I’ve been a big Star Trek fan ever since I first discovered reruns of the original Star Trek episodes in the 1970s, having been too young (but not by much!) to have caught the show during its original 1966-1969 run. True, my interest waxed and waned through the years—for instance, I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Voyager pretty much left me cold—but even now I still find myself liking the rebooted movie series. In the original series, my favorite characters tended to alternate between Spock, the Vulcan first officer and science officer on the Enterprise, and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the ship’s chief medical officer. I sometimes wonder if my love of these two characters had anything to do with my becoming a doctor and researcher myself. It probably did.
One aspect of all the Trek shows that always interested me was its portrayal of medicine in the 23rd and 24th centuries. After all, what doctor wouldn’t like to have a device like the tricorder that he could wave over the patient and come up with an instant diagnosis and course of treatment? Who knew, of course, that nearly 50 years after the first Trek episode first aired, we would have technology that makes the communicators on the original series (TOS, for those Trek non-fans) look primitive and large by comparison and that we’d be well on the way to developing devices that can do some of what tricorders did on the show. Throughout all the shows and movies, the medical technology of a few hundred years in the future is portrayed as vastly superior to what we have now, with 20th century medicine at times denigrated by “Bones” McCoy and other Star Fleet medical personnel as barbaric quackery.
A confluence of events and media led me to want to explore a couple of questions. First, which procedures that we consider state-of-the-art science-based medicine will be considered “barbaric” 50 or 100 years from now? Second, is the contempt expressed for the medicine of the past (e.g., by “Bones” McCoy) justified? These are questions that I’ll explore a bit with the help of the Star Trek universe, a recent new cable television drama series, and a couple of articles that appeared on medical sites as a result of the premier of that series.
We dentists are an evil group of sociopaths. When we’re not trying to kill you or give you chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis with our toxic mercury saturated fillings, we are advocating for the placement of rat poison/industrial waste (i.e. fluoride) in your water supply by our governmental overlords. What is up with us?
The problem is, we’re failing miserably. Even after more than 150 years of placing silver amalgam restorations in our patients, thereby saving untold numbers of teeth, reducing pain and suffering, and improving chewing ability for millions upon millions of people, there is still no evidence worth a damn that shows any correlation or causative effects for any known disease or condition. And with fluoride, after adjusting fluoride levels in municipal water supplies throughout the U.S. and in many places world wide for over sixty years, after adding fluoride to toothpastes and mouthwashes, and giving fluoride treatments to patients in our offices, the only nefarious result we have obtained is the significant reduction of dental decay with its concomitant savings of billions of health care dollars and untold pain and suffering for our patients. Man, we can’t do anything right.
Now, with the help of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there’s a new strategy.
Science is under attack, and not just from anti-vaccine celebrities and parents with degrees from Google University. Scientific illiteracy is being woven into the very fabric of our society through legislative assault. If you dismiss this as alarmist hyperbole, you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
Every day thousands of pediatric health care providers throughout the country provide safety advice to patients and their parents during routine health maintenance visits. As part of this important routine we ask a series of standard questions to assess the safety of our patients’ environment. Some of these questions are easy and straightforward, and some are more personal and potentially awkward for patients and their parents, including questions pertaining to sexual practices and preferences and psychosocial history. An important series of questions focuses on potential hazards in the home, such as how toxins and medicines are stored, how pools are secured against curious toddlers, and whether there are guns in the home and how they are stored and secured. Parents are usually appreciative of the advice we provide, and thankful for our concern and attention to these issues. Occasionally patients or parents are taken aback by some of these questions, and very rarely they prefer not to answer them (in my 20 years in practice, I can recall only one time this has occurred). We ask these questions because accidental injuries and deaths are common occurrences in the pediatric population, and there is good evidence that patients tend to follow the advice we provide our patients. (more…)
“Safe and natural.” It’s a marketing phrase attached to dietary supplements that’s often accepted as self-evident. The marketing works. Supplements have a strong health halo. But evidence suggests that this reputation may be undeserved. Not only are there continued questions about whether most supplements have any health benefits whatsoever, there is also evidence that they can be harmful. We can’t even be confident that what’s on the label is actually in the bottle. Just two days ago I was notified of another long list of supplements and remedies that the FDA had identified that were contaminated with prescription drugs. These warnings about products sold as supplements appear regularly. Some time ago I asked, “What’s in your supplement?“, and noted that contamination and poor product quality standards continue to raise questions about whether supplements can be used safely at all, because the harms, when they occur, can be catastrophic. No matter how you feel about their efficacy, we can probably all agree no consumer should lose an organ from taking a health supplement. But it can happen. (more…)
That there is an “autism epidemic” is taken as a given by those who feel autism has a dominant environmental cause. The Age of Autism blog, for example, bills itself as a, “Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic.” The term “epidemic” also implies an environmental factor, such as an infection.
