Is It True That Perfumes Contain Aborted Fetal Tissue?

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/test-you-asked/it-true-perfumes-contain-aborted-fetal-tissue

A Croatian bishop recently claimed that the flesh of aborted fetuses is being used to make expensive perfumes. While claims that vaccines, foods and anti-ageing creams contain aborted fetus parts aren’t new, applying these claims to perfume is. But just as it is a lie to claim that vaccines contain fetal material, it’s likely a lie to claim that perfume does.

This is not to say that fetal material, specifically fetal cells, do not play a role in the manufacturing of some products. They often do. But it’s not as simple as vaccines containing crushed-up aborted fetuses.

As David Gorski explains for Science-Based Medicine, “fear mongering about ‘fetal parts’ in vaccines is, not surprisingly, a distortion of the real situation, which is that the human cell lines are used to make some vaccines.”

Vaccines require viruses, and viruses have to be cultured in cells, as they cannot reproduce on their own. Those cells don’t have to be human but using animal cells for vaccine development causes some problems. Animals are costly to keep alive, may be infected with viruses that could contaminate vaccines, and don’t grow all viruses well. Animal products like chicken eggs can be used, but then there is a risk that an egg shortage could cause a vaccine shortage.

So, we prefer to use human cells to culture viruses, but where are we sourcing these cells from?

There are two cell lines currently used to develop vaccines. The first, named WI-38, was developed in 1962 from the lung tissue of a fetus aborted at 3 months gestational age. The second, named MRC-5, was developed in 1966 from the lung tissue of a fetus aborted at 3.5 months gestational age.

These cell lines have been propagated, kept frozen and are still used today. For more than 50 years, two abortions have allowed us to make vaccines against hepatitis A, rubella, shingles and other illnesses. It’s estimated that 11 million deaths have been prevented by vaccines made with just the WI-38 cell line.

Eleven million deaths over 50 years prevented by two abortions. That is some terribly impressive math, at least to me.

The abortions in question are so far removed from today’s vaccines that even the Catholic Church deems it allowable to use them.

It’s also important to realize that there is no fetal tissue in vaccines. The viruses needed are grown in these cells, then harvested. The cells themselves are not included in the vaccines. There is fetal tissue used in the manufacturing of some vaccines, but no vaccine has ever contained tissue from aborted fetuses.

What about claims that there are aborted fetus cells in some foods?

The idea that companies like Pepsi and Kraft were using aborted fetuses as flavour additives was popularized by an article on the infamously pseudoscientific site Natural News in 2015. They wrote that some processed foods contained “various flavoring agents manufactured using the tissue of aborted human babies.”

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a lie. But it is a misrepresentation. Senomyx, an American biotechnology company develops flavour enhancers for use in food products. To test these enhancers, they used taste receptors expressed in the HEK 293 cell line, which was generated from the kidney cells of a fetus aborted in 1973.

The situation here is the same as for vaccines. Senomyx uses a cell line generated more than 40 years ago in the manufacturing of their product. No fetal cells were everpresent in the final food products. Even Children of God for Life, a prominent pro-life organization, states on their website, “Do not be fooled, shocked or misled – IT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE! THERE ARE NO FOOD PRODUCTS CONTAINING ABORTED FETAL MATERIAL – NOR HAS THERE EVER BEEN!”

The situation for anti-ageing creams that are manufactured using cell lines derived from fetuses is essentially the same story, and it is likely that these claims of fetal material in perfumes are the same as well. I say likely because the Croatian Bishop Jezerinac appears to be the only one making the claim that fetuses are being used to make perfume. Since he never names a brand of perfume it’s impossible to substantiate or refute his claims.

No fetuses are aborted for the purposes of making vaccines or face creams. There are protections in place to ensure that those seeking abortions are not influenced by the possible donation of their fetus to science. It is illegal to offer money in exchange for fetal tissue, and it is illegal to even discuss using fetal tissue for research with someone seeking an abortion before they have made their decision to terminate their pregnancy.

It’s understandable why those who oppose abortion would be upset by the use of fetal tissue in research, but human fetal tissue is integral to many of the greatest scientific discoveries of recent history. The use of cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue is common, effective and necessary, and the vast majority of them are products of abortions that happened before I was even born.

Even if you still oppose the use of fetal tissue in research, I would hope that the possible consequences of not vaccinating yourself or your children would trump your ethical concerns about the methods of vaccine manufacturing. However, If you want to skip on the anti-ageing products due to ethical objections, that is just fine by me.

40 Years of Human Experimentation in America: The Tuskegee Study

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/history/40-years-human-experimentation-america-tuskegee-study

Starting in 1932, 600 African American men from Macon County, Alabama were enlisted to partake in a scientific experiment on syphilis. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” was conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and involved blood tests, x-rays, spinal taps and autopsies of the subjects.

