Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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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.

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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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Malaysia to ban fast food ads – Boleh!

February 28, 2007

There has been much talk about fast foods up in Malaysia, ever since Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek announced on February 17 that his Ministry was “seriously considering” a ban on fast food advertising as well as a “sin tax” on fast foods, similar to taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Malaysian schools might also have to stop selling fast foods.

Sorry I am late in writing about this. I didn’t know until yesterday because, as usual, the Singapore MSM (mainstream media) did not earlier report the news (and, admittedly, I don’t read the papers everyday). Finally, The Straits Times reported it yesterday, Februay 27.

Why does a major news story about our closest neighbouring country – which gets reported around the world, as far away as Taiwan and Turkey – take 10 DAYS to reach us?

Reader MKO, who had been monitoring the situation and had alerted me on the Malaysian reports yesterday, was wondering it the news would ever be published here because it would, once again, show up our Singapore health authorities as being laggards in taking action to protect the health of Singaporeans.

And he was not suprised that when the news was finally reported, it focused on the negatives – the adverse reaction from the advertising industry.

I did a brief search on the website of The Star, the Malaysian newspaper that first broke the news. And yes, there has been a lot of talk.

Not only that, there has also been a WIDESPREAD SUPPORT for the ban.

Two days after the ban was proposed, the Ministry of Information said it was willing to stop fast food advertisements from being aired on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) stations

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said the matter was not a question of profits as RTM, being a government body, placed more emphasis on social responsibility.

“I fully support it (banning fast food advertisements). They (fast foods) should not be promoted,” he told reporters.

Zainuddin said his support did not mean that he was against fast food companies but he feared the culture (fast food) will become worse and more difficult to tackle in future. He said that there were many other foods that could help Malaysian to be more healthy.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) welcomed the proposal and its president Datuk Dr Teoh Siang Chin said the nutritional value of fast food was doubtful.

“The changing diet of ‘civilised homo sapiens’ is a contributing factor in the rise of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension. As such, the education and influence for proper dietary habits should be a continuous process in school and at home,” Dr Teoh said.

Dr Teoh added that rather than the outright banning of such advertisements, there should be a requirement that fast food companies bear a “social sin tax” to promote healthy living and eating. “This would be more palatable to the advertising and media sector and a ‘win-win’ solution,” he said.

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), probably Malaysia’s most active and vocal consumer group, fully supported the advertising ban.

CAP President S.M. Mohamed Idris cited one study (the Cardia study in the United States), which showed that fast-food consumption had strong positive associations with weight gain and insulin resistance, suggesting that fast food increases the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“Prolonged exposure to fast-food advertisements can increase the chances that children select the advertised food over other options,” Mohd Idris said.

“If it were always up to the consumer to decide, there would not be the need for all these safeguards (such as restrictions on tobacco and alcohol advertisements). Even the bans on the use certain dangerous substances would then have to be questioned. Sometimes, as in this case, consumers may need added protection, as well as a conducive environment that will facilitate healthy food choices.”

FOMCA, the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations was supportive as well. FOMCA secretary-general Muhammad Shaani Abdullah said it was an irony that while the authorities were promoting wellness programmes, fast food adverts have become more widespread.

“Fiercer efforts by companies to advertise fast food has led to the failure of the authorities’ campaigns to promote a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle among Malaysians,” he said.

Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia Project Director Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin said the Health Ministry should give fast food restaurants and products labels just like the warning labels on cigarette boxes.

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Contrast all this with the situation in Singapore.

Here, we have citizens and consumers concerned about harmful food substances like trans fats but…

  • The Health Ministry and Health Promotion Board do not think the problem is serious to warrant any strong action.
  • Radio and television stations are all private corporations driven by profits, so withidrawing advertisements for the sake of social responsibility is probably out of the question.
  • Medical bodies like the Singapore Heart Foundation support the government’s position that there is no need for firm action (the one thing we have in common with Malaysia is that, well, the medical associations support the government).
  • The Consumers Association of Singapore says and does next to nothing on such issues. And we just found on in the Lianhe Zaobao report on Sunday that Case actually conducted a study on trans fats in 2004, but decided not to release the report as the government did not air the issue at that time.

Sigh… Singapore tak boleh!

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Footnote: For non-Malaysian / non-Singaporean readers, “boleh” means “can” and it refers to a popular Malaysian slogan, “Malaysia boleh” meaning “Malaysia can do”. “Tak boleh” means cannot.

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Trans Fat in Zaobao

February 25, 2007

Yours truly is featured in the Chinese newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao, today talking about trans fats.

Unfortunately, I cannot read Chinese (because I am old enough to have been allowed to opt for studying Malay as a second language) so I can’t tell you what the article says.

Perhaps one of you can be kind enough to provide a translation?

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12.50 pm update

Just back from late breakfast / lunch at the Ang Mo Kio Ave 4 food centre, the one that sells youtiao fried in coconut oil… with my friend David who is able to read Chinese.

I asked David to help translate the Zaobao article and his first – and second – reaction was “Wah”. In fact, that was my first reaction too, when I bought the newspaper and saw that they had devoted an entire page to the subject of trans fats.

