The Speed of Light Does Not Prove Evolution

I will not pretend to be an expert. But I’m a little tired of seeing this argument because it’s so easily proven not to be a good argument for the old earth theory.

The argument goes something like this:

“If the speed of light never changes and nothing has interfered with our perception of that light, then the speed of light tells us how far away a light-emitting object is.”

In other words, if the speed of light is 671 million miles per hour, that translates to 16,104,000,000 (16.1 billion) miles per day or 5,865,882,000,000 (5.9 trillion) miles per year. So if a light-emitting object is 5.9 trillion miles away from us, it would take one year for that light to reach us. If a given star is 5 million times that far away from us, and if the speed of light doesn’t change, that means the light took 5 million years to get to us, which means the earth is at least 5 million years old.

The most important point to make regarding this whole concept is that we don’t know what the speed of light was 500 years ago or a thousand years ago or a million years ago. Maybe it was slower. Maybe it was faster. We simply cannot assume that the speed of light never changes.

This may have been something to laugh at before 2002, when a group of scientists casually commented in a paper about black holes that, hey, it looks like the speed of light is slowing down [1]. In fact, it’s been slowing down for the approximately 300 years over which we’ve been measuring the speed of light [2].

Oops.

Obviously, scientists everywhere hated this idea because it would demand a number of huge changes to scientific observation. For example, if the speed of light is slowing down, this would mean there was less radiation yesteryear than today, which means our radiocarbon dating measurements have always been incorrect—specifically, over-estimated [2]. (Side note: this may explain why there are numerous conflicts between carbon dating and observations of the same fossils, e.g., the existence in fossils of DNA, blood cells, blood vessels, proteins, and other structures which should have decayed in far less than a million years [3].)

speed of lightNonetheless, what we have is a slowing speed of light. At our current vantage point, we have no idea whether it looks like A or B or even C and whether the timespan is over several billion years or several thousand years.

In short, the speed of light is not proof of a young earth, nor of creationism. However, it is also not proof of an old earth theory. Since we know it is changing but we can’t know what it was doing in the past, it cannot be used in the present as evidence of what happened in the past.

 

References

[1] Davies, P.C.W., Davis, T.M., & Lineweaver, C.H. (2002). Black holes constrain varying constants. Nature, 418(6898):602–603. doi: 10.1038/418602a. (full text not freely available online, but for now, try this link: http://sci-hub.cc/10.1038/418602a)

[2] http://creationontheweb.com/images/pdfs/tj/j16_3/j16_3_7-10.pdf

[3] http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth

Natural Does Not Imply Safety or Efficacy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the safety of various natural pharmaceuticals* such as homeopathics, herbs, and essential oils. People tend to act like natural pharmaceuticals don’t have any risks and are completely effective and entirely unsusceptible to the problems experienced by allopathic pharmaceuticals. But that’s not necessarily true.

Here are three basic points I came up with.

 

  1. The Desired Therapeutic Effect can Result in Undesired Side Effects

Most people who have a family member over 50 with heart disease are familiar with the therapeutic effects and side effects of aspirin. Aspirin is a blood thinner, which reduces the risk of blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke. However, it can also prevent your blood from

white_willow_bark-product_2x-1439419453

white willow bark

clotting when it needs to, resulting in excessive, even dangerous, bleeding. However, what few people seem to know is that aspirin was originally made from powdered white willow bark. Like aspirin, white willow bark is an effective treatment for fever, pain, and inflammation. It is also effective as a blood thinner. They discovered the active ingredient of willow extract was salicylic acid and subsequently began manufacturing acetylsalicylic acid in 1899. (In fact, if you are allergic to aspirin, you should also not take white willow because you will almost certainly be allergic to white willow as well [1].) Like aspirin, white willow bark poses a risk of excessive bleeding. Other blood thinning herbs, such as garlic and gingko, also pose the same risk of excessive bleeding.

In other words, the desired therapeutic effect can also have undesired side effects.

 

  1. The Desired Effect in Certain Circumstances May Be Undesired in Others

Misoprostol (Cytotec) is a synthetic prostaglandin used to prevent or treat stomach ulcers. However, the fact that it is a prostaglandin also means that it causes uterine contractions. It was initially approved for use as an ulcer preventive/treatment and pregnancy was listed as an cytotecabsolute contraindication to its use. After some experimentation with Cytotec during pregnancy to induce labor, pregnancy was removed as a contraindication. However, Cytotec still should not be used in early pregnancy, when it can cause miscarriage (and, in fact, it is standard to use it alongside methotrexate for the purpose of inducing an abortion) [2].

Similarly, the essential oil Clary Sage can cause uterine contractions. In fact, my fellow midwives often use it to induce or augment labor and, for the same reason, prohibit its use in early pregnancy (since this may result in a miscarriage). I’ve discovered that other naturally-minded

Clarysage

clary sage

groups typically offer the same warning [e.g., 3].

People tend to believe that homeopathics have no risks because, after all, they’re so very, very diluted. However, a particular homeopathic has the same potential issue as the Clary Sage essential oil… Like Clary Sage oil, homeopathic Caulophyllum can cause uterine contractions [e.g., 4]. To be safe, it should therefore be avoided in early pregnancy so as to prevent miscarriage.

Salicylates such as aspirin can cause birth defects in animals, which is why it is not recommended in pregnancy for humans (though the ethical barrier means that it hasn’t been studied in humans) [5]. In fact, salicylates have been specifically used to induce birth defects in animals for research purposes since at least the 1950s [6]. You know what natural product contains salicylates? Wintergreen essential oil, which is composed of a whopping 98% methyl

methyl salycilate

methyl salycilate

salicylate [7]. So does Birch essential oil, at over 95% salicylate [8]. I completely understand being skeptical of claims that a given natural product is unsafe in pregnancy. However, simple reason seems to dictate that a skeptic of the “unsafe” claims would at least fact-check it to be absolutely certain it is safe for their unborn child before using it. Sadly, my experience has been that “oily” people are often rigidly religious about their opinions on essential oils and unlikely to change their opinions in the face of scientific evidence.

In other words, a pharmaceutical that is safe in some circumstances is not always safe in all circumstances.

 

  1. Being Natural Doesn’t Mean it’s 100% Safe

There’s a heart drug called digoxin that is fairly widely used. It helps to slow down one’s heart rate, but this means that if your heart rate is under 60 bpm, you shouldn’t take digoxin because it can slow your heart rate down to an unsafe rate. Furthermore, even when the heart rate is normal, digoxin toxicity can occur. One of the symptoms of digoxin (or digitalis) toxicity is the appearance of yellow haloes around lights.

starry night

Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Have you ever seen Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night? Notice the yellow haloes around the stars? It is widely believed that Van Gogh was suffering from digitalis toxicity—except that digoxin didn’t exist yet. Rather, he was taking the plant from which we first extracted digoxin: foxglove. While foxglove presumably had the desired therapeutic effect on Van Gogh’s health, it poses the risk of toxicity, just as digoxin does today, and the result was Van Gogh’s Starry Night with yellow haloes around the stars [9].

