I “Heart” Well Child Check Ups

September 14, 2011

When the children were small I made sure to get them to each well-child checkup. This was especially important because Big Boy had started out badly with seizures and was being watched closely for developmental issues that did require him to get early intervention services. I am not going to explain what to expect at a well-child checkup because that is covered quite nicely here. This is a personal story on why I think they are important. Read the rest of this entry »


Not a Moldy Oldy

April 29, 2011

Announcing a new podcast, and it involves mold and other environmental hazards: The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (podcast download link) (entire podcast archive). It seems everyone is busy with jobs and kids, including Elyse saving the world and Jason Bilotta’s inspection business that deals with mold and other damage. Which is a perfect tie in to the interview with Jerome Paulson, MD of the The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.

It is a very informative hour. Give it a listen! Read the rest of this entry »


Please visit Elyse at Skepchick

November 21, 2010

Read what she wrote today. She is one of the contributors to the Parenting Within Reason podcast. Read the rest of this entry »


My Pertussis Paranoia

November 4, 2010

Once upon a time I was a professional who went to work every day with a jacket and a little floppy tie. I did battle with second order differential equations, multiple computers with various quirks (like the VAX), varying data for parameter studies and working in a large bullpen room full of engineers like myself. That was back when I was intelligent, before I had kids. Little did I know what I was to expect. Read the rest of this entry »


The Joint Pain “Guru”

July 3, 2010

My Dad has been in a lot of pain with his joints lately. If you’ve ever had chronic joint pain, you know that the suffering can be quite intense. Out of curiosity, my Dad began googling for advice on his particular condition, which inevitably directed him to the web site of a self-proclaimed “guru”.

This “guru” claims to be a normal guy who wants to help people learn the techniques that healed him from chronic pain. So, my Dad decided to investigate further and see what this “guru” had to offer. Hmm… well, for some reason his “free” e-book turned into a $27 book, a $37 video package and/or a $19 per month membership. It turns out that e-book is only free if you buy the video package, which means that it’s technically not free.

So where’s the evidence? Well, this “guru” has “case study” videos on his marketing page that show people giving testimonial about their joint pain improvements.  That’s an interesting use of terms because “case study” usually means an in-depth scientific examination of one individual over a long period of time. And yet, many of these “case studies” depict one individual that the “guru” met for the first time, and it seems that few of these testimonials were seen or tested again. It’s important to remember that the plural of anecdotes is not data.

Another troubling fact is that this amateur “guru” (who does not hold any type of medical degree from what I can ascertain) is holding virtual “clinics” for his customers. That seems odd to me that a man with no formal expertise on anatomy or physiology is asking people to visit his “clinic”. He also has weekly youtube videos where he answers questions that he has received from potential customers. It’s odd because he assumes a mantle of expertise in these videos but ultimately fails in every way to inspire confidence in his knowledge. He stammers, he swallows nervously, he gazes into the camera with a frightened deer-in-headlights stare: it boggles my mind that people take this man seriously. In his FAQ, one of the questions asks him whether he has a degree in medicine. He replies, “The proof is in the pudding” – I know what works as well as what does not…”. Yeah, sure, I’m going to take your word for it, Mr. “guru”.

My Dad asked me  to check this dude out. The first thing I did was to search for him on Facebook. Bingo. I found him, and his settings weren’t private. And what do you know… he is into some woo woo. One of his favorite things is homeopathy, that archaic unscientific modality of pseudo-natural healing. One of his favorite books is “The Secret”, which is based on the lazy concept that wishes will bring you riches. Oh, and don’t forget that  two of his favorite movies are Zeitgeist, a 9/11 conspiracy film, and “What the Bleep Do We Know?“, a film about the mysteries and magical impossibilities of quantum physics. His web page includes mentions of herbs, chiropractic, healing touch, and reiki, among other dubious modalities.

It turns out that this “guru”  lives in my Dad’s hometown, and in a flash of genius, my old man flexed his skeptic muscles by visiting the address listed on the web site. And what did he find? A small house swallowed by weeds.

