More Prostate Palaver

November 3, 2011

Health is important. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death. It should–if you value your life at all–be of the gravest concern, yet there are those who spend more time selecting their brand of toothpaste than the providers of their health services. When my doctor prescribes medication for me I head to the internet to find out as much as I possibly can about it–side-effects, interactions and so on that may have a bearing on my particular circumstances and that my doctor may have missed–before I take it. But a lot of people will take anything recommended by some quack or other without devoting a single particle of thought to it. They see something like the following and rush out in their ovine flocks to enrich the person who penned the following:

Don’t let your prostate problems get the better of you…
Reclaim your sexual freedom
and endurance…
your wife will be begging for more!
Dear Friend,
Your doctor says it’s inevitable….

It’s the awkward part of getting older.

Your sexual vigour and desire drops… Your hair turns grey… Wrinkles form… Your eyes get weaker…

Your bones get brittle.

That’s just how it is, right?


Remember when you first met your wife?

When you simply could not keep your hands off each other. Every flat surface was an invitation you couldn’t resist and you had enough stamina for days.

Your wife might’ve had a lot to complain about at the time but it certainly wasn’t in that department… Do you remember how that felt?

The truth is that sex is an awesome, exciting, exhilarating and fun part of life. And as men it’s a big part of our identity.

And we’re supposed to just give that up? Who made these rules anyway???

Read the rest of this entry »

Out, Damned Spot

September 9, 2011

There’s a sucker born every minute.
–David Hannum

“Convergence” has been a buzzword in technology circles for a while now. Well, smartphones converged with pustular adolescent skins when two companies independently started to market smartphone apps that claimed to be able to cure acne. AcnePwner (“Kill ACNE with this simple, yet powerful tool!) attracted 3,300 downloads at 99c a pop, and AcneApp sold 11,600 at $1.99. Read the rest of this entry »

If It Walks Like a Duck…

August 11, 2011

Remember Dr Jonathan V Wright of stomach acid fame? This should jog your memory:

When Theresa’s husband started leaving his socks in the fridge…

She was merely worried. But when he came back from a fishing trip minus the fish, his boat and his dog, they both decide to see Dr Wright. Vincent thought he was “losing it”, but it turned out he was actually missing the stomach acid he needed to break down his food. And without it, his brain cells weren’t being “fed” the nutrients they depend on. He’s sharp as a razor now!

Read the rest of this entry »

Holford’s Folly

June 21, 2011

We have recently been bombarded with advertisements from a person called Patrick Holford who makes his nefarious living flogging unnecessary vitamin supplements to the gullible. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he defends the taking of vitamins in large doses for every conceivable ailment that could possibly afflict the human race, and if one happens to be healthy, then he advocates taking them anyway as a prophylactic measure. The problem with Mr Holford’s campaigns is that he is frequently economical with the truth to the point of comedy.

Here are some examples from a diatribe against the UK National Health Service (NHS), in which he criticises the NHS’s stance on vitamin supplementation. He claims that

The essential message is supplements don’t really work. They are probably dangerous and simply not worth the money. If you are sick what you need is drugs.

Which, needless to say, doesn’t suit Mr Holford’s interests. So he goes on the attack.

There has not been a single death from taking high dose vitamin supplements anywhere in the world. In the 35 years I’ve been in this field I haven’t encountered one serious adverse reaction to a vitamin, mineral or essential fat supplement.

Well, this is simply untrue. It is a lie, a porky pie, a whopper and a brazen fib. According to the 2004 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System there were 62, 562 instances of vitamin overdose in the USA in 2004, 53 of which were life-threatening and 2 deaths actually occured. I remember doing an arctic survival course many years ago in which we were exhorted not to eat polar bear liver lest we fall victim to vitamin A toxicity, never mind the injuries that might accrue in obtaining the polar bear’s liver in the first place, particularly if it was still in use by the bear. Vitamins can be harmful. Holford goes on

If a supplement has an ‘active’ ingredient (meaning it works) it’s referred to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority, and classified as a medicine, and banned for over the counter sale.

