Mythic Mondays – Homeopathy

Homeopathy, lauded as a natural alternative to ‘Big Pharma’. Safe. Organic. Natural. Without out all those pesky side effects of medicines from pharmacies. A way to treat your symptoms without having to see a doctor and a way to stay in control of your own heath! It’s been around for over two centuries! Oh yeah, and not only does it not work it doesn’t do anything at all.

How does Homeopathy ‘work’? Well, you’re probably going to facepalm when I explain it.

Adherents of homeopathy believe that if a substance can cause the same symptoms of the disease in a healthy person, it will cure the sick person. Same cures same. It’s as simple as that. Suffering from vomiting? This Ipecac will cure you! Need to sleep? Caffeine, of course. Diabetes troubling you? Have some sugar. It’s all so simple! I don’t know why the medical field isn’t clambering over themselves to promote these ideas!

Only it’s more complicated than that. You see they ‘potentize’ the solution by diluting it and shaking it (or in their terms, using ‘succession’) in each direction 10 times. They use a lot of complicated nonsense terms to make what they’re doing sound more sciencey/magickey. This magical procedure makes the solution more powerful. And the more times you potentize a mixture the stronger it becomes. So, the more you dilute it, the stronger homeopaths believe the mixture becomes. Seriously. They will often continue to do this until there are no remaining molecules of the original poison that they were suggesting you drink. The end result? Water. With no measurable evidence of the original active ingredient.

This is the reason why there are no side effects to homeopathic solutions. There’s nothing in it but water. Literally. Apparently, they believe that water has a memory and that the vibrations of the original medicine is still there. Also magic. Woooooo……

“It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!”

Tim Minchin, Storm

James Randi, ex-magician and current woo-science debunker, swallows two full bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills before each of his lectures. He does this despite the warning on the bottle to call the poison control center in case of overdose and the max dose being listed as 2 pills in 12 hours. He then speaks for over an hour about how foolish homeopathy is. He gives an excellent, and hilarious, explanation of homeopathy that I highly recommend watching.

Where’s the harm? It’s not hurting anybody, is it? You may ask. Well, yes. Yes, it is. People who have legitimate illnesses are being tricked into taking water as a cure-all. People who can’t afford it are being scammed into purchasing pricey vials of water or placebo pills that are not helping them. Years ago, when I was working in a nursing home, I recall one husband of a patient insisting that his wife be taken off her heart meds and put onto ‘Strauss Heart Drops’ because his naturopath told him it worked better than any pills. It was over $100.00 a bottle that this man on a limited income shelled out. Her doctor compromised and allowed her to have the solution, but insisted that she stay on her Digoxin. Smart woman, that doctor.

As an aside, here’s an interesting tidbit from the FAQ page of Strauss Heart Drops.

‘Question: What is the success rate with Strauss Heartdrops™?

Answer: In our opinion, heart conditions that are caused by clogged arteries are improved in 95 per cent of users.’

I need to let out a huge sigh before I go on, in order to limit my use of expletives. Ahem! Reduction of clogged arteries is measurable. It’s not a matter of opinion. That this company seems to think their opinion is an answer to a verifiable question should be a matter of concern. Or to put it in the succinct words of my brother : ‘You’re fired. That’s my opinion.’

This becomes an even greater concern because the companies that produce this sort of crap have pressured the government sufficiently that it is now possible to get a DIN number for homeopathic remedies. What does that mean? It means it’s classed in the same way that real drugs are. This gives it an appearance of credibility it wouldn’t otherwise have. A misleading appearance of validity. Remember when I said several paragraphs back that there was a homeopathic solution to diabetes? Yeah, I wasn’t joking. Homeopathic insulin is not just legal in Canada, it’s also approved by Health Canada. DIN-HM 80016480 I couldn’t give you a direct URL as each search is timed, but you can look it up yourself with that DIN number.

Have I caused your eye to twitch yet?

‘Through the Natural Health Products Directorate, Health Canada ensures that all Canadians have ready access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.’
Health Canada

What the ever-loving-fuck has cultural diversity to do with whether or not something works? Ophelia Benson of the Butterflies and Wheels blog states : ‘Poison doesn’t become not poison in a different culture. A glass of water doesn’t become insulin because cultural diversity. If you’re certifying something as effective then you have to use the right – universal – standards.’ Amen, sister.

