Archive Health and Medicine

homeopathic first aid Alison Campbell Feb 23


Some of my fellow Skeptics have been discussing a homeopath who offers courses in ‘homeopathic first-aid for the home’. Might work for dehydration, I suppose, given that a 30C dilution (that’s a 1 in 100 dilution, repeated 30 times) will have nothing in it but water… But I rather think that homeopathic arnica - recommended here for acute trauma! – would have been worse than useless the time that the Significant Other’s leg interacted with a heavy, sharp, falling object  – give me real-world first aid any day!

Mitchell & Webb said it all, really.


fluoridation in the news Alison Campbell Feb 04

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I didn’t intend to write another post on this subject so soon after the last one, but a story on’s news feed has really annoyed me. I know journalists these days are seriously under pressure, but that doesn’t really justify taking a ‘press release’ from a known activist organisation and running it uncritically ie without actually looking into any of the claims made therein. You’ll find the story here, & I’m going to comment on some of the claims it contains below. (I would have done it directly on the piece but they don’t actually allow comments, grumble grumble mutter.)

Dr Paul Connett is currently visiting NZ and Australia to promote the views of the anti-fluoridation organisation FAN and its antipodean sub-groups. While he has reportedly spent 17 years ‘researching’ issues associated with community water fluoridation (CWF), he has published neither original research papers on this particular topic nor a systematic review of the existing scientific literature, in leading science journals. He has, however, published a book on the subject, the contents of which formed the basis of an extensive discussion on the Open Parachute science blog (also syndicated to the Science Media Centre’s This output doesn’t really justify the ‘expert’ description so adroitly promoted by the FANNZ spokesperson who provided the yahoo item.

Repeated calls for a ‘debate’ are rather misleading as they suggest that there is in fact something to debate. In the case of the science behind CWF, as Sir Peter Gluckman has said, it is effectively settled. To call for a debate is simply an attempt to sow doubt and fear in people’s minds, and any such event would be ‘won’ by the better demagogue and not necessarily on the basis of the actual science presented. Thus it makes perfect sense for TV3 to seek comment from Dr Jonathan Broadbent, who has a solid research record around oral health, rather than to opt for the flawed ‘debate’ format & so give some feeling of false equivalency to an issue where none exists.

The FANNZ claim that our health officials are “[advocating] a highly toxic chemical be added to the drinking water of over 2 million people” is an attempt to imply that this practice is doing harm. However, there is no good evidence that the fluoridated water coming from the taps actually causes significant adverse health effects. Nor have health officicals “gone into hiding” (as stated in the yahoo story), as Dr Broadbent’s willingness to be interviewed clearly demonstrates,

What are the facts that FANNZ is so keen for New Zealanders to hear? The organisation certainly seems keen to obscure the evidence that community water fluoridation improves oral health (here, here, and here, for example) and is a cost-effective way of doing so. The spokesperson comments that it “is [health officials'] responsibility to provide people with real factual information” – and appears to be ignoring the fact that the National Fluoride Information Service has been set up to do just that. And just today dental health experts have provided commentary on fluoridation via the Science Media Centre.

As I’ve said, many large-scale systematic reviews have found that there is good evidence that ingesting fluoride reduces decay – and, contrary to the claim in the original press release – the evidence of “unacceptable health risks” is not “growing daily”. For example, the claim that fluoride is implicated in development of osteosarcoma appears to be based on a single preliminary study, and is not supported by more recent large-scale analyses. Similarly the ‘Harvard’ review, often cited as evidence that fluoridation affects IQ, has a number of flaws, some of which were identified by the authors themselves., it’s a real pity you didn’t look into this one rather more deeply.

fluoride-cancer claims exaggerated? it looks that way Alison Campbell Feb 03

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My friend & blog-buddy Grant drew my attention to a story about osteosarcoma at – and to the comments section, where one commenter raised the issue of a claimed link between this rare form of cancer and community water fluoridation (CWF). This particular claim has surfaced quite a lot lately, as anti-fluoride groups target various local body councils around the country.

The claim is based on a published PhD study by Bassin (Bassin et al. 2006), who looked at a sample of 103 children with osteosarcoma and 215 matched controls, and concluded that there was a link between exposure to fluoride and the development of osteosarcoma in boys, but not in girls. They also noted that the findings were preliminary and needed further study, preferably involving biomarkers eg fluoride levels in bone. (Thus it’s interesting, to say the least, that this study is promoted so definitively by those opposed to CWF.) And in fact there have been a number of further studies – none of which support the Bassin group’s findings.

