Different strokes for different folks? Why vaccinations don’t lead to mini-strokes

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 4.46.48 pmOne of my Facebook friends messaged me a link the other day. It was to an article that had been popping up on his Facebook feed, originally published by Health Impact News (http://goo.gl/V3A5Mb).

The article is a report by John P. Thomas, building on the previous work of Andrew Moulden. Moulden failed his medical residency in Canada (http://goo.gl/BBKG5z), but used his doctorate in psychology to promote himself as a doctor.

Moulden believed that “Multiple factors can work together to trigger a single type of reaction in the body, which can then produce various sets of symptoms. Even though there were different sets of symptoms and different disease names given to each one, they were actually all part of a spectrum of diseases that he called Moulden Anoxia Spectrum Syndromes. Learning disabilities, autism, Alzheimer’s, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, food allergies, shaken baby syndrome, sudden infant death, idiopathic seizure disorders, Gulf War syndrome, Gardasil adverse reactions, schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, expressive aphasia, impaired speech skills, attention deficit disorders, silent ischemic strokes, blood clots, idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, Parkinson’s disease, and other modern neurodevelopmental disorders are closely related in many ways, and are part of a larger syndrome.” (http://goo.gl/kTNRMV)

Moulden Anoxia Spectrum Syndromes isn’t found in any medical textbook, and there is no evidence that Autism, Alzheimer’s, Gulf War Syndrome, food allergies and Shaken Baby Syndrome are at all causally related.

Besides, the term ‘anoxia’ is a medical term meaning ‘without oxygen’. Moulden is obviously suggesting that every one of those disparate conditions is fundamentally caused by a lack of oxygen to somewhere, and while his logic has many flaws, this is the fatal one. Food allergies are not related to lack of oxygen. Neither are reactions to the Gardasil vaccine. And we know that Autism is defined by structural and functional changes in the brain that occur in the womb, and can be detected as early as a month after birth [1]. Autism is primarily genetic – autistic brains have excess numbers of dysfunctional nerve cells that are unable to form the correct synaptic scaffolding, leaving a brain that’s large [2, 3], but out-of-sync. There is nothing about autism that’s related to low oxygen. ADHD is similarly genetic and neurodevelopmental in origin [4]. The only thing suffering from lack of oxygen is Moulden’s theories.

Thomas then tries to extend this already tenuous medical hypothesis by claiming that vaccines cause damage to capillaries in ‘watershed’ areas which, according to his definition (not the medical definition), are “very small areas of tissue (groups of cells) that are served by a single blood vessel called a capillary” (http://goo.gl/4IlUI7) He suggests that certain cranial nerves are vulnerable to these ‘watershed’ injuries, which then result in changes in the way the face moves.

The cause for these ‘watershed’ injuries? “The blood is being sludged up in multiple areas of the body, which is causing ischemia, damage to tissue, functional disorders, and disease. This is not genetic. It is acquired. The drop in the corner of the mouth is the result of low zeta potential and the MASS process. People with autism spectrum disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, ADHD, and those who are having adverse effects from vaccines such as hepatitis, flu, anthrax, Gardasil, DPT, MMR, etc. are having a generic response. The body is reacting to having foreign matter put into it.”

In other words, he’s suggesting that vaccinations essentially cause strokes.

From here, the article becomes a bamboozling cacophony of legitimate but irrelevant facts, diagrams, factoids, and recommendations. For example, Thomas explains the signs of damage to the third, fourth, sixth and seventh cranial nerves, and cites the damage by actual strokes as examples. Well, that’s fine, except that real strokes don’t involve damage to capillaries, but blockage of arteries, and have nothing to do with vaccination.

He also makes statements that are simply wrong, like “The seventh cranial nerve primarily controls the lower half of the face” (actually the seventh cranial nerve, also called the facial nerve, controls the muscles of the whole face – http://goo.gl/m9S7Gd). And, “When we see seventh cranial nerve damage, we can be sure that the damage is not isolated to the seventh cranial nerve – the damage is happening everywhere” (except in Bells Palsy … and some parotid tumours … and some strokes … and lots of other things).

He also makes the ridiculous claim that autism causes facial droop without explaining why, suggests that weakness of the muscles of the eyes controlled by the sixth cranial nerve is often the first sign of vaccine damage, and that ‘watershed’ damage to the brainstem from vaccination is the cause of SIDS.