My Dad inquired about the home office’s state of disrepair.

His yard look overgrown to you, but he is trying to live green and in the back it is a vegetable garden and not grass

At this point, I should be clear that my Dad has decided not to buy products from the joint pain “guru”. The circumstantial evidence seems pretty clear that this “guru” is worth every moment of doubt I’ve spent on him.

I’d rather not write this “guru’s” real moniker just to drag the man down (he seems innocent). The purpose of this article is to share a story about how my father and I worked together to investigate a claim. If we cared enough to pursue it further (we don’t), we would ask a physical therapist to assess the “guru’s” health claims scientifically. For now, I think we’re content enough with what we’ve researched on our own.


This Week in Parenting Science 4/17/09

April 17, 2009

It’s been a few good months since I posted updates on scientific studies relevant to parents.  I’ve been pretty busy with my new play that I’ve been directing.  It opens this weekend.

Exercising While Pregnant – My wife refused to give up her running routine when she was pregnant.  She studied up to determine how much she could run without harming the baby, and she made the appropriate adjustments.  Imagine the looks she got when she showed up to a 5K at seven months pregnant.  Well, according to a new study by the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, pregnant moms might have healthier babies if they hop on a treadmill every now and then.  Researchers detected more mature nervous systems and better fetal breathing in the babies of mothers who exercised compared to those of mothers who didn’t.

Home Birth Better? - It’s been debated before, most recently on an episode of The Doctors, but another study has shown that a low risk home birth is just as safe as those that are done in a hospital.  The dutch study looked at data from half a million low risk births to compare the relative safety between births at home and births at the hospital.  On the merits of the data, it seems that both choices are equally valid.

Of course, hospitals should be the default choice whenever there are high risks such as a breached baby, a need for induction, or known abnormalities.  I also condemn the choice of home birth based on an irrational fear of modern medicine.

Bright Bilingual Babies? – Good grief.  How does a bilingual household have any effect on 7 month old babies.  They can’t even talk yet.  You have to determine their intelligence with movements of the eye.  Despite my incredulity, one study claims that they’ve discovered eye-tracking difference in babies who are raised in bilingual households.

Why not choose children who are talking?  What sort of logic inspires a scientist to even hypothesize that any information gathered from non-verbal babies can be linked to the languages spoken by their families?  It doesn’t make sense, but if you want to use Spanish and French flash cards on your baby, then be my guest.


Chiropractic Failure?

December 29, 2008

My wife’s ear was drowning in an infection.  She went to the doctor, who offered her a Z-pak antibiotic treatment, which didn’t immediately work.  Instead of going back to the doctor, my wife decided that she would switch gears and try the chiropractor.  I tried to warn her that she was wasting money, but my wife is strong-willed and independent.  She makes her own decisions, and I do not attempt to influence her other than some occasional teasing.

I told her to watch out for the word “subluxation” because that meant that her chiropractor would likely be applying treatments based on nonsense.  Sure enough, when she was in the waiting room, she noticed a poster saying something about subluxation and children.

The chiropractor saw my wife and did the appropriate adjustments, but my wife’s infected ear fluid didn’t suddenly pop or drain into her neck like she was imagining.  In fact, she didn’t notice any change at all.  After the treatments, the chiropractor had the nerve (and the common sense) to encourage her to visit an Ear Nose & Throat doctor, but of course, he would need to see her for more treatments also.

I told my wife that all my skepticism is rubbing off on her, and that placebos are ineffective on her now.  Then she punched me in the arm.

So, what is the deal with subluxation?  Why am I such a downer against back whackers?  Let’s start at the very beginning with the guy who made up the concept.  Yes, I’m talking about the uneducated grocer Daniel David Palmer, who created chiropractic medicine in 1865 after he claimed to cure a man’s deafness just by manipulating his spine.  Dr. Palmer believed in all kinds of funny treatments, including mesmerism, which had long since been debunked by Benjamin Franklin, and phrenology, which would soon be debunked by Mark Twain.

