Science Saturday: An Historical Example of the Modern Developments of Medicine

Imagine you have found a plant in nature with healing abilities. One only needs to chew a little bit of it or steep in hot water and drink it. It takes away swelling and pain from an injury or reduces fevers. Over time, this plant is studied more closely by a chemist; separating, extracting, and purifying the medicinal qualities of the plant into a shelf stable form and more readily accessible in times of necessity. This would be absolutely amazing, right?

Well this isn’t just a hypothetical scenario. This is the history of aspirin and how much of what modern medicine has come about. The bark of the willow tree and other plants containing salicylic acid was known and used throughout much of history, even as far back as ancient Egypt, for reducing pain, inflammation, and fevers. Chemists in the 1850’s studied and isolated the necessary components and thus the modern medicinal form of aspirin found on the shelf of your local pharmacy came to be.

Think about some of the images Western medicine seems to bring to mind. Do you imagine brightly colored synthetic liquids bubbling in glass beakers over Bunsen burners? A sterile laboratory wholly separated from the outside world? Perhaps even businessmen in suits sitting around a table piled high with stacks of money? Modern medicine is not created in a vacuum. In all actuality, modern medicine is just ancient or even alternative medicine that has managed to withstand the rigorous tests of time and scientific sudy to become what it is today.

modern medicine

But how can I know an alternative method doesn’t work if I haven’t tried it for myself? A similar juxtaposition could be made in that some people find sky diving or other extreme sports, even running marathons quite exhilarating. It induces the release of hormones and other chemical reactions in the brain. I prefer other less extreme pleasure-inducing activities though. Something more along the lines of family bike rides to the park, playing games, or sipping a warm cup of herbal tea on a cold evening while petting a cat and reading a book or scrolling through my facebook feed.

Of course, there are some old health remedies I have tried, mostly for kicks and giggles, one of which was putting potato slices on my feet at night. I didn’t try it out in hopes it would relieve me of illness though. In fact, I wasn’t even sick but I sure was tired! I wanted to test out a hypothesis: Do the slices turn black because they’re reacting to my dirty and grossly sweaty feet after a long day at work or the incubating heat of my body? I took two slices of potato, rubbed one of them on my feet, and placed them in two separate plastic bags in between my socks on my feet for a night. As suspected, the potato slice that came in short contact with my feet reacted by turning black while the control slice stayed the same.


Old wives’ tale: busted.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I am a person driven by logic. I find the emotional tugs toward some DIY and anecdotal health remedies somewhat counter-intuitive. Alternative remedies if found useless can even be harmful if not well understood either because A) proper medical treatment gets delayed, or B) a substance is used incorrectly. It’s probably why I speak up in hopes discussions are generated and people begin to think, no matter how uncomfortable or irritating it may be. Of course, by all means, modern medicine isn’t perfect or without faults. There are still many avenues to explore, boulders to overcome, and much to learn.


Amy Emnett, a certified aromatherapist, on being asked what she would recommend for treating strep throat naturally, said antibiotics. “Choose balance, not extremism, when it comes to your health.”

Ancient or modern, all medicine comes from nature and must be subjected to scientific research methods (hypothesis, experiment, data collection, conclusion, etc.) to be better understood while being respected and used responsibly. Remember the history of aspirin next time you read nature cannot be patented. I found it fascinating. Did you?

Follow your heart but take your brain with you, this science mom is signing off!


Art credit: The Awkward Yeti


Thinking Turtle Thoughts

In this fast-paced world where so much has been made blindingly instant – communication, gratification, rice, etc. – it’s keep up or get left behind. But some of us can’t always keep up. You see, I am a turtle. I poke my head out to join the conversation and am often ten minutes late. I have a fear of being too quick to respond that I might say something offensive or be misunderstood. (My sarcasm or lack of explanations only get me in trouble.) Some are willing to slow down for us turtles and we’re deeply grateful for that.

These are the benefits of slowing down and taking some time to read and process before responding. Note this police department’s notice:

What was your first response?

A) What? Police have no right to block access to social media! This stifles the right to free speech!

B) Hahahaha!

If A people are looking at B people confused and slightly appalled as though we’re laughing at a train wreck, don’t worry. It’s an old calendar joke (except during a leap year) and even I’ve fallen for it on more than one occasion! Unfortunately, some were a little too quick on the keyboard and were put in the semi-immortal laughing stocks of the internet.



