A few days ago I stumbled upon an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about an experimental treatment for various disorders, including autism. The treatment involves stimulation of various parts of the brain using magnetic fields. The treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation or (TMS).
In my last post (see below) I pointed out an interesting article in the NYT about a new trend in diagnosing preschool age children with clinical depression. In the post I expressed concern about that and another trend I had noticed myself recently while reading about autism, which is an increase in co-diagnosing autism with other disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to children receiving these diagnoses. Without having researched the issue very deeply, though, I indicated that I was probably being too critical.
Well, today there is yet another fascinating article in the NYT (see here) and coincidentally it is about this very issue of the new trend in prescribing antipsychotic drugs to young children. The article seems to validate (and then some) the concerns I expressed in my last post.
I read with great interest this article in the New York Times by Pamela Paul on childhood depression.
According to the article, researchers now believe that depression can be diagnosed in children as young as 2 or 3 years old, and the idea is apparently gaining wide acceptance in the medical community. The article quotes researchers who insist that only “hard-core scientists” and “laypeople” remain skeptical.
To me, the fact that “hard-core scientists” have reservations about this theory is a red flag and a cause for serious concern and not a sign that the ideas behind it are ready for wide application. What is reported in the following excerpt also concerns me:
Though research does not support the use of antidepressants in children this young, medication of preschoolers, often off label, is on the rise. One child psychologist told me about a conference he attended where he met frustrated drug-industry representatives. “They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.” As Daniel Klein warns, “Right now the problem may be underdiagnosis, but these things can flip completely.
Perhaps I am interpreting this quote the wrong way, but can anyone blame me for feeling that the drug companies are drooling over the prospect of expanding the market for their anti-depressant drugs to include pre-schoolers and other children?
Let me repeat that last part again:
They want to give these kids medicines, but we can’t figure out the diagnoses.
Does that not sound like a solution looking for a problem?
A few autism-related news items of note over the past week:
(1) [No surprise] Anti-depressants found to be ineffective for treatment of autism
The Boston Globe reports the following:
Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders have trouble with communication and social interaction. There are no drugs specifically approved to treat these problems, although antidepressants are sometimes recommended. But a new analysis finds no evidence that they help people with autism and some signs that they may cause harm in children.
The full story is here.
Dave: Last time I checked anti-depressants were found to be barely better than placebos in treating depression, which is the disease they were designed for, so it’s hardly surprising to me that they don’t work for autism. As far as I know, it has never been demonstrated that there is a link between low serotonin levels and autism, so it is hard to understand how these drugs could help address autistic symptoms. But with roughly 1% of the population suffering from this disease, it clearly behooves drug companies to promote this as a possible treatment, especially since they wouldn’t have to spend any money on development.
Posted in Autism
Tagged autism, health
Have you ever wondered what is meant when a food product is claimed to be “all-natural” or has “natural ingredients”? Market studies obviously demonstrate a clear competitive advantage for products bearing these labels; otherwise, they wouldn’t be used so frequently. But why is “natural” such a selling point?
To me, the word “natural” is relatively neutral and possesses neither positive nor negative connotations. There are many beneficial substances that occur naturally and probably just as many toxic ones, too, and the word “natural” can be applied to either category and anything in between.
So what does the average, uncritical consumer perceive the benefits of “natural” ingredients to be? To me, the answer is relatively obvious: no doubt influenced by today’s common wisdom as promoted by the mainstream media, most consumers labour under the assumption that “natural” automatically means good, nutritious and safe, while “man-made” ingredients, like apparently all things man-made, are necessarily empty, harmful and just plain bad.
But how does the consumer’s view square with the food regulators’ view? Do food regulators require food manufacturers to use the word “natural” in the spirit of consumer expectations, or do they instead allow manufacturers to cynically pander to the masses while permitting them to “work” the labeling guidelines in a way that makes their claims totally inconsistent with what customers expect? That is an important question.