Archive for Herbs & Supplements

Are guidelines for calcium and vitamin D rooted in evidence, or vested interests?

B0003853 Osteoporotic bone - fully focused image Credit: Professor Alan Boyde. Wellcome Images Scanning electron micrograph of osteoporotic bone. This sample shows the 4th lumbar vertebra of an 89 year old woman with osteoporosis showing very thin, and some fractured trabeculae. This SEM image has been reconstructed from a series of images in different focal planes to give a completely focused picture of the bone. This enables a much clearer picture to be gained of the osteoclast resorption activity within the bone. The field of view is 2.7mm wide. Scanning electron micrograph Published:  -   Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK, see

Osteoporotic bone. Are the mainstay treatments for osteoporosis prevention, calcium and vitamin D, truly useless?

Do osteoporosis guidelines overstate the benefits of calcium and vitamin D supplements? And is their continued presence due to vested interests and conflicts of interest? That’s the provocative argument made by Andrew Grey and Marc Bolland, two endocrinologists who recently detailed their analysis in The BMJ, in a paper entitled “Web of industry, advocacy, and academia in the management of osteoporosis” [PDF]. They introduce their case by noting:

For many years, recommendations for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis have included increasing calcium intake (by diet or supplements) and use of vitamin D supplements. Since the average dietary calcium intake in most countries is much less than that recommended by guidelines, many older people are advised to take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis. The recommendations have been implemented successfully: over half of older Americans take calcium and vitamin D supplements, either prescribed or over the counter, and bone health is the most common specific motivation for use of nutritional supplements. However, this behaviour does not reflect evidence that has emerged since 2002 that such supplements do not reduce the risk of fracture and may result in harm. Guideline bodies also continue to recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements. Here, we argue that change is made difficult by a complex web of interactions between industry, advocacy organisations, and academia.

Osteoporosis is a medical condition for which supplements have been considered an accepted part of conventional medicine for some time. Are conflicts of interest trumping good science? And are calcium and vitamin D supplements truly useless? Like many clinical questions, there is evidence to  support a range of opinions, and it’s very  difficult to state, with certainty, that one position is the correct one. Despite this, that’s the case that Grey and Bolland make in their analysis. (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Science and Medicine

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Is there a natural treatment for tinnitus?

Ear Tone is a supplement claimed to help tinnitus. Does it work?

Ear Tone is a supplement claimed to help tinnitus. Does it work?

“Why do you bother blogging?” asked a colleague. “You take hours of your personal time to write, and you do it for free. You’re not even getting any citations for all that work.” I admit I found the questions a bit surprising. True, you won’t find SBM posts abstracted in PubMed. But I’m writing for an entirely different audience. I blog for the same reason that I became a pharmacist: to help people use medicines more effectively. Practicing as a pharmacist is one way to do that. In that setting, you’re helping one patient at a time. And seeing how your advice and support can enhance someone’s care is tremendously gratifying.

I see blogging as another form of pharmacy practice, hopefully with similar effects. Yes I do get regular hate mail, and the occasional legal threat, but there’s also gratitude for a post that resonated with someone, or helped them make better decisions about their health. When Google searches don’t give answers, I get questions — too many to answer. Today’s post is based on a request for help from someone seeking advice on natural supplements to treat ringing in their ears. They have tinnitus, and they’re frustrated at the limits of what their physician (and medicine) can do. They sent me an advertisement for a supplement called Ear Tone, a natural health product which is advertised (and approved) to provide tinnitus relief. Can natural supplements do what conventional medicine cannot? (more…)

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Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 4: Cannabis for autism

Medical marijuana as the new herbalism, part 4: Cannabis for autism

When I first started writing about the claims made for medical marijuana and the cannabis oil derived from it, it didn’t take long for me to characterize medical claims for cannabis as the “new herbalism,” as opposed to pharmacognosy, the branch of pharmacology devoted to the study of natural products. The reason is simple. Although I support legalization of marijuana for recreational use, when I look at how medical marijuana has been promoted as a “foot-in-the-door” prelude to legalization, I see testimonials and flimsy evidence ruling over all. I see all the hallmarks of alternative medicine herbalism and none of the hallmarks of pharmacology. Here’s what I mean. Pharmacognosy examines an herb, plant, or other natural product and seeks to identify the chemicals within it that have pharmacological activity against a condition or a disease, the better to purify and isolate those chemicals and turn them into drugs. Herbalism, on the other hand, emphasizes the use of whole plants or extracts from plants, rather than the isolation of the most active compounds. Thus, herbal remedies often contain hundreds, or even thousands, of different compounds, of which only one or a few are active. Even extracts, such as cannabis oil, contain many compounds.

In contrast to pharmacognosy, herbalists make the claim that whole herbs and plant components possess a synergy that is missing from the purified active constituents and/or that the mixture is safer than the pure components because one compound can reduce the side effects of another without reducing therapeutic efficacy. When looked at closely neither claim stands up to scrutiny. Synergism between plant constituents is rare and very difficult to demonstrate, for example. In essence, herbalism turns back the clock 200 years to a time before scientists had developed the techniques and abilities to isolate active ingredients with pharmaceutical activity. Moreover, herbalism, in contrast to pharmacognosy, emphasizes anecdotes over scientific evidence.

Indeed, in my previous posts in this series on medical marijuana, one theme has emerged, which is that cannabis—specifically, a class of active chemicals in marijuana known as cannabinoids—has potential for some diseases but is not the panacea claimed by its proponents. It does not cure cancer, for instance, contrary to glowing testimonials promoted by people like Rick Simpson. For other conditions, the evidence is either not particularly compelling or only mildly promising.

So I reacted with considerable dismay on Friday night when I saw this news report on the 11 o’clock news, “Michigan panel recommends allowing marijuana for autism“:

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Politics and Regulation

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ASEA, ORMUS, and Alchemy

Ormus powder. “Ormus could be the source of all metals. Therefore, we identify the Ormes elements in relationship to the metal they can unfold into (e.g. Ormus copper, Ormus gold, Ormus rhodium, etc.)”

An example of Ormus powder. “Ormus could be the source of all metals. Therefore, we identify the Ormus elements in relationship to the metal they can unfold into (e.g. Ormus copper, Ormus gold, Ormus rhodium, etc.)”

I got an e-mail from a woman who had read my article on ASEA, a multilevel marketing diet supplement that I characterized as an expensive way to buy water.  She had not tried ASEA products but was applying for a position as an accountant with the company, and she chastised me for not doing my due diligence and researching the new science of ORMUS.

First she dismissed science, saying “science as we know it is no longer valid and quantum physics clearly shows this.” Then she claimed there was valid science that would support ASEA’s claims. She had personally done a sea salt cleanse with good results. If ASEA is only salt water, that doesn’t negate its validity, since ORMUS material is from sea salt and when minerals are rearranged they no longer register as the original element. Alchemy is not a myth, and the “quantum non-mainstream sciences” prove it is real. Quantum physics “explains that particles can interact without actually being on contact, this is a form or property of superconductivity.” She thinks ORMUS material is superconductive and constitutes a percentage of the human brain mass, allowing transmission of thoughts to others who tune in to these superconductive energy transmissions.

But wait, there’s more! She went on to tell me about an experiment where a dog’s entire blood volume was replaced by seawater. She shared her belief that the power of the mind can heal all disease, and she explained that she relies on a natural knowing within herself and only uses outside evidence to confirm her beliefs. She has been studying subjects like sacred geometry, Vedic mathematics, the golden ratio, quantum physics, and extraterrestrials.

Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements

This woman is obviously misguided and misinformed, but what is this ORMUS she’s talking about? I’d never heard of it, so I started with Rational Wiki:

ORMUS, also called ORMEs (Orbitally Rearranged Monoatomic Elements) and m-state materials, is a fictitious group of substances exhibiting many miraculous properties, such as healing powers and superconductivity at room temperature. They were supposedly discovered in 1975 by David Hudson, a cotton farmer from Arizona.


Posted in: Basic Science, Energy Medicine, Herbs & Supplements

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Nevada’s new quack protection law

Nevada state seal

Practicing a licensed health care profession, such as medicine, without a license used to be a felony in Nevada. Not any more. As of July 1, quacks and charlatans are free to ply their trades unencumbered by the threat that they might have to answer to the regulatory authorities for their misdeeds, as long as they follow a few simple rules.

This new law, passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature and signed by the Governor, is yet another success of the “health care freedom” movement. It was shepherded through the legislative process by Alexis Miller, a lobbyist for the Sunshine Health Freedom Foundation (Sunshine), which is affiliated with the National Health Freedom Coalition. It’s Director of Law and Public Policy, Diane Miller, also spoke in favor of the bill. We’ll get back to these groups and their comrades in arms in a moment.

First, let’s take a look at what the new law does. A person who provides “wellness services” is protected from prosecution as long has he doesn’t practice medicine, podiatry, chiropractic, homeopathy (homeopaths are licensed in Nevada) or another licensed profession. Some forbidden services are listed in the law, including surgery, setting fractures, prescribing or administering x-rays or prescription drugs, or providing mental health services in the exclusive domain of psychiatrists and psychologists. Of course, while there is certainly danger in untrained persons doing any of these things, they aren’t generally on your average quack’s list of services, nor are they likely interested in them in the first place. (more…)

Posted in: Energy Medicine, Health Fraud, Herbs & Supplements, Legal, Politics and Regulation, Vaccines

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This stimulant can kill, yet you can legally buy it online. Why?

Caffeine Powder

This stimulant drug is highly toxic and perfectly legal.

If there’s one thing that unites all countries and cultures, it’s our love of caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, tea or other foods, caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world — more than alcohol, and more than tobacco: 90% of adults worldwide consume caffeine daily. At doses found in food and beverages, the effects are predictable and the side effects are slight. But natural or not, caffeine is a drug; isolate the pure substance, and the risks change. It would be difficult for most people to drink 16 cups of coffee in a row, but that’s the equivalent of just one teaspoon of caffeine powder. If that doesn’t hospitalize you, a tablespoon of the powder will probably kill you. Yet despite the risks, there are no restrictions on the sale of caffeine powder. You can buy a 1kg bag for $35, which provides the caffeine of about 5,000 cups of coffee. Caffeine powder is freely available to buy because regulators treat it differently – not because of its inherent properties, but because it’s “natural” and sold as a dietary supplement rather than a drug. This is a regulatory double-standard that harms consumers. It’s leaving a body count. And it needs to change: (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Politics and Regulation, Public Health

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FDA & CDC find raw pet food unpalatable



The FDA recently announced it would send field staff out to collect samples of commercially-manufactured raw dog and cat food. The samples will be analyzed for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli, all of which have been found in raw pet food, in the animals who eat it, in their feces, on their bodies after eating it, in the areas they inhabit, and on their owner’s bodies. Not surprisingly, this has led to both pet and human infection and illness. If the FDA finds pathogens, it could result in a recall, a press release and Reportable Food Registry Submission. The next day, the CDC joined the effort to curb illness caused by pathogens in raw pet food by posting information on safe handling.

Because of the risk to public health, and the lack of any proven benefit of raw pet food diets, the FDA does not recommend them.

However, we understand that some people prefer to feed these types of diets to their pets.

And why is that? For some of the same reasons humans follow absurd diet fads: the “lone genius” discovery, it’s “natural,” anecdotal evidence, appeal to antiquity, anti-corporate sentiment, and “holistic” practitioner recommendations.


Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Nutrition, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Veterinary medicine

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Leaky Bowel

Pictured: Something you might need if you actually had a leaky gut.  Click to embiggen.  Weirdo.

