How Manufacturers Conceal Cellphone Risks

The Secret Inside Your Cellphone

CBC Marketplace (2017)

Film Review

This is a Canadian documentary about deliberate efforts by cellphone manufacturers to conceal the health risks of cellphones. By law, every cellphone carries a warning somewhere in its menu to keep your cellphone more than 5-15 mm away from your body. The warning is so hard to find that 81% of Canadians have never seen it. In fact, 70% of Canadians carry their cellphones in their pants pockets or bra.

The Berkeley City Council is the only governmental authority in North America to pass legislation requiring this warning to be made public – they require it to be prominently posted in every electronics store that sells cellphones. Using the same lawyer who defended the tobacco lobby against smoking-related health claims, the telecommunications lobby has sued Berkeley to have the law repealed. The case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The documentary also reviews ongoing research into the health hazards of cellphones. Epidemiologists remain deeply concerned about the dearth of studies in children. The Canadian brain tumor registry shows a clear increase across the board in brain tumors in young people. Anecdotal evidence, as well as animal studies, strongly suggest the trend relates to growing cellphone use. In addition, young women who carry cellphones in their bras are presenting with (highly unusual) multiple separate breast cancers.

The most well established correlation is low sperm counts and poor quality sperm in men who carry cellphones in their pants pocket.

 

 

 

The True Cost of Cheap Meat

farmageddon

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat

By Philip Lymbery with Isobel Oakeshott

Bloomsbury Press (2014)

Book Review

Farmageddon is about the false economy of industrial meat production. While the corporations that promote factory farming applaud themselves for producing “cheap meat” for poor people, when societal costs are counted, industrially produced meat costs society approximately 25 times the sticker price. So as not to infringe on corporate profits, the excess costs (for environmental clean-up and a myriad of health problems) are transferred to the taxpayer.

Lymbery, a long time organic farming proponent, provides an extremely thorough and compelling expose of the numerous drawbacks of raising livestock in concrete warehouses. The side effects of living adjacent to a factory farm include air and water pollution by toxic herbicides and pesticides, nitrates, pathogenic bacteria and arsenic; loss of songbirds, bees and other insect species; reduced life expectancy,* increased exposure to disease carrying mosquitoes, loss of earthworms (due to fertilizer-related soil acidification), increased incidence (by threefold) of childhood asthma; increased antibiotic resistance (due to routine feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed cows, pigs and chickens); reduced sperm counts and increased breast cancer and renal tumors related to Roundup, the herbicide used with GMO crops.

Lymbery also includes a section on industrially farmed fish and they risks they pose to the health of wild fish populations.

His final chapter includes a variety of policy recommendations that could facilitate a move away from industrial farming to safer, less environmentally destructive traditional farming.


*Individuals who live adjacent to intensive dairy farms have a ten year decrease in life expectancy.

How Mammograms Don’t Save Lives

mammogram

A year ago a New England Journal of Medicine study revealed that mammograms are largely ineffective in preventing deaths from breast cancer. According to Dr H. Gilbert Welch, in a New York Times oped, the mortality benefit of mammography is much smaller, and the harm of overdiagnosis much larger, than previously recognized.

According to Welch, one of the co-authors, the outcome of three decades of mammogram screening has been the diagnosis of 1.5 million women with early stage breast cancer. While this number might seem impressive, mammography has only diagnosed 0.1 million women with late-stage (potentially fatal) breast cancer.  This means that nearly a million women underwent unpleasant, invasive and unnecessary treatment (surgery, chemotherapy or radiation) for a non-lethal “cancer.”

Now a second Canadian study, published in the February 11 British Medical Journal, has replicated Welch’s findings. In the Canadian National Breast Screening Study, researchers followed almost 90,000 women for 25 years. Like Welch, they found that annual screening didn’t reduce breast cancer deaths. Instead they tended to lead to over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment. In other words, cancers were found – and treated – that would have caused no problems during the patients’ lifetime.