Thinking skills are critical. In this world that moves at such a fast pace, it is becoming even more important than ever to just slow down, read, and even re-read before responding to make sure you didn’t miss anything.


I love science and have been delving more into the methods of dissemination and communication, following a few scientists and even doctors as well as talking with others interested in finding ways to be more effective and ultimately beneficial. How we portray ourselves in person as well as online has an impact on whether others will listen and respond.


I likely will never have a large following like some science communicators but that really isn’t a goal nor big interest of mine. I am content with learning, sharing, and discussing on a more personalized level. Slow and steady finishes the race!

One bite at a time

One bite at a time


Holiday Essence: Peppermint

Dang nabbit! I totally meant to have this post out around Christmas but the time caught me up in the joyous festivities of the season! With the holidays in full swing, I had this grand idea to dig into some of the essential oils of the season and even had 1/3 of the post done. Still better late than never though so I’m not going to let it go to waste like those spritz cookies still on the counter (note to self: halve the recipe next time).

I’ve heard talk of adding essential oils to coffee and cocoa as well as baking with them.** As essential oils are highly concentrated compounds unlike flavoring extracts, which are diluted with other constituents, be prudent if you plan to use them instead as the amounts used will need to be adjusted accordingly. (1)

Some of the aromas I associate most with this festive season are peppermint candy canes, simmering cinnamon sticks in apple cider, freshly baked gingerbread cookies and houses, and pungent pine boughs! And then there’s two of the gifts from the Magi – frankincense and myrrh. I have hardly any clue what those are! Three essential oils I am interested in focusing  on are peppermint, cinnamon, and frankincense, with perhaps others if time permits me. First up, peppermint.



Confectionery hint of creme de mint oil mixed with white chocolate makes for tasty homemade Andes mint chocolate



A hybrid of watermint and spearmint, the peppermint plant (mentha x piperita L.) contains the chemical compounds menthol (40.7%) and menthone (23.4%) as well as menthyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, limonene, beta-pinene and beta-caryophyllene. (2)

This fragrant oil is used in the production of “gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, and pharmaceuticals.”


Possible Medicinal Uses:

  • Upper respiratory illnesses – possible cooling effect on pain via stimulation of cold sensitive receptors. Menthol seems to activate those receptors in the bronchial as well as nasal airway passages, thus possibly assisting in some reduction of discomfort.
  • Cough – insufficient evidence.
  • IBS – due to relaxing of smooth muscles, peppermint essential oil may be beneficial in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, but only if administered via enteric-coated capsules so as to bypass degradation from stomach acid to reach the small intestine. This was with a small sample study and thus needs more research.
  • Dyspepsia – difficult to determine as it can either relieve or induce this symptom.
  • Headaches – research needs more work.
  • Muscle/arthritic pain – modest results.



One drop of peppermint essential oil can be equal to 26-28 cups of herbal tea. Essential oils are, after all, highly concentrated volatile constituents and thus should be used with prudence.

  • Should not be used by those who with GERD, kidney stones, hiatal hernias, gallstones, or severe liver damage.
  • Oral ingestion can cause heartburn, slow intestinal transit, perianal burning, blurred vision, and vomiting.
  • Best to not use undiluted, regardless of age, as it can cause skin irritation and/or rashes. This also includes injury to the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, eyes, and/or throat. (This type of irritation easily happens when peppermint oil has been added to drinking water. Remember – oil and water do not mix!)
  • Large doses may induce menstruation and therefore is not recommended for those who are pregnant due to the risk of miscarriage.
  • Airways can become irritated and thus is not recommended for young children, especially infants, “especially around the nose, because the menthol constituent can induce apnea, laryngeal and bronchial spasm, acute respiratory distress with cyanosis, or respiratory arrest if applied directly to the nasal and the chest areas.”



Resources cited and bonus reading materials: – Note: This resource mentions many in vitro (petri dish) and animal test subject studies, which do not always translate well over human studies (i.e. peppermint oil may eviscerate cancer cells in a petri dish but so can bleach…).