For example, in 2011 Kim et al published the results of a case-control study of 137 osteosarcoma patients and 51 controls. They measured the amount of fluoride present in the bones of patients and control individuals (in this case, patients with other forms of cancer), made allowances for age (& thus duration of exposure to fluoride in drinking water) and gender. The team used the bone assay because, since “fluoride has an affiinity for calcified tissues” (ibid.), levels in the bone are a more reliable, objective measure of fluoride exposure than measurements based on residential history or – in the case of the paper by Bassin et al – interviews with patients about their use of fluoridated mouthwashes & supplements, in addition to information on where they’d lived.

The team found there was

no significant difference in bone fluoride levels between cases and controls

and concluded that

[n]o significant association between bone fluoride levels and osteosarcoma risk was detected in our case-control study, based on controls with other tumor diagnoses.

They also characterised Bassin’s study as ‘exploratory’ and noted that a large number of earlier animal studies, and descriptive and case-control studies in humans, had not found any association between osteosarcoma & fluoride exposure.

<EDIT Feb 4> Also in 2011, Comber & colleagues compared osteosarcoma in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. While anti-fluoride groups regularly claim that osteosarcoma rates are higher in the Republic of Ireland, where water is fluoridated, and lower in Northern Ireland where CWF has never been implemented, Comber et al found no evidence for such an association:

The results of this study do not support the hypothesis that osteosarcoma incidence in the island of Ireland is significantly related to public water fluoridation.

Note that they did add a caveat, related to their small sample size:

this conclusion must be qualified, in view of the relative rarity of the cancer and the correspondingly wide confidence intervals of the risk estimates.

However, subsequent studies have borne out their results. </EDIT>

Again, in 2012 Levy and Leclerc used information covering the period 1999-2006 from the Centres for Disease Control database to probe the supposed link between CWF and this form of cancer. This was a weaker study than that of Kim’s team, because it used the proportion of a state’s population exposed to CWF as the proxy for fluoride exposure, but it concluded that

the water fluoridation status in the continental U.S. has no influence on osteosarcoma incidence rates during childhood and adolescence.

Most recently, Blakey and colleagues (2014) studied more than 4,000 patients with either osteosarcoma (N = 2566) or Ewings sarcoma (N = 1650), with the aim of their study being

to examine whether increased risk of primary bone cancer was associated with living in areas with higher concentrations of fluoride in drinking water.

Their conclusions?

The findings from this study provide no evidence that higher levels of fluoride (whether natural or artificial) in drinking water in [Great Britain] lead to greater risk of either osteosarcoma or Ewing sarcoma.

In other words, to date the further research Bassin’s team called for has not replicated their findings, and means that claims of a causal link are questionable at best.

<EDIT Feb 4> NB The New Zealand National Fluoridation Information Service also has some excellent information around this issue, including an analysis of data from the national cancer registry which again suggests no link between CWF and osteosarcoma.</EDIT>

E.B.Bassin, D.Wypij, R.B.Davis, M.A.Mittleman (2006) Age-specific fluoride exposure in drinking water and osteosarcoma (United States). Cancer Causes Control 2006(17): 421-428

K.Blakey, R.B.Feltbower, R.C.Parslow, P.W.James, B.G.Pozo, C.Stiller, T.J.Vincent, P.Normal, P.A.McKinney, M.F.Murphy, A.W.Craft, & R.J.Q.McNally (2014) Is fluoride a risk factor for bone cancer? Small area analysis of osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma diagnosed among 0-49-year-olds in Great Britain, 1980-2005. Int.J.Epidemiol, doi: 10.1093/ije/dyt259. First published online: January 14, 2014.

H.Comber, S.Deady, E.Montgomery & A.Gavin (2011) Drinking water fluoridation and osteosarcoma incidence on the island of Ireland. Cancer Causes Control 22(6): 919-924. doi: 10.1007/s10552-011-9765-0

F.M.Kim, C.Hayes, P.L.Williams, G.M.Whitford, K.J.Joshipura, R.N.Hoover, C.W.Douglass, & the National Osteosarcoma Etiology Group (2011) An assessment of bone fluoride and osteosarcoma. J.Dent.Res. 90(10): 1171-1176. doi: 10.1177/0022034511418828, PMCID: PMC3173011

M.Levy & B.S.Leclerc (2012) Fluoride in drinking water and osteosarcoma incidence rates in the continental United States among children and adolescents. Cancer Epidemiol. 36(2): e83-88. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2011.11.008. Epub 2011 Dec 19.

the science-based medicine blog on fluoridation Alison Campbell Jan 22

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This is something that I posted on Making Sense of Fluoride, but thought I’d re-post here; it deserves to be widely read. I’ve highlighted some of the main points made by the authors as they address issues frequently raised by those opposed to community water fluoridation.

