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Vaginal Steam Baths: A Medical Opinion

A spa in California is offering vaginal steam baths, in which spa-goers squat or sit on open stools over a tub of hot steam, as a cure-all for menstrual, digestion, and mood disorders:

The V-Steam: Inspired by an ancient ritual practiced for many years in Korea. The steam from the herbal tea rises and absorbs into your skin & orifice. This steaming treatment stimulates the production of hormones to maintain uterine health, aids regular menstrual cycles, helps correct digestive disorders while soothing the nervous system. The natural antibiotic and anti-fungal properties are said to help maintain internal health as well as keeping your skin looking young. (30 min: $50. Series of 6: $180.)

It’s a douche, folks. A $50 douche made with mugwort and 13 other herbs and having a fancy Korean name: Chai-Yok. True, the water gets up there as steam, and if you don’t squat just right over the steam bath, I imagine it may not get up there at all. But in the end, it’s a douche.

We docs strongly advise against douching since we know that women who do it have higher rates of vaginal and pelvic infections. Not to mention that the vaginal mucosa is highly-absorptive surface, meaning anything you put in there is likely to end up in the rest of your body. And so I ask: What herbs are they using, at what doses, and what side effects might they have? Not to mention what might be growing in those wooden tubs they have you squatting over? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*

Chinese Bloodletting Forbidden In California

In November 2010, the California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) finally decided to act responsibly and forbid the prevalent practice of Chinese bloodletting by licensed acupuncturists. The practice became a concern for the DCA when allegations of unsanitary bloodletting at a California (CA) acupuncture school surfaced.

The incident allegedly occurred during a “doctoral” course for licensed practitioners. The instructor was reportedly demonstrating advanced needling and bloodletting techniques. During the process, he took an arrow-like lancing instrument that is called a “three-edged needle” (三棱针), sharpened it with sandpaper, cleaned it with alcohol, and then asked a student-volunteer to roll a towel around his neck. The instructor then cleaned the student’s temporal region with alcohol, and punctured a superficial blood vessel with the arrow-like instrument. The student then held his head over the garbage can, gushing blood for awhile. Read more »

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

Integrative Medicine As The Butt Of A Hoax

In 1996, Alan Sokal got a bogus paper published in the journal Social Text. It was a parody full of meaningless statements in the jargon of postmodern philosophy and cultural studies. The editors couldn’t tell the difference between Sokal’s nonsense and the usual articles they publish.

Now a British professor of medical education, Dr. John McLachlan, has perpetrated a similar hoax on supporters of so-called “integrative” medicine. He reports his prank in an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

After receiving an invitation to submit papers to an International Conference on Integrative Medicine, he invented a ridiculous story about a new form of reflexology and acupuncture with points represented by a homunculus map on the buttocks. He claimed to have done studies showing that

responses are stronger and of more therapeutic value than those of auricular or conventional reflexology. In some cases, the map can be used for diagnostic purposes.

The organizers asked him to submit an abstract. He did. In the abstract he said he would present only case histories, testimonies, and positive outcomes, since his methods did not lend themselves to randomized controlled trials; and he suggested that his “novel paradigm” might lead to automatic rejection by closed minds. Read more »

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

Acupuncture Via SkyMall

The worst part of flying is the takeoff and landing. Not that I am nervous about those parts of the trip, it is that I am all electronic. Once I have to turn off my electronic devices, all I am left with is my own thoughts or what is in the seat pocket in front of me.

Since there is nothing to be gained from quiet introspection, I am stuck with either the in-flight magazine or SkyMall. I usually choose the latter. SkyMall, for those of you who do not fly, is a collection of catalogs bound in one volume. I have occasionally purchased products found in SkyMall and thumb through it with mild interest.

This time one product caught my eye, the Aculife home acupuncture/acupressure device. I had never noticed the “health”-related products in SkyMall before, usually looking for electronic gadgets that I really do not need. I was curious. How many other products besides Aculife are in the catalogue? According to the interwebs, about 100,000,000 Americans fly every year and well over half a billion people world wide. A lot of people can potentially look at SkyMall, including the occasional skeptic.

I have written about the many styles of acupuncture in the past: Hand and foot and tongue and ear and head and Chinese and Japanese. So many meridians and acupuncture points, how does the body find room for it all? Aculife makes it all simple. It’s all gauche, er, I mean in the left hand.

According to makers of Aculife, you can now “help strengthen your health with the latest ancient technology.” Of course I can, and for $199.95 I had better be able to. Read more »

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

How Low Can Oprah Go? Promoting Faith Healing To The Masses

Several of the bloggers on Science-Based Medicine have been — shall we say? — rather critical of Oprah Winfrey. The reason, of course, is quite obvious. Oprah is so famous that if you mention her first name nearly everyone will know exactly of whom you speak.

For the last quarter century, Oprah’s daytime TV talk show has been a ratings juggernaut, leading to the building of a media behemoth and making her one of the richest and most famous women in the world. Unfortunately, part of Oprah’s equation for success has involved the promotion of quackery and New Age woo, so much so that last year I lamented about the Oprah-fication of medicine, which scored me a writing gig in the Toronto Star.

Whether it be promoting bio-identical hormones, The Secret (complete with a testimonial from someone who used The Secret to persuade herself not to pursue conventional therapy for breast cancer), Suzanne Somers, the highly dubious medicine promoted by Dr. Christiane Northrup, or foisting reiki aficionado Dr. Mehmet Oz or anti-vaccine “mother warrior” Jenny McCarthy onto a breathless public, arguably no one is a more powerful force for the promotion of pseudoscience in America, if not the world.

Truly, the ending of Oprah’s TV show in the spring is a very good thing indeed for science and rationality. Or it would be, were it not for the fact that the reason Oprah is wrapping up her show after a quarter of a century is to start up her own cable channel, so that we can have Oprah-branded and -inspired programming 24/7. The mind boggles.

Still, my dislike for how Oprah promotes New Age mysticism and pseudoscience on a distressingly regular basis aside, I actually did think there were limits to how low she would go. I actually thought there were limits to how egregiously vile a quackery Oprah would endorse. The operative word, of course, is “did,” which now needs to be struck off after last Wednesday, which is when Oprah did an entire show entitled Do You Believe in Miracles? (Guess what answer was implicitly, if not explicitly, endorsed.) Featured prominently in that episode were several segments on the faith healer John of God. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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