Can Camels In The Middle East Make You Sick Here?

220px-CamelRacingCamelCup2009HeatThe CDC and local health departments have begun advising physicians to be on the lookout for cases of an unusual respiratory illness known as MERS.  Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome was first recognized two years ago, and to date has been thought responsible for about 300 deaths.  Initially confined to the Middle East, some cases are beginning to show up worldwide as infected travelers return home.  Is this an illness that has been with us for thousands of years and is only now being recognized, or has something basic changed in the causative virus or the way we humans interact with nature?  Modern technology is helping researchers to begin to understand what is going on – with many questions yet to be answered.  What we do know so far is that the cause of MERS appears to be a virus from the “coronovirus” family of viruses – the same family of viruses that cause the common cold.  There is no available vaccine or specific treatment recommended for the virus.

According to a recent CDC update all reported cases have originated in the Arabian Peninsula: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, UAE, Qatr, Kuwait, Jordan.  Initially most of the recognized cases were in severely ill people requiring intensive care and presenting with fever, cough, and shortness of breath.  However, just like influenza and many other viruses, there are likely many much milder cases – perhaps just a case of the “sniffles” that affect most people.  However, once hospitalized, ill people can spread the virus to health care workers who need to practice meticulous hygiene, including wearing special respirator masks.  This is reminiscent of an earlier outbreak of “SARS,” Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome a different coronovirus imported from China to Canadian health care workers a number of years ago that was eventually controlled by strictly isolating patients and the quarantine of over 5000 people in Toronto alone.

Officials do not know for sure where the MERS virus comes from or exactly how it spreads, but there is increasing evidence that camels may be an important reservoir of the virus.  As reported in “Science” magazine, a Dutch team has found that up to 1 in 50 camels in that part of the world carry the virus.  In one study 9 percent of those who care for the camels show evidence of having had the virus at some point in the past.  The emergence of camel racing as a multi-million dollar sport where camels from over the world are boarded together and age-old customs such as sharing camel milk with guests, and offering camel liver or concentrated virgin camel urine as a delicacy to guests may well play a role in the spread of this virus.

Hopefully the MERS virus outbreak will be contained as was the SARS outbreak in 2002.    Those visiting that part of the world should be cautious about drinking camel milk unless pasteurized or eating meat not properly cooked.  Those with depressed immune systems with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, or emphysema should be cautious about being in contact with camels.

At this point anyone who becomes ill with fever and respiratory symptoms after visiting the Arabian Peninsula, or who becomes ill after being around people recently returned from that part of the world, should seek medical care.  We have much more to learn about this virus whose recent emergence reminds us that ancient customs, when linked to our modern jet age, can create unique and global medical problems.  Fortunately, we also live in an age where we have the technology that so far has been able to to identify and control these outbreaks.

Dr. Oz Testifies Before Congress – Is Dr T. Next?

drozIf you didn’t see it Dr. Oz was called before Congress and chastised for his wild claims that weight loss could magically happen with “fat burning” supplements promoted on his television show.  Senator McCaskill took Oz to task for a 2012 show in which he proclaimed that green coffee bean extract was a “magic weight loss cure for every body type.”  But Oz did agree that there’s no long-term miracle pill out there without diet and exercise.

So for once the idea that people can lose weight when given the right nutritional advice and  the right tools is getting a look by the public.  So where does one go to get the tools he needs to lose weight, without gimmicks, wild supplement claims and scams and have some fun in the process?  Where a published nutritionist, doctor, psychotherapist, chef, yoga instructor, and health coach await.  Look no further than our own “Olney Integrated Weight Loss Solutions” which we launched in April.  Our first group of 25 people lost on average twenty pounds over ten weeks and continue to lose weight.  Our next group is forming to start on the week of September 15.


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  Program Participants

Author Nutritionist Rick Weissinger RD, MS, CPT

Psychotherapist Andrea Lopes LCSW-C

 Yoga Instructor & Personal Trainer Kathi Doan

Washingtonian Top Doctor Edward Taubman, M.D.

Local Chef Debbie Amster Recently Featured On Local TV

This Ten Week Program Meets Weekly From 7:00 to 8:30PM At The Olney Counseling Center at 3430 North High Street

Topics Covered Include

Re-Engineering Your Food Intake – What Should We Be Eating?

Emotional Eating – Identify Your Triggers And Develop Strategies To Manage Them

Get Moving And Relax – Yoga Techniques to Help You Win The Battle

Learn To Cook And Eat Healthy With Cooking Demos

  Participation Is Limited To approx 25 people.  You can get on the list to attend our next informational meeting on Monday evening September 8 and reserve your Spot for the next group by Filling Out Our Registration Form Below.  The present cost is $599 (patients of Dr Edward Taubman and Members of OlneyMyWellness receive a $100 discount).

