Category Archives: Health

Science Research in Oklahoma

There is so much science happening right under our noses here in eastern Oklahoma. The OSU Center for Health Sciences is just one example. You’ll find research into biomedical and forensic science, healthcare, medicine, and ,my personal favorite, paleontology.

The cool thing is OSU-CHS has a fantastic resource to help you stay on top of what they’re doing. They call it the Research Spotlight. There are videos and information all on kinds of topics. The video below is one example of the research taking place right here in Tulsa!

 

 

How to Spot the Woo

It seems every day a news organization is doing a story on the latest health craze. That wonder drug to give you more energy, get rid of the cricks in your knees, or even fight off cancer. So how do you know if it’s real or some form of woo? The Skeptic’s Dictionary defines woo, by the way, as “…ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence…”. 

Headline Is A Trap

First off, ignore the headline. “Doctors say it’s a Miracle Cure”, fat chance. “Wonder Drug Stops Cancer”, uh-no. The headline is just a sexy invitation to get you to read or watch the story. Clickbait is what the kids call it these days.

Patient Doesn’t Know Best

Next, take a look at who the story is about. Is it about the patient who suffered some ailment or is it about someone with a vested interest in the product? If the story is focused on the patient pay close attention to what they say was wrong. Do they have a specific name of the problem or are they just saying that even their doctor didn’t know what was going on? Chances are if they can’t say exactly what was wrong…”I was tired all the time” or “my back was sore in the morning” or “I just felt icky”…then they possibly never even went to a medical doctor. If they say their doctor didn’t know what was wrong…well, that’s a possibility. Contrary to popular opinion doctors do make mistakes and can misdiagnose. The question is what did the patient do after that? Did they go see another doctor or did they go straight to the wonder drug? While one doctor might overlook something, the chances of others doing it are slim. If the patient went straight to the wonder drug then you know they didn’t give medicine a chance.

Expert or Pseudo-Expert?

Now let’s look at the so-called expert in the story. The person who, on the surface, knows all there is to know about this amazing treatment. Are they a real doctor? Not a doctor of chiropractic medicine. Not a naturopath. Not a homeopath. Not an acupuncturist. A real, honest to goodness, doctor of medicine. An MD. If they’re not, take everything they say with a grain of salt. (Actually, a grain of salt may do just as good what they want you to do.) I encourage you to click the links and read for yourself from people much smarter than me about why those so-called treatments are bogus.

Cha-Ching

But wait there’s more…does anyone in the story have a vested interest in the product? Are they trying to sell you something? Do they say the drug changed their life so much that they’re now selling it themselves. If so, giant red flag. I think it’s easy to see the conflict here.

Just cuz someone “says” something doesn’t make it true

Another question to ask, is there anyone in the story who takes a critical look at the treatment? The story must have an outsider, someone not connected with the wonder drug who also has a credible science-based medical background. If that person is not part of the story then the reporter either didn’t think to examine the treatment to see if what’s being claimed is true or they just didn’t want to include any critical information. Think about it like this, say a reporter does a story about you. They talk to your neighbor who says you’re a drunken slob and accuses you of going on midnight crime sprees. What does the reporter do next? They should talk with you and police to confirm or disprove the claims. The key word is “says”. Your neighbor can say anything they want but that doesn’t make it true. If the reporter doesn’t mention whether they tried to confirm what is said about the treatment you should question all of those claims.

Research, Research, Research

The best thing after reading such story is to do some research yourself. Below are some websites I use to wade through the woo.

Science Based Medicine

QuackWatch

What’s the Harm

Finally, here’s a fantastic song by the talented Tim Minchin that should help put it all into perspective.

It’s what’s in the Gut that matters

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma are getting international attention for research into what’s in your gut. Cecil Lewis and his team at the Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research at OU studied what’s inside the guts of a group of Norman residents and compared it to the guts of a hunter-gatherer society in the Amazon.

They found that the population of gut microbes of the people in the Amazon and city-dwellers in Norman have some significant differences. For example, one microbe called Treponema was not found in the Norman population but was found in the tribe of hunter-gatherers. This is a bacteria that has been in human and primate guts for millions of years.

“In our study, we show that these lost bacteria are in fact multiple species that are likely capable of fermenting fiber and generating short chain fatty acids in the gut.  Short chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.  This raises an important question, could these lost Treponema be keystone species that explain the increased risk for autoimmunce disorders in industrialized people?  This is what we hope to explore next,” says Lewis.

You can read the research for yourself in nature.  Or you can read this article in Science Magazine by Ann Gibbons to see how researchers convinced the tribe in the Amazon to let them study their guts. (Let’s just say, sometimes science ain’t pretty.). Gibbons sums it up quite nicely about what this means and why this kind of research is important.

Fighting Cancer, One Clump of Soil at a Time

Have you ever looked around your yard and wondered if it held the key to fighting cancer? Okay, so maybe not…but here’s a cool way you can be a part of a scientific experiment and maybe unlock the next new drug.

It’s called Citizen Science. It’s part of the National Products Discovery Group in the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (whew, that’s a mouthful!).