In other words, just because it’s the “natural” version of the drug we use today doesn’t mean it is entirely safe and without risk.

 

  1. The Efficacy Risks of Allopathic Pharmaceuticals are Often Also True of Natural Pharmaceuticals

Penicillin is still used today, though bacteria are widely antibiotic-resistant to penicillin in only 70 short years of use, making penicillin not entirely worthless but nearly so. Another problem is that penicillin kills “good” bacteria as well as “bad” bacteria. The fact that penicillin was originally purified from a mold and was therefore “natural” doesn’t change the fact that it kills (and has always killed)

penicillium

Penicillium mold

both “good” and “bad” bacteria and that bacterial resistance eventually develops, making the product useless. In fact, I recently discovered that herbal-resistance among bacteria have been discovered just like antibiotic resistance. In China, where they widely use both allopathic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM, which is largely herbs), they have done some research on herbal resistance and found that, in some cases, herbal resistance is sadly very widespread [10, 11].

In other words, just because it’s a natural antibacterial doesn’t mean it only kills bad bacteria or that bacterial resistance will not develop.

 

Final Thoughts

The very fact that allopathic pharmaceuticals are effective is what makes them, at times or in certain situations, risky. Some allopathics are just not safe or effective at all. However, many that are effective are simultaneously risky precisely because they are effective. Aspirin is effective at thinning your blood, which is precisely why it poses a risk of excessive bleeding. If a natural pharmaceutical is effective at thinning your blood, it will also pose a risk of excessive bleeding. It doesn’t matter whether it’s natural or synthetic. Health-Welness-BusinessesAnd if a given chemical (e.g., methyl salicylate) causes a specific problem (e.g., birth defects), any product containing that chemical in sufficiently large quantities (e.g., Wintergreen and Birch essential oils) may have the same effect and should be presumed to have the same effect until proven otherwise.

I do believe that natural products can be safer than allopathic products in many cases, and I reach for my essential oils, homeopathics, and herbal tinctures before I reach for the allopathic solutions like Tylenol, ibuprofen, and antibiotics. However, it is clearly to the detriment of our and our children’s health when we are uninformed of the risks posed by these wonderful products and therefore use them unsafely.

It’s impossible for everyone to become a homeopath, a master herbalist, and an aromatherapist purely for use in their own homes. However, at the very least, we can make use of the lists of safe and unsafe natural pharmaceuticals, safe and unsafe uses of natural pharmaceuticals, and contraindications and precautions to natural pharmaceuticals that have been prepared by people who actually are the experts. Remember that ego helps no one, especially in the areas of pharmacology and medicine.

 

Footnotes

* “Pharmaceutical”: This term comes ultimately from Ancient Greek φαρμακευτικός (pharmakeutikós), meaning “drug maker.” The first drugs included essential oils and herbals. Thus, “pharmaceutical” or “pharmacotherapeutic” can mean natural products just as accurately as when it refers to allopathic products.

 

Selected References

[1] http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/willow-bark

[2] Allen, R., & O’Brien, B. M. (2009). Uses of misoprostol in obstetrics and gynecology. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2(3):159-168. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760893/

[3] http://fertilitypregnancyacupunctureclinic.com.au/clary-sage-oil-to-induce-labour-naturally/

[4] http://www.britishhomeopathic.org/charity/how-we-can-help/articles/womens-health/labour-and-childbirth/

[5] Alsaad, A. M. S., Fox, C., & Koren, G. (2015). Toxicology and teratology of the active ingredients of professional therapy MuscleCare products during pregnancy and lactation: A systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 15:40. doi: 10.1186/s12906-015-0585-8. https://bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-015-0585-8

[6] Warkany, J., & Takacs, E. (1959). Experimental production of congenital malformations in rats by salicylate poisoning. American Journal of Pathology, 35(2):315-331. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1934858/

[7] http://essentialoils.co.za/toxic-oils.htm

[8] http://authorscott.com/salicylate-sensitivities-essential-oils-need-know/

[9] Lee, T. C. (1981). Van Gogh’s vision: Digitalis intoxication? JAMA, 245(7):727-729. doi: 10.1001/jama.1981.03310320049025

[10] Tong, Y. Q., Jia, S. L., & Han, B. (2013). Chinese herb-resistant clinical isolates of Escherichia coli. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(4):387-388. doi: 10.1089/acm.2011.0955.

[11] Tong, Y. Q., Xin, B., & Zhu, L. (2014). Transfer of herb-resistance plasmid from Eschirichia coli to Staphylococcus aureas residing in the human urinary tract. Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology, 7(3):e15056. doi: 10.5812/jjm.15056. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4138649/

No, Circumcision Was Not a Mark of Slavery

Anti-circumcision activists (self-branded “intactivists”) claim that circumcision is a mark of slavery—specifically, that slave-owners used circumcision as a means of subjugating their slaves. Some of their memes specifically claim that white American men forced circumcision on their African American slaves. Nothing could be further from the truth! In reality, throughout history, slaves and subjugated races have either been required NOT to circumcise, or have been left alone. I could not find evidence that circumcision was forced on slaves.

 

 

Before America

Let’s step back a bit. Some intactivist sources will start out by specifically mentioning Egypt and claiming that Egyptians circumcised their slaves by force, that circumcision was a mark of slavery. But this is completely false.

In Ancient Egypt, it was recognized that there were hygiene and health benefits to being circumcised. It seemed to be primarily a practice of the middle class and wealthy, with nearly all pharaohs circumcised, and very few slaves (except the Jews, who practiced circumcision before becoming slaves to the Egyptians). Of course, there were certainly exceptions to every rule. But an important point to make is that the intactivist claim that circumcision was a mark of slavery in Egypt is just not true. In reality, nearly all of the pharaohs were circumcised, and those who chose not to undergo the procedure apparently did so to show their spiritual and political superiority over the priests, who performed all circumcisions [1]. If it was predominately a practice of the wealthy and the pharaohs, how could it be a mark of slavery?

Related image

Maccabeean Revolt

In fact, ironically, the opposite is typically true in human history. Circumcision has generally been prohibited of subjugated races rather than required. For example, the Jews were forced to stop circumcising when the white Greeks ruled over them. Although they initially stopped circumcising and circumcised in secret, their ultimate reaction was to fight back in the Maccabeean Revolt, and that battle is commemorated in Hanukkah [2]. As another example, the advanced civilizations of America, such as the Aztecs, practiced circumcision. When the white Spanish conquistadores instituted a systematic destruction of the indigenous cultures, part of their method was to prohibit circumcision, which is why Hispanics to this day do not circumcise—because white man took away their right to do so back in the 1500s [1].

