Alberta Recognizes Naturopathy as a Health Profession

In Alberta, Canada, naturopathy is now a recognized profession under the Health Professions Act, meaning that naturopaths will now self-regulate (through the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta), making them the 26th out of 33 medical professions to do so. The aforementioned article in the Edmonton Journal puts a positive, uncritical spin on this news. This comes as Alberta is in the midst of a whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak that has already claimed the life of one child. Naturopaths and chiropractors (who have similar legal status in Alberta) are some of the most notorious vaccine deniers and often use homeopathic “remedies,” which is to say, they are quacks. This new legal stature has serious implications for the public perception of naturopaths, as it is tantamount to the government endorsing naturopathy as on par with modern medicine in safety and efficacy.

Health Minister Fred Horne said [emphasis mine]:

“The protection of the public is of paramount consideration…because by granting self regulation we’re attesting…that we believe the practices that will be engaged by [naturopaths] are safe, and they’re effective and they meet the highest possible standards.”

In an age in which the public seems to have a fetish for anything labeled “natural” this government endorsement could be just what it takes for many people to switch to naturopaths for their primary medical care. For example, according to Allissa Gaul, president of the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta, naturopaths are allowed to perform Pap smears and rectal or prostate exams. In addition, they are allowed to treat slightly abnormal Pap results with herbs or “applications to the cervix” instead of an immediate cell biopsy (performed as part of a colposcopy I imagine). Yes, you read that correctly. They are allowed to treat paps with “herbs.” Many of their treatments will likely be homeopathic remedies, which they are allowed to use.

The only silver lining is that the government of Alberta doesn’t (yet) pay directly for naturopathic care. Patients can, however, claim naturopathic care as a medical expense for tax breaks. So Albertans are going to be paying for naturopathic quackery whether they like it or not. One can only hope that this is not the “death rattle of reason” in healthcare in Alberta, but it’s not looking good.


Eat Your Heart Out, Vitamin A!

Vitamin A’s role in preventing childhood blindness (and mortality and lots of other bad stuff, too) is well known, but if your blindness isn’t caused by Vitamin A Deficiency, that’s of little use to you.

Remember this guy?

Well, his awesome visor is one step closer to becoming a reality (no cool infrared or other spectral settings yet, though). There are a couple of technologies in development, but Bio-Retina, is a 24×24 (576 pixels) grayscale artificial retina that is actually implanted in the back of the eye. Even better, it only costs about $60k and a 30-minute surgery under local anesthetic. Here’s what ExtremeTech has to say:

Basically, with macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, the light-sensitive rods and cones in your retina stop working. The Bio-Retina plops a 24×24-resolution (576-pixel!) sensor right on top of your damaged retina, and 576 electrodes on the back of the sensor implant themselves into the optic nerve. An embedded image processor converts the data from each of the pixels into electrical pulses that are coded in such a way that the brain can perceive different levels of grayscale.

The best bit, though, is how the the sensor is powered. The Bio-Retina system comes with a standard pair of corrective lenses that are modified so that they can fire a near-infrared laser beam through your iris to the sensor at the back of your eye. On the sensor there is a photovoltaic cell that produces up to three milliwatts — not a lot, but more than enough. The infrared laser is invisible and harmless. To see the Bio-Retina system in action, watch the demo video embedded below.

The Bio-Retina bionic eye implant. Image credit: PopSci

Let’s just hope that if it is capable in bringing sight to adults with congenital blindness, that their experience is better than that of Sidney Bradford who killed himself two years after gaining sight because it confused him and left him unable to work. Because there is a childhood critical period in the development of the visual cortex those who are blind at an early age and then recover from blindness after the critical period can have permanent difficulties with vision. For the millions whose blindness occurs from diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration, though, this invention offers real hope.

Medical Tattoos

Found a very cool set of images of tattoos conveying medical information to first responders. Many say they are diabetic, which would lead first responders to diagnose their unconsciousness was some form of diabetic coma. Others indicate allergies, implanted medical devices, or DNR orders (which are notoriously overlooked or ignored for a variety of reasons. I think it’s a great way for patients to “own” their conditions and to help ensure they receive proper treatment in the event they are unable to convey their wishes themselves.

The photos are from Todays Whisper and I’ve embedded a few here (I’m unsure of their sources).

Cutsey Diabetic

No Nonsense Diabetic (blue ring is int’l symbol for diabetes)

Insulin Pump
The Latin translates to: “And death is peace”
The Chinese is pronounced: juéshì and means “knight” or “knighthood” or “Sir”


Penicillin Allergy

Pacemaker, with a cool story:
“I was born with a small heart defect and my parents were told that eventually it will go away. Over time it manifested arrhythmia. In the end, when I was 18, my doctor had conducted a survey and found that my atrioventricular node does not work and my heart beat half less, than you need. I was given an electronic pacemaker December 23, 2003, when I was 18 years old. Two years later, as a gift for Christmas, my boyfriend paid for the tattoo – the symbol of pacemaker on the right wrist. ”


Haemophilia Type A

Pie Charts

Pie charts are generally a terrible way of presenting information. When they are 3D, it only gets worse. But there are some things that 3D Pie Charts are good for. Thanks to Nathan Yau over at FlowingData.

Edward Tufte, btw, is a statistician at Yale who studies data visualization and is a leading critic of PowerPoint.

First Post

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for years now, but always put it off because my perfectionist tendencies kept me from starting one until I had a great design and layout. I wanted to get everything right, right from the start. Well, I’ve finally realized that that is one of the best ways to not get things done. I’ve accepted that this blog is far from perfect and that it never will be perfect. I have so many interests that at this point I am not quite sure what my focus (or, more likely, foci) will be. Hopefully, this will come with time. For now, I expect to write mostly about medicine, public health, social justice, and science. That may seem like a lot, but it’s actually all pretty closely connected in my mind. I’m calling it “Secular Trends” because I hope to write about long-term trends science and medicine, which are among the greatest forces for improving the human condition.  See the About page for more information about me, this blog, and its title.