The Science-Based Medicine blog is an excellent resource and well-worth adding to your regular reading list. A few days ago Clay Jones (a paediatric hospitalist) & Grant Ritchey (DDS) posted an article entitled “Preventing Tooth Decay in Kids: Fluoride and the Role of Non-Dentist Health Care Providers“. It’s reasonably long but contains a number of key points.

The first is that “there are a number of stumbling blocks that prevent children from receiving appropriate dental care” – including distance from/accessibility to a provider, not to mention the costs involved.

Secondly, that the majority of people will be affected by caries: ” [r]oughly 90% of us will have some degree of tooth decay during our lifetime”; that this prevalence increases over time, and that – sadly but unsurprisingly – it is most marked in poorer sectors of society. Interestingly they also characterise caries as infectious – because the bacteria involved can be & are spread from mouth to mouth. (Consequently they advise against ‘spit-cleaning’ a child’s dummy, which sounds just about as insanitary as popping it straight back in from a sojourn on the floor.) And there’s also a genetic component, which means that “[t]ooth decay truly is a complex, multifaceted process that clearly isn’t as simple as forgetting to floss every day or even the socioeconomic status.”

There’s a description of the effect of fluoride on tooth enamel, which says quite explicitly that “when exposed to fluoride either systemically during tooth development or topically via toothpaste, fluoridated water, or professional application, becomes strengthened.” Jones & Ritchey agree that dental and skeletal fluorosis are problems when ingesting higher levels of fluoride, but add a caveat that bears repeating: “It must be emphasized that skeletal and severe fluorosis of the teeth do not occur as a result of any sort of community water fluoridation, or because of fluoride in toothpastes or professional fluoride treatments [my emphasis]. They occur in areas with naturally occurring fluoride levels far in excess of what is safe, and are rare in the United States. In these areas, a defluoridation process must be undertaken to return the water concentration of fluoride to safe and optimal levels.”

And they have some strong words to say on the so-called ‘fluoride controversy’.

As I said, it’s a long-ish piece but well worth reading in its entirety.

For those interested in reading more on this issue, my colleague Ken Perrot has written extensively on fluoridation over at Open Parachute: here, for example.

secrets from an ancient graveyard Alison Campbell Dec 16

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One of my current favourite TV programs is Time Team – I enjoy learning little bits of history & Tony Robinson’s happy enthusiasm is so contagious (but I still think of him as Baldrick). So you’ll understand that I was happily distracted this morning when, while looking for something else (isn’t that usually the way?), I stumbled across a fascinating piece about an ancient graveyard in the Italian town of Badia Pozzeveri.

Published on Science magazine’s site, the article tells the story of the ongoing excavation of a medieval graveyard. The dig is providing a wealth of information on things like the dietary differences between nobles, monks, & peasantry (based on isotope analysis of their teeth) & the impact this had on health. What’s more, using ancient DNA (aDNA) techniques, the scientists leading the dig are hoping to identify the presence of various pathogens, such as Yersinia pestis (the bacterium linked to the Black Death, and which still causes cases of plague in the US today) and Treponema pallidum, which causes syphillis and has already been found in 16th-century mummies from Naples.

And like many episodes of Time Team, the tale has a twist at the end: a bit of fashion-based detective work showed that at least some of the burials were not medieval at all.

should one emit flatulent gases silently, or with gusto? Alison Campbell Nov 16

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I must admit, I’d never really thought about this one (although I suspect littlies would find it amusing). However, it does appear that silence, in this case, is definitely not golden (and it’s got a lot to do withe the mixture of gases produced during bacterial fermentation in the gut).


in which we encounter a very strange idea about water Alison Campbell Nov 15


Namely, that water today is becoming harder to absorb because the water molecules are clustered. Yes, really.

That was originally posted on November 2, so we’re too late for the special offer as it closed on the 4th (yes, of course something’s being sold) but the original website is here and if you’re really keen, you can learn more about ‘structured water’ here.

According to that second site, the discoverer of ‘structured water’ has concluded that

nature heals water through structuring it. As water passes through rivers and streams on the way to the ocean, the water molecules are repeatedly spun clockwise and counter clockwise. It’s nature’s way of healing the water and removing the toxins and restoring water to it’s [sic] natural high energetic state.