The epidemiology of autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has never supported the conclusion that there is an autism epidemic. There is no doubt that the number of autism diagnoses has increased in the last two decades, but the evidence strongly suggests this increase in an artifact of how autism diagnoses are made, and not representative of a true increase.
Adding to this data, a newly published study looks at autism and ASD prevalence worldwide: “The epidemiology and global burden of autism spectrum disorders“. They found:
In 2010 there were an estimated 52 million cases of ASDs, equating to a prevalence of 7.6 per 1000 or one in 132 persons. After accounting for methodological variations, there was no clear evidence of a change in prevalence for autistic disorder or other ASDs between 1990 and 2010. Worldwide, there was little regional variation in the prevalence of ASDs.
Thirty years in Moukden
A mythology has grown up around traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The ancient wisdom of the inscrutable Orient supposedly helped patients in ways that modern science-based medicine fails to understand or appreciate. A typical claim found on the Internet: “The ancient beliefs and practice of traditional Chinese medicine have been healing people for thousands of years.”
As Steven Novella has said, “TCM is a pre-scientific superstitious view of biology and illness, similar to the humoral theory of Galen, or the notions of any pre-scientific culture”. TCM really hasn’t been doing a creditable job of healing people for thousands of years. A book that was brought to my attention by one of our readers (thank you!) provides a unique insight into what Chinese medicine was really like circa 1900. I wish everyone who believes in ancient Chinese medical wisdom would read the chapter on Chinese medicine in this book. It provides a much-needed reality check. (more…)
EDITOR NOTE: THERE IS AN ADDENDUM, ADDED SEPTEMBER 10.
Besides being a researcher and prolific blogger, I still maintain a practice in breast cancer surgery. It’s one of the more satisfying specialties in oncology because, in the vast majority of cases I treat, I can actually remove the cancer and “cure” the patient. (I use the quotes because we generally don’t like to use that term, given that some forms of breast cancer can recur ten or more years later, but in many cases the term still fits, albeit not as well as we would like.) Granted, I get a little (actually a lot of) help from my friends, so to speak, the multimodality treatment of breast cancer involving surgical oncology, radiation oncology, and medical oncology, but breast cancer that can be cured will be primarily cured with surgery, with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and radiation therapy working mostly to decrease the risk of recurrence, either local in the breast or distant elsewhere in the body. Through this multimodality approach, breast cancer mortality has actually been decreasing over the last couple of decades.
However, as a breast cancer surgeon, I not infrequently have to deal with many of the common myths that have sprung up around breast cancer. Some are promoted by quacks; others are just myths that sound plausible but aren’t true. (That’s why they persist as myths.) One such myth has been in the news lately, in particular last week; so I thought now was a good time to take a look as any. Besides, I spent most of the weekend out of town visiting my wife’s family, and I didn’t have a lot of time for this post. So this week sticking to something I know well makes sense and inspired me to make like Harriet Hall and Steve Novella and keep my post to a reasonable length for a change. There’s also so much less mucking about on PubMed and Google that way to make sure I’m not missing something, too.