In his New York Times editorial, Dr Welch laments misleading statements issued by the Komen Foundation and public health officials that early screening (by mammography) saves lives. The message they should be giving women is that they have a choice. While no one can dismiss the possibility that screening may help a small number of women, there’s no doubt that it leads many more to be treated unnecessarily for non-lethal cancers. Women need to decide for themselves about the potential benefit and risks. One serious potential risk Dr Welch doesn’t mention is the burden of radiation exposure from a lifetime of unnecessary mammograms.

Instead of screening all women with mammography, he recommends that health professionals only target women with a strong family history or genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

photo credit: photo credit: BC Gov Photos via photopin <a

 

Cellphones and Cancer

Resonance – Beings of Frequency

James Russell 2012

Film Review

Part I

 

Resonance – Beings of Frequency is an informative, well-researched film about the growing number of health and environmental problems linked to cell phones, wi-fi and cell phone masts. The title refers to  “Schumann resonances,” named after German physicist Winfried Schumann. It refers to natural low frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted by planet Earth. The beginning of the film, which delves in depth into Schumann’s obscure discovery, is likely to be off-putting for people with no physics background. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is tough enough to get your head around, much less the concept of wave pulses and frequency. I sincerely hope people will ignore or fast forward the first few minutes. The rest of the film is well worth watching and discusses an alarming body of research about a potentially dangerous technology that was widely implemented without any testing of its potential effect on human health.

In my view, the only physics people need to understand the film is 1) that the microwaves produced by cell phones and cell phone masts, like light and radio waves, are a form of non-ionizing (i.e. non-radioactive) electromagnetic radiation 2) that by definition, EMR are intertwined electrical and magnetic fields that travel as waves and 3) that all life forms produce it. The scientist who explains electroencephalograms (EEGs) and electrocardiograms (EKGs) later in the film puts this across quite clearly. In higher animals, the presence or absence of life is measured by their ability to give off EMR. An EEG measures the EMR given off by the brain. When the EEG flat lines, the patient is considered brain dead. It’s game over when the EKG, which measures EMR emitted by the heart, flat lines.

The film mainly focuses on research linking the staggering increase of man made EMR in the environment and the sudden onset of global bee colony collapse syndrome; the sharp decline in migratory bird species and the current epidemic of breast and other cancers. Obviously the cancer link will be most concerning for most viewers. There are now several dozen studies of the cancer clusters found in people living in close proximity to cell phone masts. The film features an interview with a breast cancer survivor living near a mast who surveyed all neighbors within 0.5 km of the mast. Seventy percent of them had developed breast, prostate or other cancer, leukemia or some other fatal or debilitating illness.

The Link Between Microwave Exposure and Breast Cancer

The link between breast cancer and exposure to toxic endocrine disruptors (found mainly in insecticides, cosmetics, plastics and diets high in animal fat) was established nearly ten years ago. However it remains very troubling that large numbers of women with no genetic history or lifestyle exposures are developing breast cancer as young as thirty-five or forty. The film suggests many of these cases relate to a far more insidious lifestyle factor. With more than 500 million cell phone masts scattered all across the planet, electromagnetic smog is an environmental exposure that is virtually impossible to avoid.

Resonance – Beings of Frequency presents some very convincing research about the negative effect of microwave radiation (the type produced by cell phones and cell phone masts) on Melatonin production and the essential role this hormone plays in immune function. This is the first time I have seen a mechanism proposed to explain how wireless technology might be increasing cancer rates.

A lot of people are aware of melatonin’s role in promoting sleep – that low light levels cause the brain to produce melatonin and that this is the hormone that sends people off to sleep. Studies showing that it’s also an antioxidant (i.e. a vitamin or hormone that destroys free radicals) even more powerful that Vitamin C or Vitamins less well publicized. However it’s well recognized that the main cause of aging and most forms of cancer can be traced to free radicals attacking the nucleus of normal cells.

Recent research suggests that the pineal gland (the part of the brain that produces melatonin) can’t distinguish between light waves and other forms of EMR – that this explains why people exposed to high levels of microwave radiation produce less melatonin. Presumably this makes their body less efficient in destroying the free radicals that cause cancer. Studies showing that patients with breast and prostate cancer have lower Melatonin levels tend to validate this hypothesis.