Thomas then attempts to justify his conjecture by describing the case of a single baby boy whom he claims died from sudden infant death post vaccination – “His family and his physicians watched him slowly die while the respirator did his breathing for him. Basically they were watching his brain as he went through the stages of sudden infant death after vaccine exposure”. Except that death after nineteen days is not ‘sudden’, and the description of this child’s tragic death is nothing like SIDS. And his only reference to this case? Not an official forensic report, but a ‘report’ written by Andrew Moulden, which was simply an offensive and detestable attempt to leverage the heart-wrenching death of a fifteen month old boy to push his idealistic agenda (http://goo.gl/ysoCtQ).

I could go on. There are pages of material that simply defy rational thinking. He even goes on to question germ theory, and states that “Vaccines are one of the largest triggers of excessive non-specific immune hyperstimulation, which ultimately leads to blood sludging, clotting, and loss of negative zeta. The combined effect of all these factors produce illness, disability, and death.”

There is no credible medical evidence to back up any of Thomas’s claims, nor the claims of Moulden before him. Together, they openly defy centuries of scientific knowledge, modern science, and the observations of every parent whose children have been vaccinated.

Lets face it – if vaccines really caused mini-strokes, we wouldn’t need the dubious work of Moulden and his disciples to discover it. We would have all seen it.

There are a lot of very questionable theories that get promoted on the internet as valid science. Don’t fall for it. There’s no evidence for Moulden Anoxia Spectrum Syndromes, and the only connection between conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Shaken Baby Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not vaccination, but the pathetic attempt to try and connect them by pseudoscientists with an idealistic barrow to push.

References

[1]        Pierce K. Exploring the Causes of Autism – The Role of Genetics and The Environment (Keynote Symposium 11). Asia Pacific Autism Conference; 2013 10 August; Adelaide, Australia: APAC 2013; 2013.

[2]        Courchesne E, Carper R, Akshoomoff N. Evidence of brain overgrowth in the first year of life in autism. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association 2003 Jul 16;290(3):337-44.

[3]        Shen MD, Nordahl CW, Young GS, et al. Early brain enlargement and elevated extra-axial fluid in infants who develop autism spectrum disorder. Brain : a journal of neurology 2013 Sep;136(Pt 9):2825-35.

[4]        Cortese S. The neurobiology and genetics of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): what every clinician should know. European journal of paediatric neurology : EJPN : official journal of the European Paediatric Neurology Society 2012 Sep;16(5):422-33.

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Dr Caroline Leaf – Manhandling scriptures again

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I recently heard a great quote, “If you take the text out of context, all you’re left with is a con.” It’s a quote that seems to describe Dr Leaf’s social media pings quite nicely over the last twenty-four hours.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and a self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. She is also a self-titled theologian.

Today she posted, “3 John 2 = Mental Health ‘Beloved, I wish above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.’ Everything relies on your soul, which is your mind, prospering” (original emphasis).

Except that her statement is blatantly false. The soul isn’t just the mind. A simple search of an on-line Bible dictionary reveals that there are a number of ways in which the word ‘soul’ is used, but more specifically to the meaning in 3 John 2, “the (human) soul in so far as it is constituted that by the right use of the aids offered it by God it can attain its highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life”. (http://goo.gl/AjhvNO)

It should also be noted that the two words used in ancient Greek that referred to our inner reality were pneuma (‘spirit’) and psyche (‘soul’). According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the words pneuma (‘spirit’) and psyche (‘soul’) were often used indiscriminately. The Apostle Paul distinctly used the word pneuma separately to the word psyche in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, but nearly every other New Testament writer wasn’t so precise.

Thus, John wasn’t referring to the mind at all, but probably our spirit, or at the very least, our generic soul, not specifically to our mental faculties or our thoughts. The scripture in 3 John 2 doesn’t have anything to do with our mental health.

Yesterday, Dr Leaf tried to merge one of her favourite authors views with scripture. She posted a quote from Dr Bruce Lipton, “Genes cannot turn themselves on or off. In more scientific terms, genes are not ‘self-emergent’. Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.” Dr Leaf added, “That ‘something’ is your thoughts! Read Proverbs 23:7”.

So I did.   Proverbs 23:7 in the King James Version says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”

So what is it with the second half of the verse? If this scripture is all about our thought life, then what’s the eating and drinking half of the verse got to do with our thought life?

