Sunday, October 24, 2010

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Facts Not Fear For Flu

As winter ends in the southern hemisphere it is worth looking at the winter flu season just passed and see how our friends the “experts” fared this year.

In May we had dire predictions of a “horror” flu season due to the H1N1 virus. These predictions came at around the time that vaccination of children under five was suspended sue to side effects including seizures and the death of a toddler after being vaccinated.

The government continued to promote the importance of being vaccinated against swine flu due to a much-feared “second wave”. Exactly how you can have a second wave when there was no first wave is another question. Of course the government had paid some $AUD140 million for vaccines which were not being used.

The facts speak for themselves. Figures from the Federal Health department shows that between January and the start of September some 417 cases of H1N1 had been notified. Now to be fair there may be many people with a flu like illness where the test to identify the strain is not done so more people likely had the flu.

And therein lies the first key point. This was just another winter like all others-no horror; no second wave just some people getting ill and the vast, vast majority getting better. Every year some people die with the flu (mostly these people have other illness already) and this year was no different.

Despite all the hysteria from health “experts” and the offer of a free vaccine, only 18% of Australians were vaccinated. The two main reasons were that people perceived swine flu as a mild illness and not a serious threat to their health. The other main reason given was concerns about the vaccine itself.

Here the plot thickens. The program to vaccinate children under age five was suspended due to side effects. A significant number had febrile convulsions (seizures) and there was at least one death. The coroners report ultimately found the vaccine might have contributed to the toddler’s death. Proving causation was never going to be possible. The child was well before the vaccination and died after it. We can draw our own conclusions.

And given the number of hospitalizations and issues with this vaccine, what was the main concern of the authorities? That an “important “ vaccination program was being held up. Never mind that more harm than good was being done.

Regular readers will know my views on swine flu, which are on the record from April 2009. This was always a normal flu like illness and there was no need for panic, hysteria and the waste of billions of dollars. Inquires are being held into the behavior of the WHO and conflicts of interest by those giving advice to governments and also advising vaccine makers.

At no time were the public given the truth. At no time was any useful advice about how to strengthen your immune system given. Basic things like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, managing stress, eating enough fruits and vegetables. Let alone more specific information about having adequate intake of zinc, antioxidant vitamins, folate and vitamin D.

The web of deceit is starting to unravel. A major analysis published in the journal Eurosurveillance shows the flu vaccine caused more harm than good. For every hospital admission prevented there were two or three hospital admissions due to seizures.

Yet the response of the “experts” remains the same. According to the Australian TGA “the overall risk-benefit balance …remains positive” and the chief medical officer feels that the vaccine should not be withdrawn but that the government would reassess.

There is no point relying on so-called experts or the government. There is no need to get caught up in hysteria. The best way to stay healthy and keep your children healthy is to be in charge of your own health.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reliance On Drugs HasA Human And Economic Cost

When too many of us take too many drugs, there are consequences. These are both economic and human. The solution is to use drugs judiciously and not as a replacement for being responsible for what we put in our mouths.

Human inventions are not intrinsically good or bad. It is how they are used which determines this. For example a knife is useful to cut your food but can also be used to stab someone. Fire can warm us on a cold night but has the potential to burn the house down if not used correctly.

And so it is with pharmaceutical agents. They have the capacity to do enormous good when used correctly. However when misused or used inappropriately or when they are not really needed problems can and do occur.

Figures from the USA show that almost one in two Americans take at least one prescription drug per month, an increase of 10% over ten years. A staggering one in five children 11 years and younger were in the same boat. Spending on prescription drugs more than doubled to USD 234 billion over the decade to 2008.

Amongst the commoner medications used were those for cholesterol and depression in adults and for ADHD in adolescents.

British researchers have previously noted that 7% of NHS spending on drugs went on drugs for diabetes. Between 2000 and 2008 the number of prescriptions had risen 50% but costs had risen 104%. This reflects use of newer and more expensive (but not always better) medications. One of these is rosiglitazone.