The goal was to “observe the natural history of untreated syphilis” in black populations. But the subjects were unaware of this and were simply told they were receiving treatment for bad blood. Actually, they received no treatment at all. Even after penicillin was discovered as a safe and reliable cure for syphilis, the majority of men did not receive it.

To really understand the heinous nature of the Tuskegee Experiment requires some societal context, a lot of history, and a realization of just how many times government agencies were given a chance to stop this human experimentation but didn’t.

In 1865, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution formally ended the enslavement of black Americans. But by the early 20th century, the cultural and medical landscape of the U.S. was still built upon and inundated with racist concepts. Social Darwinism was rising, predicated on the survival of the fittest, and “scientific racism” (a pseudoscientific practice of using science to reinforce racial biases) was common. Many white people already thought themselves superior to blacks and science and medicine was all too happy to reinforce this hierarchy.

Before the ending of slavery, scientific racism was used to justify the African slave trade. Scientists argued that African men were uniquely fit for enslavement due to their physical strength and simple minds. They argued that slaves possessed primitive nervous systems, so did not experience pain as white people did. Enslaved African Americans in the South were claimed to suffer from mental illness at rates lower than their free Northern counterparts (thereby proving that enslavement was good for them), and slaves who ran away were said to be suffering from their own mental illness known as drapetomania.

During and after the American Civil War, African Americans were argued to be a different species from white Americans, and mixed-race children were presumed prone to many medical issues. Doctors of the time testified that the emancipation of slaves had caused the “mental, moral and physical deterioration of the black population,” observing that “virtually free of disease as slaves, they were now overwhelmed by it.” Many believed that the African Americans were doomed to extinction, and arguments were made about their physiology being unsuited for the colder climates of America (thus they should be returned to Africa).

Scientific and medical authorities of the late 19th/early 20th centuries held extremely harmful pseudoscientific ideas specifically about the sex drives and genitals of African Americans. It was widely believed that, while the brains of African Americans were under-evolved, their genitals were over-developed. Black men were seen to have an intrinsic perversion for white women, and all African Americans were seen as inherently immoral, with insatiable sexual appetites.

This all matters because it was with these understandings of race, sexuality and health that researchers undertook the Tuskegee study. They believed, largely due to their fundamentally flawed scientific understandings of race, that black people were extremely prone to sexually transmitted infections (like syphilis). Low birth rates and high miscarriage rates were universally blamed on STIs.

They also believed that all black people, regardless of their education, background, economic or personal situations, could not be convinced to get treatment for syphilis. Thus, the USPHS could justify the Tuskegee study, calling it a “study in nature” rather than an experiment, meant to simply observe the natural progression of syphilis within a community that wouldn’t seek treatment.

The USPHS set their study in Macon County due to estimates that 35% of its population was infected with syphilis. In 1932, the initial patients between the ages of 25 and 60 were recruited under the guise of receiving free medical care for “bad blood,” a colloquial term encompassing anemia, syphilis, fatigue and other conditions. Told that the treatment would last only six months, they received physical examinations, x-rays, spinal taps, and when they died, autopsies.

Researchers faced a lack of participants due to fears that the physical examinations were actually for the purpose of recruiting them to the military. To assuage these fears, doctors began examining women and children as well. Men diagnosed with syphilis who were of the appropriate age were recruited for the study, while others received proper treatments for their syphilis (at the time these were commonly mercury– or arsenic-containing medicines).

In 1933, researchers decided to continue the study long term. They recruited 200+ control patients who did not have syphilis (simply switching them to the syphilis-positive group if at any time they developed it). They also began giving all patients ineffective medicines ( ointments or capsules with too small doses of neoarsphenamine or mercury) to further their belief that they were being treated.

As time progressed, however, patients began to stop attending their appointments. To greater incentivize them to remain a part of the study, the USPHS hired a nurse named Eunice Rivers to drive them to and from their appointments, provide them with hot meals and deliver their medicines, services especially valuable to subjects during the Great Depression. In an effort to ensure the autopsies of their test subjects, the researchers also began covering patient’s funeral expenses.

Multiple times throughout the experiment researchers actively worked to ensure that their subjects did not receive treatment for syphilis. In 1934 they provided doctors in Macon County with lists of their subjects and asked them not to treat them. In 1940 they did the same with the Alabama Health Department. In 1941 many of the men were drafted and had their syphilis uncovered by the entrance medical exam, so the researchers had the men removed from the army, rather than let their syphilis be treated.