The explanation is that this verse has nothing to do with our thought life at all. Dr Leaf has simply been misquoting it for years, and no one checked to see if she’s right. According to the Pulpit commentary found on the Bible Hub website, “The verb here used is שָׁעַר (shaar), ‘to estimate … to calculate’, and the clause is best rendered, ‘For as one that calculates with himself, so is he’. The meaning is that this niggardly host watches every morsel which his guest eats, and grudges what he appears to offer so liberally … He professes to make you welcome, and with seeming cordiality invites you to partake of the food upon his table. But his heart is not with thee. He is not glad to see you enjoy yourself, and his pressing invitation is empty verbiage with no heart in it.” (http://goo.gl/nvSYUh)

The other half of her meme comes from Dr Bruce Lipton, an agnostic pseudoscientist who was a cell biologist before he flamed out, and now teaches chiropractic in New Zealand. He believes that there is a metaphysical link between our thoughts and our cell function [1]. He’s ignored by real scientists (http://goo.gl/cX7Aeg).

As for his quote, it’s a misdirection. Sure, genes aren’t self-emergent – they don’t think for themselves. DNA is just a long chemical string which just carries a code, the biological equivalent to your DVD discs. Like a DVD, DNA isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t have a machine to read it. In every cell, there are hundreds of proteins that read and translate DNA. Those machines respond to the external environment, but they also respond to the cells internal environment, and to other genes themselves. Simply put, DNA is decoded by intracellular proteins, but intracellular proteins are only made by the expression of DNA, which happens all the time. A single-celled embryo becomes a baby because of DNA self-copying and expression that happens a trillion times over by the end of pregnancy. So while a single gene can’t turn itself on and off, the genome as a whole is essentially self-controlling, only being partly modulated by the external environment. Genes are turned on and off all the time by other genes through the proteins those genes make. Lipton’s assertion that “something in the environment has to trigger gene activity” is simply nonsense.

So Dr Leaf uses a flawed quote from a pseudoscientist to try and back up her specious interpretation of an out-of-context verse of scripture.

Somewhat poor from an “expert” theologian and cognitive neuroscientist really.

These memes speak to the issues of trust and legitimacy. Dr Leaf can call herself whatever she likes, but how can church leaders continue to endorse her to their congregations as an expert when she consistently misinterprets science and scripture? Can they honestly look their parishioners in the eye and say that Dr Leaf’s teaching is accurate? Can they stand at their pulpits and confidently support her book sales at their back of their churches?

Dr Leaf needs to re-evaluate. She needs to re-evaluate her claims to be an expert in cognitive neuroscience and the Bible. She needs to re-evaluate the quality of information that she relies on. She needs to re-evaluate what she’s trying to achieve in posting to social media, and re-evaluate the accuracy of her memes.

Because ultimately it’s the truth that sets people free, not errant opinions and misinterpretations.

References

[1]        Lipton BH. The biology of belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles: Hay House, Inc, 2008.

Addit: Dr Leaf’s social media post in between the two memes mentioned above was also a doozy. A repeat offender, as it were, since she has posted it several times before, and I have blogged about it here.

Dr Caroline Leaf – Where Angels Fear To Tread

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After a day-trip to Movie World, and then a slight distraction by Eurovision, I had a quick look at Facebook before going about my evening chores. Upon reading Dr Leaf’s latest social media meme, I was aghast!

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. Hiding in amongst her “Scientific Philosophy” was this juicy factoid: “Researchers found that intentional thought for 30 seconds affected laser light.” This is, apparently, also proof that prayer can change physical matter.

I actually thought it was God that changed physical matter if He agreed with our prayer requests, and not our prayers themselves, because if it was simply our prayer, then we wouldn’t need God. That’s probably a blog for another time. Still, it was her last statement that caught my attention. Intentional thought can change the properties of laser! I’d never heard that before! I had to find the references.

It turns out that the paper Dr Leaf is referring to is, “Testing nonlocal observation as a source of intuitive knowledge” [1]. In this experiment, Dr Dean Radin, a paranormal researcher, took 5 “experienced meditators” and 5 normal control subjects, and asked them to mentally interfere with a laser beam pointed at a light-reading CCD sensor inside a sealed box. He averaged out the intensity of the light pattern that was read by the CCD. He believed he found a difference in the amount of light that was read by the sensor when the meditators “blocked” the laser light compared to non-meditators and control runs.

In his original paper, Radin published the following graph of his results.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 10.27.48 pm

The length of the bars represent a statistical value based on the results, not the actual results of the experiments. The simplest explanation is that the further down the bar goes, the greater the degree of interference to the laser light. Radin believed the effect was caused by the meditators literally interfering with the quantum mechanics of the photons in the laser beam, “observing” them from outside of the box, thus causing their wave function to collapse and stopping them from reaching the sensor.