The fundamental question that never gets asked is whether the best way to manage a problem is with medication? The second question which also is rarely asked is what other consequences might occur if medications are used?

We have just seen the withdrawal of diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia) from sale in Europe and severe restrictions on its use in the USA. A report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) had earlier called for the drugs withdrawal and questioned whether its use should ever have been approved.

The drug has been shown to lead to an increase in rates of heart attack and strokes in people taking the drug compared to those not. In 2007 a study showed a 43% increased risk of heart attack.

John Yudkin of University College London said in the BMJ “We need to be absolutely certain that our long term treatments for type 2 diabetes are not causing the very harm they are meant to prevent”.

Type 2 diabetes comes about predominantly from people eating too much processed and sugary foods, being obese and not exercising. Logic would dictate that the primary treatments would be correcting what led to the problem. Some people may still end up needing drugs but it would be far fewer and they may not need drugs as potent (or costly) as rosigltizone.

It has also emerged that another diabetes drug, pioglitazone (Actos) is being investigated as it may increase the risk of bladder cancer. It has also been shown that bisphosphonate drugs used for osteoporosis can double the rate of esophageal cancer.

None of this is to say that there is not a role for drugs. However when we are dealing with conditions that come about from lifestyle choices we make, reliance on drugs in preference to making the necessary lifestyle changes are not without other consequences. These examples show that just “popping a pill” may seem an easy option but may not be.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We Need More Fun Not More Fun Police

The stupidity of government never ceases to amaze me. So far this year we have seen one local government wanting to charge people to exercise in its parks and a councilor in another claim that the City to Surf race should be “run somewhere else” (rather than to the beach).

Now just in time for summer we have Cottesloe council proposing a new raft of laws to make a day at the beach as much fun as a day listening to the thoughts of councilors. As usual this is all done in the name of making the beach safer and claims to be targeting “bad behavior”.

So what sort of dastardly crimes do the law abiding beach goers of Perth need to be protected from?

A few of the activities to be outlawed are digging holes (which are too big), flying a kite, taking photographs, playing with toy vehicles and having a gathering of more than ten people.

Just who will determine when a hole is too big? Will wee see rangers with tape measures deciding whether the hole dug by a five year old meets council standards. And too bad if your family has more than ten members, or if you have a group if friends, who you like to go to the beach with. And naturally any child caught bringing a toy car to the beach will rightly have it confiscated.

Ultimately this is all about petty bureaucrats and small-minded councilors trying to decide what people can do at the beach and raise some revenue into the bargain. The excuse is that the propose laws are in response to incidents. Even if there have been isolated incidents of “problems” due to a kite is banning flying kites for everyone the answer?

Of course not!

The increasing attempts by petty officials and small minded politicians at all levels of government to control each aspect of peoples lives needs to be stopped. Already a protest is being planned for Cottesloe Beach and a facebook group ha started. There are signs that due to the publicity the council is already backing away and is trying to blame some junior official for “misunderstandings”.

Fun and purpose is one of the pillars of DIY health. Petty laws which make it almost impossible to have fun at the beach without tripping over some ridiculous by-law is actually bad for the health of the community.

We need to have more fun, not engage more fun police.

There are enough laws to deal with antisocial behavior by the few. Infringing the rights of the majority with petty, stupid laws which seek to restrict and codify every possible use of the beach is an attempt by the totally humorless to inflict their view of the world on those who want to have fun. It is also a lazy way for governments to try and stamp out the behavior of a few by penalizing the many.

Freedom is one of those intangibles that we can take for granted until it is gone and you wake up one day to find you cannot play with your children at the beach. Health and freedom are related. Attacks on freedom need to be resisted.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Low Libido Can Be An Issue But Is Not A Disease

The knockback by the FDA of a new drug for female sexual desire again casts a spotlight on the medicalization of life. The drug was knocked back for the simple reason that it had not been found to actually work

Interestingly the comparison is made with drugs like Viagra (sildenafil), of which there are three on the market. Some have claimed that it is discrimination that drugs are made for men whilst women do not have any. Others question the existence of what is described as hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

So lets look at the facts. Tablets such as sildenalil do not actually stimulate desire for sex (libido) in males. They relax blood vessels allowing increased blood flow to the penis. This only happens if a man is actually in the mood or has been stimulated. The tablet does not affect libido.

