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Homeopathy: Fibromyalgia, A Woo Magnet

Over the weekend, my wife and I happened to be in the pharmacy section of our local Target store. We happened to be looking for one of our favorite cold remedies, because both of us have been suffering from rather annoying colds, which have plagued both of us for the last week or two.

As we perused the Cold and Flu section of the pharmacy, we were struck at how much shelf space was taken up by Airborne (which was “invented by a schoolteacher.“) Nearly three years ago Airborne had to settle a case brought against it alleging false advertising to the tune of $23 million. Despite that, Airborne is still being sold, and there are even a whole bunch of knock-off products copying it.

Then, as we continued to look for our favored cold remedy, we noted that, sitting right next to the extensive shelf space devoted to the various flavors and types of Airborne supplements, I saw Boiron’s homeopathic remedy for colds containing oscillococcinum, which is derived from duck liver and heart and diluted to 200C (a 10400-fold dilution). Yes, I was a bit depressed after that. Now I know what my skeptical friends in the U.K. go through every time they walk into a Boots pharmacy.

Still, even though homeopathy is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in the U.K. and the rest of Europe, it’s obviously making some inroads if it’s being sold in Target. Steve Novella made a point at a panel at TAM8 in July to point out that it’s also being sold in Walmart, but since I rarely, if ever, shop at Walmart, I hadn’t noticed, although I had noticed various dubious concoctions being sold at Walgreens and CVS, two large pharmacy chains here in the U.S. Its relative popularity in different parts of the world aside, ever since I learned what homeopathy is and what its precepts are, I’ve always been fascinated how it can possibly be taken seriously. Read more »

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

High Cholesterol And Red Yeast Rice Supplements

People are always on the search for “natural” ways to stay healthy and reduce cholesterol. Chinese red yeast rice supplements have been touted as a natural, safer way to lower cholesterol compared to statin medications. The yeast that grows on a particular type of rice contains a family of substances called monocolins, which lower cholesterol by inhibiting cholesterol production in the liver in the same manner as prescription statin drugs. Some studies have shown as much as a 15 percent drop in cholesterol.

All of this sounds good until you dig a little deeper. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that different brands of red yeast rice supplements have dramatic variation in levels of active ingredients. Furthermore, some contained toxic manufacturing by-products. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Prenatal Vitamins: Are They Necessary, Sufficient, Safe?

What is in a prenatal vitamin? Why do most doctors recommend them? Is there any evidence taking them is worthwhile? I decided recently that I would read through the ingredients of these vitamins, often touted as “essential vitamins and nutrients, crucial for the healthy development of your baby.” Hmmm. Does that mean eating traces of polyvinyl alcohol every day is beneficial?

The fine print ingredients of such brands as “One A Day”, “Centrum Materna”, “Rite Aid” and even the prescription only “Prenate Elite” are a confusing mess of milligrams, international units, RDA’s, and chemicals. As the makers of Centrum explain, “It is very challenging to formulate vitamins and minerals without the use of non-medicinal ingredients which serve to keep the product stable and to prevent the various ingredients from interacting.” They also find fault in the limited number of suppliers of the active ingredients in prenatal vitamins, and therefore claim substances like gelatin are difficult to avoid.

Let’s take a tour of the prenatal vitamin ingredient zoo. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles*

Do You Have “Low T?”

If you google “low testosterone” you’ll see lots of ads for testosterone replacement. Some are from pharmaceutical companies that sell testosterone, others from obvious snake-oil salesmen.

Both types of ads list vague sets of symptoms, encourage you to believe that they are pathologic, and want to sell you something to make you better. For example, the pharmaceutical company Solvay gives you a handy guide for speaking to your doctor, and a quiz to see if you have “low T.” The quiz asks some questions that may be useful, but also asks very general questions about your sense of well being. Read more »

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

Unscientific Medicine: What’s The Harm?

Any promoter of science-based medicine often faces the question: “What’s the harm?” What is the harm if people try treatment modalities that are not based upon good science, that are anecdotal, or provide only a placebo benefit? There are generally two premises to this question. The first is that most “alternative” placebo interventions are directly harmless. The second is that direct harm is the only type worth considering. Both of these premises are wrong.

The pages of Science Based Medicine (SBM) are filled with accounts of direct harm from unscientific treatments: Argyria from colloidal silver, death from chelation therapy, infection or other complications from acupuncture, burns from ear candleing, stroke from chiropractic neck manipulation — the list goes on. You can read anecdotal accounts of such harm on the website, whatstheharm.net.

Of course, as we often point out, harm and risk is only one end of the equation — one must also consider benefit. It is the risk-benefit ratio of an intervention that is important. But generally we are talking about interventions that lack any evidence for benefit, and therefore any risk of harm is arguably unacceptable. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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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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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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