Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ridiculous Radiation

A recent article in the Guardian exposes the pseudoscientific claims of Dr Christopher Busby, who has been promoting his ‘anti-radiation tablets’1. These are calcium and magnesium tablets which he has been targeting to the vulnerable and desperate Japanese people, at exorbitant prices in the wake of the recent nuclear disaster. His claims are not only untrue but highly misleading, as well as including unfounded statements that the Japanese government is trying to cover up the disaster and deliberately hurt its people.

Firstly, to make one thing very clear, there is no such thing as an ‘anti-radiation tablet’, or any other kind of medical prevention (except if you wish to wear a lead suit of armor everyday). Nuclear disasters are highly rare occurrences, and so even if medical prevention did exist, it would be a waste of time for the vast majority of individuals. Of the many by-products produced in the fusion from a nuclear disaster, one of which is radioactive iodide, the negative effect of this can by reduced by taking potassium iodide, as this will out compete the radioactive iodide for the natural affinity for the thyroid, where it would become concentrated and lead to thyroid cancer, however this only protects against thyroid cancer specifically, and has no protective effects on all the other types of cancer which are likely to occur depending on the levels and duration of ionizing radiation exposure. The WHO recommends 130mg of potassium iodide (which is 700 times the daily required dose) would be protective against thyroid cancer, small doses can be obtained through iodized salt, however 1kg of salt would be required to get sufficient protective levels, and this would be a lethal quantity of salt. But luckily potassium iodide is widely available in tablet form, even though its protective effects are limited. However, even this is highly unnecessary, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people ordering these tablets, with production companies being swamped with orders2.

Other treatments for radiation effects include the use of antibiotics, because of the radiations negative effects on the rapidly self replenishing intestine, and so vomiting and nausea are common side effects, which are eased by reducing the levels of bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract.

However, Dr Busby's tablets only contain calcium and magnesium, which he states provide protection from radiation, but lacks any scienitific studies or research to support these claims. It is hard to imagine why Dr Christopher Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster would be supporting these mineral supplements, but it soon becomes clear when you find out that he actually runs the lab where the tests would be carried out and sells the tablets through the website www.4u-detox.com, and so would stand to gain financially from promoting them. He has a PhD in Chemical Physics, which goes to show that scientists can also be mislead and fooled by flim-flam. However, his anti-nuclear stance and subsequent promotion of pseudoscientific treatments for scared and desperate individuals living in the areas surrounding the disaster, is not only unethical but promotes the belief in miracle cures rather than trust in the local government and healthcare providers to address the risks and provide appropriate treatments.

Japan has fair more stringent regulations than even Europe on the acceptable levels of radiation, not only from direct human exposure, but in food and water as well1, making the need for personal testing of urine or water outside of the evacuation zone not only pointless but a waste of money. It is understandable that when people are scared they act irrationally and don’t always check all the facts when they hear about a new treatment or prevention, but it is the scientific community and the medias responsibility to put the spotlight on these charlatans and expose the fraud and fake claims, in order to promote critical thinking and protect the most vulnerable people within our communities.

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/21/christopher-busby-radiation-pills-fukushima?INTCMP=SRCH
2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/16/anti-radiation-tablet-sales-soar-us?INTCMP=SRCH

E Markham (2011). Ridiculous Radiation Blogspot
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Monday, 21 November 2011

Awful Alternatives

A wonderful article in the Guardian this week is discussing the ethics of alternative medicine1, which at best is seen as a placebo and harmless, however this article explores how these treatments can actually be more harmful than no treatment. This may seem surprising at first, after all, treatments like homeopathy don’t contain a single molecule of the drug, so how could taking this possibly be harmful? However, many alternative medicine practitioners do not give patients all the information, the information is often misleading or wrong, and they also fail to obtain informed consent, which is a basic requirement of ethical medical practice. Another interesting finding is that those receiving a treatment have the belief that it is doing something beneficial, and so are more likely to have increased risky behaviour, because subconsciously they believe that the treatment will be counteracting such actions, for example smokers given a treatment they were told was a detox and would improve their health, and those given this treatment increased the amount they smoked in comparison to the control group2.

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/nov/08/alternative-medicine-ethics-free-zone
2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/oct/11/placebos-reiki-cancer-patients-harm

E Markham (2011). Awful Alternatives Blogspot
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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ubertan Unsafe

A nasal spray called Ubertan is a product which has become increasingly popular among people looking to get the perfect tan. It is available at most tanning salons and online, but upon examination of the bottle something seeming missing, the ingredients. When several concerned users contacted the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) a full investigation in to this product was launched 1. It has since been determined that Ubertan is an unlicensed medication, which mean it is both illegal to sell or advertise Ubertan. The products website appears to have been taken down, but upon further investigation it appears to have simply changed its name, from www.ubertan.com to http://tryubertan.net/. The websites most recent comments date from the 24th of June, before media coverage of the risks of ubertan products. Since then, no-one has been able to get a statement from the company. Even so, many people are desperate to get hold of this product despite its risks. There is even a Facebook group dedicated to Ubertan, where many women exchange links to websites of where to illegally obtain ubertan products. But is it worth it? One of the biggest risks would be possible allergic reactions or medical complications due to taking the product, and this would be compounded by the fact that the ingredients of the product are unknown, so the doctors would not know an effective treatment.

E Markham (2011). Ubertan unsafe Blogspot
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