Hence calling the new drugs a “female Viagra” is wrong as the proposed new drug is designed to work on the brain and affect libido not work on the blood vessels once desire is already established.

The other key issue is whether a low interest in sex is a disease. The fact that it exists does not make it a disease nor does it mean there is something “wrong” with women (or men) who may have a lower interest in sex than others. It becomes a problem it troubles the individual or is a problem in a relationship.

A problem can be real but not every problem is a disease and hence the answer is not necessarily a drug and may lie elsewhere. Worse still, labeling it as a disease, and looking for a drug as the answer, distracts people from the real cause and hence the real solution.

Sexual desire is influenced by a large number of things. Keep in mind that humans are almost unique in nature in that they have sex other than purely for reproduction of the species. Furthermore what constitutes “normal” is impossible to define. Whilst countless surveys are done to determine how often people have sex and their level of interest, all of these studies rely on self reporting and hence people may report what they want to rather than what they do.

Libido is influenced by tiredness, stress, diet, fitness levels, hormones and our emotions to name just a few. Obesity alone has a major impact on people’s sex lives. Obviously how a relationship is going to have a major influence too. At times other issues in life take precedence. When people are focused on work or on raising children, interest in sex can take a back seat. When people reach bed and are exhausted and really ready to sleep it is not surprising that they do not feel like having sex.

There is at times a clash between the mind which says, “we ought to be having sex” and the body which has not got the energy. As a society we also have very mixed attitudes to sex. Bar maids have been arrested for showing a glimpse of nipple yet half the videos watched don the Internet are pornographic. We express concern about teenagers having sex and yet bombard them with sexualized images. Marketers have known from day one that sex sells.

So what are we to do? A low interest in sex is only a problem if it bothers you. If it does then you need to realistically examine what is going on in your life. It may be that you need to change your eating patterns, or get fitter. It may be that you need to get more sleep. It may be that your relationship needs tending. Maybe you need some injection of romance. It may be that at present other things in your life are actually more important.

There is no absolute right or wrong. What matters is honest with yourself (and your spouse/partner) and making changes if you need and want to. Turning aspects of life into a disease and taking a pill is not the solution.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Women Are Smarter Than Governments And Health Experts

When messages get confusing, people switch off. This has been demonstrated in dietary advice, where it has been shown that the more complicated the diet; the less likely people are to follow it. It has now been shown that official government guidelines on drinking alcohol have little impact on the behavior of expectant mothers.

A study in the Medical Journal of Australia shows that 80% of Australian women consume alcohol while pregnant. The study looked at consumption before and after changes in guidelines in 2001. Prior to 2001, the government recommendation was to drink no alcohol during pregnancy. This was changed to a safe limit of 6 standard drinks per week or less than 2 per day. In 2009, the guidelines were changed back to total abstinence.

What has been shown is that the behavior of women during this time was unchanged. Some 60% of women consume a small amount of alcohol (consistent with the 2001 guidelines), 20% drink less than that and a little fewer than 20% don’t drink at all during pregnancy. Less than 1% were found to consume a level regarded as dangerous.

Much effort and expense goes into developing guidelines. Governments and health experts often wring their hands about people not following their advice

What is really interesting in these figures is that the vast majority (over 99%) of women can figure out what is reasonable themselves. The vast majority of women can work out what is a reasonable and safe amount of alcohol to drink. They are clearly dismissive of scare campaigns about the dangers of even one drink. The reason for this of course is that small amounts of alcohol have not actually been shown to do any damage to the fetus. In turn, the reason for this is that small amounts of alcohol are easily processed by the body ,with no adverse effects.

There are of course, renewed arguments over labeling of alcoholic beverages. Governments and in particular, public health officials, love to be seen as doing something and they particularly love to hector the general public who they generally regard as being stupid. This survey shows that women are actually much smarter than government guidelines and health officials.