It was in these moments that the Tuskegee study’s true nature became clear. Rather than simply observing and documenting the natural progression of syphilis in the community as had been planned, the researchers intervened: first by telling the participants that they were being treated (a lie), and then again by preventing their participants from seeking treatment that could save their lives. Thus, the original basis for the study–that the people of Macon County would likely not seek treatment and thus could be observed as their syphilis progressed–became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Henderson Act was passed in 1943, requiring tests and treatments for venereal diseases to be publicly funded, and by 1947, penicillin had become the standard treatment for syphilis, prompting the USPHS to open several Rapid Treatment Centers specifically to treat syphilis with penicillin. All the while they were actively preventing 399 men from receiving the same treatments.

By 1952, however, about 30% of the participants had received penicillin anyway, despite the researchers’ best efforts. Regardless, the USPHS argued that their participants wouldn’t seek penicillin or stick to the prescribed treatment plans. They claimed that their participants, all black men, were too “stoic” to visit a doctor. In truth these men thought they were already being treated, so why would they seek out further treatment?

The researchers’ tune changed again as time went on. In 1965, they argued that it was too late to give the subjects penicillin, as their syphilis had progressed too far for the drug to help. While a convenient justification for their continuation of the study, penicillin is (and was) recommended for all stages of syphilis and could have stopped the disease’s progression in the patients.

In 1947 the Nuremberg code was written, and in 1964 the World Health Organization published their Declaration of Helsinki. Both aimed to protect humans from experimentation, but despite this, the Centers for Disease Control (which had taken over from the USPHS in controlling the study) actively decided to continue the study as late as 1969.

It wasn’t until a whistleblower, Peter Buxtun, leaked information about the study to the New York Times and the paper published it on the front page on November 16th, 1972, that the Tuskegee study finally ended. By this time only 74 of the test subjects were still alive. 128 patients had died of syphilis or its complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had acquired congenital syphilis.

There was mass public outrage, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People launched a class action lawsuit against the USPHS. It settled the suit two years later for 10 million dollars and agreed to pay the medical treatments of all surviving participants and infected family members, the last of whom died in 2009.

Largely in response to the Tuskegee study, Congress passed the National Research Act in 1974, and the Office for Human Research Protections was established within the USPHS. Obtaining informed consent from all study participants became required for all research on humans, with this process overseen by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) within academia and hospitals.

The Tuskegee study has had lasting effects on America. It’s estimated that the life expectancy of black men fell by up to 1.4 years when the study’s details came to light. Many also blame the study for impacting the willingness of black individuals to willingly participate in medical research today.

We know all about evil Nazis who experimented on prisoners. We condemn the scientists in Marvel movies who carry out tests on prisoners of war. But we’d do well to remember that America has also used its own people as lab rats. Yet to this day, no one has been prosecuted for their role in dooming 399 men to syphilis.

BioSil: Can it Really Help Thicken Your Hair and Nails?

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-general-science/can-biosil-really-help-thicken-my-hair-and-nails

The ads for BioSil look and sound like every other supplement ad. There are bold claims like “promotes unbreakable nails” (I’m pretty sure that’s impossible); references to science like “molecular biologists have pinpointed the key structural protein…” and “your own DNA fingerprint”; and a blond celebrity (Christie Brinkley) smiling while talking about how this product, in particular, has changed her life.

The BioSil website features the familiar refrain “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration” after every statement about their product, as well as snazzy scientific-looking pictorial representations of what it can do for you.

BioSil is manufactured by Natural Factors. Their site features images of sprawling fields and a cross-section of a grassy patch complete with worms. Everything about it inspires thoughts of nature, because natural is always better, right?

Too bad their site also says “You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment.” I would definitely call a supplement for “Rejuvenating your hair, skin, and nails” a treatment, but what do I know?

BioSil’s advertisements, bottles and website make three main claims:

  1. Thickens and strengthens hair
  2. Improves skin elasticity and reduces wrinkles
  3. Strengthens nails

The active ingredient in BioSil is choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid (ch-OSA). Orthosilicic acid is just a silicon atom surrounded by four hydroxide (OH) units, but it is unstable on its own. Enter choline. Choline is an essential nutrient for humans that most of us consume more than enough of every day (it’s found in everything from cauliflower to tofu to chicken to almonds). In BioSil, choline serves to stabilize the orthosilicic acid.

BioSil’s website constantly references clinical trial results, so I read the two trials in question. It’s important to note that we can’t take these studies’ conclusions at face value. Not all studies are created equal. There are a plethora of issues that can hide in a study’s design that could call its conclusions into question. We need to evaluate the design and procedures of a study to know whether we can trust its results. That’s not always an easy task, so let me help.

The first study involved 48 middle-aged, white, healthy women with fine hair (as determined by the study’s hairdresser). 24 of the women were given a placebo, while 24 were given 10 mg of ch-OSA orally for 9 months, during which they did not heat or colour-treat their hair. The 45 women who finished the study had the diameter and tensile strength of their hair measured at the beginning and end of the treatment.

As for the results, well, they’re pretty confusing. I mean look at this:

“the elastic gradient decreased in both groups, but the change was significantly smaller in the ch-OSA group (-4.52%, P = 0.027) compared to the placebo group (-11.9%).”

What does P = 0.027 mean? Let me try to explain.

When a scientist writing a study says that something is significant, it is not the same as when I yell at my TV that the colour of the Monster’s hair on The Masked Singer is significant. Significance in science actually refers to statistical significance, which is measured with something called a p-value.

It’s a controversial way to measure significance but has been something of a standard for a long time (though that is slowly changing). You can click below to read about how p-values work and why they are so confusing, but to evaluate this product all you need to know is that if something is statistically significant, we can say that it is meaningfully different from something else.

For example, we could take a hair sample from someone in the ch-OSA group at the beginning and end of the 9-month period and compare them. A statistically significant result would mean that they are significantly different, i.e. that the thickness of the hair changed in those 9 months.

We could also compare the hair of someone using ch-OSA to the hair of someone using a placebo at the end of the 9 months. A statistically significant result here would mean that whatever happened to the hair with ch-OSA did not also happen with placebo.

Almost every experiment has two hypotheses. Yeah, two. The null hypothesis is the status quo, the prediction that nothing will change. By finding a significant p-value you disprove the null hypothesis. In the Biosil study’s case the null hypothesis is that there was no difference between the effects of the placebo and the ch-OSA. The other hypothesis is the alternate hypothesis, the prediction for the effect your treatment will have. By disproving the null hypothesis, you can conclude that the alternate hypothesis may be confirmed. In this study’s case it’s that the ch-OSA supplement improved hair strength and cross-section more than the placebo

So how do we decide which hypothesis fits with our study results best?

The p-value!

Often times the seemingly magical target to match or surpass is a p-value of 0.05.

That tells us that there is only a 5% chance of obtaining the data we did, or data more extreme than ours if the null hypothesis is true.

In our case a p-value of 0.05 would mean that there was only a 5% chance of getting our data, or data showing even more difference between the placebo and ch-OSA if the placebo and ch-OSA really did have no difference in their effects.

Why 0.05? Because that is what scientists have decided. They could have decided something else, and many others do use a different value. But 0.05 remains the usual p-value threshold of significance.

Looking at the study results we can see that the decrease seen in the elastic gradient of hair was significantly smaller in the ch-OSA group than in the placebo group. This would imply that the ch-OSA helped the hair stay stretchy.

But, we can also look at the yield extension of hair, and see that it was significantly increased for both the placebo group and the ch-OSA group. This would imply that it was not the ch-OSA that caused the improvement in yield extension.

Looking at hair diameter (the literal hair thickness) we can see that the hair of those who took the placebo did not significantly increase, whereas the hair of those who took ch-OSA did. So that is a good mark in ch-OSA’s book, right?

Well, it is not as simple as proving significance. Something of concern in these results is the considerable amount of overlap between the placebo’s effects and the ch-OSA’s effects.

Take a look at the graphs below. I’ve shown the range of results for the ch-OSA group in yellow, and the range of results for the placebo group in blue. Where there is green means that they overlap. 

The majority of each coloured section is green.

This means that there was quite a noteworthy amount of people in the ch-OSA group who experienced the same effects as the placebo group, and vice versa.

Do you really want to pay $25.99 plus tax per month for the chance to be in that little yellow bit?

There is another thing we need to remember when looking at these results: statistical significance does not always equal practical significance.

Those who took the ch-OSA saw a statistically significant increase in their hair diameter, sure, but did they notice it in the mirror, shower or at the hairdressers? Did their hair feel thicker to them? It is possible that the result was statistically significant but that, if asked, participants would say their hair felt no thicker to them, meaning that it was not practically significant.

Do you really want to pay $25.99 plus tax per month for results you can’t even see?

We can evaluate the practical significance of a result through something called the effect size. This measures the magnitude of a phenomenon and would give us an idea not just whether hair thickness improved but also by how much. Sadly, this study does not report an effect size (although judging by the percent increases in diameter of hair, I would guess that it is likely quite small).

So, can ch-OSA make your hair thicker? Maybe. But also, maybe not. And probably not by that much.

As for the other study the product cites, well, I’ll skip explaining the analysis of this one and cut to the chase.

The second study showed that ch-OSA actually decreased skin hydration, although it did very slightly improve skin roughness, nail brittleness and hair brittleness. The problem again is one of effect size. Looking at nail brittleness, participants had the brittleness of their nails ranked from 0 (not brittle) to 3 (severely brittle). With ch-OSA treatment their brittle scores did decrease, but by very little.

So, can ch-OSA help your skin be smoother, your nails be stronger, or your hair be thicker? If you are a middle-aged, healthy, white woman who does not treat her hair, maybe. A teensy bit. But if you are anyone else, we have no evidence to suggest so.