Archive for April, 2010

Are Birth Control Pills Good For You?

Posted in news, science, Skeptic with tags , , on April 28, 2010 by saskskeptic

Birth control pills come with a long list of risk factors.  This has been a concern for many women.  The Star Phoenix recently has a report on a major longitudinal study into the effects of birth control pills.  Instead of being harmful, the study indicates that oral contraceptives may actually be beneficial, resulting in a decreased incidence of death and cancer.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal on Friday, followed 46,000 women for nearly 40 years, creating “more than a million woman-years” of observation, according to Philip Hannaford from Aberdeen University, who led the study.

The results showed that in the longer term, women who used oral contraception had a significantly lower rate of death from any cause, including heart disease and all cancers, compared with women who had never taken it.

But the scientists said their findings may only be true for women who have taken older-style pills rather than those on more modern types of drugs, since their study began in 1968.

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Since the study began in 1968 and modern contraceptives are generally considered safer, does that mean that they are even more beneficial?  Alternately they generally have lower levels of hormones and thus may be less active and provide less of a benefit.  Maybe we will find out in another 20 years.


Lose those pounds … of “toxins”?

Posted in science, Skeptic on April 25, 2010 by koinosuke

Here in the grocery store, I have choices for lunch: a delicious salad or those chicken wings, dripping with sauce. Self-control, meet 10 millions years of evolution; I’m sure you will get along fine. Our ancestors lived in a feast-to-famine environment; they never knew when the next meal would come. Calorie-dense foods such as fats could mean the difference between life and death. Evolution favoured those with a craving for calorie-dense food, hence my current interest in those chicken wings. This biological imperative does not play well when we are surrounded by food. I still crave those wings even though I will have no trouble fulfilling my caloric requirements for the day. It is not surprising, then, that some people have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. There is also no shortage of scams out there that claim ways to lose those extra pounds. There is so much misinformation out there that I automatically disbelieve any “weight-loss” claim on principle, unless compelling evidence is presented.

U Weight loss Clinics is a Canada-wide franchise claiming to offer individualized nutrition plans to lose weight. I don’t know why anyone would pay U Weight Loss when the Canadian Food Guide does this at no charge. I guess they are hoping that people will forget we have government funded health care, and medical doctors are very much interested in their patients maintaining a healthy weight. What caught my skeptical eye when I was browsing the U Weight Loss website was their  “3 Secrets” to weight loss. I am aware of only two secrets: eat less and move more. Their secrets were Detox and Cleanse, Hormonal Balance, and Increase Metabolism. The first of these falls in the deep, dark, den of quackery; I will discuss this in more detail below. Hormone balance is also rife with quack products and “increasing metabolism” is just a strange way of telling people to exercise.

Detoxify or Die

Detox is a legitimate medical practice if you need to eliminate the effects of heroin, alcohol, or other drugs of choice. A patient is kept alive while their body works hard to clear the poison. Heavy metal toxicity is treated by chelation: a chelating agent is injected in to the blood stream, this agent binds to the metal and the body is then able to clear the chelator and the metal.

I am assuming, or at least hoping, that U Weight Loss customers are not blissed out on heroin or suffering from heavy metal toxicity, in which case they should be in the hospital, as opposed to normal people with weight issues. Why, then, do they need to go through detox? The U Weight site claims to have to the weight of clinical evidence behind their product. I will quote directly from their website:

The U Weight Loss® doctor-formulated nutrition program has been researched and developed by a team of health practitioners including a medical doctor, naturopath and registered nutritional consultant, ensuring that your health is of utmost importance.”

This appears to be an exaggeration; on the very next page there is a list of  so-called experts and not one of them is a medical doctor. As for their research, I ran the name of one of their experts (Susan Walker, ND) through Google Scholar and found zero publications. The ND should not be confused with MD, or Medical Doctor; ND stands for Naturopathic Doctor, or the more accurate Not a Doctor. I had to use Google Scholar to search; despite all their claims of “doctor-formulated” and “clinically designed” procedures, there is not a single link or reference to any supporting publications. I tried a search for “detox and change in BMI”, which does return some papers, but none are authored by Walker, and they follow true detox patients – the ones going through drug withdraw, not U Weight Loss customers. So despite their big claims, U Weight Loss provides no evidence. (There are some anecdotes; we will get to those later.)

So why detoxify? U Weight Loss has this to say:

We live in a toxic environment; this is quite clear. Our environment is bombarded with chemicals in the air, water and food. The accumulation of these compounds in the body in some individuals can lead to a variety of metabolic and systemic dysfunctions, and in some cases cause disease. With this understanding it is no surprise that toxins can also hinder weight loss by impairing key processes involved in metabolism and fat-burning.”

We do live in a toxic environment; it does not take too many instances of munching on random plants to realize that nature is pretty poisonous (PSA: Do not eat plants at random – many of them are toxic!), but this is the environment in which we evolved. Evolution, the very process that got us into this situation, developed a sophisticated method of removing toxins from the body. Real detoxification takes place in the kidneys and liver; a breakdown of this process results in severe illness or death. Anyone with an accumulation of toxins in their body would be desperately ill and needs be in a hospital, not a weight loss clinic. Trying to make of sense of any of their detoxification claims would be greatly helped if the site bothered to name the toxins. What are these toxins? Cyanide causes metabolic and systemic dysfunction, but you are unlikely to encounter it unless you eat too many apple seeds.

U Weight Loss would have us believe that everyone has a problems eliminating “toxins”, yet they present no evidence. Toxins to naturopaths are what miasma were to 18th century physicians, ubiquitous, amorphous undetectable, and somehow harming people. No wonder Ben Goldacre, MD said “Toxin” is classic pseudo-science terminology.”

Detoxification the Naturopathic Way

Naturopathy come from the Latin “Naturo” meaning early painful death, and “pathy” meaning the road to – Dr. Mark Crislip, MD.

To rid yourself of evil spirits – er, toxins – there are a variety of options: detoxifying teas, juices, vitamins, saunas and – this last one is important – fasting and exercise. At last, a tenuous connection to weight loss is revealed! Exercise causes the body to sweat, and that sweat – according to the naturopaths – is a part of the detoxification process. Sweating – according to everyone else – evolved as a thermal regulation mechanism , or in other words to keep cool. Sweat consists mostly of water with a small amount of dissolved materials (less than 1%) such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Unless Naturopaths want to claim these essential minerals are “toxins”, then the body is not “detoxifying” by sweating.

Fasting is done by switching to a liquid diet for a period of time. This site describes the Master Cleanse, a truly horrific regime of drinking only a concoction of water, lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup. This is accompanied by 6 to 12 glasses of lemonade a day, plus water. The body does not need that much water, so the inevitable occurs. The excessive urination and defecation is “proof” that process is working. This is really getting gross. The author also provides some handy tips to drink one whole litre of salt water without vomiting. If what you are drinking is causing you to vomit, then it is time to put down the beer or salt water. Sweating, urination, and defecation are things the body does naturally without any help; it seems like the Naturopaths and Master Cleansers are taking credit for normal body functions. I also must point out that the Master Cleanse has no science to support it, but we should not be surprised at this point. What should comes as no surprise is the weight loss that would accompany such a liquid diet. The lemons, cayenne pepper, and syrup are not going to provide necessary calories the body needs to maintain its weight. This diet, which is indistinguishable from going a round with the Norovirus, is actually touted as being helpful! Personally, I would rather take my chances with the mythical toxins.


The only evidence offered for these detoxification regimes is anecdotal. Without a control group, ten anecdotes are no better then one. It is true that many people take their detoxifying tea and may feel better, but these stories need to balanced with the countless others who never been through the detoxification process and are perfectly healthy.

The testimonials on the U Weight Loss site are interesting in that they do not mention “detoxification” at all. The people that were helped by U Weight Loss mention learning about proper nutrition and exercise. It seems that the three secrets of weight loss are really just two secrets: eat less, and move more. The detox is just a distraction.

Further Reading

Skepdic: Detoxification Therapies

Quackwatch: Detoxification Schemes and Scams

Homeopathy Regulation In Canada

Posted in news with tags , on April 16, 2010 by saskskeptic

Skeptic North has a good overview of the regulation (or lack there of) of homeopathy in Canada.

Homeopathy is an alternative medicine system that was invented in the 1800’s and involves three main concepts: like-cures-like (what causes a symptom can cure a symptom); individualized treatments (remedy selection considers factors like emotion and mood); and less-is-more (water has memory, and substances that are progressively diluted (and shaken) become stronger, not weaker.) If homeopathy worked, what is known about biochemistry, physics, and pharmacology is wrong. As expected, upon rigorous examination, there is no convincing evidence that effects attributed to homeopathy are anything more than placebo effects. Yet not only are homeopathic products sold in Canada, their sale is regulated by the federal government, through Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate. And we are assured of of the following:

Through the Natural Health Products Directorate, Health Canada ensures that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity. [emphasis added]

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Saskatoon Freethinker On Regina Radio

Posted in Media with tags , on April 16, 2010 by saskskeptic

Saskatoon Freethinker’s spokesperson George Williamson will be on Regina’s Jim Smalley’s show from noon to 1 pm tomorrow (Friday 16th), CKRM 620.  They have a streaming website you can tune in on, here:

The general thrust of the show is “Do you object to atheist advertizing?” so I am going to cover the bus campaign generally and some of the vandalism stories from the states.

This interview came up in connection with our putting up the billboard earlier this month.

Skeptic In the Pub

Posted in Event, Skeptic with tags on April 16, 2010 by saskskeptic

Skeptics In the Pub
Wednesday Apr. 28

Any time between 7:30 to 11:30

Hose Brew Pub
612 11th St E
Saskatoon, SK S7N0G3
(306) 477-3473


Was protesting Sylvia Browne effective? What was learned for next time.

If we hold a Climate Debate What format should it be?

Our Bodies exhibit at the Saskatchewan Science Center.

Any Issue People wish to bring up.

Our Bodies: The Universe Within

Posted in Event, Feed Your Brain, science with tags , , , on April 16, 2010 by saskskeptic

The Saskatchewan Science Center has a human bodies exhibit beginning May 15.  I saw a similar exhibit a few years ago it was fascinating.  The exhibit was created by replacing body systems such as the vascular system with colored polymers.

Our Body: The Universe Within is a fascinating, artful and educational exhibit consisting of actual human bodies and organs. Appropriate for all ages, this exhibit literally goes “under the skin”, revealing the mysteries of the human anatomy.

The bodies, specimens and organs have been preserved using a process known as polymer impregnation. It’s a relatively new process where bodily fluids are replaced by reactive plastics, which are then hardened to create a solid, durable anatomic specimen that will last indefinitely. Learn more about polmer impregnation.

This exhibit consists of six galleries of actual human anatomical specimens, organized around the systems of the body. Also interwoven throughout the exhibition is a history of anatomical art throughout the ages, providing study, contemplation, and captivating images from the magnificent artists throughout the centuries who have captured the glory of the body.

Our Body: The Universe Within allows you insight, giving you a true look at the inner workings of the extraordinary human body. You will learn about your own body and, ultimately, learn how to take better care of your health and make positive lifestyle choices.

The exhibition is respectful of the mystery of the human body. Before entering the galleries, you will be asked to silence your cell phones. There is no photography allowed in the exhibition hall including cell phone cameras. No food or drinks are allowed, and be aware that once you have entered the exhibition, re-entry is not permitted.

What’s the Harm?: Homeopathy

Posted in Skeptic on April 16, 2010 by koinosuke

Continuing with our Homeopathy Awareness Week celebrations, it is time focus on the harm of homeopathy. Anything to keep Dr. Nancy Malik‘s spam bot busy!

What’s the Harm?

Homeopathy is just water, so it does not cause any direct harm. The harm in homeopathy is when patients use it instead of a proper, effective therapy. We have already heard about homeopaths trying to treat malaria, AIDS, and H1N1 with their insubstantial medicines. These treatments do nothing to slow or halt the progress of the disease which is allowed to ravage the victim.

Here is one victim of homeopathy: Gloria Thomas, only nine months old at the time of her death. Her death was caused by untreated eczema. Eczema is a skin condition characterized by redness, swelling, dryness, itching, cracking, oozing and other unpleasantness. It is not what one would characteristic as a fatal disease. Gloria’s father Thomas Sam, a homeopath, had flown Gloria overseas for homeopathic treatment by an uncle. Gloria was in such distress from her condition that her cries alarmed several passengers. When she was finally admitted to a hospital, her broken skin had allowed bacteria into her bloodstream; she died of sepsis. It is astounding that in this modern age, a little girl can die from the lack of an antibiotic.

Russel Jenkins treated a wound on his foot with honey, based on the advice of a homeopath. His foot soon turned black with gangrene. Being a strict believer in homeopathy and other unscientific modalities, he refused conventional treatment until his death. The doctor stated that if Jenkins had sought help just two hours before his death, his life could have been saved.

Lucille Craven was diagnosed with breast cancer, and surgery and chemotherapy was recommended. Instead, she sought out a naturopath who prescribed a series of dubious therapies, including homeopathy. She purchased homeopathic remedies, one after another, and all the while her cancer raged out of control. When she finally sought out an oncologist, he found that her cancer was untreatable. Lucille died four months later from a cancer that would have been treatable in its early stages.

What’s the harm of homeopathy? This is the harm.


What’s The Harm