Does Not Compute!

But they aren’t doing that. And let’s focus on one word in that quote from Health Canada: effective. Health Canada ensures we have access to effective homeopathy. Effective homeopathy. I do believe that is an oxymoron. Also a lie. Brought to you by our government regulating body. These snake oil salesmen are the people you’re supposed to be protecting us from, you know. Way to let your credibility crash and burn guys.

Skeptic North examines some of the other ridiculous items that Health Canada has recently approved. It’s an excellent source for more information regarding the limitations and flaws in our national drug regulating body, Health Canada. Also if you want to curse out these homeopathy scam artists and shake your fist at a computer screen.

Mythic Mondays – Legitimate Rape

You know, this is one post I never thought I’d have to write. The level of stupid involved in rape culture and the forced-birth movement is pretty bad, but this comment takes the cake.

Todd Akin, a United states congressman AND a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, stated this weekend that rape rarely causes pregnancy because:

“It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare, if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down, But let’s assume maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist.”

Apparently, according to Akin, a woman’s uterus knows the difference between rape and consensual sex, somehow, and magically destroys sperm that doesn’t have its paperwork in order. I want to meet the incompetent doctors that he said gave him this information.

Was it Galen of Pergamon? He taught that a woman could only conceive if she’d had an orgasm. He taught this is 150 CE, mind you. While he was ahead of his time in cutting edge anatomy…this was also almost 2,000 years ago. He also was a staunch supporter of blood letting, and of fixing ‘bad humours’, which has been thoroughly discredited by modern medicine. As has the idea that a woman needs to orgasm/consent in order to get pregnant.

Todd Akin, a man who has the power to legislate laws that limit a woman’s reproductive choice, while following advice from a 2,000 year old medical book. Not to mention the fact that this man is on the House Science and Technology Committee. Let that roll around in your head for awhile. I’m not even going to debunk this one, because if you believe that a woman’s uterus knows about consent and can decide whether it should get pregnant or not, then you are an idiot. Todd is an idiot.

The really scary thing? Todd is not an isolated case. There’s plenty of documented occurrences of Republican politicians stating this very thing. These are university educated men in positions of power. Jezebel has a recent timeline of some these incidences. Not to mention that this is one of the core beliefs of the anti-choice movement.

‘Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, on Sunday called Akin’s remarks “flat-out astonishing.”

“That kind of rhetoric re-traumatizes sexual assault victims …That kind of talk, I believe, is intended to shame women,” she told AP Radio.’
The Toronto Star

There’s also the not-so-subtle undercurrent of what he’s saying: Real rapes don’t get women pregnant. Most rapes are just made up by loose women who can’t keep their legs closed and regret it after the fact. So the estimated 32,000 women a year who get pregnant each year from rape? Lying sluts who are just trying to put an innocent man in prison. Stay classy, Todd.

There’s a petition to get Todd taken off the House Science and Technology Committee. ‘Someone who believes nonsense like this has no part overseeing science policy.’ Says the poster of the petition. Seeing as the man is still living in the dark ages, it might not be a bad idea.

Here’s some good posts on the subject of Legitimate Rape, Todd, and Rape apologists:

The myth that women can’t get pregnant from rape stems from basic assumptions anti-choicers make about women.

The Offical Guide to Legitimate Rape.

Akin’s eager apologists

What Todd Akin Said

Mythic Mondays – Jesus Hates F*gs

God Hates Figs

That’s right: Figs. Jesus hates them. It’s an unreasoning and petulant hatred too, according to the bible.

Matthew 21:18-22
King James Version (KJV)

Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!

Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.’

Jesus sees a fig tree, has a complete conniption when he realizes it’s not in season and has no fruit for him to eat and smites the tree. He then writes out a cheque for free fulfilled prayers which his ass never quite gets around to cashing. This is a totally rational reaction to a tree…if you’re a five year old throwing a temper tantrum. He totally wasn’t acting like a spiteful asshole teenager at all. I’m thinking the son of Yahweh needed some serious anger management counselling.