Presumably a washing machine would do much the same thing? Maybe they’re selling a bench-top version for one’s water supply to go through? (Not exactly.) Actually, since many towns & cities draw their water from rivers, you’d think it would be all nicely healed before we even start.

He also learned about the damage we are doing to water through electromagnetic energy, (caused by electric current, cell phone towers, microwave radiation, etc), chemicals such as floride [sic] and chlorine, and energetic contamination.

Pity we can’t do much about the rather significant source of EM radiation up in the sky….

Because many towns and cities reuse and recycle tap water by sending it through chemical filtration, water is becoming harder to absorb and is in fact carrying toxins that can’t be filtered out with the current water treatment and filtration systems.

The folks at that website would presumably have conniptions at the mere thought of Singapore, which recycles its wastewater – including sewage - to the tune of 430 million litres a day. (Been there, toured the plant, drank the water.)

Apparently the ‘unhealed’/unstructured (destructured?) water is better at carrying these nameless toxins because its molecules have somehow acquired the wrong shape:

When the hydrogen molecule sits at a 90 degree angle to the oxygen molecule, it can easily transport disease and block the absorptive flow. Structuring water increases the hydrogen angle. That increase reduces molecular clustering, softens the water, and reduces the transportation of harmful particles.

The angle between the 2 H atoms in a water molecule is 104.45 degrees, and I suspect it will be news to chemists that it’s possible to change that angle to any measurable degree and still have the thing we call ‘water’. After all, the properties of water – including the fact that it’s liquid at the temperatures we normally encounter – are dependent on the molecule’s geometry.

Also, do these folks have any idea of the relative size of water molecules and pathogenic organisms?

We even get to homeopathy (sort of):

Scientists have already proven that water absorbs the energetic footpring of where it’s been, and that water filtration and treatment plants are not removing that. Water absorbs and takes on the enegies of whatever it is exposed to.

In which case, we’d all be being dosed, all the time, by pretty much anything that’s ever ended up in the water. Including… emotions???

When water is exposed to the energy of anger or hatred it changes the structure of the water itself. These changes can be seen when the water is frozen and examined under a microscope. As water is cycled and recycled in our towns and cities, we are absorbing all of the energies in that water. Structuring water removes the harmful energetic imprinting on water.

I don’t know what sort of microscope he’s using, but I think I want one!

swimming as a sperm does Alison Campbell Nov 13

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It’s much harder for a sperm to swim, than it is for a sperm whale. Why? This excellent TEDed video explains:

I think I’ll use it next year, during the ‘reproduction’ section of my first-year biology paper :)

i feel a great disturbance (in the force) Alison Campbell Oct 21

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There is some seriously odd stuff on teh intertoobs. A coupe of days ago, one of our ‘regulars’ on Making Sense of Fluoride posted a link to a page entitled “Water Confusion“. It was confusing all right.

Apparently we are confused about “what kind of drinking water is the most health promoting”. I would have thought that one was fairly straight-forward: one that’s free of pathogens would be a good start. But no; apparently the issue is hydration

hydration [is] on top of the list of medical concerns among sensitive and knowledgeable healthcare practitioners.


So if a doctor isn’t overtly concerned about my hydration state then she’s neither sensitive nor knowledgeable? Hmmmm. (The site owner doesn’t agree with fluoridation either.) But wait, there’s more:

How many people and doctors know that Pepsi and Coke are highly acidic and actually push our bodies into dehydration because the body needs water to process these corrosive liquids and thus ends up in a water deficit.


A quick google search on that one reveals a number of alt.heatlth websites, many with claims about hydration that vary only in the nationality for whom the claims are made. Irish? American? We’ve got you covered. So my next stop was the invaluable (a place I visit regularly ie whenever one of my FB friends posts one of those ‘important warning’ messages). Snopes debunks both the general claims about how much someone needs to drink on a daily basis – the ’8 glasses per day’ mantra ignores the fact that food & drinks of any sort contribute to our daily intake) and the idea that cocacola is corrrosive or dehydrating. But wait, there’s more:

Apparently water is sensitive to thought and ‘fine’ classical music (it is?); has a memory (it does?); carries information (really?) & thus can have an effect on our intelligence & how we process information. In this worldview the bloodstream is the ‘river of life’ – one that’s disturbed by vaccines & improved by alkalising our tissues. So here there’s a conflation of several forms of woo: homeopathy, pseudoscientific arguments against vaccination, and the idea that bodily ills can be done away with by drinking alkaline water (the site’s owner obviously agrees with the line pushed by one Robert Young, that baking soda can be used to cure cancer.) And it’s a conflation with the potential to do real harm, if someone with a serious medical condition follows this melange of advice.

