Posts Tagged “alternative medicine”

Amish Family Goes FishingIn most cases I respect the Amish and many of the other Mennonite communities. Unlike the vast majority of Christians, they’re willing to put into actual practice many of the things Jesus taught, such as simple living, pacifism, etc.

But note, I said “in most cases.” Sometimes the counter-productive (and potentially dangerous) nature of their metaphysics rears its head, and that’s something I can’t respect. An example of this comes in this report from ABC News, about an Amish family that fled the country in order to prevent their leukemic daughter from getting chemotherapy (WebCite cached article):

A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents have left the country to seek alternatives to chemotherapy, according to the family’s attorney.

Sarah Hershberger and her parents oppose chemotherapy, and have been fighting the Akron Children’s Hospital in court after the family stopped Sarah’s treatment. Her parents said the treatments have caused their daughter a great deal of pain, and they’d rather focus on herbal and natural remedies.

Their initial stated objection to chemotherapy is the discomfort it causes:

Sarah had tumors on her neck, chest and kidneys when her parents initially agreed to chemotherapy at Akron Children’s Hospital earlier this year. Her parents said the side effects were terrible, and they wanted to treat Sarah’s leukemia with alternative treatments.

I concede that chemotherapy can have terrible effects … but it also can be a very effective treatment for an illness that, left untreated, is inevitably fatal. Lots of medical treatments, unfortunately, can cause pain and misery, such as setting a broken bone. But I don’t know anyone with a broken bone who wouldn’t want it set. But even after objecting on those grounds, the family’s metaphysical objections emerge:

“We’ve seen how sick it makes her,” Andy Hershberger, Sarah’s father, told ABC News in August. “Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it’s God’s will.”

The family’s religion tells them that the form of Sarah’s treatment doesn’t matter: If their God wants her to get better, she will, and that’s the end of it, for them. They may as well not even give her any of their herbal concoctions, since the whole matter is entirely up to God, who will be doing all the work.

Note, therefore, their disingenuousness: All that crap about the pain caused by chemotherapy is just a smokescreen they’ve thrown up in order to divert people’s attention from this detrimental metaphysics.

I’ll point out that whatever herbal concoctions the Hershbergers give Sarah, may not even be what’s on their labels. And they aren’t without potential side effects. Moreover, reliance on homeopathy vs. conventional medicine can, indeed, be deadly, as another family recently discovered.

Lastly, it doesn’t seem anyone is really doing much to protect Sarah from her family’s for-her-deadly religionism:

Law enforcement officials said at this point there was no formal search for the girl.

Granted, they may just be saying this in order to give the Hershbergers they idea that they’re home free, but until I see evidence of that, there’s no reason for me to assume this must be the case. If in fact authorities are not looking for this family, that’s one helluva way to serve and protect.

Photo credit: louisepalanker, via Flickr.

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NOVAMOXIN antibioticThere are lots of folks who think “conventional medicine” is evil, comprised of personnel who work to keep people sick rather than help them, and that pharmaceuticals are “poisons” which must be avoided at all cost. It’s easy to dismiss them as wingnuts and crackpots whose belief in herbal remedies, reiki, homeopathy, therapeutic touch, and other assorted forms of pseudomedicine isn’t all that bad … because, after all, most of these “treatments” don’t hurt them (except in their wallets).

The truth, however, is that a reliance on pseudomedicine can, in fact, lead to severe harm, up to and including needless death. A sterling example of this recently happened in Alberta. The Calgary Sun reports a mother in that city has been arrested for allowing her own son to die (WebCite cached article):

Police say a woman gave her bedridden seven-year-old son holistic treatment before he succumbed to what would have been a treatable illness.

Friday, 44-year-old Tamara Lovett was arrested, later charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life in connection with the death of Ryan Lovett.…

Police allege the Grade 2 student was at home, bedridden for 10 days prior to that with what was later identified as a strep infection.

Strep infections are often treatable with medication such as penicillin.

Although it was not only the single mother who saw him deteriorating, no one contacted authorities.

So, although only the mother was arrested, we had other adults, too, who stood by and watched a child die, all in the name of avoiding normal medical treatment … which would certainly have worked. I’m sure they’re just so proud of themselves for having taken this determined stand against the evils of “conventional medicine”!

The sad but unavoidable truth is that pseudomedicine definitely can be harmful. That doesn’t mean “conventional medicine” isn’t without its faults … but it’s much better than the alternative, which has potentially-deadly consequences.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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One of the mantras repeatedly intoned by proponents of “alternative medicine” — to deride science-based (or “conventional”) medicine — is that pharmaceuticals are “toxic” to the body; they’re vile, alien substances that fight the body and attack tissues, rather than working with the body “holistically” (whatever that means). The sad truth is that lots of “alternative medicines” or “dietary supplements” (they’re called the latter, in order to evade FDA review) are no safer. I blogged a couple years ago about “ayurvedic medicines” that are — sometimes — dangerously toxic. But now, the New York Times reports on a GAO study that reveals the danger (WebCite cached article):

Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found.

The levels of heavy metals ó including mercury, cadmium and arsenic ó did not exceed thresholds considered dangerous, the investigators found. However, 16 of the 40 supplements tested contained pesticide residues that appeared to exceed legal limits, the investigators found.

On top of these revelations, the GAO found that manufacturers had made illegal claims about their products:

Investigators found at least nine products that made apparently illegal health claims, including a product containing ginkgo biloba that was labeled as a treatment for Alzheimerís disease and a product containing ginseng labeled as a treatment to prevent diabetes and cancer.