Well, exactly. The muck Holford flogs isn’t banned for sale over the counter. Draw your own conclusions.

But why is the NHS spending money persuading people not to take supplements?

Um, because they’re charged with protecting the nation’s health, perhaps?

I don’t know about you but I am getting pretty fed up with the money that’s being spent on propaganda to keep the pharmaceutical and medical industry in power while we, the public, get sicker and broker.

I wasn’t aware that the pharmaceutical and medical industries were “in power”, but I can quite understand why you don’t like the NHS’s stance on supplements. It makes Patrick Holford broker (well, slightly less stinking rich).

Holford was also responsible for advocating mega doses of vitamin C as a treatment for HIV infection instead of AZT. This should give you some idea of the extent of either his crackpothood or, depending on how generous you are feeling, his voracious appetite for profit.

Since he isn’t a doctor, I can’t call Holford a quack, but if he were he would be. Don’t waste your money on this flake’s rubbish.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

Base Station Blues

February 22, 2011

I recently received a letter from my local homeowners association regarding the erection of a cell phone base station in our suburb. They had received complaints about the proposed base station on grounds of possible adverse health effects, not because it would be an eyesore.

Base Station

The letter also stated that

several health organizations have expressed their concern regarding possible Tumours, Cancers, Chilhood Leukemia, changes in sleep patterns, headaches and other related diseases. 

I have asked for further and better particulars of these “health organizations” but have so far not received a reply.

It seems extremely likely that these fears are groundless. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Cell phone base stations are an ubiquitous part of the urban landscape across the globe. If they were really a health hazard as stated in this letter, their statistical impact on health would have been noticed by now.
  • RF radiation from base stations is long wavelength, non-ionising radiation, which means it cannot break down the DNA molecule and cause cancer.
  • Cell phone base stations broadcast at low energy levels—much less than TV or commercial radio stations. These energy levels are about 0.2% of the ‘safe’ levels reccommended by health authorities.

The fears expressed in the letter can be broken down into two categories: the cancers (tumours, cancer and childhood leukemia) and more subjective ailments (changes in sleep patterns, headaches).

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, Mobile phone base stations and early childhood cancers: case-control study came to the following conclusion:

There is no association between risk of early childhood cancers and estimates of the mother’s exposure to mobile phone base stations during pregnancy. 

The American Cancer Association agrees

Most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer. 

The headaches, changes in sleep patterns can be lumped together under the heading of EHS, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). A study in Environmental Health Perspectives snappily entitled Does Short-Term Exposure to Mobile Phone Base Station Signals Increase Symptoms in Individuals Who Report Sensitivity to Electromagnetic Fields? A Double-Blind Randomized Provocation Study concludes

Short-term exposure to a typical GSM base station-like signal did not affect well-being or physiological functions in sensitive or control individuals. Sensitive individuals reported elevated levels of arousal when exposed to a UMTS signal. Further analysis, however, indicated that this difference was likely to be due to the effect of order of exposure rather than the exposure itself. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has this to say on the subject of EHS

there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF
exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single
medical problem. 

I don’t care a jot whether or not they allow this base station to be built—I can’t see it from where I live and it may or may not improve my 3G data rates, but I certainly won’t lose any sleep over it, or worry about my health if they do decide to build it.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

Tummy Ache

May 31, 2010

Spam is usually a nuisance, but sometimes it can be quite informative and even entertaining. Take this example received from one of my favourite spammers, Antoinette Pombo. She specializes in hawking dubious health products on behalf of an organization called Fleet Street Publications. It was Antoinette—by the way may I call you Toni? Antoinette is a fistful too far for my typing; in return you may call me Grumps—who provided me with first intelligence of the Q-link and the low-down on testicular cancer. Here is the start of her latest dithyramb, this time in praise of an individual called Jonathan V. Wright. I’ll try to preserve her HTML if possible to give you the taste and aroma of the sheer idiocy of her outpourings.

Shattering discovery

body’s worst enemy is…



Suffering from Asthma?

It’s your

you losing your memory?

