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Antibiotics vs. the Microbiome

missing microbes

In 1850, one in four American babies died before their first birthday, and people of all ages died of bacterial infections that could have been successfully treated today with antibiotics. Unfortunately, treatments that have effects usually have side effects, and we are seeing problems due to the overuse of antibiotics. They are given to people with viral infections for which they are useless and to food animals to improve their growth. As a result, antibiotic-resistant organisms are evolving and the development of new antibiotics is not keeping up with the threat. This is common knowledge, but we’re starting to realize that there may be other problems with antibiotics even when they are used correctly to save lives.

The rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, food allergies, hay fever, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, acid reflux disease, and esophageal cancer are all on the rise. Martin Blaser, MD, director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU, thinks antibiotics may be to blame, either as a causal or a contributing factor. In his book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, he describes some of the fascinating research he and others have been doing to elucidate the role of the more than 100 trillion microbes that live on and in each of us, and the possibility that antibiotics may have a causal role in several of the so-called diseases of civilization. (more…)

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Evolution, Obstetrics & gynecology, Pharmaceuticals

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Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 2: Cannabis does not cure cancer

marijuana-cancer

About a month ago, I finally wrote the post I had been promising to write for months before about medical marijuana. At the time, I also promised that there would be follow-up posts. Like Dug the Dog seeing a squirrel, I kept running into other topics that kept me from revisiting the topic. However, over the past couple of weeks, the New York Times gave me just the little nudge I needed to come back and revisit the topic, first by openly advocating the legalization of marijuana, then by vastly overstating the potential medical benefits of pot (compare the NYT coverage with my post from a month ago), and finally this weekend by running a story lamenting the federal law that makes research into medical marijuana difficult in this country.

I stated my position on marijuana last time, which is that marijuana should be at least decriminalized or, preferably, legalized, taxed, and regulated, just like tobacco and alcohol. I also likened the cult of medical marijuana to the “new herbalism,” because it (1) vastly inflates the potential of medicinal uses of marijuana and (2) ascribes near-mystical powers to smoking or making extracts out of marijuana, rather than identifying and isolating constituents of the plant that might have medicinal value. All of this is very much like herbalism in alternative medicine. Indeed, promoting laws legalizing medicinal marijuana is such an obvious ploy to open the door to full legalization that some advocates don’t even bother to disingenuously deny it any more. Given that I tend to support legalization, as a physician this sort of deception irritates me. It also has consequences, particularly when overblown claims are made for what cannabis can do. Perhaps the best example of this is the claim that cannabis cures cancer, which pops up all over the Internet in memes such as the one in the image above.
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Posted in: Cancer, Herbs & Supplements, Politics and Regulation

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Yet another plague panic


Case #3 from the 1976 Ebola outbreak in Zaire; picture by Dr. Lyle Conrad, Centers for Disease Control – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #7042.

This image is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions. As a matter of courtesy the CDC requests that the content provider be credited and notified in any public or private usage of this image. Taken from the Wikimedia Commons.

Thirty plus years in medicine has given me some perspective as has infectious diseases (ID). One of the almost TNTC cool things about ID is that infections, unlike the diseases of modernity, have been plaguing humans since before we were humans.

There is a sense, a usually unvoiced assumption, on the part of many people that we are supposed to be healthy, that our default mode is good health and that with the proper diet and attitude we could obtain the health that was ours before the fall.

I think not. I see no perfection in any human, except maybe my wife who would achieve perfection if only she liked beer and steak.

We are a hodgepodge of anatomic and physiologic compromises that allowed us to spread across the world. But if you like to read history, you realize that most of the time we died like flies from infections, trauma and other medical problems. The variations that allowed us to survive malaria or tuberculosis led to sickle crises and the metabolic syndrome. Even with evolution no good mutation ever goes unpunished. (more…)

Posted in: Homeopathy

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Chiropractic scope of practice includes . . . well, you won’t believe it

Ladies, how would you like a chiropractor to deliver your baby? How about perform your annual well-woman exams, such as breast exam, bi-manual pelvic exam, speculum exam, recto-vaginal exam and Pap smear?