Click to embiggen. Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola viral particle, by Dr. Frederick Murphy (1976), from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with ID #1833.
Ebola, like all diseases, is an opportunity for some to offer up curious treatments. Here is a brief budget of Ebola-related SCAM (supplements, complementary and alternative medicine) and a few Dug the Dog digressions.
Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned. ~ Emile Durkheim. Homeopath?
In its classic form, as promulgated by Hahnemann, homeopathy is divorced from the modern understanding of medical and chemical reality. I can cut Hahnemann a little slack since he came up with his fictions at the end of the 18th century. But I would think that even a modest understanding of chemistry and physiology would suggest that homeopathy is 100% pure bunkum. But homeopaths are nothing if not inventive. Since Hahnemann’s time they have come up with a remarkable number of variations on their nonsense. The motto “you are only limited by your imagination” must have had homeopaths in mind and they have fevered imaginations. Who knows what they could invent if they only had a box. There are nosodes, the homeopaths answer to vaccines. Of course, it is an answer that would be wrong on any reality-based exam. Nosodes are the vaccines of the homeopathic world, only without efficacy. I have written about nosodes in the past.
[A nosode] is a homeopathic remedy prepared from a pathological specimen. The specimen is taken from a diseased animal or person and may consist of saliva, pus, urine, blood, or diseased tissue.
and they are usually diluted to between 30 and 300 C. (more…)
Chiropractor “adjusting” an infant.
Who would you invite to speak at your conference if you wanted to show the world you are firmly in the anti-vaccination camp? Barbara Loe Fisher, head of the National Vaccine (Mis) Information Center (NVIC)? How about Andrew Wakefield, the thoroughly disgraced British physician who, having been stripped of his medical license, continues his despicable anti-vaccination campaign? How about both?
The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association sprang for both. Fisher and Wakefield will be keynote speakers at the ICPA’s upcoming conference, “Celebrating the Shift to Conscious Choice.” The conference offers the mutually exclusive opportunities of participating “in the discussion of the latest evidence-based holistic research” while at the same time exploring “the vitalistic perspectives of conception, pregnancy and birth through family wellness.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can embrace evidence-based research or you can embrace vitalism, but not both at the same time. There will also be an opportunity for the requisite bashing of “conventional” medicine.
It’s hard to decide who’s slumming whom here. On the one hand, the ICPA is a small group (3,000 members). They are straight, subluxation-based chiropractors and they don’t need convincing that vaccination is “bad.” Fisher and Wakefield will be preaching to the choir. Wakefield, with his medical education and training, is most certainly aware that their subluxation-based “theory” is nonsense and they are incompetent to diagnose and treat pediatric patients. And this is a far cry from Fisher’s former gigs as an advisor to the government.
A recent editorial entitled “CAM in the Real World: You May Practice Evidence-Based Medicine, But Your Patients Don’t” published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain by Robert Cowan, a headache specialist, addresses the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the treatment of headaches. Unfortunately he propagates many common misconceptions about CAM in the article.
I do agree with one point – physicians need to be more aware of CAM treatments and their patients’ use of them. We should be directly asking our patients about such use, in a non-judgmental way, and we should be familiar enough with common CAM treatments so that we can provide knowledgeable guidance to our patients.
Cowan begins by, in my opinion, grossly exaggerating the current popularity of CAM. He writes:
As much as 82% of headache sufferers use complementary and alternative approaches.
The reference he cites, however, states:
Adults with migraines/severe headaches used CAM more frequently than those without (49.5% vs 33.9%, P < .0001); differences persisted after adjustment (adjusted odds ratio = 1.29, 95% confidence interval [1.15, 1.45]). Mind–body therapies (eg, deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga) were used most commonly.
Only 4.5% of adults with migraines/severe headaches reported using CAM to specifically treat their migraines/severe headaches.