It’s your

Are your arteries

It’s your

Or maybe you have
macular degeneration? Osteoporosis? Chronic Hives? Gallbladder disease?
Angina? Arthritis? Cockrot? Ingrowing Toenails?

all your stomach…

Here’s one simple
trick to tame your stomach and live healthier than ever

It goes on in much the same vein for another 2,000 words, so I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, but will share with you some of the more amusing quotes. I must state at this point that I had hitherto not heard of the good (or perhaps not) Dr Wright. In the course of my researches I discovered that he is the hero and blue-eyed boy of the arch-crackpot Suzanne Somers, which is not the right foot on which to be starting off. I am not qualified to know whether or not Dr Wright is a quack; I’ll merely point out that he is listed on Quackwatch with a red asterisk, indicating that he may very well be.

Toni begins by offering a series of anecdotes in which the hero, who is at death’s door, goes to see Dr Wright and within a few short weeks is totally cured. Take Hernando, whose legs were so knackered his doctors wanted to amputate. After seeing Dr Wright he was leaping like a hart (whatever that may be). Or John who had angina, or Sam who had macular degeneration, or…

All these people were allegedly suffering from hypochlorydria—too little stomach acid, which Dr Wright apparently knows how to cure.

After the “case studies”, Toni gives a truly boot-licking, sycophantic resume of Dr Wright’s career and qualifications:

“No other doctor of our time has crusaded harder or sacrificed more to bring the healing power of nutrition to ordinary people like you and me than Dr Wright.”

This is one impressive guy: he was awarded “the highest medical honour ever” which I must assume is an honour higher even than the Nobel prize. Well, Toni says it is, so who am I to argue? She is referring to the Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award (LPLAA), of which I have never heard. I have, however, heard of Linus Pauling who is one of only two scientists to win two Nobel prizes, one for physics and the other for chemistry. (There is some speculation that he was in line for the Peace prize as well, but he was passed over.) In the latter part of his life he descended into crackpothood, though, advocating the consumption of staggering quantities of vitamin C.

A search of the internet reveals that the LPLAA is perhaps not what it’s cracked up to be: a google search for “Linus Pauling Lifetime Achievement Award” yields only three results, all of which are about Dr Wright. It seems no one else has ever been the recipient of this mysterious award, or indeed knows anything about it.

Then we are treated to the usual rants against “mafia-style pharmaceutical companies” and “the capitalist institutions that have a death-grip on our health and quality of life”, which Toni always inserts into her pieces. I’m sure she even sticks this stuff into her christmas cards.

And, at last, we get to the punchline. We too can be cured of just about everything if we subscribe to Dr Wright’s publication Nutrition & Healing which will cost a mere R57 per month. As is customary for quack remedies, Dr Wright’s snake oil is marketed as a substitute for not supplemental to science-based treatments, which means people will inevitably be harmed by falling for Toni’s nonsense. It doesn’t really matter though; if you’re dumb enough to buy this tripe, then you deserve your fate.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Quack Link

March 1, 2010

“No more stress-headaches, insomnia, hangovers or mood swings.” So read the headline of one of the latest pieces of spam to hit my inbox. Well, spammer, I’m interested. I suffer from chronic insomnia and the occasional hangover . What could this miracle drug be? I read on.

Oh. It’s not a drug at all. It’s a little McGufty you hang around your neck like a piece of jewelery. How is this supposed to relieve my hangover? Well, according to the marketers of the Q-link pendant (which is what this spam is flogging), my hangovers are caused by “…being blasted with radiation from work monitors, cell phones and giant electricity pylons, we’re being zapped at home by televisions, mp3 players and game consoles.” And all this time I’ve thought hangovers were caused by drinking too much. Silly me.

So how does it work? It is alleged to contain a “resonating cell, (nature’s microchip)” which neutralizes all these pernicious “rays” we are constantly bombarded by. Oh wait, this is wonderful! I can “go on using my cellphone, watching TV and working on my computer”. I’m so relieved.

And it must really work because Tiger Woods wears one. Perhaps it should come with a warning: Do not drive or operate heavy machinery whilst wearing this thing. But they still haven’t really explained how it’s supposed to work.