However, notice that the first few experiments show a large effect, but that this diminishes as the experiments go along, and towards the end, the control groups and the meditator group is actually about the same, with no interference to the laser light at all. This effect is called the Decline Effect, and is common problem amongst studies of the paranormal. It’s a result of a phenomenon called ‘regression to the mean’, or in other words, the more times you perform an experiment, the more likely the results will line up with the true average. I think in Radin’s case, it also had a lot to do with his own expectations.

Radin himself was honest enough to discuss the effect in his paper. In his own words, “Although I had employed numerous design features to avoid artifacts (sic), and only four of the 10 control sessions conducted to that point had gone in the predicted direction, I still found it difficult to believe that the experimental effect was as easily repeatable as the results were suggesting. I knew that if I had trouble believing it, I could hardly expect anyone else to accept these results. So I found that my intentions for the experiment changed – I no longer hoped to observe results solely in the predicted direction, but rather I found myself hoping that some of the remaining sessions would go against the prediction, to validate that the methodology was not biased.” [1]

So, Radin probably caused the effect by wanting to see it. He excluded data that didn’t suit his hypothesis, citing a technical issue with the equipment, and instead focussed on the data set that still seemed to fit. He also performed the analysis of the data, which he biased with his own pre-conceived notions.

The other nail in the coffin for this paper is that it was a pilot study that was done by one researcher, which no one has since tried, or succeeded in, replicating. Indeed, the methodology for this research was based on a series of experiments done by a real physicist with better equipment, Professor Stanley Jeffers, a professor of physics at York University in Toronto, Canada, who performed the experiment about 74 times and found no effect [2].

So, Dr Leaf has cited this isolated, error prone, biased and unconfirmed paper of Radin’s as proof of the ability of thought to change physical matter, and indeed, as prayer’s ability to change physical matter.

This is simply more proof that Dr Leaf is prone to rush in where angels fear to tread, and latch on to any “research” that supports her ideas, no matter how tenuous or unscientific. She did the same thing when she cited a conference poster from a paranormal conference in the early 90’s, and claimed it was definitive proof that our thoughts can change our DNA. In actual fact, the paper was so full of flaws [3: Ch 13, The “ingenuous” experiment] that the only thing it could show was how desperate Dr Leaf is to try and justify her unscientific pet theories.

This tendency for Dr Leaf to rely on such poor science, and link it to fundamental Biblical concepts, dishonours science, the truth of the Bible, and her audience.

I think Dr Leaf would be wise to review her scientific philosophy and the “research” that she uses to justify it, rather than continuing to utilise tenuous and inaccurate articles from studies of the paranormal.

References

[1]        Radin D. Testing nonlocal observation as a source of intuitive knowledge. Explore 2008 Jan-Feb;4(1):25-35.

[2]        Alcock JE, Burns J, Freeman A. Psi wars: Getting to grips with the paranormal: Imprint Academic Charlottesville, VA, 2003.

[3]        Pitt CE. Hold That Thought: Reappraising the work of Dr Caroline Leaf. 1st ed. Brisbane, Australia: Pitt Medical Trust, 2014.

The Prospering Soul – Just what is mental health?

When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica a couple of thousands years ago, he said, “May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 -The Message)

The modern western church has two out of three. As modern Christians, we have the fitness of the Spirit pretty well down, and we’re not too shabby on our physical fitness either. Unfortunately, we still have a way to go on the Soul thing.

In 2013, Rick Warren stood in front of his church after the suicide of his son, and promised he would work to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the Christian church (http://swampland.time.com/2013/07/28/rick-warren-preaches-first-sermon-since-his-sons-suicide/). Rick Warren experienced the stigma and destruction of poor mental health first hand. So have many others in the church, as have I.

It’s my passion to help the Christian church prosper, our bodies, our spirits, AND our souls.   Over the next few months, I’ll be doing a series of blogs on mental health, to encourage and help those in the church battling mental illness, and everyone else in the church to know how to assist them in their battle.

Together, we can help to eliminate the stigma and destruction that mental health can bring into the lives of Christians, and that we may prosper in all things and be in health, just as our soul prospers (3 John 1:2).

