Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Low-Carb Fraud: A Review

T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, has written a new book (more of a report at 57 pages) called The Low-Carb Fraud. Let's start with what Dr. Campbell gets right:

  • There are different kinds of carbohydrates.
  • Most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the intestine.
  • Refined carbohydrates are bad. 
  • Low carb diets are fun! (I swear I'm not making this up)
  • Calories don't matter unless you're going to extremes.
  • People lose weight on low carbohydrate diets.
  • People lower their insulin levels on low carbohydrate diets.

That's about it. Mostly, he slanders low-carb proponents and he lies, lies again, and lies some more. He lies when he doesn't need to lie. To wit:

  •  "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution...had not been especially successful in the marketplace." According to Dr. Atkins' obituary in The New York Times, "its various editions sold more than 15 million copies, making it one of the best selling books ever." 
  • Dr. Campbell also repeats the rumor that Dr. Atkins was obese when he died. According to, Dr. Atkins was taken to the hospital for a head injury.  The snopes article adds that hospital records, as turned over to USA Today by his widow, show the six-foot tall doctor weighed 195 pounds upon admission. His widow says that due to organ failure and fluid retention (and glucose drip? -ed.) he weighed 258 pounds at his death.
  • "We're making no significant inroads in reducing rates of...heart disease..." Heart disease deaths have been going down for years. Why lie about this? If anything, you could attribute this to declining fat in our collective diet. (Or less smoking, or better care for heart attack victims.)

At the end, Dr. Campbell discusses studies that are beyond most people medically ignorant enough to believe the rest of the book. (I didn't read the studies to ascertain their quality or whether Dr. Campbell's interpretation of them was correct. I'll leave that to study wonks.) But before that, he attacks Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat.

Gary Taubes, says Dr. Campbell, is a journalist, not a scientist, doesn't understand studies and doesn't know what a carbohydrate is. He makes Taubes sound like a lifestyle writer at a suburban newpaper. Dr. Campbell doesn't mention that Taubes has a BS in applied physics from Harvard, earned an MS in engineering at Stanford and an MS in journalism at Columbia University, and was a reporter for Discover magazine. He concedes that Taubes is correct in saying that calories don't have much to do with weight (unless you go to extremes) and that most carbohydrate breaks down into glucose and causes a surge of insulin. Taubes understands all this and more without knowing what a carbohydrate is. But Dr. Campbell asserts that it's only refined carbohydrates that are bad, that Taubes is deliberately confusing refined sugar with all foods that contain carbohydrate. Apparently, your intestine knows whether a molecule of glucose came from a kumquat or a Klondike Bar.

Maybe Dr. Campbell should work on himself before casting stones. He all but admits he's not a scientist:

When a reductionist finding contradicts the big picture, it doesn't make sense to tear down that big picture. Rather we look for exceptions, nuances, and deeper understandings--ways of reconciling an outlier data point with the demonstrated reality. (Kindle location 407)

What real scientists reconcile in the face of data is their picture of reality. Real scientists should also know basic logic--for instance, if A=B, then B=A. "...[A] diet truly low in fat (e.g., 10 percent of calories) is by definition a diet high in good quality whole (not processed) plant-based foods and low in animal based products," Campbell says. Likewise, unless your whole-food, plant-based diet includes a lot of coconuts, olives or avocados (no oils extracted from them), which he doesn't recommend, your diet will be low in in fat. Whole, plant-based diet equals "truly" low fat. Yet on the next page, he chides Gary Taubes for focusing his arguments on low fat diets, albeit "incorrectly labeled" ones, instead of plant v. animal based diets. Dr. Campbell also dismisses several studies comparing low-fat and low-carb diets because, among other things, the low-fat diets were too high in fat. Is he trying to be difficult? Why yes, he is, maybe because Good Calories, Bad Calories isn't about vegan diets.

Dr. Campbell fires away at other authors of low-carb books and diets, including Michael and Mary Dan Eades, Loren Cordain, and Eric Westman, saying they have "no experience in scientific research, and a vast fortune generated by the sales of their shakes, powders, extracts, oils, bars, and even chocolates." The popularity of low-carb diets is mostly marketing.

