Category Archives: Health

Mental illness, medication, and the elephant in the room

Mental illness has always been the elephant in whatever room you’re in. Many people know someone who suffers from it but are still uncomfortable talking about it. The words “crazy” and “wacko” are often still used to describe people with mental illness – not exactly conducive to open discussion and helping people admit that they are struggling. But it’s worse than that because other than perhaps bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, many mental illnesses are looked at as something that you can overcome if you just try hard enough.

People with depression are told that they should just not be so sad all the time and think about all the good things in their lives. People with anxiety should try to relax and not get so worked up about things. Many think that ADHD doesn’t even exist because everyone gets distracted now and again. Mental illness is seen as a weakness of character, not an actual illness. On the other hand, people with more physical ailments such as cancer or MS are always described as courageous and strong and are given as much support as they need. Nobody suggests that people who are deaf or blind should just work harder and concentrate more and then they’ll be fine.

Bell Let’s Talk day is a day in January every year when Bell Canada donates money for each social media post that uses the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. Since 2010, Bell has donated over $80 million to various mental health initiatives. I see hundreds of tweets on those days talking about mental illness, and it seems that it’s something that many people secretly (and not-so-secretly) battle with, or know someone who does. (I’ve also seen people who refuse to participate, thinking it’s a big ad campaign for Bell Canada. Maybe it is, but who cares? If they’re donating millions to charity and getting people to openly talk about mental health because of it, I’m happy to give them some free advertising.) You also see lots of Facebook posts and blog articles by and about people who suffer from depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and many other mental illnesses, discussing how they cope and how and where they get help. A lot of people feel empowered and courageous enough to “come out” and publicly admit and discuss their illness, and I think this is fantastic. At the end of January, everyone’s on board and it gives one hope that the stigma is finally on the way out.

The rest of the year is a different story. That’s not to say that everyone reverts back to “crazy people are just weak minded” but for many, the stigma comes back. And I’m sure many don’t even know it.

ADHDMy two kids were each diagnosed with ADHD around grade four (for posterity, Ryan’s currently in grade twelve and Nicky grade nine), and both have been taking daily medication since their diagnosis. The medications have changed over the years as well as the dosages, but both still take it every day. Gail and I are not embarrassed by this and neither are the boys; it’s just part of life for them. It’s never been a “family secret”, though I did confirm with them that they are OK with me explicitly making it public here. The medication helps them to be more focused and more able to tune out distractions. Nicky can also get “fidgety” and it helps with that as well. It doesn’t turn them into perfect children, nor do we expect it to. And it does not turn them into zombies, at least not any more than any other teenager with a smartphone.

Note that ADHD is a real condition and fMRI scans can show real physical differences between the ADHD brain and the “normal” brain. Nobody is saying that any kid who ever gets distracted has ADHD and needs medication, any more than anyone who ever gets sad about anything has depression and needs medication. The “disorder” part means that it happens far more often than in other people – often enough to negatively affect your day-to-day life.

Anyway, like I said, their ADHD and medication are not secret and so now and again the topic comes up in conversation with family members, friends, co-workers, and occasionally even strangers. When it does, I am amazed at how often people ask about the meds. Do they take the medication every day? Do they take it on weekends or over the summer when they’re not in school? Will they have to take it for the rest of their lives? I constantly wonder why people are so interested in my kids’ medication schedule.

Of course, they’re not interested in when they take it, they’re interested that they take it. I’m sure some are just curious but I frequently feel judged, as if they’re asking “You don’t give your children prescription drugs for such a mild condition, do you? And every day?!” I’ve even had people, including family members, directly suggest that maybe they shouldn’t be taking the medication.

In many cases, these are the same people who post supportive messages on Bell Let’s Talk day, the whole point of which is to end the stigma associated with mental illness. But suggesting that my kids stop taking their medication IS the stigma. You are suggesting that the medication is not necessary because they should be able to overcome their illness through sheer will. That’s just not how it works.

Gail and I are both insulin-dependent type 2 diabetics. Nobody has ever asked me if we take our insulin or other diabetes medications every day or on weekends, and nobody has ever suggested we try not taking it. Similarly, if you have migraines or chronic back pain, pain medication is a lifesaver and nobody who’s ever had either of these would suggest to someone else suffering with it that maybe they should skip their medication and try something else to cope with the pain. It seems that we all know that “Try distracting yourself so you don’t think about it!” is not going to work on a migraine, but some think that will work on depression.

I’ve seen images on Facebook talking about the number of children in the US diagnosed with ADHD and that half of them are on medication, as if that’s a source of shame. Think of the number of kids diagnosed with leukemia; 100% of them are on medication and nobody’s ashamed of that.

Of course I’m not saying that everyone with ADHD or depression should be on medication. I’m sure there are many people who have developed coping techniques for their illnesses and don’t need medication, but that’s just not possible for everyone. If you suggest to those people (or their parents) that maybe they don’t need it and maybe they should try not taking it, you are not helping. You are contributing to the belief that mental illnesses are not real illnesses and can be overcome by simply working harder. They can’t. So please stop.


A&W and steroids

We had lunch at an A&W a little while ago, and were inundated with more of their talk of how their beef is raised without any added hormones or steroids. They actually state this on their website as a “guarantee“. They’ve been saying this for a while now, including “man on the street” interviews in their commercials, where people are all impressed at this great decision that A&W has made.

(We’ll ignore the fact that a steroid is a hormone, so talking about “hormones or steroids” is redundant; you could just say “hormones”. But not everybody knows that (I just found out while researching this article), so we’ll chalk that up to “if we just say hormones, people will ask about steroids so we say both” and let it go. I’ll just use “hormones” in this article to mean both.)

But does it matter? Or is this yet another example of boosting sales and therefore profits through fear mongering?

This “guarantee” implies, but does not state, one of two things:

1. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones change the beef to make it taste worse or be less nutritious.

OR (this is kind of a special case of #1)

2. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones make it into the beef, and the amount of extra hormones in beef has a non-negligible effect on the health of a human who eats it.

I don’t know if either of these things is true but the implication is that beef with added hormones is less healthy than beef without. But where’s the science to back that up? Nowhere on the A&W web site, I can assure you of that.

