the woods, I picked up the woodman’s lore of using ferns as scrubbers. The high silica content was said to provide good abrasive action and could be used by the handful to clean pots and pans and a few fronds made a decent toothbrush.

Of Bugs and Butts

I had a colonoscopy last week and it was a learning experience. Most guys will get a colonoscopy birthday card on their 50th and I was no exception. That first time I had an Rx for OsmoPrep to use for my preparatory clean out. That was no fun. It entailed swallowing handfuls of giant tablets followed by mass quantities of water. The purging was quite harsh and uncomfortable and left me quite washed out. I was cleaned out though and the procedure went smoothly. They do give you good drugs for the procedure. You go away for a while and then you wake up when it’s all over. That is the easy part.
Almost everybody complains about the prep. There are a variety of Rx products on the market, from big jugs of generic powders to fancy kits that your insurance may not cover or may have a high co-pay. Most of these are not that great tasting. And the unpleasant part is that you are going to make many trips to the toilet to void your rapidly refilling colon. To the point that my doc recommended using vaseline or such to ease the strain on my anus.
I was lucky that my doc likes to have patients use a small bottle of Miralax and a gallon of Gatorade. Step one in this regimen is to take 4 Dulcolax (or bisacodyl) to make sure things keep moving. I took those tablets at about 3PM, started the the first half-gallon of the liquid at 5PM and was pooping like a trooper in no time! The second half-gallon was started at 3AM. Remember, you’re drinking about 8 ounces every 15 minutes each time. You cannot use a Gatorade with any red color to it, which rules out red, orange and purple, but you may use low calorie G2 and I found (ahead of time) that the lemon-lime flavor was agreeable to me. That choice, and mixing ahead of time and allowing to chill, made drinking two half-gallons of the stuff after adding 257 grams of Miralax a little more palatable. Maybe in comparison to my previous experience it just seemed easier but I think this method is far better than any of the Rx products. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and my doc said he had “good visualization,” so I guess I cleaned out any shit that might have blocked his inspection. By the time I got through with the 3AM to 4AM G2 binge I was essentially passing the G2 right on through to the other side.
I also have to give a shout out to the nurse that reminded my that since I still have my appendix I would repopulate my normal intestinal microbiome with the usual cast of characters. That little cul-de-sac proves its worth! If you have had an appendectomy, then a good probiotic might help get the good guys back a little quicker too.
My results were all clear and healthy so now I can probably wait at least 7 years before a repeat performance is necessary.