Call 301-774-5400 for More Information

[si-contact-form form=’5′]


Are Diet Sodas and Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

artificialsweetnersMany consumers express concerns that aspartame, sucralose, and other artificial sweeteners may not be safe, in spite of their being rigorously researched and approved by scientists and governmental agencies the world over. Below, we will review two of the most commonly used types. We’ll omit saccharin now and in any future discussions, due to the fact that most consumers have replaced saccharin with other non-caloric sweeteners because of its bitter aftertaste.

Sucralose (Splenda): A number of studies with animals suggests both possible side effects and side-benefits for humans. These will not be discussed in detail here, given that they have not been shown to occur in humans as of yet. Briefly however, they involve the possibility of changes in gut hormones that increase satiety and cause insulin secretion, and changes in the number and type of bacteria found in the GI tract.

One possible exception to the lack of data in humans may be of relevance to cancer patients. Sucralose increases the activity of certain proteins that cause the reduced absorption of chemotherapeutic drugs. These proteins are involved in drug resistance, which can complicate cancer treatment. This is not yet thought to be clinically relevant, just a possibility.

Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet): As you would expect, all of the studies funded by the industry vouch for its safety, whereas 92% of independently funded studies report that aspartame may cause problems. One of these concerns is the breakdown of aspartame into methanol. This chemical is actually a natural breakdown product of many foods, and a glass of tomato juice provides about 6 times as much methanol as an equivalent amount of diet beverage sweetened with aspartame. Other concerns – including the possibility of cancers, headaches, allergic reactions, and seizures – have, after the publication of carefully designed and controlled studies, not been found to occur.

Those persons who swear that sugar substitutes cause them to experience noxious side effects should stay away from these. It’s well known in the field of mind-body medicine (‘psychobiology’) that, although actual biochemical toxicity may not exist, a reaction may still occur. If a person develops a negative reaction (caused perhaps by food poisoning or new onset of allergy) while having a meal in which a sugar substitute is used, that person will develop a mental association between that sweetener and the reaction. This makes it more likely that the same reaction may be caused by future exposure to that sweetener.

The bottom line is that the preponderance of evidence to date suggests that these substitutes are safe and we have no hesitation in recommending them to patients seeking help to lose weight.

by Ed Taubman M.D. and Rick Weissinger R.D. M.S.  Olney, Maryland  301-774-5400

Interested in losing weight?  Check out our multidisciplinary weight loss program by clicking here.  Our patients are losing an average of 3 pounds a week while eating normal foods and having fun in the process!


The following articles were used as material for this blog post. Readers who want to review these may request the full text versions by E-mail.

Marinovich M et al, Aspartame, low-calorie sweeteners and disease: Regulatory safety and epidemiological issues. Food and Chemical Toxicology 60 (2013) 109–115.

Schiffman SS, Rother KI. Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. Sep 2013; 16(7): 399–451.

Tandel KR. Sugar substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits. J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2011 Oct-Dec; 2(4): 236–243.

Diet Sodas and Weight Loss

dietsodasDiet soda is a favorite item among people looking to lose weight or keep weight off. We tend to think of it as a ‘freebie’, calorie-wise, something pleasurable we can enjoy without having to worry about weight gain. Research is conflicting on this topic. There has been increasing suspicion that diet drinks may come with a price, one that may have to be paid in weight gain.

Maybe part of the problem is that some dieters may tend to take advantage (consciously or subconsciously) of the calorie savings with diet drinks. It’s not uncommon to consume roughly the same number of calories with a low fat frozen desert as with regular ice cream, if a larger portion is eaten; similar to a smoker smoking more cigarettes when they are low nicotine.  Perhaps some dieters wind up eating more of other foods because they know they’ve saved calories by trading in their regular sodas for calorie free types.

Researchers at the University of Colorado – the same ones who created the National Weight Control Registry and have been involved in obesity research for decades – performed a controlled clinical trial with over 300 people, comparing the effects on weight of drinking diet soda compared with water. In this study, significantly more people in the diet soda group lost 5% of their body weight, compared with people drinking water.

While the results appear to make sense, readers should know that the American Beverage Association sponsored the study. And although a disclaimer states that the ABA had no hand in designing the study or interpreting its results, they clearly benefit from the results.

On the other hand there is some evidence that some people, because their brains are different, may experience an increase in appetite when eating sugar substitutes, while others don’t.  And of course, there’s always the possibility that you may ‘train your brain’ to need more sweet-tasting foods by using a lot of sugar substitutes.

So you’re probably wondering – will diet sodas help me in my quest to lose weight?  The best strategy for now is to try varying the amounts of these you use, and see if it has an effect on your appetite, hunger, and weight.  Next week:  Are diet sodas safe?

by Ed Taubman M.D. and Rick Weissinger R.D. M.S.  Olney, Maryland  301-774-5400

Interested in losing weight?  Check out our multidisciplinary weight loss program by clicking here.  Our patients are losing an average of 3 pounds a week while eating normal foods and having fun in the process!