Pictured: Something you might need if you actually had a leaky gut. Click to embiggen. Weirdo.

We are at a disadvantage. We have to rely on reality to validate the practice of medicine. Anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, chemistry, the basic sciences that made up the first two years of medical school education and a huge chunk of pre-med. And we have to rely on the truth, as slippery a concept as that can be. I can’t just make up a disease or a therapy.

It would be so much easier to not have to worry about reality in deciding on a disease and treatment for people with symptoms.

I came across “Healthy Life: Leaky Gut Syndrome” in my feeds. I am always attracted to exclamation marks! They must mean something important! Or surprising to the author!

It’s called “leaky gut syndrome” and patients say it can wreak havoc on everyday life, but some doctors say there’s no such thing!

Some doctors. Must be that pesky 10% percent or so of obstructionist doctors who don’t recommend Tylenol or Advil. (more…)

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements, Naturopathy, Nutrition, Science and Medicine

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Dubious MTHFR genetic mutation testing

Naturopathic catnip for patients.

Naturopathic catnip for patients.

Naturopaths, along with some chiropractors, acupuncturists and a few “integrative” physicians, are advising patients that they should be tested for MTHFR genetic mutations. Typically, the naturopath will start with the pitch that “conventional” medical doctors are ignoring your genes as a possible source of your health problems. (And it is mostly naturopaths who are doing this – just Google “naturopath MTHFR genetic mutation” and see what comes up.) NDs know better, of course – it could be a MTHFR genetic mutation causing your maladies.

Just what is the MTHFR gene? Allow me to introduce some actual scientific information here. According to Genetics Home Reference, a service of the National Library of Medicine,

the MTHFR gene provides instructions for making an enzyme that plays a role in processing amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. This particular enzyme is important for a chemical reaction involving forms of the vitamin folate (also called vitamin B9), a reaction required for the multistep process that converts the amino acid homocysteine to another amino acid, methionine. The body uses methionine to make proteins and other important compounds.

Back to pseudoscience. Next comes the scare tactic: telling you how a MTHFR mutation might affect your health: anxiousness, adrenal fatigue, brain fog, cervical dysplasia, increased risk of many cancers (including breast and prostate), low thyroid, leaky gut, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and miscarriages. (more…)

Posted in: Chiropractic, Diagnostic tests & procedures, Health Fraud, Herbs & Supplements, Naturopathy, Nutrition, Obstetrics & gynecology, Vaccines

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Green Tea: Panacea or Poison?


In the news: a woman in Fort Wayne, Indiana is suing the Arbonne International company in Allen Superior Court, claiming that its product contained toxic levels of green tea extracts, causing her to develop acute liver failure.

Green tea accounts for 20% of tea consumption worldwide. It has become more and more popular because of its many reported health benefits; the consumption of green tea in the US has risen by 40% just since 2000. A less-processed form of tea, green tea contains higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols than other teas. It was traditionally used to control bleeding, heal wounds, aid digestion, improve heart and mental health and regulate body temperature. More recently, research has suggested that it has many health benefits.

The evidence for health benefits

The University of Maryland Medical Center has a helpful webpage that summarizes all the relevant research and provides a long list of references. Green tea may reduce the risk of heart disease (but the FDA prohibits that claim on labels; they concluded there was no credible evidence to support it). Green tea lowers total cholesterol and raises HDL. Population studies suggest that it may help protect against several kinds of cancer, but the evidence is mixed: other studies suggest that it may actually increase the risk of some cancers, and it may interfere with cancer chemotherapy. It may help in inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, liver disease, and weight loss. There is even preliminary evidence that it might prevent dental cavities, might be useful in arthritis, might help treat genital warts, and might even prevent symptoms of colds and flu. Studies show that drinking green tea is associated with reduced risk of dying from any cause. At first glance, it might sound like a panacea, but the evidence is still questionable. Much of it is from small, preliminary studies that have not been replicated or that contradict each other. (more…)

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