From my perspective, the ‘highlight’ of the page was the discovery that its owner is in some disagreement with one of the kings of woo, Joseph Mercola

And my title? Drawn from the statement that

When chemical fluids in the form of vaccines are injected into the waters of life (our blood), a great disturbance is created…


Obi Wan Kenobi, where are you when you’re needed?

concerns & conspiracy theories Alison Campbell Sep 26

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Any discussion around water fluoridation will bring up quite a number of concerns, but increasingly – on-line anyway – conspiracy theories also come to the fore. I think the latter need to be addressed, but not at the risk of ignoring or failing to address the former. Worrying about the nature of what’s in our water supply, & its possible health impacts, is both natural and understandable – especially given that there’s so much information (of varying quality) out there, & sometimes the people you hear are the ones who shout the loudest. Which is not necessarily the same as those who have the strongest case. As I’ve said before, that’s what drew me into this debate in the first place: the way science has been misrepresented by those wishing to bolster a case against water fluoridation.

My own personal opinion is that the issue should really be addressed in terms of ethics and societal responsibilities, and it’s sad to see that attempts to have this discussion (on-line, anyway) are so often diverted yet again to a you-said-we-said about the science. I do wonder what this does for those ‘lurkers’ who may be following the to-&-fro – & I see I’m in good company in that respect.

Actually, it must get really confusing, for reading some of the on-line comments about fluoridation, I’m still surprised at how often conspiracy theories crop up. (I shouldn’t be, I suppose, but I am.) The pharma shill gambit is quite common: the idea that people holding views that differ from the speaker’s, must be being paid to hold them. In the case of fluoridation, I think people need to do their sums. In Hamilton, the cost of buying HFA to add to municipal water supplies was around $48,000 each year. That’s not a lot to go around all the local scientists, dentists, healthcare workers, and humble bloggers accused of being bought by big business by anti-fluoride activists… (This is something also addressed in Harriet Hall’s excellent post over at Science-Based Medicine. Bob Park’s ‘seven signs of bogus science’ is also relevant.)

One might well ask why our opinions need to be bought. I’ve asked this more than once. One commenter told me darkly that all would be revealed in due course. (I’m still waiting.) The usual reason is some unspecified conspiracy by big business and government agencies, although again, it’s not at all clear what they’re getting out of it.

Unless, of course, the population is being dumbed down to blindly accept all sorts of attacks on our liberties. This seems to be linked to the fact that the tranquiliser prozac contains fluoride, & to the ‘Hitler/the Nazis used it’ meme – a claim, Ken Perrott notes, that was trotted out in the Hamilton City Council’s ‘tribunal’ on water fluoridation.. Unfortunately for this one, Hitler didn’t, & prozac contains much higher amounts of fluoride than town supply water would. (There have also been attempts to link fluoride with the nerve gas sarin; a sort of slur by association. Yes, there’s a fluorine atom in there. There’s also carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, & phosphorus: the formula for sarin is C4H10FO2P.)

Or perhaps it’s all a plot to reduce the world’s population! This one seems to be based on the observation that at high concentrations fluoride does affect the endocrine system: levels much higher than those found in town supply water. This means that fluoride’s hardly an effective tool for population control if no-one’s adding it at the requisite concentration. (China, with its one-child policy, doesn’t fluoridate at all, at least in part because in some regions water fluoride concentrations are already elevated.) This ‘theory’ is further based on major misunderstandings of work by John Holdren, who with Paul & Anne Erlich discussed the burgeoning human population & various actions that might curb its growth in the book Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. At one point they noted that a population of around 1 billion might be optimal in ecological terms (we’re already at 7 billion & counting). This has been (mis)interpreted as advocacy for deliberately reducing the population to this level and, because of the known impact of high levels of fluoride on endocrine functioning, then gasp! fluoride must be part of the plot.

Ultimately, all these conspiracy theories require that an awful lot of people should be corrupt. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of scientists, falsifying their research, hiding the bits that don’t fit the story, suborning new researchers as they come along. They’d have to be in every research institution in the world. It would cost ridiculously large amounts of money (money, in the case of fluoridation of water, that simply isn’t there.) Governments and the media would have to be in on it as well. And that’s not possible. Someone, somewhere, would provide evidence of what was going on.

And indeed, the various conspiracies can’t be all that good, if various brave mavericks are able to a) recognise what’s going on and b) spread their findings (on the internet & elsewhere) without the men in black turning up & carrying them away.



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