OK, we’ve got there. Here comes the science:

Tuning YOUR body to the perfect frequency

It works like this. The Q-Link contains a resonating cell (also known as ‘nature’s microchip’) which works to counteract the effects the tools of modern life have on your body.

Put simply, it ensures your body is operating at its perfect frequency – a bit like the human equivalent of a tuning fork.

Your body is made up of trillions of cells. Now, each and every one of these cells has a frequency. Unfortunately every time your body experiences any stress, all these frequencies go out of synch…

This is where we come in. Q-Link’s proprietary technology ensures that all these frequencies are resonating harmonically.

Wow. Just wow. I’m overawed, flabbergasted at the scholarly erudition of this. How can I argue against what you say when you haven’t actually said anything?

But all this is quibbling. Priced at a mere R1,599 I’d have to be mad not to try it. Who knows, perhaps I’d be able to drink as much as I liked without suffering the morning after consequences. I wonder how much that would cost.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Good News!

February 3, 2010

Good news!  The Lancet has retracted Dr Andrew Wakefield’s paper linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine with autism and bowel disorders.  This is not before time; the damage done by this particular paper in a journal as respected as The Lancet has been enourmous.  The journal has admitted that it should never have published the flawed research in the first place, which implies that in this case there was a failure of the peer-review process and that steps should be taken to avoid a repetition of that failure.

The retraction of the paper was not a spontaneous decision to do the right thing on the part of The Lancet, however.  It came in response to an editorial in the rival British Medical Journal that was to have been published today calling for its retraction.  One hopes that The Lancet will be more careful in future.

The vaccine-autism debate has raised a lot of issues that now need to be ingested, digested, mulled over and taken into the public conciousness.  As with all scientific subjects that become politicised, this one has raised questions about the quality of scientific journalism, the lack of science education and the inability of the public to understand, even in the most superficial way, the scientific process.

Firstly, there is a profound misunderstanding of the very nature of science.  The man in the street seems to be under the misapprehension that science consists of “proving”  things.  We only need one exception to disprove a rule, but in order to prove a rule we must prove it for every case, which is usually impossible to do.  So when a paper appears in a medical journal statistically linking autism with vaccines, newspapers immediately run headlines like “VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM, STUDY SHOWS”, even if the original paper made no such claim.  The fact is that science very rarely proves anything—that is the sphere of mathematics.  Science can only pile up evidence in the form of data that may or may not support a particular hypothesis.  In this case almost all the non-fabricated evidence did not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism.

So why the statistical link?  Well, there are other explanations than that vaccines cause autism.  The age at which the diagnosis of autism can be made is about the same age as the MMR vaccine is administered.  A parent who has his child vaccinated and then the child is diagnosed as autistic a few weeks or months later may be forgiven for thinking that the latter may be caused by the former.  But, as we all should know, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Why has the incidence of autism been increasing as vaccination has become more widespread?  Again, there are other factors that may be at work.  The diagnostic criteria for autism have changed: a child who may, a few decades ago, have been regarded as merely shy may today be diagnosed as autistic.  The anti-vaccination factions originally blamed Thimeresol (which was used a preservative in the vaccine) for causing autism.  Thimeresol was duly removed wihout having any affect on the incidence of autism, strong evidence that it was not a cause of autism.

There is strong psychological need for people to aportion blame for any misfortune that may befall them, so parents grasped at the vaccine explanation as a drowning sailor would clutch upon a passing liferaft.  I sympathise with such parents, but their actions have consequences among the wider community.  Once a sufficient proportion of the population are vaccinated against a particular disease, the pathogen can no longer be propagated and the population as a whole develops “herd immunity”, even those who for other reasons (allergies, for example) cannot be vaccinated.  When parents decide not to vaccinate their children they put herd immunity in jeopardy, which places all unvaccinated children at risk, not just their own.