In other words, rather than being forced to circumcise, underdog races have generally been left alone or forced NOT to circumcise.

 

Why Did White Americans Circumcise?

Before we can understand why circumcision might have been recommended for or required of African Americans, we must first understand what Americans thought of circumcision. Why did Americans, Europeans, and others start circumcising in recent centuries?

King Louis XVI

Phimosis has been recognized as a serious foreskin problem since ancient times—in fact, the Greek god Priapus, ironically a god of fertility, is depicted as having severe phimosis, which would have limited his own fertility. In the 1770s, French King Louis XVI suffered from phimosis so severe that he was infertile for the first 8 years of his marriage. After his brother-in-law, Austrian Emperor Joseph II, convinced him to get circumcised, he promptly fathered three children. This may have been the start of circumcision among European royalty, with apparently most of European royalty favoring circumcision, though it remained uncommon or rare among the common people [1].

As far back as the 1820s, it was recognized that circumcision reduced the risk of gonorrhea* [3]. It was also recognized by the 1850s to reduce the risk of syphilis [4] and since at least 1904, if not before, that circumcision reduces the risk of penile cancer [5]. Furthermore, during the 1800s, bacteria were identified as causes of disease, and hygiene was identified as a way to prevent bacterial infections, but bathing was still rare (a weekly event at best), and so hygiene with a foreskin was very difficult, as demonstrated by numerous medical publications on the subject in those days. Surgery was also becoming safer during this time period, so it was no longer seen as a last-ditch effort against death but rather as something one might do for preventive health. They also thought a circumcised penis performed better sexually. So the combination of recognized health benefits, poor hygiene, and a belief that circumcised men were sexually superior, along with advances in surgical technique that made surgery a much safer proposition, led to a gradual rise in the circumcision rate [1].

anti-masturbation device

Around that same time, some uncircumcised men proposed that it is impossible for circumcised men to masturbate. (Allow us a pause for laughter.) Circumcised scholars proved them wrong. Personally, I would have loved to see that scholarly convention. Nonetheless, for this and other reasons, a few people suggested that circumcision might prevent masturbation, which was at that time thought to cause mental illness. However, most sources promoting circumcision made no mention of masturbation, and most sources demonizing masturbation made no mention of circumcision, so this was obviously not a widely-, much less universally-, accepted theory [1].

The experiences of American, Canadian, Australian, and other soldiers in WWI and WWII—where uncircumcised soldiers developed horrific infections and required circumcision—led to a sudden, dramatic rise in the circumcision rate that mere concerns about health and hygiene could not affect [6]. Thus, in the U.S., England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, circumcision became popular. By 1949, the circumcision rates in the U.S. vs. England were 45% vs. 50% for poor boys and 94% vs. 85% for rich boys. In Australia and New Zealand, there were no such class distinctions, and by 1950, circumcision was nearly universal for whites [1, 9].

However, circumcision has always been less common for the poor and minority races. So how do intactivists get the idea that circumcision became a mark of slavery for African Americans?

 

Circumcision and African Americans

Now on to the question of circumcision in American black slavery.

All of the intactivist articles I’ve read fail to provide any pre-Civil War sources. In other words, they provide absolutely no references to African American circumcision before slavery was abolished. So I’m not sure how they can claim that it was a mark of black slavery committed against blacks by whites. Then again, intactivist sources are known to lie shamelessly…

On the other hand, after the Civil War, there were several publications or speeches suggesting that forcibly castrating black men would protect vulnerable white women from rape. At the same time that uncircumcised men thought circumcised men couldn’t masturbate, they also thought circumcised men were less likely to commit rape. So at least one person suggested that circumcision would be a kinder and more humane method than castration, especially given the proven health benefits of circumcision, as there were no known health benefits to castration.

Furthermore, there were discussions in the early 1900s about the rising rate of syphilis among the black population, and because it was known that circumcision lowered the risk of syphilis and was already recommended to whites for that reason, it made sense to recommend it to blacks as well. In this case, it was not suggested that they should force it on black men; it simply said, “As regards personal prophylaxis, all male babies should be circumcised,” which is similar language to that in discussions of white circumcision of the time period. There were also many other recommendations, including condoms (“prophylactic packages”), addressing cocaine and alcohol addiction (since substance use was involved in many rapes), home studies to prevent overcrowding, curfews, making syphilis a legally reportable condition (as it is today, and as were smallpox, measles, pertussis, and other communicable diseases in those days), provisions for the medical care of children born with syphilis, improving care in-hospital (see quote below), improving care in clinics, and more. Altogether, there was exactly one sentence on circumcision as a preventive, and it took up less than four lines of text; the other recommendations took up 26 sentences and over 80 lines of text** [7]. Note also that this was in the days before antibiotics, so there was no really effective treatment for syphilis; thus, most energy was expended on prevention.

“The way that syphilis is treated in the average ward or outpatient department is a disgrace. [….] If a factory turned out goods in the slipshod way that the average hospital hands out syphilitic medication, it would soon go to the wall.” [7]

But again, there is no evidence that circumcision was actually forced on African Americans as a routine measure, either as a mark of slavery or as a means of racial subjugation.

In short, intactivists have drummed up a number of articles that were apparently in the minority opinion and which were never followed-through on. In these articles or speeches, various racists and non-racists alleged that circumcision would benefit the African American male (or others) for a variety of reasons. The racist reasons included preventing black rape of white women. The non-racist reasons included prevention of STDs. The racist ones rarely called for compulsory castration and circumcision of African American males. The non-racist ones called for recommending circumcision to African American males or parents. Speeches on the subject were even given at African American conventions, such as the Coloured Physicians’ Association in 1889 [8]. However, intactivists have failed to present evidence that male circumcision was forced on African Americans at any point, much less that it was a mark of African American slavery.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, I could find no evidence that circumcision has ever (much less predominately) in the history of mankind been a mark of slavery. Rather, slaves and subjugated races have been forced by white man not to circumcise in more than one instance. While there were certainly propositions that circumcision should be recommended for the prevention of various ills (for both racist and non-racist reasons) in the African American male, I can find no evidence that it was ever forced on African Americans. Rather, it seems mostly to have been withheld from them due to the difference in socioeconomic status, as circumcision was predominately a practice of the wealthy and African Americans have long been economically disadvantaged and oppressed.

 

~~

 

FOOTNOTES

*Modern research indicates that might be false, but this was considered a medical fact back then.

