Thursday, May 26, 2011

Botox and Child Abuse

You have probably heard the story about the mother who injected her 8 year old daughter with Botox before beauty pageants to reduce the girls wrinkles when she smiled. The absurdity of the parent believing that an 8 year olds' skin needs wrinkle treatment has created a firestorm of controversy. For sure, this mothers' action are highly questionable. Aside from the medical risk, we were most concerned about the psychological messages this girl was receiving (no 8 year old needs a cosmetic procedure to be beautiful).

But I was more disturbed upon opening up a magazine and seeing a news brief that CPS workers had taken custody of the girl. Those who aren't equally horrified by this outcome need to pay close attention to the following information.

Far too many people have the impression that it is somehow a benign process to kidnap a child from their home and place them with strangers. I assure you it is not. (This belief is just as absurd as the idea that an 8 year old needs Botox.) CPS removal is an unspeakable trauma for the child. The fact that the kidnappers are wearing state issued name tags rather than ski masks doesn't make it any less terrifying for the child who finds herself suddenly uprooted from everything and everyone she has ever known. Even when parents are less than perfect, or even flat out abusive, this is a horrible experience for the child. It is usually met with screams of protest and someone physically overpowering the child to yank them away from their loved ones. Research on foster children is bleak: they show far more disturbance than those children who endure actual abuse of other types. Which makes a mockery of our ideas of children being "rescued."

This mothers actions were outrageous, fanatical, and potentially harmful; but what she did hardly warrants snatching this kid from her home; especially in light of the countless other options available.

As for this girl, a small injection to the forehead is nothing compared to the abuse she is suffering now. To those insensitive souls who were clamoring for this outcome to fulfill some sadistic sense of shadenfraude, congratulation: you've succeeded in bringing about unspeakable torment to a defenseless little girl. It makes the mother look like mother of the year in comparison.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bacteria Act Selflessly in their Battle Against YOU!

They're one of mankind’s oldest arch enemies. With a stealth that far outdoes that of the most cunning community predator, they lurk all around you, inside your home and around your children's parks and playgrounds, yet you'll seldom notice they're there. They can kill more children in a single year than sex offenders do in a millennium, and now evidence has been uncovered that they're sharing secrets in order to defeat our best defenses against them.

In a new study in the September 2, 2010 edition of Nature, researchers studying the question of antibiotic resistance discovered something that even took seasoned scientists by surprise: bacteria who prove resistant to drugs seem to sacrifice themselves in order to give their fellow bacteria a better chance at surviving the assault by antibiotics.

Working with an experimental Escherichia Coli (E-Coli) colony, they found that the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria amongst the group willingly shared their secrets with others at the expense of themselves, by producing a small molecule called an 'indole' when treated with antibiotics. This protein compound then floods through the communal broth of the colony, triggering similar mechanisms of protection in the less-resistant members.

As surprising as this finding was, equally as shocking was that bacteria do this even though it comes at a personal cost in overall health. This secret sharing ends up weakening the individual bacteria that produce it, leaving them less fit to grow and thrive, thus lessening their own chances at survival. Essentially, they're "taking one for the team," says James Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University and one of the study's authors. "It's not that they die, but they would do better if they didn't produce this protein." Who would guess it: Bacteria act altruistically. Perhaps calling someone scum isn't such an insult after all.

This discovery adds a new sense of urgency to worries about antibiotic overuse. Previously, scientists believed that bacteria developed resistance only through random mutation. It's natural selection at work: if you bombard bacteria with antibiotics, most will die off. But the few whose genetic makeup prove resistant are those that will survive and reproduce, passing on their resistant genes to their offspring. Over the course of many generations, the original strain is all but replaced by the resistant strain, precisely because the resistant strain were the only ones surviving to reproduce. This is how 'superbugs' are born.

That situation was bad enough, but the fact that bacteria are actually plotting against us in the here and now, sharing secrets about how to defeat our best medicines, adds a new twist to the debate on antibiotic overuse. In this study, only around 1% of the bacteria were highly resistant to the antibiotics, but they shared this resistance with others in order to help their neighbors develop the same traits.

Bacteria have been around for millennium, and so you shouldn't let this panic you or cause unnecessary anxiety. But in this back and forth tug of war between them and us, between the drugs we try to kill them with and the adaptations they implement to survive, there are a few simple things you can do to fight back:

1. Avoid using antibiotics unless you absolutely need them, and ask your doctor to do the same in prescribing them to you. One of the trends contributing to this resistance is the tendency for doctors to over prescribe antibiotics for every little thing. The more we expose potential pathogens to this weapon, the more bacteria work out defenses to defeat them.

