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The Health Forum

November 12, 2009

Hey! I’ve resumed blogging… over at The Health Forum along with two other friends — James Ong and John Yeo — as well as guest writers. This will also focus on health issues and the first few posts cover topics such as H1N1 flu / pneumonia vaccination and water fluoridation.

Do drop by for a visit.

Cheers

Richard

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Why is ST so anti-biomedical treatment for autism?

August 22, 2008

Why is The Strait Times waging a vociferous campaign against alternative therapies for autism – and singling out biomedical treatment?

On its own, an ST article questioning alternative and complementary therapies is nothing unusual. But three articles within a space of 10 days does seem (to use a word from one of the articles) “bizarre”.

Moreover, two of those article were written by the same journalist, Radha Basu, and both articles essentially said the same things. Is the ST so short of articles that it needs to repeat itself so soon? Even after another senior writer, Dr Andy Ho, has already affirmed several of the points initially raised?

At the same time, at least two letters to ST Forum commenting on those articles – one by me and one by my friend John Yeo, who is a biomedical practitioner with an MSc in Exercise and Nutrition – have been rejected for publication. Because, you know, “The Straits Times receives an average of 70 letters a day….”

If healthcare professionals who have been aggressively attacked are not given the right to respond, and present their case, who will be?

This “right of reply” is something that the PAP government makes a big issue about whenever it gets criticised by the foreign media. Yet our own media does not grant similar right of reply to our own citizens.

Something strange – bizarre – is going on. Let’s take a closer look at those articles.

____________

On 11 August, Radha Basu wrote an article titled Autism ‘cures’: helpful or harmful?

The article is peppered with emotive words. She describes chelation therapy as “bewildering” and quotes a US report that calls it “voodoo”.

The article goes on to highlight “reports of at least one botched-up chelation-related death in the US.” All this makes it sound as if chelation is highly dangerous, when, in fact, the single case of death was not due to chelation. Rather, it was due to the procedure being “botched up”.

The pertinent background, omitted from the ST report, is that in this instance, the doctor had administered the drug via direct injection when it should have been given via a drip, slowly over two to three hours.

Moreover, the drug used in this case was EDTA, which is rarely used in biomedical treatment. The most commonly used drug is DMSA, which is an oral / transdermal drug approved by the US FDA for treating acute lead poisoning.

DMSA has also been found to be effective for treating mercury and other heavy metal poisoning. And since it has been scientifically proven that many autistic children have higher levels of mercury in the body, using DMSA to remove mercury from autistic children is not unjustified.

But by discussing DMSA and then mentioning a case of death (indirectly) involving EDTA, Ms Basu made it seem as if all chelation is dangerous. This is irresponsible reporting. It is fear-mongering.

Ms Basu further describes two other biomedical treatments – hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and neurofeedback – as “bizarre”.

She fails to mention that HBOT has been medically used for decades and is offered by many hospitals around the world, including Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital. She also fails to mention that HBOT has been scientifically proven to be safe and effective for the treatment of various physical as well as neurological conditions.

Plus, she fails to mention that soft chamber HBOT (using mild pressure and without pure oxygen – the type used for autism treatment here) is approved by the FDA as a Class IIa medical device for home use in the US.

As for neurofeedback, it is but a modern, enhanced version of biofeedback. And biofeedback itself has been around since the 1950s and has also considerable scientific backing. In fact, biofeedback is endorsed by prestigious mainstream medical institutions including The Mayo Clinic.

It is indeed strange (bizarre) that Ms Basu should describe these two therapies as bizarre.

Throughout, Ms Basu asserts that the various alternative treatments for autism – including nutritional therapy, CFGF (casein free, gluten free) diet, HBOT, etc – are unscientific, ineffective and dangerous.

These assertions are simply NOT TRUE. A simple search on the medical database PubMed will throw up a good number of peer-reviewed and published scientific studies affirming both the safety and efficacy of the various treatments.

Ms Basu goes on to highlight the “high costs” of alternative treatment for autism, ignoring the fact that conventional autism therapy often costs even more money!

As for parents who said their children have benefited from alternative treatment, Ms Basu casts a strong doubt with her own comment, “For now, at least.”

Such a comment is utterly insensitive and offensive. If you were the mother interviewed, whose autistic child had shown improvements, how does it feel to have the journalist proclaim to over a million readers that the improvements are only “for now”?

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On August 16, ST followed up with a commentary by Dr Andy Ho, who is trained as a medical doctor, titled Autism: Desperately seeking a cure.

Except for calling alternative and biomedical practitioners “quacks”, Dr Ho was at least more factual and less emotive in his writing.

But he, too, resorts to scare mongering. For example, he cites the use of two drugs, Avandia and Actos, which he describes as “potentially deadly”. In reality, these drugs – in fact, drugs in general – are hardly ever used by alternative practitioners.