(To be continued with a discussion of the link between cellphone technology and bee colony collapse disorder, which is decimating bee populations worldwide.)

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

blue gold

Blue-Gold: World Water Wars (Sam Bozzo 2008)

Film Review

inspired by Canadian activists Maud Barlow and Tony Clarke’s book Blue Gold, this film opened my eyes to the reality that water scarcity is a far more serious and imminent problem than either fossil fuel scarcity or climate change. The film outlines three main areas in which public policy around water is urgently needed: run-off management, aquifer destruction and water privatization.

Water Run-Off

I previously believed that chemical and nutrient pollution was the greatest threat to our fresh water supply. However according to Blue Gold, run-off is actually the biggest problem – the loss of fresh water when rainwater winds up in the ocean instead of being trapped as groundwater. Fresh water only comprises  3% of global water (the rest is sea water), and much of it is so badly polluted it’s no longer useable.

The four main ways urbanization and development accelerate run-off include the construction of 50,000 dams worldwide, the paving over of soil with cement and asphalt, deforestation (destroying tree roots that normally trap water), and the destruction of wetlands (the destruction of mangroves and other plants that naturally purify water.

Aquifer Depletion

Aquifer depletion is largely due to industrial agriculture and the unregulated use of water in manufacturing, fracking and bottled water plants. Once the water from the aquifer is gone, it takes thousands of years to replace it. The film depicts several communities where citizens, across the political spectrum, have banded together to block Coca Cola and Nestle from taking their water. Some cases have involved long expensive court battles, with several corporations threatening individual activists with SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits.

Water Privatization, Desalination and Water Wars

The last half of the film focuses on water privatization, water desalination, and water wars. In many developing countries, water privatization is already a life and death issue. In several African countries,  the private corporations that own the public water supply set the price so high that people end up drinking polluted water and die. The decision by Bolivia to sell its fresh water to Bechtel sparked a mass rebellion and ultimately the collapse of the Bolivian government.

In the US, an alarming number of city water have been privatized and sold to corporations.

The worldwide move to construct water desalination plants to reclaim water from sea water is closely linked to the issue of privatization. In addition to being extremely expensive, water desalination greatly increases climate emissions owing to the massive amount of fossil fuel it requires.

Water Wars

Blue Gold gives several examples of historic water wars (in the US) and predicts where the next water wars are most likely to take place. They point to strategic US military bases around the Great Lakes and in Paraguay (across the border from a Brazilian aquifer that is one of the largest in the world). They also offer a possible explanation why the Bush family have acquired massive amounts of property in Paraguay.

The film ends on a positive note with recommendations for citizen activists:

  1. Learn where your water comes from – the name of the watershed and (if privatized) the name of the multinational corporation that controls it. Local communities need to actively fight attempts by local government to allow water extraction or the takeover of local water supplies by multinational corporations.
  2. Kick the bottled water habit. This is a trick advertisers play on you. It is no healthier for you than tap water (and may be less healthy owing to phthalates and bisphenol A from the plastic that may be linked with breast cancer and low sperm counts). The nasty taste of tap water is easily masked with a little lemon juice.
  3. Lobby your local and state leaders to
  • Remove hydroelectric dams and replace with newer, more eco-friendly microturbine technology.
  • Adopt an active run-off management plan in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized through eco-friendly development planning. One example is the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
  • Pass local and state resolutions and constitutional amendments recognizing access to fresh water as a basic human right. Uruguay has adopted the right to water in their national Constitution.

Enjoy:

My New Expatriate Identity

exceptionalism

(the 2nd of 8 posts about my new life in New Zealand)

For people over fifty, starting over in a new country is like dropping a lab rat in a gigantic maze. Like the rat, you suddenly find yourself in an alien environment that constantly confronts you with new decision points and obstacles.

For example, learning to use a new phone system. It took me months to figure out the Christchurch phone book, owing to the unique alphabetization protocol New Zealand uses. I also had to learn to dial 111 for emergencies, 1 for an outside line and 0 for a cellphone or long distance number. And not to waste hours redialing a number when I got a “fast busy” signal. It sounds exactly like the “slow busy” signal but means the number has been disconnected.