**I actually was quite surprised by this article. The author went to great lengths to emphasize that there are many African Americans who have made well for themselves and are physicians, lawyers, etc., and that there is no concern about syphilis among this group; that many European cities have higher illegitimate birth rates than do African Americans, so it’s not a uniquely African American problem at all; and that many white children have deplorable morals compared to African American children, etc., and almost apologetically reiterated that nonetheless, African Americans were for some reason more affected by syphilis than were whites. Until reading this article, I was under the impression that political correctness did not exist in the early 1900s! He proved me wrong. Nonetheless, intactivists contend that this article is an example of stereotyping. It seems they didn’t bother to read the entire article.

 

REFERENCES

[1] Cox, G., & Morris, B. J. (2012). Chapter 21: Why circumcision: From prehistory to the twenty-first century. In Surgical Guide to Circumcision.

[2] History of Hanukkah: https://www.facebook.com/CircumcisionResource/photos/a.735986419837365.1073741827.712201812215826/896702953765710/?type=3

[3] Abernethy, J. (1828). The Consequences of Gonorrhoea. Lectures on Anatomy, Surgery and Pathology: Including Observations on the nature and treatment of local diseases; delivered at St. Bartholomew’s and Christ’s Hospitals, Chapter XXII (pp. 315-316). 163, The Strand, London: James Bulcock.

[4] Hutchinson, J. (1855). On the influence of circumcision in preventing syphilis. Medical Times Gazette, 2:542-543.

[5] Sutherland, D. W. (1904). The Middlesex Hospital Cancer Research Laboratories. Archives of the Middlesex Hospital, 3:84. https://books.google.com/books?id=7o5MAQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

[6] https://www.facebook.com/CircumcisionResource/photos/a.735986419837365.1073741827.712201812215826/764754116960595/?type=3

[7] Hazen, H. H. (1914). Syphilis in the American negro. Journal of the American Medical Association, 63(3):463-468.

[8] At least, according to an intactivist website. I was unable to locate the source they cited.

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2051968/?page=3

Chickenpox and Shingles Vaccines SHORT

This is the short version. For the long version with references, click here.

Varicella virus

What are chickenpox and shingles?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious rash caused by varicella zoster virus. Chickenpox infection generally confers lifelong immunity. You may develop an infection without symptoms, and this also generally confers immunity. It is normally a very mild rash illness and only very rarely causes serious complications; children with eczema are not at increased risk of complications. Death is very rare. However, in otherwise healthy adults, the chickenpox complication rate is 15-25 times higher and the death rate is 20 times higher.

After a chickenpox infection, the virus hibernates in a nerve. In times of stress or immune suppression, the virus may reawaken and cause shingles. (You cannot catch shingles. You can catch chickenpox, which might later develop into shingles if your immunity is low.) Shingles is associated with 4-5 times higher complication rate and medical costs than chickenpox.

Chickenpox vaccines are typically given twice in early childhood in North America, Germany, and Australia. The shingles vaccine is given to older adults. Most of the developed world does not use these vaccines.

How can I prevent or treat chickenpox and shingles in my child?

Because chickenpox is mild in childhood but potentially serious in adulthood, many people choose to intentionally expose their child and get it over with in childhood. If you choose to do this, avoid people with immune suppression, pregnant women, and infants during the contagious period. Do not mail infectious material and do not intentionally expose others without their knowledge and consent.

It takes about 10-21 days after exposure for the first spots to appear. Chickenpox is contagious from about 2 days before the spots appear to as much as 7 days later, when the spots are all crusted over. A fever often occurs for one or two days before the first spots appear. To prevent infection, avoid children with chickenpox, fever, or unidentified rash.

The vaccine contains a live virus. There have been several reports of people developing chickenpox with vaccine-strain virus shortly after a close contact was vaccinated. To prevent infection, avoid people who have recently been vaccinated against chickenpox or shingles.

Exposure to chickenpox acts as a natural “booster shot” to protect adults against shingles. If you or your child have had chickenpox or the vaccine, prevent shingles by seeking exposure to chickenpox.

You can treat chickenpox with calamine lotion and daily baths with soap and water. Do not use aspirin, Tylenol, or Benadryl (diphenhydramine), and do not use lotions that have diphenhydramine in them. Use ibuprofen to lower a fever only if the fever is over 106°F (41.1°C). You should generally not take steroids during a chickenpox infection; if your child is on steroids, talk to your doctor about whether to stop the steroids until he recovers. Use anti-infectives such as silver nitrate and essential oils on the spots to prevent bacterial infection. If he develops a secondary fever after the spots have appeared, seek immediate medical attention.

How effective are the vaccines at preventing asymptomatic carriage?

Vaccinated people can have asymptomatic infections with both vaccine-strain and wild-type varicella viruses, and have proven to be contagious during that time. However, whether the vaccine reduces, increases, or has no effect on the degree or duration of asymptomatic carriage is unknown.

How effective are the vaccines?

The chickenpox vaccine is more effective when fewer children receive it because natural exposure to chickenpox boosts immunity, so vaccinated children get a natural “booster shot” from their unvaccinated friends. However, in communities where chickenpox vaccination is widespread, effectiveness drops to very low levels within a few years. A few studies found it to be completely ineffective or even reverse-effective (increased the chickenpox rates). When the vaccine fails, people tend to get chickenpox at an older age, when it is more dangerous.

Since exposure to chickenpox boosts immunity and prevents shingles, researchers predicted that widespread chickenpox vaccination would increase shingles rates. They were proven right by numerous studies in many countries using the vaccine. Because shingles is much more dangerous than chickenpox, the vaccine results in overall increased complication rate and medical costs, so the vaccine is neither effective nor cost-effective. Furthermore, the addition of new booster shots and shingles vaccines to fix this problem is not cost-effective and is associated with a higher complication rate than if children had been permitted to get chickenpox naturally.

The shingles vaccine may be as much as 51% effective and last 1 month to 5 years, necessitating numerous booster shots. It is less effective in people over 70 and completely ineffective in people over 80. Exposure to a child with chickenpox would be much more effective and much safer.

Are there other infectious diseases related to chickenpox/shingles vaccination?

MMR vaccination indirectly resulted in increased severity of chickenpox. This increased severity is part of why the CDC recommends chickenpox vaccination. However, most of Europe still agrees that the risks of chickenpox vaccination far outweigh any possible benefit.

What are the risks of the vaccines?

Adverse reactions to the chickenpox vaccine are at least equal to, and some research shows is greater than, adverse reactions to chickenpox infection. The combination MMR and chickenpox vaccine causes a higher fever and more seizures than MMR and chickenpox vaccines given separately. Chickenpox vaccination increases the risks of shingles, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and heart attacks, and brain tumors.