Dr Ho offers a simplistic – to the point of being unscientific – explanation as to why autistic kids sometimes get better after alternative treatment. He writes:

“Sometimes, fad therapies seem to work because autism, like many other disorders, displays a natural pattern: Symptoms get worse at times and diminish at others. When symptoms get really bad, parents hunt for magic cures; and when the symptoms abate naturally afterwards, the improvement is attributed to the new ‘cure’. Parents want to believe.”

Such an explanation totally ignores cases where symptoms had persisted for years and then subsided, or went away completely, following alternative treatment. It also ignores – and belittles – the scientific literature that support the effectiveness of such treatments.

Dr Ho’s comment is that parents “want to believe”.

My comment is that doctors and other sceptics like him “don’t want to believe”.

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Finally, on August 20, the ST published a second article by Radha Basu titled Saving people from peddlers of false hope. As mentioned earlier, the article essentially makes the same points as her earlier article, except that it no longer specifically mentions biomedical treatment.

She ends of by calling for penalties against alternative practitioners who make “false claims”.

What about journalists who make equally false claims about treatments being unscientific and ineffective, without checking out the research that is readily available?

Shouldn’t they, too, be penalised?

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A rude, wrong cancer doctor

June 8, 2008

Time to resume posting on this blog. The last time I posted was in August 2007. I had been busy and also doing other things.

I must thank Dr Ang Peng Tiam, who is described on one website as “a medical oncologist who is regarded as one of the best in his field in Singapore and in the region” for giving me the, er, “incentive” to start blogging again.

The background is this: On Wednesday, June 4, Dr Ang wrote a column in Mind Your Body, in which he advised:

“Don’t listen to old wives’ tales. Cancer patients often think they cannot eat dairy products, meat or sugar because these will make the cancer grow faster. Some start taking only organic foods or become vegetarian. I tell them a balanced diet is especially important when they are undergoing chemotherapy.”

I sent a letter to STForum. It was quite strongly worded, so I wasn’t surprised that my letter was not published.

Here it is:

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Dr Ang Peng Tiam is rude, wrong, unscientific and grossly irresponsible when he describes as “old wives tales” the beliefs that cancer patients should best avoid sugar, meat and milk products, adopt a vegetarian (or near vegetarian) diet and eat mostly organic foods. (It takes two to fight cancer, Mind Your Body, June 4)

He is rude to the entire community of natural health practitioners and a section of the medical profession that subscribe to such beliefs, by referring to them as “old wives”. Such name calling has no place in any discussion on any subject.

He is also wrong to say that such beliefs are old. The idea that diet is linked with cancer (and other illnesses) became popular only recently, arising from scientific research.

Nancy Appelton PhD, author of Lick the Sugar Habit, lists 76 harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption, giving scientific references mostly from the 1980s onwards. Apart from being directly associated with various types of cancer, sugar weakens immune function – and this allows cancer cells to spread.

Dr Colin T Campbell led The China Health Study – the biggest, long-term nutritional study ever undertaken. Dr Campbell grew up on a dairy farm, drinking a gallon of milk a day and believing that milk was wholesome and necessary. Today, he is a leading voice that warns against the great harm of milk.

The US-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has more than 100,000 members, including thousands of medical professionals, led by Dr Neal Barnard. It recommends a pure vegetarian diet and its website, www.pcrm.org is packed with scientific references about the harm of meat, milk and dairy.

Against all these, there is a great body of scientific literature about phytonutrients – plant nutrients – helping the body prevent and fight degenerative diseases, including cancer. And the few studies on organic foods generally show them to contain more nutrition, particularly phytonutrients.

Dr Ang dismissed all this science and more. Instead, he highlighted one isolated case of a young commando who survived toxic chemotherapy while adopting a high-calorie, high-protein diet that included milk shakes. Medical science calls such examples “anecdotal evidence” and rejects them.

By dismissing science as “old wives tales” and focussing on a single anecdotal evidence, Dr Ang is being unscientific in his approach. This makes him grossly irresponsible as a doctor and a man of science.

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How to keep mosquitoes away

August 8, 2007

I wrote a letter to Mind Your Body about taking umeboshi to keep mosquitoes away. It got published today as The yin and yang of fighting mosquitoes.

*****

Your August 1 edition of Mind Your Body carried an interesting discussion, Can garlic keep mozzies away? The answer given was ‘No’ but the article contained a vital piece of information – that drinking alcohol attracts mosquitoes!

As a student of macrobiotics, who looks at food and phenomena in terms of yin and yang, or ‘expanding’ and ‘contracting’ energy, I have always known this to be true. I did not realise that it had actually been confirmed by scientific research.

From the macrobiotic perspective, alcohol is yin or ‘expanding’. Having alcohol in the blood thus attracts mosquitoes, which are compact – that is, contracted or yang – creatures. Other yin foods like sugar, carbonated drinks, most food chemicals and excessive amounts of fruits will, according to macrobiotic principles, likewise attract mosquitoes.

