Homemade slime isn’t hurting your child

Posted March 20, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: In the news, Pediatric Insider information, The Media Blows It Again

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Another day, another internet scare. This time it’s about that homemade slime, and all the toxins and poisons in it – the ones that are pretty much killing our kids. Except there aren’t any toxins, and kids aren’t getting sick.

This rumor started with an article from the Daily Mail, a British “newspaper” that Wikipedia has deemed “generally unreliable.” In the fine tradition of crappy supermarket tabloids, the Daily Mail is on a par with the National Enquirer, the Star, the Sun, and Weekly World News – it’s a site that makes stuff up, or blows things crazy out of proportion to sell newspapers. Admit it – you were tempted to buy that cheap paper that proclaimed that Hillary was from Venus, or that there’s a Miracle Cream that Allows People to Grow a Sixth Toe. The story was amplified by a blog post at “This talk ain’t cheap”, where the author points out in the second sentence that she’s “not a doctor or a scientist or a chemist.”

As is the manner of clickbait about things hurting children, this one has been posted -n- reposted on Facebook and parenting blogs. In an effort to make sure the barn door is firmly bolted shut now that the horses are long gone, let me give you the quick version: there’s nothing in homemade slime that’s likely to hurt anyone, as long as it’s “used as directed.” Don’t eat the stuff, rub it in your eyes, or lie in a bathtub of it for an hour. Other than that, it’s safe.

We’ve still got an unopened box of borax and bottles of glue downstairs from my youngest’s “slime phase” last year. You mix up a bunch of chemicals (See! Chemicals! That’s your first warning, right there!!) to make a sort of gooey, hand-clinging, squishy mess. It even makes comical sounds when you squarsh it around between your hands. Harmless fun?

The Daily Mail article focuses on one ingredient in homemade slime, pointing out that boric acid (Borax) is labeled by the European Chemicals Agency as ‘toxic to reproduction’, and potentially irritating to eyes and lungs. The box in my basement says those things, too. Don’t eat it, and don’t rub it in your eyes, and don’t stick your face in the box and whiff it. If your children are too young to handle this on their own, they probably shouldn’t be making slime without supervision. Apart from the breathless and frightening tone, The Daily Mail’s critique of Borax is at least reasonably close to the truth. It’s conceivable that an unsupervised or particularly reckless child could get hurt by the stuff. It’s also possible that some kids could have more-sensitive skin, and could end up with a rash or the itchies (do I need to say: if your child gets irritated skin after playing with slime, he or she should stop playing with slime. The same is true if your child gets itchy skin after petting a cat or eating finger-fuls of cookie dough.)

But the blog post goes a step further, heading off the rails of the worry train. The blogger points out imaginary dangers of other ingredients, like glue. She says white glue – essentially, Elmer’s – can cause anxiety, convulsions, seizures (both convulsions AND seizures!), respiratory failure, and loss of appetite. Except none of this is true. In the manner of googlers-who-call-themselves-researchers everywhere, the author mistakes one kind of glue for another. Elmer’s white glue causes sticky hands, but is otherwise non toxic. What she’s quoting are side effects of huffing industrial glue or model cement, which is a different product entirely, and is not an ingredient in homemade slime.

There’s also shaving cream – which the blogger implies contains carcinogens and “very controversial” ingredients. I think of it as something people rub on their faces (men, typically), legs (often women), or all over the walls of the shower (children). If you’re afraid of your children touching shaving cream, I cannot help you.

By the way, homemade slime also contains water (AKA deadly dihydrogen monoxide) and often food coloring (I believe green is best, but mixing green and purple makes a hideous and wonderful color called “ocky” that has a certain charm.) A complete recipe is here. You can also make it with other, non-borax compounds like cornstarch or laundry detergent.

Parents, if your kids are taking a break from their iPhones to do something fun and icky with their hands, let them enjoy themselves. It may get messy, and you don’t want them (or the dog, or even the cat) eating their homemade slime. But it’s pretty much harmless fun. Today’s lesson: don’t let the internet scare you.

Fight the Fearmongers: MTHFR variants are nothing to worry about

Posted March 13, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: In the news, Pediatric Insider information, The Media Blows It Again

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Another day, another scare. Honestly, if you take Facebook and The Interwebs seriously, we’d all be dead three times over already.  (By the way: Facebook and the Interwebs would make a good name for a 2000’s cover rock band.)