Maybe a little too much

But do they need science to back it up? What is it they need to back up? Their web site states many times that their beef is raised “without added hormones or steroids”, and that they’re the only Canadian burger chain that can say that, but they make no other claims. Nowhere do they say that their burgers are healthier because of it. They don’t really need to prove their burgers are healthier, because they don’t claim they are. If you read that into what they’re saying, that’s up to you. Clever.

They also talk about their impact on the environment and sustainability, but again it’s all implication. They don’t claim that anything they do is more environmentally friendly.

However, on an agriculture blog, we see that if growth hormones were not used on cattle, we’d need 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, 4% more water, and 7% more fuel and fertilizer to produce the same amount of beef. (These numbers come from the Beef Cattle Research Council) Removing hormones is hardly contributing to sustainability.

The amount of hormones we’re talking about here makes you wonder if the whole argument is really meaningful anyway. Actually, it doesn’t make you wonder at all. The answer is clear: No, it’s not. Once again, we find that just like with all other so-called “toxins”, the dose makes the poison. First off, all beef contains hormones. 500g of beef without added hormones contains 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of hormones (specifically estrogen). 500g of beef with added hormones contains 7 nanograms. Yes, that’s 40% more, but when you consider that 500g of white bread contains 300,000 nanograms and a pregnant woman creates 20 million nanograms in her body every day, reducing your burger hormone intake from 7 to 5 seems rather meaningless. The bun contains ten thousand times more hormones than the burger.

The A&W web site also states that their chicken is raised without antibiotics. On the same page, they state “Antibiotics are typically injected into the egg and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent disease within the chickens and to promote health.” So they are proud that they are not attempting to prevent disease or promote health in their chickens?

On their “Eggs FAQ” page, A&W states that the hens that lay the eggs they use are fed a vegetarian diet and that “Their feed has also been enriched with vitamins D, E, and B12, as well as folacin.” Vitamin D is both a hormone and a steroid. They seem just as proud of giving hormones and steroids to the chickens that lay their eggs as they are proud of not giving any to the cows that provide their burgers.

I think this is misleading advertising and I would call for a boycott of A&W, except for the fact that I like their burgers so I probably would boycott the boycott anyway.

Diet Pepsi caves to the ignorant

It had to happen. Somebody had to be the first. Maybe others will follow and maybe not but either way, this is a very bad idea.

What am I talking about? Pepsi has announced that they will be changing their recipe for Diet Pepsi to remove aspartame (“Nutrasweet”) and replace it with sucralose (“Splenda”). Diet Pepsi has been sweetened with a mix of aspartame and acesulfame-potassium (known as “ace-K”) for a couple of years, and the new formula will be a mix of sucralose and ace-K. Pepsi insists that they’re not doing it because of any problems with aspartame. They said “Decades of studies have shown that aspartame is safe. This is not about safety.” They say they’re doing it because their customers are demanding it, and because their sales are way down in recent years.

This statement is consistent with their actions. If it was about health or product safety, not only would they have said so (so they can be seen as being a company that cares about its customers), but they would be getting rid of aspartame in all of their products, not just Diet Pepsi. They have announced that only the various varieties of Diet Pepsi (i.e. caffeine free, cherry, etc.) would be changing; their other diet products like Diet Mountain Dew would not. Also, they are not removing it from Diet Pepsi in Canada, so it really doesn’t matter much to us Canadians.

As a type-2 diabetic, this is an important topic for me. Artificial sweeteners don’t raise blood sugar level like real sugar does, so products that use them are very important for diabetics. And yes, I do drink diet Pepsi and other diet soft drinks, though I prefer Coke Zero.

The Science

Aspartame is probably the most heavily tested food additive ever. It’s been in thousands of products since the 1980’s and has been approved and deemed safe for consumption by not only the FDA in the US but the equivalent agency in 100+ countries around the world. Yes, if you eat a spoonful of the stuff raw, it’s dangerous. But the reason it’s used is because it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means you only need a tiny amount to sweeten whatever you’re putting it in. The amount used is so small that it has virtually no calories. If a person my size (~170 pounds) were to drink 21 cans of diet pop every day, that would bring him or her to the FDA’s level of “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) of aspartame, meaning he or she could drink that much every day for a lifetime “without appreciable health risk”*. Note that Health Canada’s ADI is lower than the FDA’s, so I could only drink 17 cans of diet pop per day. Awwwww.

* – This means no appreciable health risk from the aspartame. It’s not like there are no other health risks with drinking that much pop.

Have there been studies on rats that showed higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia with increased aspartame intake? Yes. But first off, those studies are a little suspect; some were testing rats ingesting amounts of aspartame equivalent to a person drinking a couple of thousand cans of diet pop per day. Secondly, rats aren’t people. Chocolate is deadly to dogs and cats but we don’t ban it for people and nobody says “this stuff will kill your dog, why would YOU eat it?”. There have been thousands of studies on the effects of aspartame on people over the past forty years, and none of them have shown any association between aspartame and various cancers. There have even been studies on people who claim to have “aspartame sensitivity” which showed that such a thing does not exist.

Zumwalt Meadow

(I tried to find a suitable picture for this article, but I did an image search for “aspartame” and the results were pretty much nothing but “aspartame is poison!” infographics containing incorrect information. So here’s a completely unrelated image of Zumwalt Meadow in Kings Canyon National Park in California. I’ve never been there but it looks lovely. This is from a photographer named Kevin Gong.)

There are people who have a genetic condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) which causes the body to be unable to metabolize an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is one of the by-products of digesting aspartame. Those people are generally told to avoid aspartame, though they get more phenylalanine from their regular diet than from aspartame anyway. But this condition is rare and has other more far-reaching effects than just getting sick from aspartame – this is not the kind of thing you don’t know you have until you’re 30.

And no, it didn’t start out as ant poison until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. It started out as an anti-ulcer drug until they accidentally realized how sweet it tasted. I wonder if anyone has any idea how well it works to prevent ulcers?

