I generally resist changing my behavior in response to health news. Whatever research findings are touted this week could be contradicted by next week’s latest study. But I stopped taking calcium last week after reports of a correlation between calcium supplements and an increased risk of heart attacks.
Given the millions of women who faithfully take their daily calcium pills, this news reminded me of the 2002 announcement about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). After reassurance from physicians that HRT was the way to go, turns out HRT increased the risk of breast cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. With HRT, adverse effects began to show up after five years. With calcium, it’s 3.6 years.
Both incidents were complete reversals: Take it, it’s good for you … oh, wait a minute … don’t take it, it’s bad for you. Both affect a large number of people, especially women. Both were a bit of a shock for the public, I fear.
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study back in 2006 that showed glucosamine and chondroitin worked no better than a placebo for knee pain. But patients still swear by the supplements for pains in the back or knees.
Consumers spent $838 million on glucosamine and chondroitin in 2008, which was a one percent increase above the previous year.
The lead researcher for the GAIT study [the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial], Dr. Daniel Clegg, a rheumatologist, talked about this paradox with The Washington Post:
Clegg says both glucosamine and chondroitin are broken down during digestion and there’s no evidence that they are incorporated into the deteriorating cartilage that is characteristic of the disease [osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis]. …
A chiropractor for whom I have considerable respect – she’s a scientist, formerly an aeronautical engineer – is handing out copies of an article by Dr. Mercola that recommends against the swine flu vaccine. Another chiropractor told me she knew of no one in her profession who would receive, or allow their children to receive, vaccinations of any sort. She promptly added that, being “only” a chiropractor, she couldn’t legally make such a recommendation anyway.
Is the safety of vaccines merely a difference of opinion? Everything I’ve read on the scientific evidence for vaccine side-effects – which is the primary grounds for opposition – favors vaccination.
I’m generally sympathetic to the benefits of alternative therapies. That’s not surprising given I’ve studied, practiced, and taught alternative therapies, in addition to having a PhD in the History of Science and Medicine. There are times, however, when I totally understand why some members of the medical profession are so vehement in their condemnation of alternative “medicine.”
Case in point: A recent post on KevinMD, in which Dr. Amy Tuteur writes: “‘Alternative’ health practitioners are nothing more than quacks and charlatans and their ‘remedies’ are nothing more than snake oil. The fact that anyone in this day and age still believes in such crackpot theories is a tribute to the power of ignorance and superstition.” Read more
The philosophy that informs Chinese Medicine is very different from the science that determines Western medicine. These two cultures do not start from the same assumptions about what it means to be healthy.
Those who dismiss Asian medicine as being of no value fail to take this into account. You can’t compare an apple to an orange and conclude that the apple is superior because the orange is not an apple.
Some Western medical practitioners are vehemently opposed to alternative therapies, including Chinese medicine. I can understand why. Chinese Medicine is about prevention: Keeping the body healthy, preventing disease before it begins. If you have cancer, you need to avail yourself of all the resources Western medicine can offer. You don’t put your faith in an alternative therapy when there is no scientific evidence that it can cure cancer. Read more
The idea that drinking eight glasses of water a day is the healthy thing to do has been around since the 1940s. It’s not true, but at this point it’s a widely held myth.
On a site called Optimum Health, for example, I found this statement: “The average person needs 8-10 glasses of water daily to PREVENT DEHYDRATION. At Optimum Health we encourage our clients to become properly hydrated. If you want to … allow you body to function beautifully … you must give it a whole lot more water!”
How the eight glasses myth got started
Chinese medicine teaches that people should drink when they’re thirsty. The Chinese find it strange that Westerners strive to drink so much water. Public health recommendations in the West have now come to the same conclusion. Read more
When I taught at City University of New York in the seventies, I had a student who used to tell me not to eat chicken. I don’t recall the specifics, except that it wasn’t about cruelty to animals. It had to do with what chickens were fed (probably antibiotics and hormones) and what we consequently ended up eating ourselves. I didn’t stop eating chicken at the time, but I find it curious that I still remember the intensity of that student’s convictions. In retrospect, I think it was one of those “something’s happening here” moments, when you know something important is going on, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Read more