The first “Wah” from David was when he saw the headline of the article, which described me as “The voice of the opposition”. Ha ha, I don’t mind that headline at all, in fact, I rather like it. Maybe I will get an invitation to join the Workers’ Party 😉

The second “Wah” came when David read my Chinese name, which he says was “very powerful”. I always thought my Chinese name, Siew Sai, meant “pretty lion” but David says it is better translated as “elegant lion”.

Hmmm… not bad too.

OK the rough translation… First off, the highlight quote talks about the Chinese – and the people of Okinawa – eating lard for thousands of years and not having heart disease. And about the Europeans taking butter, Indians taking ghee, etc.

The main article talks about me setting up the STOP trans fat website and my message that saturated fats are not as harmful as commonly believed.

It went into some details about how many hits (actually should be visitors, not hits) I’ve been getting and there was some inaccuracy about STOP trans fat being my most popular website. It is not. I get more visitors from my personal website, www.richardseah.com and my art-photograph-gallery website, just that the STOP trans fat site is faring well in spite of it being barely two months old.

The article also mentioned about me growing up weakly and always falling ill. Apparently it said my health improved after I stopped taking trans fats, which is again not totally accurate. My health improved after I started taking more natural, whole foods.

David felt that the article ended on a negative note, by mentioning that I am not a doctor, nutritionist or other medically / nutritionally qualified person.

The reporter had asked how I hoped to convince people without any formal qualifications and I said that if people do not wish to believe what I say, good luck to them.

It is a sad reflection of our society that people attach so much importance to paper qualifications rather than the soundness and logic of arguments presented. I may not be well qualified in nutrition, but I read widely and quote people – like researchers Mary Enig and Walter Willet – who are eminently qualified.

Anyway, I did not mind the mention that I am not qualified. To one of my readers at least, this is something to be proud of. Shortly after I launched this blog, MK O – who had been reading my articles since I published The Good Life in 1989 – sent me an email saying:

You know what one of your achivements is Richard? It has been said that in Singapore one isn’t qualified for anything until a piece of paper says so. Well you have escaped that trap cos no one has discredited you for anything you say so far – disagreed yes. As far as I have know about you you are not trained in healthcare or medicine right? I guess you are putting your journalistic skill to best use.

So yes, I am proud of the fact that I can speak and write authoritatively about trans fat – and health – without a piece of paper qualification. And I thank MK O for this affirmation 🙂

And no, I don’t have any complaint about the Zaobao article despite the slight inaccuracies and the “negative” ending. In fact, I am very pleased for several reasons:

  • I was given fairly extensive coverage, with a picture and all taking up about 1/4 page.
  • The article about me was placed on top of another article quoting a (well-qualified) nutritionist from Raffles Hospital, saying the usual things about saturated fats also being harmful, and giving the usual advice to take soft margarine and canola oil. (Incidentally, my friend David had once switched to cooking with canola oil and he says it is f*** up, made his pots and pans overly greasy and hard to clean! And he wondered what it would do to the insides of his body.)

The rest of the page…

The lead article was about the Consumers’ Association of Singapore having conducted a study on trans fats back in 2004, but the results were not published because, at that time, the government was not paying much attention to the issue.

Case said it was now reviving the issue and trying to persuade food manufacturers to either declare their content of trans fats, or remove them.

According to David, the article is “neither here nor there… doesn’t say much, very diplomatic and politically correct… not like yours!”

Another article on the side praised NTUC Fairprice for initiating trans fat labelling for some of its products. Apparently 28 food manufacturers have supported the cause and have removed trans fats from their products.

Finally, there are some basic questions answered at the bottom of the page, like what are trans fats, what foods contain them, etc.

Disappointly, the part about what trans fats do to the body repeats the same single point mentioned in the Health Promotion Board website, that trans fats raise cholesterol levels. I had mentioned to the Zaobao reporter about about trans fat being associated with diabetes, infertility, low birth weight, cancer, allergies, Alzheimer’s disease and other health problems.

Perhaps she dared not report these since the Health Promotion Board does not say so? Oh well…

But with one entire page (without advertisements) devoted to the issue of trans fats, what more can one ask for?

My thanks and congratulations to Zaobao health reporter Chua Hwee Leng for a job generally well done.

 

 

 

 

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Taiwan to legislate trans fat labelling

February 5, 2007

Once again, here’s some trans fats news that you will read about first here on this blog, before – if ever – it gets carried in the MSM (main stream media).

Taiwan’s Department of Health announced on 29 January 2007 that it plans to legislate trans fat labelling by mid-2007. Packaged foods will be the first item slated for mandatory labeling, followed progressively by the fast-food industry and smaller food outlets. Food manufacturers will be given time to adjust to the new labelling requirements.

This makes Taiwan the second Asian country, after South Korea – and the fourth country in the world – to legislate trans fat labelling. You can read about South Korea’s trans fat labelling laws on this blog or at my website, www.stop-trans-fat.com.

“It’s time to give consumers a choice,” said Cheng Hui-wen director of the Bureau of Food Safety (BFS) at the Department of Health. “Studies over the last 10 years increasingly show that the consumption of trans fats affects the cardiovascular system and other organs.”

