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Escharotic Treatment for Cervical Dysplasia: A New Incarnation of Black Salve?

Flowers of the bloodroot plant, Sanguinaria canadensis.  You're welcome, I could have used a very different image (warning: gross bordering on horrifying).

Flowers of the bloodroot plant, Sanguinaria canadensis. You’re welcome, I could have used a very different image (warning: gross bordering on horrifying; click on image to see it).

Cervical dysplasia is a precancerous condition picked up by Pap smears. It is most often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Mild cases may resolve spontaneously and can be followed by observation with frequent Pap smears, but cervical dysplasia can progress to cancer. The standard treatment is to remove the abnormal cells with a cone biopsy (using a knife) or a Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) using a wire loop heated by electricity. Those procedures not only treat the disease, but they provide a pathology specimen that can be examined to rule out more serious or invasive disease. Both LEEP and cone biopsy are 85-90% effective in removing all the abnormal cells. If cancer is suspected, a cone biopsy is preferable because LEEP may damage the edges of the specimen and make it more difficult to interpret. Otherwise, LEEP is often preferred because it is less expensive and doesn’t require anesthesia or an operating room. I have discussed misguided attempts by alternative medicine practitioners to treat cervical dysplasia before.

Surgery is often perceived as scary and not “natural,” so it’s not surprising that a “natural” treatment has been devised to replace surgery. Escharotics are corrosive salves that get their name from the thick dry scab that they can produce called an eschar. The “natural” escharotic treatment alternative for cervical dysplasia involves applying a solution of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and zinc chloride. They claim that the solution selectively kills abnormal cells of the cervix while leaving healthy cells unaffected. That claim is almost certainly false, and the efficacy and safety of escharotic treatment has not been properly tested or compared to conventional treatment. (more…)

Posted in: Cancer, Herbs & Supplements, Naturopathy, Obstetrics & gynecology

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Do Helmets Prevent Head Injuries?

320px-Humpty_was_pushed_(298669543)
A cycling enthusiast asked me about helmets. It seems compellingly obvious to me that a head impacting the pavement without a helmet is likely to sustain more damage than a head protected by a helmet. He challenged that, citing a BMJ article by Ben Goldacre that questioned whether the evidence showed that helmets do any good. He said I was making a non-evidence-based assumption and challenged me to actually look at the evidence, so I did.

Goldacre says there is a:

complex contradictory mess of evidence on the impact of bicycle helmets. Like most places where there’s controversy and disagreement, this is a great opportunity to walk through the benefits and shortcomings of different epidemiological techniques, from case control studies to modeling.

He proceeds to give a lesson in epidemiology. He points out that there are a lot of emotion involved, and that epidemiologic studies, because of their inherent imperfections, are probably not capable of resolving the debate.

There are basically two questions:

  1. What is the effect of wearing a helmet for the individual?
  2. What is the effect of a public policy that promotes or requires helmet use?

(more…)

Posted in: Epidemiology, Politics and Regulation

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Homeopathy and the UK’s National Health Service

Homeopathy in the UK, flag, small

Homeopathy is arguably the silliest form of alternative medicine: the published studies show no evidence of anything beyond nonspecific contextual effects, and the underlying premise is incompatible with the existing body of scientific knowledge. Homeopathy has increasingly been questioned or denounced by organizations in several countries, most recently in FDA hearings in the US.

I recently spoke at the QED conference (Question, Explore, Discover) in Manchester, England. Another speaker, Michael Marshall, gave a talk on homeopathy and the National Health Service. He presented information that was new to me and that I thought was worthy of sharing with SBM readers. (more…)

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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“Finally…The Low Back Pain Solution”: A Chiropractor Makes Questionable Claims

Pictured: Railgun patient launcher Magnetic resonance imaging machine

Pictured: Railgun patient launcher Magnetic resonance imaging machine, not a useful tool in identifying the cause of back pain

The ads in my local newspaper are a never-ending source of questionable health claims, most often from diet supplement manufacturers and chiropractors. There’s no single spokesman like Dr. Oz, but as a group they remind me of Oz’s unending series of weight loss miracles, each one the perfect solution until the next one comes along. The proliferation of chiropractic ads is bad advertising for the efficacy of chiropractic itself, since chiropractors are increasingly turning to adjunctive treatments like lasers and decompression machines.

