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January 2011

Just how clean is clean enough?

That's the first line of my current Health News Digest piece.

While the main focus of the article is on proper cleaning techniques for the now-ubiquitous LCD screens—including a great product originally developed for NASA and the military—we speculate on when "clean" jumped from a macro to a micro phenomenon. Thus, I discuss Germ theory, as well as describe one of the first homicide cases solved by trace evidence.

For those who want more sordid details on this 1936 murder in NYC, grab the particulars, and then Google the case.

Are You Kidding Yourself?

Regular readers of this blog know that I am no fan of the cholesterol theory of heart disease. Despite the mountain of evidence against this so-called causation, (cholesterol-lowering) statins are the best-selling class of drugs in the world.

Lipitor_ad Late last year, Pfizer started running a print campaign on Lipitor® with the unintentionally paradoxical headline "Are You Kidding Yourself?"


Let's examine the copy...

"Did you know, more than 80% of people who have had heart attacks have high cholesterol?"

Try as I might, I cannot find a source for this assertion, which is also made on the product's website.

Interestingly, this flies in the face of conclusions from the famed Framingham study, which found that as many as one third of all coronary heart disease (CHD) events occurred in individuals with total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL.

Considering that the average U.S. cholesterol level is approximately 210 to 220 mg/dL, almost half of all heart attack events and all stroke events that will occur in the United States in 1997 will in fact occur among individuals with below-average lipid levels.1

I did find an "80 percent" quote, but it doesn't exactly support Pfizer's assertions, either:

Framingham researchers reported that “80 percent of heart attack patients had similar lipid levels [i.e., fat levels in the blood] to those who did not have heart attacks.”2


"For 2 out of 3 people with high cholesterol, diet and exercise may not be enough."

I'm not sure where they got that one, but it's pretty vague, isn't it? For one thing, they are not defining "high cholesterol," and "may not" be enough is hardly a scientific fact.

After all, it "may" or "may not" be enough, according to that logic.  Besides, what's "enough" supposed to signify?


Along with diet, Lipitor has been shown to lower bad cholesterol 39-60% (average effect depending on dose).

Well, no one is disputing that the drug lowers bad cholesterol, and, indeed, that's what the FDA approved. However, Lipitor is not very effective in preventing heart attacks, and that's surely why people are taking it!

Pifzer once claimed that the drug reduces heart attacks by 36 percent, but when you read the fine print you discover what that really means.

In a large clinical study, 3% of patients taking a sugar pill or placebo had a heart attack compared to 2% of patients taking Lipitor.

Or, put another way: For every 100 people who took the drug over 3.3 years, three people on placebos, and two people on Lipitor, had heart attacks. That means that taking Lipitor resulted in just one fewer heart attack per 100 people.

What dietary changes did these subjects undergo?  What about other lifestyle factors?  Were they all normalized?


The display ad is accompanied by "Important Facts," which address some of the side effects of the drug.  Any drug that messes with how your liver processes cholesterol is going to have plenty of side effects, and some of them are quite nasty.

The tag line of the ad is "Don't kid yourself."  That's one thing that Pfizer and I can agree on.


1 Castelli WP. "Lipids, risk factors and ischaemic heart disease." Atherosclerosis 1996;124(Suppl):S1-9.

2 Gordon, T., Castelli, W.P., Hjortland, M.C., et al, “High density lipoprotein as a positive factor against coronary heart disease,” The Framingham Study, American Journal of Medicine May 1977;707-714

A needless, nationwide bed bug epidemic

Alan Caruba nails it with his recent piece on the EPA-caused bed bug epidemic. Just one more example of how the EPA is the worst federal agency, bar none.

And, let me tell you, there is plenty of competition.

Caruba's blog is required reading, especially if you've had enough of the conventional "wisdom."

What about naturopathic medicine?

This week's HND piece examines naturopathic medicine, and features an interview with Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua—better known as Dr. JJ—an ND (naturopathic doctor), with a PhD in pharmacy sciences from the University of Toronto.

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and cutting edge natural therapies to enhance their bodies' ability to ward off and combat disease. Dr. JJ takes this a bit further, and works in conjunction with conventional docs, to bring all available treatment modalities to his patients.

Typically, and especially in Canada where conventional medical treatment is routinely covered by the government—and NDs are not—patients will visit alternative practitioners only after they are dissatisfied with their covered, conventional treatment. So, these patients are clearly motivated, and that definitely helps.

While some NDs and MDs are poles apart, many others will cooperate, and this is all to the benefit of the patient.

Read the complete article.

Does Peter Pronovost really have a magic bullet to reduce hospital-acquired infections?

Probably not, but who knows? After all, his ridiculously obvious and rudimentary checklist protocol has never actually been audited and verified by an independent third party. In other words, the hospitals are simply reporting their own infection rates. Kind of like a kid writing out his own report card. Yet, the protocol and its promoter have achieved cult status.

This is the topic of my latest HND piece.

