Skeptics with a K: Episode #118

Vitamin C, breast milk, Noah’s Ark and cancer. ¬†Plus HIV, the Tower of Babel, the Big Questions and half a football pitch full of elephants. ¬†With some big news from Colin, it’s the end of an era for Skeptics with a K.

  1. #1 by Wesley Harding on March 28, 2014 - 03:19

    The news of Colin’s departure was a bit of a shock!
    All the best with fatherhood, and future endeavours, Col. The podcast definitely won’t be the same, but the 5 years have been a pleasure.

  2. #2 by Paget Creelman on March 28, 2014 - 18:22

    Departure! I haven’t even gotten that far in the podcast, but just wanted to point out this study on breast milk:

    Seems like a reasonable way to do the comparison.

  3. #3 by B. Root on March 29, 2014 - 17:21

    Sad to hear Colin will leave. The show’s format has been awesome with three in-depth stories each episode and three great and different characters. Thank you for doing what you do, all of you. Best of luck with the parenting gig, Colin. I can easily believe that your show is someone’s favourite; it certainly is a greatly welcome must-listen for me.

  4. #4 by Melkee on March 30, 2014 - 03:18

    Why did a podcast on skepticism and critical thinking make me cry? Well, almost cry! I’ll miss Colin!
    Btw, I loved how you pointed Cecil from Cognitive Dissonance mispronunces his name! LOL!

  5. #5 by John on March 31, 2014 - 05:47

    Skeptics with a “K”. I always thought the “K” was for “Kolin” : ) Sad to hear he is leaving, his counterpoint was always funny and refreshing. Hope all goes well, dad!

  6. #6 by martin on March 31, 2014 - 10:30

    Not entirely surprised that Colin is leaving with his new parental responsibilities. Doing the show every week must be a lot of work.

    He’s definitely going to be missed and thanks for #118 great episodes!

  7. #7 by Guenther Kramer on April 1, 2014 - 14:47

    I am a bit suspicious that the announcement was very close to April 1st …
    Skeptics with a K has always had some form of April fool prank in the past.
    Otherwise, if I am wrong, good luck Colin!

  8. #8 by Chris on April 2, 2014 - 03:38

    You mentioned drunken elephants on the show and just had to look this up and appears that it may be a myth – not enough alcohol in rotten fruit

  9. #9 by Benni on April 8, 2014 - 12:42

    I co-hosted a university radio show the other day. Signed off with a completely out of place “It’s been wonderful!”. Got some weird looks. My personal tribute to our fallen comrade. Good luck Col!

  10. #10 by Eric O on April 10, 2014 - 19:54

    Clever Monkeys.

  11. #11 by Zeyus on April 16, 2014 - 03:12

    Great episode. I actually just covered the Noah’s ark story before listening to this and was happy to see the points you covered. I calculated how much food you’d need just for the elephants alone and it’s ridiculous.

    Check it out if you have a spare minute:

  12. #12 by Paul on April 16, 2014 - 08:46

    I don’t quite understand how breast milk makes it less like to transmit HIV–less likely in comparison to what? Breast feeding a kid non-breastmilk?

    It seems like the choices are breastfeeding breastmilk or not breastfeeding (formula).

    Being that there is a zero % chance of HIV transmission using formula then…. What is breastmilk’s inhibitory qualities making HIV transmission less likely than? Breastfeeding water?


  13. #13 by Paul on April 17, 2014 - 08:29

    It seems like breastfeeding breastmilk IS a vector for HIV transmission from mother to child–albeit a not very effective one. Talking about its inhibitory qualities is a strange way to talk about it, as IT IS the vector. It’s like saying “breastmilk has an inhibitory effect on breastmilk as a transmission vector”..

    It feels like a spinning of what breastfeeding proponents see as an inconvenient truth–that HIV transmission IS possible via breastfeeding. It’s not a very potent vector, and apparantly the use of anti-retrovirals renders the practice safe, but it IS still a transmission vector. It’s the antiretrovirals that make HIV transmission less likely, not the breastmilk.

    The leaflet talking about how breastmilk kills HIV is clearly an deliberate attempt at misleading people, I’m confused why Colin convinced himself otherwise. Breastmilk is a transmission vector, period. The leaflet was clearly constructed with the intent to convince parents of the opposite. Breastmilk does NOT make HIV transmission less likely than not breastfeeding (using formula), which is the only comparison that could possibly considered relevant. What else would it be compared to?

  14. #14 by Heather Welford on April 19, 2014 - 22:35

    Coming to this a little late as I only caught up with about three editions of the podcast this week. I heard Colin’s valiant attempt at explaining this, but he just wasn’t getting it across, and it’s not surprising Paul is confused. This is an example of a situation where you need to know more of the whole field and be aware of at least some of the rest of the literature. One paper alone does not cut it.

    I have some knowledge of the research and hope I can throw some light on the subject. It might help for interested people to seek out the work of Coutsoudis et al and to look at WHO guidance on it all.

    Breastmilk is a definite vehicle for HIV. Vertical transmission of the virus happens in a minority of cases from mother to baby. However, paradoxically, breasfeeding also protects against transmission. Coutsoudis and colleagues discovered that the greatest risk of transmission occurred in babies who were not exclusively breastfed ie who had other foods and drinks as well as breastmilk, in the first six months. Paul, this is the comparison you were asking about, in your post s of April 16 and 18.

    Exclusive breastfeeding seems to prevent breastmilk transmission of HIV. Non-excl breastfeeding – very common all over the world, where babies have other animal milks, cereals, teas, etc, alongside breastfeeding – increases the risk of gut permeability and therefore activation of the virus. Stick to breastfeeding alone, and be very strict about it , and transmission of HIV is reduced. In fact, babies who are excl breastfed are no more likely than those who are not breastfed at all to become HIV positive.

    The important thing for mothers with HIV is to stop breastfeeding by the age of six months, when solids and other drinks are introduced, so the breastfeeding has done its job protecting the gut, but stops before the gut becomes affected by other foods.

    The research into breastfeeding with antiretrovirals looks good. But in parts of the world where these are not freely available – which are often parts of the world where water is unsafe and fuel is expensive, so formula feeding is not a safe option – breastfeeding is the safest way to feed, as long as it is exclusive. In addition breastfeeding enables the best protection for babies against a range of infections. Not breastfeeding in parts of the world where HIV is common is very stigmatising. Mothers sometimes breastfeed in order to keep their HIV status secret.

    All this is in some detail in discussions and reports as well as papers. It is a live issue in the developing world.

    In the uk current guidance is not to breastfeed if the mother is HIV positive and this makes sense as formula feeding does not carry the life-threatening risks seen elsewhere. But even so, even in the uk, breastfeeding can made safer for a baby of a mother who is HIV positive as long as she breastfeeds exclusively for six months and then stops.

    Normal breastfeeding usually carries on after other foods start to be included, of course.

    Hope this helps clarify.

  15. #15 by Paul on April 22, 2014 - 17:14

    Thank you it does–I didn’t understand the difference between exclusive and nonexclusive breastfeeding.

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