The shingles vaccine is associated with a very high rate of adverse reactions, especially in the oldest groups. The vaccine also causes severe autoimmune reactions, including a doubled risk of arthritis and tripled risk of alopecia.

So what’s the bottom line?

Chickenpox is very mild in childhood and has some long-term health benefits (e.g., decreased risk of multiple sclerosis, heart disease/heart attack, brain tumors), but poses much greater risk and fewer benefits in adulthood. Vaccination may merely delay chickenpox infection until adulthood, when it has considerably more risk. Natural chickenpox infection and repeated exposure to chickenpox decreases the risk of shingles. Conversely, chickenpox vaccination has very low effectiveness against chickenpox, increases the risk of shingles, and results in more severe shingles occurring at younger ages. Shingles is much more dangerous than chickenpox. The shingles vaccine does not appear to be very effective, but research is very limited; it is not effective in the oldest groups and is not yet approved for people under 50. Both vaccines are associated with some serious adverse effects, especially the shingles vaccine.

 

 

Chickenpox and Shingles Vaccines

This is a continuation of a series I’ve been helping to write for an education forum. This is the LONG version. For the short version, click here.

Image result for chickenpox virus

Varicella virus

What is chickenpox? What is shingles?

Chickenpox (varicella) is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus known as varicella zoster virus. Cases tend to peak in winter and spring. You can also have chickenpox and develop immunity without ever developing symptoms. Generally speaking, chickenpox infection confers lifelong immunity. In children, chickenpox is generally very mild and only very rarely causes serious complications. However, in otherwise healthy adults, the complication rate is 15-25 times higher. Childhood chickenpox causes death in roughly 1 per 40,000 infections, so the risk of death from chickenpox in the U.S. is lower than the risk of death by lightning strike. However, the death rate from adulthood chickenpox infection is 20 times higher. In fact, even though children make up over 98% of chickenpox cases, adults make up almost half of chickenpox deaths [1-3]. Children with eczema are not at increased risk of complications [1].

After a chickenpox infection, the virus hibernates in a nerve. In times of stress and immune system dysfunction, the virus may reawaken and cause shingles. Shingles is associated with 4-5 times higher complication rate and medical costs than chickenpox [3].

In the U.S., the chickenpox vaccine is given at 12-15 months and again at 4-6 years [4]. The shingles vaccine is recommended for people over the age of 60 [5].

In Canada, the chickenpox vaccine is given alone or with the MMR at 12 mo, 15 mo, 18 mo, and/or 4-6 years, depending on the province [6]. The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults aged 50 and over [7].

 

How can I prevent chickenpox and shingles in my child?

A longstanding practice is to intentionally expose children to chickenpox because the infection is almost always harmless in children, but much more serious in adults. This practice is regarded as rarely harmful, but poses some risk of exposing immunocompromised people, with the exception that children with a planned exposure can have planned isolation during the potentially contagious period while children with an accidental exposure cannot. If you plan to intentionally infect your child, you should avoid immunocompromised people, pregnant women, and people with severe lung disease until you know for certain that your child is not contagious [1-2]. Also, if you choose to intentionally infect your child, be aware that mailing infectious material is highly illegal, in part because it is unknown how many people might be unknowingly exposed. Exposure is therefore best done in person.

It takes about 10-21 (usually 14-15) days after exposure to chickenpox before you develop the first spots; fever often occurs before the spots appear. The spots disappear within 7-10 days. Chickenpox is most contagious between 2 days before and 3 days after the start of the rash; but it is generally considered that children with chickenpox are contagious until at least 5 days after the onset of the rash or until all of the spots are dry and crusted. It is mainly contracted by direct contact with the spots, but it can be airborne as well. You can also catch chickenpox from direct contact with shingles lesions, but shingles is far less contagious. (You cannot catch shingles from shingles. But you can catch chickenpox from shingles. This is because the first time the virus causes an outbreak in you, it’s always chickenpox.) [1] To prevent chickenpox, avoid exposure to children with chickenpox, fever, or unidentified rash.

The chickenpox vaccine is a live virus vaccine, meaning the virus in the vaccine is capable of causing a chickenpox infection. There have been reported cases of people contracting the disease from a recently-vaccinated individual. For example, one pregnant woman contracted vaccine-strain chickenpox after her child was vaccinated [8]. In another case, an adult woman received the vaccine and both she and her children shortly afterward developed vaccine-strain chickenpox [9]. In yet another very alarming case, a woman who did not develop any symptoms, such as the characteristic rash, passed the vaccine-strain virus on to her newborn, who developed chickenpox [10]. The shingles vaccine is also a live virus [11] and so can be presumed to shed as well. To prevent chickenpox, you should also avoid individuals who have recently received the chickenpox or shingles vaccines, as they should be considered just as contagious as someone who has an asymptomatic chickenpox infection.

However, ironically, the exact opposite should be done to prevent shingles. Regular exposure to chickenpox acts as a natural “booster shot” to protect adults against shingles [12-15]. In fact, working in childcare reduces your chances of developing shingles by 94% [12]! (That’s FAR more effective than the vaccine, as you’ll see later.) If you have been infected with the chickenpox virus in the past, then to prevent shingles, you should seek exposure to chickenpox.

 

How can I treat chickenpox and shingles in my child?

Even though exposure to chickenpox boosts immunity, and exposing a child with an active infection to people who are already immune would boost their immunity and benefit them by reducing their risk of shingles, it is considered unethical to intentionally expose someone without their knowledge. Thus, you should isolate your child during the contagious period, except to people who are aware of your child’s contagiousness and willing to expose themselves. You should also keep your child away from people who are at higher risk of complications, such as infants, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people.

Generally speaking, you can give anti-fever medicine if your child develops fever. However, research has shown that Tylenol is not effective for chickenpox [1]. Other research has shown that anti-fever medicine degrades some of the immune response and makes the illness last longer, and so giving anti-fever medicine may be counterproductive [16, 17]. Do not give aspirin, which may cause a serious disorder called Reye’s syndrome in children with chickenpox. If you do give aspirin and your child develops vomiting, go to the emergency room, as this is a sign of Reye’s syndrome [1]. In short, Tylenol doesn’t work, ibuprofen might be counter-productive, and aspirin might be dangerous. In other words, it’s probably best not to use anti-fever medicine unless the fever is over 106°F (41.1°C) [18].

Do not give Benadryl, including any creams that have Benadryl in them, because Benadryl toxicity has often been reported in children with chickenpox [1]. Calamine lotion can give effective symptom relief, but make sure it doesn’t have Benadryl (diphenhydramine) in it. Daily baths with soap and water can also help destroy the virus and prevent bacterial infection [1].