You'd think that with all the publicity he's received, Pronovost would be more than happy to have his methods tested in a scientific manner, but from all reports, he has rejected such requests. Meanwhile, he has become nothing less than a media star. Certainly, the hospital industry loves him because by adopting his protocol, they can show incredible reductions in rates of infection. And, in some cases, they can even get better reimbursement from the Feds.

Frankly, it's appalling how little critical feedback there has been, not to mention the embarrassingly fawning media coverage. Beyond the myriad confounding factors, there is one other little problem: Just because a protocol has been "adopted" does not prove that it is actually being used. Compliance with his protocol has apparently never been audited, either.

To me, it's all voodoo until proven otherwise. Read the complete article.

Seven ways to improve health care and the environment in 2011

My latest HND piece starts the year off with some suggestions. These are:


1.   Encourage telecommuting on a much grander scale

2.   Apply rigorous tort reform to medical malpractice

3.   Temper medicine's current obsession with blood numbers

4.   Promote accountability at the EPA

5.   Reform the medical education cartel

6.   Bring real editorial boards back to scientific journals

7.   Promote a healthy skepticism within the general public


All seven of these precepts are obvious, but are still overlooked, mostly because there is no direct way to make money with any of them. Of course, all of them will SAVE money, but who in leadership really cares about that? If they did, they would do more than just talk about it, right?

Read the complete article, where I fill in the details.

Driving US families into fuel poverty (Guest article)

Will America learn in time from the price being paid by British companies and families?

By   Niger Innis, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, and Amy Frederick


The Obama Administration still hasn't gotten the message voters sent Washington on November 2.

The lame duck session and 111th Congress finally ended, without the White House getting key items on its wish list. So now, the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department intend to impose costly, job-killing, economy-strangling new rules for power plants and refineries, and implement more land-grabs that will lock up additional millions of acres and more billions of dollars of American energy.

Their goal is to end the hydrocarbon and nuclear era in America, and force us to convert to "renewable" energy. Beginning January 2, they plan to ignore clear voter mandates and consumer needs—and use regulations and executive edicts to slash carbon dioxide emissions, impose "clean energy standards," halt onshore and offshore drilling, and hobble the vehicles, electrical generating plants and factories that are the backbone of our nation's economy, jobs and living standards.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims these actions are needed to ensure "environmental justice" for poor and minority families threatened by "man-made global warming." Meanwhile, the United States and entire Northern Hemisphere are enduring yet another nasty winter, marked by early snow storms and record cold temperatures. Some scientists say Earth could be entering another prolonged period of cooler temperatures.

Businesses, workers and families face unemployment, injustice, bankruptcy and worse at the hands of their government, if this regulatory power grab continues.

The Congressional Research Service says average US households will pay almost $1,000 this winter just for heat. That's average: Alaska to Florida, Hawaii to New York. Northern states residents will pay double or triple that. Businesses, schools and hospitals will also be hammered.

In Cobb County, Georgia, hundreds shivered outside to apply for heating assistance from a welfare agency that may not have enough money for every family that needs help. Along the Canadian border, in St. Lawrence County, New York, over 8,000 households were approved for heating aid by cash-strapped local, county and state governments that wonder where the money will come from—while Albany has blocked drilling for shale gas that could fuel homes and power plants, and generate billions in revenue.

All this is before the Feds actually implement more of the job-killing, family-freezing CO2 limits and other plans they are contemplating. To see what's in store for millions of American businesses and families, one need only look at the planet's sole country that still obstinately clings to its draconian climate change and renewable energy goals, regardless of the costs.

Across Great Britain, household energy bills could double by 2020, to $3,900 (£2,500) a year, market expert Mark Todd of has warned. Gasoline prices are likewise climbing to unaffordable levels, and the majority of United Kingdom companies will see their natural gas and electricity prices skyrocket by 100% between 2012 and 2016—on top of a carbon tax bill of "at least" $65,660 (£42,000) annually—according to the analytical firm Carbon Masters.

Moreover, most of Britain's older coal-fired and nuclear power plants are scheduled to be shut down, with almost nothing to replace them, even as electricity demand rises. That could bring widespread blackouts, said the Daily Mail, and cause hundreds of thousands of UK jobs to be outsourced to countries where energy costs are much lower, and air pollution and carbon dioxide emission standards far less stringent. That will hardly improve England's economy or global environmental quality.

Far worse, more than 5.5 million households will be plunged into "fuel poverty" by early 2011—forced to spend more than 10% of their family incomes on energy—National Energy Action and other charities said. That's over one-fifth of all UK households and a major increase from 4.5 million families in 2008. Most in these households are over age 60, but working families are also struggling to keep the heat on, as prices soar.

Nearly 28,000 people died in Britain last winter, most of them pensioners who could not afford adequate heat. Charities say this is the highest winter death rate in northern Europe, worse even than much colder nations like Finland and Sweden. And this winter has already seen the coldest December night for Wales in 169 years of record keeping. Britain is on track to having its coldest December in a century.

