Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nutritional supplements: a difficult conversation to have with patients

Food as medicine

Almost daily patients tell me about nutritional supplements and how they have heard…  
copitch cartoon 837 organic cigarettes

Often parents tell me about how removing something from their child’s diet, or adding something to their child’s diet is supposed to change their child’s behaviors.
Adults tell me how they recently started to add something to their daily diet and how they have already started to notice a positive change. 
These anecdotal stories are interesting but not scientifically based. We humans can easily and inadvertently fool ourselves. 
To make this subject more confusing is the fact that there is an industry that is trying to sell nutritional supplements to solve all sorts of problems. This industry is not allowed to say they cure anything, but they can cleverly allude to “curing things”. 
Examples of “cures” without actually making a medical claim:
  • Boosts energy
  • Heart friendly
  • Calming and restful
  • Promotes a good night’s sleep
  • Supports memory and learning
  • Used by millions of active people around the world

This industry spends a lot of money promoting their pills and powders.
If you want to learn more, may I suggest you read the Federal Trade Commission’s Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry.
Should I discuss nutritional supplements with patients?
I often wrestle with the benefits of discussing nutritional supplements with patients. I want to help educate, but teaching the complexities of science based medicine is time consuming and daunting. Often if I even slightly bring up the subject, patients will stiffen and perceive me as being judgmental of them. 
So, as long as the food supplement is inert and not getting in the way of sound treatment protocol, I smile and say. “I’ve noticed that people that eat a well balanced diet, sleep enough, and walk a bunch everyday report that they feel better. I guess my mom was right. She was big on veggies, walking, and getting enough sleep.”
Nutritional supplements and cognitive decline
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported:

While some research suggests that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can protect brain health, a large clinical trial by researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that omega-3 supplements did not slow cognitive decline in older persons. With 4,000 patients followed over a five-year period, the study is one of the largest and longest of its kind.

This was a well structured study. Sorry I can’t report that we have found the magic pill, but it is better to have sound clinical evidence than simple anecdotal stories and hopeful speculation.
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Copitch, Inc. is back to normal after the fire

Out of the phoenix

After my office was accidentally burned down, I found that I had to stop doing some activities that I enjoyed, but couldn’t allot any time towards. One guilty pleasure was writing this blog.

Now that the fire is behind us, I look forward to penning some science based articles and answering your questions.

So, feel free to send me general psychology questions. Remember, I am a therapist, but I am not your therapist. Thus, I am not offering any personal clinical help here.

Have questions about, marriage, family, or your neighbor's child--I look forward to reading them. Want some psychology term explained in plain English, I’ll try my best. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do I really only use 10 percent of my brain?

Dear Dr. Phil,
There is a new movie that says I am only using 10% of my brain. Is this true? If so, did Albert Einstein really use more than 10% of his? My teacher said Einstein used lots more.
Thanks, Bob from Newark, NJ

Dear Bob from Newark, NJ,
This is a question that I am asked often. I say that with amazement, because the idea that nature is forcing us to carry around the excess weight of 90% of our brain that we never use, seems unbelievable to me. However this myth has prevailed for years.
You use all 100 percent of your brain.
In the movie, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freemen proclaims that people only use 10 percent of their brain. Freeman is a great actor but not a neuroscientist, but due to his stage presence and authoritative voice, I will be asked about the “10 percent of your brain myth” all summer.
You use all of your brain throughout the day, everyday. Even when you appear not to be doing anything, the electrons in your brain are constantly firing at different rates.
If you are not using your pinky finger on your left hand, the corresponding brain tissue that controls that finger is ready to go. It may not be firing right this instance, but it is on standby if you need it. 
How did the myth start?
In a book that I highly recommend, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, the writer of the preface, Lowell Thomas, a trusted journalist, misquoted psychologist William James. Dr. James said that people often use only 10 percent of their brain’s latent (not yet developed) potential. This became interpreted to mean 10 percent of their brain -- period. I do not know for sure, but this may be how my headache began.
I once talked to a self professed psychic who was convinced that her gift came from her ability to use more than 10 percent of her brain. When I told her she used all of her brain, she was modest and told me that she hoped to someday, after she practiced and expanded her psychic skills.
The 10 percent of the brain myth has been used a lot in Science Fiction. And, other than bothering my sensibilities, it probably doesn’t matter much. But sometimes myths have real consequences. 
Teachers and the 10 percent myth
I do have a concern about medical myths when they are being passed on by professionals. In a study out of England and the Netherlands, “researchers surveyed 242 primary and secondary school teachers who were interested in the neuroscience of learning.” What they found surprised me. The report states, “Results showed that on average, teachers believed 49% of the neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.”
So I will “happily” spend my summer telling people about the fallacy of the 10 percent of the brain myth. If you can help me spread the word, thanks. I doubt we can kill this myth, but maybe we can lower its viral spread by say, 10 percent.
Let me end today with my favorite quote from William James, the man who is often called the father of American psychology, “Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice.”