Children with eczema are not at increased risk of complications. However, it’s important to note that a steroid cream should not be used during chickenpox, so if a child’s eczema is being treated with a steroid cream, you should stop using the cream while he has chickenpox [1].

An antiviral drug called acyclovir may shorten the length of the illness and reduce its severity, but does not reduce contagiousness. However, it does not reduce complications and has to be started no later than the first day of the rash because if it is started on or after the second day, it is ineffective [1]. Acyclovir also does not reduce complications in adults [2].

The most common complication, occurring in 1-4% of chickenpox infections, is a bacterial infection of the spots [1]. This should be prevented by keeping the spots clean, not breaking them open, and treating them with an anti-infective such as silver nitrate or certain essential oils. A brief fever before the spots appear is common. But if a second fever occurs several days after the spots appear, your child may have a serious bacterial infection and you should seek immediate medical attention [1].

Chickenpox may rarely cause pneumonia. You can prevent this by boosting your child’s immune system during the outbreak and having him breathe in an anti-infective such as certain essential oils. However, if your child develops difficulty breathing or starts looking sicker after he had started to get better (e.g., tired/lethargic, feverish, etc.), you should seek immediate medical attention [1].

 

How effective are the vaccines at preventing asymptomatic carriage?

Some studies have found that children who were vaccinated may develop shingles with the wild-type virus [19-20]. In other words, even though they never had symptomatic chickenpox, they apparently had an asymptomatic infection with the wild-type virus. This means vaccinated individuals can have asymptomatic infections with the wild-type virus in spite of having been vaccinated. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, there has been at least one recorded case of an asymptomatic individual passing on vaccine-strain virus to her newborn child [10].

So, in short, vaccinated people can have asymptomatic infections with both the wild-type and the vaccine-strain virus, and can be contagious during that time. However, whether the vaccine affects the degree or duration of asymptomatic contagiousness has not to my knowledge been studied with the chickenpox vaccine. (Other studies have found that some vaccines increase or decrease, but do not eliminate, the length of asymptomatic carriage, as discussed in my previous posts on pertussis, meningococcal, HiB, and pneumococcal.)

Until proven otherwise, vaccinees should be considered at equal risk of asymptomatic carriage.

 

How effective are the chickenpox and shingles vaccines?

The chickenpox vaccine has highly disputed effectiveness. Because natural exposure to children with the infection boosts immunity, the vaccine is more effective when fewer children receive it [12-15, 21]. We also know, for example, that vaccinees can get both chickenpox [8-9] and shingles [19-20, 22] from the vaccine virus.

A Japanese study reported that 34.2% of chickenpox-vaccinated children developed symptomatic chickenpox within 7 years after vaccination. The study did not continue after 7 years, but it can presumably affect more children who are further away from the date of their vaccine. The study also did not look for evidence of asymptomatic infection. The authors concluded that the vaccine may reduce the severity of the symptoms but is not strong enough to prevent infection [23]. A South Korean study found that chickenpox cases actually increased after the vaccine was introduced, and that symptoms were not milder in vaccinated children [24].

Since exposure to chickenpox boosts immunity and prevents shingles, researchers had long predicted that a decrease in chickenpox might cause an increase in shingles, estimating that it would result in an overall increased mortality rate (because shingles is more dangerous), with the increased disease and complications from shingles cancelling out any benefit from decreased chickenpox [12, 25-26]. In fact, this was the primary reason why nearly all European countries have chosen to forgo chickenpox vaccination. Some researchers even argued that it is unethical to vaccinate children against chickenpox, knowing that it will result in increased overall morbidity and mortality [27].

The researchers who predicted an increase in shingles were proven right when numerous studies in multiple countries using the chickenpox vaccine (including North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia) found that shingles cases increased and occurred in younger and younger ages, that cases of severe complications from shingles increased and occurred in ever younger ages, that chickenpox also occurred at younger and younger ages, and that chickenpox vaccination overall increased complications and medical costs—in other words, it was neither effective nor cost-effective [14-15, 21, 28-34].

Because the vaccines had very little effectiveness and also increased the incidence of shingles, it was necessary to add a booster shot [21] and later a shingles vaccine. The addition of these new vaccine doses is not cost-effective and is associated with a higher rate of complications than if vaccination had never been started [21].

According to CDC, the shingles vaccine lasts 5 years [5]. However, the research is less than inspiring. The study conducted by the shingles vaccine manufacturer, Merck, found that it was at best 51% effective, but many of the patients were only followed for 31 days [11], so all we know for certain is that it might cut your risk in half for the first month after receiving it. Furthermore, they found it to be less than 40% effective for those aged 70 and older, while in people over 80 years old, the vaccine was only as effective as placebo—in other words, completely ineffective [11, 35]. It is also not effective at preventing postherpetic neuralgia (i.e., shingles pain) [35].

 

Are there other infectious diseases related to chickenpox and shingles vaccination?

After the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine was introduced, cases of encephalitis (serious brain inflammation) due to measles, mumps, and rubella essentially disappeared. However, it was replaced with an even greater number of encephalitis cases by other bacteria and viruses that both had and had not been previously associated with encephalitis, including chickenpox encephalitis. Furthermore, these new cases of encephalitis occurred in younger age groups, which post more serious risks [36]. In other words, MMR vaccination triggered more dangerous chickenpox infections, and one of the CDC’s cited reasons for chickenpox vaccination is the potential for severe complications like encephalitis [37]. In most of Europe, it is still argued that because chickenpox is very mild in childhood and very severe in adulthood, and the increased shingles risk offsets any potential benefit, there is no justification for routine childhood chickenpox vaccination [38].

 

What are the risks of the vaccines?

Chickenpox

Some research suggests that adverse events from varicella vaccination are at least equal to the adverse events of chickenpox infection that the vaccine prevented—in other words, there is no net change in adverse events between nearly 100% natural infection rate and nearly 100% vaccination rate [14].

In one study, systemic adverse reactions occurred in 11.9% of the vaccinated children [24]. The manufacturer reports that the vaccine has caused some of the same serious side effects associated with the wild-type disease, such as pneumonitis [10]. There is a combination MMR and chickenpox vaccine called ProQuad which is associated with higher fever and seizure rates compared to children who get MMR and chickenpox vaccination separately [39].

Shingles. Non-immunocompromised individuals can also develop vaccine-strain shingles as shortly as 2 years after vaccination [19-20, 22].

Indirect risks include the following:

Multiple Sclerosis. There is an increased risk of MS in people who contract measles, mumps, rubella, or chickenpox at a later age [40]. Because the vaccines wear off and therefore put the individual at increased risk of infection at a later age, there is an indirectly increased risk of MS in children who receive the vaccine at a young age.

