Eclipse Blinds Pets! (And Other Bad Science)

pool closed due to eclipse

The road to Science Hell is paved with good intentions.

As I anxiously await my ninth total eclipse of the sun here in Western Kentucky, I was shocked to see that the swimming pool would be closed during the event in the interest of public safety. Is our resort afraid people will lose their way in the darkness and fall in & drown, or has a viral Internet rumor been spreading that looking at an eclipse while immersed in water will cause blindness?

Egad.

Bad science abounds around eclipse time.  From people locking children indoors for “protection”, to religious leaders predicting the end of the world is nigh, something about losing the sun for a few minutes brings out the daft among us.

Knowing that I’m an eclipse buff, some well-meaning coworkers at the office passed along the following semi-viral internet meme, warning of the dire consequences of not locking your pets inside during the “Great American Eclipse” of August 21:

eclipse will not cause pet blindness

Bad eclipse science runs rampant on social media (click/enlarge)

Pets going blind because of the eclipse?  No.  Just no.

If you aren’t in the path of totality, staring at the partially eclipsed sun is going to be just as painful and counterintuitive for your cat/dog/guppy as it would be for you. Even with 99% of the sun blocked by the moon, as it will be near my home town of Lexington, KY, the sun will be far too bright to look at with the naked eye. So why, pray tell, would Whiskers and Fido suddenly feel the urge to stare intently at the sun and fry their retinas like bacon?

Answer: they won’t. The only odd behavior you might notice from a pet during this eclipse would be if you happen to own a critter that routinely feeds or beds down at sunset. Animals sometimes get tricked into thinking that the eclipse signals nightfall. Bessie the Cow might head for the trough, Trigger the Horse might head for the barn, but if you plan on putting either in the house to protect them from the eclipse, you’re wasting your time (and risking severe carpet damage).

The only animals who need to worry about protecting their eyes during this eclipse are humans. We know something special is happening, so we tend to do something unnatural and stare at the sun. Proper eye protection is de rigeur in this case during the partial phases of the eclipse.

Fido and the other pets will have no clue what’s going on, and will happily go about their business–unless some Facebook addict ruins their day by locking them in the house.

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The Quack Doctor/Blogger Quiz

Bad Science Debunked Quiz

So you think you know your con artists?

Which major organization did “holistic psychiatrist” Kelly Brogan falsely accuse of supporting birth control in Africa via vaccinations?

What inanimate substance did woo peddler David Wolfe hilariously claim is alive?

Which doctor sells the most “toxic”, heavy-metal containing products branded in his own name: Mercola, Hyman, or Oz?

If you think you know the answers, try my thirty-question Playbuzz quiz.  (I got really bored last night, and we were out of blackberry wine and red velvet cupcakes, so I put this quiz together). Click the image below to launch:

Bad Science Debunked Quack Doctor Quiz

Try the quiz! (Click to launch)

McDonald’s Food Myth Debunked–Again

mcdonald's happy meal debunked

Please God, not again

We shouldn’t be here–again.

Making an encore appearance across countless Facebook feeds is YET another claim that McDonald’s food, left untouched for years, has gone unspoiled, ostensibly because of disgusting, harmful chemicals.

News stories trending on social media1,2 claim that a six-year-old Happy Meal looks as good (bad?) as the day it came out of the hoppers at Mickey D’s.  Says Jennifer Lovdahl, the owner of the meal:

“We did this experiment to show our patients how unhealthy this ‘food’ is.  Especially our growing children! There are so many chemicals in this food!  Choose real food!  Apples, bananas, carrots, celery…”  1

Well of course there are chemicals in the food.  Everything is made up of chemicals, including the apples, bananas, and carrots that Ms. Lovdahl adores.  But the Happy Meal not spoiling?  We already know the secret behind that.  It’s called desiccation.  In plain English, the food has dried out, leaving behind a poor environment for mold to grow.

If you’ve done even a little bit of cooking, you know that the process drives a lot of water out of the food.  All you need to do to reverse this and spoil a meal is place it in a moist environment, such as a plastic bag.