Here’s one that’s come up a few times at my office this month: parents worried about MTHFR “mutations” that are making themselves and their children sick and vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. It’s another example of alarmists taking advantage of a tiny speck of science to scare you and sell things. Don’t believe any of it.

Background: MTHFR stands for…. Ah, forget it. Who cares what it stands for. It’s a shorthand name for a gene that encodes a protein that does important things involving the metabolism of the vitamin folic acid.

It turns out that there are hundreds of variations in the MTHFR gene we all carry. Genes, actually, with an “s” – we all carry two copies. Some variations work more or less efficiently, and a few very rare ones don’t work well at all. But the important thing to remember is that these are examples of the normal variation of our species. Having a different MTHFR gene from your neighbor doesn’t make you strange or broken.

In fact, having these variations is very common – so common, that variation is the rule, not the exception. As we learn more about these variations, the percentage of people with “variants” continues to go up – maybe about 60% of us, now, have at least 1 copy of a “variant.” And since almost all of the variants work just fine, this doesn’t matter at all.

 Part of the problem comes from the language of genetics, and the way gene science is depicted in the media. Use the term “mutant” and you think Patrick Stewart lifting things with his mind. A mutant is changed gene – and in science, that term is used for one-time or rare events. These MTHFR things are NOT mutants, at least not in the way a genetic scientist would use the word. Having one of them will not give you a tail, allow you to change the weather, or make lasers shoot out of your eyes. It also won’t make you or your child more likely to get sick.

The correct, more-specific word for what I’ve been calling “variants” is “polymorphisms.” These are genes that are different in subtle ways, and have become fairly common in a population. Hint: if a polymorphism made you sick, people with it wouldn’t reproduce, and the polymorphism would become rarer. Polymorphisms that don’t change health (like these MTHFR polymorphisms) can spread and linger in a population, like blue eyes or the ability to taste a tiny speck of cilantro.

Nonetheless, there are scads of web sites out there pushing MTHFR testing, and trying to sell books and products to people with these polymorphisms (which, as I mentioned, are most of us.) This is called “fear-mongering” –creating fear of a non-existent disease to get attention and make money. I’m not going to link to any of these sites, but here’s a sampling of some of the headlines and what the sites are pushing:

  • The MTHFR Gene Mutation And How To Rewire Your Genetics – Note the use of the scare-word, mutation. And, of course, you cannot rewire your genetics. Nonetheless, this site pushes worthless genetic testing, suggests treating non-existent yeast infections, encourages the use of a dozen supplements you don’t need, and suggests “detoxing” with coconut charcoal. Absolute, bat-shit nonsense – all for a made-up health scare.
  • Someone calling themselves “Your Functional Medicine Expert ®” (followed by 16 letters – do not trust anyone who has more letters in their “degrees” than in their own name) has her own top ten list of things to do for what she calls your “mutation.” Some of these are perfectly healthy for all of us: get exercise, eat leafy greens, spend time in the sauna. But she goes off the rails, too, referring people to a “trained biologic dentist” and “dry skin brushing” to detox da chemicalz dat’ll killz ya.

There are also alt-med freakshow sites that somehow link MTHFR variants as a warning against (of course) vaccines. This is an absolute crock.

Bottom line: genuine medical geneticists do not recommend MTHFR testing. Just because something sounds sciency doesn’t mean it’s something that is going to kill you. Don’t worry about things because you read about them on the internet. Go hug your kids, enjoy some sunshine, and take a break from Facebook and the Interwebs. Their show is starting to get old, and you’ve got better and healthier things to do with your time.

What’s the exact, best age to start solids for your baby?

Posted March 9, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems, Nutrition, Pediatric Insider information

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The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

A commenter objected to advice I’ve given about when to start complementary foods in infancy:

Why, when the WHO, UNICEF, and the AAP all recommend exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, do you still have the introduction of solid foods at 4 months. It’s confusing for women who want to do the right thing for their child to come across your articles on starting solids at this age. Study after study show the benefits for both mother and child of exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months.

I wouldn’t rely on WHO and UNICEF recommendations. I’m not so sure that what they say is entirely relevant to babies in the developed world. I’m going to focus here on the AAP recommendations, which reflect the needs of babies in the USA and other highly developed countries.

Current AAP recommendations are deliberately vague about the precise timing of introducing solids. They say that complementary foods shouldn’t be introduced “until 4 to 6 months” – see the phrasing in this abstract and under point 2 of this article. Since AAP recommendations automatically expire 5 years after they’re published, there isn’t a valid AAP published statement on this exact issue right now. These two citations reflect the most-recent recommendation: solids can be introduced during a window of time, from 4 to 6 months.