2. When you or your child are prescribed antibiotics, make sure you use them all, even if you start to feel better. The way strains become resistant is by being hit with antibiotics without being completely wiped out. They then come back, more resistant to the drugs used to treat them.

Your immune system can take care of the remaining 1% of pathogens once antibiotics help your body knock out most of the infection to gain the upper hand. But if you stop too soon, the bacteria could come back with a vengeance, and they are likely to be more comprised of this newly resistant variety.

3. Purchase organic meat and beef. At large commercial producers, livestock are literally fed antibiotics in their feed in order to keep them healthy amongst the cramped and deplorable conditions that might otherwise make them sick. This practice has worried scientists and medical professionals for years, not just as a threat to our livestock supplies, (a resistant bacteria wipes out most of our cattle), but that this widespread and indiscriminate use of one of mankind’s best medical weapons could put humans at risk, by making bacteria in general more resistant to such medicines.

So far, there hasn't been a problem. Sorta like a year ago, there hadn't been a problem with deep-water oil drilling, and several years back there hadn't been a problem with the modern U.S. financial system. We can only hope that it doesn't become a problem.

To learn more about child safety issues visit

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Can You 'Catch' Obesity From A Common Cold?

In the never-ending cycle of hyper-inflated science "breakthrough" claims making their rounds in the news of late, one in particular is generating a lot of discussion: the idea that obesity may be caused by a common cold virus. But before you press the panic button because your child has the sniffles, you should know a little bit beyond the sound bites.

A study published online September 20, 2010 in the journal Pediatrics found that children who had been exposed to adenovirus-36 were more likely to be obese than children who had not. It found that whereas 7% of normal-weight kids had such antibodies, 22% of obese children did. What's more, it discovered that kids with evidence of previous adenovirus-36 infections were about 35 pounds heavier on average than obese children who hadn't caught the virus.

The study adds to several others, including one of Korean children and one of American and Italian adults, which have turned up higher rates of the virus in those who are obese. About 30% of obese adults carry antibodies x against adenovirus 36, compared to 10% of normal weight people. And there is lab research to back it up. Chickens, mice, rats, and monkeys infected with the virus show weight gain, even when they don't eat more or exercise less. Experiments with human cells grown in laboratory dishes also provide a potential mechanism for such a correlation: adult stem cells infected with the virus make more fat cells, and those fat cells store more fat than normal cells.

These are intriguing correlations to be sure, but before you start believing that obesity is caused by a virus, we need to put these findings through a little bit of a reality check, in order to place this knowledge in its proper perspective.

Why Obesity Can't be Blamed On A Virus
It's important to note that the vast majority of obese kids in the study DID NOT have antibodies for the virus (78%), which means that most kids are getting fat for reasons other than a cold virus. Even if such a cause and effect does exist, it is but a small player in the child obesity epidemic. When you further consider that 7% of kids tested positive for the virus yet were maintaining a normal weight, this would seem to indicate that catching the virus hardly dooms a child to obesity, and that it DOES NOT trump environmental factors. (85% of kids have already demonstrated the virus to be irrelevant, so only 15% of the issue is even up for debate.)

There are other reasons to be cautious. The sample size was relatively small, consisting of just 67 obese and 57 normal-weight children. If I flip a coin 124 times, I may very well end up with a differential of plus or minus 15 for either heads or tales, but that doesn't necessarily mean the results are anything more than random. Since obese kids have weaker immune systems and get sick more often, this finding could be corollary and not causative. Considering that two other studies have failed to provide a link between adenovirus-36 and obesity, this link, while interesting and worth exploring, is still far from established fact.

Even Jeffrey Schwimmer, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the University of California, Sand Diego and author of the study admits that a link between the virus and obesity doesn't mean the virus causes weight gain: "I don't think we know enough to say, 'Oh, if you get this virus you're going to be obese,'" he told Science News.

So while it's an interesting development that is being further explored, this does not mean that children catch obesity from a virus. The good news is that a vaccine against the virus is already in existence, so if this link does become established, we can easily address the problem.

One last note: you can't "catch" this virus from obese people, as some rumors have already begun to allege. So let's not go getting all silly with prejudice. The virus is long gone before any obesity-related effects would take place.

In the mean time, the tried and proven method for preventing childhood obesity is just as true as ever, and will remain so far into the future, regardless of what happens on this topic: proper diet, filled with fruits and vegetables, combined with plenty of exercise, will always overcome any genetic or viral influence.

1. Tina Hesman Saey, "Exposure to cold virus linked to obesity epidemic among children." Science News, 178(8):5-6, Oct. 9, 2010