NAHA Peppermint Safety Info

NCCIH Peppermint Oil

Tisserand Institute

The Wellness Mama

Adverse reaction database search results on peppermint

Near fatal case of high dose peppermint ingestion Note: This is, of course, extreme, but still worth noting that too much of a good thing, even if natural, is not safe.



** You already know my personal concerns (and I’m not the only one) about the ingestion of essential oils, even if the bottle is labeled GRAS. Proceed with caution and seek out facts rather than opinions from more than one source.




Science Saturday: The Art of Research Papers

Did you miss me? With it being Thanksgiving last week, I thought it best to spend the time with family rather than researching and writing a blog post while the kids had a break from school. From here on out for the holiday season, too, I’m suspecting the posts may be staggered every other week so still stay with me (us, when hubby has some spare time)!

So with your newfound knowledge on how to search PubMed effectively from our last Science Saturday post, how about some useful tips to keep in mind when reading through research articles? Sometimes it feels like one is reading one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays or even a book in an entirely different language (it practically is) but learning to read research papers can be a useful skill if one takes the time to hone and master it.


What is it?

Is it an article describing a well-designed research study comparing a novel treatment to a placebo? Is it a meta-analysis of all there is or systematic review from Cochrane? Or is it an editorial opinion? Each has it’s place in the world of research and you can learn more about the hierarchy of evidence here.


Population and Sample Size

If it’s a study comparing different treatments or a new drug, what is the sample size? Twelve, twenty, two hundred thousand? The bigger the sample size, the more representative and useful it will be. A small sample isn’t necessarily bad, it just means it should be replicated in a larger population before claiming factual evidence of something.

Who and/or what did it include in the test population? Was the population representative of mainly children, females only, or an elderly population? Were tests carried out in a petri dish, mice, or humans? Mice, though also mammals, still have physiological differences when compared to humans. As a favorite comic says, “Keep in mind” that anything that can happen in a petri dish does not translate over to what happens inside the human body.


Replication is Key

Everyone needs to remember the importance of rechecking and replicating results. Just like in scientific research, bakers replicate the recipes of others in their own kitchens. The comments sections of blogs are the peer review section. Sometimes we get similar results and sometimes we don’t. If I try a new recipe and it flops, I’m not always quick to throw it out. I like to look back and see what I might have done wrong. Did I follow the recipe exactly? Oops! I forgot the baking soda! If I did follow the recipe to the T, perhaps I could compare it to similar recipes or read the comments section if the recipe is online and try something different. That’s kitchen science!


Impact Factor

The impact factor of journal is a statistical number determined by how often a journal’s articles have been cited by other journals. Like a grade point average or perhaps even just a popularity score, some love it while others hate it. There are journals that have been around a long time and therefore may have high influence. Others are new and upcoming and haven’t quite developed a good impact factor.

“Pay-to-play” journals is where anyone can get published if they just pay a fee and should be approached with caution. In other words, this is where anyone can get published, even if it’s shoddy research or even has been retracted, meaning published but then thrown out when found to be bad or even false, by another journal. They are considered predatory and may be rank with fake research. One way to think of it is how anyone can publish an ebook on amazon. Whether it will become a best seller is possible but also highly improbable.



Last of all, one doesn’t need to nor should read alone. Find a friend or reach out and make new friends in the world of science! Be patient as some may be socially awkward or come off as rude at first but there are more scientists working more and more on communicating their fields of research to the public. Seek out those reputable and trusting sources for information. I follow a slew of facebook groups run by science-minded folk!

In the end, google may give you thousands of results, scientist friends can help you interpret those results.

Neil-Gaiman-Quote libraries



Bonus reads:

How to (seriously) read a research paper

Evidence hierarchy pyramid

Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For a Fee

Why A Journalist Scammed The Media Into Spreading Bad Chocolate Science


Science Saturday: How to use PubMed


The use of PubMed has increased these days by those not just in the field of research and medicine. While this may sound good, just attaching a link to the search results for [insert topic] could be likened to taking two coconut halves and banging them together in an attempt to sound like a legit horse…

And now for a blog episode of ‘Alison Ruins Everything’, I present an example I recently came across: While the intentions of sharing these PubMed search results were in hopes to substantiate benefits of using cinnamon essential oil, this is what the first result had to say about the systematic analysis of cinnamon for diabetes mellitus. (Systematic analysis means the comprehensive review of all current and relevant studies).

Generally, studies were not well conducted and lacked in qualityThe review authors found cinnamon to be no more effective than placebo, another active medication or no treatment in reducing glucose levels and glycosylated haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a long‐term measurement of glucose control. None of the trials looked at health‐related quality of life, morbidity, death from any cause or costs. Adverse reactions to cinnamon treatment were generally mild and infrequent. Further trials investigating long‐term benefits and risks of the use of cinnamon for diabetes mellitus are required. Rigorous study design, quality reporting of study methods, and consideration of important outcomes such as health‐related quality of life and diabetes complications, are key areas in need of attention. (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews)

PubMed is a great tool when you know how to use it correctly. Otherwise, it’s more like using a dull knife which has a high chance of slipping and slicing your own finger. Saying this, even I don’t know how to use it responsibly so I often turn to an expert who uses PubMed on a nearly daily basis and just so happens to be sitting on the couch next to me! Together, we’ve developed this post on what is and how to use PubMed effectively by and for the average person.


What is PubMed?

One giant online database,”PubMed is a free [online] resource that provides access to MEDLINE, the National Library of Medicine database of citations and abstracts in the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care systems, and preclinical sciences.” (1)

It generally does not contain full-text articles but instead provides citations and abstracts of journal articles. Access to the complete journal and/or article may or may not be accessible due to a paywall but those in the research and/or medical fields gain access to full articles through the university or hospital they work at or through a personal subscription to the journal. PubMed Health is a specialized sub-database of PubMed for patients and clinicians to use in order to find information and research on medical topics. Searching for the topic of cinnamon in PubMed brought up up 1,977 search results, whereas PubMed health narrowed it down to a measly 11.

PubMed and it’s sub-databases are awesome! But sometimes it can be like searching for a book in the Library of Congress IN THE DARK. You’ve got to know where and how to look in such a vast array in order to find what you’re looking for. So, how does one navigate PubMed? By knowing what to type into the search bar.


How to search PubMed

Questions like, “What to make for dinner with leftover chicken” or “show times for Thor: Ragnarok” (which was awesome, btw) is how one can phrase search queries in Google but not PubMed.

One useful method is called the PICO method and is taught to medical students:

P: Patient or population that is being treated/intervention is being applied to? (ex. anxiety in middle-aged women)

I: Intervention or treatment of interest? (ex. use of lavender essential oil)

C: Comparison? (ex. SSRI anti-depressant)

O: Outcome? (ex. reduction in anxiety symptoms as measured by a standardized scale such as the Hamilton anxiety scale)

Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you can formulate your search phrase. Our mouthful example would be “middle-aged female lavender essential oil selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor Hamilton anxiety scale”.  Note that we did not use the acronym SSRI as PubMed searches do not handle acronyms well.

This specific search brought up one paper, demonstrating how being specific in our search parameters worked wonders!


Search Results

We threw a stick for our PubMed pup to fetch. Did it bring back a good stick or a smelly sock? Here is the result:

This paper evaluated an oral preparation of lavender oil called Silexan against placebo and an SSRI, known as paroxetine, in a randomized, double-blind, double-dummy trial of 539 adults (primarily women) with generalized anxiety disorder over a ten-week period. The study identifies that Silexan is significantly more effective at reducing anxiety symptoms as compared to a placebo and had a greater overall effect than that which was seen with paroxetine. As with any study, replication is the gold standard for confidence in a finding but this study does pose an interesting insight into the potential benefits of some essential oils. It also precisely addresses our example question of interest.

When using the PICO method, if no results are identified, the query can be simplified or altered to allow broader results. If too many results are identified, more specific terms can be included. The method is intended to provide a handful of results that clearly address the question of interest.




MeSH stands for “medical subject headings” and is one way PubMed indexes common search terms into a hierarchical format. It’s like a medical thesaurus. If your search includes a topic such as heart diseases, MeSH will help by pulling together relating results such as endocarditis, arrhythmias, pericarditis, etc. You can search the MeSH database here and see all the crazy complex medical terms doctors must memorize and use.

