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No, a rat study with marginal results does not prove that cell phones cause cancer, no matter what Mother Jones and Consumer Reports say

The zombie story that cell phones cause cancer has risen from the grave yet again.

The zombie story that cell phones cause cancer has risen from the grave yet again.

There are certain myths that are frustratingly resistant to evidence, science, and reason. Some of these are basically medical conspiracy theories, where someone (industry and/or big pharma and/or physicians and/or the government) has slam-dunk evidence for harm but conspires to keep it from you, the people. For example, despite decades worth of negative studies, the belief that vaccines are harmful, causing conditions ranging from autism to sudden infant death syndrome, to all varieties of allergies and autoimmune diseases, refuses to die. Fortunately, this myth is one that, after more than a decade of hammering by scientists, skeptics, and public health advocates, has finally taken on enough of the patina of a fringe belief that most mainstream news sources no longer feel obligated to include the antivaccine side in stories about vaccines for “balance.” It is a zombie myth, one that, no matter how often it is “killed,” always seems to rise again. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the myth that cell phones cause cancer, as some very credulous reporting late last week demonstrated in the form of headlines like this:
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Posted in: Cancer, Public Health, Science and the Media

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Dry Needling

Pictured: The difference between the acupunctures and dry needling.

Pictured: The difference between the acupunctures and dry needling.

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Uh-huh huh
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
War, huh,
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Ohhh, war, I despise
Cause it means destruction
Of innocent lives
War means tears
To thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
Ooh, war, huh
Good God, y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, whoa,
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, it ain’t nothing
But a heartbreaker
Friends only to the undertaker
Ooooh, war
It’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die
Aaaaah, war-huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Come on, let me hear ya
War, it ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
It’s got one friend
That’s the undertaker
War has shattered
Many a young man’s dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away
Ooooh, war, huh
Ooh yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
War, whoa,
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Come on, sing it
War, whoa,
Come on and shout it, y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Come on, come on now
It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker
Friends only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way
Ooooooh, war, huh
Good God y’all
What is it good for
absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, y’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing

Edwin Starr

I’m convinced. War is bad. But I have a solution. To the 54 current armed conflicts in the world: forget about it. Then no shots will be fired and no one will be injured or killed. It’s that easy. Problem identified, problem sol-ved. Go Science and Big ‘S’ Skepticism. Any complaints about my solution aren’t worth responding to.

Now that the problem of war is settled, let’s move on to dry needling. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture

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Supplements, Lies, and a Lengthy Transcript

Thanks, Congress, for making bull testicles available as a dietary supplement!

Thanks, Congress, for making bull testicles available as a dietary supplement!

On October 21, 1993, there was a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee for Labor and Human Resources, with the long-winded title:

Examining How the Federal Government Should Regulate the Marketing and Use of Dietary Supplements and Related Measures, Including S. 784, To Strengthen Federal Standards with Respect To Dietary Supplements.

S. 784, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, would eventually be enacted as the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

I discovered this bit of Congressional theater when doing research for my recent talk at NECSS. Scott Gavura and I joined forces to present “Natural Disaster: Dietary Supplements.” Scott focused on pharmacology, while I talked about FDA regulation of dietary supplements (or lack thereof). Thanks to him, I now have a rudimentary knowledge of pharmacokinetics, the science behind how a drug or supplement works (or doesn’t) in the body. If you haven’t read his post from last week explaining this, and more, you should.

Reading the lengthy hearing transcript (well, ok, a lot of it) confirmed my suspicions that the fix was in even before the gavel went down to begin the hearing. What I had not realized was, at least according to some proponents of DSHEA, part of the deal was that consumers would have access to accurate information backing efficacy claims made for supplements and their safety. Nor had I realized that the weaknesses of DSHEA, which have become painfully obvious in the 20-plus years since the law was passed, were anticipated from the get-go and that Congress was well-informed of what they were. Finally, I was not previously aware of the provenance (shall we say) of the “experts” asked to testify at the behest of Sen. Hatch.

First, let’s set the stage on which this drama plays out, according to two excellent books on dietary supplements, Natural Causes and Vitamania. In 1991, Congress passed the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act (NELA). Most famously, NELA, for the first time, required that all foods bear the now-familiar nutrition label. It also required that any health claims made for foods be backed by “significant scientific agreement.” Rep. Henry Waxman and others wanted the same standard applied to dietary supplement health claims. After all, if food companies had to meet a certain standard to make health claims for, say, calcium in their products, why shouldn’t claims for the health benefits of calcium in dietary supplement form be held to the same standard? But the supplement industry knew it couldn’t survive under such stringent rules and Sen. Hatch made sure it didn’t happen. All parties agreed to let the FDA decide what standard should be required of supplement health claims and left it at that. (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Legal, Nutrition, Politics and Regulation

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Pushback on Chiropractic

Daniel David Palmer, creator of the nebulous subluxation and father of chiropractic.

