Autism and Parenting


OK, this finding isn’t rocket science, but it makes sense, and has all sorts of implications for the people involved and their friends and relatives. (1)

Parents of children with autism tend to be less satisfied with their marriage, have less time for each other, and are more prone to divorce. The time issue may be the key of the three items: autistic children place more demands on their parents.  Time demands add stress to what is in many cases a less than happy situation.

It’s one thing if there are others who know what’s happening and offer to help.  Still another if the healthcare system offers respite care (relief for caregivers — something common in Europe and almost nonexistent in the US).

These parents need understanding and they need help. Where they have a strong support system to help them, they’re very lucky.  Many don’t.

What you need to consider:

  • Do you know someone with an autistic child?
  • If yes, find a way to share the load. It matters.


  1. Sigan L. Hartley, Leann Smith DaWalt, Haley M. Schultz. Daily Couple Experiences and Parent Affect in Families of Children with Versus Without Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3088-2
  2. University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Insight into day-to-day lives of parents raising children with autism.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 2017. <>.

Flame retardants, household dust, and thyroid cancer


A new report from Duke University finds an explanation for increases in the frequencyth of thyroid cancer in household dust.

“Thyroid cancer is the fastest increasing cancer in the U.S., with most of the increase in new cases being papillary thyroid cancer” [PTC], said the study’s lead investigator, Julie Ann Sosa, M.D., MA, professor of surgery and medicine at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. “Recent studies suggest that environmental factors may, in part, be responsible for this increase.” (1)

Prior studies have shown that some flame retardants used in the home and in vehicles have a similar chemical structure to thyroid hormones and can disrupt thyroid function.

The study measured the content of household dust as well as the incidence of chemicals in blood samples taken from occupants.  The study used a post facto experimental design with test and control groups.  All of the 140 participants lived in their homes for more than 11 years.

This study established that these flame retardants

  1. Appear in household dust in measurable quantities, where they can be inhaled by occupants and
  2. The level of two of them found in dust and blood samples are associated with the probability of having PTC.

The two problem chemicals identified in the study as elevating cancer risk belong to a class of chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

  • Decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209). This is the most commonly used retardant, and appears to double the risk for thyroid cancer.
  • Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP).

Participants with high levels of TCEP in their house dust were more than four times as likely to have larger, more aggressive tumors that extended beyond the thyroid, according to the study.

Participants with high levels of BDE-209 in their blood were 14 times more likely to have a version of the cancer that tends to be more aggressive.

Why should you care?  These chemicals are used as flame retardants in plastics (including TV cabinets), furniture, drapery backing, some carpets and in consumer electronics, both in home and in automobiles.  Both exposure to these chemicals and the prevalence of thyroid cancer are increasing.

Note:  This research was funded by Fred and Alice Stanback, the Duke Cancer Institute, and the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, and not by industry sources.

What you need to consider:

  • Do you have a home air purification system? Not something that makes the air smell nice, but something that removes dust and other particles from what you breath. Maybe it’s time to invest or upgrade.
  • Read the labels on what you buy.



  1. The Endocrine Society. “Exposure to common flame retardants may raise the risk of papillary thyroid cancer.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2017. <>.
  2. US Environmental Protection Agency, “Technical Fact Sheet — Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) and Polybrominated Bophenyls (PBBs),” January 2014.
  3. Wikipedia, “Decabromodiphenyl ether.”

Healthcare in the US: Restating the Problem


The following is from a longer piece by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman (MD) of Columbia University.  The entire address is on Medscape (see footnote), but I thought these paragraphs explain the current healthcare mess with brevity and precision.  The passage is unedited.

What should be done? I am not a politician, I am not a legislator, I am not an economist. I am a physician, but it seems to me that this is not rocket science. This really is something for which common sense could articulate the questions and develop a way to answer.

The first question is, is healthcare a right or is it a commodity? If it is a commodity, then you get what you pay for. If it is a right, then everybody deserves it. If it is a right, then it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that everyone deserves it. If that is the case, as was suggested with the passage of the Medicare and then Medicaid legislation, then how much is the government prepared to spend? How do we in a society want to spend? Is it 5% of our GDP? Is it 25% of our GDP? That determines how much money we can spend on delivering healthcare to the entire population.

This then needs to be translated into an infrastructure, work force, and financing system that will enable this care to be provided at whatever level we as a society, represented by our government, have determined should be done. What are the benefits and what are the limitations? Are we going to give everything possible to everyone through end-of-life care or are we going to have to ration it?

