Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thimerosol vaccines now decisively vindicated

The vaccine preservative Thimerosal is not linked with autism, a new study reports. The data also suggest that the dilettante "scientist" Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. should perhaps go back to practicing law and stop exploiting parental fear and suffering for his own political agenda.

Despite an absence of intriguing, let alone compelling, evidence that mercury-containing Thimerosal was associated with autism, vaccine makers voluntarily began removing Thimerosal from their products in 1999 -- providing a perfect opportunity to study whether the removal (and, therefore, Thimerosal) had any effect on autism rates.

So using data reported to the California Department of Development Services from 1995 to 2007, researchers from the California Department of Health compared the prevalence of autism with exposure to Thimerosal. Their results were published this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Jan. 2008). The data showed that the prevalence of autism for children at each year from 3 to 12 years increased throughout the study period -- even after 2000 when Thimerosal began disappearing from vaccines. From 1999 to 2004, average exposure to Thimerosal among infants and 2-year olds was reduced by more than 90 percent and 84 percent, respectively - yet reported cases of autism continued to increase in unabated fashion.

A classic test in epidemiological study is to observe what happens to the rate of disease when the suspected agent is removed. When Thimerosal was removed, the rate of disease was unaffected. Ironically, it has taken the removal of Thimerosal to vindicate it.

This result is not unexpected since there has never been any reason to believe that Thimerosal was a causal factor in autism spectrum disorders, which have reportedly increased in recent decades. Use of Thimerosal began in the 1930s in response to tragedies such as the January 1928 deaths of 11 of 21 children given a diphtheria vaccine inadvertently contaminated with staphylococci. Thimerosal was then used without incident for more than 65 years before the panic began in 1998 with the publication of a paper in British medical journal The Lancet reporting autistic regression and diarrhea among a small number of patients following administration of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination.

As retold in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the Internet enabled the controversial report to cross the Atlantic and spawn a coalition comprised of parents of autistic children and groups opposed to compulsory vaccination. Political muscle was soon added when Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), whose grandchild had been diagnosed with autism, began a series of congressional hearings. But despite the emergence of the anti-Thimerosal movement as a cause celebre, there has never been a single credible study implicating Thimerosal in any way with autism. The new California Department of Health study should be the end of the controversy.

That brings us to Kennedy who seems to revel in his profound scientific ignorance. In a June 20, 2005 Rolling Stone article entitled "Deadly Immunity", he wrote, "It was only after reading the [testimony of a Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist at a closed door government meeting], studying the leading scientific research and talking with many of the nation's pre-eminent authorities on mercury that I became convinced that the link between Thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real."

Kennedy's article had so many significant inaccuracies that Rolling Stone was forced to append to it five paragraphs of corrections. Undeterred, two years later Kennedy wrote an article entitled "Attack on Mothers."

Recounting the onset of autism in a 2-year old, Kennedy wrote, "After hearing that story a couple dozen times, a rational person might do some more investigation. That's when one encounters the overwhelming science -- hundreds of research studies from dozens of countries showing the undeniable connection between mercury and Thimerosal and a wide range of neurological illnesses." Kennedy went on to accuse the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the pharmaceutical industry of "ginning up" studies "designed to disguise the link between autism and Thimerosal." So Mr. Kennedy, is the California Department of Health also a member of the vast Thimerosal conspiracy?

There may be some ideological overlap between Kennedy's anti-Thimerosal rantings and his jihad against coal-fired electric plants whose emissions include small amounts of mercury. He recently blogged about the "calamitous externalized costs" of coal, including "global warming.dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates."

It's quite possible that Kennedy chooses to exploit the Thimerosal-autism controversy in order to broaden his base of support for his anti-coal/global warming agenda. Anti-Thimerosal parents groups have proven to be extremely passionate about their cause and they would be a formidable force were they to campaign against coal-fired electricity with the same zeal as they did with Thimerosal.

Though use of Thimerosal has for the most part ended, its vindication is not merely of academic interest. It should serve as yet another data point against Kennedy and others who foment panic and urge a rush-to-action based on flimsy facts and misdirected anger.


'Heart risk' from calcium supplements

The findings below are pretty weak but it should serve as another reminder of the narrow focus in much medical advice

Older women who take calcium supplements to maintain bone strength may have an increased risk of heart attack, researchers in New Zealand said on Tuesday. The researchers cautioned that they do not consider their findings the definitive word on the subject, but said the higher heart attack risk they saw merits further study. "This effect could outweigh any benefits on bone from calcium supplements," researchers led by Ian Reid of the University of Auckland wrote in the British Medical Journal. Many women take calcium supplements to try to prevent osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle, leading to fractures.

The study involved 1,471 healthy post-menopausal women, average age 74, who already had participated in a study on the effects of calcium on bone density and fracture rates. Of them, 732 were given a daily calcium supplement and 739 were given a placebo. They were followed for five years. Heart attacks were more common in the women taking the calcium supplements, with 31 women who took supplements experiencing a heart attack compared to 21 women who got a placebo, the researchers said.

The researchers noted that previous research had suggested that taking calcium supplements might protect against vascular disease by lowering levels of bad cholesterol in the blood. They said that because calcium supplements raise blood calcium levels, this possibly accelerates the formation of deposits in the arteries that could lead to heart attack. The new results "are not conclusive but suggest that high calcium intakes might have an adverse effect on vascular health," the researchers wrote. "In the meantime this potentially detrimental effect should be balanced against the likely benefits of calcium on bone, particularly in elderly women," they wrote.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

"What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


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