Updates: LeRoy mystery neurological illnesses

This article is an update of one I wrote several months ago. I had presumed the story had ended. It hadn’t.

Background

In spring 2012, I had written a few articles about a mystery neurological ailment that had struck about 20 teenagers at a high school and surrounding area in LeRoy, NY, a small town about 30 minutes from the city of Rochester. They suffered tics that mimicked Tourette syndrome, but was never diagnosed as such. Most of them have recovered, although two new cases have appeared.

Medical and scientific findings

First, Erin Brockovich, yes THAT Erin Brockovich, decided to get involved. In an announcement in August, they stated that they found nothing:

There is no link specifically that I can draw to environmental exposure because there are so many environmental exposures that occurred at the high school.  Continue reading “Updates: LeRoy mystery neurological illnesses”

Acupuncture for treating Bell’s palsy–myth vs. science

4acupunctureOf all of the alternative medicine therapies, acupuncture is the one that seems to get the most research money, and gets the most claims of effectiveness. Emphasize “claim”, because as of yet, there are no studies that show anything beyond a placebo effect, and some have shown results worse than placebo. Most of the studies are poorly designed, with poor control groups, with poor results.

Here are just some of the Cochrane reviews of acupuncture research that conclude that acupuncture lacks any clinical efficacy:

That’s just a few of many negative studies. 

So what is acupuncture? Its theoretical basis is that health and sickness are caused by the good or bad flow of Qi through the body, in particular along the twelve major meridians of the body (though some authorities list fourteen or even more) which run from head to toe along the body, and which are associated with the bladder, gallbladder, heart, large intestine, small intestine, kidneys, liver, lungs, spleen, stomach, pericardium, and other things. It is a form of woo medical procedure based on sticking needles into the dermis at precise points to affect the Qi. Except there is no evidence at all that this Qi exists. It’s pseudoscience. Continue reading “Acupuncture for treating Bell’s palsy–myth vs. science”

Pandemic flu vaccine and narcolepsy–an analysis

H1N1 vaccineToday, the British Medical Journal published a retrospective study, by Elizabeth Miller, that analyzes the risk of narcolepsy in children and adolescents in England who received the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine (Pandemrix) from October 2009 through mid-2010. This study followed up on the observations seen in Finland and other countries that there was some increased risk of narcolepsy in children a few months after receiving the vaccine.

As background, narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. Individuals with narcolepsy often experience daytime sleep patterns, but the disorder should not be confused with insomnia. It is not caused by a mental illness or psychological problems. It is most likely affected by a number of genetic mutations and abnormalities that affect specific biologic factors in the brain, combined with an environmental trigger during the brain’s development, such as a virus. It may also be a result of an autoimmune disorder. At this time, there is no cure for narcolepsy, but it can be successfully treated by medications and other therapies.

Roughly 70% of individuals who have narcolepsy have a comorbidity of cataplexy,  a sudden and transient episode of loss of muscle tone, often triggered by strong emotions.  Continue reading “Pandemic flu vaccine and narcolepsy–an analysis”

Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science

I’m trying out a new series, looking at some popular myths (mostly in medicine, but maybe we’ll wander outside of it when something interesting shows up) and determining if there’s any support or not in science. I’m going to link mostly to science articles and high-quality blogs, just so you have all the back-up evidence that you need. One way or another.

Background

Ginkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in enough quantity.  Continue reading “Ginkgo biloba and neurological disorders–Myth vs. Science”

Flu vaccinations for children with neurological disorders

Flu virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just published a study in Pediatrics on the effects of influenza in children with neurologic disorders. It compared the outcomes, during and after the flu ,between kids with or without neurological disorders. The outcomes studied were deaths and hospitalizations during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, between April 15 and September 30, 2009, by looking at medical records of reported pediatric deaths. Continue reading “Flu vaccinations for children with neurological disorders”

Early onset Alzheimer’s disease ends coaching career of Pat Summitt

 

Pat Summitt's trademarked glare.

Pat Summitt, probably one of the greatest basketball coaches ever, has stepped down as the coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team.  She announced that she had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in August 2011, and she had coached the 2011-12 season, but today, as a result of the disease, she resigned.  During her career, she won 8 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Championships, a record that is almost impossible to comprehend.  Her reputation and success is the envy of college sports.  

Early onset AD is usually defined as a diagnosis before the age of 65.  Early onset AD may occur in individuals as young as their 30’s (very rare), but with most diagnoses in patients in their 50’s.  Summitt was diagnosed at the age of 58 (and without knowing everything, she might have had symptoms earlier), so the age of onset is not unusual. Continue reading “Early onset Alzheimer’s disease ends coaching career of Pat Summitt”

Study about causes of autism–no vaccines involved

[pullquote]That’s the difference between real research and the whining anti-vaccine lunatics who base their claims on nonsense and logical fallacies, which does nothing for understanding the causal factors of autism.[/pullquote]

The Los Angeles Times reports in “Study finds link between autism and obesity during pregnancy” that data from University of California-Davis MIND Institute’s CHARGE (CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment) research study shows a link between risk of autism and Metabolic Conditions, such as maternal obesity and diabetes.  The study found that women who had diabetes or hypertension, or were obese had 1.61 times greater risk to have children with autism spectrum disorders than healthy women. These women with metabolic conditions (MC) also had a 2.35 greater risk to having children with developmental delays. Continue reading “Study about causes of autism–no vaccines involved”

Amy Farrah Fowler may believe in homeopathy, but Sheldon does not

A couple of days ago, I talked about the Amy Farrah Fowler character on one of my favorite TV shows, the geeky Big Bang Theory, who is a neurobiologist played by a real neurobiologist, Mayim Bialik.  Yes, Bialik, former star of the TV show Blossom (never saw an episode) has a Ph.D. in neurobiology from UCLA.  Yes, the real UCLA.

As we discussed, Dr. Bialik seems to believe in a whole host of pseudoscientific alternative medicine ideas, all of which does not make sense given her education.  She believes in homeopathy, which is basically nonsense according to every definition of the word “nonsense.”  Homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience, since it is based on a nearly impossible foundation of water having a sort of memory to what it contacted.  In other words, the basic principle of homeopathy violates all the basic principles of physics and chemistry.  These aren’t ideas that require a Ph.D. to understand, and assuming that Bialik actually studied science, and didn’t cruise through her undergraduate and graduate training without opening a single book, she would have to be scientifically critical of homeopathy.

Continue reading “Amy Farrah Fowler may believe in homeopathy, but Sheldon does not”

Amy Farrah Fowler, I’m so disappointed

I’m a huge fan of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), mainly because I’m a lifelong geek, but also because it is one of the better written shows on TV (a low standard indeed).  The four main male characters are researchers at Cal Tech, although, as the show keeps mentioning, three have Ph.D.’s, and one only has a Masters from MIT.  TBBT also amuses me because I was one of those characters, seemingly clueless about the opposite sex, more interested in games and Star Trek than in anything else, and spending hours in a lab doing obscure experiments.  And I dressed that poorly too!  TBBT just reminds me of my life.  And I still love Star Trek (though Enterprise annoyed me).

Continue reading “Amy Farrah Fowler, I’m so disappointed”