Palmer imagined the chiropractic theory around the same time that Louis Pasteur was making important scientific discoveries about germ theory.  We, of course, now know that many diseases come from germs, but at the time, the average doctor (grocer) was in the dark on most health problems.  So, Daniel David Palmer can be forgiven for believing that subluxations (spinal displacements) were the cure to 98% of all diseases.  That was a long time ago.  We can forgive him, and his abused son BJ, for making up such a silly concept.

But wait, many of today’s chiropractors believe the same nonsense.  They deny germ theory, they decry modern medicine, and they defy logic.  In fact, chiropractors are known to object to vaccination, and their objections are based on the archaic imaginings of a self-taught grocer who was put in jail for practicing without a license.

Most chiropractors still believe, without any scientific evidence, that subluxations are the root cause of most disease.  Ask them to scientifically explain how pinched spinal nerves cause disease, and they will probably sidestep the answer.  And yet, these chiropractic “doctors” are more ubiquitous than Starbucks.  I have at least three chiropractors within a five mile radius of my house.

The subluxation theory of disease is complete nonsense.  You would think that people with scoliosis would be terminally ill.  Or that terminally ill patients would have multiple pinched nerves in their spine.  And yet, there is nothing to show this to be true.  In fact, BJ Palmer had an extremely distorted spinal chord, and he was the early leader of chiropractic medicine.

Does that mean that all chiropractors are quacks?  No, I truly think they believe in the treatment, and a quack is someone who purposefully administers a treatment they know doesn’t work.  Chiropractic has been validated as a mode of treatment by our system of medicine, and many doctors will come here to point out that they are legitimate in the eyes of society.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that the concept is based on unscientific ideas such as subluxation and innate intelligence.  It also doesn’t change the fact that most chiropractors claim to cure problems that they can’t cure.  However, chiropractors will point out that they do help people with back pain and joint problems, and that many of these people feel relief and come back again for more treatment.

There are chiropractors that have separated themselves from the taint of the Palmer’s.  They do work that is more in common with physical therapy than complementary alternative medicine, and they call themselves “mixers”.  The chiropractors you want to watch out for are called “straights”.  There are a few warning signs to watch out for (located here) when choosing the best chiropractor.  The worst offenders are those “straights” that argue against fluoridation, vaccination, and pasteurization.   You may find some decent chiropractors at quackwatch’s referral directory, but in my opinion, you would just be better off seeing a physical therapist.

As always, I welcome any chiropractors whom I may have misrepresented to correct any mistakes I made against their character to leave comments.  They deserve to defend themselves if they can.


Pregnancy News

November 14, 2008

If you are trying to get pregnantstay away from acupuncture.  Once again, quality placebo-controlled science disproves another claim of acupuncture.  This time the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, showed that IVF was more successful under placebo acupuncture than actual acupuncture.  Sound familiar?  That’s because this study confirms another meta-analysis study that demonstrated the same thing.  Unbelievably, Dr. Ng, who conducted this new study, is actually saying that placebo acupuncture is better because it’s using acupressure (turning acupuncture into something that is now unfalsifiable), and he still clings to his belief that needling works for IVF, despite his own observations.  Why is it that every time an acupuncture study successfully proves acupuncture, the experiment was not blind or controlled, but when an acupuncture study disproves acupuncture, it is a well conducted double-blind placebo-controlled study?  And why is it that acupuncturists will still claim to help IVF when it has been proven wrong twice now?

If you are pregnantdon’t be afraid to have an occasional beer or glass of wine.  In fact, careful imbibing may make your kids smarter, or so says a London study that noticed better behavior and better vocabulary scores among children with mothers who admitted to having the occasional drink during pregnancy.  I’m sure that this was not the result the scientists expected to find, but if anything, it corrects a long-standing myth that alcohol is off-limits for pregnant moms.  The only time that pregnant women should completely abstain from the wet bar is during the first trimester, but after that, it is fine to have a glass of champagne at a cocktail party without being chastised.