Was Google down the day Dr. Campbell wrote this book? Some of these authors are professional researchers at respected universities, and the Drs. Eades have a qualification Dr. Campbell doesn't: treating patients--thousands of them. Dr. Cordain of Colorado State University has written over 100 peer-reviewed articles and abstracts. (Dr. Cordain discusses vegetarian diets in The Paleo Answer without using smear tactics, saying he respects people's dietary choices.)  Dr. Westman is a faculty member of the Duke Clinical Research Training Program. The Low-Carb Fraud doesn't mention Dr. Stephen Phinney, a physician-scientist who has written more than 70 peer reviewed papers and book chapters, or Dr. Jeff Volek, a professor and author who leads a research team at the University of Connecticut and co-wrote, with Dr. Phinney, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, and, with Drs. Westman and Phinney, The New Atkins for a New You, a book that ought to have popped up on Dr. Campbell's radar. Dr. Richard Feinman, another proponent not mentioned, is a researcher and professor of cell biology at the State University of New York. (Granted, he hasn't written any diet books, just a bunch of peer-reviewed studies and papers.) Physician-researcher Dr. Richard K. Bernstein, a type 1 diabetic since 1946 (how many people can say that?), low carb proponent, and one of the foremost experts on diabetes, doesn't get a mention, either.

Has Dr. Campbell actually read anything that Drs. Eades, Cordain, Phinney, Volek, Westman or Bernstein have written? He keeps calling low-carb diets "high-protein diets." Pretty much any diet is higher in protein than his whole food plant based diet, but most modern low-carb diets call for high fat and moderate protein. He also says low-carb diets eliminate most vegetables, but even Atkins induction calls for two small salads a day. It's just starchy vegetables like potatoes that are off the menu. Almost anything at a salad bar is encouraged. In fact, during a year-long study of 100 people on a low-carb diet (aka My Big Fat Diet), the grocery store on the little island where the participants lived had a run on cauliflower when someone shared a recipe for fried "rice."

Has he heard that low-carb diets are for more than just weight loss? "Charitably, we could say that low-carb advocates are using weight loss as a Trojan Horse to get people to improve their diets and overall health--although there's little evidence for this generous interpretation." Maybe Dr. Campbell hasn't heard that the sweet, starchy foods he recommends can lead to tooth decay or that some of us cured our GERD by giving them up.  Diabetes control is possibly the second most common reason people adopt a low-carb diet; some epileptics are managing their condition with very low carb diets; and there's research in using the diet to fight cancer and prevent Alzheimer's disease. Dr. William Davis has been reducing his patients' coronary plaque and treating other health problems including diabetes with a low-carb, wheat free diet, among other therapies. Many of us with wonky blood sugar and GI problems like FODMAPS simply cannot eat a high-carb diet and feel well.

Dr. Campbell ought to dust off his endocrinology books, too--or read a new one, since it's been a spell since he went to medical school. "Whenever we encounter diversity in nature, we should be slow to dismiss it as unnecessary or unfortunate. A broad spectrum of carbohydrate digestibility and function is very important: it allows the body to adapt to different conditions, ranging from the need for a quick burst of energy to the facilitation of digestion and absorption of other nutrients in the gut." From an evolutionary standpoint, adapting to different conditions is  important.  However, the need for carbohydrate in the human diet is zero. Ever heard of an essential carbohydrate? There aren't any for humans. Ever heard of phytic acid? It's a substance "occurring in plants, especially grains, capable of forming insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron and other nutrients and other nutrients and interfering with their absorption by the body." And as most vegans know, you need supplements such as B12 on a vegan diet because of the lack or absence of certain nutrients in plant foods.

The Low-Carb Fraud includes an appendix on paleo diets. Here, unlike at the beginning of the book, he says that Dr. Loren Cordain is a researcher. The way Dr. Campbell describes paleo diets and the study of paleoanthropology sounds about right to me, as far as it goes, but he does what he accuses Gary Taubes of doing: cherry picking details and weaving a story out of them.