In a nutshell, they’re looking for soil samples…from your yard, from your neighbor’s yard (with their permission of course), or from your pasture. The scientists are looking to see what microorganisms are living in that soil. They’re specifically looking for fungi. Here’s why from their website, “Fungi are capable of making many new compounds that can thwart the growth of cancer cells, impede the spread of infectious pathogens, as well as treat many other human diseases. With millions of fungi estimated to be living on earth, you probably have several new species inhabiting your area that we have never tested.”

How cool is that? Just dig up a little soil and see if it’s home to a new cancer fighting agent! Click here to learn how to get involved and see where samples have been submitted from across the country.

HPV Vaccine- Safe, effective, does NOT increase Sexual Activity

The HPV vaccine prevents cancer. Simple as that. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that leads to cervical cancer as well as a number of other cancers. It can be prevented, however, with  a simple vaccine.

Recent studies have found that the HPV vaccine is very safe. One study looked to see if the vaccine causes multiple sclerosis or any other nervous system related diseases. It does not. Another looked to see if girls who get the HPV vaccine become more sexually active. They do not.

This is a safe and effective vaccine that prevents cancers. Can’t say that enough. Dr. Amy Middleman is a researcher with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She’s studied how parents and health providers approach the vaccine. Her research has found a disconnect between the two, something she says needs to be resolved quickly.

How People Are Made

No, this isn’t that kind of post but an amazing look at how humans are formed in the womb. Eleanor Lutz is a designer in Seattle but has a degree in Molecular Biology.

She created a fantastic GIF showing the development of an embryo to a human. It’s packed with info. and some cool graphics.

12-16-14

courtesy; TabletopWhale.com; Eleanor Lutz 2014

You can follow Lutz and her science illustration blog here.

 

Medieval Dental Plaque Gets OU Researcher Top Honors

Research conducted by a University of Oklahoma anthropology professor has been named one of the top 100 stories of the year by Discover Magazine.

Christina Warinner directed a study of dental plaque from four Medieval skeletons. She published her research in Nature this past February. Discover Magazine was so impressed it’s ranked it the 69th best science story of the year and will feature it in an article in its January/February issue of the top 100 stories of of 2014.

According to OU, Warinner’s study found evidence of ancient DNA from wheat, pork, mutton, and a plant belonging to the mustard family. She also found ancient protein from cattle, sheep, and goat milk.

 

courtesy: University of Oklahoma

Photo credit: Malin Holst, courtesy: University of Oklahoma

The picture above shows a human jawbone that dates to the 1st-4th century from York, UK. Dr. Warinner doesn’t know the sex but says the person was in their 20s or 30s when they died. You can clearly see the build-up of dental plaque on the teeth. Dr. Warinner says this particular example tested positive of milk proteins.

Warinner wrote an article for CNN in 2012 explaining what she does and why it’s so important. “By extracting DNA from ancient human bones, we can reconstruct the human genome at different times in the past and look for differences that might be related to adaptations, risk factors, or inherited diseases,” she wrote. Adding, “The aim is to better understand the evolutionary vulnerabilities of the human body so that we can better manage and improve our health in the future.”

Want more with some cool illustrations? Here she is giving a presentation at TED in 2012.

Flu Vaccine is Safe and Ready to Protect Your Family

Have you received your flu vaccine yet this year? How about your children? If not, please…please call your doctor or health department to get vaccinated. It’s the best way to protect your family.

I know there are people who say, ‘The flu vaccine caused my Aunt Melba to get the flu once.’ Or, ‘The flu is nothing more than a money-maker for big pharma.’ All I can say is wrong on all accounts. The flu vaccine does not cause anyone to get the flu because the vaccine only contains a dead virus. Dead. Not alive. Dead.

It’s especially important for anyone who is able to get the vaccine to do so in order to protect those who cannot. It’s called herd immunity. Basically, if 9 out of 10 people get vaccinated, that 10th person is less likely to get sick because the 9 people who are vaccinated are keeping the virus at bay.

I talked with Dr. Amy Middleman with the OU Health Sciences Center. She encourages everyone to get vaccinated.

I could refer you to the CDC for all of the information and stats on the flu you can handle, but there’s another site you should check out. Voices For Vaccines is by parents, for parents. It’s straight talk to help parents get a better understanding of vaccines. You can read stories from parents about why they changed their minds about vaccines.

Please get your flu shot.

 

Ebola…How to write about it and not scare the pants off everyone

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to address this Ebola scare. I’m far from a doctor or Ebola expert and I don’t want to add to the tidal wave of misinformation that’s sweeping across the internet. So I thought the best way is to let the professionals handle it and I turned to two blogs that are my go-to resources for medical information.

In this article at NeuroLogica Blog , Dr. Steven Novella takes a look at past Ebola epidemics and some of the reasons why they were able to spread so quickly. He then compares that to the U.S. and explains why he thinks we don’t have anything to worry about. It’s a very calm read that doesn’t stir emotions or get folks riled up. So, basically, completely opposite of just about everything else written about Ebola.

Next up is Dr. David Gorski and this article at Science-Based Medicine. He looks at some of the irrational conspiracy theories floating around and explains why they’re all a bunch of bunk.

It’s hard to stay on an even keel when such an unusual medical problem arises but these are good starting points when taking a reasonable look at what’s happening across the country.