To stay warm, thousands of elderly are using travel passes to ride buses all day, while others seek refuge in libraries and shopping centers, the Sunday Express noted. Others are "putting their health at risk, in an attempt to keep costs down," by bundling up and turning the heat down or off entirely, said Age UK Charity Director Michelle Mitchell.

Now, amid the Christmas and New Year holiday, two million homes, schools and hospitals face fuel rationing. Some families could wait weeks before they can get their fuel oil tanks refilled, as more snow falls across Great Britain.

Meanwhile, the British government has cut funding for its Warm Front heating assistance program from $470 million this year to $172 million in 2011, Consumer Focus campaigner Jonathan Stearn angrily noted. And because the winds barely blow during the coldest weather, Britain's "shiny new green" turbines were able to supply only "one-500th of the exceptionally large demand" for electricity during the frigid weather of early December, Sunday Times columnist Dominic Lawson ruefully observed.

That's a tiny fraction of the wind turbines' "rated capacity." But it is a situation commonly faced with turbines on freezing Minnesota winter nights and sweltering Texas summer afternoons, when they average a measly 10% of the electricity output their subsidy-hungry backers say they are capable of.

Is this what Lisa Jackson would call "environmental justice"? How do her actions, perverse notions of "justice," and government-driven energy price spikes square with a 2009 poll by Wilson Research Strategies? It found that 56% of blacks think politicians and bureaucrats setting climate change policy in Washington fail to consider economic and quality of life concerns in the black community. Fully 76% are unwilling to pay more than $50 a year more for electricity, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Northern US winters are far worse than even record-setters in Britain. Why would anyone want to impose costly and nightmarish energy and environmental policies on American families, rich or poor?

The outgoing Congress nearly enacted a bill that would have provided much needed congressional checks on EPA actions. The Murkowski bill fell just short in a Senate dominated by partisan Democrats. The incoming Senate should be far more supportive of such legislation, especially in the face of EPA and other attempts to override the will of Congress and the American people.

The Affordable Power Alliance will urge the new Congress to honor its constitutional duties, and prevent the Obama administration from imposing excessive regulations inspired by extreme ideologies. Congress, including Democrats up for reelection in 2012, needs to heed the overwhelming public demand that America's economy no longer be held hostage by an elitist environmental network—even if that network includes the President of the United States.

Niger Innis is national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, a 68-year-old human rights organization; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, America's largest Hispanic Christian organization, with 25,434 member churches; Amy Frederick is president of 60 Plus, a senior citizens advocacy organization representing over 500,000 seniors nationwide. The three are co-chairs of the Affordable Power Alliance, a humanitarian coalition of civil rights, minority, small business, senior citizen and faith-based organizations that champion access to affordable energy.

My comment: This is just one more tragic example of how the Green movement has become little more than an elitist fantasy played out on the backs of the poor and the third world, propped up by never-ending subsidies. Your tax dollars at work, folks. Talk about a "brood of vipers..."

Mandatory insurance

A good deal of fuss is being made about that provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) which mandates the purchase of health insurance. Many people feel that this provision is unconstitutional, and at least one federal case (Commonwealth of Virginia v. Kathleen Sibelius) found for the plaintiffs.

The legal theory in the Virginia case came down to a question of whether the provision was a tax or a penalty. The defendants presented it as a tax, but the Court was unpersuaded. The Court concluded that Congress lacked power under the Commerce Clause to compel an individual to involuntarily engage in a private commercial transaction, as stipulated by Obamacare's "Minimum Essential Coverage Provision."

The Court also held that the power of Congress under Article I, Section 8 is not unlimited. Nice thought, but really it's too little, too late. If giving Congress the power to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes" permits all that has already been done under the Commerce Clause, the genie has been out of the bottle for a long, long time.

Ironically, the model the Left should have used was the Social Security Act of 1935, in which a nearly universal old-age pension (an insurance product) would be financed by a payroll tax. Clearly, that is how nationalized health care is financed in every other country. However, such a straightforward move would look too much like "socialized medicine," and the direct approach was not taken.

No one seems to care that socialized medicine—as in Medicare— has been with us since 1965. Moreover, Medicare has influenced all other aspects of how health care is delivered, regardless of who is paying for it.

The direct approach was also not taken because a myriad of details have not yet been worked out, and are left in the Act to the discretion of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. I guess the policy wonks who came up with this mess were not all that wonkish, after all.

When the Act was first approved, I was waiting for some conservative commentator with a contrarian bent to ask this question: If it's so bad to force people to buy health insurance (Obamacare), why is it OK to force them to buy an old-age pension (Social Security)?

A corollary to this question would be: If it is OK to force people to purchase an old-age pension, why don't they at least have their choice of vendors, as they would under the Obamacare provision? Why must it be purchased from the Federal government?

I guess the insurance industry lobbyists have a lot more stroke now, than they did in 1935.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.