"Cordain, in fact, presented a very similar estimate for the amount of meat in prehistoric humans' diets--3 to 5 percent--in a 2004 symposium in Denver, Colorado," says Dr. Campbell. If Cordain said that, he'd have been referring to very ancient human ancestors such as australopithecus, who lived four million years ago and, were they alive today, would be around four feet tall, covered in hair and, yes, eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and tubers at a preserve. Given their tiny brain size, they wouldn't have a job and an apartment. The book mentions none of this. No, Dr. Campbell compares humans to chimpanzees, a species we split off from six million years ago, rather than Homo erectus, a long, lean, fairly big-brained, meat-eating, tool making ancestor from roughly 150,000 to two million years ago, or even neanderthals, whose genes some of us carry.

There's also no mention of the expensive tissue hypothesis, the idea that human ancestors needed a steady source of rich nutrients (like fat and protein) to build a big brain, an organ that sucks up an inordinate amount of energy. Nor is there any mention of stone tools, butcher marks on animal bones, isotope analysis, the hypothesis that early (and later) human ancestors could have scavenged animal carcasses instead of hunting, humans' decreasing gut size, or--hello--the fact that the need for carbohydrate in the human diet is zero. There's no mention of Dr. Richard Leakey or his colleagues Pat Shipman, Alan Walker, Richard Wrangham, or Brian Fagan, all paleoanthropologists whose view, based on the evidence, is that meat was an important part of the human diet. These scientists have written a gazillion books and papers, none of them promoting any diet, shakes, powders, extracts, oils, bars, and even chocolates.

There's much that, if we're being charitable, Dr. Campbell hasn't read. He ought to do so.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Cavities, but if that's not Working for you...

"You might want to read The China Study."

Good lord, there's someone still recommending that book after it was debunked by an English major and picked apart by Michael Eades and Chris Masterjohn? Recommended by someone who works in a dentist's office, no less--where they're supposed to tell you to avoid carbage? Yet the dental hygienist did today. Maybe she was worried about business slowing down. Maybe she hadn't heard that at least two of its main critics got a mouthful of cavities on vegan or vegetarian diets.

I didn't have any cavities, sensitive gums or other issues that a little more flossing wouldn't fix, and told her that I quit getting cavities after I started a low-carb diet. I added that since I'm from a family full of diabetes, that's another reason to be on a low-carb diet. "Well, if your diet isn't working for you, read The China Study."

I wasn't about to argue with a vegan holding a pick in my mouth. Even in a less asymmetrical setting, it would have been like arguing about religion.

Before I went low-carb, there was a diet that had stopped working for me: Body for Life, which includes quite a bit of  "good" carbs. I got almost all the cavities in my mouth on that diet--along with other problems usually put down to middle age. When I ditched the fruit, grains, milk and potatoes and went face down in the fat, I got rid of twenty pounds of fat, acid reflux, tooth decay, aches and pains, dry skin, three-hour naps, sinus congestion, and most of my TMJ pain. If I ever want to have all those problems back, I'll give dear Dr. Campbell's book a read.

The Woman Cave

Need a dining room set? I'm selling mine since all it does is collect dust and papers. Not having many of those health-giving, life-lengthening, cortisol-dampening relationships, I haven't had company in two years. I replaced the old furniture with a papasan chair, which I've enjoyed more than I the casual acquaintances I went to some trouble to acquire, who came and sat at the table once or twice.

Of course, I've read about studies showing close relationships making us happier and live longer, and studies showing that introverts are happier when they act extroverted. But what about real life? Most relationships are friendships of convenience. Acquaintances who aren't classmates, coworkers or neighbors take time and effort to meet, and I've come by very few who were worth the effort. As for playing a gadfly, what would a study find if it had people calling in sick and getting drunk instead of going to work--that they were happier? Probably, but like someone with a hangover, introverts in the real world say they end up exhausted when they put on an act for too long. Even my meetup group--which I enjoy and don't put on an act for--leaves me feeling as if I'm about to go down the first hill of a roller coaster. Sometimes you need to put on a game face, and with the right group of people it's fun, but when people say, apropos of nothing, "Smile!" or "Are you okay?" as if there's something wrong with you, it's offensive. Sorry I'm not meeting your standards, I'll try harder next time. Please give me another chance to act like a TV personality.