Cheng Hui-wen added, however, that trans fat labelling in Taiwan might not extend to corner pastry shops. The concern is that small shops would simply switch to using pork lard if legislation on trans fat labelling is applied to them.

This position is not surprising given that most mainstream scientists and health authorities still view pork lard and other saturated fats to be just as harmful as trans fats, even though pork lard had been consumed by the Chinese for thousands of years without causing any health problems.

However, it is significant that the Taiwan Department of Health has decided to proceed with trans fat labelling in Taiwan in spite of such concerns.

In contrast, health authorities in Singapore cite such concerns as reasons NOT to introduce trans fat labelling nor to impose other measures such as imposing a trans fats ban.

Taiwan’s health authorities are also mindful that measures to require trans fat labelling in Taiwan could affect businesses.

This is why the authorities are giving businesses ample notice – by first announcing their intention to officially legislate trans fat labelling in Taiwan later this year, and then actually implementing the new trans fat labelling requirements at a later date.

But while trans fat labelling in Taiwan will be made compulsory, it seems unlikely that the health authorities there will impose a ban on trans fats.

Cheng Hui-wen said consumers still have the right to make a choice even if it affects their health. “Drinking alcohol is bad for your health, but we do not ban overdrinking,” Cheng Hui-wen said. “Let consumers weigh the pros and cons and make their own decision.”

Following the announcement on trans fat labelling in Taiwan, the Taiwanese Consumers’ Foundation urged fast food companies to voluntarily abandon the use of trans fats in food preparation.

In April 2006, the Consumers’ Foundation surveyed 36 foods sold in Taiwan, including margarine, potato chips, cookies, French fries, fried chicken and frozen bread.

“Taiwan has clearly not come to grips with this potential killer,” the Consumers’ Foundation noted. “In Taiwan, the term trans fats is still unknown to most people.”

This makes the Taiwan government’s moves to legislate trans fat labelling all the more significant – because it is doing it without any consumer pressure.

Again, this is in sharp contrast to the situation in Singapore where consumers have been calling for trans fat labelling but the government health authorities repeatedly say that they will not do so.

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Front page in UK, no news in Singapore

January 31, 2007

When Harvard University researchers reported earlier this month that they found trans fats increased the risks of infertility, it made front page news in The Daily Express, “the world’s greatest newspaper” (this is how The Daily Express describes itself).

I learnt this the other evening from chatting on the telephone with Oliver Tickell, who runs the British anti-trans fats campaign, tfX.

Of course, there were also UK newspapers that buried the story in a small column on page 60. But Oliver tells me that the British media has overall been very supportive of the campaign to heighten consumer awareness about the dangers of trans fats.

Well, I cannot really complain that our local media is not supportive. Not when the ST Forum just published another of my letters today, about trans fat labelling in South Korea. But hey, some of you read about that first, right here on this blog.

But did the big story about trans fats and infertility make it to the Singapore MSM (main stream media)?

Admittedly, I don’t read the newspapers everyday so I could have missed the report. As far as I am aware, the news wasn’t reported here – until I mention it today at the bottom of my letter about trans fat labelling in South Korea.

So this piece of important news finally appeared in The Straits Times, summarised into one short sentence buried in a Forum Letter.

Click here to read more about trans fats, infertility and other birth-related problems on my website, www.stop-trans-fat.com.

The next short sentence summarised another recent news item about trans fats, or rather, about ‘No trans fat’. This is the report about interesterified fat, another strange new invention of the food industry, being possibly more harmful than trans fat. Again, some of you might have read about it first on this blog.

Back to infertility…

Harvard researchers reported on January 19 that a mere 2 percent increase in trans fat consumption could increase a woman’s risks of infertility by 70 percent or more!

That’s a very major risk coming from a very small amount of trans fats. To increase your risks of fertility, all you need to do is take 4 grams of trans fats – less than the amount that comes from a piece of fried chicken, cooked in hydrogenated oils, from a fast food restaurant.

Even though our newspapers have dedicated health pages – in fact, an entire health supplement every Wednesday in the case of The Straits Times – for some reason they cannot find the space to convey this major health risk.

Perhaps this is why our health authorities and medical experts, such as the chairman of the Singapore Heart Foundation, consider trans fats to be “a small problem”. They only read the local MSM?

For sure you will not learn about trans fats and infertility – or, for that matter, trans fats and lots of other health issues – on the Health Promotion Board’s website either. As of today, HPB Online still has that same, 700+ word article, All about trans fats which contains just two sentences about the effects of trans fats on the body. I quote:

Trans fat behaves like saturated fat in the body, raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) that increases your risk of coronary heart disease. In addition to raising “bad” cholestrol, trans fat also reduces the blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholestrol), which protects against heart disease.

Is that ALL that the HPB has to say about trans fats. Is that ALL it knows? If it knows more, why isn’t the HPB telling it?

In an email to me some weeks back, a friend wrote: People (like me) know more about transfat from reading the forum page than all the activities of HPB on this subject in the past 10 years!

I must invite him to read this blog too.

And hey! I just realised today is his birthday. Happy Birthday Pat 🙂