Probiotics, dumb eye guards, gene therapy, and more…

FSM news and articles

A triumph of hype or self-care? Among over-the-counter products sold in pharmacies, which do not require a prescription, natural health products were the largest selling items in 2015–16 ($1.4 billion). Dr Harvey isn’t completely against all natural health products, pointing out that there are some vitamins and supplements that can make a positive difference.

“There are a few! For example, folate in women wanting to get pregnant (preconception) and in pregnancy, iodine in pregnancy and while breastfeeding, Vitamin D in people with deeply pigmented skin, or chronic and severe lack of sun exposure for cultural, medical, occupational or residential reasons,” he highlights. “But most Australians can get what they need most of time from a healthy diet containing fish, fruit and vegetables. Supplements are no substitute for the latter. And there is more and more evidence that many benefits touted are illusory.”


Prescription drugs keep popping up in dietary supplements: For example, some muscle-building supplements were found to include actual steroids or similar ingredients, while sexual enhancement supplements were found to contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Over 150 of the tested supplements contained more than one unapproved ingredient. Clearly taking substances without your knowledge presents a host of potential hazards – but I cannot help but appreciate the irony of these ‘alternatives’ containing the very drugs they are purporting to be ‘alternatives’ to.

Your probiotic may not be doing you any good — and could even cause harm: One of the mainstays of the current “Wellness” craze is the use of probiotics. The two studies quoted have shown that probiotics can do nothing, very little or actually inhibit the recolonisation of the gut with beneficial bacteria. And this was in the context of post-antibiotic treatment. So whether we’re talking about daily Yakult, the lunacy of Inner Health Plus (who needs the bacteria from 22 tubs of yoghurt?), or the newest hip trend Kombucha, you are likely just wasting your money. Quoting local gastroenterologist Dr Dan Worthley, The best way of supporting a healthy gut microbiome was with a good diet. “Fundamentally what is indisputable is having a balanced diet rich in vegetables, which helps to foster a healthy microbiome. It’s the cornerstone on which a healthy gut is built.”

I  reviewed all 161 of GOOP’s wellness products for pseudoscience. Here’s what I found: Despite Gwyneth Paltrow claiming that she has a whole team of scientists and a regulatory team in place, preventing pseudoscience within her brand, It is still a ‘quackorium’. 90% of products sold by ‘Goop’ are completely unsupportable by science. The remaining 10% are either personal choice items or classified as ‘not COMPLETELY useless’, but that is hardly a recommendation.

‘Eye guard’ vitamins claiming to act as ‘natural sunglasses’ against screens are the dumb $15 product parents waste money on: The product claims to “filter blue light” and act as “natural sunglasses” to help protect the eye from sunlight and digital device screens. …Bioglan’s tablets are a waste of money designed to “treat parental guilt” and actually have no health benefits.”

Five lifestyle changes to enhance your mood and mental health: Positive lifestyle changes aren’t a replacement for medication or psychological therapy but, rather, as something people can undertake themselves on top of their treatment. While many lifestyle changes can be positive, some changes (such as avoiding junk foods, alcohol, or giving up smoking) may be challenging if being used as a psychological crutch. They might need to be handled delicately, and with professional support. 

Strict advice promoting abstinence, or a demanding diet or exercise regime, may cause added suffering, potentially provoking guilt if you can’t meet these expectations. So go easy on yourself. That said, take a moment to reflect how you feel mentally after a nutritious wholefood meal, a good night’s sleep (free of alcohol), or a walk in nature with a friend.

Abused Health Concept

Slick social media video memes:  Academics fight back against junk science, health scamsMr Jonathan Jarry, a science communicator at McGill University’s Office for Science and Society (OSS), created a video, which was released this past June and quickly went viral, racking up over 10 million views. His goal was to counteract the influence of many similar such videos circulating online. Junk science claims run rampant on the internet.

“Besides videos, there are Facebook pages, meetings, an entire ecosystem online that caters to people with hard-to-treat conditions. These claims are tinged with conspirational thinking and provide easy answers to complicated problems,” says Mr. Jarry. “It’s very hard to fight this tide of misinformation. Scams often tout miracle cures, boasting overnight results, with little or no empirical evidence – such as large-scale studies – for the product’s efficacy,” says Dr Bernie Garrett, an associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia. He notes that claiming a “cure,” as opposed to a treatment, is itself suspect. “Claims of miracle cures are a classic warning sign. No physician or nurse will tell you, ‘this is a cure for your condition,’ because we can’t guarantee that.”

Thanks to Science

Boyer Lectures: gene therapy is still in its infancy but the future looks promisingSo I made a mistake this week – I watched the 2018 blockbuster Rampage. And while Rampage is a poor film for many, MANY reasons*, what stuck out to me was the terrible grasp of CRISPR technology the screenwriters had. And for this I was glad. I was glad because the plot was so far-fetched* it seemed obvious that no-one would confuse it with real life. Because CRISPR technology can allow us to edit genes with a precision and ease not possible before. As a scientist I believe we SHOULD explore this technology and use it to help us treat diseases, help the environment, and tackle the problems that face us as a society. But it is STILL an ethical minefield and it will have to be regulated in exactly the right way to allow transparent and ethical research. 

Gene editing so far is used for editing somatic cells – cells already in your body that don’t pass information on to offspring. Someone may be born with a disease where some of their cells are ineffective and we can use genetic editing to fix just these cells. For example, in the skin disease Epidermolysis Bullosa, cells in the skin don’t lay down collagen, and the skin is very weak and breaks and blisters often. Recently, scientists took samples of skin cells from an affected boy, fixed the malfunctioning gene and grew them up in a dish to transplant them back as a skin graft. The cells grew and made the correct collagen protein, restoring barrier function to the skin (check it outhere…/gene-engineered-skin-grafts-save-… ). 

So this explainer tackles some of the uses for gene technology as it applies to health. I’d also recommend the CRISPR episode of ‘Explained’ on Netflix for doing a great job of discussing the ethical issues with this technology. 

*To each their own with movies… but there was a scene where some animals breathed in the CRISPR. Through their lungs.

Great moments in Health and Science

 The evolution of hip replacements: a patent history:Whilst the holy grail of prosthetics is a replacement that exceeds the function of a healthy body part, replacement of severely arthritic hips is an incredibly successful operation that for most patients significantly improves mobility, pain and function.