Interestingly, at about the same time, another study emerged which suggested that women who drank one glass of wine a day might have children who were better behaved than those who either drank no alcohol or drank heavily. To be honest, I would be very suspicious of these findings. There is no reason why one glass of wine consumed during pregnancy should influence the behavior of a child later in life.

What was really interesting though is that the researchers, despite making this finding, advised women to continue to observe Government recommendations of total abstinence. If the finding is valid, then you think they would be advising one glass of wine per day. If this finding is not valid, then why has it been published at all?

It is easy to imaging the noise that would have been generated had the study shown that one glass of wine per day led to worse behavior in children. This would be hailed as vindication of Government guidelines.

Whilst many in health claim to be guided by science, it is fascinating to see how when the results of their science contradicts their pre-existing beliefs that results can be dismissed.

Rather than being guided by confusing and changing guidelines, clearly women are best guided by their own intuition.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Drug Usage Is Not Black And White

The airing of the Ben Cousins story recently has certainly fired up passions. It seems everyone has an opinion and so do I. Interestingly within the next week we saw more drug related headlines from another AFL player, Travis Tuck and actor Matthew Newton. Drug problems are not uncommon.

Ben Cousins has been a champion footballer in the Australian Football League (AFL) but his story could equally apply to a baseball, soccer or rugby or basketball player. It is the story of a kid who was thrust into the limelight at a young age and went off the rails and got into drugs. The television documentary followed the path of his journey through rehabilitation.

To be honest there was not a whole lot new revealed in the program. Most of the events had been reported in the media previously. However candid interviews with his family and his father in particular were revealing. In addition Cousins himself was straight up about his addiction.

There has been much debate as to whether the program sent the “right” or “wrong” message about drug use. Did it glamorize the use of drugs or show the downside. Good questions but they miss the point.

The documentary was about the journey of Ben Cousins. It was showing what happened to him. It was not about a message –it was a story. Rightly or wrongly this is a man who managed to combine a successful sports career with ongoing use of illegal substances. This happened under the noses of his club and the officiating league.

During this time he won the Brownlow medal (for fairest and best in the competition) and played in two grand finals. He managed to slip through various tests for substances and despite drug problems being an “open secret” in his hometown somehow nobody at the club seemed to notice. It is fair to say that drug users are good at deception. It is also fair to say that sporting teams do not want to know things about star players that might rock the boat.

This is the key point and it applies across the board. For as long as you are “useful” your indiscretions will be overlooked or excused. Here was a popular and extremely good player at a club looking for (and winning) a premiership. So long as he did his “day job” and kept his drug use discreet, neither the club the league or the fans really want to know. As soon as he ceased to be discreet and the issue was played out in public then there was outrage sacking and hand wringing over the game being brought into “disrepute”.

Much elite sport is played by men aged 18 to 30.This is the same demographic which has the highest levels of drug alcohol and violence related problems. Give some of these young men large salaries, lots of spare time and “hero” status because they can throw or kick leather around a park and you are inviting trouble. When it arrives everyone acts surprised. What is really surprising is that there are not more young sports people going off the rails.

Ultimately the outrage over Ben Cousins is not that he used drugs and “got away with it”. It is that he has dared to state this publically. The reality is that not all drug users are in the gutter, they live among us and we do not recognize them because they do not fit stereotypes. The notion of addiction, which is promoted by governments and health authorities, applies to a small percentage of users. Disturb this image and you get the sort of response Ben Cousins got.

Drug usage is not as black and white as health authorities and governments like to portray it. Some people go quickly downhill. Others function “normally in society. Some use often, some occasionally. Young people are not scared by horror stories because they see a different spectrum of reality day to day.

Honesty rather than lecturing would be far more productive.

Use of illicit drugs can and does destroy lives. So too at times does use of prescription drugs-witness Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson. Rather than demonize people perhaps we need to understand what drives them to make these choices. It is through this type of understanding rather than making the drug the problem that we may be actually able to advance our capacity to help people heal and regain their health and their lives.