Another option in MeSH is to assist you in building a search based on subheadings. Say one’s topic is Rheumatoid Arthritis. These are the many subheading options:

mesh sub final

Overall, how is MeSH useful? It helps “to facilitate search retrieval by eliminating (or accounting for) the use of variant terminology for the same concept.” (2) Rather than having to perform several searches with similar terms, including spelling variations, using medical subject headings can pull in all those similar search terms.



When using PubMed, it is important to be concise and descriptive. Develop your search parameters by using the PICO method to efficiently narrow your results. MeSH is a useful net for reducing multiple searches by drawing in similar medical terminologies and spellings.

Keep asking questions and learning new things. As Miss Frizzle always says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”


miss friz

“Seatbelts, everyone!”


Bonus materials:

Searching the Medical Literature Using PubMed: A Tutorial

Berkeley Library – PubMed Tips and Tricks






Science Saturday: The Placebo Effect (Part 2)

Holy mackerel, last week was a whirlwind! I usually like to spend a week gathering resources, writing, re-writing, and polishing up a post. It being the week before Halloween, the costumes needed to be completed, and the van needed wheel bearings replaced in which one day in the mechanic’s shop wasn’t long enough to finish the job. On top of that, I’ve been sick with a nasty cough that was making my daughter nervous all because she’s reading a book in which the main character’s mother died. The poor dear. It’s just a cold! But I did manage to hire her for $5 to feed her younger brothers breakfast and keep them all entertained for the morning so I could stay in bed and rest. So I apologize for the delay in part deux on placebos.


Placebos, Nocebos, Do-Si-Do!

A placebo is defined as a medically inert substance or technique, which is administered like a drug. As the staple negative control in clinical trials, placebos play a critical role in modern medicine. The placebo effect refers to the well-documented phenomenon in which patients feel better after receiving a placebo. In other words, the mere thought that a treatment has been received causes a beneficial physical response. (1)

To test a new medicine or treatment, it is generally pitted up against a placebo in a clinical trial and must be able to perform better than a placebo group. This placebo may be a sugar pill, a cream with inactive ingredients, or even just smelly shampoo. (2)

I thought it would be interesting to read the research study I participated in but was unsuccessful in finding it. It could still be finishing up as research studies do take years to complete. As for what group I was in… [drum roll please] … the placebo group. My slow and steady improvements could be attributed more to therapy sessions, but the side affects I thought might be from the medication were my own.

Fascinating how placebos can have effects even when they might just be an inert pill, huh? Our own expectations can influence how a medication works, as seen in this study – Pricier Meds Mean Worse Side Effects, Thanks to ‘Nocebo’ Effect – where those using what looked to be more expensive placebo cream reported more negative side effects than the other cheaper looking placebo group. Both anti-itch were placebos!


What’s the Harm?

So then, what’s the harm in taking a medicine that ends up being no better than a placebo if it appears to be providing some positive effects? Here’s one comic example:

carbon dating placebo

Funny enough, five birth control pills actually are sugar pills. Credit: Carbon Dating

In some cases, a placebo for pain management may be somewhat efficacious without contributing more side effects like an addiction to narcotic pain killers. In other cases, the delaying of or use of a less than effective treatment could have negative effects, especially when suggested by non-certified persons in place of properly trained medical practitioners.

Placebos cannot cure cancer or mend broken bones, but so long as they are of an inert substance (sugar, saline, etc) that cannot interfere with necessary treatment methods (ex. insulin for diabetes management, chemotherapy, antibiotics, etc.), the ethics of a placebo is an interesting topic to explore further. These are suggested guidelines for practitioners when choosing to administer a placebo:

  • The intentions of the physician must be benevolent: her only concern the well-being of the patient. No economical, professional, or emotional interest should interfere with her decision.

  • The placebo, when offered, must be given in the spirit of assuaging the patient’s suffering, and not merely mollifying him, silencing him, or otherwise failing to address his distress.

  • When proven ineffective the placebo should be immediately withdrawn. In these circumstances, not only is the placebo useless, but it also undermines the subsequent effectiveness of medication by undoing the patient’s conditioned response and expectation of being helped.

  • The placebo cannot be given in place of another medication that the physician reasonably expects to be more effective. Administration of placebo should be considered when a patient is refractory to standard treatment, suffers from its side effects, or is in a situation where standard treatment does not exist.

  • The physician should not hesitate to respond honestly when asked about the nature and anticipated effects of the placebo treatment he is offering.

  • If the patient is helped by the placebo, discontinuing the placebo, in absence of a more effective treatment, would be unethical. (5)


Improvement with just the right attention

One hypothesis hubby and I have discussed, is the clinician’s usage of time with patients. It seems like common sense that doesn’t need much research but sadly some doctors still scoff. As was noted in an editorial on aromatherapy, “Some have speculated that it is not the therapy itself but merely the increased time with a caring person that leads to improved outcomes.” (2) If one major goal is to improve patient outcomes, spending just the right amount of time as well as using the right words can have just as beneficial effects. Perhaps this is one reason some patients may choose practitioners of alternative medicine? But let’s leave discussions of that for another time.


In conclusion

After my participation in the study, I still felt the need for an added boost therefore, in addition to continuing therapy sessions, added an anti-depressant to my treatment plan so I could further regain control of myself and be a better mother.

Not all will choose medication for depression and that is okay. Therapy is also a great tool in the treatment box. It’s important that mothers realize that and not feel ashamed to seek help when those feelings of sadness, anger, and/or anxiety become unnaturally overwhelming and burdensome. Be it therapy, medication, or both, don’t ignore the demons of postpartum depression. You don’t have to fight them alone.


Bonus reading materials:

(1) More Than Just a Sugar Pill: Why the Placebo Effect is Real

(2) Editorial on Aromatherapy

(3) Pricier Meds … ‘Nocebo’ Effect

(4) Carbon Dating: Placebo Prophylactic

(5) The Ethics of the Placebo in Clinical Practice

Monday Musings: The Importance of Citations

One of my pet peeves is a lack of citing sources on the internet. These days, it’s not just for college research papers and Wikipedia articles. If you are going to provide information that is not common knowledge (ex. Elizabeth II is the current queen of England; 2+2=4; I like chocolate), citing where you received your information is essential as well as useful. This gives readers the ability go check sources for themselves. Citations can aid in continuing discussions as well as further aid others with a thirst for knowledge. It is also useful in determining whether a source holds credibility or has been interpreted correctly.


Source: xkcd

Who has played the telephone game? You whisper something in one person’s ear and they pass the information on to the next person until it comes full circle back to you. How often does the information come back in the original form? Not very often! Of course as a game it’s fun to mess around but when it pertains to reality, some information you hear goes through a similar distilling and distorting process as it passes from person to person. Some may tweak a few bits to fit their needs, others may forget or leave out a part or two, and sometimes it might even be just a false rumor started to cause an emotional ruckus or personal damage (ex. microwaving charges iphones).

So when I read something like “essential oils can regenerate DNA”, I’d like to see where this information is coming from. I’m nerdy like that. If that isn’t provided, I have to google it myself only to discover it isn’t true.  Some things in life I can take by faith but in my quest for knowledge, I dismiss articles or information without readily accessible sources.

I could summarize and parrot all the cool things I find on the interwebs for you. Or I could share them in the bonus materials so you can go check them out yourself. Who knows? Like me, you might expand your horizons and find some new pages or blogs to follow. Learn something new everyday!


the more you know

Source: Google Images


Bonus Materials:

Ironically, I have none right now!


Science Saturday: Placebo Effect (Part 1)

The placebo effect is quite fascinating as well as complex. To begin with, a personal experience. Some parts are cloudy after several years but I’ve done my best to recall the important details.


If you think this mom looks too happy acting silly & couldn’t possibly have PPD, remember how deceiving looks can be.

After my second child was born, the demons of postpartum depression crept in. This wasn’t just the typical “exhausted, sad, anxious, have someone help out and just get a little extra rest” baby blues many mothers (and some fathers) experience. My own mind was clouded over and darkened with feelings of extreme sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, and so forth. At my six week post-birth check-up, I nuked the depression screening. Seriously, postpartum depression is nothing to fool around with which is why I’ve become more open in talking about my own experiences so as to help others realize the importance of seeking help.

My doctor mentioned a study enrolling mothers with clinically diagnosed postpartum depression in order to study differing treatment methods. Monetary compensation and therapy sessions at no cost to me through the clinic had me interested. Besides, being married to a medical scientist in training, I know the importance of research in the fields of medicine. I would be randomly sorted into one of three groups – A) medication and therapy, B) placebo and therapy, or C) just therapy.

I don’t recall how long participation in the study was but during enrollment, I went to weekly therapy sessions and was mailed medication. My psychiatrist monitored the dosage but the study was double-blinded so neither I nor she knew whether I was taking actual medication (Sertraline) or a placebo (simple sugar pill). I answered phone surveys every so often on how I was doing. Those were slightly irksome as I often fret over questions that require ranking on a scale of 1 to 10.

I continued through to the end of the study and it was finally to be revealed whether I was in the medication or placebo group. Through much of my therapy, my doctor, my husband, as well I suspected I was on the real medication. I had been steadily making improvements but still had some way to go before being able to say I had vanquished the demons of depression. I had also felt a few side affects, one of which were chest pains and breathing troubles severe enough to warrant a trip the the ER. It was a panic attack; one I’d never felt of such a forceful magnitude.

So what group was I in? Take a guess while I attempt to define this complex phenomenon. Placebo is Latin for “I shall please” whereas nocebo is “I shall harm”. (1) A placebo effect is a substance (like a sugar pill) or a collection of effects that provide therapeutic benefit which arise from no known biological mechanisms. This does not dispute that the therapeutic effects are real and of true benefit to the patient but that we are still in the beginning stages of determining where they arise from.

Now, to be clear, there is no evidence that a placebo can shrink a tumor or heal a broken bone, but when it comes to ailments grounded in self-awareness, such as pain, the placebo effect can be tremendous. In the 1980’s, neuroscientist Jon Levine conducted what is now considered one of the quintessential analyses of the placebo effect. In this study, postoperative patients received either a secret dose of 6-8 mg of morphine, or an overt dose of a substance described as a powerful painkiller (but was actually saline solution!). The results were remarkable: patients in both groups reported the same degree of pain relief. (2)

This quote comes from More Than Just a Sugar Pill: Why the Placebo Effect is Real, which is included in my bonus reading materials. I’d like to think providing this resource is better than just regurgitating them like a mommy bird. Stay tuned next Science Saturday to discuss more as well as reveal which group I was in.


Bonus reading materials:

(1) The Placebo Phenomenon (a long but interesting read)

(2) More Than Just a Sugar Pill: Why the Placebo Effect is Real

The Placebo Effect and Complemetary and Alternative Medicine

Editorial on Aromatherapy

Misconceptions of Essential Oils #1-3

It is amazing how many myths and misconceptions there are surrounding essential oils! They just keep going around the interwebs like an old meme. Now, before anyone decides to leave before even finishing reading, please remember I’m not trying to bash essential oils. In essence, I am interested in filtering through the useless, wasteful, and possibly even harmful information to find safe beneficial information – like separating dross from silver – and passing on what I find. If you have something for me to look into, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I find.

stack of books


#1 “Therapeutic grade” essential oils are the best of the best

Upon looking into it, “therapeutic grade” appears to just be another marketing buzzword that needs to be tossed onto the rubbish heap of meaningless product labels. There are no unifying standards for essential oils nor is there an independent, non-biased third party with a standardized grading system companies can be held accountable to. Most are self-regulated, some even with specially trademarked terms no other company can use, thus leaving consumers to be tossed about in the cacophonic waves of endless buzzwords in the marketplace. Does this help the consumer? In my opinion, no.

Some would say the lack of such a meddlesome system of governance is good but here are a couple of examples why it is not. Have you ever had to convert between two units of measurement? Before the standardizing of measurements, a foot could be determined by the the length of the current king’s foot or a yard by the tailor’s own arm. If the tailor was small, one could get easily gypped! Or, there is the history of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 to protect consumers from buying contaminated or adulterated goods. So until there is an organized standardizing body to regulate essential oils, one can ignore some of the fancy buzzwords.

Encyclopedia – Food and Drug Act of 1906


#2 Essential oils are safe to ingest

Inconclusive. When it comes to ingesting essential oils, unless you are receiving personally tailored recommendations from a licensed medical practitioner with extensive training and education certificates from verifiable sources that you have met with, don’t. Many actually advise AGAINST ingesting essential oils, even if the bottle has a GRAS label on it. Essential oils are, after all, highly concentrated chemical compounds and therefore can pack quite a punch. And, though they may not cause harm right away, the damage caused through daily ingestion may not become apparent until some time later.

Rather than me blathering on, here’s a good read by The Hippy Homemaker:  The Case for Ingestion – Is Ingesting Essential Oils Safe

Safety statement –  Alliance of International Aromatherapists – Aromatherapy Safety

Another safety statement – National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy


#3 Essential oils are most beneficial when applied to the feet

Not true. If I had a nickle for every time I heard this over the years, I could finally buy that Noonday purse I’ve been patiently saving up for! This is one misconception that really needs to be stomped on for good (pun intended). Feet have calloused, thick, and toughened skin. They also are one of the most sweaty places on the human body. The pores are also only exits, not entrances. Slower, if even any, absorption will occur and any benefit will only be coming from the aromatic inhalation via your nose and a relaxing foot rub.

Another good blog resource –

And –


Thanks for sticking around to the end! Still wondering how I’m using the two essential oils I’ve purchased so far? I’m still loving my wool dryer balls with just a drop or two of lavender essential oil!


Time to Roll Up the Sleeve

Influenza viruses should not be confused with common cold viruses, both of which bring on sneezes, sniffles, running noses, hacking coughs, and a myriad of other irritating symptoms as your body fights back. Neither should influenza be confused with the “clutch a bucket/pray to the porcelain gods for 24 hours” stomach flu. In all actuality, the stomach flu should be properly called gastroenteritis or norovirus. There are no cures but many home remedies or over-the-counter products exist to help ease and/or shorten the discomforts and duration of these illnesses, if only by a tiny fraction. All viruses must run their course and frequent hand-washing and following other useful hygienic protocols help to slow or prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.


My ouchie!

For influenza, there is a the yearly flu shot. It’s not 100% perfect but it’s better than 0%. So why does my entire household now roll up their sleeves to get their yearly flu vaccine, no matter how difficult it may be to endure a tiny poke? Because we have seen the alternative and it wasn’t fun.

Let us travel back to January of 2015 – big sis awoke me late in the night to inform me me little brother was crying, coughing, and gasping for breath. It had only been a day or two since he’d fallen victim to the yucky sickness all of us were already dealing with in varying stages (runny nose, coughing, aches and pains, etc.). After trying to cuddle and calm him in front of the humidifier and much fretting over by doctor-in-training daddy, I bundled him up in the van, opened the windows a crack, and drove 30 minutes into town to the hospital emergency room. By the time the two of us arrived, I wondered if my mommy instincts were just over-reacting as he was still coughing but there was less gasping and wheezing. Within 5 minutes of sitting in the warm waiting room, the gasping was back in full swing.

Fast forward through… my 8-month pregnant belly trying to snuggle next to my poor sickie on a skinny ER bed as I closely monitored his raspy breathing as he fell asleep after a fever reducer and breathing nebulizer thingamabob… through those moments when I nearly wet my pants when I coughed because I, too, was still sick… The nasal swab tested positive for influenza and due to complications of croup that could not be completely resolved in the emergency room, he was admitted to the inpatient pediatric department of the hospital for a day of more treatments and observation. Thankfully, it was only for a day but it could’ve been worse. Influenza kills.

The next winter, December of 2015, my daughter came down with a little cold as we traveled out to visit extended family for Christmas. Due to being out of network, we put off taking her to a doctor until about Day 5 of her fluctuating fever, aches and pains, and nearly nonexistent appetite. When daddy finally took her to the ER, her blood oxygen levels were borderline hospital admittance and an x-ray revealed pneumonia in her lower lungs. While this was not influenza, it still shows how nasty viruses can be on kids with compromised immune systems. She has asthma. We all get a flu shot to help protect her.


Wash your hands. Stay home when you’re sick. Rub essential oils on your feet for all I care. Protect the young. Protect the old. Protect the sick AND healthy. Protect yourself. Please help prevent the spread of influenza by getting a flu shot.



Bonus reading:

Mayo Clinic

NPR: Flu Myths Busted

Johns Hopkins flu shot rumor

AAFP: Miscarriage risks and the flu shot


Full disclosure statement: I received no payment nor compensation in any way for this post by anyone.