Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Another Australian Detox Death

Australian Naturopath Jeffrey Dummett was "helping" a patient by placing him on a detox diet. The patient stopped his dialysis to go on the detox program recommended by Dummett. The patient lost 11 kilos in 10 days. He also lost his life.

Investigations have discovered that many of the naturopath's qualifications cannot be verified. Then again, in Australia it doesn't matter if qualifications are held or not, as none are required.

This is not the first time that Mr. Dummett has been in trouble for his treatment of patients. The 2003 annual report of the New South Wales Medical Board mentioned Mr. Dummett and his activities.

"Last year the Board prosecuted Jeffery Dummett, an unregistered person for holding himself out as being entitled, qualified or willing to practice medicine or perform a medical service. He was convicted, fined and placed on a bond. This year the Board again prosecuted him for similar offences and he was convicted in relation to that prosecution."

The conviction was mentioned in a press release by the New South Wales Health Minister Craig Knowles.

"A recently discredited procedure was the Live Blood Cell Analysis by which a self-proclaimed naturopath claimed he could diagnose illnesses by examining a pinprick of a patient's blood under a microscope and devise treatments to cure whatever disease was found.

"But the naturopath, Jeffrey Dummett was fined almost $34,000 and court costs in May this year for making false health claims as expert medical evidence found Dummet's claims could not possibly be true. However, under current arrangements this does not prevent other spivs hawking the same technique.

Australian consumers beware. When you see a naturopath or other alternative medicine practitioner, you are placing your health in the hands of somebody who will provide services that are not supported by science, but by superstition.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Monday, April 25, 2005

The return of Ephedra

Ephedra is naturally occuring substance with it's active ingredient being Ephedrine.

Ephedrine is a stimulant, with pseudoephedrine being one of the ingredients used to manufacture amphetamine, more commonly known as the drug speed. Because Ephedra comes naturally from a plant the DSHEA laws in the US, allowed ephedra to be promoted as a "natural" health product.

There were many promotions claiming that ephedra made your metabolism speed up, buring off fat at a faster rate and that it enhanced athletic performance. When combined with other stimulants, such as caffeine, the result can be dangerous. Importantly, there are no studies or tests proving that ephedra acts on the human body as stated by the promoters.

The popularity of ephedra climbed, as did the body count. When 23 year old athelete, Steve Bechler, a promising baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles died, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) finally acted to have the substance banned. The FDA weighed the benefits of ephedra against the risks and determined that with no proven benefit, that any amount was too great to risk.

Unfortunately, that decision has been overturned in a recent court case. An ephedra supplier, Nutraceutical Corporation claimed the FDA was wrong to ban it's product that would only supply 10mg on ephedrine if taken as labelled. The court ruled that the FDA was incorrect to use the risk/benefit model in determining the safety of a substance. the court concluded that with no study showing that ephedra at 10mg per day is dangerous, the decision to ban the product was wrong.

Now, wait a minute. There is no scientific evidence that ephedra provides any benefit at all. There is evidence that ephedra is dangerous at higher copncentrations. This shows that the DSHEA laws are working exactly as they were intended. Not to protect the public against dangerous and unproven substances, but to protect those who wish to sell these unproven treatments without having to provide any evidence that they work.

Those in Australia and New Zealand thinking that this is one of those "only in America" stories, I have some bad news. The Australian body that regulates medicines, the Therapuetic Goods Administration (TGA) has similar rules. Listed items (SCAM) are not required to show any scientific evidence of efficacy. Regardless of the rules, there are always companies willing to sell banned products.

Surely, any item that is being sold to the public with health claims should be required to be able to prove those claims. Our current system where you can sell anything until there is proof that the substance kills would be laughable, if it was not responsible for so many deaths each year.

Health & medicine must be based on scientific fact, not superstition and faith.

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mercury Rising???

Those who believe the false claim that the mercury used in dental amalgams causes all manner of illnesses, including autism have long promoted a video that they claim shows the mercury vapour being given off by a tooth.