If you are giving birthtry listening to some classic music or lullabies.   Recent studies show that relaxing music actually significantly reduces stress levels.  This one seems like a no-brainer to me, but maybe some moms will need that extra reassurance that Enya is the best choice for their labor & delivery mixtape.  And pregger moms, while you are at it, another study shows that you may want to listen to joyful music to increase your blood flow.  So, may I recommend Vivaldi or something equally joyful?


Expert Advice: Eat Healthy – Get Pregnant!

October 24, 2008

A recent episode of the Scientific American podcast featured an interesting interview with Harvard epidemiologist Walter Willett, who is chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.  He talked about his book Fertility Diet which is based on a recent study by co-author Dr. Jorge Chavarro that connects a good healthy diet to optimal fertility.   Dr. Chavarro looked at the connection between insulan resistance in polycystic ovarian syndrome and dietary factors, and that led to the current research that indicates infertility can be linked to poor diet.

Willett’s recommendations for fertility might seem obvious because the advice adds up to typical dietary recommendations.  The only suggestion that might throw you off would be the first one.  These are the suggestions for diet adjustments during the pursuit of conception:

  • High Fat Dairy (for the estrogen)
  • Low Trans Fats
  • Whole Grain High Fiber Carbohydrates
  • Healthy plant protein (and certain meats including chicken and fish)
  • Multi-Vitamins

This is all good information because many women who are trying to get pregnant need a solid foundation of good nutrition before they spend so much money and effort pursuing medical technology to achieve pregnancy.  Using this recommended diet could possibly drop the risk of infertility by 80% (in people who don’t typically eat a healthy diet).

For more information, check out the book Fertility Diet by Willett and Chavarro.  Also, there was a recent episode of Frontline featuring Willett.


Alternative Medicine in Baby Talk

October 21, 2008

Meryl Davids Landau wrote a fluff piece on alternative medicine for Baby Talk magazine, promoting probiotics, homeopathy, acupuncture,  herbal tea, and aromatherapy for infants.  You know I can’t pass this up, so here we go…

Landau begins her article with an anecdote about a mother who cured her son of gassy colic and explosive green poop by dabbing a probiotic powder on her nipple before breastfeeding.  Color me skeptical.   One of the known reasons for “explosive green poop” (GROSS!) is that the infant is not sucking long enough to get the creamy fat content that comes toward the end of feeding. My hypothesis is that the sweetener in the probiotic is inspiring more efficient suckling in the baby.  Perhaps the probiotics are working too, but there ought to be more research on the effects of probiotics on children before it’s marketed to desperate parents.

The article then goes on to describe several other CAM treatments for kids, the worst of which is homeopathic remedies.  She compares homeopathic medicine to vaccines, except vaccines actually have active ingredients and undergo rigorous testing.  It bears repeating that homeopathic medicine is not medicine because the random arbitrary ingredients are so diluted that they lose their original properties.  Homeopathy, left unchecked, can kill people by the simple fact that they are avoiding the actual medicine they need.

On acupuncture, sticking babies with needles is an unpleasant and unnecessary idea.   There is no reason to believe that the placebo of acupuncture will work on children, and endorphin production is just a way to use science to legitimize the pseudoscience.  Landau indicates that there are studies showing that acupuncture helps preemies.  The only literature I could find on this topic showed that meridian massage (a form of acupressure) helps premature babies grow.  Looking further into the literature, I saw that infant massage in general helps premature babies grow, not just arbitrary meridian massage.  So, maybe there is merit in baby massage after all, but that is another topic.

There is nothing in the scientific literature to prove the claims of aromatherapists.  The only thing that can be said about aromatherapy is that it smells nice.

Out of all the suggestions in the article, the one that holds the most water seems to be herbal tea.  The studies that I found on fennel’s effect on colic seemed to be positive.  It’s worth a try anyway.  Just know that colic disappears naturally after six months.  It’s likely that you won’t find a magical cure, whether you use modern medicine or not.   And even though American “gripe water” says that it has several ingredients including fennel, you are likely buying nothing but homeopathic sugar water.

I don’t blame people for seeking ways to help their babies, but many of these CAM treatments are bogus.  Put your energy into good nutrition, listening to your pediatrician, and most of all, patience.