To start with, it would help if we knew what it meant to be in good mental health, and what separates mental health from mental illness. The distinction isn’t always so obvious. There are a few ways to define or conceptualise mental health and illness, but to cut through the thousands of words of medical and scientific jargon, the difference between good mental health and bad mental health is often to do with changes to our thinking, mood, or behaviour, combined with distress and/or impaired functioning. [1] Our mental health is intimately linked with our physical health, and often physical illness will lead to changes to our thinking, mood, or behaviour, combined with distress and/or impaired functioning too, although strictly speaking, that’s not a pure mental health disorder.

What IS important for the average church goer to understand is that we all experience some changes to our mental health at different times in our lives. For example, we all experience grief and loss at some time in our lives, and at that time, it’s normal to experience extreme sadness, sleeplessness, anger, or guilt. What differentiates grief from depression is the trigger, and the time the symptoms take to resolve. In general, how we perceive our thoughts and behaviours, and how much any signs and symptoms affect our daily activities can help determine what’s normal for us.

There are some common signs that can help in knowing if professional help may be needed. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you or a loved one experiences:

  • Marked change in personality, eating or sleeping patterns
  • Inability to cope with problems or daily activities
  • Strange or grandiose ideas
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged depression or apathy
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Drinking alcohol to excess or taking illicit drugs
  • Extreme mood swings or excessive anger, hostility or violent behaviour

then consult your family doctor or psychologist, or encourage your loved one to seek help. With appropriate support, you can identify mental health conditions and explore treatment options, such as medications or counselling.

Many people who have mental health conditions consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of life or avoid treatment out of shame or fear. If you’re concerned about your mental health or a loved one’s mental health, don’t hesitate to seek advice.

If you or a loved one have, or still struggle with, mental illness, I welcome your comments.

I can’t give specific counselling or advice in this forum, but if you are suffering from mental health problems and need help, see your GP or a psychologist, or if you’re in Australia, 24 hour telephone counselling is available through:

Lifeline = 13 11 14 – or – Beyond Blue = 1300 22 4636

References

  1. National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Editor 1999, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services: Rockville, MD.

A Dissertation on the Uterus

When one thinks of Mothers Day, one tends to think of flowers, chocolates, perfume, presents in pink paper, and breakfast in bed … you know, “sugar and spice and all things nice.”

But the unsung hero of Mothers Day is the uterus.  It’s concealed inside every woman, yet never given the accolades that it deserves.  After all, without the uterus, none of us would be here today.  So I would like to share some observations on the humble uterus, and I hope, add a new dimension to the celebration of Mothers Day.

The uterus resides in the female pelvis, nestled between the bladder in the front and the rectum at the back.  It is a pear-shaped, hollow, and very muscular, and measures three inches long, two inches wide and about one inch thick.  All up, it weighs about 60 grams.  It has two tubes leading to the ovaries, and the lower part opens into the upper vagina.

Two ligaments are responsible for holding the uterus in place and carrying the vital blood vessels and innervation.  The round ligaments attach to the top of the uterus and curve around the wall of the pelvis like two arms extended to give a hug.  The broad ligaments hang from the fallopian tubes and round ligaments like a curtain, and attach the uterus to the floor and sides of the pelvis.

While the uterus is very small in a woman before she becomes pregnant, it has an amazing capacity to stretch.  A uterus in late pregnancy actually takes up most of the abdominal cavity (thus measuring over a foot in length) and can weigh a couple of kilograms.  The uterus just keeps growing to whatever size it needs to be to accommodate the baby inside of it.  The uterus is also very strong – uterine contractions during labour can produce between 30 and 60 pounds per square inch of pressure.

Before pregnancy, the uterus gets itself ready every month to receive a new life.  The womb lining is thick and nurturing, and is ready and waiting when ovulation takes place each month, just in case it’s needed.  If it’s not, then it renews itself, ready for the next time it might be called upon.

From the moment of conception, the uterus is providing for the baby.  In fact, the baby literally takes over, modulating the responses of the uterus.  It secretes hormones to bring more blood flow to the uterus to support its own growth and make the uterus stronger, while at the same time making the ligaments around it to relax so that it can grow.  The uterus completely envelops the growing baby, protecting it with the thick layer of muscle.  So protective is the uterus that babies in the womb can survive trauma from high speed car crashes or heavy blows to the mothers abdomen, with no noticeable trauma.

Finally, after 40 weeks of stretching and growth, of protecting and nurturing, the baby must leave the uterus.  If the baby stays any longer than two weeks over, both the baby and the mother are at risk of dying.  It goes without saying that the process of separation is painful – labour is synonymous with pain and travail.