The way to keep mosquitoes away is thus not garlic, but foods with qualities opposite to that of alcohol and sweets.

This would be salt, which is very yang or ‘contracting’. In particular, macrobiotics recommends umeboshi, a salt-pickled sour plum similar to what the Chinese call sng buay. But it has to be natural, organic quality. Umeboshi containing chemical food colouring may not work.

One of my macrobiotic teachers related how, when he was in Africa, the ceiling of his room would be covered black with mosquitoes if he opened the windows. Since he disliked sleeping with air-conditioning, he slept with the windows open and with an umeboshi in his mouth – and was not at all bitten by mosquitoes.

While I have not experienced this personally, I have ever observed locals in Indonesia with swamps of mosquitoes buzzing over the heads and yet they never seem to be bitten or bothered. Is it something in their diet?

Right now, this is regarded as unscientific. But until some scientist bothers to conduct appropriate research, it will forever remain in the realm of ‘non-science’.

If a scientist is open-minded enough to further investigate this claim, he or she could well hit upon an important scientific discovery – and help save lives, avoid suffering, reduce the cost of medical care and reduce the need to constantly fog the environment with toxic insecticides.

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What cigarette do you smoke, doctor?

July 12, 2007

I came across this YouTube video on the website of http://www.mercola.com. Simply have to share it:

Mercola, for those not familiar, runs probably the most popular health website on the Internet. He posted this TV commercial from 60 years ago, which shows doctors puffing away and enjoying the “pleasures” of smoking.

And he asks, Are doctors still this stupid?

While doctors have since wised up and they no longer recommend smoking, Mercola points out that many of the things they recommend — such as drug treatments for every medical condition — are actually more harmful than smoking.

If you are surprised that doctors at one time recommended smoking, don’t be. You see, the cigarette companies used to sponsor medical journals.

There is nothing new here. Today the journals are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.

So… which drugs do you take, doctor?

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Macrobiotics in Mind Your Body

June 24, 2007

Macrobiotics made it to the cover of Mind Your Body, the health supplement of The Straits Times, this week (Wed June 20).

I was pleansantly surprised, not least because I was mentioned right at the very end of the article, as a resource person. The journalist who wrote the article had not contacted me, so I was not expecting that.

Another pleasant surprise… this morning I got about 10 email contacts from my website, mostly about macrobiotics.

The main article was about this man, Michael, who recovered from a rare blood disorder by following a macrobiotic diet. Michael now runs an organic food shop, Camu Camu, at Blk 211, Hougang St 21, Tel: 6287 0267.

 A side article was about Doreen, a certified macrobiotic chef who (sometimes) teaches macrobiotic cooking classes. Doreen is a friend of mine and I was mentioned at the end of this side article. She must have told the journalist about me. Thanks Doreen :-)

I was active in teaching and promoting macrobiotics during the 1990s. In fact, I introduced the subject to Doreen during a talk I gave athe Civil Service Club many, many years ago.

Although I am much less active now, and I don’t follow the diet so closely, I still go by its guiding principles. There is a lot of wisdom there, not just dietary wisdom but also about life.

Macrobiotics is too complicated to explain here, but you can read more at my websites: www.richardseah.com and www.natural-cancer-cures.com

It’s a fascinating subject (to me, anyway) and a totally different way of understanding how food affects our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health (and vice versa).

I invite you to find out more.

 

 

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The kampong chicken factory

June 3, 2007

What do you understand by “kapong chicken”?

If, like me, you believe it refers to chickens that roam about freely in kampongs (villages) – that is, the local equivalent of free-range, more or less organic, chicken –as opposed to those kept in cages in factory farms, well, you will be in for a disappointment and a shock.

According to more than one kampong chicken seller at the wet markets whom I have spoken to, there are at least two types of kampong chicken – the “real” type and the “fake” type.

The real type costs about $8.50 to $9 per kg and is a much bigger bird, so you will have to end up paying maybe $15 or more for a chicken. At the Ang Mo Kio Ave 4 market that I sometimes go to, this is called “mountain chicken”.

The one that generally sells for $5.50 per bird, in wet markets and supermarkets, is the fake type. These chickens are reared in cages in factory farms, where up to tens of thousands of chickens are confined in a covered shed. They do not get exercise or sunlight. Presumably, they are also regularly given antibiotics, because chickens raised under such conditions cannot be allowed to get sick. If one does, the sickness will quickly spread to the rest of the factory farm and tens of thousands of chickens will be destroyed.

So why are these “fake” kampong chickens called kampong chickens?

“They are the same species as kampong chicken,” the chicken seller at the market explained.

And so we have another case of misleading food labelling / food description that our health authorities seem to allow.

 

 

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