And then there’s this bit:

Jeremiah 29:17 KJV ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil.’

That’s some serious righteous rage, right there. I don’t believe it’s ever been explained why our man Yahweh and his son Jebus have such a hard-on for persecuting figs but they were never big on explanations or…logic.

Or… did you think the title of this blog post referred to something else?

Well, good luck trying to use Jesus to justify homophobia, there’s nothing to back it up in the bible. At least not in the New Testament.

In Leviticus it states that a man cannot lie with a man as he would a woman. Which apparently lets lesbians completely off the hook. This divine wisdom is, of course, right beside passages that threaten hell for wearing mixed fibers, planting more than one crop in a field, having a rounded hair or beard cut, eating pork or shellfish, or having a tattoo. Which most christians are so super careful not to do. So clearly this rule about making sure lesbians don’t have sex with men must be pretty important right?

In warning others that homosexuality is a sin, this guy (in the photo in the left) is going to hell for having a tattoo…and prolly wearing mixed fibres too. He takes his bible really seriously when it’s backing up his chosen form of bigotry. Ignores it elsewise. Credibility…gone. I just hope for his sake that he’s not a fan of Fig Newtons too.

Mythic Mondays – Depression is caused by being too strong

I’m seeing a lot of people post this sentiment on Facebook lately and I’ve had to sit on my hands to avoid commenting. It shows up as a status update or as an image file with the quote on it. And inevitably the order that if you’re not a horrible sociopath who doesn’t care about anyone but yourself you’ll share it on social media. Because that’s how chain letters work nowadays: Guilt. I’m not passing this one one and I’ll tell you why.

First, I’d like to preface by saying that Depression and Anxiety disorders are something I’m familiar with. Intimately familiar with on both the side of the caregiver and of the person who is suffering from these disorders. So this is not me casting stones at those with mental health disorders. That would seriously not be cool. I’m all for education and better understanding of mental health issues. That’s the point. Misinformation really doesn’t help anyone. Even if it’s misinformation that’s designed to counter other seemingly more harmful misconceptions.

This idea that being strong for too long leads to depression seems to me to play into old stereotypes of (especially) women having ‘nervous breakdowns’ because they just couldn’t take it anymore. There’s a whole lot of unnecessary baggage and negative connotations that are bound up in the idea of people having ‘breakdowns’. It’s not a mental image that I’d want to promote. Horses have ‘breakdowns’ at the racetrack ; we euthanize them. There’s enough negative imagery and misconceptions surrounding people who suffer depression. We don’t need to pile anymore on by using hyperbolic and emotionally charged terms that are deemed obsolete by the medical community anyway.

Secondly, I’m going to focus specifically on Depression disorders, but a lot of what I have to say works for Anxiety disorders as well. I’m doing this to keep this blog post at a reasonable length. I realize that a common misconception that people have of depression is that it’s something you can shrug off. That it’s something that teenagers exaggerate about to the point of making light of it ‘My parents just told me I can’t use the car until I pay for gas and now I’m so depressed!‘. That you’re sad about something and you need cheering up. That you’re overreacting. That you need to get over it. That you’re weak.

The best description I’ve ever gotten for depression was hearing one sufferer describe it as ‘painting the world in water colours using a black brush’. You don’t just shrug off depression because it colours everything you do and everything you see. Nothing shows through with the vividness it ought to have. You may find yourself crying and when someone asks what’s wrong you honestly reply ‘Everything. Nothing. I don’t know’. Depression isn’t about being sad because you lost something dear to you (although that may be a trigger). It’s so much bigger than that.

As a sufferer of depression you may find yourself sleeping most of the time, not eating enough or eating too much. Gaining or losing weight respectively. Your personal hygiene may have taken a noticeable turn for the worse as your fatigue rises and your morning ritual of ablutions becomes far too much effort. Work productivity drops as you find you can’t concentrate…if you’re able to drag yourself in to work. Activities that you once enjoyed are no longer enjoyable and you have random and/or undefined aches and pains. You’re irritable and may lash out at people when they try to console you. There may be a sense of hopelessness. Even knowing that your problem is depression, you don’t know how you could ever manage to get through it, so what’s the point in trying? You know you can’t get over and you know this because you start realizing how worthless you are. It may even lead to thoughts of ending your life to escape the physical and emotional pain that you’re experiencing. Those pains are real.

