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True Story: Man Dies From Following Alternative Medical Advice On The Internet

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Photo Credit: Mark Crislip, M.D.

During a recent trip, I met a woman whose father had just passed away. When she discovered that I was a physician, she decided to tell me the sad story of the events leading up to his death. She gave me permission to share the story on my blog so long as I did not identify her or her family by name. For the purposes of the story, I’ll refer to the woman as Sue, and her father as Frank.

Frank was a healthy, robust man, descended from a long line of nonagenerians. Everyone assumed that he would live well into his 90’s – at least 30 more good years. One day Frank began having some leg pain, which he ignored as long as he could. Sue noticed him limping around a week later and decided to take him to see a physician. As it turned out, Frank had a deep venous thrombosis (or blood clot) in his leg, caused by a previously undiagnosed, mild genetic clotting disorder. The physicians treated him with heparin to prevent the clot from expanding, and prescribed coumadin to protect him from having the clot travel to his lungs – a condition (pulmonary embolism) that carries with it a high risk of death.

While researching his new medicines, Frank came upon an alternative medicine website. The site warned people against taking coumadin (stating that it was “a form of rat poison”) and offering herbal supplements instead. Frank decided to stop taking his coumadin, and purchased the alternative medicine from the website. Two weeks later he Read more »

Skeptic Uncovers Some Of The Week’s Medical Quackery

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Hey there skeptifans. Here are the media Fails and Wins you sent me last week.

Edzard Ernst on alternative medicine
After Steve Jobs death, which we now know may have been hurried due to his decision to choose alternative treatments over evidence based ones, Maclean’s chose to run this Q&A with alternative medicine expert Edzard Ernst. Several years ago Dr. Ernst set out to find out if there is evidence to support the most popular alternative treatments. His findings were that the vast majority of alternative medicine is quackery. I hope this interview will help sway some people on the fence about chiropractic and other placebo treatments.

Family Doc Says No To Perilous Chickenpox Pops
Anna spotted this story on NPR. Apparently, there is a mom in Texas selling chicken pox infected lollipops to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Skeptic North*

Don’t Fly Delta: Airline Runs Anti-Vaccine Videos Against Medical Advice

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I’ve been following the recent Delta airlines flu vaccine kerfuffle with interest and now amazement. After running in-flight infomercials by a notorious anti-vaccine group (NVIC), the American Academy of Pediatrics alerted Delta to the faux pas with a letter from president Robert W. Block, M.D. I had assumed that Delta would be grateful for the head’s up, and would immediately remove the infomercials. Instead, they chose to ignore the letter, denying that they saw any harm in associating themselves with anti-vaccine activists. Despite the warning, they will continue to run the ads through the month of November.

Every year the influenza virus kills as many as 49,000 Americans and 500,000 individuals world-wide. According to the CDC, the best defense against these often preventable deaths is the influenza vaccine. Since viral spread is especially likely in closed quarters where air from infected individuals is recirculated (such as in an airplane) it is critical for extra precautions to be taken before and during air travel. In addition to yearly flu vaccination, the use of alcohol-based hand wipes, regular hand washing, covering one’s mouth during coughing, are recommended. Since the flu virus can live in droplets outside the body for up to 48 hours, door knobs, seat covers and tray tables can spread the virus from passengers on previous flights.

I don’t understand why Delta, Read more »

Electrodermal Testing Is Tantamount To Fooling Patients With A Magic Eight Ball

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Remember the Magic Eight Ball toy? You could ask it a question and shake it and a random answer would float up into a window: yes, no, maybe, definitely, etc. There is even a website where you can ask an Eight Ball questions online.

I have been meaning to write about bogus electrodiagnostic machines for a long time. These devices supposedly diagnose diseases and/or energy imbalances, indicate which remedies will correct the problem(s), and sometimes even treat the imbalances by transmitting a balancing frequency to the patient. I knew they were bogus, but I had never really realized the full extent of the deception until I viewed a set of training videos recently sent to me by a correspondent. I had never realized how similar electrodermal testing was to the Magic Eight Ball. I was further amazed at how they managed to combine every kind of alternative medicine into one incoherent package and to bamboozle patients with an appalling display of pseudoscientific babble.

This will be a two-part series. In the first, I will describe what the machines and their operators do. In the second (next week), I will address the legal and regulatory issues.

The History of EAV Devices

The first electrodermal diagnostic device was invented in 1958 by Reinhold Voll, a German medical doctor and acupuncturist. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Congressmen For Snake Oil: How The Supplement Industry Is Preventing The FDA From Protecting Consumers

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The weakness and ineffectiveness of the law in the U.S. regulating dietary supplements has been a frequent topic here on Science-Based Medicine, including the continued failure of efforts to address the serious shortcomings of current law and the illogic at its very heart. Indeed, over the last decade or so that I’ve paid attention to relevant issues regarding supplements continually amazed at how much supplement manufacturers can get away with and for how long. For example, one of the most recent atrocities against science occurred when Boyd Haley, disgraced chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky and prominent member of the mercury militia wing of the anti-vaccine movement, tried to sell an industrial chelator as a dietary supplement to treat autistic children. True, that was too much even for the underfunded, undermanned FDA to ignore, but it was amazing how long he got away with it. Apparently it takes someone trying to market a chemical compound that can’t by any stretch of the imagination be characterized as a “nutrient” or “food” to be so obviously against even the travesty of a mockery of a sham of a law regulating supplements (the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, or the DSHEA) that the FDA could take action.

Of course, here at SBM, we’ve written numerous posts on the shortcomings of the DSHEA. Basically, this law created a new class of regulated entities known as dietary supplements and liberalized the sorts of information that supplement manufacturers could transmit to the public. The result has been this:

It [the DSHEA] also expanded the types of products that could be marketed as “supplements.” The most logical definition of “dietary supplement” would be something that supplies one or more essential nutrients missing from the diet. DSHEA went far beyond this to include vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; other dietary substances to supplement the diet by increasing dietary intake; and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any such ingredients. Although many such products (particularly herbs) are marketed for their alleged preventive or therapeutic effects, the 1994 law has made it difficult or impossible for the FDA to regulate them as drugs. Since its passage, even hormones, such as DHEA and melatonin, are being hawked as supplements.

One might wonder how such a bad law could survive for so long (seventeen years now), but it has its defenders. One man, in particular, defends the DSHEA against all regulatory threats, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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