Month: September 2009

Al Franken is good for health

You know what's in your food and many beauty products. Senator Al Franken wants to make it possible to see exactly what's in your household cleaning products as well.The Minnesota Democrat introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate requiring producers to fully disclose all ingredients on their product labels, including those suspected of causing long-term harm. Currently the warnings on cleansers are designed to prevent immediate harm due to swallowing, splashing in eyes or other unintended uses.

via Kare 11

It would seem common sense to have information on labels, especially on the harsh and powerful chemicals we use every day. You may not understand what they mean, or how to pronounce the chemical names, but you don’t have to! Organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have extensive information on common high volume chemicals so people can match what they see on the label with what they would like to avoid.

But it is not the law of the land in the US, or Canada for that matter. Al Franken, comedian, talk show host and an intelligent man turned senator would like to change that in the US. Of course, we in Canada would benefit as well.

Chemical manufacturers aren’t having any of this.

There’s always a concern about turning labels into encyclopedias,” Brian Sansoni of the Soap and Detergent Association, in Washington, D.C., told KARE Tuesday.

Pretty insulting, claiming that your consumer does not like encyclopedias, or is not capable of reading and googling.

Information helps drive consumers to safer alternatives. If you see two cleaners, both of which claim to work equally well, a quick read of the ingredients will drive you to the safer (or simpler) choice. Clearly, sale by obfuscation is the preferred marketing strategy here.

If I were American, I would call my senator/congressperson and ask them to support Al Franken.

GE Plumbs the Depths

The very excellent htww blog by Andrew Leonard on Salon brought this “clean coal” video to my attention. It is a year old, but new to us!

Do watch. In a one minute commercial, GE manages to greenwash on clean coal, be incredibly sexist, and, in an act that screams a giant F@#$ You to all involved, use as a soundtrack, a song about the misery of coal mining and the hardship faced by miners. I thought it was a parody, it had to be, apparently, NOT!

Sixteen Tons

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

Shame on them.

Sugar Pills, now more effective!

Well, all sugar is not bad for you. Apparently, when given to you in pill form by someone wearing a white coat with a pleasant demeanour, it can cure all kinds of ills.

It’s not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today's economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.

Via Wired

An interesting article that takes the reader through a recent history of placebos, why they seem to work better now than they used to, and tangentially, why the competitive research paradigm of the pharmaceutical industry delayed recognition, and continues to delay possible fixes and therapies.

A few things about the placebo effect:

  1. There appears to be a physiological and neurological basis to the effect, something that can actually be turned off by deactivating the body’s natural production of opioids.
  2. This effect is triggered by various patient stimuli, including exposure to advertising, faith in the medicine, doctor bedside manner, etc. It appears that for minor ailments, these effects could be as strong as the medication prescribed.
  3. It is not short lived, the effects can linger well after consumption of sugar pills.
  4. Despite all this, the article states that we are no closer to finding the most appropriate way to administer placebos (Hmm, or are we? Read on!).

Pharmaceutical companies conduct hundreds of clinical trials every year. They are not required to publish them in most countries, so negative results, failures, etc. which reflect badly on the company’s stock price are routinely hushed up. This means that the mounds of data that show tested drugs as no better than placebo are not accessible for research. This is one of the greatest drawbacks of competitive research paradigms, the lack of cooperation, the inefficiency that comes from duplication of negative results, and the lack of statistical power that comes from inability to use all the data available. In a milieu where knowledge = stock price, this is the logical approach, but something to note next time an Ayn Rand acolyte comes bleating to you about the beauty and perfection of the market. You might ask “What are some options to the current patent exclusivity driven regime”? My favourite economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economics and Policy Research has written extensively about the drug development process and alternatives in his excellent (and free to download) book The Conservative Nanny State, I suggest reading at least the chapter on drug development and patents!

Anyway, back to placebos, what to do? How to administer sugar pills in a quasi-official setting for minor ailments. It’s almost like you need a parallel paradigm of medicine that dispenses sugar pills that did not have to go through double blind randomised clinical trials. it would help if this paradigm uses vaguely scientific terminology while doing very little harm. It would work in conjunction with the conventional approach, not in competition so there is little danger of people taking sugar pills for malaria!

I give you, Homeopathy!!! This blog(ger) is no stranger to this wonderful form of medicine, involving concepts such as the memory of water, similars, dilution, etc. When I wrote about homeopathy last year, it was more in relation to the psychological aspects of my experience with it. I (and I assume you did not click through to read!) wrote about my parents’ great and enduring relationship with their homeopath, and the benefits it brought them. Back in India this time around, it was suggested that I take some homeopathy for a cold I was developing, which I did (yum, sugar!). The cold went away in a few days 🙂 There was some swine flu medicine being passed around as well (I did not partake), which worked too, nobody at home got swine flu 🙂

So, how to make it work? It already works in India because belief in the efficacy of homeopathy is well established. As long as the homeopath is well qualified in basic diagnosis, and crucially, knows when to punt the patient into conventional therapy, the system works to a certain extent. But what about a society with no such foundation? Do you go to a clinic with both an allopath and a homeopath, and if your ailment is one where placebo works about as well, let the homeopath make some well diluted similars for you to consume? How to settle turf wars? Would it be better for the allopath to feign develop an expertise in homeopathy and make that work for her in treating the patient? Would they apply the most important lessons in homeopathic treatment, Listen, Empathise, Soothe?

I don’t know. It is not my nature to believe in sugar pills, faith, or advertising. So it is hard for me to say what would work. But given that sugar pills work well, it is vital for society to find a way.

Soda = Fat

Sodat Fat

From The New York Department of Health

Try this experiment at home: Take two and a half cups of water, add 15-20 teaspoons of sugar and stir to dissolve. If you haven’t broken your wrist with all this action, take a sip or two, or gulp it down. No worries, you’ve just had all the nutrition in a typical soda!

That’s the message the NY Department of health is sending out with its new PR campaign against soda. Pretty gross and effective, I must say, though I would go one further and put it on every label of Coke, now wouldn’t that be nice!