Posts Tagged ‘disease’

QnA: Can ‘like’ treat ‘like’?

In June 2014 on June 17, 2014 at 9:19 pm


Sarah: Last week I spoke about science writing and blogging to postgraduate journalism students at the University of South Australia. Following the lecture, the students and I had a great Q&A session which has now spilled over into email conversations. Here’s one of the written queries I received, and my answer.

Query: Thinking about homeopathy, how does the theory of “like treating like”’ relate to science?

Response: As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence to broadly support the idea of ‘like treating like’.

Treating medical ailments in a scientific manner involves considering what specific mechanism is involved in each case. As an example: for a fever which results from infection with a virus, this involves thinking about how the virus creates changes in the body which elevate temperature. In a nutshell, the virus triggers a response in the body’s immune system. This response includes the release of signalling molecules (known as cytokines) which tell the cells of the immune system to travel to the site of infection, and also coordinate activities which eventually kill the virus (in most cases). Unfortunately the cytokines also lead to a rise in body temperature. So using something like panadol reduces body temperature and pain in a targeted way and without limiting the ability of the cytokines to coordinate immune activity.

However in each treatment there is also a placebo effect. In effect, this refers to the fact that people tend to feel slightly better after taking what they perceive to be a treatment even if that treatment has no actual effect at a biological level. The simple act of believing a treatment is effective actual does have an impact – how much of an impact varies according to the situation. Here’s some more reading:

[image thanks to Sue Clark on flickr]



From rotten teeth to fatty liver

In November 2013 on November 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Kristi soft drink

Kirsti: During my invasive ant research in the Pacific islands, I lived and worked in a country called Tokelau. It’s an external territory of New Zealand, but essentially a self-governing Polynesian nation. It is literally the smallest nation in the world by land area, the population living on small atoll islets in some cases only 80m wide.

In this nation, there were certainly some fascinating and rather nasty ants that compromised the fabulous outdoor Polynesian lifestyle. But I also noticed other stuff. Like the fact that the mouths of many kids were full of little black spikes for teeth. Seriously. Seven year olds who had been given soft drinks since the age of 1 or 2 had nothing but rotted remains of baby teeth.

It made me think about soft drinks in our diet and I vowed from that day forth that if I were ever to have kids, soft drink was OFF the menu.

Rotting teeth are not the only disastrous outcome of soft drink consumption. From around the 1970’s, sweetened drinks – especially softies – have contained high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the sweetener of choice (it’s cheaper than glucose alone). The syrup typically contains either 42% or 55% fructose, the remainder made up of glucose. And the proportion of fructose has increased slowly over time.

Now fructose has enjoyed media attention in the past few years because of the rising number of people with fructose malabsorption issues and hereditary fructose intolerances. Irritable bowel syndrome (often thought of as the equivalent of colic for adults!) is also sometimes diagnosed as fructose malabsorption because of such similar symptoms. Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar! website and associated books as well as the rethink sugary drink campaign have labelled sugar as poison. More recently, Dr Kieron Rooney at University of Sydney has declared that Big Sugar is having its tobacco moment.

Even if you don’t have any real problem absorbing or metabolising fructose, it’s clear that if you do drink a lot of soft drink, you are at risk of a suite of lifestyle diseases. Obesity, type II diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and more.

Fructose is metabolised differently to glucose. Where metabolism of glucose is regulated by insulin, the metabolism of fructose in the liver is essentially unregulated, progressing through a number of steps to a point where carbon atoms can be converted to fatty acids in your liver. More fatty acids means increased risk of liver disease and then risk factors for all of the diseases mentioned above. Healthy levels of fructose are beneficial in that they can assist in the disposal of glucose in the liver.

Here’s where I will emphasise that it’s only when you drink A LOT of soft drinks and eat artificially sweetened food that you are at risk. But we know that this is happening for more and more people in Australia. Current estimates of obesity in Australia suggest that 28% of Australian adults over 18 are obese and that, including these obese adults, 63% are overweight.

It seems ironic and incredibly wasteful that the wealth present in Western societies is associated with inducing these lifestyle diseases, and then even more wealth is required to manage and treat those affected. Yes, we should learn more about treating diabetes. I agree it’s a good idea. But surely we can do more with prevention? Can’t we all talk about this, and start to help each other avoid these situations?

Please do it now. Whether it be family, friend or colleague. Give them a buzz and go for a water and a carrot stick. Let me know how it goes.

[image thanks to Elsie esq. on Flickr]