Even better are the “oh yeah, who paid for that study?” people. First off, the fact that a study was paid for by a company doesn’t mean that company had a hand in the outcome. Second, good studies publish their data as well as their conclusions so that other scientists (who weren’t paid) can look it over and make sure it all was done correctly and the interpretation of the data makes sense. This is called peer-review and without it, studies are far less reliable. Third, studies that aren’t replicated by other scientists are also less reliable. And fourth, we have my standard question to believers of huge conspiracy theories: do you really think that 30+ years of peer-reviewed and replicated studies by hundreds of different scientists were all manipulated and falsified without anyone finding out or blowing the whistle? Show me the evidence for the conspiracy, and remember that things that are consistent with a conspiracy are not necessarily evidence of one.

The decision

So that’s the science. Nothing in science is ever 100% guaranteed, but as far as we can tell from a ton of testing, aspartame is safe to consume in the quantities that people are consuming it. Pepsi even acknowledges this. So why change? Due to customer demand. But why are customers demanding it? Are there really that many people out there with PKU who want to drink Diet Pepsi but can’t? No. It’s not PKU, it’s FUD.

FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is something that people frequently use when talking about nutrition. Most anti-GMO and pro-organic articles you read on the web are based on FUD. The Food Babe makes her living off of it. (More like the FUD Babe, amirite?) (Dammit, someone else already said that) It’s essentially a logical fallacy that creates a false choice, then makes you afraid of one of the options (frequently using incorrect information or outright lies) to make it “obvious” that the other option must be the right one. But once somebody’s given you a reason to fear something, it’s very hard to see past it. So people end up avoiding whatever it is “just in case”.

Such is the case with aspartame. If hundreds (or thousands) of well-performed studies over decades show no association with any negative health effects (other than PKU), then it’s likely that there are none. But since science can’t prove beyond any doubt that it’s safe, people think that maybe it’s not. I suppose that’s technically true, but just because the options are “it’s safe” and “it’s not safe”, that doesn’t mean the two options are equally likely. Is it possible that every one of the thousands of aspartame studies showing that it’s safe are wrong or flawed? Sure it’s possible. But if you flip a coin 100 times and it comes up heads 99 of those times, it’s possible that you have a completely fair and balanced coin, but it’s far more likely that it’s not.



Ultimately, you know that the Food Babe and Dr. Oz and a zillion other people will point to this decision as “proof” that aspartame is dangerous. They won’t mention the science (why start now?). They won’t mention that Pepsi said that it’s not about safety (or they’ll imply that Pepsi was lying). They won’t mention the fact that Pepsi didn’t change their other diet drinks (which is inconsistent with Pepsi lying about safety, but they’ll say it anyway). They won’t mention that a soft drink company may not be the best place to get your nutritional information.

I commend Pepsi for stressing that this decision had everything to do with making customers happy and nothing to do with product safety. Despite what I said at the top of this article, I can’t really say this was a bad idea, since I have no idea how it will affect sales – if sales go up, then it was a great idea since that was the goal.

That said, I really wish they hadn’t done it. All this decision will do is imply that all of the FUD about aspartame is justified. Honestly, Pepsi can say whatever they want about safety or their reasons for doing this but in two years, nobody’s going to remember any of that. They’ll just see the Food Babe and others spin it as “don’t forget, Pepsi refused to continue including aspartame in Diet Pepsi!”

And science loses again.


American Cancer Society. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from

Choi, C. (April 24, 2015) Diet Pepsi Will Be Aspartame-Free, But Not In Canada. Huffington Post Canada.

Health Canada. (2005) Aspartame. Retrieved from

Health Canada. (2008) The Safety of Sugar Substitutes. Retrieved from

Horovitz, B. (April 24, 2015). Diet Pepsi to ditch the aspartame. USA Today (online). Retrieved from

National Cancer Institute. (2006). Aspartame and Cancer: Questions and Answers. Retrieved from

National Cancer Institute. (2009). Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer. Retrieved from

Pomeroy, R. (undated). Study Finds No Evidence for ‘Aspartame Sensitivity’. Real Clear Science. Retrieved from

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2014). Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2014). Aspartame. Retrieved from

We need healing crystals here, stat! Aquamarine quartz!

Proponents of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM – though I tend to add the word “So-called” at the beginning because that acronym is a little more accurate) rarely say “Never go to a doctor” or “you should always use naturopathic medicine”. They know that this could turn many people off of CAM, so they try to state their case as a preference. If you want to go to your doctor that’s fine, but if you prefer to go to a naturopath, that should be your right and your insurance provider (and the health care system in general) should be accepting of that, i.e. should support it and pay for it. This is, in my opinion, a false equivalency – they are implying that “traditional” medicine and CAM are equally valid and equally effective when in reality CAM consists entirely of “treatments” that either have never been proven effective or have been proven ineffective.

That’s the official CAM literature, anyway: it’s a choice. But in the real world, the CAM community is full of people who talk all the time about the medical conspiracy and how doctors are withholding cures for diseases and how you should never go to a doctor practicing “Western medicine” or allow them to pump you full of man-made chemicals. Alternative medicines are the only way to go. This is not 100% of all CAM supporters, but a very vocal subset.

CAM people want the right to use homeopathic “vaccines” instead of regular ones. They want the right for the healthcare system to pay for their reiki or acupuncture or other pretend magic remedies. But there’s one thing that I’ve never heard a CAM supporter fight for.

Why aren’t CAM supporters demanding the right to have ambulance workers provide CAM instead of “traditional” medicine when they call 911?

If you don’t trust Western medicine and you believe that doctors are all part of a conspiracy to keep people sick and that natural medicine is your best option, why do you accept the possibility of being taken to a traditional hospital to be treated by Western doctors after an accident? What if some medical emergency happens to you and you can’t communicate your beliefs? Hopefully someone will call 911 but then without asking, they’ll take you to a traditional hospital. They might even start Western treatment right there in the ambulance. How awful!