Sound out of their league? I thought so too. Way out. But, in some parts of the U.S., the law allows chiropractors to do all of these things and a great deal more. Including “adjusting” your basset hound.

chiropractor-adjusting-basset-hound

A 2011 survey asked chiropractic regulatory officials whether their jurisdictions (all states, plus D.C., Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but I’ll refer to them collectively as the “states”) allowed 97 different diagnostic, evaluation, and management procedures. The results were recently reported and interpreted in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, in an article authored by Mabel Chang, DC, MPH, who was primarily responsible for the survey. Missouri allows the most procedures (92) and Texas, the fewest (30). A handful of states did not respond or did not respond to all questions, but the overall response rate was 96%. Results from a survey of Canada, Australia and New Zealand will be reported in a separate article. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Diagnostic tests & procedures, Herbs & Supplements, Homeopathy, Legal, Obstetrics & gynecology, Politics and Regulation

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Left Brain – Right Brain Myth

hemisity
Years of analyzing popular but dubious claims leads to the impression that just about all knowledge that filters down to the popular consciousness is essentially wrong, at least as a first approximation. This may sound cynical, but think about any area in which you have specialized knowledge and compare that to what the average person believes about that area. Now extrapolate that to every other area of specialized knowledge.

I may be skeptical, but I am not a nihilist. I do think the situation can be and is being improved by popularizing science and other areas of knowledge. Experts need to be directly involved in teaching the public about their area, and when they are, popular beliefs can be corrected.

One example is the myth that we only use 10% of our brain. This is still fairly popular, and was recently a central plot element to the blockbuster movie, Lucy. However, Google “10% brain” and you will find nothing but links to sites debunking this myth, at least in the first few pages.

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Posted in: Neuroscience/Mental Health

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Misguided Naturopath Claims To Have Cured Cervical Dysplasia

Pap test discoverer

George Papanicolaou, who originated the cervical dysplasia test that bears his name (the Pap smear)

Naturopath Kate Whimster has written a case study of a patient with cervical dysplasia who was allegedly treated successfully with naturopathic treatment. She says:

In many cases conventional treatment can be invasive, ineffective, or can put patients at risk for future complications. Fortunately, there are wonderful naturopathic treatment options available both instead of or in conjunction with conventional medical treatments. This case study is a great example of naturopathic treatment for cervical dysplasia as part of my HPV Healing program.

The Patient

The patient was a 32-year-old woman who first had an abnormal Pap smear at the age of 26. Here is Whimster’s report of the course of events:

  • February 2012: Pap HSIL, Colposcopy CIN I, Biopsy HSIL
  • April 2012: LEEP procedure
  • July 2012: Pap HSIL, Colposcopy CIN I, Biopsy HSIL
  • August 2012: Start of naturopathic treatment
  • Nov 2012: Pap LSIL, Colposcopy normal
  • May 2013: Pap LSIL, Colposcopy CIN I, Biopsy LSIL
  • July 2013: Pap ASCUS, Colposcopy normal, Biopsy normal
  • October 2013: Pap normal, Colposcopy “cannot rule out CIN I,” Biopsy normal
  • May 2014: Pap, Colposcopy and Biopsy all normal.

She was also successfully treated for a bacterial vaginal infection. (more…)

Posted in: Cancer, Naturopathy

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Ebola outbreaks: Science versus fear mongering and quackery

Ebola virus particles.jpg
Ebola virus particles” by Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine – PLoS Pathogens, November 2008 doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000225. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Without a doubt the big medical story of the last week or so has been the ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, the most deadly in history thus far. Indeed, as of this writing, according to a table of known Ebola outbreaks since 1976 at Wikipedia, in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the three nations affected thus far, there have been 1,440 cases and 826 deaths. Worse, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that it is spreading faster in Africa than efforts to control it. In particular, late last week it was announced that two Americans who had been infected with Ebola were going to be flown back to the US, specifically to Emory University, for treatment, a development that ramped up the fear and misinformation about Ebola virus to even greater heights than it had already attained, which, unfortunately, were already pretty high. Indeed, the ever-reliably-histrionic Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com wrote a typically hysterical article “Infected Ebola patient being flown to Atlanta: Are health authorities risking a U.S. outbreak?” On Saturday, we learned that Dr. Kent Brantly, an aide worker for Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity run by Franklin Graham, son of the well-known preacher, Billy Graham, who had been evacuated from Liberia aboard a private air ambulance, had arrived in Georgia.

