Kidney stones, Ambien, pet jerky and more — a weird week for health news

There has been some weird and fascinating health news out there in the past few days, and I thought I'd pass it on quickly as you head into the weekend. Having just written a long story about chronic pain, I couldn't help but marvel at a small piece in the Boston Globe that asserted that Massachusetts state Treasurer Steve Grossman "was in the throes of passing a kidney stone" (emphasis mine) during a 90-minute debate for gubernatorial candidates. The information was attributed to a spokeswoman.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Joe Avellone, left, Don Berwick, center left, Martha Coakley, center, Steve Grossman, center right, and Juliette Kayyem, right, sit down for a candidate meet-and-greet held by the Berkshire Brigades at the ITAM lodge in Pittsfield, Mass., Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/The Berkshire Eagle, Stephanie Zollshan)
Mass. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman, second from right, is one tough dude. (AP Photo/The Berkshire Eagle, Stephanie Zollshan)

Color me skeptical. The pain of passing a kidney stone has been compared to childbirth, maybe worse. But I checked with a kidney doctor, who said Grossman's performance might have been possible, depending on where in his system the stone was at the time, and whether it was smooth or spiky, like a piece of coral.

If Grossman, 68, doesn't win the race for governor, the Patriots might want to use a late-round draft pick on him.

In my second-favorite newspaper, the New York Times' Well blog notes a British Medical Journal study that suggests that people who take anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and Xanax, and sleep aids such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta had double the risk of death of those who don't. It's not clear that the drugs are the cause, but here's the money quote from Scott Weich, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick who conducted the seven-year study:

The research “adds to an accumulating body of evidence that these drugs are dangerous.” He added: “I prescribe these drugs, and they are difficult to come off. The less time you spend on them the better.”

Then there is the story by my colleague Brady Dennis, which explores the seven-year mystery of pet jerky made in China that appears to be responsible for killing 600 dogs and sickening thousands more.  The FDA is stumped. Yes, this is a little off our topic of human health, but no creature should die this way.

Also: A study of preteens in Texas found that about one-third of them had borderline or high cholesterol when tested during routine physical exams, the Associated Press reports.

Have a good weekend. It's spring (even if you can't tell from the actual weather where you are). Get some exercise: at least 30 minutes, five days week for an adult.

Read more: Capital Weather Gang pronounces winter over.

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.
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Mike Plunkett · March 28