The latest ad that annoyed me was from the Objective Diagnostics Research and Rehabilitation Institute (ODRRI). What an impressive name! On their website, not only do they advertise “the low back pain solution,” but they offer to fix herniated discs without surgery. They say they treat the underlying cause and say their approach is “based on solid and leading edge diagnostics, scientific research, and experience.” While not a complete lie, that statement is certainly misleading. (more…)

Posted in: Chiropractic, Diagnostic tests & procedures

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The “Healing Codes” of Alex Loyd: Energy Healing with Words and Finger Exercises

Pictured: A book that you should not buy.

Pictured: A book that you shouloyd not buy.

Alex Loyd’s concept of “Healing Codes” is one of the most bizarre, ridiculous offshoots of so-called energy medicine. Loyd is a naturopath who has been criticized by “Dr. Joe” Schwarcz for recycling old bunk for profit. He claims that illness is due to disturbances in the human energy field and that the cells of our body store destructive energy patterns and all our memories, habits, interests, and tastes. This is pure imagination: there is no scientific evidence for the existence of a human energy field or of cellular memory.

By one account, God told Loyd about the Healing Codes in a dream. By another account, he studied under Roger Callahan in 1999 and derived his system from Callahan’s Thought Field Therapy, a fringe psychological treatment with no scientific evidence of efficacy. By another account, a 10-year-old boy had a vivid dream in which a “power” gave him a gift: a series of 10 words that could heal. His parents used the words and experienced near-miraculous healing. They were past clients of Loyd and they offered the words to Loyd. The parents didn’t want any money; they wanted to share their miraculous discovery with the world and help as many people as possible. Loyd was not bound by any such scruples. He proceeded to develop an elaborate money-making business around those words, charging clients hundreds of dollars to get in on the secret. He claims to have customers in 50 states and 143 countries. If using a special sequence of words to heal reminds you of Harry Potter and witches’ books of spells, you’re not alone. (more…)

Posted in: Energy Medicine

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Dr. David Villarreal’s “Holistic Dentistry:” Full of Holes?

Screenshot of the "BioDental Healing" website showing the "Meridian Tooth Chart".

Screenshot of the “BioDental Healing” website showing the “Meridian Tooth Chart”.

I get a lot of e-mails from publicists offering suggestions for articles and interviews with their clients. I quickly delete most of them, but one recently caught my eye. It said that patients travel from as far as Europe and Africa to have California “holistic dentist” Dr. David Villarreal remove the old silver fillings that are damaging their health. He has removed 20,000 of them in his 30-year career; removing fillings accounts for 75% of his practice. It said your dental fillings could be killing you – and not just the mercury in your “silver” fillings. Dr. Villarreal says that filling materials that are not compatible with your particular body chemistry can suppress immune responses, leading to a host of illnesses from frequent colds to autoimmune diseases to far worse conditions. He performs a blood compatibility evaluation to pick the right material for your body. He picks the right composite to maintain optimum health and help heal the immune system. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Dentistry

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Cancer Centers and Advertising Practices

Video advertisement for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, hosted on their website. Note at the bottom the statement “No case is typical. You should not expect to experience these results” (click to embiggen).

You have probably seen the TV commercials or other ads for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They make it sound like “the place to go” if you have cancer. They claim to be “different,” to combine the best cancer technologies with natural therapies in a humane, patient-centered approach that helps you fight the disease and maintain your quality of life. They offer a kinder, gentler, more effective oncology. Those ads are misleading.

Dr. Gorski has written about the practices of Cancer Treatment Centers of America here and here. He has shown how they “integrate” real medicine with nonsense like homeopathy and how they misrepresent components of science-based medicine like exercise and diet, re-branding them as “alternative.”