Daniel David Palmer, creator of the nebulous subluxation and father of chiropractic.

From time to time we respond directly to reader comments or e-mails in an article, when it seems that doing so would be a useful teachable moment. One of the strengths of social media is that it is interactive, which can be didactic.

I feel it is very important to respond to what people actual believe and say, because otherwise we may tend to get lost in our own narrative, as legitimate as it might be. That is the essence of ivory tower syndrome, academics talking to themselves without a reasonable sense of what is happening in society. Part of our mission is to interact with society, not just our colleagues, and to engage in a serious conversation about the nature of science and medicine.

To that end, I recently received an e-mail responding to an interview I had done previously about chiropractic. The e-mail is full of pro-chiropractic propaganda and misconceptions, and so it provides an opportunity to address some of these claims. (more…)

Posted in: Chiropractic

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Uncertainty in Medicine

snowball
Medicine is an uncertain business. It is an applied science, applying the results of basic science knowledge and clinical studies to patients who are individuals with differing heredity, environment, and history. It is commonly assumed that modern science-based doctors know what they are doing, but quite often they don’t know for certain. Different doctors interpret the same evidence differently; there is uncertainty about how valid the studies’ conclusions are and there is still considerable uncertainty and disagreement about things like guidelines for screening mammography and statin prescriptions.

Snowball in a Blizzard by Steven Hatch, MD, is a book about uncertainty in medicine. The title refers to the difficulty of interpreting a mammogram, trying to pick out the shadows that signify cancer from a veritable blizzard of similar shadows. (more…)

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Science and Medicine

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Tai Chi versus physical therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: How CAM “rebranding” works

Tai Chi versus physical therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee: How CAM “rebranding” works

“Complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), now more frequently referred to as “integrative medicine” by its proponents, consists of a hodge-podge of largely unrelated treatments that range from seemingly reasonable (e.g., diet and exercise) to pure quackery (e.g., acupuncture, reiki and other “energy medicine”) that CAM proponents are trying furiously to “integrate” as coequals into science-based medicine. They do this because they have fallen under the sway of an ideology that posits a false dichotomy: To practice true “holistic” and “preventative” medicine, physicians and other health care professionals must embrace the pre-scientific, pseudoscientific, or anti-scientific ideas about medicine that underlie much of the “alternative medicine” being “integrated.”

Unfortunately, they’ve been largely successful over the last 25 years or so. From my perspective, the strategy that has been the most effective in mainstreaming quack practices as part of “integrative medicine” has been what I like to call the “rebranding” of practices that could and should be part of standard, science-based medicine. I’m referring, of course, to nutrition and dietary interventions, as well as lifestyle interventions, specifically exercise. To the extent that standard medicine might have undervalued such interventions over the past few decades, we practitioners of science-based medicine might be said, to some extent at least, to have brought this on ourselves. On the other hand, it is not as though doctors haven’t been advising our patients to quit smoking and moderate their drinking and to lose weight through altering their diet and exercising more for many decades. We do this because we know it works. For instance, when some naturopathic quack touts “curing” type II diabetes with a vegan diet plus exercise, we know that can work because we know that losing weight can normalize blood sugar values in many cases of type II diabetes. Heck, the Endocrine Society itself even says so, declaring “lifestyle optimization” as “essential for all patients with diabetes” and recommending that all patients with type II diabetes “strive to attain and maintain an optimal weight through a primarily plant-based diet high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, with limited intake of saturated fatty acids and avoidance of trans fats,” that they lose weight through physical activity, and get enough rest. A vegan diet just takes that dietary advice to an unnecessary extreme, and any supplements recommended are almost always unnecessary.
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Posted in: Clinical Trials, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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CAM use and chemotherapy: A negative correlation

It turns out that the use of certain forms of CAM makes it less likely that breast cancer patients will receive the chemotherapy they need.

It turns out that the use of certain forms of CAM makes it less likely that breast cancer patients will receive the chemotherapy they need.

So-called “alternative” medicine is made up of a hodge-podge of health care practices and treatments based on beliefs that are unscientific, pre-scientific, and pseudoscientific. These modalities include practices as diverse as homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology, reiki and other forms of “energy medicine” based on vitalism, chiropractic, and naturopathy, and that’s a short list of the quackery that falls under the rubric of the term “alternative medicine.” Unfortunately, this unscientific, pre-scientific, and pseudoscientific hodge-podge of treatments rooted in nonsense is rapidly being “integrated” into real medicine, thanks to an unfortunately influential movement in medicine whose members have been seduced into thinking that there might be something to them and view “integrating” them into medicine as means of practicing more “holistic” and “humanistic” medicine. This “integration” started out by being called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) but now among believers the preferred term is usually “integrative medicine,” largely because it eliminates the word “alternative,” which implies (correctly) that the modality is not real medicine, and “complementary,” which implies a subsidiary status, a status of being nice to have but not essential.