There are two causes of labour pains, stretching and pushing.  I don’t think I can really do justice to the pain from childbirth, but I will do my best for those who will never, or have not yet, experienced labour.  The birth canal in ordinary life has a maximal diameter of about four centimetres.  During parturition, the birth canal has to accommodate a baby’s head which is usually between ten and eleven centimetres in diameter.  So imagine taking your lower lip and trying to pull it up over your eyebrows.  This would be the rough equivalent to the stretching that occurs during delivery.  The muscular contractions are different again.  Think of the pain of a muscle cramp in your calf, then imagine that across your whole lower abdomen and lasting for two minutes.  You may have a now have an idea why childbirth is painful.

While it may seem that the process is pretty easy for the baby, it also goes through some pretty intense stress.  The intensive squeezing through the already overstretched birth canal actually wrings the excess fluid out of the babies lungs, which were previously filled with amniotic fluid.  It is because of this squeezing, and the very rude shock of the cold air of the outside world on it’s face, that the baby takes it’s first breath.  The average time that it takes to get the baby through the four inches of the birth canal is about 30 minutes. It may not be physically far, but the journey of separation is very strenuous.

When God made man and woman, he had already been creating for five and a half days, so he was in the groove (see Genesis 1:24-31).  He made man, and the things that define man he placed on the outside, like his “defining organs”, and his physical strength.  But man wasn’t complete.  So God made woman, the pinnacle of his creation.  She complements and completes the man.  God made her so that which defines her was internal – the uterus, her defining organ, and the emotional strength and nurturing which the uterus represents.

Even before they are mothers themselves, most women will cultivate relationships and help the people in their life to flourish.  Women, like the uterus, have a remarkable capacity to stretch and nowhere it is better demonstrated than motherhood.  Like a foetus to the womb, so a child literally takes over the life of it’s mother, constantly demanding in every aspect of life.  But the selfless care results in growth and stretching – the baby fostering a type of inner strength that is rarely found in women who have not raised a baby of their own.

The protective instinct of a mother is amazing, sometimes going beyond rational explanation to the level of absolute self-sacrifice.  Like the uterus, enclosing the baby with an almost impenetrable layer of thick, strong muscle, a mothers love cocoons her child and so often takes the physical and psychological blows that were meant for her child.  And mothers are very strong, with an inner force that can push through physical obstacles, social barriers and psychological pain in order to find what is best for their children.

The transition from dependence to independence, like the process of labour, is painful.  Pushing a child away requires emotional strength as much as caring and protecting does, but children eventually need to move on and start living on their own, “breathing for themselves” so to speak.  They may not move very far physically, but in terms of emotional separation, it is often a long and stressful journey.  The cold air of the real world and the stress of the transition can make them gasp and scream for a while, but it makes them stronger, and able to live on their own.

Finally the uterus is, anatomically speaking, like an angel, with the round ligaments extending out in front like arms reaching out to hug, and the broad ligaments flowing down from them like wings.  It goes without saying that mothers are angels.  Constantly reaching out to give love and protecting by enveloping in their wings, mothers personify the spiritual ministry of angels.  They also reflect God’s likeness, as it says in Psalm 91:4, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

So we owe a lot to the uterus.  An amazing yet understated organ, it reflects the amazing traits that God placed inside women everywhere, which are brought to the fore by the journey of motherhood.  Without the uterus, there would be no mothers, or Mothers Day.  On Mothers Day, when you give your mum a hug and a kiss on the cheek, don’t forget to thank God for his amazing creation of the humble uterus and the special traits it shares with the pinnacle of Gods creation.

Aspartame. Is it more ‘Die’ than ‘Diet’?

A link came around tonight on my Facebook feed about aspartame: “Aspartame is linked to Leukemia and Lymphoma in new Landmark Study on Humans” (http://worldtruth.tv/aspartame-is-linked-to-leukemia-and-lymphoma-in-new-landmark-study-on-humans/)

I’ve seen these sorts of articles come around on social media before, usually in the form of an alternative health website hysterically exaggerating an irrelevant or pseudoscientific study, trying to prove some point about the evils of western medicine or society, or get more internet traffic through sensationalist click-bait.

And I’d heard the whole aspartame-causes-cancer thing before. I’d heard that there was maybe some evidence in animal studies, but that there was no definitive link in humans.

So just from the title, before I’d even read the article, my sceptical mind was primed to expect the opposite of the articles eye-catching headline.  I started searching the literature to see if there was any evidence to prove me right.