Don’t take my word for it.  Try an easy experiment at home with some McDonald’s food.  My Fear Babe co-authors and I did this recently for our book.  The results are visible in the photo below.  On the left is a McDonald’s burger left in a plastic bag for approximately two weeks.  On the right, a burger left to dry in the open air.

mcdonald's burger

McDonald’s hamburgers DO spoil. They just need moisture. (click/enlarge)

The plastic bag retained enough moisture to allow mold to grow on the burger inside.  The sandwich left outside didn’t spoil.  Our results have nothing to do with chemicals.  In fact, you can repeat this exercise with “healthy” chemical-free bread from your local organic store, and you’ll get the same results.

Why oh why are we still debunking this nonsense in 2016?

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”–Mark Twain

 

Image Credits
McDonald’s spoiled/unspoiled hamburgers by Marc Draco, from The Fear Babe.  Copyright 2015 Senapath Press.  All rights reserved.

McDonald’s happy meal news image from Lovdahl/The Independent, used under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 of United States copyright law (commonly known as “fair use law”). This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

References
(1) There’s Something Freakishly Disgusting About This McDonald’s Happy Meal (The Independent)
http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/theres-something-freakishly-disgusting-about-this-mcdonalds-happy-meal–bk0AyF82pe

(2) Mom shares photo of 6-year-old Happy Meal that still hasn’t spoiled (Miami Herald)
http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article59297773.html

Debunking the Synthetic Insulin Myth (Part I)

You would think someone with “MD” after her name would know better than to fall for quack medical articles.  Still, I could forgive Kelly Brogan, “Holistic Psychiatrist”, for her mistake in linking “Insulin Can Kill Diabetics; Natural Substances Heal Them”1 on her Facebook page,2 if only she had apologized for her mistake when it was pointed out to her.

Instead, Brogan plows mindlessly on, erasing critical posts, banning users who debunk her, and going on to spread more misinformation like, for example, the HIV virus not being responsible for AIDS,6 and claiming that we need viruses more than vaccines.2

FB thumbnail

Confirming a lie instead of debunking it–NOT what a doctor should be doing. See footnotes for image credit.

In a future article, I’ll debunk the myth that synthetic insulin is dangerous–and that pig-derived insulin is somehow safer.  In this article, however, I’d like to look at how people like Brogan and her source, “GreenMedInfo”, misrepresent real medical studies to scare the general public.  The study in question is called (hold on to your seats): “Glucose-lowering with exogenous insulin monotherapy in type 2 diabetes: dose association with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events, and incident cancer.”3

In this study, the researchers didn’t really look at when patients began insulin therapy and how the insulin affected the outcome.  Instead, they used a “proportional hazards model”, a statistical method in which they took a database of Type II diabetes patients from the United Kingdom, assumed synthetic insulin was a hazard, and introduced it mathematically over a designated period of time.

In other words, the researchers had no idea when the patients actually began insulin therapy and whether the insulin was a factor in the hazardous outcomes breathlessly reported by people misquoting and misrepresenting this study.  One thing that’s obviously missing is a control group–in this case, a group that did not receive the synthetic insulin.  The researchers do admit this, but everyone quoting the study ignores the fact.

So, all we really know from this study is that several years after 6,484 people with diabetes received synthetic insulin, some of them got sick, and some of those sick people eventually died.  Well, that’s exactly what you would expect in any population, especially if some of them are seriously ill.  The calculated adjusted hazard ratios in this study (e.g., 1.37 for major adverse/acute cardiovascular events, MACE) could just as easily be explained by pre-existing conditions or other factors.

In fact, a recent presentation at the 50th annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes claimed that “pre-existing cardiovascular disease (CVD) emerged as the greatest risk factor for experiencing a major acute cardiovascular event (MACE) among patients with type 2 diabetes”.4  Wow.  Is it possible that patients with Type II diabetes are predisposed to cardiovascular disease?

Answer: Yes.  According to the American Heart Association, CVD is the cause of death in approximately 65% of all diabetes patients.5  All of a sudden, we’re running in circles: did the diabetes cause the CVD, or did the synthetic insulin?  Remember that missing control group?  What about the age of the patients?  What about when they actually began taking the insulin, as opposed the the arbitrary time selected by the researchers?  What about other health conditions?  What about…?

The researchers themselves were aware of the limitations of their study.  The last line of their abstract, missing from every quack article such as GreenMedInfo’s:

“Limitations of observational studies mean that this should be further investigated using an interventional study design”

An “interventional study” is what I hinted at earlier… it is a carefully controlled experiment involving, among other things, a control group that does not receive the drug (e.g., synthetic insulin) being tested.