Will The Lancet’s decision have any effect on the anti-vaccination lobby?  Probably not for the die-hards—their minds are incapable of change.  It will have an effect on the medical fraternity, though, and those doctors who are advising their patients not to vaccinate their children may undergo a change of heart.  We can only hope that the anti-vaccination lobby becomes a part of the lunatic fringe like the moon-landing-hoax crowd: not taken seriously by anyone with any vestige of sanity.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

Flax and Cheese

November 6, 2009

Flax seed oil

“Honey, I’m home!”  Fred Bakelite was in his late forties, tennis fit and looked young for his age.  His polyester leopard-skin suit was still immaculate, even after a hard day at DuBridge Industries.  “Where aaaarrree yoooouu, sweety?”

“Right here, light of my life, floater of my boat, churner of my butter.”  Margeret Bakelite kissed her husband tenderly on the lips.  They wrapped their arms around each other, stood cheek-to-cheek awhile, sighed, then split apart, she to the kitchen and he to the drinks cabinet.

“How was your day?” she called from the kitchen.

“Not Bad,” he replied. “That Barney Nylon dropped the ball on the PolySyne contract.  I’ll probably get the promotion when old Yurethane kicks the bucket.  It’ll mean a big increase.”

“Wonderful.  Did you have your medical?”

“Oh yes, I forgot to mention.  I’ve got the body of a twenty year old except for bowel cancer.  Doc Multistix says I must have an immediate operation or it’ll spread and kill me.  Well, you know what a sceptic  I am, I did my own research and you know what?  I can easily be cured!  Without an operation!”

Margeret came rushing through from the kitchen.  “What are you talking about?  Good grief Fred, this is the time to take expert opinion and to hell with these weird ideas of yours!”  Her gorgeous green eyes were humid with concern.

“Ha ha,” Fred laughed. “I understand you’re worried about me, you silly thing, but just look at this.”  He whipped open his briefcase and extracted a thick folder.  “Look, I printed this out to show you and that old fool Multistix.  There’s this woman from Germany, her name’s Johanna Budwig.  She’s been nominated for the Nobel Prize six times!  Actually some of the sites I got from Google show she’s been nominated nine times.  She has this treatment for cancer that is just cottage cheese and flax seed oil.  It has a 100% success rate!”

Margeret looked doubtful.  She took the folder from Fred and perused it, biting her lips.

“I thought nominations for the Nobel Prize were secret.  How does anyone know who was nominated, or how many times?”

“Well, I don’t know.  The people who put these sites up are probably on the committee.  They’d know, obviously.  Why  don’t they come up with the same answer?  I don’t know, how could I?  This is just typical of you—tryng to shoot down my every idea.  You really aren’t being very supportive at a hard time for me.”

“Oh, Fred, you know perfectly well I’m not trying to be nasty.  It’s just that if this was really a cure for cancer, wouldn’t everyone have heard of it?  Wouldn’t she actually have been awarded the Nobel Prize instead of just being nominated for it?”

Fred sighed.  “Well, that’s what people would say.  As you can see from this document here, the reason she hasn’t had the recognition she deserves is that the big pharmaceutical companies are making too much money selling standard chemotherapy drugs to allow this simple cure to become known.  The ingredients are not patentable, therefore no one can make money from them.”

“What’s flax seed oil?”

Fred grinned.  “I thought you might ask that, so I got some.”  He reached into a pocket in his brief case and produced a small blue bottle with what appeared to be a ghost depicted thereon.  He unscrewed the cap and wafted it under Margeret’s nose.  “Ring any bells?” Fred asked, his head bobbing idiotically in anticipation.

“Oh.  My.  God.  You’re mad.  Now I know it.  I haven’t smelt that since our schooldays.  How many years ago?  Yes, that day you shagged me in the pavilion.  I was only fifteen you bastard.  What’s that thing?”  She indicated a thin folder in Fred’s open briefcase.

“Oh.  That’s a life insurance policy I took out months ago.  I’ve been meaning to give it to you for filing.  You’re the beneficiary, obviously, it’s for two million bucks.  Thanks to Johanna you won’t be collecting. ”

“I’ll take it in any case and put it away.  I’ll be off to bed.  Enjoy your cottage cheese and cricket bat oil.  See you later.”

There was a small smile on her face and a wicked gleam in her eye as she left the room.


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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.