This is not an unprecedented situation; other countries have dealt with this already. There are single-payer systems, there are single-provider systems, there are hybrid systems. There are nonexistent healthcare systems. We really have a default system in which nobody has taken the responsibility to try to develop something in an enlightened fashion, and the result is what we have, which is not working.

Another issue that must be considered in any serious approach to try to deal with healthcare has to do with how we view biomedical research and the advances that it provides. The real solution to disease care cost is through research which provides, ostensibly, a better understanding and better treatments—and, ultimately, cures for illness. We have seen this over history how scientific breakthroughs lead to medical innovations that lead to reduction of disease and mortality, reduction in cost, greater productivity, longer lives.

Right now, we barely fund biomedical research.

My comment:  The Affordable Care Act and Trumps AHCA were both band-aids rather than solutions to fundamental problems.  Both sought to make the current mess more livable rather than actually fix anything.  Now, Trump’s budget proposes cutting funds for medical research to use for the border wall, which pushes any possible solution further into the future. While one might question whether spending on medical research is correctly prioritized, moving money from there to concrete in a desert solves nothing.


  1. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, “‘I’m Mad as Hell!’: Healthcare in America Today,” Medscape, 28 March 2017.

Salt, Food, Sleep, Health and Taxes


largeThere have been a number of articles relating salt and urination. The more salt you ingest, the more urine you produce.  Simple.

Now a Japanese study relates salt consumption to waking in the middle of the night to use the toilet. More salt means more trips to the bathroom at night.(1)

Salt affects blood pressure, and that in turn contributes to heart disease and stroke..  According to the American Heart Association, on average, Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day.(3)

  • The recommended consumption amount is 1,500 mgs. per day for most adults, so this is more than double the recommended amount. Either too much or too little can be a problem. 
  • The maximum “safe” consumption is 2,400 mgs. per day.  The average American is way over the limit.
  • Most salt comes from processed foods such deli meats and canned soups. It’s important to read the labels and know what you are eating.

The British National Health Service estimates that salt reduction would result in 14,000 fewer deaths per year, at a savings of more than £3 billion.  The savings to Americans would be proportionally greater.

  • Converted to US dollars, the British cost savings is greater than the annual deficit reduction the recently deceased healthcare reform bill was supposed to produce.


NOTE: There are contrarians who argue that concerns with salt consumption are a “myth.” I read one by Kris Gunnars, who claims to use an “evidence-based” approach. However, there is a complete lack of data in his argument; it reads like wishful thinking. My strong preference is for experimental designs using test and control groups rather than theory.

If you want to ignore facts, that’s your choice. However, you should know what you are doing and accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Making up “alternative facts” to justify your choice isn’t acceptable.


What you need to consider:

  • What you eat can affect your quality of life, your health care and health insurance costs, and even your taxes.
  • However, this is one of those issues that requires large numbers of people to change behavior to make a difference. You need to mobilize your family and friends.



  1. Sarah Knapton, “Cutting salt intake could stop excessive toilet trips in the wee small hours,” The Telegraph, 26 March 2017.
  2. American Heart Association, “What should my daily sodium intake be?”
  3. American Heart Association, “Sodium and Salt.”
  4. Kris Gunnars, “The Salt Myth – How Much Sodium Should You Eat Per Day?”
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium.”

Gene Mutation and Juvenile Deaths


StarryNight_by_Van_GoghEvery so often, we hear a story about a high school or college athlete dropping dead after a practice or game.  My son had a classmate in 5th grade who died while playing kickball on the school playground.  What causes death at that age in someone seemingly fit and healthy?

These deaths have prompted calls for heart screening for young athletes.  However, it’s difficult to search when you don’t know what you want to find.

How we have a better idea.

Research groups in Canada, South Africa and Italy have identified a gene mutation that can cause this sudden death in otherwise healthy young people. CDH2 is a recently identified gene that governs the production of a protein essential for normal adhesion between cardiac cells. When the gene is absent, the victim is at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Fewer than 10% of victims with sudden heart stoppage outside of a hospital survive.

Since genetic screening isn’t common, finding a genetic cause is a mixed blessing. It means that families that have experienced a premature death need to be screened to see if others in the family have this genetic defect. However, at least in the near term, it won’t do much to prevent that first, shocking death.