What we need is the CAMbulance. You call 911 (or possibly a different number so you don’t get a traditional Western ambulance by mistake), describe the problem to the operator, and say you want the CAMbulance, and they’ll send out a different vehicle to take you to a local acupuncturist or homeopath or faith healer or something. That way you won’t get horrible things like painkillers or penicillin, which are of course made up entirely of CHEMICALS. I’m sure your acupuncturist can repair the internal bleeding and the homeopath can give you something that will clean up the plaque in your arteries that caused that heart attack. Your faith healer can re-attach that severed arm and if he can’t, well God must not have wanted you to have it anyway.

Even better – CAM people should sell Medic Alert-type bracelets saying “if in an accident, take me to a naturopath, not a hospital”. That way even if you’re incapacitated, your feelings can be made clear. Or perhaps they could just take you straight to the funeral home and skip the middleman. The CAMbulance is really a hearse.

Or perhaps the CAMbulance would take you to a place like this:

(Note “A&E” stands for “Accidents & Emergencies” which is the British term for what we in North America would call the ER.)

Opting out

March 4, 2015

To whom it may concern,

I would like to opt out of your diabetes program.

I was first accepted into your program a little over two years ago, in January 2013. I don’t remember actually volunteering for this program; I think it must have happened when I was in the hospital with pancreatitis five years ago. I did spent a lot of time on painkillers then so who knows what I signed up for. Anyway, I went on the medication and cut down on sugary stuff, and it really wasn’t that big a deal. My wife had been in your program for three years already, and she’s doing just fine. She doesn’t even test her blood all that often anymore since her sugar numbers are under control. For a while, mine were too, but then near the end of 2014 I noticed them going up again. I attributed that to Christmas and a couple of weeks of less-than-healthy eating. I started eating better in January but the numbers didn’t come back down, so I went to see my doctor and she advanced me to level two of your program.

I first injected myself with insulin on January 23, 2015. I started with 5 units per day and was told to keep testing my blood 4-5 times a day, increasing the dosage by one unit every two days until the blood sugar numbers were where they were supposed to be. Six weeks later, my fingers are all bruised from pricking them with needles before and after almost every meal, and I’m at 22 units per day. The numbers have come down a fair bit but they’re still not quite in the range they need to be.

I miss you.I lost 10 pounds at the beginning and I’ve been maintaining the new weight ever since, but I’m getting tired of feeling hungry all the time. I’m tired of deciding between oatmeal or eggs for breakfast every day because they’re the only things that don’t spike my blood sugar. Luckily, the turkey sausage breakfast sandwich from Tim Horton’s isn’t bad either so I treat myself now and again. But what I wouldn’t give for a bagel or a regular old bowl of cereal, which I’ve lived on for breakfast for the last 45 years. I was never a Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch kind of guy, but even a bowl of Cheerios shot my blood sugar up over 6 points. When the acceptable range is 4 to 7 and you generally start your day around 9, adding another 6 is not helpful.

Oddly, the insulin injections aren’t that big a deal but I’m tired of having to have a bedtime snack that contains protein, carbs and fat. I know that helps slow down the insulin absorption, which helps it to last all the next day, but sometimes I just want to go to bed and not think about what would be an appropriate snack. I suppose if I thought about it 20 minutes before I want to go to bed that would work, but it’s not part of my routine yet.

I’m tired of looking at everything I eat and wondering how it will affect my blood sugar. I’m tired of my eyesight getting worse and hoping it’s because I’m 45 and not because diabetes is making me blind. I’m tired of being scared with any change in my body, wondering if it’s caused by the diabetes or if it’s the beginning of another round of hospital visits. Or worse.

And of course, I’m tired of skipping desserts and cookies and anything that has sugar in it. We had to throw some cupcakes out the other day because they got stale; that would never have happened a year ago.

It’s not like it’s all bad, I do want to acknowledge the perks. The free annual eye exam is nice, and the fact that I can seemingly eat all the crackers and cheese, eggs, and peanut butter I want and not gain weight is OK too. But the bit about “eat a cookie now, and we’ll wait 20 years before chopping some toes off ” is a little harsh.

In conclusion, I appreciate your interest in having me in this program, but I would really like to opt out and resume my previous lifestyle. Thanks for your attention in this matter, and please let me know how we proceed from here.


Graeme Perrow

This “letter” was written with tongue firmly in cheek. Sure this whole diabetes thing is a drag but quite honestly, I’m managing it fine. This was kind of fun to write and allowed me to whine about aspects of having diabetes that that bug me, but if it sounds like I’m moping around the house all the time thinking “woe is me, it’s so hard“, I’m really not.

I know full well that there are many people that have it far worse than I do. There are type 1 diabetics who have it worse. There are people with things like colitis and lupus and depression and cancer and a hundred other things, and those people have it worse. I have a wonderful wife who I adore, two great kids who I am very proud of, family, friends, a career I enjoy, and other than the diabetes, my health is pretty good. At the end of the day, my bed is very comfortable. I really do love my life.

Top 5 reasons why there is no global medical conspiracy

If you look at websites, blogs, or Facebook pages about things like alternative medicines, organic/all-natural foods, or conspiracy theories you will almost undoubtedly find people talking about “the medical conspiracy”. The idea here is that there are natural cures for many (some say all) diseases, and the medical and pharmaceutical industries know about them but are suppressing the information. They do this because they make more money from treating but not curing diseases than they would from curing them. In some cases, the conspiracy also says that “Big Pharma” has created cures but they’re also being suppressed for the same reason. (Of course, nobody explains why Big Pharma would spend the time and money working on creating such cures if they’re going to suppress them.) The alternative medicine industry is all over this idea, because otherwise they have no good answer to “If <whatever> works, then why doesn’t every doctor advise their patients to use it?”

At first blush, this sounds like it could make sense – would you rather charge someone $25,000 once for a very expensive cure, or $1,000 a month for treatment that will be required for the rest of their life? You probably would make a lot more money keeping people sick and therefore dependent on your treatment. But we need to think deeper. What would be required for such a conspiracy to exist and succeed?

Here are five reasons why this idea is ludicrous. Throughout these answers, we’re going to assume that the conspiracy does exist, that natural cures for diseases do exist, that the people running it would like it to continue, and that they’d like to keep it quiet from the general public. Then we’ll examine the ramifications of those assumptions.