It makes more sense for me to stay home, sit in my new papasan chair and pet my dog than to go out to meet random people. I was surprised how much I enjoyed buying furniture, along with some cups, pajamas and Christmas cards (I'm not a complete recluse). Maybe since I replaced some things I'd had for several years and gotten tired of, it was a special treat. Do that too often, and it would probably end up as well as continually calling in sick and getting drunk instead of going to work.

I won't be sending Christmas cards to many relatives--people I have nothing in common with, who don't call, don't email, and only invite me over via a third party instead of inviting me themselves. I was in my thirties before I realized I didn't have to go to these get-togethers. I felt like Lierre Kieth when she wrote about dumping her bread and salad in the trash at a vegan dinner and leaving: it's like feeling trapped in a dream, and then remembering you're an adult. I feel none the worse for it, despite courting disaster if you believe the studies. Sure, you can be fine the moment before you walk off a cliff, but is there any cliff there if you're avoiding boring parties and aloof people? The only person I wanted to see was one of my brothers, and he's dead now.

The studies assume that people have a choice between giddy fun with friends and family or holing up in their hovel. In reality, for some of us it's a choice between fake forced fun with people we don't care about or pursuing happiness alone. The latter doesn't bother me, it's the assumption that there's something wrong with it that does.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Institute for Justice Kicks off National Food Freedom Initiative

This just in from the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm:

The Government vs. Your Food
IJ Launches New National Food Freedom Initiative

Arlington, Va.—A new national initiative launched today by the Institute for Justice seeks to make sure the government stays out of some of the most personal decisions people make every day:  What we eat and how we get our food.  This nationwide campaign will bring property rights, economic liberty and free speech challenges to laws that dictate what Americans can grow, raise, eat or even talk about.

Read an Associated Press feature on the National Food Freedom Initiative

To kick off the initiative, IJ is today filing three separate lawsuits challenging Miami Shores, Florida’s ban on front-yard vegetable gardens; Minnesota’s severe restrictions on home bakers, or “cottage food” producers; and Oregon’s ban on the advertisement of raw—or unpasteurized—milk.  Each case demonstrates how real the need for food freedom is in every corner of the country.

Watch a short video on the Miami Shores front-yard vegetable garden ban
Watch a short video on the MN cottage foods restrictions
Watch a short video on the OR raw milk advertising ban

“More and more, the government is demanding a seat at our dining room tables, attempting to dictate what we put on our plates, in our glasses and, ultimately, in our bodies,” said Michael Bindas, an IJ senior attorney who heads up the new initiative.  “The National Food Freedom Initiative will end government’s meddlesome and unconstitutional interference in our food choices so that Americans can once again know true food freedom.”

  • IJ is challenging Miami Shores’ front-yard vegetable garden ban in state court on behalf of Herminie Ricketts and Tom Carroll, a married couple who grew vegetables on their own property for their own consumption for nearly two decades before Miami Shores officials ordered them to tear up the very source of their sustenance or face fines of $50 per day.  Learn more about their case:
  • Minnesota allows food entrepreneurs to make certain inherently safe foods—such as baked goods—in home kitchens, but it:  (1) prohibits their sale anywhere other than farmers’ markets and community events; and (2) limits revenues to $5,000 per year.  Violating these restrictions can lead to fines of up to $7,500 or up to 90 days in jail.  IJ is challenging these restrictions under the Minnesota Constitution on behalf of cottage food entrepreneurs Jane Astramecki and Mara Heck.  Learn more about their case at:
  • In Oregon, it is legal for small farmers to sell raw milk, but they are flatly forbidden from advertising it.  If they do advertise their milk, they face a fine of $6,250 and civil penalties as high as $10,000—plus one year in jail.  IJ is challenging this ban under the First Amendment on behalf of farmer Christine Anderson of Cast Iron Farm.  Learn more about Christine’s case at:

These three cases raise important constitutional questions that show how meddlesome government has become in our food choices:  Can government really prohibit you from peacefully and productively using your own property to feed your family?  Can government really restrict how many cakes a baker sells and where she sells them?  Can government really ban speech about a legal product like raw milk?  The answer is no.