Heart Disease/Attacks. There is a decreased risk of heart disease such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks in people who had chickenpox in childhood. Chickenpox reduces the risk of heart disease and heart attacks by 33% [41]. Thus, indirectly, chickenpox vaccination may increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.

Brain Tumors. People who have had chickenpox in childhood have a lower risk of certain aggressive brain tumors called gliomas [42-44]. Thus, indirectly, chickenpox vaccination may increase the risk of brain tumors.

 

Shingles

One study by the manufacturer of the shingles vaccine, Merck, reported a relatively high adverse reaction and severe adverse reaction rate following shingles vaccination. The complication rate was especially high in those over 80 years old [11, 35].

The shingles vaccine has been noted to cause severe autoimmune reactions, including a doubled risk of arthritis and a tripled risk of alopecia [45]. The manufacturer study also found that people who received the shingles vaccine at the same time as the pneumonia vaccine had less of an immune response [11].

Another study of a newer shingles vaccine that is not currently available in the U.S. found that adverse reactions occurred in 84% of vaccine recipients within 7 days, and adverse reactions that were severe enough to prevent daily activities occurred in 17% of vaccinees [46].

 

What vaccines are offered against chickenpox and shingles?

(NOTE: These ingredients lists are not complete; they only list the most alarming ingredients.)

Chickenpox (Varicella)

  • ProQuad (U.S.). MMRV (measles-mumps-rubella-varicella) vaccine. Contains live measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella viruses. Ingredients include chick embryo, aborted human fetus lung cells (WI-38), aborted human fetus cells (MRC-5), cow serum, human albumin, monosodium L-glutamate (MSG), human albumin, and neomycin [39].
  • Varivax (U.S.). Varicella-only vaccine. Contains live varicella virus. Ingredients include human embryonic cells, aborted human fetus lung cells (WI-38), guinea pig cells, DNA and protein from aborted human fetus cells (MRC-5), monosodium L-glutamate (MSG), EDTA, and neomycin [10].
  • Varilrix (AU). Varicella-only vaccine. Contains live varicella virus. Ingredients include aborted human fetus cells (MRC-5), human albumin, lactose, cow products, and neomycin [47].

 

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

  • Zostavax (U.S.). Contains live varicella virus. Ingredients include porcine (pig) gelatin, monosodium L-glutamate (MSG), residual DNA and protein from MRC-5 (aborted human fetus) cells, neomycin, and calf serum [11].

 

So what’s the bottom line?

Chickenpox is very mild in childhood and has some long-term health benefits (e.g., decreased risk of multiple sclerosis, heart disease/heart attack, brain tumors), but poses much greater risk and fewer benefits in adulthood. Vaccination may merely delay chickenpox infection until adulthood, when it has considerably more risk. Natural chickenpox infection and repeated exposure to chickenpox decreases the risk of shingles. Conversely, chickenpox vaccination has very low effectiveness against chickenpox, increases the risk of shingles, and results in more severe shingles occurring at younger ages. Shingles is much more dangerous than chickenpox. The shingles vaccine does not appear to be very effective, but research is very limited; it is not effective in the oldest groups and is not yet approved for people under 50. Both vaccines are associated with some serious adverse effects, especially the shingles vaccine.

 

References

[1] http://sci-hub.cc/10.1016/S0163-4453(98)80154-0

[2] http://sci-hub.cc/10.1016/S0163-4453(98)80155-2

[3] http://www.vaccinationcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Goldman-SummaryofChickenpoxVaccine1.pdf

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/child/0-18yrs-child-combined-schedule.pdf

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/index.html

[6] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/provincial-territorial-immunization-information/provincial-territorial-routine-vaccination-programs-infants-children.html

[7] http://immunize.ca/uploads/printed-material/shingles/hz_2014_brochure_e.pdf

[8] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347697701409

[9] https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/176/4/1072/883761/Transmission-of-Vaccine-Strain-Varicella-Zoster

[10] https://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/v/varivax/varivax_pi.pdf

[11] https://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/z/zostavax/zostavax_pi2.pdf

[12] http://websenti.u707.jussieu.fr/sentiweb/1260.pdf

[13] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0066485

[14] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X12007761

[15] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0077709

[16] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/health/11klass.html

[17] https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/31/Supplement_5/S185/333528/Physiological-Rationale-for-Suppression-of-Fever

[18] http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/fever/

[19] http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/21346684

[20] https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/208/11/1859/852912/Incidence-and-Clinical-Characteristics-of-Herpes

[21] http://www.ozbyte.com/medicalveritas.com/R0010.pdf

[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23358727

[23] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-200X.1997.tb03664.x/full

[24] http://cvi.asm.org/content/21/5/762.full

[25] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X02001809

[26] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marc_Brisson/publication/11032443_Varicella_vaccination_a_double-edged_sword/links/545b9ba20cf249070a7a77b3.pdf

[27] http://vaccineliberationarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Varicella-Shingles.pdf

[28] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X03008776

[29] https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-5-68

[30] http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1003.8925&rep=rep1&type=pdf

[31] https://elifesciences.org/content/4/e07116

[32] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hassan_Vally/publication/45797722_Herpes_zoster_in_Australia_Evidence_of_increase_in_incidence_in_adults_attributable_to_varicella_immunization/links/5653f07f08aefe619b1978c9.pdf

[33] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/infection-control-and-hospital-epidemiology/article/div-classtitleherpes-zosterrelated-hospitalizations-and-expenditures-before-and-after-introduction-of-the-varicella-vaccine-in-the-united-statesdiv/763A3D016D7E1A5527BF0CA375BC686B

[34] http://eurosurveillance.org/images/dynamic/EE/V19N41/art20926.pdf

[35] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1310369#SA3?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed

[36] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s004310050658

[37] https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/about/complications.html

[38] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/chickenpox-vaccine-questions-answers.aspx

[39] https://www.fda.gov/downloads/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/ApprovedProducts/UCM123796.pdf

[40] http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/26167

[41] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021915006002723

[42] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.23741/full

[43] https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/154/2/161/80528/Prevalence-of-Antibodies-to-Four-Herpesviruses

[44] https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/145/7/581/94598/Familial-and-Personal-Medical-History-of-Cancer

[45] http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/26151783

[46] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMOA1501184#t=article

[47] https://au.gsk.com/media/265139/varilrix_pi_008_approved.pdf

 

Chiropractors in a Fallen World

When I was 18, I woke up one morning with severe pain in my sacrum, the lowest part of my back. I found that I couldn’t walk, sit, crawl, kneel, or do anything comfortably except lie down. At the age of 18, you shouldn’t wake up one morning unable to walk.