Reality Check

1. The number of people involved would be immense.

Surely there are some medical professionals out there who are more interested in the health of their patients than in making money. What would happen if one of them didn’t know about the conspiracy and unwittingly started telling their patients about the natural cures that really work, rather than giving them the expensive drugs and invasive surgeries that are part of the conspiracy? Even worse, what if they started telling their fellow doctors about the cures? It would spread like wildfire! But the whole conspiracy would then be exposed or unraveled. People would be cured and no longer have to pay for expensive medication! We can’t have that! So the conspiracy would have to include almost all doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, medical researchers, professors, even dentists, dental hygienists, and veterinarians. We’re talking about the entire medical and pharmaceutical industries as well as every non-alternative medical school in the world.

Since this is a massive cover-up, there would have to be non-medical people involved as well. So not only would this include the medical professionals, scientists, and professors but also post-doc and graduate medical students, company executives, lawyers, actuaries, accountants, admin people, you name it.

The entire insurance industry would have to be part of the conspiracy as well since they’re footing the bill for lots of expensive medications for their customers. You’re delusional if you think they’re just going to take the word of doctors and scientists that this super-expensive medication (that they’re paying for!) is the best option – they’re going to do (or at least fund) their own research. What happens if they come up with a different conclusion than the corrupt medical researchers? The people running the conspiracy can’t take that chance.

But of course, it’s all about the Benjamins. If the conspiracy is true then the insurance companies have undoubtedly figured out what would happen if the public found out about the natural cures for everything. First, they’d save a ton of money by not having to pay for expensive medication. Second, they’d lose a ton of money because a lot of people wouldn’t bother paying for health insurance anymore. They’ve done the math. I don’t know which but one of these must be true:

  1. They’d lose more money through lost revenue than they’d save by not paying for expensive medication. This wouldn’t benefit them at all, so they can’t let the public find out. It’s in their best interest to be in on the conspiracy. Or…
  2. They’d save more money than than they’d lose in revenue. This would cost them millions, and so they’d waste no time in exposing the conspiracy.

Since #2 hasn’t happened, we know that the insurance companies must be in on it.

And don’t forget the FDA in the US, and its equivalents in all other countries. They absolutely must be involved – what if the expensive drugs don’t get approved for use and the cheap natural ones do?

With all the medical, pharmaceutical, educational, insurance, and government people involved, this would have to involve at the very least millions of people, possibly tens or even hundreds of millions, in every country in the world. This would be by far the most massive and complicated conspiracy in human history. And yet with those millions of people involved, there’s no concrete evidence of it.

2. Success in corrupting the people involved would have to be near 100%.

Most of the people involved in the conspiracy would be doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. But none of these people knew about the conspiracy before they got into those professions. Almost all of them are people who originally chose to get into the medical profession because they wanted to spend their lives helping sick people. For the conspiracy to succeed, all of them must have:

  • been informed of the conspiracy, and
  • abandoned their ethics and their reasons for getting into medicine in the first place, and
  • been corrupted to the point of either joining the conspiracy and saying nothing, or not joining the conspiracy but somehow keeping quiet about it.

The number of people who were informed of the conspiracy and were outraged and immediately went public is near zero. I can’t say it is zero because I have seen people on various alternative medicine sites claim that they were in the medical profession but got out because it was, in their opinion, ineffective or corrupt. But the number of people who were outraged and went public with compelling evidence of the conspiracy is zero. None. Nobody.

Drugs and Money3. Most of the people who would have to be involved in the conspiracy have no incentive.

Obviously, for this conspiracy to be successful, all of the people involved in it must be willing to sacrifice their ethics – letting patients die, allowing them to suffer in pain and discomfort for years, allowing their friends and family members to suffer both emotionally and financially, and all for the promise of big money. There are certainly leading medical professors and doctors that make boatloads of money. But what about your average nurse in a hospital? She’d have to be involved, or she’d be curing people left and right instead of keeping them sick. But how many nurses do you know that are rich? According to this survey, the median annual wage for a nurse is about $65,000 in the US. That’s pretty decent money, but would every nurse sacrifice their ethics for only $65k a year?

Maybe the $65k is just their salary, and they get other secret kickbacks from the conspiracy. In that case, not only would all the nurses need to be involved, but their families as well. Otherwise the nurse’s spouse might wonder where that extra few million dollars or the Porsche in the driveway came from. If that’s the case, then it’s true for most of the other people involved as well, and we just doubled the number of people who’d have to be complicit in the conspiracy.

4. The whistleblowers are still alive.

According to the conspiracy, all medical professionals are willing to let patients suffer and die needlessly. So why are the whistleblowers still alive? Mike Adams from talks about the conspiracy every day, as do people on hundreds of other web sites. There are many people running natural medicine practices that by their very existence threaten to expose the conspiracy. If doctors are willing to let millions of people die from already-cured diseases, it stands to reason that they wouldn’t be above killing people who are exposing the conspiracy and threatening their substantial profits. But this isn’t happening.

5. There’s more money to be made in providing cures than in suppressing them.

Say you’re a medical researcher and you discover something (natural or otherwise) that kills only cancer cells, or stimulates the pancreas to continuously produce more insulin, or cures Alzheimer’s or AIDS or something else. (Let’s just gloss over the huge question of why your job even exists – again, why Big Pharma would spend tons of money and time researching for such cures only to suppress them. It’s not like the first person to find a cure prevents others from finding it.) In your job, you obviously know about the conspiracy to keep it suppressed, so you’d have to report your findings to your superiors and not tell anybody about it.

But say you don’t.

Say you know a few other researchers and you have them replicate your tests and then you all go public and create a company to sell this new found cure. You tell the world “We have a cure for cancer, and we’ll sell a dose to anyone who wants it. For $1000, you can be free of cancer forever.” Such a company would be swimming in money and the discoverers would be world famous – the Nobel Prize, cover of Time, money for nothing, chicks for free, all that good stuff.

Could this company make more money by having people pay them $1000 a month for life rather than $1000 once? Yes, but once again that assumes that every medical researcher would sacrifice their ethics for even bigger money. Would many sacrifice their ethics for $10 million? Sure. But would they sacrifice their ethics and $10 million for $50 million? $100 million? Maybe but I’m sure there are a few who would take the $10 million and keep their ethics intact.

To avoid their researchers going public, the overseers of the conspiracy would have to bribe them with immense amounts of money that would keep them from going public. They’d have to make sure they do this before the big breakthroughs are made and somehow guarantee the researchers’ loyalty. The researchers would then have to explain to their friends and family members why they are multi-gazillionaires but none of their research has even been published.

Oh wait, I know how this could be explained! And it explains the nurse problem described in #3 above!

Theory: Lotteries like Powerball are actually run by the people running the medical conspiracy. It’s their way of bribing people involved in the conspiracy to keep quiet in such a way that it’s easy to explain to their friends and families why they’re suddenly rich.

So basically, if we assume the conspiracy exists, then we find a number of inconsistencies with what we’d expect and what we see in the real world. If the conclusions are wrong (that all doctors and nurses in the world are rich and corrupt, and everyone who tries to expose the conspiracy is silenced), then our initial assumption must be wrong. There is no conspiracy. Reductio ad absurdum.

Some of the people who believe in this supposed conspiracy do so because they’ve had a bad experience of some kind. Perhaps they or a loved one was misdiagnosed and got sicker instead of better. Perhaps someone they know even died from such a misdiagnosis. Are there incompetent doctors who prescribe the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, misdiagnose patients, and so on? Of course there are. Remember the old joke: what do you call the person who finished last in his medical school graduating class? You call him “doctor”. But it’s a huge stretch to assume that all doctors are this bad and also to assume that any errors that are made are actually part of the conspiracy and not simply mistakes made by fallible human beings.

Are there unscrupulous doctors, nurses, etc. who would take place in such a conspiracy? Almost certainly. But again, it’s a massive stretch to extend this to all or even most doctors.

None of this addresses whether these natural cures exist or if alternative medicine actually works (better than placebo). If not, then the idea of the conspiracy is moot since there’d be no point. But we can see that the likelihood of the conspiracy existing is virtually nil, and so if alternative medicine really is the cure-all miracle that it claims to be, we come back to the question I mentioned at the top: why don’t the majority of doctors recommend reiki, homeopathy, faith healing, or other naturopathic techniques to their patients?

Now, what’s more likely? That this incredibly complex and vast conspiracy actually exists and is functioning perfectly (and yet they are doing nothing about the people trying to expose it), or that the medical community really does have humanity’s health as their primary goal and it’s just a very difficult and expensive process?


Shout out to my brother-in-law Stephen, who’s currently at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto fighting liver cancer. He asked me to post something interesting for him to read – I hope this will suffice. Hang in there, buddy. We’re all thinking about you.

Anti-vaccination messages are the real danger

There was a letter to the editor in the Flamborough Review this past week about how harmful vaccinations are. I felt compelled to respond, not only because I’m a skeptic and get angry when I read crap like this, but because this is in my local paper, and if people read this misinformation and decide not to get vaccinated, that could directly affect me and my family.

Interestingly, the letter was written by the same guy who wrote another letter to the editor, that one about teachers, that I responded to a little over a year ago.

Here’s the text of his letter, reproduced here in case the link above vanishes sometime in the future.

I wanted to voice my opinion, backed by evidence, that vaccines, of any sort, are dangerous.

The first vaccine was developed in the late 1700s in England when cowpox pus was inserted under the skin of an eight-year-old in the belief that it would make people immune to smallpox. What happened over the next century was an epidemic of small pox incidents, to 95 per cent of the population.

A 2012 study by Dr. Witt, an infectious disease specialist in California, found  whooping cough is more prevalent in vaccinated children that those who are not vaccinated. In 2010, a mumps outbreak occurred in New Jersey in more than 1,000 children, over 80 per cent of whom had been vaccinated with the MMR shot. A study in New Zealand found that children born after 1977, who were vaccinated, were 25 per cent more likely to contract asthma. Finally, in June of this year, a couple in Italy won their court case when it was conclusively established that the MMR vaccine had triggered autism in their child. The MMR shot in Italy contains the same “ingredients” as in North America.

There are web links to dozens of cases that have proven vaccines trigger all sorts of diseases in children. Allopathic medicine is not interested in curing. It only treats symptoms and pushes invasive procedures of surgery and medicine that create more complications. Also, Health Canada does not perform any independent studies of any drug. They simply review the data supplied to them by the companies seeking approval.

Do your due diligence, become enlightened and educated about what is going in you and your children. Hopefully you will realize you are being deceived and much of the information you need to know is being suppressed.

Kevin Inglehart

Here’s my response. I wasn’t able to include my references in the letter to the editor, but I’ve included them here.

After reading Kevin Inglehart’s rant against vaccinations, I had to respond in order to provide a counterpoint in the hope that local people will not be convinced by this misleading information to skip their flu shots.

In Mr. Inglehart’s letter, he cites a study by a Dr. Witt that found that “whooping cough is more prevalent in vaccinated children than those who are not vaccinated.” If you look more closely at the study, Dr. Witt’s actual conclusion was that the whooping cough vaccine IS effective, but its effectiveness doesn’t last as long as originally thought. The number of whooping cough cases increased as the vaccine’s effectiveness diminished, and then decreased as children received their booster shot at age 12. The original claim, that most of the cases were in vaccinated children, is true but only because vaccinated children were the majority (78% on average in North America) in the first place. This is like saying that the number of right-handed children who get whooping cough is higher than the number of left-handed children who get it. Absolutely true, but it does not mean that left-handers are less likely to get sick. In general, unvaccinated children are eight times as likely to get whooping cough as vaccinated children.

Ironically, right in the middle of the front page of Dr. Witt’s clinic’s web site, there is a notice urging people to get their flu shots. If Mr. Inglehart is looking for a doctor to agree with his anti-vaccination position, he will have to look elsewhere.

Yes, outbreaks can still occur among vaccinated children, as evidenced by the mumps epidemic mentioned by Mr. Inglehart. However, such outbreaks are far smaller and the symptoms far less dangerous than if the majority of children were not vaccinated. The facts speak for themselves: The mumps vaccine was first used in 1967 and since then, the number of reported cases has decreased in the US from 186,000 per year to less than 500 per year.