It helped a lot to meet other American expatriates struggling with the same problems. It was also extremely gratifying to realize I wasn’t alone in my total repudiation of Bush’s wars crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As I would later learn, tens of thousands of American progressives and liberals left the US during the Bush years. In November 2003, expatriate Americans led the antiwar demonstrations protesting Bush’s visit to London. American expatriates also formed major voting blocks voting blocs for Kerry in 2004 and for Obama in 2008 (I myself didn’t vote for him – I voted for Nader).

My Struggle With American Exceptionalism

Ironically the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was my own lack of objectivity regarding my country of origin. Given that my decision to emigrate was politically motivated, this really surprised me. Somehow it seems no matter how strongly Americans consciously reject America’s immoral and corrupt political system, we all unconsciously buy into the American exceptionalism that the education system and corporate media pound into us. The belief that the US is not only the foremost military and economic power, but also the most productive, efficient, cleanest, healthiest, transparent, just and scientifically advanced.

This is an extremely rude awakening for many Americans. It certainly was for me. In my case, Kiwi colleagues confronted me for my attitude that the US was more advanced in medical research. Looking back, I am both mystified and embarrassed that I took this position. I have known for at least two decades that US medical research is mainly funded by Big Pharma, which has a well-earned reputation for buying and publishing research that promotes profits at the expense of scientific objectivity.

Two of the most common examples are 1) research that promotes fictitious illnesses (such as estrogen “deficiency” disorder in menopausal women) to market marginally effective and frankly harmful drugs and 2) research that grossly minimizes the role preventive medicine and non-pharmaceutical interventions have in promoting and maintaining human health.

The Link Between Exceptionalism and Empire

Over time I came to understand that citizens in all great military empires are under enormous pressure to hold and express patriotic and exceptionalist beliefs. In Nazi Germany, you could be shot on the street for unpatriotic statements. When Britain was the world’s great empire, they gave you a trial first, but you could be imprisoned or even executed for treasonous utterances.

This is the second major awakening for many American expatriates: until we leave, we never fully appreciate that US militarism overshadows all aspects of American life. Again I have known for decades that the US government spends more than half their budget on the Pentagon. I also know that the purpose of the US military isn’t to defend ordinary Americans. The US invades and occupies other countries to guarantee US corporations access to cheap natural resources, sweat shop labor and markets for agricultural exports.

Yet it wasn’t until I left that I fully recognized the enormous personal price Americans pay – in terms of personal liberty, freedom of speech and thought and quality of life – as subjects of a great military empire.

photo credit: mpeake via photopin cc

Medicalizing the Menstrual Cycle

pmd

I have blogged previously (see Menopause: Made in the USA) about the negative effects of the “corporatization” of health care in the US. “Disease mongering” is a particularly nasty one. This occurs when pharmaceutical companies “medicalize” common conditions in order to market drugs that supposedly treat them.

Thanks to skillful marketing, Eli Lilly has turned premenstrual syndrome (PMS) into a profit-making commodity nearly as lucrative as menopause and “childhood bipolar disorder” (see Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit).

In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) included premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) in their diagnostic manual “as a possible mental disorder requiring more research.” They have continued the diagnosis in DSM V. Although DSM IV lists PMDD as a strictly “research” diagnosis, Eli Lilly immediately seized on it as a genuine disorder and devised a marketing strategy to profit from it.

The Difference Between PMS and PMDD

Approximately 80-90% of women worldwide report physical and emotional changes in the 7-10 days prior to the onset of menstruation. For most women, these consist of minor physical changes similar to those of early pregnancy (water retention, breast swelling and tenderness and abdominal bloating).

Approximately 1/3 of women note mental and emotional changes (aka PMS) – depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, difficulty concentrating – that have a minor impact on their daily functioning.

