Monday, August 16, 2010

Autism and Vaccines: The Misinformation Superhighway

I have been hesitant to touch this topic.  The internet is teaming with people who believe vaccines cause autism, and for these people every claim that vaccines are safe strengthens their conviction that they are dangerous.  Those who promote the safety that science has proven are either misguided or even deceitful.  For some, a conspiracy of monumental proportions exists.  Any argument to the counter is simply part of the conspiracy.  It is difficult to argue against the conspiracy theory, when those who believe immunizations are safe can easily be filed into the section labeled "Part of the Conspiracy".   The internet has become a powerful tool to spread information.... and misinformation. 

With that being said, I think those who have the science to back their claims need to be vocal.  People go to the internet to get information and the information that is there can be misleading.  The scientific data is simply swept away by a brisk current of parental case reports and YouTube videos.  How is the open-minded, concerned parent supposed to find the truth in this sea of static?  People like me need to be more vocal. 

So what do we know?  After close to ten years of looking at the subject of vaccines and autism there is not one credible scientific study showing a link between the two.  Not one.  Large epidemiological studies from different countries by different researchers show the same results:  Immunizations are not associated with autism. 

What about thimerosal (the mercury based preservative formerly in vaccines)?  There is no scientific data that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism or neurological problems in children.  None.  Except for multi-dose flu vaccine vials, thimerosal has been removed from vaccines in the US.  Despite this the rate of autism has not decreased.

What about giving children all these vaccines when they are so young?  There is no scientific evidence that vaccinating at an early age leads to autism or neurological problems.  None.  In fact a recently published study looked at this very fact.  What they found was that, in terms of neurological testing, children who received vaccines as recommended by the CDC were no different from those who did not receive vaccines at an early age. 

But these illnesses are not around anymore, right?  Wrong.  Each year there are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illness in the US, including measles, the whooping cough, chickenpox, etc.  These outbreaks typically happen in communities with low immunization rates.

I am a minimalist at heart.  I think modern medicine often tries to do too much.  However, I think immunizing children is the most important thing I do.  It prevents disease and changes outcomes.  Many illnesses that once cause pain, suffering, and death in children are now rare thanks to immunizations.

At some point, those on the immunization fence are going to have to decide whether they will trust the science that exists or put their faith in vocal celebrities, the lady down the street, or the internet persona that will invariably flame me for this post.   I know which one I have trusted when making decisions about my children.  That was easy.

A great link for more on this topic:  The Vaccine Song

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Formula Carousel

You are a new parent. Your infant is gassy, fussy, spitty, and does not sleep much. In other words your infant is a normal baby. You are stressed, and like any good parent, you want to fix what "ails" your infant. As you stroll down the baby aisle at the grocery store, you see labels that tout words like gentle, comfort, and restful. Formula manufacturers are brilliant. They know their clientele and they know how to market to this stressed out audience.   There are formulas to stop your baby from spitting up, ones for gas, ones for fussiness, and even one to help your baby sleep.  If you have a problem, formula manufacturers are there to help.

This is the point when many parents punch their ticket and climb on the formula carousel. They try formula after formula in hopes that their infant will act less like an infant. Some parents do find formula bliss and their infant becomes "better," but there is no rhyme or reason to which formula "fixed" their baby. One family swears that switching from formula A to formula B has made all the difference in the world. The next family tells me that switching from formula B to A has been a lifesaver. I think the placebo effect is probably doing more than the nutritional engineering of the formula.

Most families do not find the cure for what ails their baby. Instead they just ride the carousel, switching from formula to formula, until everything seems to get better around 4 to 6 months old.

I have a few ideas about future formulas that would sell like gangbusters. These are niche formulas, but I am confident a market exists for them. In the same vein of existing formula marketing, my formulas will address specific concerns that parents have.
  • Sneaky Poop:  The perfect blend of nutrients and fiber to keep your infant very regular.  By promoting a healthy digestive system, your baby will strategically have a bowel movement when your spouse is holding him.  No more poopy diapers for you to change.  
  • The Contract:   Vitamins and minerals specially tailored to promote strong muscles and bones, helping your infant to develop athletic prowess and secure a long term, lucrative contract with a professional team.  It is time to get paid. 
  • Harvard Blend:  Specially designed proteins that facilitate brain development and intelligence.  Your child will not be attending a state college.  Start saving now, the Ivy League is in her future. 
  • Harvard Blend plus Early Scholarship:  Containing all the nutritional prowess of Harvard Blend but with Early Scholarship.  Early Scholarship contains specially designed carbohydrates that will aid in your child receiving many scholarships, reducing the need for saving for that Ivy League education. 
Of course there are real medical conditions that require a specific formula, but fortunately these conditions are relatively rare.  Talk with your pediatrician before you get on the carousel.  There is no sense going around in circles if it is not necessary. 

(Unfortunately my mother did not feed me The Contract as an infant, so if you are a representative of a formula manufacturer, please contact me for more ideas on future formulas... for a "small" fee of course.)