Thousands of children have died and hundreds of thousands have become sick from diseases for which there are effective vaccines. On the other hand, the number of cases of autism that have been conclusively and scientifically proven to have been caused by vaccines is zero.  The Autism Science Foundation itself states “The studies are very clear; there is no relationship in the data between vaccines and autism.” In the court case in Italy, the autism-vaccination link was “conclusively established” by the judge, not by scientists. Actual scientists are outraged with the finding since it, and most anti-vaccination arguments, stem from a single study in England from the late 1990’s that was later proven to be not only false but also fraudulent.

If you believe that the entire health care industry (including millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, scientists, and other health care professionals around the world) is a global conspiracy to keep people sick, then nothing I write here will change your mind. For the rest of us, vaccinations are a safe and effective defense against many diseases including the flu. For the record, I am not a member of the health care industry, just someone who has done exactly what Mr. Inglehart has suggested – my own research.

References for all the claims I have made above are available at

Graeme Perrow

Update: My letter was not printed, but they did print another similar one from a professor at the University of Guelph. While it would have been cool if they had printed mine, I’m very glad they printed something, and something from a professor might carry more weight with people than from a regular guy like me. If there’s anyone who read the first letter and was considering not getting a flu shot because of it, hopefully this one will convince them otherwise.

Live long and prosper

I saw a posting on facebook recently about Lonesome George, the giant tortoise who passed away last week. He was the last of his species, and some comments lamented the loss of another species from the planet and talked about how humans are destroying the habitats of many animal species, which I cannot disagree with. But then I saw this comment (emphasis mine):

I’m not much into doomsday prophecies, but I do think that if we don’t reduce our number VERY soon, nature will do it for us. Perhaps a world-wide epidemic, or mass-psychosis causing war. This is not the right time to make people live longer and treat infertility. Too stupid for words.

As someone whose mother (in her 70’s) is currently fighting cancer and whose sister recently had a baby via a surrogate because of infertility (also due to cancer treatment), I think making people live longer and treating infertility is not only a good idea, it’s our duty as human beings.

Firstly, I thought it funny that this person says they’re “not much into doomsday prophesies” and then proceeds to make one. The infertility thing I disagree with, but I suppose I can understand the logic. There are lots of unwanted children born around the world, and infertile people usually have the option of adopting one of them, rather than making a whole new one. But this is a very personal choice and who are you to decide that someone else should not have a child who is biologically theirs just because they have to jump through a few more medical hoops to do it than the average person?

But the other comment is mind-boggling. How do we as a species not try our hardest to make people live longer? What does this person suggest we do? Abandon medical research? Deny the elderly medical care? Don’t bother curing childhood diseases that we can cure like polio and smallpox because that reduces the number of people who survive to adulthood (and therefore the number that will procreate)? A girl we know survived life-saving transplant surgery when she was six months old; she is now fifteen. Should they have just let her die as a baby? Hell, I had my own life-saving surgery two years ago – should they not have bothered?

Too stupid for words indeed.

Legalized magic

There is a piece of legislation in Ontario whose mere existence has me baffled. Essentially, it allows people who perform acts of magic to give themselves a title and makes it illegal to give yourself that particular title without being licensed to do so. This is like my having the ability to call myself a frobshmirtzer because I can talk to invisible aliens from the planet Frob, but if you try to call yourself a frobshmirtzer, you will get fined. I don’t have to prove or even demonstrate that I can talk to such aliens, or even that they exist. I can just say that modern science doesn’t have the right tools to be able to detect these aliens but trust me, I can. The government has decided that someone calling themself a frobshmirtzer without having this ability is somehow against the public good, so they have outlawed it. Only in this case, the word isn’t frobshmirtzer, it’s “acupuncturist”.

I did a fair bit of research for this article. I look around for studies that examined the effectiveness of acupuncture, and found many that showed that it was completely ineffective, or at least no more effective than placebo. There are special tools that can be used to simulate the needles without actually inserting them into the skin (amusingly called “sham acupuncture”), and there are studies that show that sham acupuncture is just as effective as “real” acupuncture. There are studies that show that inserting the needles into random places on the body, rather than the magic acupuncture points, is also just as effective. I did find a number of studies that showed it to be very effective in certain cases, but those studies were either done by or funded by agencies that were associated with holistic medicine and therefore had a vested interest in positive results. I’m afraid that a study showing how effective acupuncture is does not carry much weight with me if it was done by the Department of Holistic Wellness at a Chinese university.

But I have to be honest here. I also found a few studies that showed it to be effective without any obvious bias in the study or flaws in how it was done. Now, I’m not a trained scientist, so I can’t always look at a study and see what was done wrong; it’s possible that these studies had biases (obvious, unintentional, or well-hidden) in them or other problems that discount or completely invalidate the results. I don’t know for sure, so I have to take them at face value. But whenever I hear about such a study on one of the several skeptical podcasts I listen to, the podcasters (who are trained scientists) point out the flaws in the study. Long story short: if there have been peer-reviewed clinical trials showing the effectiveness of acupuncture whose results have been analyzed and repeated by other researchers (none of whom have any conflicts of interest), mainstream science hasn’t seen them.

Can I say with absolute certainty that acupuncture never works better than placebo? No, of course not. What I can say with absolute certainty is that nobody has ever given a scientifically plausible explanation of how it works that is consistent with what we know about the human body and doesn’t resort to special pleadings about undetectable energy fields. At best it is an unproven and controversial practice. To me, it is appalling that there is an Ontario law that gives it credence and treats it like a perfectly valid and accepted form of medical treatment.

The legislation in question is called the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act, 2006. It’s a fairly short act that essentially does the following:

  • defines “traditional Chinese medicine” as “the assessment of body system disorders through traditional Chinese medicine techniques and treatment using traditional Chinese medicine therapies to promote, maintain or restore health.
  • establishes a body called the “College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario
  • authorizes members of the College to perform acupuncture and to give “a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis identifying a body system disorder as the cause of a person’s symptoms using traditional Chinese medicine techniques
  • states that only members of the College can call themselves “acupuncturist” or “traditional Chinese medicine practitioner” and lists the penalties

This act seems to be a work in progress – five years later, the College has not yet been created. The government has created The Transitional Council of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, whose goal is to “develop regulations and establish the College“. One thing I found amusing on their web site was that one of the standards they plan to create is to define “what are considered acts of professional misconduct“. How do you define professional misconduct in an industry that is entirely based on fallacy?