Particularly harmful is the hostility towards conventional medicine that often strongly correlates with use of alternative medicine. Indeed, some people even choose to rely on alternative medicine instead of real medicine to treat cancer. Unsurprisingly, the results of such a decision are generally not very good. Actually, they are almost always terrible. Very, very terrible indeed. Not surprisingly, the use of alternative medicine is associated with bad outcomes. Cancer patients who might have survived die because of it. It’s not as though it hasn’t been studied either, although the main studies I’m aware of tend to look at the bad outcomes in patients who choose alternative medicine. There is another question, and it’s one that a new study published in JAMA Oncology last week seeks to answer. It’s a study that briefly made the news, producing headlines like:
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Posted in: Cancer, Herbs & Supplements

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Change.org Petition: “Naturopaths are not physicians: stop legitimizing pseudoscience”

change.org

Britt Hermes, a graduate of the naturopathic college at the alternative medicine-focused Bastyr University, renounced her practice as a naturopathic doctor when she could no longer tolerate the pseudoscience and patient harm that characterizes naturopathy. On this blog and her own, Naturopathic Diaries, she has chronicled the insufficient education and training students receive before being allowed to practice as naturopathic doctors, deficiencies which all too readily can result in patient harm.

Her activism is not confined to blog posts. Her advocacy helped prevent an expansion of naturopathic prescribing privileges in North Dakota in 2015. Just this past Friday, she participated, as did I, in a presentation via conference call to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs (DORA), organized by the Colorado Citizens for Science in Medicine. DORA will soon issue a report on the continued registration of naturopaths in that state. In her testimony, Britt told how her own naturopathic education and training made her woefully unprepared to practice.

A number of SBM commenters have wondered how they could do more to combat naturopathic efforts to become licensed as health care providers in all 50 states, as well as participating in Medicare, Medicaid and other publicly-funded programs. Britt just started a Change.org petition urging policy makers and legislators to “stop legitimizing pseudoscience.” She also posted some excellent talking points to rebut the misleading information naturopaths give lawmakers when lobbying. You can help by using the talking points in combating legitimization of naturopathy through licensing and inclusion in public insurance programs. You can also help by signing the petition and sending it around to others on your social media accounts.

Posted in: Announcements, Legal, Naturopathy, Politics and Regulation

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Australian Chiropractor Ian Rossborough Promises to Stop Treating Children…for Twenty Days

kangaroochiro

An Australian chiropractor treating a baby kangaroo makes as much sense as treating a human child

Before I begin this brief update to my recent post on Australian baby chiropractor Ian Rossborough’s “crack heard round the world,” I want to give a quick thanks to Jann Bellamy for organizing our day of Science-Based Medicine at NECSS last week. It was an amazing experience sharing the stage with the SBM crew for my first public presentation, and finally getting to meet Scott, John, and Saul. I’ve given hundreds of lectures to residents and students, and even a grand rounds or two, but this was orders of magnitude more exciting and stressful. I may be biased, but I think we nailed it.

With NECSS prep taking up a significant percentage of my time and a rough current work week making up for days off, my post today is a little shorter than usual. My overall average word count still gives Gorski a run for his money however. Well, that’s not actually true. Gorski is in another league.

Rossborough provides an undertaking?

Chiropractor Ian Rossborough, who I recently discussed in a post on the backlash against pediatric chiropractic in Australia, has received the slap on the wrist I sadly expected. According to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website, which has jurisdiction over the Chiropractic Board of Australia when it comes to “professional conduct, performance or health of registered health practitioners,” Rossborough has promised to leave them kids alone:
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Posted in: Chiropractic, Science and Medicine

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Where science meets supplements

Various herbal remedies and supplements.

Various herbal remedies and supplements.

For those of you that missed the Science-Based Medicine day at NECSS last week, I’ve put the highlights in the following post:

The supplement industry is big business, and the popularity of these products seems to keep growing. I once worked at a small independent pharmacy that specialized in supplements, homeopathy and “alternative medicine” as way to differentiate itself from the big chain pharmacies. A lot has changed in a decade. Today, even national chain pharmacies have aisles and aisles of herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and even homeopathy. Yet despite the preponderance of products on store shelves, there is little evidence to suggest that supplements are necessary or even improve health (and may even cause harm). The right for consumers to buy products for themselves, and make their own self-care decisions, is an important one that respects individual autonomy. Regrettably, the regulations of these products are so weak and ineffective that the sale of these products quite possibly harms, rather than helps, the average consumer. The system is rigged against consumers, and it prevents the use of supplements in an evidence-based way. (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements

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