Beth Lambert, author of A Compromised Generation spoke about her just-published book at the Wilton Library last Thursday, along with her co-author, dietician Victoria Kobliner. The thesis of their book is that there is an epidemic of childhood chronic illness and that it is caused by various modern environmental factors. Neither of the speakers has a scientific research degree, but are trying in this book to explain their view of these concepts to parents.
They point out that there have in recent years been huge increases in the diagnoses of asthma (1 out of every 8 children), ADHD (1/10), celiac disease (1/80), food allergies (1/12), pediatric depression (1/30) and environmental allergies (1/3). Disregarding differences in diagnostic standards and reporting criteria, they feel that this represents a real, if unacknowledged epidemic.
They believe that many of these increases are due to immune dysregulation and gut dysbiosis. (Gut dysbiosis simply means that the biological balance of microorganisms in the gut has been disturbed.) And further, it seems that they believe that the immune dysregulation is in fact caused by the gut dysbiosis.
They go further in suggesting that since 80% of our serotonin is synthesized in the gut, that if the gut is disrupted, it can cause or exacerbate ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and autism. This is a fairly extreme hypothesis and when Lambert was questioned during her speech about the science behind this, she said it was very complex, but it was “all in the book.” In fact, there are no credible reports linking autism to bowel disease.
However, the book does contain a lot of science discussion and 424 references. Of these, a substantial number are to actual technical papers, although some are private communications, press accounts and references to advocacy group positions and web sites. However, if you read carefully through this thicket, you will find that they present almost no experimental evidence that could turn their hypotheses into real theories.
There are a huge number of papers cited, many laying basic groundwork, but when you get to the papers with significant claims supporting their position, they are from less than credible sites such as thoughtfulhouse.org and Dynamic Chiropractic. The book contains a number of phrases such as “evidence continues to mount” that gloss over the fact their case remains unproven.
Lambert noted in her talk that despite the seriousness of this “epidemic,” it has not received any coverage on major networks such as CNN or ABC. Of course, TV networks are not the source of science news: they cover actual scientific research papers, and in this case, there isn’t yet any such published research.
Lambert also noted that this “epidemic” is caused by a “perfect storm” of factors such as pollution, cultural/lifestyle, diet, pharmaceuticals and excess vaccinations. She tap-danced carefully around any details on the vaccination issue, but the book does not, bringing up thoroughly discredited ideas such as autism being caused by vaccine preservatives such as thiomersal. From a public health point of view this is extremely irresponsible, since readers may stop getting their children vaccinated, leading to epidemics. It is particularly worth noting that the leading proponent of this discredited theory, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was struck off the UK Medical Register earlier this year for scientific fraud.
Not content to stick to their interesting, but as yet unproven hypothesis, the book damages its credibility by resurrecting any number of old shibboleths, such as:
- MSG is an excitotoxin that can cause neuron damage. Not true. MSG occurs naturally in many foods and is very common in Japanese cooking. Nonetheless, the Japanese are one of the healthiest populations in the world!
- ·Mercury has been found in HFCS. Yes, but the sloppy and unrefereed study, done by an undergraduate, found less than the amount of mercury expected under ambient environmental conditions.
- HFCS is implicated in a variety of health conditions. Sorry, HFCS has exactly the same in content as table sugar and is not in itself harmful. Too much sugar of any kind can contribute to obesity, but HFCS has no special role here.
- Aspartame can cause adverse effects including cancer in rats. Reviews found in PubMed say that the weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels.
- Electromagnetic radiation from cell phones can damage genes. Cell phones use low energy microwave frequencies. This is not ionizing radiation and cannot break any chemical bonds. Thus, it cannot damage genes or anything else.
So what do they propose?
But, ignoring those errors, we should consider their hypothesis. Suppose our diet is affecting our gut and thus our health. What are the remedies the authors propose?
1. Avoid doctors that overprescribe medicines and seek out a naturopath instead. This is a surprising recommendation, after a book chock full of science references, since naturopathy is at best pseudo-science and does not represent evidence-based medicine.
2. Take probiotic supplements daily. If you’ve never heard of them, probiotics are supplements intended to replace gut flora. Probiotics may be helpful in treating diarrhea, according to the NIH, but for other uses there is little strong evidence and there is also a strong placebo effect.
3. Try the BioSET approach. According to a website definition, “BioSET uses a variety of tools drawn from acupuncture, chiropractic and kinesiology to locate and remove blockages in electromagnetic pathways that are specifically related to allergens.” None of these approaches are more than pseudo-scientific hooey.
4. Seek out practitioners of Functional Medicine. Seek out a health care practitioner experienced in “recovering children with chronic illnesses.” Functional Medicine is the creation of Dr Jeffrey Bland and develops personalized treatments based on underlying causes, and tries to treat the entire patient. It is also supported by Dr Mark Hyman who, on his web site, also peddles various vitamin supplements. Many of Hyman’s ideas parallel those in this book, including digestive health, but he is considered out of the medical mainsteam at best. Functional medicine is not widely accepted and seems to be mostly “new agey” pseudoscience.
To be fair, there are some recent papers where various bacteria inhabit the gut of people suffering from some of these diseases, but there is no research on whether treating the gut for these bacteria will affect the progress of the disease. These are very complex biological systems and not susceptible to these simplistic analyses.
In conclusion, this book raises some interesting questions, but offers few experimental results to support them and proposes non-scientific remedies to the problems it poses.
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