Let me know what you think. Please comment below.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Teach your baby to read - Finally a scientifically based study

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Over the last few years, parents have asked me for my professional thoughts on teaching their baby to read. If you do not know what I am talking about, in a nutshell, there is a growing industry of products claiming they will help you teach your baby to read, usually starting at 3 months of age.
Good parenting
Part of being a parent, and especially a new parent, is dealing with that nagging sense, “Am I doing everything for my baby?” None of us want to be just ‘adequate’ at the daunting job of parenting, so it makes sense that we want our baby to have the best we can offer.
So, if you can teach your baby to read by age 9 months, why wait until age 5? In fact, if you wait until age 5, aren’t you really holding your baby back?
It is normal to fear
It is normal to fear making a mistake with our children. It is also normal to want to give our baby the best we can offer.
All this being true, is it appropriate for a product manufacturer to tell us that their product can do a wondrous thing, such as help us start our baby down the path to learning, without proof?
The teach your baby to read companies typically address this concern with “proof” through testimonials. They explain, “hundreds of parents say” or, “We get thank you emails every day” telling us that our flashcards and DVD’s change babies lives.
The testimonials are real, but are they proof that a product teaches a baby to read?
I am a true believer that the responsibility of proof for amazing products falls on the manufacturer to produce, and a testimonial is not proof. A testimonial is the opinion of a mom or a dad who has invested a great deal of time, effort, and love into the teaching project - a project they want to work. We can all be deluded into believing something, it is a common mistake. Just this morning, while I brushed my teeth, I was looking in the mirror and thought, “I’m not too fat…” Whatever that means.
Finally a scientific study
Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood and Literacy Education at New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and her colleagues, have conducted the first controlled study specifically looking at the effects of a best-selling baby media product on reading development.
The product is intended to be used with infants as young a 3 months old. One hundred and seventeen infants, ages 9 to 18 months, were randomly assigned to treatment (i.e. - did the reading program) and control groups (no reading program).
According to the study, Can Babies Learn to Read? A Randomized Trial of Baby Media, “Children in the treatment condition received the baby media product, which included DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and word books to be used daily over a 7-month period; children in the control condition, business as usual.”
The study was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Feb 24 , 2014, See the abstract
According to the study, “[by]examining a 4-phase developmental model of reading, we examined both precursor skills (such as letter name, letter sound knowledge, print awareness, and decoding) and conventional reading (vocabulary and comprehension) using a series of eye-tracking tasks and standardized measures.”
The study found
The study found that the babies did not learn to read. But, and this is a big but, some parents were happy with their baby’s reading skills and confident in the product’s benefit.
In conclusion
This is only one study and in science, replication of a study is important. However, if I wanted to sell a reading program I was sure was the best thing since the Gutenberg press was invented, I would go to three major universities and pay for rigorous science based studies of my product. After the researchers independently found out that I did indeed have a great product, I would email the scientific studies to parents, along with a 20 percent off discount coupon. Then I’d sit back and watch the money roll in knowing that I was helping babies learn to read.

In fact, I wonder why this isn’t the business model that companies use to sell, say… wrinkle reduction creams, weight loss wizardry, or free energy from unicorn tail hairs. If you can prove that your product is great, wouldn’t it be easier to sell it? And if you cannot prove the benefits of your product, it would seem you have to fall back onto testimonials and manipulative wordplay to sell your gadget.