  1. Linda Carroll, “Teen athletes’ sudden deaths spur call for heart screening,” Today, 2 February 2011.
  2. Fox News, “High school athlete’s sudden death stuns Baltimore community,” 1 February 2017.
  3. Bongani M. Mayosi et al. Identification of Cadherin 2 (CDH2) Mutations in Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, March 2017 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCGENETICS.116.001605
  4. McMaster University. “Gene found to cause sudden death in young people: CDH2 is responsible for the production of Cadherin 2 or N-Cadherin, a key protein for normal adhesion between the cardiac cells.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2017.

Internet Insecurity Revisited


Your applications encrypt your data.  You’re protected, right?ben_franklin


There are three things you need to know about the latest round of papers made public by Wikileaks:

  • The CIA (in some cases in partnership with UK’s MI5) developed ways to hack device operating systems. The devices include all types of computers and cell phones, networked TVs, car onboard systems — basically everything anyone uses that’s connected to the Internet. The operating systems affected are Windows, Android and Apple.
  • The hack allows the user to read data as it is entered (typed or oral), before it is encrypted.  Everything.
  • The hack allows users to control devices and use them for spying on device owners.
  • The CIA may have LOST CONTROL of these hacks, meaning that they are out in the public domain where others can use them.

The CIA might not care about you, but are there others who might want your bank account?

The revelations have shocked experts.

Still, the amount of smartphone vulnerabilities and exploits detailed in these documents was shocking even to experts. “It certainly seems that in the CIA toolkit there were more zero-day exploits” – an exploitable vulnerability in software not known to the manufacturer – “than we’d estimated,” Jason Healey, a director at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Wired Magazine. He added: “If the CIA has this many, we would expect the NSA to have several times more.”(3)

Early reports are that the documents published by Wikileaks appear authentic.  None of the companies involved have commented on the situation. Nor do there appear to be any patches immediately in the offing.  After all, none of the players is yet admitting that they have something to patch.

Some writers see a bright side in these revelations: the decision to hack operating systems means that data encryption tools work.  That may or may not be true.  We don’t know what is still to be revealed.

Security problems aren’t under control or going away.

“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong,’’ said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’(4)

I’ve said that nothing on the Internet is private, but this takes that statement to an entirely new level.  Nothing you type or speak into an Internet connected device is private. 

Ben Franklin was indeed a very wise man.


  1. Sharon Profis and Sean Hollister, “WikiLeaks and how the CIA sees your WhatsApp messages, explained,” CNet, 7 March 2017.
  2. Jose Pagliery, “Wikileaks claims to reveal how CIA hacks TVs and phones all over the world,” CNN Tech, 7 March 2017.
  3. Trevor Timm, “WikiLeaks says the CIA can use your TV to spy on you. But there’s good news,” The Guardian, 7 March 2017.
  4. Devlin Barrett, “FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source,” The Washington Post, 7 March 2017.

Probiotics for seasonal allergies!


17456_1269532813224_1076952025_30803996_7657050_nSeasonal allergies are a nuisance. Some 8% of adults and 8.4% of children in the US are treated for hay fever each year. Those numbers may not include a larger number of people who take OTC medication on their own without ever seeing a doctor for treatment.  These allergies are uncomfortable, and the medication may not be particularly effective and can be expensive.

Now we have some good news.

A research team at the University of Florida has found that he probiotic combination of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, sold as Kyo-Dophilus in stores, can alleviate symptoms is those who suffer from mild to moderate seasonal allergies (e.g., hay fever).  (Yes, we’re talking about runny noses, sniffles and sneezes.)  To work, it must be used during allergy season.

The research used an experimental design in which some people were given a probiotic and others a placebo, and the results compared.  The team tested a number of different probiotics.  Kyo-Dophilus was the only one found to be effective.

The research has not been conducted among people with severe allergies, so the effectiveness with that group is simply not known.

Ky0-Dophilus has already been shown to promote digestive health and the immune system.  In fact, stool samples were used to confirm that people participating in the experiment were following instructions.

So, have a healthier colon, stronger immune system and sniffle less.  What’s not to like?


  2. Jennifer C Dennis-Wall, Tyler Culpepper, Carmelo Nieves, Cassie C Rowe, Alyssa M Burns, Carley T Rusch, Ashton Federico, Maria Ukhanova, Sheldon Waugh, Volker Mai, Mary C Christman, Bobbi Langkamp-Henken. Probiotics ( Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2) improve rhinoconjunctivitis-specific quality of life in individuals with seasonal al. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2017; 105 (3): 758 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.140012
  3. University of Florida. “Allergies? Probiotic combination may curb your symptoms, new study finds.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2017. <>.