Although the APA has yet to agree PMDD even exists as a disorder, there are numerous claims in psychiatric and women’s health literature that approximately 3-8% of women suffer from it. By definition, a woman can only qualify for a PMDD diagnosis if they experience a “marked” decrease in normal functioning due to premenstrual mood changes. A rigorous Swedish study ascertained that the true percentage of women experiencing a “marked” decrease in functioning before their period closer to 1.3%.

A Golden Marketing Opportunity for Eli Lilly

Once the patent on a drug expires, other manufacturers are free to produce cheaper generic versions, resulting in plummeting sales of the original brand name drug. In 1999 Lilly, facing the expiration of its patent on Prozac, exploited the new “diagnosis” of PMDD by re-branding Prozac as a feminine pink and purple tablet called Sarafem.

In 2001, the FDA approved Sarafem for “PMDD,” on the basis of double blind studies involving several hundred women. Lilly reported a 60% response rate in women who took it for five cycles, with greater effectiveness in women who took it continuously throughout the month (as opposed to 7-10 days before their period).

Hopefully psychiatrists aren’t quite so gullible as the FDA, given Prozac’s limited effectiveness in treating depression. Thirty years of double blind studies reveal that depressed patients who take Prozac have an average response rate of 38-40%. In fact, statistical analysis of all randomized controlled trials reveal that all SSRI’s (i.e. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, citalopram, etc) are only slightly more effective than a placebos, which works 33-37% of the time.

Skillful Marketing Adds Billions to US Health Care Bill

Charging three dollars per dose for their pink and purple Sarafem tablets (in contrast to 41 cents per dose for generic fluoxetine), Lilly launched a massive marketing campaign to convince women they suffered from PMDD. In 2001, the year Serafem came out, nearly 100,000 prescriptions were sold, reaping Lilly $85 million in profits.

Given the soaring cost of health care in the US (the main reason millions of Americans go without medical care), it strikes me as unethical and immoral to trick doctors and women into wasting nearly a billion dollars on pink and purple pills with a fancy name, when generic fluoxetine would have been equally effective at 1/9 the cost.

Research Evidence for “Natural” Treatments

What I find really fascinating about the PMS/PMDD controversy is that it’s one of the few women’s health “conditions” in which there are more double blind placebo trials of “alternative” or “natural” treatments than medication trials. The three “alternative” treatments that have shown clear effectiveness in randomized controlled trials are omega 3 supplements, Vitamin D and the chaste tree berry or chasteberry. In fact, much of this research suggests that PMS-related mood changes may actually represent a nutritional deficiency of omega 3 and/or Vitamin D.

Omega 3 oil is the most studied in PMS-related mood changes, largely owing to its proven efficacy in depression and large cross cultural studies revealing that populations (for example Asians and Norwegians) consuming large amounts of fish (a primary source of omega 3) in their diets have an extremely low incidence of depression.

Vitamin D, has also proved helpful for depression in double blind studies, especially in elderly depressives suffering from documented Vitamin D deficiency. Other studies show that 1,000 – 2,000 international units of Vitamin D is helpful in alleviating premenstrual symptoms.

This finding correlates with an extremely low incidence of PMS in Asian women. The same oily fish that are a rich source of omega 3 are the only natural food source of Vitamin D (the majority of us derive Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight).

Three double blind studies in the British Medical Journal, the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the Journal of Women’s Health and Gender-based Medicine reveal that chasteberry helps approximately 52% of women with PMS. Chasteberry is an herbal remedy used by Hippocrates in ancient Greece for pre-menstrual symptoms. It’s believed to work by lowering prolactin (a pituitary hormone influencing milk production). High prolactin levels are a recognized, but infrequent, cause of depression.

Take Home Message: Try Natural Remedies First

In light of all the above studies, common sense would dictate that women who suffer from PMS should try a combination of omega 3 and 1,000-2,000 IU of Vitamin D for a minimum of six months before resorting to either Sarafem or generic fluoxetine. Both have potentially serious long term side effects. Owing to their effect on serotonin receptors in the brain, SSRI’s can be very difficult to stop. Moreover they are associated with a loss of bone density, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life, and possibly linked to breast and ovarian cancer

photo credit: taberandrew via photopin cc