This latest development inspired medical “experts,” such as Donald Trump, to stoke fear based on the arrival of two infected Americans in the US. For instance, last Friday, after it was first announced that the Ebola-infected Americans would be flown back to the US, Trump tweeted:

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Posted in: Epidemiology, Health Fraud, Homeopathy, Public Health, Vaccines

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Dental Management Of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

[Editor's Note: I'm pleased to announce that Grant Ritchey has agreed to join SBM as a regular. He'll be writing about dental science and pseudoscience every four weeks on Sunday. (I swear, we'll get up to seven day a week publishing if it kills me—or the other bloggers.) Grant will be starting with science, but I'm sure he'll soon be discussing all the sorts of claims about dentistry and dental disease that are—how shall I put it?—less than science-based soon enough.]

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder in which the airway is partially or completely blocked during sleep. Although little or no air is flowing, the person continues to attempt to breathe. Typically, cessations in breathing last longer than 10 seconds per episode, but can last over a minute and usually occur multiple times during sleep. This can lead to poor sleep quality and precipitous drops in blood oxygenation levels over an extended period of time. This potentially life-threatening condition is frighteningly prevalent, especially in adults over 40, and it is estimated that 80-90% of OSA goes undiagnosed, further compounding the problem.

When a person experiences multiple apneic episodes during the night, the brain responds by alerting the body, resulting in increased efforts to breathe, gasping, and arousal from sleep. These frequent waking events, combined with lowered oxygen levels, can lead to the signs, symptoms, and sequelae of obstructive sleep apnea. Typically, OSA sufferers snore loudly, then are silent for 10-30 seconds as the airway is blocked. This is followed by choking, snorting, or gasping sounds when their airway reopens.
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Posted in: Dentistry, Surgical Procedures

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Cold reality versus the wishful thinking of cryonics

We all seek immortality in some way. Death has been one of the prime terrors haunting us since humans first started realizing that every living thing dies and death is permanent. After all, no one wants to face the end of everything that one has been, is, and will be. Indeed, a key feature of many religions is a belief that death is not the end, that there is an afterlife where we will all live forever. In some religions, in the afterlife evil is punished and good rewarded. Even if, as seems most likely, death is simply the end, and the time after death is just like the time before we were born (or, more properly, before our first memories), something that seems relatively benign just thinking about it, emotionally we still don’t want it. Being human, I get it, particularly now that I’m on the wrong side of 50 and, unless I’m far more long-lived than my genes are likely to permit, have considerably less life to look forward to than the lifetime I’ve already lived. I also realize that the number of people who are remembered long after they are gone by anyone outside of their family and friends is exceedingly small—and even that memory fades rapidly among family members. As the succeeding generation dies off, direct memory of the generation that spawned it disappears. I get it. Fifty years from now, it’s likely that all that will remain of my existence will be some scientific papers and a faint memory held by my nieces and nephews and maybe, if I’m lucky, a few of my youngest readers.

I don’t, however, get cryonics.

Detroit, like many large cities, has a free weekly “alternative” newspaper, The Metro Times. This week’s issue features this cover:

MetroCryonic

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Posted in: Basic Science, Science and the Media

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Should the Incidental Discovery of Nonparentage be Disclosed?

badnews

“Ummm, I probably shouldn’t be telling you this.”

The July issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, contains an extremely thought provoking article discussing the risks and benefits of disclosing an incidental finding of nonparentage during pediatric genetic testing. Nonparentage occurs when one, or very rarely both, of the social parents did not serve as source code for a child’s genetic programming, so to speak. Naturally, we aren’t talking about known adoptions but rather when the nonbiological parent is unaware of the fact that they did not contribute an egg or sperm.

Authors Marissa Palmor and Autumn Fiester, both bioethicists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, take the position of universal nondisclosure when nonparentage is discovered. They acknowledge the pro-disclosure arguments and, in my opinion, successfully rebut them. They go on to make a compelling recommendation for the incorporation of a universal nondisclosure clause into consent forms which states clearly that parental status will not be discussed. (more…)

Posted in: Medical Ethics

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