Image result for chiropractor

I called a chiropractor I had recently met. She and I both specialized in maternity and newborns, so it was an eagerly-anticipated meeting, though honestly, it went nowhere because we had almost no professional need for each other. But now I found I had a personal need for her.

It took a few days to get in to see her, during which time I tried every recommended treatment she offered, from heat to cold, from massage to drugs. After the first adjustment, the pain almost completely vanished. After the second, it was entirely nonexistent. Initially, I saw her twice a week, then once a week, then once every other week, and finally once a month.

Having visits once a month was sufficient to control my pain. As long as I saw her once a month, the pain was gone. However, I struggled to square the idea that I, a healthy 18-year-old who had never experienced any injuries and didn’t have any musculoskeletal diseases, could be living in chronic pain. When the first chiropractor moved away, I tried another. After she moved away, I tried another and another. They all kept me out of pain, but I was frustrated by the need to seek chronic care. Would I need to use chiropractors for the rest of my life?

Image result for chiropractor

The second chiropractor introduced me to Foot Levelers. These eliminated my pain for a year at a time or more. However, they are expensive and only cover the pain. I thought surely there must be a permanent fix somewhere.

I haven’t found that permanent fix. And I’m having to accept the idea that I will simply live with chronic pain for the rest of my life. It seems like it shouldn’t be that way, but however you look at it, that’s sort of a fact of life. From the evolutionary perspective (specifically, the Laws of Thermodynamics), everything runs down over time. From the creationist perspective, sickness entered the world after the Fall. We live in a Fallen world, and my chronic pain is one of many symptoms of our world’s sickness.

It may seem hopeless when I phrase it like that. But let me put it this way…

With chiropractors, I experienced complete or nearly complete symptom relief with completely non-invasive and relatively inexpensive regular adjustments and/or Foot Levelers.

With mainstream medical doctors, I would possibly undergo surgery with the promise of more chronic pain (just a different kind) and no assurance of cure, and physical therapy to somewhat ameliorate the problems caused by the surgery. I would also receive pain medication, which would become less and less effective over time, a pharmacological fact known as “tolerance,” which would lead to more and more use of heavier and heavier drugs until I was popping tens of pills per day, many of them narcotics, and likely developing dependence and even addiction.

Without either chiropractors or medical doctors, I would experience crippling pain every day of my life.

I choose the better option. And I am eternally grateful to my chiropractors for keeping me out of pain.

Is Circumcision Cosmetic?

A philosophical question sometimes raised is the following:

“Is circumcision cosmetic?”

The answer is YES and NO.

baby-boy

Definition of Cosmetic

The term “cosmetic” comes from the Greek kosmetikos, which comes from kosmein (“arrange” or “adorn”), which comes from kosmos (“order” or “adornment”). Thus, “cosmetic” would refer to anything that restores or improves the appearance of something. However, “cosmetic” is also very much subjective.

For example, a very decorative bridle has both the non-cosmetic function of controlling the horse and the cosmetic function of improving the horse’s appearance. However, to an animal rights activist who sees any form of animal bondage as ugly, the bridle would not serve a cosmetic purpose. Obviously, it also serves no cosmetic purpose to the horse himself, either. As in this situation, almost anything may be either cosmetic or non-cosmetic depending on the subjective feelings of the audience.

 

Cosmetic, Medical, or Both?

When something is referred to as “purely cosmetic” or “only cosmetic” or “solely cosmetic,” the implication is that it serves no purpose other than to improve the appearance.

For example, breast augmentation is purely cosmetic. However, breast reduction surgery may be cosmetic or it may be a combination of medical and cosmetic because reducing the size of the breasts reduces strain on the upper back, posing health benefits.

It is also possible for something to have medical purpose without being cosmetic, and this is, by far, the most common reason for a given surgery.

For example, a mastectomy for breast cancer serves medical purpose, but does not improve the woman’s appearance (in any culture) and thus is not cosmetic. If, however, the woman and her physician opted for a combination mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, it would be both medical and cosmetic since the mastectomy is purely medical and the breast reconstruction is purely cosmetic.

 

So What About Circumcision?

Even intactivists must admit that there are times when circumcision poses medical benefits. Anti-circumcision physicians around the globe admit that prophylactic (preventive; i.e., before there’s a problem) newborn circumcision poses medical benefits; the disagreement is whether the medical benefits outweigh the cultural, cosmetic drawbacks to circumcision in anti-circumcision cultures where the foreskin is highly valued. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that circumcision does have medical benefits, and so newborn circumcision cannot sincerely be labeled “purely” or “only” or “solely” cosmetic.

Furthermore, circumcision may not be cosmetic at all. If you consider a circumcised penis to be more attractive than an uncut penis, then circumcision would be cosmetic for you. If, however, you consider an uncut penis to be more attractive, then circumcision, like a mastectomy, would not be cosmetic. Thus, whether circumcision is cosmetic depends entirely on the subjective feelings of the people who would be affected by, and must make decisions regarding, that penis—e.g., the parents, the child, and his future partners. If the parents oppose circumcision for cultural reasons (e.g., most Western Europeans), then their choice is solely cosmetic. If the parents or the individual choose(s) circumcision for cultural reasons without regard for the proven health benefits (e.g., certain tribal circumcisions), then their choice is purely cosmetic, but the procedure itself is not purely cosmetic because the procedure still has health benefits.

Parents in developed nations rarely make the decision to circumcise based on a desire for their child’s penis to be “attractive.”* Rather, nearly all parents in developed nations choose circumcision at least in part due to a belief in the medical benefits. Thus, it cannot be argued that the choice is cosmetic in all, or even most, cases. In fact, because the medical benefits are cited even by those making a primarily religious choice, one would be hard-pressed to find a pro-circ parent (i.e., one who currently identifies as pro-circumcision, regardless of the choice they ended up making for financial or other reasons) whose reason was entirely cosmetic.

 

The Bottom Line

So in short, because it has health benefits, the circumcision procedure cannot be considered “purely” cosmetic. Furthermore, circumcision is almost never a cosmetic choice in the developed world because it is not made based on a belief in the greater attractiveness of the circumcised penis. However, the end-result may be cosmetic if the people involved generally consider it to be more attractive. Thus, circumcision is either: (1) purely medical and non-cosmetic, or (2) a combination of medical and cosmetic. However, circumcision cannot sincerely be labeled “purely cosmetic.”

 

Side Notes

*However, intactivists’ projection of this (the belief in the circumcised penis’s attractiveness) on pro-circ parents as their primary reason for choosing circumcision strongly implies that intactivists’ choice not to circumcise is largely based on a belief that the uncut penis is attractive—which, frankly, is quite disturbing—as demonstrated by their inability to conceive of people choosing circumcision for any other reason and projection of their own reasons onto others.