A recent study by Vater et al. published in the Annals of Internal Medicine asked “What are cancer centers advertising to the public?” They found that the ads appealed to emotion, failed to provide important information, falsely portrayed testimonials as typical, and should be viewed as critically as any other advertising. (more…)

Posted in: Cancer, Medical Ethics, Science and the Media

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Healthy Habits Global: Spreading False Information about an MLM Coffee with Herbal Additives

Another kind of coffee pyramid scheme. Largest pyramid of coffee cups from the India Book of Records.

Another kind of coffee pyramid scheme. Largest pyramid of coffee cups from the India Book of Records.

When my husband was helping a friend with a project at the house of someone he didn’t know, the lady of the house gave him an earful about the health benefits of the coffee sold by Healthy Habits Global (HHG), a multilevel marketing (MLM) enterprise for which she is a distributor. She sent him home with samples and a brochure with a long list of health claims. She told him she could provide lots of testimonials, and there was a wealth of evidence for her products on PubMed.

Before believing any health claims, especially from an unknown source, it is only prudent to examine the evidence. I consulted the company website, PubMed, and other sources; and I learned that the company’s advertising was full of false information and the whole rationale of the products was questionable. I am not persuaded that HHG coffee has any health benefits. It appears to be just another in a long line of gimmicks used by MLM businesses to sell untested, usually ineffective “health” products to gullible consumers who have little knowledge of science. (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements

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Psychology and Psychotherapy: How Much Is Evidence-Based?

psychology gone wrong
Despite all those Polish jokes, Poland has its share of good scientists and critical thinkers. A superb new book illustrates that fact in spades:

Psychology Gone Wrong: The Dark Side of Science and Therapy, by Tomasz Witkowski and Maciej Zatonski, Witkowski is a psychologist, science writer, and founder of the Polish Skeptics Club; Zatonski is a surgeon and researcher known for debunking unscientific therapies and claims in clinical medicine. Together, they turn a spotlight on research and treatment in the field of psychology. They uncover distressing flaws, show that many commonly accepted psychological principles are based on myths, argue that psychotherapy is a business and a kind of prostitution rather than an effective evidence-based medical treatment, and question whether psychotherapy should even exist, since in most cases it offers no advantage over talking to a friend about one’s problems, and in some cases can cause harm. (more…)

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Neuroscience/Mental Health, Science and Medicine

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Ken Burns Presents Cancer

Note: I wrote two posts today to alert readers to two upcoming television events in time for them to plan their viewing. See the second post for an announcement about a film on scientology, along with an article about Scientology’s War on Medicine that I wrote for Skeptic magazine.

Ken Burns

Filmmaker Ken Burns

Ken Burns has made a lot of outstanding films. His The Civil War has been listed as second only to Nanook of the North as the most influential documentary of all time. I was delighted to learn that he had applied his exceptional skills to a topic that is very important to us on the Science-Based medicine blog, cancer. His film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

I reviewed Mukherjee’s book in 2010. He is an oncologist and cancer researcher and also a superb writer. I characterized his book as:

a unique combination of insightful history, cutting edge science reporting, and vivid stories about the individuals involved: the scientists, the activists, the doctors, and the patients. It is also the story of science itself: how the scientific method works and how it developed, how we learned to randomize, do controlled trials, get informed consent, use statistics appropriately, and how science can go wrong.

I continue to think it is the best book ever written on cancer.

The film interviews Mukherjee and many of the researchers and patients whose stories appear in the book. If you haven’t read the book, it will give you an idea what it’s about. If you have read the book, you will enjoy it even more as you meet the people you have read about. It covers the history of cancer as well as the most recent scientific developments and is very optimistic about the future.

The movie is scheduled to premiere March 30 – April 1 at 9 PM EST on PBS, in 3 parts with a total duration of 6 hours. You can watch the trailer online. The producers sent me a press preview 1-hour highlight reel and I was very impressed. I can’t wait to watch the whole thing. I hope you will be able to watch it too.

Posted in: Announcements, Book & movie reviews, Cancer

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