Thursday, August 08, 2013

Breast feeding may protect against stuttering???

Today, every single "science" news outlet jumped on the story that breastfeeding may protect against persistent stuttering: see a Science Daily post based on direct sources.

This is a hyped-up science story. Typically, a student does a study of ridiculously low sample size using a questionnaire asking about 100 questions. Then magically a strong correlation comes up. The PR department of the university gets to know about it, and off we go with a press release. If they are lucky, it's also a female student, so they can at the same time satisfy politically correctness and show that girls do great science!

The truth is of course that 95% of this kind of research is completely irrelevant, for various reasons. The biggest one is that the more variables you look for, the more likely one is correlated by chance. And even if you only look for a few variables. Ten students looking for few variables has the same effect combined with the publication bias. Only the one of the ten students finds a strong correlation by chance, and only their research gets paraded around.

And of course nutrients play a great role in giving the infant brain and its DNA the needed resources to create the best possible brain from what the DNA has in store. 100s of things can get wrong in an infant's brain development. But this story just does not make sense to me even on a theoretical level.

Here some sanity checks:

1) If this is really the case and as more girls recover, are we now suppose to believe that boys gets less breastfeeding. Of course not. So why do more girls recover if breast feeding is a key factor?

2) Millions of kids did not get breastfed, do they stutter? No! Do have they neurological deficits?? Not that I am aware of.

To conclude, the research is likely irrelevant, and its marketing damaging, and in my view unethical. Nicoline Ambrose who is known for sound research should have known better. At best, I accuse her of being naive about the media and not having reigned in the PR department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for over-blowing this piece of research. Now, millions read this and are misled! :-(


Erin said...

As a child I had a severe allergy to milk (and any dairy product containing milk), so the doctors required my mother to breast feed me until the age of three so that I would not be calcium deficient. Due to this, I actually remember being breast fed.

And yet, I still developed a severe stutter at the age of 12, and didn't recover until the age of 18 (although I still have to fight to suppress it). As you suggested, to me this "discovery" sounds like a whole lot of hogwash.

Anonymous said...

My mother breastfed me but due to medical problems did not breastfeed my younger brother. Funny thing is I stutter and he doesnt. So this research does not jibe in my experience.

Eric said...

2) Millions of kids did not get breastfed, do they stutter? No! Do have they neurological deficits?? Not that I am aware of.

Tom, come on, you know that this is a silly statement and doesn't show anything. No one is claiming that there's a perfect correlation between breastfeeding and stuttering. The claim is that non-breastfeeding has an excess risk of stuttering. But the probability is still low.

Maybe you meant it as a joke.

Tom Weidig said...

If millions of kids did not get breastfed, we should be seeing the effects very clearly because the sample is so big.

Now you argue that the effect is relatively small.

Then tell me, how they could have found a small effect in their small sample?

You are inconsistent.

Either big effect, small sample size, or small effect, big sample size!

Max Gattie said...

If anyone reading this can also read French, I just noticed another recent study along similar lines whose findings might complement the breastfeeding study:

"Is non-IgE-mediated cow's milk protein hypersensitivity responsible for stuttering in children?"

Unfortunately, no English language abstract.

Dick said...

If ever there was a study which was meaningless and flawed, then this must surely be it. Tom, for once, I agree with you! We have to be careful with what we believe - there is so much rubbish out there dressed as 'research findings'.

Anonymous said...

Belinda said...

I have always had a mild stutter since age 3. Growing up, I worried about having children and if they too, would stutter. I ended up having 3 sons and I breast fed all of my sons FOR THREE YEARS each. I loved breast feeding and I also co-slept with each of my sons until they started kindergarten. But when they turned 3 years old, I stopped nursing them. Meanwhile, 2 of my 3 sons did inherit a mild stutter after all, with the stuttering showing up at age 3 and continuing throughout their childhood into teen years. However, my middle son has no stutter at all! Neither of my parents stuttered but there is stuttering occurring with some of my cousins. I do not believe that breast feeding can overcome the genetic component of stuttering. This article on breast feeding helping to vanquish or ameliorate stuttering...well, I knew right away that the article wasn't legit and/or was flawed in method. It makes no logical sense in my mind, when you follow through on the conclusions that arise from the researcher's assumptions. Three years of breast feeding each of my 3 sons has also shown otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Just curious if dopamine is anything to do with stuttering..

Taken from wikipedia

"Inside the brain, dopamine plays important roles in motor control, motivation, arousal, cognition, and reward, as well as a number of basic lower-level functions including lactation, sexual gratification, and nausea."

All my family members who stutter to an extent experience nausea during travelling. Does anyone
here stuttering experience the same?

"The substantia nigra is a component of the basal ganglia, a group of interconnected structures in the forebrain and midbrain that play a central role in motor control. The precise nature of that role has been difficult to work out, but one popular line of thought describes it as "response selection". The response selection theory proposes that when a person or animal is in a situation where several behaviors are possible, activity in the basal ganglia determines which of them is executed, by releasing that response from inhibition. Thus the basal ganglia are responsible for initiating behaviors but not for determining the details of how they are carried out.

Dopamine is thought to modulate the response selection process in at least two important ways. First, dopamine sets the "effort threshold" for initiating behaviors. The higher the level of dopamine activity, the lower the impetus required to evoke a given behavior. As a consequence, high levels of dopamine lead to high levels of motor activity and "impulsive" behavior; low levels of dopamine lead to torpor and slowed reactions. Parkinson's disease, in which dopamine levels in the substantia nigra circuit are greatly reduced, is characterized by stiffness and greatly reduced movement—however, when people with the disease are confronted with strong stimuli such as a serious threat, their reactions can be as vigorous as those of a healthy person. In the opposite direction, drugs that increase the effects of dopamine, such as cocaine or amphetamine, produce heightened levels of activity, including at the highest levels psychomotor agitation and stereotyped movements.

The second important effect of dopamine is as a "teaching" signal. When a motor response is followed by an increase in dopamine activity, the basal ganglia circuit is altered in a way that makes the same response easier to evoke when similar situations arise in the future. This is a form of operant conditioning, in which dopamine plays the role of a reward signal."

I believe that is why stuttering is a learned behaviour and it is so hard to come out of it cause the brain sees this as a reward. Maybe we are happier than most people due to increased level of dopamine in our brains.

Let me know what you guys think.