IJ’s President and General Counsel, Chip Mellor, said, “For 22 years, IJ has been on the forefront of protecting Americans’ property rights, economic liberty and freedom of speech.  With our National Food Freedom Initiative, IJ will now bring that experience to bear in the most fundamental area—food—so that Americans can be truly free to produce, market, procure and consume the foods of their choice.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Write a Newspaper Nutrition Article

This article from the Miami Herald, "Popular Paleo Diet Still Has its Skeptics" by Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley, is a textbook example of how to write a nutrition article.

  • Choose a hot topic. In this case, paleo diets.
  • Describe the topic and how it got started. This article cites popular media and books written no less than 12 years ago; one book is from 1975. 
  • Find some examples of people who've tried the regimen. One man interviewed lost 200 pounds (yes, two hundred) and got rid of his acid reflux; a bariatric surgeon lost 40 pounds.
  • Somewhere in the article, mention that they are not alone. 
  • Create conflict. A couple of registered dieticians interviewed trot out the gospel of food groups, healthy whole grains, and warnings that more research is needed.
  • Recommend people talk to their doctor.

What NOT to do when writing a newspaper article on nutrition:
  • Proofread. "Just about everybody, including daytime talk show hosts and fitness bloggers, are touting..."
  • Look up recent sources of information. Dr. Cordain, whose book from 2001 is mentioned, wrote The Paleo Answer two years ago. In particular, he's changed his position on dietary fat. The book is one of over a dozen on the paleo diet that have come out in the past three years.
  • Fact check. Where to begin? Lean meat is not part of the Atkins Diet. The paleo diet is based on a great deal of scientific research in both medicine and anthropology, not just anecdotes. Grains are nutrient poor compared to paleo food.
  • Turn on your BS detector. Mark Bluh, according to the article, lost 200 pounds. He started out at 330, and he's six feet four. So he's now 130 pounds and six feet four inches? (A normal weight for a man that height would be 200 pounds. That was the height and weight of my ex-jerk, who was lean and toned.) The same diet that humans have lived on for 2.5 million years, a diet that corrects weight, allergies, acid reflux and avoids foods some people don't tolerate well, will make you ill? Consult a medical professional about diet, even though most of them look like they're 50 pounds overweight?
 Finally, send the article to the local newspaper and wait for a check.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

AHA Recommends Statins for the Poor, People Near Airports, and Everyone in the Southeastern US

Not really, but why not? The American Heart Association now recommends cholesterol-lowering drugs for people who don't necessarily have low cholesterol, just risk factors for heart disease. (1) What is a risk factor? It's something that is statistically associated with heart disease. Everyone say it with me: association is not the same as causation. Take a look at the map below:

National maps.
Map from the Center for Disease Control.

Obviously, living in the southeastern US (or Appalachia) is a risk factor for heart disease. As my father says about most car accidents happening within a few miles of home, you'd better move away from there. But the whole population there can't move out west, and I don't want them bringing their sweet tea and hushpuppies and green and orange jello here. The obvious solution is to prescribe statins by ZIP code, right? That goes for people who live near airports, too.(2)

The AHA could get together with the IRS and doctors could prescribe statins by AGI (adjusted gross income). That's a joke, but something like that has actually been suggested by a professor at the University of California at Davis.

"Doctors could, for instance, moderately increase the dosage of cholesterol-lowering drugs to reflect the higher risk imposed by socioeconomic status," said [Peter] Franks, whose research focuses on addressing health-care disparities. "Changes like this would be easy to implement, and the benefits could be significant."(3)

Some things that can cause heart disease (they're not just risk factors) are small dense LDL, thyroid dysfunction, (4) smoking and diabetes(5). Why not work directly on those? An Associated Press article related a telling quote:

"It is practically impossible to find a large group of outside experts in the field [of heart disease] who have no relationships to industry," said Dr. George Mensah of the [National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute].(6) 

Those "relationships" to the pharmaceutical industry are financial: research grants, speaking fees, and swag.(7)

And the relationship between statin use and heart attack? In this study(8), statin use had no relationship to "primary events" (heart attack or cardiac death). Statin use and not dying? Dr. John Briffa recently reviewed a study by the Cleveland Clinic.

In this study, the researchers made this assessment over an 8-year period. Death rates over this time were not statistically lower in those taking statins compared to those who were not.(9)

He adds, ‘there was a trend toward’ are weasel words.