“Depression is such cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying with concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door. I realize that every person, at some point, takes up residence in one or other of these rooms. But the realization offers no great comfort now.”

Martha Manning, Undercurrents (1994)
author/therapist who has dealt with major depression

We haven’t yet pinpointed what causes depression. Like so many other issues that involve the brain, this is one where much research is still needed. This is why the firm statement that we know what it is and turning it into a bragging point of how awesomely strong you are annoys me so much. Experts currently believe that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors. So your Family History, Brain Chemistry, Hormones, Coping mechanisms, stress levels, and environment all play their parts in the game.

We know that if you scan the brain of a person with depression it will appear differently than that of someone who is not suffering this disorder. So yeah, it’s a real thing that we can see with science. What we don’t know is why. We know that if you’ve suffered depression once there’s an increased chance that you’ll suffer it again. We know that women suffer depression about twice as often as men. Women have the additional triggers of monthly hormonal fluctuations and postpartum issues to deal with. This makes it a gendered illness, and unfortunately means it’s less likely to be taken seriously.

One of the most common theories is that depression is caused by an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in the brain. What backs up this theory is that drug treatment with those neurotransmitters (Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, for example) appears to treat the symptoms of depression in many people. The scary thing is that I had to use the words ‘appears to treat‘. We still aren’t totally sure why modern anti-depressants work and finding the right one or combination of drugs can be a hit & miss affair.

I think the most important thing about understanding depression is accepting that it is an illness, that it isn’t your fault, and that there are treatment options. You probably can’t deal with this all by yourself. You’re gonna need some outside support. You can find your way out if only you will reach out for support. Although the journey may not be an easy one.

For those that are dealing with loved ones who are depressed, the important thing to understand that you can’t take someone else’s depression personally. You didn’t cause it. You can’t cure it. Their irritability is likely a symptom of the illness. An illness they may not even realize they have. One of the tricky things about the brain is that it sucks at diagnosing problems with itself. You can nudge someone in the direction of getting help, but it’s something that should be done gently. The fact that there are so many negative emotions and ideas balled up in the phrases ‘mental illness’, ‘get help’, ‘see a psychiatrist’ means that you need to choose your words very carefully.

So, like last weeks post on Dream reading, this myth is the result of people claiming to know more than we actually do and trying to pass their opinions off as fact. The difference is that this one can actually contribute to harmful misconceptions.

For further reading on Depression (or to check to make sure that I’m not full of shit) :
The National Mental Health Institute
Depression Hurts
Help Guide (Depression)
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Mythic Mondays – Reading in Dreams. Batman was wrong!

When I was in early highschool Batman the Animated Series was the shiznet. Everyone I know watched it. Mind you, I also lived in the boondocks and there was a limited selection of what we could watch. Three channels on a good day!

It was well written and very ‘adult’ for a kids show. I tended to take a lot of what they said at face value because of the way it was presented. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Here’s an example: You cannot read in a dream because it’s a function of the left side of the brain. Dreams are a function of the right. This is how Batman broke out of the ‘Inception’ Dream within a dream episode where the Mad Hatter creates a never ending dream world to keep him imprisoned. Apologies if the video below makes you go to Youtube to see it, it was the only copy I could find.

I believed this was true for years. I repeated it to others and helped spread this misinformation. Batman said so! When did Batman ever lie? Well, first of all he mixed up the two. The left side of the brain is the one that’s always been associated with logical tasks and the right side is the one associated with raw creativity. So there’s that.

Then there’s the fact that…I read in my dreams all the time. Signs, newspapers, books, whatever. They have all appeared in my dreams and reading them was no big deal. Ermahgerd! I’m a freak! Only, not really. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest reading in dreams is not at all uncommon.

