Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Goodbye, Dr. Oprah – And Good Riddance

I wrote once that not only is Oprah Winfrey not a doctor, she plays a really bad one on TV. From promoting Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement, to allowing Suzanne Somers a bully-pulpit for her medical woo, to pushing Prudence Hall and her high-dose hormone treatments without acknowledging their potential risks, to leading the church of the Secret as a way to avoid facing the harsh realities of cancer, Oprah did more harm than good when it comes to health.

And while the publishing industry may be hanging crepe, the medical community is breathing a sigh of relief that Oprah has left the airwaves, at least for now. After all, we “conventional” docs were repeatedly relegated to a seat in the audience by Oprah, who usually presented us as naysayers and officials in the Church of Medicine to Oprah’s self-appointed Galileos of Woo, rather than the health experts we are. Of course, it was all couched in terms of female empowerment, a tactic that Oprah long ago taught marketers can be used to sell anything and everything to women.

My axe to grind against Oprah is not just professional, it’s personal. For I saw my sister, nearing the end of her life, turn to the Secret, believing that if she just believed enough in herself, she would be cured. Rather than strengthen her, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

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*

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*

Dr. Don Berwick’s “Patient-Centered” Medicine

There’s been a bit of buzz in the health blogs over President Obama’s decision last week to use the mechanism of a recess appointment to be the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Recess appointments, for those who may not be aware, allow a President to put a nominee in place when Congress is in recess in order to have him in place without the messy process of having him approved by the Senate. True, the Senate still has to approve a recess appointment by the end of its term, or the seat goes vacant again, but it’s an excellent way to avoid having nasty confirmation fights during election years. Of course, both parties do it, and the reaction of pundits, bloggers, and politicians tend to fall strictly along partisan lines.

If you support the President, then a recess appointment is a way to get around the obstructionism of the other party. If you don’t support the President, it’s a horrific abuse of Presidential power. And so it goes. Either way, I don’t really care much about the politics of how such officials are appointed so much as who is being appointed.

The man who was appointed last week to head CMS is Donald Berwick, M.D., CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. His being placed in charge of CMS will likely have profound consequences not just for how the recent health care/insurance reform law is implemented, but for how the government applies science-based medicine to the administration of the this massive bill. 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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »