Just because you can't hear it doesn't mean the baby can't

Mayo Clinic physician Dr. Mostafa Fatemi often wondered why unborn babies tended to flinch violently at the instant their ultra-sound portraits are taken. He found out by placing a tiny hydrophone inside a woman's uterus during the procedure. The device registered NEARLY 100 DECIBLES-as loud as a subway train or a jet!

Fatemi says clinicians may want to aim their ultrasound probes more carefully, away from the child's ears so as to avoid this obvious trauma. I'm not sure how they're supposed to accomplish this, since unborn babies are encased in fluid which would make such a sound carry equally throughout the womb.

For years, I've been arguing that ultrasounds threaten the health of a developing fetus. But the incidence of ultrasound has increased and it is now standard procedure in almost every pregnancy. Nowadays, it would be considered downright negligent not to perform it. After all, what if the little tadpole had a deformed ear lobe or something even worse, such as six toes on one foot (like Marilyn Monroe!). Under those "extreme" circumstances, the parents would certainly opt for murder-excuse me, termination of pregnancy-right? Just think, without ultrasound, they wouldn't have known the "awful" truth

Both of my children have hearing that's less acute than mine. Since they were born in the 50s, I can't blame ultrasound. I blame immunizations (and rock-n-roll). But my grandchildren are a different matter. If their childhood hearing is off only ten percent, that's enough to cause problems that may be interpreted as "learning disabled"-a euphemism for stupidity. This small, early deficit in hearing will almost certainly lead to early presbycusis-a hearing problem associated with old age that might now happen at 40, not 70. If even one person in ten develops this disability, it will be a tragedy of immense proportions.

Ultrasound is so universal that most physicians don't bother to question its safety. However, 40 years after its introduction, disturbing questions are being asked, while the perpetrators of this tragedy remain silent. Three independent studies in 1993 alone have cast doubt on the safety of the procedure. Lancet, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the New England Journal of Medicine have all sounded the alarm. At best, routine scanning makes no difference in the health and well-being of babies and, at worst, could do significant harm. Consider the following possibilities from the various studies cited above:

  • Lower birth weights.
  • Induced left-handedness, which may affect brain development in a child who was not programmed for left-handedness.
  • Delayed speech development and other subtle changes in the brain.
  • False positive reporting of brain defects leading to the doctor doing you-know-what. (How many Mozart's, Michael Jordans, and Alexander Flemmings have we murdered?)

If you're looking to become the parent or grandparent of a healthy baby, tell the doctor not to bombard your family's little developing wonder with ultrasound, or else you'll sue for $10 million. Have the doc sign a statement-and have the radiologist sign it too-that ultrasound will NOT be used without your permission.

The real happy pills

Prescription antidepressants are becoming more and more commonand so are their negative side effects, which include sexual dysfunction and violence. The downsides to these medications are so numerous that it's always refreshing when doctors turn to low-risk herbal remedies for treatment first. And the evidence for the effectiveness of herbal preparations in treating psychiatric conditions is growing.

A recent article published in the journal Psychiatric Services summarized and critiqued the findings of controlled clinical trials on several herbs: St. John's wort, kava, Ginkgo, and valerian. In 39 of 40 trials, Gingko was found to "significantly improve" memory, anxiety, concentration, depression, and fatigue in patients with dementia.

The evidence for St. John's wort was "the most convincing," with five of nine studies showing it to be superior to a placebo and the other four finding the herb to be AT LEAST AS EFFECTIVE as prescription antidepressants.

But developing these results into effective treatments that can become the standard for treating depression is, unfortunately, a slow process. The chemical complexity of the herbs and the lack of standardization (meaning that all products contain the same amount of an herbal extract) of commonly available preparations are hurdles that still need to be overcome before herbs will become "mainstream" antidepressants.

In the meantime, however, you should consult with a physician skilled in herbal therapies that can assist you in finding a good product and can monitor your progress. To find one in your area, contact the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians at (703)610-9037 or www.naturopathic.org.

St. John's wort and all of the other supplements I mentioned are available in most health food stores. I've even seen them at the grocery store.