The first research article I came across that wasn’t on rats was from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012, “Consumption of artificial sweetener – and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women” [1]. It was an impressive study in terms of its numbers and its quality. It was drawn from the data of the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which were both prospective studies (which follow a large number of subjects over a long time to see who gets the disease in question, rather than starting with who has the disease in question and trying to work backwards trying to ascertain causes, which is much less reliable). Both studies also had a large number of subjects which increased their statistical power, and made their findings more robust.

The results didn’t look very good for aspartame. There was a clear-cut increase in the risk of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma for men who consumed two or more serves per day of diet drinks containing aspartame (Relative Risk: 1.69; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.17, 2.45; P-trend = 0.02) and Multiple Myeloma for men who consumed one or more serve per day of diet drinks containing aspartame (RR: 2.02; 95% CI: 1.20, 3.40). However, there was no change in the risks for women who consumed aspartame.

The results certainly caught me a little off guard. Perhaps there was some truth to the alternative website’s assertions after all. Interestingly enough, the study that the worldtruth.tv site reviewed was the same article I’d found. I was guilty of making a snap judgement, and I had to remind myself not to always jump to conclusions.

Still, even though the article wasn’t sensationalist click-bait, some unanswered questions remained. Why was the risk only found in men? Was there a real association, and if so, why the difference. Should we extrapolate this finding like worldtruth.tv did and justifiably ask “will future, high-quality studies uncover links to the other cancers in which aspartame has been implicated (brain, breast, prostate, etc.)?”

In terms of the gender difference, the authors of the original study did have a theory: “We hypothesized that the sex differences we observed may have been due to the recognized higher enzymatic activity of alcohol dehydrogenase type I (ADH) in men, which possibly induced higher conversion rates from methanol to the carcinogenic substrate formaldehyde.” In support of this theory, they looked at the risk of leukaemia and lymphoma in those aspartame users who were drinkers vs the aspartame users who weren’t. Ethanol stops the metabolic conversion of aspartame to formaldehyde, so if their theory was on the right track, those aspartame users who also drank alcohol would have a lower risk. As it turns out, their data was supportive, with aspartame non-drinkers having an increased risk for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (RR: 2.34; 95% CI: 1.46, 3.76; P-trend = 0.004) compared with aspartame users who also drank (RR: 0.96; 95% CI: 0.48, 1.90; P-trend = 0.99) [1].

However, despite the findings of Schernhammer et al, a more recent large prospective trial published in the Journal of Nutrition last year found there was no association between soft-drinks of any variety and blood cancers, including those containing aspartame [2].

So the jury is still out on aspartame. Based on what we currently know, if you’re a woman, then there’s no risk of developing leukaemia or lymphoma from drinking diet drinks. If you’re a man, there’s also probably no risk, but a glass or two of alcohol a day would probably make sure of that. Although the best advice is probably to not bother drinking diet drinks at all. The best diet drink is still plain old water, which has virtually no associated risks, is much cheaper, and probably tastes a whole lot better.

References

  1. Schernhammer, E.S., et al., Consumption of artificial sweetener- and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2012. 96(6): 1419-28 doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.030833
  2. McCullough, M.L., et al., Artificially and sugar-sweetened carbonated beverage consumption is not associated with risk of lymphoid neoplasms in older men and women. J Nutr, 2014. 144(12): 2041-9 doi: 10.3945/jn.114.197475

Dr Caroline Leaf – Contradicted by Dr Caroline Leaf

“Who am I?”

It’s one of life’s most fundamental questions. It’s such a quintessentially human question, one that speaks to the importance of our identity as individuals.

It’s a question that Dr Leaf thinks she has the answer to.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and self-titled cognitive neuroscientist. Recently she launched an on-line program called “Perfectly You”, based on her 2009 book, “The Gift In You” [1]. In “The Gift In You”, Dr Leaf promised that by using her program, you could enable your gift and increase your intelligence to the level that you desire. According to Dr Leaf, your gift is something that’s hardwired into your brain, which makes your gift uniquely yours. For example, she wrote:

“Your gift lies in something so profound yet so simple that we tend to overlook it: the combination of your life experiences with the measurable structure of how your brain has been wired to think and process information.” (p24)

“Neurologically, you are not wired for someone else’s gift. You can try as hard as you want. You can listen to as many teachings as you possibly can. You can buy all the books with an instant formula for a business mogul’s success. You can adopt all of the popular motivational sayings. But even then, you will never have someone else’s gift.” (p11-12)

“You were not built to struggle. Your brain is wired to function according to a specific sequence. When you discover that sequence, that structure, you unlock great potential.” (p13)

“When you know how your gift is structured, how your brain is uniquely wired, and how to achieve lasting success, you will unlock your truth-value – your gift.” (p17)

“The exciting result of this plasticity of the brain that we hold power over is that no two brains are alike: We are uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). There is diversity in brain structure and organisation and function, which results in the way we think and approach life.” (p18)

So according to Dr Leaf, our gifts are something that is uniquely hardwired into our brain, something that we cannot change even if we wanted to, and that brain structure gives rise to the way in which we think and the actions that we take.