Statins and side effects? Michael Eades, a study wonk, writes,

Multiple studies have shown that taking statins does reduce both the incidence and severity of heart attacks. But these same studies don’t show any increase in longevity for those taking statins (other than the small benefit for men under 65 who have had heart attacks). Why. Statins simply trade one risk for another. Take them and you reduce the risk of a heart attack but increase your risk for cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, and side effects related to the drugs themselves. Many people die each year from statin-induced side effects. Despite what anyone may tell you, statins are not benign drugs.(10)
The push to get more people--80 million adults--sounds a lot like the new guidelines from 2001, when the experts tried to get 36 million Americans on statins.

In 2001, the Expert Panel on Detection, evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults issued perhaps the most influential document in the history of modern American medicine. Written as part of the National Cholesterol Education Program, the updated guidelines incorporated the findings of the most recent clinical trials into concise recommendations designed to assist doctors in reducing their patients' risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). The recommendations are bold and offer the tantalizing hope that coronary heart disease in all but the very old will become a far less common occurrence. This goal can be reached, according to the guidelines, by increasing the number of Americans taking statin drugs, from 13 million to 36 million....

The excitement generated by these new guidelines was unprecedented. Dr. Claude Lenfant, the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, under whose auspices the NCEP does its work, told the New York Times that if the new guidelines were followed, coronary heart disease "would no longer be the number one killer [in the United States]."(11)

Peter Wehrwein estimates that as of 2011, around 32 million Americans were taking a statin.(12) And yet heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the US.(13) It didn't work out, but the idea is so bold an tantalizing, and the pharma people are so nice. And since people are getting wise to the fact that cholesterol is a necessary hormone, which your body doesn't make in order to self-destruct, the experts are scurrying away from the idea of lowering it. Besides, they can get so many more people on medication if they decide on lower-risk risk factors.

  1. "Do you need to take statins to lower your cholesterol level?" by Ashley Hayes. November 13, 2013. /13/health/cholesterol-risk/
  2. "People Who Live Near Airports At Increased Risk For Cardiovascular Disease" by Larry Huston. October 8, 2013.
  3. "Lower socioeconomic status linked with heart disease despite improvements in other risk factors." August 26, 2011.
  4. "What tests are MORE important than cholesterol?" by William Davis MD. May 12, 2013.
  5. "Insight into Why A1c Correlates So Strongly with Heart Attack" by Jenny Ruhl. May 28, 2011.
  6. "U.S. doctors urge wider use of cholesterol drugs" by Marilynn Marchione. November 13, 2013.
  7. Overdosed America by John Abramson MD. Harper Collins, 2004.
  8. "Cardiac Outcomes After Screening for Asymptomatic Coronary Artery Disease in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes" by Lawrence H. Young, MD; Frans J. Th. Wackers, MD, PhD; Deborah A. Chyun, MSN, PhD; Janice A. Davey, MSN; Eugene J. Barrett, MD; Raymond Taillefer, MD; Gary V. Heller, MD, PhD; Ami E. Iskandrian, MD; Steven D. Wittlin, MD; Neil Filipchuk, MD; Robert E. Ratner, MD; Silvio E. Inzucchi, MD; for the DIAD Investigator. April 15, 2009. JAMA. 2009;301(15):1547-1555. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.476.
  9. "Doctors can help you get back on your statins, but does this help you?" by John Briffa MD. September 13, 2013.
  10. "Statins: Not for everyone…maybe not for anyone" by Michael Eades, MD. October 31, 2013.
  11. Overdosed America, pages 129-130.
  12.  "Statin use is up, cholesterol levels are down: Are Americans’ hearts benefiting?" by Peter Wehrwein. April 15, 2011.
  13. "Leading Causes of Death." CDC website. 2011.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Need a Prosthetic Hand? Got $10? DIY!

From the Hit and Run blog at

Shirking $30,000 in medical fees for a traditional prosthetic hand, videographer Paul McCarthy built a multi-colored “Robohand” for his son using a friend’s 3-D printer. McCarthy says he spent, “Five, maybe, ten bucks.”

The boy, 12-year-old Leon McCarthy, was born without fingers on his left hand. Once he turned ten, Paul started searching for an inexpensive and functional prosthetic alternative.

