Water, Autism, Owie Spray, Eating Clay, and Imitation Butter
by Eric Hall
May 10, 2014
I wanted to clear up a few items from my list that don't fit into full posts, but I thought were important to address. One is my post from two weeks ago. Another is a "control anecdote" to counter some anecdotal evidence from essential oil proponents. Lastly is to quickly address another crazy claim making the rounds thanks to a celebrity making mention of it.
Water Causing Autism?
Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about water causing autism. I think most people got it by the end, though a few people expressed concern that it wasn't silly enough and people could misunderstand my motivation. I will link this post to the previous post to hopefully make sure it is clear I was simply demonstrating the foolish logic employed by the anti-everything-science people.
I was watching the discussion following a pro-vaccine post on Facebook and the anti-vaccine crowd was flooding the comments. The amount of scientific misunderstanding both at the immediate level of study after study showing vaccines to be safe, but at a basic level of not understanding simple concepts of chemistry and biology was astounding. I needed to find a way to express how silly this misunderstanding was, and out came my post.
It turns out I wasn't the only one. In a post from Persephone Magazine, Susan uses the classic correlation fallacy in a humorous way to say she wishes she hadn't used car seats for her child. It had many similar themes as my post.
Note: No I don't think she copied me in any way. She published a couple days after I did, but she certainly could have written it well before that. I felt I should point that out here to make sure no one thought I was hinting at that in any way. Her piece was great, and in some ways better than mine!
The sad part is I, and I am guessing Susan, thought using water and car seats were so plainly silly that no one could seriously believe they really caused autism. Well, it turns out the same anti-science garbage websites actually do reach for those connections. Searching water and autism or car seats and autism shows thousands of pages saying each has a link to causing autism. I just have to shake my head. Apparently nothing is safe from the reaches of bad science.
Posts continue to come by my social media feeds on essential oils. Chad Jones did a great job of tackling the overarching claims in his post on Skeptoid. I wrote about some specific examples of recommendations from essential oil sellers that have some dangers associated with them. Once again we have another possible danger with a claim made by those that suggest using "owie spray."
Owie spray is a mix of essential oils and coconut oil. The recipes are similar. While one blogger says the Frankincense is optional, the one to which I will refer says Frankincense is vital because it is "the miracle oil — a wonderful anti inflammatory and great for trauma."
The blog has a series of pictures of her own child, who obviously suffered a serious fall (link again for pictures if you'd like - opens new window). The claim is that after 7 days (originally 5), the wounds were nearly entirely healed, thanks to only the owie spray (after an initial treatment in the ER). First, I am having some doubts about the time frame here. I'm not an expert in photographic analysis, but the hair lengths seem a bit fishy. The differences between days, 4, 6 and 7 seem a bit off as well.
If we assume the number of days are true, I have a control anecdote to show just regular wound care (keeping it clean) is sufficient. While this trauma wasn't quite as severe, my toddler took a spill and smashed his face on the sidewalk, leaving a large scrape on his face. After 7 days, it is nearly healed - with no owie spray. Is it proof owie spray is bogus? No - but no more than the single anecdote is proof it works.
The other issue with owie spray is spraying it on the face can be dangerous. Some oils have already been shown to cause harm to the eyes, including the tea tree oil contained in the owie spray. I wouldn't dare spray this on a face wound as it could cause eye damage.
Note: The case studies show that for diluted oil, most cases to resolve after a few months. However there were a few cases of permanent eye damage reported in what I could find. Just don't take the chance.
Yes. Really. People are eating clay. It stems from actress Shailene Woodley saying she learned from a taxi driver that eating clay is good for you. So in her "research" she learned that clay has a negative charge, so it can absorb the "negative isotopes" from your body. In case you don't know, an isotope refers to an element that has a particular number of neutrons. Chemically, they act the same, but different isotopes of an element have varying levels of stability. Yes, they can become ionized, but that has little to do with which isotope it is.
Her "proof" that it works is that her excretions smell like metal. There are several problems with this. One, clay can contain metal. As it passes through your body, that can certainly be oxidized and get a smell. It is also possible it is pulling the mineral elements of your food out with it, leaving your body lacking those metals it actually needs (like iron). Your body is good at getting excess metal out all by itself (unless you have a large, acute exposure).
You can find classic woo all over the web on the "benefits" of eating clay, and of course most of them will sell you the best stuff for doing it. Ancient cultures do it, and pregnant women occasionally crave dirt, so it must be good and natural are the typical claims. But there is a potential harm. Meredith Melnick at the Huffington Post (yes, the HuffPo - though Meredith does tend to apply a general good science sense to her conclusions) wrote on this as well, and reached the same conclusion that though likely not overly harmful, pregnant women should probably specifically avoid the practice - though it isn't necessary for anyone. And do you really want to reach a medical conclusion based on the advice of an actress who doesn't know the difference between an isotope and an ion?
Fake Butter in Your Shake?
You may have heard of Shakeology. Much like many other MLM nutrition companies, they sell nutrition supplements you are supposed to mix up and drink with other things to make them taste good. It doesn't appear there is anything inherently bad about the product itself - it can be a way to get some nutrition in a hurry. However, the claims of "redcuing toxins" and similar non-FDA evaluated claims are mostly throw-away terms to make it sound good. People post recipes to my social media feeds all the time showing how using this powder with "all-natural" ingredients can be awesome for you and get rid of these toxins we all seem to have so much of inside us.
One of my favorites recently was this recipe:
Birthday Cake Vanilla Shakeology Recipe - YUMMY!!!Birthday Cake Vanilla Shakeology 1 Scoop Vanilla Shakeology 1 Cup Almond Milk 1/2 tsp imitation butter extract 1 Tbsp non fat cheesecake pudding mix Ice Top with sprinkles!!For a product that loves to tout their all-natural ingredients - does it make sense to add imitation butter and cheesecake pudding with artificial flavor to it? Isn't that toxic or something? Shakeology also contains fructose, the same thing as in HFCS. How could they feed us this poison - but at least it is non-GMO, right? And sprinkles? I mean sugar? Really? (Yes I am being facetious.)
My point is the nutrition pseudoscience promoters can't even keep things straight. It is almost as if they have a menu of claims of what is harmful and what is good, and they choose al a carte which ones they will demonize and which ones to promote. Sprinkle in bits of real science and it is a recipe to make lots of money! Again, it isn't that Shakeology is bad for you, it is just the benefits are oversold and the dangers from which it is helping fight off are way oversold.
Maybe if I spray owie spray on my mouth before I mix clay in with my shake mix and then use coconut oil instead of water as the liquid in my shake, I will live forever.
by Eric Hall
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit