Everything you want to know about your largest organ

05/27/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

You do know that the skin is the body’s largest organ, right? (It’s one of those trick questions you get in middle school.) But did you know that it makes up about 16 percent of your weight? Or that it creates an acidic barrier to kill bacteria? Read on, in dermatologist Robert Norman’s new book, “The Blue Man and Other Stories of the Skin.”

Norman writes well about how our skin defines and protects us, and he uses case studies to explain conditions such as albinism, extra nipples, neurodermatitis and skin hypochondriasis (in which delusional patients feel imaginary bugs or pick at healthy skin).

And there’s a charming allegorical poem preceding the chapter about the patient in the title, whose large blue-gray spots turned out to be caused by a rare response to one of his medications. It’s Shel Silverstein’s “Masks”:

She had blue skin, / And so did he. / He kept it hid / And so did she. / They searched for blue / Their whole life through, / Then passed right by – / And never knew.

Dangerous drug combinations

Educated patients know they should watch out for harmful drug interactions when they are prescribed new medications. But surprisingly, some fairly common foods can pose hazards when paired with certain drugs, Cindy Kuzma writes in an article posted on Menshealth.com.

Kuzma’s beware list, based on interviews with pharmacists, warns people to watch out for limes, for example, if they’re taking certain cough medicines. Limes, as well as some less common citrus fruits, may block an enzyme that breaks down the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. That causes the medication to build up in a person’s bloodstream, increasing the risk for side effects, including sleepiness and hallucinations.

And cassia cinnamon – the most common, inexpensive cinnamon sold in the United States – contains high levels of a compound that can thin blood. So it can be dangerous for people with heart problems who take the blood thinner warfarin; an alternative spice is the more expensive (but arguably tastier) Ceylon cinnamon, sold in gourmet stores.

Other bad combinations, Kuzma writes, include allergy medications with apple juice; chocolate with Ritalin; dairy products with antibiotics; and certain antidepressants with smoked meats, red wine and aged cheeses.

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