The tooth is warmed to 37C in a water bath. Ultraviolet light is used with a fluorescent screen to show the "mercury vapour". The vapour absorbs the ultrviolet light, which then shows on the flourescent screen. For those who have seen the video it looks pretty conclusive. That is until you start to look at some of the science behind the claim.

Mercury vapour is not the only gas that absorbs ultraviolet light. Water vapour just happens to be another gas that absorbs UV light strongly.

The gas from the tooth rises, whereas mercury is very heavy. Jim Laidler provided the following calculations:

Mercury has a very high molecular weight (200 grams per mole) when compared with the nitrogen (28 grams per mole) and oxygen (32 grams per mole) that make up the atmosphere. Water, on the other hand, has a molecular weight of only 18 grams per mole.

Now, bear with me.

When molecules vaporize, the volume they fill depends on the number of molecules and their temperature. At standard temperature and pressure (STP - one atmosphere and 0 degrees C), that volume is 22.414 liters per mole. At room temperature (20 degrees C), the volume expands to 24.055 liters per mole. (at 37 degrees C - body temperature - it is 25.452 liters per mole) Whether a gas will rise or sink depends on the difference (if any) between that gas and the surrounding gas. Hot air rises because the same mass of "air molecules" expands to fill a larger volume. Since density is mass divided by volume, the hot air is less dense than the surrounding cooler air and so rises.

Since air is a mixture of 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen (and a few other gasses), it has an "averaged" molecular weight of 28.8 grams per mole.

Therefore, its density at room temperature is:
28.8 grams per mole / 24.055 liters per mole = 1.20 grams per liter

Water vapor at 37 degrees C has a density of:
18 grams per mole / 25.452 liters per mole = 0.71 grams per liter
Water vapor at 37 degrees C will rise in room temperature air, as a result.

Mercury vapor at 37 degrees C:
200 grams per mole / 25.452 liters per mole = 7.86 grams per liter

In layman's terms, what Mr. Laidler is showing is that mercury vapour is much heavier than the normal air, where water vapour is lighter. If this was mercury, the gas would sink, not rise. If we have a rising vapour coming from a tooth in heated water, then what we are seeing is water vapour, NOT mercury vapour.

If the anti-amalgam proponents are peddling false information about what gas is rising from the tooth in their video, what else are they saying that is untrue?

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."

Monday, April 04, 2005

Wheatgrass? Why-grass?

Last week, a couple of fellow workers were discussing wheatgrass juice in the lunch-room.

They mentioned that although expensive at $5 for a small shot-glass (est. 30ml) of the stuff and despite it tasting horrible it was worth it because of it's health benefits. Of course, they could not specifically mention exactly what wheatgrass does that is good for you, just that it is healthy.

This prompted me to start searching for information on the health benefits of wheatgrass. Unfortunately, pubmed comes up blank, as does quackwatch (apart from being mentioned as an ineffective anti-cancer treatment).

The search for reliable data that shows wheatgrass to have positive health benefits has come up blank. The closest I could get was a Dutch study on rats showing that a diet that had Chlorophyll (found in wheat grass) was better than a diet which was almost exclusively red meat.

Doctors, dietitians, schools and various other organisations have been putting the message forward to eat a balanced diet that contains fresh fruit and vegetables. While wheatgrass is unlikely to do any harm, for the same $5, you could buy a kilo and a half of broccoli or a couple of bunches of spinach. Eating these would provide much more chlorophyll (as well as vitamin B) and give the added advantage of providing more fibre than in the juice.

I often wonder where these stories come from about the health benefits of certain items. Regardless of the source, at $5 for around 30ml, I'm sure there are growers and health food shops laughing all the way to the bank.

I'll continue to spend my money of broccoli, rather than wheatgrass juice. From a parent's point of view, why buy something expensive that the kids won't eat, when they have been eating the cheaper, tastier version for years?

"There is only one truth. How we interpret that truth is called belief."
"The presence of belief, does not indicate the existence of truth."