What he found changed his son’s life. A YouTube video by Washington-based special effects artist and puppeteer, Ivan Owen, shows the results of the artist's collaborative effort to build a Robohand for a disabled boy in South Africa.

DIY hand. Photo from
 More homemade prosthetics are here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Parents' Doctor Fired Them. Hurray!

December 17, 1999 found me so happy that I was jumping up and down and laughing. I'd just been laid off from my last engineering job, a job I could have done as a high school sophomore, a job so dull I felt a piece of myself dying every day as I sat through seven light changes to get out of the office park. No more. I was free of that miserable job.

This should have been the reaction (in spirit) of my mom when her doctor fired her as a patient last week. She asked her nephew, an M.D. (who also left engineering) if a doctor could do that. Certainly--if you were a doctor, would you want to be forced to treat patients you felt you couldn't help? Call it at-will treatment.

My parents' now-former doctor changed my mother's diabetes medication without giving her any advice to monitor blood sugar levels carefully or adjust her insulin, and my mother ended up with blood sugar levels in the 50s some mornings. My father didn't want to take a certain medication because of potential permanent and embarrassing side effects, there was some miscommunication about pill dosages, neither of my parents were willing to take statins, the doctor's office got a social worker involved at one point (Mom's mother-in-law, returned to life, would have gotten a warmer welcome), and in all fairness to the doctor, my parents missed some appointments. But Mom would wait 15 minutes on hold to reach someone at the office and wait for an hour after the appointment time at the doctor's office to be seen. No more. Everybody is free of this miserable relationship. What's not to like about this breakup?

We looked for another doctor. "I want a man doctor," Mom said. "Or a woman doctor." Flexibility is good. It took a few minutes for Mom and me to find someone new. He's highly-rated, he's a gerontologist, he's nearby and he's on her insurance plan. He's a man or a woman. My parents need someone who understands that people of a certain age are more delicate and need more hand holding.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Think All Doctors are Trustworthy? Read This

Let me start by saying that I think most doctors are decent people who want to help their patients. But sometimes I struggle to fathom the way they think. Dr. Michael Eades says most doctors aren't critical thinkers, so maybe that explains it. (Eades is a former civil engineer. If you can't solve problems, you don't last long in engineering school.)

First, I have to wonder about the common sense (let alone critical thinking) of physicians, who in general can't transform a six-figure income into large nest egg. Yes, physicians have expenses, but so do the rest of us. Why don't they just start an IRA with Vanguard and set up automatic payments? How does this concern you if you're not a doctor? Where there's money, there's motive. Prescribing statins, PPIs and diabetes drugs and recommending ADA and AHA diets sounds a lot easier, and more profitable, than revisiting  endocrinology textbooks, learning to interpret medical studies, and working with patients to improve their lifestyle. ADA and AHA high-carb diets will make diabetics worse and keep them coming back for more appointments, more services and more prescriptions. The same diet will keep GERD patients (I was one) coming back periodically for a new prescription.

Digestive tract issues bring me to my second point. For reasons I can't begin to fathom, two doctors, Robert Wilcox, MD and Okay H. Odocha MD, subjected a suspect to fourteen hours of invasive procedures at a hospital to find drugs. The suspect was stopped for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The good doctors didn't find any drugs, and the hospital has billed the man $6,000 for raping him. The search warrant wasn't valid for the county where Wilcox and Odocha of the Gila Hospital of Horrors were on duty. (To the medical profession's credit, the first doctor the cops went to refused to do a search, saying it was unethical.) The colonoscopy the man went through carries risks of a "Hole or tear in the wall of the colon that requires surgery to repair, infection needing antibiotic therapy (very rare), and reaction to the medicine you take to relax, causing breathing problems or low blood pressure."

Didn't the doctors think anything beyond an x-ray was excessive? Or that performing medical procedures for non-medical reasons was inappropriate? Didn't they read the warrant, or wonder if fourteen hours of poking someone's rectum against his will was an invitation for a lawsuit?

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by Carlo M. Cipolla opines that "reasonable people have difficulty in conceiving and understanding unreasonable behaviour....Nobody knows, understands or can possibly explain why that preposterous creature does what he does." All you can do is think for yourself and protect yourself. Or file a multi-million dollar lawsuit.