According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, Americans ages 65 to 69 take an average of 15 prescriptions per year; those ages 80 to 84 have 18 prescriptions. That’s in addition to the uncounted over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbal supplements and more that people may be taking, alone or in combination.

Health experts are urging patients, caregivers and doctors to be more cognizant of both these numbers and their consequences. Many supposed remedies are unnecessary or used incorrectly.

They can be dangerous, too, particularly when taken in combination. For example, taking aspirin regularly increases the risk of bleeding in patients on a prescribed anticoagulant like Coumadin.

One recent study found that one-third of medications prescribed to patients at a skilled nursing home had side effects that worsened underlying conditions.

The phenomenon is called polypharmacy. Talk to your doctor about it. If he or she has never heard the word, it’s time for a bit of mutual education.

Get Me That, Stat!

It’s estimated that 20 percent to 30 percent of people bite their nails, according to a 2017 paper published by dermatologists at Weill Cornell Medicine. The percentage among teens approaches 45 percent.

Nail biting is called onychophagia. The first nail clippers were patented in 1875, but the type most commonly used now did not debut until 1881.


0.08: legal limit for blood alcohol concentration in most states

4: Number of times your chances of a traffic accident have multiplied at the legal limit

29: Number of people who die in the United States each day due to a car crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Doc Talk

Columella nasi: The fleshy end of the structure of bone and cartilage that separates your nostrils. You can see it just above the philtrum — the vertical indentation in the middle area of the upper lip.

Phobia of the Week

Pogonphobia: fear of beards (See the Ig Nobel Apprised section below)

Life in Big Macs

One hour of personal grooming (shaving, putting on makeup, styling hair, etc.) burns 136 calories (based on a 150-pound person) or the equivalent of 0.2 Big Macs.


“I don’t exercise. If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.” — comedian Joan Rivers (1933-2014)

Medical History

This week in 1896, Wilhelm Röntgen publicly debuted his X-ray device in Wurzburg, Germany.

Ig Nobel Apprised

The Ig Nobel Prizes celebrate achievements that make people laugh and then think. They are a look at real science that is hard to take seriously, and even harder to ignore.

In 2010, the Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health went to three scientists at the Industrial Health and Safety Office in Fort Detrick, Md., who determined through experimentation that microbes cling to the beards of hirsute scientists (even after the scientists washed with soap and water).

Sum Body

Q: How many Americans got a butt augmentation in 2018, the latest year for which data is available?

A: The procedure, which involves taking unwanted fat from one area of the body and adding it to the back side, was the fastest-growing segment of elective plastic surgery in 2018, with 24,099 reported cases, up 19 percent from the year before.

Med School

Q: Who coined the term “genes”?

A: It wasn’t Gregor Mendel, often called the “father of genetics” for his pioneering work with pea plants.

In 1909, Danish botanist Wilhelm Johannsen was the first to describe Mendel’s individual units of heredity. He called them genes, derived from “pangenesis,” a word Charles Darwin used for his now-disproven theory of heredity, which involved every part of the body continually emitting its own type of small organic particles called gemmules that aggregated in the gonads.

Darwin also contributed to the theory of panspermia, which suggests life exists throughout the universe and seeds planets via impacting asteroids, comets and space dust.

Curtain Calls

While boating off the Florida Keys, a 55-year-old Michigan woman named Judy Kay Zagorski was killed when a 75-pound spotted eagle ray leaped out of the water and struck her in the head, causing multiple skull fractures and direct brain injury. The ray died, too.

Scott LaFee is a staff writer at UC San Diego Health and the former chief science writer at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where he covered science, medicine and technology. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.