It’s tempting to think that the practice of medicine should be simple and intuitive. Unlike other sciences, we all have access to the basic materials—ourselves. We feel that because we are intimately familiar with our bodies, we know a lot about how they work. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. The biochemical processes walking around in this sack of meat are pretty complicated. Learning these processes is important, but in medicine, it’s not enough. If we have a hypothesis that some change in biochemistry will affect some disease, we must test this in groups of real people in well-designed clinical trials. Or, we can use the Huffington Post method and just make it all up.
The latest abomination is an article on diabetes, by Kathy Freston. Bad information on diabetes is particularly dangerous. The longer diabetes goes untreated, the higher the likelihood of complications. When reading medical writing it’s important to evaluate the source. The author of this article wrote a book called, The Quantum Wellness Cleanse which pretty much says it all. But is it really fair to judge someone on a crappy book title?
Well, yes, but more important is the crappy interview she conducts with Dr. Neal Barnard. I have no way of knowing with absolute certainty whether Barnard is as dangerous a fool as he sounds, but I suspect so. He and Freston promulgate a dangerously over-simplified view of diabetes. (more…)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gorski is currently in Chicago attending the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress. As a result, he has not prepared a post for this week (although he doesn’t feel too guilty about missing this week, given that he did write two rather hefty posts last week, one on the cancer quackery known as the German New Medicine and the other on a rather dubious monkey study being promoted by the anti-vaccine movement). Fortunately, we have Ben Kavoussi to fill in with a post on some of the more exaggerated claims of advocates of nutritional interventions for various diseases and conditions. Enjoy!
- A centipede was happy quite,
- Until a frog in fun
- Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
- This raised her mind to such a pitch,
- She lay distracted in the ditch
- Considering how to run.
Just like complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), nutritionism — meaning the unexamined assumption that food is only a conveyor of the substances it contains 1,2 — has evolved independently of science and medicine since the 1970s, and has caused so much wondering and confusion about food and diet that many Americans have become unable to eat properly. Today, there isn’t a popular magazine that doesn’t have a “health and nutrition” section that — often with the backing of very little science — promises many health benefits of a nutrient or warns against the harms of another; and then provides a list of foods that contain it. The same publication might time and again write the exact opposite, further adding to the already-prevalent nutritional confusion. Nutritionism is thus an ideology sourced by popular beliefs, academic reveries, and the food and dietary supplements industry, where food is simply seen as a mean to achieve a specific health goal. In its latest form, however, coupled with genomics and biomedical informatics, and called “nutrigenomics” or “nutritional genomics,” nutritionism takes academic reveries to such an extent that it could be accurately described as “science fiction.” The Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at UC Davis writes indeed (in bold) on its website that:
“The promise of nutritional genomics is personalized medicine and health based upon an understanding of our nutritional needs, nutritional and health status, and our genotype. Nutrigenomics will also have impacts on society — from medicine to agricultural and dietary practices to social and public policies — and its applications are likely to exceed that of even the human genome project. Chronic diseases (and some types of cancer) may be preventable, or at least delayed, by balanced, sensible diets. Knowledge gained from comparing diet/gene interactions in different populations may provide information needed to address the larger problem of global malnutrition and disease.”