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When pregnancy is viewed as the most dangerous disease

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 28, 2014

The “news item” that follows is not accurate. I have taken an actual lead paragraph and altered it in a small but critically important way, which I will disclose below.

In a new study, researchers found an increased risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) among women who have taken artificial sweeteners. However, the findings do not mean women should stop using artificial sweeteners, the researchers say.

Can you guess which two words I have changed? If you guessed that I had inserted “artificial sweeteners” to replace “oral contraceptives,” you’re right. The actual text of the FoxNews story is here.

But humor me for a moment, please, and imagine the reaction the story would have received if it really had been about the risks of artificial sweeteners. Some artificial sweetener (cyclamates) have been banned in the US, on the basis of scientific information that suggested they might have caused a slight increase in the risk of cancer. Granted, cancer is a very serious disease. But so is MS. Increasing the risk of MS is no joke.

So how much might oral contraceptives increase the risk of MS?

Overall, researchers found a 30 percent increased risk of developing MS amongst women who had at least three months of oral contraceptive use…

A 30% increase in risk is huge. And notice, that happens if a woman uses oral contraceptives for 3 months; what about women stay on the Pill for a couple of decades? This is a very sobering discovery, and it’s awfully cavalier to follow up immediately by telling women that they should keep taking the Pill despite the risk.

But then, the health industry has been sending this message for years. Look, ladies, we know that you’ll be at increased risk for MS. We’ve know for years that you’re increasing your risk of stroke and heart disease. But it doesn’t matter. You must keep taking the Pill, regardless of the consequences for your long-term health, because you must not be fertile!

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  • Posted by: Alcuin - Mar. 01, 2014 12:57 PM ET USA

    Dr. Hellwig (the author of the study) is correct to urge people to be cautious about changing their behavior based on her most recent research. It is still preliminary, and does not seem to have yet been subject to rigorous peer-review. When data mining small numbers of subject (in this case 305), there is a big danger of not being able to disentangle the possible causes. For instance, do the women on birth control also live in areas with more environmental pollution?

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