Why then? Earlier solids are associated with obesity and nutritional problems; later solids are associated with feeding issues, iron deficiency, and an increased risk of allergy. The 4 to 6 month window maximizes nutrition while minimizing allergy risk, and works well for most babies.

But it is a window, not an exact time. We don’t have any research that says 4 months is perfect, or 5 months is perfect, or 6 months is perfect. I know of no studies from a developed country that show an important health advantage of starting to feed at six months rather than four, or starting at four months instead of six.  Probably all of these times are fine. The absolute best time depends on a baby’s development and temperament (as well as the family’s style and feeding preferences.) There’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all answer here.

When I talk about this with families, I try to figure out what the baby thinks about all of this. A 4-month-old baby who’s watching his siblings eat intently, or lunging at their food, or becoming disinterested in the breast or bottle – that’s probably a baby that’s ready to be fed solid foods. Babies of the same age who aren’t so interested in food, those babies can wait another month or so. And if solids aren’t going well at first, it’s fine to stop and wait a few weeks before trying again. We can make all of the plans we want, as parents and pediatricians – but the bottom line is that this is one of many decisions that babies help make on their own. Good for them!

Previous:

When to start solid foods, and what to start with

Want to avoid celiac? Don’t delay wheat past six months

Help fight childhood cancer!

Posted March 2, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

To help raise money to support kids with cancer, on March 12 I’m having my head shaved! I’m joining a nationwide charity event along with thousands of other soon-to-be-bald volunteers through the St. Baldrick’s foundation. Click here for more information or to donate to the cause.

Thanks for your support!

Beware melatonin supplements – their labels lie

Posted February 27, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: In the news, Pediatric Insider information

Tags: , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

About 36 billion dollars will be spent on vitamins and nutritional supplements in the US this year. It is a huge industry, with big advertising and PR budgets. Maybe it’s time for the manufacturers to spend a little money figuring out how to deliver honest and accurate products.

Tests on a variety of supplements have already shown that most of them are contaminated – many with toxic metals, like lead and arsenic. And a new study of one of the most popular supplements, melatonin, shows that most of the brands available have doses far different from what’s on the label.

Researchers in Canada purchased 31 melatonin products from stores in Guelph, Ontario (IKR! I didn’t know there was a Guelph in Ontario!) They analyzed the content of tablets, liquids, and chewables, and found that few of the products contained their labeled dose. 71% of the products were off by more than 10%, with the actual content of melatonin ranging from 17% to 478% of the labeled dose. There was a huge variability even among the same brand, with different bottles varying by 465% in content. Their research was published in the February, 2017 edition of The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Potentially worse: 26% of the samples contained serotonin, a contaminant that can cause serious side effects, especially when combined with a variety of medications.

Though these samples were purchased in Canada, there’s no reason to think melatonin products sold in the US would be any more consistent. Neither country has any laws or standards established to regulate, test, or ensure the quality of “dietary supplements” including melatonin, vitamins, or any so-called “natural” or “herbal” products. In other words, there’s no reason to think that you’re getting what you think you’re getting.

There are some voluntary industry standards, and at least that’s a start. The press release about the melatonin study suggested that consumers from the USA look for a “USP Verified” logo certification from the “United States Pharmacopeial Convention.” I could only find one brand on the USP website of melatonin that’s been certified – “NatureMade” (scroll down the bottom, here. Oddly, the Amazon entries for these products don’t indicate that they’re USP certified.)

Many people purchase herbs and supplements for a variety of reasons – and there are some good clinical studies showing that some of them may help (many others, not so much.) But it doesn’t matter what the studies show if what you’re taking isn’t what’s labeled on the bottle. If the supplement manufacturers want to genuinely help people stay healthy, they need deliver a consistent and reliable product. Otherwise, it’s just smoke, mirrors, and empty promises that might make you sick.

Welcome to Guelph

Can vitamin D supplements prevent colds?

Posted February 20, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: In the news

Tags: , , ,

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

Linus Pauling was a brilliant scientist. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 (and, later, a Nobel Peace Prize for his work towards nuclear disarmament.) In the later part of his career, he became convinced that megadoses of vitamins, especially vitamin C, could ward off upper respiratory infections and other ills. Studies have never supported those claims. But maybe he was only off by one letter of the alphabet.

