What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

by Malcolm Gladwell

Little, Brown and Company (2009)

Book Review

What the Dog Saw is a collection of articles about mass marketing by New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell. Among others, Caldwell includes articles about the pioneers responsible for the mass marketing of the Veg-O-Matic, Heinz ketchup and do-it-yourself women’s hair coloring. There are also interesting articles about the Catholic doctor who  tried to market the birth control pill to the Vatican as a “natural” contraceptive and the inherent fallibility of using imaging techniques, such as mammography, to diagnose cancer. The preliminary findings Gladwell presents in 2009 would be confirmed by much larger studies in 2014 (see How Mammograms Don’t Save Lives) and 2016 (Does Cancer Screening Save Lives?).

These larger studies don’t support Caldwell’s counter-intuitive conclusion that “mammograms save lives.” In fact they tend to support the opposite conclusion: that except where women are genetically predisposed to breast cancer, mammograms unnecessarily expose women to harmful ionizing radiation.

How Our Food and Health Systems Are Killing Us

Mask of Deception

Directed by Phillip Rainford and Gail Blundell (2013)

Film Review

Mask of Deception, whose title is somewhat misleading, is best described as an Australian public service documentary about ways our food and health system are killing us. Overall I think viewers will find it useful to have all the major health risks covered in one place.

Unfortunately the film finishes a bit raggedly, with a diffuse attack on the Australian health care system and its long waiting lists, shortage of nurses, and efforts to suppress natural food supplements. The call for civil disobedience at the end seems to come out of nowhere.

Sadly western medicine has grown into an industry dedicated to marketing pharmaceuticals. In a a health system geared towards health promotion and disease prevention, our doctors would be warning us about these health risks instead of handing us prescriptions.

Some of the specific risks (gluten, fluoride, mercury-laden dental amalgam, white sugar, artificial sweeteners, transfats, liquid vegetable oils, vaccinations, mammograms, statins and chemical food additives) mentioned are fairly well covered by Natural News, Dr Mercola and similar natural health sites.

Others are less well known. For example, I was totally unaware of the link between high soy diets (especially for infants on soy formula) and hypothyroidism and type I diabetes.*

*The soy common in Asian diets has been heavily fermented, in some cases 5-7 years, to make it more digestible.

How Mammograms Don’t Save Lives


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


Medicinal Plants and Poison-Free Cancer Treatment

medicinal plants

(In my last of four posts about the effectiveness of natural health care, I offer two videos.)

1. Video #1:  Numen: The Healing Power of Plants by Terrence Youk and Ann Armbrech (2009).

Numen is as much about the environmental health crisis as about plant-based medicine. It stresses that herbal medicine, the primary form of medical treatment for most of human history, remains the primary form of medical intervention for most of the world’s inhabitants. The western medical model that developed in the industrialized world is a fluke. It also has major drawbacks as well as advantages. Rates of chronic illness – such as diabetes, arthritis, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disease – a far higher in developed countries. Even as our deaths from trauma and infectious disease decline sharply.

According to the film, it’s not western medicine per se causing an increase in these chronic illnesses. The main cause is heavy exposure to a score of industrially produced chemicals. A 2005 study by the Center for Disease Control reveals that Americans carry an average of 148 toxic chemicals in their bloodstream. Even more alarming, these toxins concentrate in breast milk which, ironically, has become the most toxic baby food available.

The scientific explanation Numen offers for the effectiveness of plant-based medicine seems quite reasonable. Human beings, who share 60% of the same DNA as a banana, co-evolved with advanced plant species over millions of years.

The video can’t be embedded owing for copyright reasons. However it can be seen for free at Dr Mercola’s website

Video #2:  The Cancer Report Health Wyze (2011)

The Cancer Report is really a slide show set to music (I recommend turning your volume down). It also explores the link between a dramatic increase in environmental toxins and the current cancer epidemic. Prior to the 20th century, cancer was considered a medical oddity. Much of the film traces the role of oil and chemical baron John D Rockefeller in funding medical schools in the US and Canada – provided they agreed to discard traditional holistic methods in favor of drug-based (chemical-based) treatment.

I found the section on Dr Otto Warburg, who won the 1931 Nobel Prize for Medicine, particularly enlightening. Warburg identified how and why cancer cells develop – specifically as a result of cells being deprived of oxygen. According to the video, most “alternative” cancer therapies are based on Warburg’s work, in that they try to increase cell oxygenation. In chemotherapy, in contrast, patients are given powerful poisons that often kill them rather than the cancer. Moreover chemotherapy never cures the cancer, but merely sends it into remission.

The last half of The Cancer Report catalogs the most effective alternative cancer therapies, providing a detailed description of how they were developed, how they work, and their relative success rate.

The data presented about the poor survival rates related to chemotherapy and radiation therapy are both accurate and concerning. Five years ago, a close friend opted for a grueling course of chemotherapy that offered zero chance of remission and a 33% chance of extending her life for six months. In her shoes, I definitely would have opted for one of the alternative treatments outlined in the film.

Caveat: There are a number of claims made in the video that can’t be substantiated – for example that mammograms cause breast cancer. It’s true that any radiation exposure increases cancer risk and that mammograms don’t reduce breast cancer deaths (see How Mammograms Don’t Save Lives). The fact remains medical science still has no way of linking a specific cancer to a specific environmental exposure.

photo credit: BioDivLibrary via photopin cc