Then, as I was rereading this book, I came across a sentence that I must have read before when I first got it, but which I hadn’t fully appreciated the significance of until now.

On page 47, Dr Leaf said,

The mind is what the brain does, and we see the uniqueness of each mind through our gifts. This, in itself is delightful and, intriguing because, as you work out your gift and find out who you are, you will be developing your soul and spirit.” (Emphasis added)

This quote in and of itself isn’t actually that significant until we compare it to a quote from the first chapter of Dr Leaf’s 2013 book, “Switch On You Brain.” [2]

“The first argument proposes that thoughts come from your brain as though your brain is generating all aspects of your mental experience. People who hold this view are called materialists. They believe that it is the chemicals and neurons that create the mind and that relationships between your thoughts and what you do can just be ignored.
So essentially, their perspective is that the brain creates what you are doing and what you are thinking. The mind is what the brain does, they believe, and the ramifications are significant. Take for example, the treatment of depression. In this reductionist view, depression is a chemical imbalance problem of a machinelike brain; therefore, the treatment is to add in the missing chemicals.
This view is biblically and scientifically incorrect.” [2: p31-32] (Emphasis added)

So … Dr Leaf believes that the mind is not what the brain does. So our gifts aren’t uniquely hardwired into our brain, and we should be able to change our gifting if we want to, since it isn’t our brain structures that give rise to the way in which we think and the actions that we take, but it’s all related to our choices.

This must be really embarrassing for Dr Leaf, to so directly call your own beliefs biblically and scientifically incorrect, and then not to notice.

Now, we all make innocent mistakes. No one is perfectly congruent in everything they say. But this isn’t just getting some minor facts wrong. These statements form the foundation for Dr Leaf’s teaching, and are in print in two best selling books, from which she has used to present to countless churches and seminars around the globe.

Which makes her major self-contradiction important for three reasons:

  1. It calls her self-titled expertise as a cognitive neuroscientist into question.
  2. It calls her teaching into question.
  3. It calls her ministry into question.

Firstly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf shows desperately little basic knowledge about cognitive neuroscience. Even first year neuroscience students consistently know how the brain works, and are able to build on this to grow their knowledge about the brain. The fact that Dr Leaf can’t get her basic facts straight on something so fundamental as the relationship of the mind and the brain clearly demonstrates that she is not the expert in cognitive neuroscience that she claims to be.

Secondly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf undermines all of her teaching. If she can’t be trusted to consistently state basic facts on which she is supposed to have high level training, then how can she be trusted with anything more complicated scientifically. Indeed, how can she be trusted to interpret scripture, in which she has no formal training. Thus, her whole ministry is now thrown into doubt. Dr Leaf may get some facts right in the rest of her writing and in her teaching, but unless you’re an expert in the field, it would be impossible to know. And since she doesn’t reference her work properly, it makes it impossible for the average person to go back to her sources and validate her teaching.

Thirdly, in majorly contradicting herself, Dr Leaf makes it very difficult for churches who have her ministering from their pulpits. Pastors aren’t experts in neuroscience or medicine. How are they supposed to have confidence that what Dr Leaf is saying? How can they be sure that what Dr Leaf is teaching to their congregations is factual or is contradicted by real scientists or her own teaching? How can they be sure that Dr Leaf is not causing some of their more vulnerable parishioners unnecessary harm because her teaching is contradicted by modern science and medicine?

Dr Leaf may believe that she has many answers, and is motivated by the best of intentions. However, to call your own beliefs “biblically and scientifically incorrect” does not instil confidence. Dr Leaf needs to take a serious look at her teaching and the quality of the science that undergirds it, and until that happens, the churches that have invited Dr Leaf to minister from their pulpits should seriously reconsider that decision.

References

  1. Leaf, C.M., The gift in you – discover new life through gifts hidden in your mind. 2009, Inprov, Inc, Texas, USA:
  2. Leaf, C.M., Switch On Your Brain : The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. 2013, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan: