Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve intermittently read Consumer Reports, relying on it for guidance in all manner of purchase decisions. CR has been known for rigorous testing of all manner of consumer products and the rating of various services, arriving at its rankings through a systematic testing method that, while not necessarily bulletproof, has been far more organized and consistent than most other ranking systems. True, I haven’t always agreed with CR’s rankings of products and services about which I know a lot, but at the very least CR has often made me think about how much of my assessments are based on objective measures and how much on subjective measures.
I just saw something yesterday on the CR website that has made me wonder just how scientific CR’s testing methods are, as CR has apparently decided to promote alternative medicine modalities by “assessing” them in an utterly scientifically ignorant manner. Maybe I just haven’t been following CR regularly for a while, but if there’s an article that demonstrates exactly why consumer product testing organizations should not be testing medical treatments; they are ill-equipped to do so and lack the expertise and knowledge. The first red flag was the title, namely Hands-on, mind-body therapies beat supplements. The second red flag was the introduction to the article: Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*
On Saturday, while thousands of Boston Bruins fans gathered at Government Center to celebrate the team’s recent Stanley Cup victory, a hundred or so true die-hards met a few blocks away at a Massachusetts General Hospital conference to talk about complementary and alternative medicine for psychiatric disorders. While I hated to miss the Bruins parade, I’m glad I attended the MGH conference.
I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about so-called natural therapies for one simple reason: they don’t have to go through the same rigorous testing in clinical trials that medications do. At the same time, I realize that FDA-approved drugs don’t work for everyone. One in three adults with major depression, for example, can’t completely improve their mood and other symptoms even after trying multiple antidepressants.
Clearly, we need better options for treating mental health disorders. The MGH conference convinced me that some types of complementary and alternative medicine—or CAM, for short—might be worth trying. The presenters, all psychiatrists who treat patients at MGH, backed up their recommendations with scientific evidence. Several of them also contributed to the American Psychiatric Association’s recent report on CAM therapies.
We’ll be doing a story on CAM therapies for psychiatric disorders in an upcoming issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. For now, here are some things I learned on Saturday: Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*
Imagine hearing a commercial on the radio:
Send us money, and we won’t send you anything in return.
No one would do that, right? How about this:
Send us your money and we’ll send you an empty box.
Better? Not much. Now how is that different from:
Send us money and we’ll send you stuff we’ll call medicine that we claim will help you, but there’s no actual active ingredients in it at all.
I don’t think there’s one bit of difference. Wouldn’t you agree that that commercial is fraud, pure and simple? The problem is that the general public doesn’t understand that the word “homeopathic” means “diluted beyond the point where it contains any active ingredients.”
I’ve recently heard commercials for homeopathic vertigo treatments, eye drops for allergies, irritable bowel, and spider veins on legs. I’m tempted to contact the radio station and complain, but stopped short realizing that their first question is going to be, “But is it legal?”
That’s the problem: it is. So what I want to know is, why? Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*
Science is a philosophy, a technology, and an institution. It is a human endeavor- our collective attempt to understand the world around us, not something that exists solely in the abstract. All of these aspects of science have been progressing over the past decades and centuries, as we refine our concepts of what science is and how it works, as we develop better techniques, and organize and police scientific activities more effectively. The practice of science is not relentlessly progressive, however, and there are many regressive forces causing pockets of backsliding, and even aggressive campaigns against scientific progress.
So-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is one such regressive force. It seeks to undermine the concepts, execution, and institutions of medical science in order to promote sectarian practices and ideological beliefs. Examples of this are legion, exposed within the pages of this blog alone. I would like to add another example to the pile – the recent defense of homeopathy by Dana Ullman in the Huffington Post (names which are already infamous among supporters of SBM). Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*
When I was in medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Mehmet Oz had the reputation of being a competent and caring cardiothoracic surgeon whose research interest was reducing preoperative stress. I remember hearing about a music study of his in which soothing melodies reduced blood pressure and heart rates in patients preparing for heart surgery. I felt pleased that a surgeon was leading the charge in improving patients’ O.R. experiences, and had no inkling that 15 years later Dr. Oz would be America’s chief snake oil salesman.
I have been slow to criticize Dr. Oz on my blog because of a sense of loyalty to my medical school, however yesterday he crossed the line when things got personal – a friend of mine was negatively impacted by his misinformation to the point where her life was endangered. From watching his TV show, she was led to believe that she would put herself at risk for thyroid cancer if she got a mammogram. Several of her relatives have had breast cancer, and she should be particularly vigilant in her screening efforts. However, because Dr. Oz said that mammograms may themselves cause cancer, she opted out of appropriate screening.
My colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science Based Medicine has done an excellent job of documenting Dr. Oz’s almost Charlie Sheen-like career descent. Although he began his work as (presumably) a science-respecting surgeon, he now spends a lot of his time hosting a TV show that features faith healers, anti-vaccinationists, and psychics.
But how does the average lay person know how to evaluate Dr. Oz’s health claims? When Oprah’s network promotes him as “America’s physician” the platform itself offers him credibility, and a reach that can damage and misinform millions like my friend. I have a feeling that many of my peers at Columbia are concerned about Dr. Oz’s promotion of quackery, but once they’ve invested in his brand for so long, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to his nuttiness than to oust him from his academic positions. At what point is a celebrity doctor doing more harm than good to an institution’s reputation? Is he now “too big to fail?”
But back to my main point – dear readers if you watch Dr. Oz and think that he’s a credible source of health information, please be aware that much of what he says is inaccurate, exaggerated, and based on mystical belief systems. Please don’t act on his advice without checking with your own physician first.
Sadly, good science doesn’t always make good television. But the truth can make you well. Be warned that you are unlikely to find the truth consistently on the Dr. Oz show.