There is nothing inherently wrong with an observational study, or statistical analysis.  The authors may very well have a point–maybe more studies are warranted.  I’ll leave that up to doctors.

What I want to point out is that one observational study does not–in any field, in any circumstances–prove a link between one thing and another.  And that is what’s being claimed by Dr. Brogan and everyone else citing this horrific GreenMedInfo article.

 

Image Credits
Dr. Brogan/Facebook screen snapshot used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

 

References
Please note: To prevent increasing search engine exposure to quack web sites, I use the “DoNotLink” link obfuscator service to disguise URLs.  I promise that you are not being redirected to porn 🙂

(1)  (Quack Article) Research: Insulin Can Kill Diabetics; Natural Substances Heal Them
http://www.donotlink.com/crxt

(2) Dr. Brogan (Facebook)
http://www.donotlink.com/cryq

(3) Glucose-lowering with exogenous insulin monotherapy in type 2 diabetes (abstract)
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/dom.12412/abstract

(4) Pre-Existing Cardiovascular Disease Largest Risk Factor for MACE in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
http://www.firstwordpharma.com/node/1236429#axzz3KxlconSQ

(5) AHA Scientific Statement: Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/100/10/1134.full

(6) Kelly Brogan denies germ theory and the value of HIV drugs
http://sciblogs.co.nz/diplomaticimmunity/2014/09/23/kelly-brogan-denies-germ-theory-and-the-value-of-hiv-drugs/

Food Babe Flashes Her Beaver

If the title of this blog is offensive, then you, like me, live in a place where “beaver” is crude, unacceptable slang for a female body part.  I’m sorry to resort to language like this, but I hope that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and continue reading.

Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”) makes a living posting sensationalized articles and videos on health, well-being, and alternative medicine. One thing that’s obvious about the alternative health movement is that sensationalism sells.  I deliberately chose my title to illustrate this point.

In her infamous YouTube post, “Do You Eat Beaver Butt?,”1 Hari uses a stuffed beaver as a prop to cast doubt on natural food additives by deriding castoreum, a vanilla-flavored chemical taken from scent glands of male and female beavers.  These glands happen to be located between the tail and pelvis.

It’s unpleasant and impractical to milk a beaver–both for the beaver and the human.  But let’s forget for a moment that the Babe misleads her fans about castoreum, which in reality is rarely used as a flavoring.2   The real problem is that, typical of her posts, Food Babe uses the source of the chemical to go quickly down a slippery slope and cast doubt on all natural ingredients–indeed, even on the definition of “natural ingredient” itself.

The fact is, humans use products derived from “disgusting” natural places in countless beneficial ways.  Please note: vegetarians will likely take issue with me and argue we shouldn’t use animal sources at all.  That’s a debate for another time and place.  Vani Hari is not a vegetarian.3,7  She’s not arguing against using animal products.

Here’s a quick list of useful animal products coming from “disgusting” places.  If I can use Food Babe’s gross-out tactics to increase readership and possibly educate along the way, I’m not above doing it.

My List

Aortic Valve Replacements
Undoubtedly the most fascinating part of my experience as a pre-med student was an eight hour stint as an observer in the operating room during two open heart surgeries.  In one of the operations, the surgeon replaced the patient’s aortic valve.  This valve resides in the heart, controlling the flow of blood in the main artery of the body.

The replacement valve was taken from a pig.  During lunch (Chinese food–it’s amazing how much you can eat immediately after watching a human chest cracked open!) the surgeon explained the advantages of using an animal product, which is already biologically similar to a human, then stripped down to cartilage to minimize rejection by the immune system.

For example, patients on artificial valves can be restricted to a lifetime on medications.  I am not a doctor, but am providing a link to an easy-to-understand transcript on the procedure–written by a real doctor–if you’d like to know more.4

I do feel bad for the pig.  But watching the patient open her eyes in recovery and smile at her grandchildren, I felt the sacrifice was worth it.

 

Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil comes from [drum roll please]… oily fish!13  Fans of both alternative and real medicine love fish oil because it’s a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Possible benefits include reducing the risk of serious heart conditions, lowering blood pressure, and preventing cardiovascular disease.5,6

Fish don’t produce omega-3 themselves.  They accumulate it by eating microalgae (and other fish that have accumulated omega-3).  Oily fish and algae.  It’s what’s for dinner!

