Posts Tagged ‘self-experimentation’

The argument for running barefoot

July 16, 2009

From Wired Science:

“People have been running barefoot for millions of years and it has only been since 1972 that people have been wearing shoes with thick, synthetic heels,” said Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

Strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.

The author tried it. He (?) advises starting slow, no more than 10 percent barefoot running in a week. Here’s a barefoot strengthening program (.doc).

A related JR classic: The evolutionary origins of the New York City Marathon

[H/T: Gene Expression]


A disgusting way to control hay fever

July 16, 2009

From New Scientist:

In the mid-1970s, while working at the UK’s Medical Research Council Laboratories in Surrey, he [John Turton] intentionally infected himself with hookworms in an attempt to relieve his chronic hay fever. It worked. For two summers while he harboured the parasites, his allergy abated, only to return when he was free of them (The Lancet, vol 308, p 686).

Here’s what that means:

Hookworm larvae […] enter through the skin and make their way through the bloodstream to the lungs, where they pass through the thin-walled blood vessels. They then travel up from the lungs into the trachea, only to be coughed up and swallowed, allowing them to reach the small intestine where they develop into adult worms. “The potential protective effects of hookworm infections on asthma may be related to these parasites’ lung migration phase,” Flohr says.

Worms suppress the immune system, which could have adverse effects in the long run.

Not all worm infections are the same. Read the whole story to find out which disgusting parasite is right for you.

[H/T: Seth Roberts]

Barry Marshall did not give himself an ulcer

April 10, 2009

If somebody on the street knew who Barry Marshall was, they’d probably tell you he got his share of a 2005 Nobel Prize for drinking some bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) and getting a stomach ulcer from it. They’d be wrong. Marshall in fact did not develop an ulcer. What he got was a case of gastritis – inflammation of the stomach lining – that largely resolved itself in a couple of weeks, according to original 1985 paper.

Maybe it’s partly because gastritis isn’t a common term. And maybe Marshall hammed it up a tiny bit. It’s hard to tell. In his Nobel autobiography, he implies he sought treatment for the gastritis after he had made his point.

Either way, the gastritis was extremely suggestive but not enough to rigorously prove a link between H. pylori and ulcers. It would take until about the mid-90s for researchers to fill in enough pieces of the puzzle to believe the link and endorse prescribing an antibiotic for ulcers as a rule, which was a separate question, according to anesthesiologist Kimball Atwood in this 2004 Skeptical Inquirer article.

Atwood argued an urban legend of sorts has grown up around Marshall’s self-experiment, citing claims that the gradual acceptance of Marshall and Warren’s hypothesis provides evidence of the medical-industrial complex dragging its feet.

Whether anyone dragged their feet in a socially significant way is subjective but you can’t argue with the illness Marshall actually reported, which was not an ulcer. This is interesting because it shows how quickly even a Nobel moment can get lost down the memory hole.

H. pylori is an ongoing public health story. Sci Am published a feature in 2005, the same year Marshall and his buddy Robin Warren won their Nobel, arguing that people in rich countries could be at greater risk of esophageal cancer because the bug actually protects against it. (See also my story on nitrate’s bad rap.)

Seth Roberts goes so far as to say the bacterium is not even the cause of stomach ulcers:

Marshall and Warren did not consider that lifestyle factors might cause immune efficiency to go down, leading to increased growth of the bacterium.

I guess it depends on what you consider normal. Where’s Aristotle when you need him?

What’s wrong with the world?: Seth Roberts edition

March 30, 2009

Null hypothesis: The reason Seth Roberts and his diet don’t get more respect is because for him to do so might jeopardize a lot of somebody’s profits. Of course, that would require him to be right, about which I have little idea. But his ideas don’t sound especially crazy to me. Why wouldn’t we trust his own self reports and the way he treats them? That’s a big part of what the practice of science is, right?

Do we think NIH-funded science is somehow completely untainted by even the possibility of data fudging? Then how do the merest suggestions of such possibilities result in coverage like this?

Fad diets are always crazy. Until we all start incorporating them into our own. Tell me Gary Tabues or Michael Pollan or Mark Bittman haven’t had some influence on the food you chose to eat today. Check out Seth’s blog and decide what you think of his approach. read about Seth’s diet and decide for yourself. Then try googling “who owns Nabisco” and see for yourself what name comes up top on the search list.

If I’m crazy … nya-nya-nya-nya-nya-nya-nya-nya – you have entered a world beyond sight and sound – you have entered – the marxist zone … then tell me why. I’m legitimately curious!

Scientists are such navel gazers

March 30, 2009

So I’m scanning the Science Blogs home page when I spot this Neurotopia post on why belly buttons collect lint – a real fluff piece – nyuk nyuk. It’s about a study reported in the journal Medical Hypotheses that made the rounds in mid-March, in which a Viennese researcher collected his belly button lint for three years – he was an innie, I take it – and even shaved his belly to test whether the hair there was the source. Let me ruin it for you: apparently so!

Now what this makes me think is

1. Seth Roberts is a true scientist, because

2. the scientific mind is addicted to curiosity.

As Neurotopia’s Scicurious puts it:

We get hold of a question, and we just can’t let it go! Often, that question is something like “why do pancreatic beta cells in the Islets of Langerhans self-destruct in type I diabetes, but alpha cells are left unharmed?”, or “what are the mechanisms in the brain which bring about the symptoms of depression?” But sometimes, those questions are “why do some people have SO MUCH belly button lint?”

Gabby neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran made the same point in a book I read recently called Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist. It’s a bunch of autobiographical essays by well-spoken scientists and related thinkers. (And edited by John Brockman – natch.) I’d recommend you check it out from the library, like I did.

Oddly, Ramachandran was I believe the only one to make the point about how important raging curiosity is to a scientist. Question: Does that go for all scientists? All science enthusiasts? V.S. also compared himself to a Victorian gentleman scientist – an amateur, in other words – and I kind of respect that. See his contribution to Atul Gawande’s brilliant New Yorker piece about uncontrollable itching.