Anyhoo, the truth is that we don’t really know where dreams come from. Not with any certainty. There hasn’t been very much serious research done on the subject. Researchers in Switzerland produced a paper in 2004 that suggested that they had found one possible location for the formation of dreams. This happened by chance when a 73 year old woman had a stroke affecting that area of her brain. Side effect of stroke: Her dreams stopped. REM sleep continued as usual, but her dreams were absent according to brain scans. REM sleep and dreams are connected, but they are not the same thing and they originate in different parts of the brain. This had the unexpected side effect of busting another popular myth : That humans will die if they can’t dream.

“How dreams are generated, and what purpose they might serve, are completely open questions at this point.”

Dr Claudio Bassetti, of the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Zurich in Switzerland

During dreams, and the rest of the time too, brain activity isn’t localized on one side or the other. The brain just doesn’t work that way. The left side/right side explanation of brain activity has some basis in reality but is wildly over simplified. There are specialized areas of the brain, which work with other specialized areas of the brain and everything between hemispheres is interconnected through the corpus callosum. And hundreds of millions of nerve clusters. There’s a whole lot of communication going on between both sides of your brain. All the time.

“Sure, we have two hemispheres that operate fine independently and have different abilities, but they are massively interconnected and work together as a seamless whole (providing you have never had surgery to cut your corpus callosum).”

Dr Steven Novella, Academic neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine

We’re not dolphins. We don’t sleep with one side of the brain at a time. And the functions of our brain are not neatly segregated into conveniently coloured portions of the brain. The whole thing is a mess. A mess we haven’t completely figured out yet. But from what we do know, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t be able to read in one’s dreams.

Damn you, Bruce Wayne.

Mythic Mondays – Leprosy

The other day I was watching an episode of National Geographic’s Taboo. It was the episode about outcasts. One of the segments was about modern lepers in India. There was a montage of interviews with random people on the streets of what I assumed were European/North American cities. You know, western, supposedly educated people. They asked the question: Would you touch a leper? The interviewees seemed horrified. One woman flatly states that she would never touch a leper because she knew leprosy was contagious.

This caused a deep sigh to start within me. Accompanied by a slow rolling of my eyes back into my head. The irrational fear that still exists today over a disease which has a cure, and which most humans are naturally immune to, annoyed me greatly. 2012 and we’re still cringing from lepers. How depressing. So I thought that an interesting exercise for myself would be to try to pick a common misconception/myth/urban legend and make an effort to debunk it. Or at least scrape together some information about it in what is hopefully an easy to digest manner. I’m going to call these posts: ‘Mythic Mondays’ because I’m all about alliteration and this gives me a deadline of sorts.

Found in the Public Domain here : ‘http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart27.htm’

Leprosy

Leprosy is a skin/nerve disease that causes noticeable disfigurement and nerve damage if left untreated. The very word ‘Leprosy’ is a word which for millenia has inspired fear and loathing for those afflicted. This fear was/is so great that lepers were/are often cast out of civilization and forced to subsist in leper colonies. Leprosy was seen as an affliction that was wrought by the wrath of God ™ as a punishment for the wicked. All of that is well documented. Ancient history, however, is not what interests me about this disease. What I want to focus on is the misconceptions that still surround Leprosy.

First of all, while Leprosy is a contagious bacterial disease, it is very difficult to contract. It requires contact with saliva (not disfigured limbs or rashes) and it turns out that 95% of the human population is already naturally immune from this bacterial infection. Currently something around 150 people in the US contract this disease annually according to researchers at the National Hansen’s Disease Program. Hansen’s disease is another name for Leprosy, and one that doesn’t cause such negative and visceral reactions. “Leprosy is a rare disease and will remain a rare disease,” says Richard Truman, Ph.D.the Chief of microbiological research from that same program.

The cure for Leprosy was discovered in 1981. Turns out that Leprosy is just another bacterial infection and can be cured by pharmaceuticals. In this case, a multi-drug approach using Dapsone, Rifampin and Clofazimine. It takes six months to a year to treat a patient but they are no longer contagious after a few doses. Unfortunately, the treatment does not reverse any disfigurement that has already occurred. And more unfortunately, in places like India and China people will often hide their symptoms so as not to be marked as a Pariah. So that by the time they are treated irreparable damage has already occurred. And considering that even in 2012 there are people who have knee-jerk reactions to the word leper, you can hardly blame them for thinking that they will be shunned.