Hypocritically, Food Babe loves omega-3, still eats fish, but now disclaims the fatty acid as an omega-3 source.  Instead she pushes a seed blend–and receives a commission from the vendor of the seeds.7   Can you say “conflict of interest?”

 

Orange Juice
Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids from fish, did you know that they’re considered so beneficial that orange juice manufacturers are adding them to their juice?8

Before I beat the omega-3 horse to death, I’ll mention a 2007 USA Today article that mentions the healthy fatty acid was being added to an estimated 250 products (including juice, cereal, and cheese) being rolled out that year.9

Food Babe is hilariously confused when it comes to juices, fretting that “chemicals” such as water (I’m not making this shit up!) and Vitamin C are added during processing.14  This stupidity is not surprising coming from a woman who once ranted about airlines adding nitrogen to the air in airplane cabins (earth’s atmosphere is 72% nitrogen–it’s what we naturally breathe!)

 

Heparin
Heparin, listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines,10 is an important medicine used to prevent the clotting of blood.  It’s used as a blood-thinner by people with medical conditions where clotting is a problem, as well as before surgery to prevent life-threatening clots.

Heparin is made from animal tissues, including pig intestines.11

 

Chicken Eggs
Most people don’t like to think about this one.   Eggs don’t come out of the chicken’s butt, but, “geographically”, it’s close.  Fortunately, the end result is a sterile egg: (1) The hen has one hole exposed to the outside world, known as the vent. (2) Both poop and the egg must exit this hole.  (3) But when the hen lays an egg, the oviduct extends outside of the hole–like a glove–shielding the egg from poop.12

But the rooster still has to stick his penis in there.  Ooh, yuck!  After I published this post, an insightful reader pointed out that the rooster penis isn’t actually inserted into the hen.  Instead, the exchange of sperm takes place via a mechanism known as a “cloacal kiss.”23,24  Fascinating bit of science there–with, I think, the potential for an equally high gross-out factor.

Where chicken eggs come from

Where chicken eggs come from (click to enlarge). See footnotes for image credits.

Chicken eggs are nutritious.15  They’re also a valuable host for growing certain vaccines, which, unless you have an egg allergy, are safe and critical in preventing diseases.

 

Milk
I remember talking to an old farmer in Kentucky who told me he used to drink directly from the cow on hot summer days.  I was fascinated, but a little grossed out at the same time.  Maybe it’s the proximity of the udder to the cow’s anus?

Fortunately, we have pasteurization.  Predictably, Hari is absolutely clueless when it comes to this process.16  Pasteurization is the most effective way to handle disease-causing organisms (and cow poop) while preserving the nutritional value of the product.  In fact, unpasteurized products can be dangerous and have caused serious disease outbreaks.

 

Cheese
If you’re freaked out by putting something in your mouth that comes from the questionably located glands of an animal, add cheese to your banned food list: cows, goats, sheep, and even buffalo are the sources.

Like the other food products in my list, cheese is nutritious and it tastes good.  Just check out Food Babe’s goat cheese recipe!17

 

Silk
We don’t eat it, but a lot of people like to wear it and sleep on it.  A lot of these same people might be grossed out at the thought of being covered in worm spit.  Silk is a protein secreted from the salivary glands of certain insects, including the silkworm.18   Yes, your salivary glands produce… spit.

In her beauty archives, Food Babe recommends sleeping on 100% silk pillowcases.19 Fortunately, worm spit is 100% natural and organic–just like chemicals extracted from beaver butts.

 

Gelatin
Gelatin is a flavorless additive that adds texture to foods like yogurt, cream cheese, marshmallows, candy, fruit snacks, and margarine.  It’s used as a fining agent in beer and wines (fining agents give such drinks their clarity).  The use of gelatin is so widespread in food production that it’s usually overlooked.  It’s also important in the pharmaceutical industry–for example, in dissolvable gel capsules for pills. Gelatin is made from the bones, skins, and connective tissues of animals.20,21,22

Like the other animal products in this list, gelatin may come from a “gross” place, but it’s hard to imagine food without it.  While it has no effect on the nutritional value of the food, few of us would like to drink our marshmallows and yogurt.  They’d be liquid without the gelatin.

