Empowered Health: Week 2

So the Vancouver Sun is still forging ahead with it’s largely useless feature called Empowered Health. The general bent of the pieces seems to be that a healthy diet and an active lifestyle are good ideas (whoops, spoilers!), but as is the pattern with woo-friendly journalism, they sneak in a bunch of counterfactual nonsense in there as well under the guise of “alternative” practices. They are an alternative – an alternative to stuff that might actually work.

Let’s forge ahead, shall we?

Supplements: Specialized nutrients for life

Our bodies perform a stunning array of physiological feats on a daily basis. They acquire almost all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed to function from the foods and beverages we digest. But there are some elements critical to our health that can’t be synthesized by our bodies and aren’t easily added to our diets.

Omega 3 fatty acids, for example, are essential for heart health and are valuable anti-inflammatory agents. Groups such as Health Canada, the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization have recommended that we consume one to two grams of Omega 3 fatty acids each day.

Does this seem oddly familiar? That’s because they published the exact same article the previous week. Long story short: you need food to live. If you don’t eat enough of the right kinds of food for your dietary needs, you can take supplements.

That’s it. In fact, that pull-quote is roughly a third of the entire article. Even if I wasn’t generally opposed to supplements instead of eating a balanced diet, this article would fail simply because it’s a complete waste of perfectly good newspaper space that could be hosting one of my erotic personal ads.

Overall rating: 1/5 – no new or useful information.

Out with the old: Detox

We call them cleanses now. Diet sounds so yesterday. After pigging out for weeks, drinking more than at any other time of year and replacing exercise regimes with socializing, a cleanse that promises to flush out all that excess sounds like just the ticket. But is it all it’s cracked up to be or is it just a thinly veiled weight loss diet?

I feel a great disturbance in the SkeptiForce… as though a million pairs of eyes rolled at once. I was prepared to tear right into this article, but then a shocking thing happened:

Some people swear by them and if they do no harm, Dr. Eric Yoshida, head of gastroenterology at UBC has no problem with them. But Yoshida says the theories on which they are based, make no sense physiologically.

While there are many variations, the common thread is that a diet full of processed foods, sugar and fat is poorly digested and results in a buildup of fecal matter in the colon. This buildup allows the toxins in feces to be reabsorbed into the body causing all manner of health concerns including Crohn’s disease, spastic colon, ileitis, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, and cancer of the colon or rectum. Regular cleansing rids the body of the toxins and prevents these conditions.

But Yoshida says this is all bunk. The body’s systems just don’t work the way the proponents of the cleanses claim they do. Once in the colon, nothing but water gets reabsorbed, he says. The liver detoxes our food very efficiently.

I could scarcely believe my eyes. Even though the article spends the rest of the time presenting the “other side” (from two “nutritionists”), this article actually presents some actual biology. I realize it’s setting the bar incredibly low, but asking someone who actually knows what he’s talking about, and then including it before the woo-peddlers… it’s enough to pull this article out of the rubbish heap of ‘completely dismissable’ and onto the shelf of ‘only half wrong’.

Overall rating: 2.5/5 – article presents the science, then promptly ignores it.

Empowered Health: ‘Dancing keeps me out of the hospital’

At 18, Darren Kerr can’t remember a day when he hasn’t had to swallow at least 50 pills. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant, at times he has been so ill he’s relied on a feeding tube to survive.


“When I was in kindergarten I got a feeding tube and I started doing physio for a couple of years,” said Kerr. “But when I was eight years old, I saw Riverdance on TV and said, ‘That’s really cool, I want to do that,’ so I started up with it.” Almost immediately, Kerr said, he could feel that his lung function was improving.

Cystic fibrosis is a really awful disease, and the fact that this young man found something that makes him happy and helps him deal with his illness is great. There’s no cynical backhand to this – I’m sincerely thrilled that he has found something that makes him happy and doesn’t involve skipping his meds or relying on some quack ‘therapy’ involving crystals, Ouija boards and a fixation on the letter J or something.

Overall rating: 5/5 – article makes specific note of him complying with his medical treatments in addition to his dancing, and promotes exactly nothing woo-ish.

The one I wanted to bring you today was their piece on acupuncture but they haven’t released it in a linkable format – it’s a 2-minute video rather than an article. I wrote the editorial board and the reporter to tell them what a terrible job they did (he actually said that science supports acupuncture – it really doesn’t). I received the kind of evasive response you’d expect from a reporter that doesn’t actually understand science, and received no response to my reply. If they release an acupuncture article, I’ll be sure to get it up here next week.

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