A recent, large study from the BMJ provides solid support for the use of vitamin D – not C, but D – supplementation to prevent ordinary colds and other respiratory infections.

There’s been some inkling that this might be the case. We know that vitamin D, separate from its role in calcium metabolism, has an important part to play in our immune response to infections. It supports the production of built-in antiviral and antibacterial peptides, and helps immune cells make germ-destroying oxygen and nitrogen compounds. Population studies that have shown an increased susceptibility to colds among people who are immune deficient.

What we haven’t had, until now, is a convincing study from an experimental perspective. If we give vitamin D, does that really prevent colds?

What these authors did was impressive. They collected the raw, patient-by-patient data from 25 previous clinical trials of vitamin D, and combined all of that into one mega-study with about 11,000 participants. All of the patients had to have been randomized to either vitamin D or placebo, and rates of respiratory infections tracked going forward. Most of them had blood tests to assess their levels of vitamin D before the trials began.

The bottom line: vitamin D supplementation decreased the risk of a cold by about 12%. That doesn’t sound very high, but on a population level, we’re talking about a lot of infections. And: among those that had low vitamin D levels, the effect size was much larger, about 40%. Vitamin D supplementation was more effective in preventing colds with a daily dose rather than just bolus dosing once in a while.

Who’s low in vitamin D? Based on my experience looking and blood tests from children and teenagers, all of our children are low. Seriously. The only time I see blood tests reflecting a normal or high vitamin D level, it’s in someone already taking a supplement. Our children (us, too) aren’t spending enough time outside to make the vitamin D we need.

The study also found no downsides to ordinary supplements. There were no significant side effects or problems. We’re talking, here, about ordinary doses of probably 400-2,000 IU each day. There’s really no reason to take any more than that, unless there’s a problem with vitamin absorption or some other unique medical issue.

Vitamin C, Airborne, zinc, echinacea – none of these have held up to scrutiny. None of those help prevent people from getting respiratory infections. If you want you and your children to get fewer colds, there are only a few strategies that genuinely work. Stay away from sick people, keep infants out of group care, wash hands frequently, and immunize against influenza and other respiratory pathogens. And, maybe, enjoy a little more time in the sun, or take a vitamin D supplement every day.

l_pauling

What to do when your child has a concussion

Posted February 6, 2017 by Dr. Roy
Categories: Medical problems

The Pediatric Insider

© 2017 Roy Benaroch, MD

A concussion is a brain injury. A mild one, yes, but one that can lead to longstanding symptoms. What you do after a concussion, immediately and in the weeks that follow, can make a big difference in how your child recovers.

Though it’s a mild injury – there’s nothing to see on a CT, xray, or MRI – the effects of a concussion can be significant and uncomfortable for a child and family. Headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping, and problems with concentration and mood are all common. And the average length of symptoms is three weeks. Many people experience symptoms for longer; some for much longer. What’s the best way to ensure that your child recovers as quickly as possible?

Two recent studies help clarify the best steps to take. The first, from August 2016, looked at the immediate response to a concussion. The authors compared teenage athletes who had a concussion, looking at a group that was immediately taken out of the game versus a group that continued playing. The risk of having prolonged symptoms was about 9 times as high among athletes who kept playing after concussion. Bottom line: the first thing to do after even a suspected concussion is to take the player out of the game.

The second study looked at the week after the concussion, comparing teens who rested strictly versus teens who, after a few days, started doing light exercise again. The difference here wasn’t as big, but it was significant. Athletes who did absolutely nothing, and rested completely in the week after a concussion, were about 25% more likely to have prolonged symptoms. It was better to start exercising and moving, at least a little, within a week after a concussion. Too much rest may make things worse, or at least prevent things from getting better.

To follow good concussion management, the first step is to make sure that players and coaches recognize when a concussion happens. Any time there’s a collision or blow to the head, and a child is dazed or confused afterwards – that’s a concussion. Concussions do not require a child to be completely knocked out. Just “having your bell rung” means that your brain bounced around in your skull, and it’s hurt. Coaches have to keep an eye on their players, and pull them out.

The best advice for the week after is to rest for a few days, but then start gentle activity again. If symptoms worsen, back off, but don’t wait until symptoms are 100% absolutely gone to try moving and exercising again. Though you should not let your child keep playing immediately after a concussion, too much rest for too long isn’t good either.

Earlier:

The best helmet to prevent football concussions

Protecting your child from concussions

Football and your child’s brain

The Greatest. Atlanta Olympics, 1996.