 

Conclusion
Everything in the universe is made up of chemicals.  Food Babe frequently uses either the source and/or names of chemicals to cast doubt on their safety.  Some people might naturally recoil before eating sodium chloride before being told it’s just common table salt.

One common joke about Food Babe is that if she can’t pronounce it, she won’t eat it.  In that same vein, she wants her fans to believe that if something comes from a “bad” place, it isn’t good for you.  This is utter nonsense.

Vani Hari is apparently making a small fortune by casting doubt on safe, established products and earning commissions on the alternative products she hawks on her web site.  It’s sad that more people do not examine her claims critically.  They’re being misled, and she’s laughing all the way to the bank.

 

Image Credits
“The Hen’s Perspective on Laying Eggs (Wieckmann, 1896; Grzimek, 1964)”, as referenced by a wonderful blog post by Wiebe H. van der Molen (http://www.afn.org/~poultry/egghen.htm).  None of those authors necessarily agree with or endorse my work here.  Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

Screen snapshot “Do You Eat Beaver Butt?” copyright (c) Vani Hari, “The Food Babe”.  Used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.

 

References
Please note: to avoid increasing search engine exposure for questionable web sites, I use the DoNotLink URL obfuscator on their links.  I promise, you will not be redirected to porn.

(1) Original Food Babe article
http://www.donotlink.com/bumv

(2) Fernelli’s Handbook of Flavor Ingredients
http://books.google.com/books?id=A8OyTzGGJhYC&pg=PA277&lpg=PA277&dq=castoreum+food+ingredients&source=bl&ots=YeByZKDtcL&sig=hSfcnSCnX9LkQ7PBprj7zFg0004&hl=en&ei=Ca7HTNu5I42-sQOfkqnSDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDMQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q&f=false

(3) Food Babe: Chicken Salad
http://www.donotlink.com/cll0

(4) Bruce Lytle, MD: Transcript for Aortic Valve Replacement
http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/patient-education/videos/faqsurgery/video_avr/transcript_avr

(5) Mayo Clinic: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid
http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/omega-3-fatty-acids-fish-oil-alpha-linolenic-acid/evidence/hrb-20059372

(6) Fish Oil Cools the Inflammasome
http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/5/193/193ec113.full?sid=2140f821-3aa3-4130-ad2a-3224eb6f4c19

(7) Food Babe: “I stopped taking fish oil a long time ago”
http://www.donotlink.com/clkz

(8) Tropicana
http://www.tropicana.com/#/trop_products/productsLanding.swf?TropicanaPurePremium/55

(9) USA Today: Omega-3 Pours into cereal, orange juice, eggs, pet food
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/health/2007-01-01-omega-3-usat_x.htm

(10) WHO List of Essential Medicines
http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/18th_EML.pdf

(11) Production and Chemical Processing of Low Molecular Weight Heparins
http://www-heparin.rpi.edu/main/files/papers/217.pdf

(12) Avian Reproductive System–Female
http://www.extension.org/pages/65372/avian-reproductive-systemfemale#.VHOgrsnYJDg

(13) Oily Fish
http://tna.europarchive.org/20110116113217/http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2004/jun/oilyfishdefinition

(14) Food Babe Juice Labels
http://www.donotlink.com/clol

(15) Nutrient Content of One Large Egg
http://www.aeb.org/images/PDFs/Retail/nutrient-content-large-egg.pdf

(16) Food Babe doesn’t understand pasteurization
http://www.donotlink.com/clol

(17) Food Babe Goat Cheese Recipe
http://www.donotlink.com/coal

(18) Silk Making & Silk Production
https://texeresilk.com/article/silk_making_how_to_make_silk

(19) Food Babe Beauty Tips: Silk Pillowcase
http://www.donotlink.com/cll8

(20) USDA: Gelatin Processing
http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5091334

(21) Gelatin Manufacturers of America: Gelatin Handbook
http://www.gelatin-gmia.com/images/GMIA_Gelatin_Manual_2012.pdf

(22) Gelatin: Fining Agents
https://winemakermag.com/26-a-clearer-understanding-of-fining-agents

(23) Cloacal Kiss (Encylopaedia Britannica)
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/121929/cloaca

(24) Cloacal Kiss (Urban Dictionary)
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cloacal%20kiss