I do not believe that all acupuncturists are charlatans, liars or cheats. I’m sure many of them, likely even the majority, honestly believe that what they are doing is effective. The placebo effect is very powerful, and confirmation bias is very difficult to see through. You likely know people, or perhaps you’re one yourself, who have gone to a psychic and come away saying “wow, she really nailed it!” Then they can tell you ten facts the psychic said about that person that were exactly right. Did they mention, or do they even remember, the other thirty facts that she got wrong? “I’m hearing a name, a woman’s name. Marcie? Marge? Margaret? Mary?”  “Yes, I have an Aunt Mary who died two years ago! Wow, it’s amazing how she knew that!” She only got 25% of her guesses right and you think she did a great job. That’s confirmation bias. It’s highly possible that an acupuncturist will unintentionally take credit for those patients who seem to be positively affected by acupuncture, and dismiss those for whom acupuncture does not work as the anomalies, saying “well, it doesn’t work for everyone”.

I am angered by the fact that our government has wasted time and money discussing the “issue” of non-registered acupuncturists and coming up with a plan to register them. Acupuncturists make their living inserting needles into people’s bodies and telling them it will heal them, when everything we know about medicine tells us that it can’t work, and countless studies show that it doesn’t. This practice, according to the Ontario government, is OK. But calling yourself an acupuncturist when you’re not licenced to do so is illegal and you will be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offense. This is so ass-backwards that it makes my head spin.

I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me.

I’m really sorry, my occasional companion of several years, but I think it’s over. It’s just not fun for me anymore. The first couple of years were great, and I looked forward to all the good times we’d have in the future. And then last year I got really sick and had to leave you for a while. Now I’m better but it’s just not the same between us, so I think I’m going to have to move on. I tried, I really did – this past summer I kept persevering despite my lack of enjoyment. I kept hoping I’d get that old feeling back, but I never did. It’s no use fighting it anymore.

I’ve decided to quit running.

We first met in October of 2008, when I “accidentally” ran a 5k. I meant to walk it, but decided at the last second to start off running and just never stopped. I hurt for days, but it kind of felt good at the same time, and we started our relationship. I started running regularly the next spring, and by September I was running 10-15km per week and loving it. I’d be approaching home after having run 3 or 4 km, my legs sore, sweating and breathing hard but feeling good, and think “do I still have enough in the tank to circle the block once more? Or go around this crescent, just to add an extra half-kilometre?” Sometimes I would go the extra bit, sometimes not, but the thought was always there. I looked forward to my runs and was disappointed when I got up and it was raining and I had to run on the treadmill instead. Each week or two I’d go a little bit longer until one day I ran from home along Dundas to Hollybush to Parkside to Hamilton and back along Dundas home (which I know means squat to those of you who don’t live in Waterdown), a distance of about 5.8 km. I remember the feeling I had coming home from that particular run. It was my longest ever and I still felt great. I started to think that by the next summer, running a 10k wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

I bought special running shoes and clothes. I ran outside during the winter as long as it wasn’t too cold and the ground was mostly clear. My sister and parents bought me an iPod Nano with Nike+ for my 40th birthday, and I started “broadcasting” my runs on Facebook and Twitter. I subscribed to a running magazine. I brought my running stuff on vacation with me. I was a runner. Me and you, baby, we were going hot and heavy.

And then I got sick. February 5, 2010. Severe acute necrotizing pancreatitis. I’ve written about it before so I won’t go into the details here, but in a nutshell, it was a nightmare. I spent two months in hospital, ate no solid food the whole time, had major abdominal surgery, and was off work for another 3 months after coming home. In the hospital, my exercise consisted of taking my IV pole for a walk around the floor – two laps if I was exceptionally energetic. Once I got home, it was walking up and down a flight of stairs four or five times, and then lying down on the couch because I was wiped out. I got home from the hospital at the beginning of April, and in mid-May, I started walking around the block (less than 1km). By the end of the summer I could walk several kilometres without being exhausted, but it wasn’t until November that I started actually running again. But, my dear, things were different between us.

I started off with the path I used to take when you and I were first starting out. About 3 km, and I’d run until I got tired and then walk for a while, then run again. It wasn’t as much fun as I remembered, but I’d gone through a lot and in some respects I was still recovering, so I figured I’d give it some time. I didn’t go out much during the winter, and I tried to run on the treadmill now and again but you know how it is, dear, I never liked running on that thing. Then spring came and I could run outside again. It still wasn’t great, and it took a long time before I could even run the 3k path without stopping to walk in the middle. I ran a lot in July, then fell off the wagon in August, got back on in September and have been doing OK since then. But I’ll be honest, it really hasn’t been fun for a long time.

I have yet to get back to 5k – my longest this year was 4.12km. Only a couple of times did I finish a run without stopping to walk for a couple of minutes. My stamina seemed to plateau quickly, and I got frustrated with my lack of progress. Not once did I think about running just a little longer like I used to – it was always “how long until I can stop?” Getting up early to run was a chore and I had to force myself to do it. A few times I convinced myself I heard rain so I went back to bed – only to find the ground completely dry when I did get up. Sometimes while running I decided to cut the run short because it was colder than I had expected or my legs were exceptionally sore or whatever, it was one excuse after another. But the root problem was always there – it just wasn’t fun anymore.

So my dear, I’m afraid this is the end for us.  It was fun while it lasted, and I’ll never forget some of the great times we had together, but I’ve changed and it’s just not working between us anymore. It’s an old cliché but it’s really true – it’s not you, it’s me. I still want to stay in shape, so I’m going to try and hit the weight bench a couple of times a week over the winter. I hope you’re not jealous. Maybe next spring when the weather gets nice again I might give you another try, but I can’t promise anything. Take care, sweetheart.