Mar 21, 2017

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Relying on char cloth to keep you warm must have been as much fun as hoping a brown paper bag with eye holes could deflect pucks as well as a goalie mask. Char cloth is when you take a piece of plain cotton and heat it on a fire in a metal container. The cloth turns black, but doesn't burn as the metal container keeps most of the oxygen out. Char cloth is great for starting fires. If you take some flint and steel and create a spark, you can catch the spark in the char cloth. The char cloth burns easily and you can use it to start your fire. It's fun to try when it is warm, dry and not windy outside. I can't imagine relying on char cloth to start a fire in the rain and wind. Did I tell you about when we cooked our lunch with mixed gas? If either of my kids are listening, no that wasn't a safe choice.

"What is my beta-blocker for?" is a harder question for a pharmacist to answer than starting a fire in the rain with flint, steel and char cloth. They have many, many different uses. Let's start with how important adrenaline is in your body. Pretend you lived 10,000 years ago. Back then, flint, steel and char cloth would have been high tech. You raise your atlatl as you approach a small deer. Your spear thrower hits its mark on the ancient savannah. Suddenly, instead of getting Neolithic take-out to drag back to the family, there is a problem. A sabre-toothed tiger decides he is going to eat your deer and probably you for dessert. What do you do? Fight or flee?

This is what adrenaline what made for. That fight or flight reaction when presented with a sabre-toothed tiger. Adrenaline starts pumping and your heart beats faster, your blood pressure goes up, your lungs open up and blood goes to your muscles instead of your stomach. These are the perfect reactions for your body to have when fighting or running from the sabre-toothed tiger. However in our modern world, there aren't too many sabre-toothed tigers to run from. An overactive adrenaline system can actually harm the body over time.

We do have medications that can block the effects of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline is made in the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. Beta-blockers stop adrenaline from reaching its receptors all over the body. As a pharmacist the thing I find the most fascinating about beta-blockers is that blocking these adrenaline receptors can be used to treat so many different conditions.

High blood pressure. Beta-blockers have been a popular and effective blood pressure pill for years. They do slow do the heart, but they probably decrease blood pressure by affecting the renin system.

Irregular heart beat. Because beta-blockers stop the adrenaline from reaching their receptors on the heart, they slow down the heart rate. This slowing of the heart rate also decreases the irregular heart beats.

Heart failure. When the heart is failing, the body produces a lot of adrenaline to deal with this stressful event. However the stimulation of the heart muscle by the adrenaline actually further weakens the heart muscle. When adrenaline is blocked, it leads to less stress on the heart muscle. The beta-blockade also may decrease the inflammatory mediators that the damaged heart releases and might affect cardiac remodeling.

Heart attack. After a heart attack, the heart muscle is damaged. Beta-blockers act like a governor on a golf cart engine. They don't let the heart beat too fast. This means the heart muscle needs less oxygen. This allows the heart muscle to recover better.

Migraine. Beta-blockers aren't helpful if you have a migraine right now, but they might prevent you from having your next one. They are a standard treatment for preventing migraines, but we aren't really certain how they work. We think they might affect adrenaline in the brain, but they also might affect other brain chemicals like serotonin.

Cheating at the Olympics and playing Carnegie Hall. Beta-blockers are banned in shooting sports. Because beta-blockade stops the effects of adrenaline, they stop the shaking of your hands if you are nervous during your Olympic archery or pistol competition. This is considered an unfair advantage, so they are banned. They don't drug test classical musicians, so some take beta-blockers to help with stage fright before big performances.

PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is what soldiers can get after seeing horrible things in war or paramedics can get after seeing horrible things on the job. Here we are going into the more nebulous or experimental uses of beta-blockers. There are standard treatments for PTSD and they often involve antidepressants. Some researchers think beta-blockers might help to prevent PTSD. The idea is if you give beta-blockers to a soldier right after the horrible event, this will block the effect of adrenaline in the body. One of the effects of adrenaline is to make memories stick. Researchers think that blocking adrenaline might prevent normal memories from becoming PTSD memories.

It had been raining for about 24 hours. Pat and I and the fishing guide were about half way back to the lodge. The only reason we weren't hypothermic is really good rain gear and heavy sweaters. We pulled in to a river bank. The guide filleted the fish while Pat and I started the fire to cook lunch. Or we tried. Every pine cone, piece of birch bark, dead branch on a pine tree and twig on the ground was soaked. I have a really good lighter that is more like a butane torch. I tried to dry out some pine cones with the torch and then burn them, no luck. Eventually our guide poured mixed gas over our half drowned kindling and we started the fire that way. So we got a cooked lunch and got to warm up. But if we had to rely on flint, steel and char cloth, there would have been no chance of a fire. I think I'll just be grateful that 99% of the time I live in a house with a furnace and electric lights, and that playing with char cloth is just a hobby.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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Atalatl video -

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