This study had to be done by the GAO, because the FDA is forbidden to evaluate “dietary supplements”:

In 1994, Congress passed legislation that allowed supplement makers to sell products without first getting approval from the F.D.A. for their ingredients or for basic health claims. But scientific organizations have warned repeatedly since then that the F.D.A. should do more to ensure that the supplements are safe and that their health claims are substantiated.

The law referred to here is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (aka DSHEA). It may be changing, and the GAO’s study is related to that:

[The report's] release comes two weeks before the Senate is scheduled to begin debate on a landmark food safety bill that is expected to substantially increase the federal governmentís authority over food manufacturers.

Even so, prospects for rationality in the manufacture and sale of these alternative medicines are bleak:

But it is uncertain how tough the bill will be on supplement manufacturers, and it has been the subject of fierce lobbying. Capitol Hill staff members familiar with the process said the bill was unlikely to include provisions opposed by supplement manufacturers.

If you live in the U.S., you should contact your House representative and both Senators and ask that they bring some sanity back to this industry.

Hat tip: Consumerist.

Photo credit: Neeta Lind.

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Dr. Mehmet Oz was a regular guest on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' before launching his own show, which averages 3.7 million viewers daily. (George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc)Oprah Winfrey — that fountain of uncritical thinking, meaningless psychobabble and assorted mindless New Agery — is such an influential mass-media tycoon that merely being “a friend of Oprah” is a career unto itself. Her repeat guests all have little media empires of their own, built on the foundation of having gotten the Oprah Seal Of Approval. Some even have their own TV shows … e.g. Phil McGraw and, more recently, “Dr Oz” (aka Mehmet Oz, MD). As I’ve blogged before, Oprah and her frequent guests can — and sometimes do — offer advice that can actually be dangerous, if followed to the letter … and her audience is more than large enough to assume there are some out there who do exactly that. That said, of all the assorted fruit-loops, fuzzy thinkers, and wingnuts to whom Oprah grants airtime and endorsements, Dr Oz has not attracted the kind of criticism that other “Friends Of Oprah” have received (such as Suzanne Somers).

But now the Chicago Tribune raises serious questions about Dr Oz and his advice (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Mehmet Oz is known as “America’s Doctor,” and it’s not much of a stretch.

Though he is a medical specialist — an acclaimed cardiac surgeon — Oz offers health information on just about any topic, from diet to child care to sex, through a television show that averages 3.7 million viewers a day, six best-selling health guides, columns in Esquire and Time, and a Web site.

Millions turn to him for advice, looking for an authority figure to make sense of the flood of medical information available online and in the media.

Much of the material Oz provides is solid, but some medical experts express reservations about his approach, saying Oz’s ventures also offer advice unsupported by science.

Oz has called the rotavirus vaccine “optional” — a risky view, according to experts. He tells people to examine the shape and sound of their bowel movements closely — a silly idea, specialists say. He invited a doctor to his TV show who has helped spread the idea that cancer can be cured with baking soda. On his Web site, another doctor endorses a group that promotes unproven autism treatments.

Dr Oz’s production staff defends his non-discriminating approach toward medicine:

Oz declined to be interviewed, but his spokespeople say the doctor’s mission is to give his audience information from multiple perspectives. His “Ask Dr. Oz” feature offers answers not only from prestigious medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic but also from alternative medicine practitioner Deepak Chopra and from Dove, maker of skin care and beauty products.

“The purpose of the site is to provide users with as much information as possible and allow the users to differentiate between what they find helpful and what they do not,” Oz’s spokespeople wrote in response to questions.

But more information is not necessarily better, as not all perspectives are equal in medicine.

Like many people, especially in the mass media, Dr Oz appears to think that if you throw enough information at people — good, bad, and in-between — they will all magically gravitate toward the good information, and the bad will fall into the gutter. Unfortunately, however, that’s not what happens in real life. People who are barraged with information will, in the majority of cases, gravitate toward the information that they find emotionally compelling … which often is not the valid, scientifically-sound information. Members of Dr Oz’s audience are not all well-schooled in medicine and capable of discerning the bad information and rejecting it. They depend on Dr Oz … who has learned medicine and ought to be capable of separating good medical information from the bad … to do that for them. (If they didn’t have this expectation, they’d have little reason to watch his show in the first place!)

Dr Oz and his staff do his viewers a disservice by blasting them with a mixture of good advice and pure bullshit, then expect them to tell the difference. They can’t — and they shouldn’t have to. Clearly what Dr Oz is doing, is subordinating the pursuit of science and good medicine, to the desire for ratings, which for him hinge on Oprah’s demographic: They much prefer “touchy-feely” notions that are emotionally satisfying, rather than valid and rational. In other words, they’re much more interested in “truthiness” than in truth.

I wonder what makes Dr Oz think that dispensing a mixture of valid advice with a whole lot of bullshit is a way for him to live up to the Hippocratic Oath?

Hat tip: Consumerist

Photo credit: George Burns, Harpo Productions, Inc (see Tribune article)

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Kevin Trudeau has made himself famous in infomercials … and also made himself infamous by running afoul of the law: He’s been convicted of fraud and other felonies; has been sued by partners and investors; has been fined by the FTC and had his activities proscribed by that agency; has been held in contempt of court; has been targeted by multiple states including New York and Michigan (and he can no longer do business in the latter) … and that’s just part of his story. Along the way he managed — successfully for a while — to sell a book of phony alternative-medical “cures” despite having absolutely no medical training whatever and having conducted no research at all. Yet time and again, he persists in returning to sell yet another swindle.

Well, this longtime promoter of woo and kerfluffle has once again run afoul of the legal system; this time, he may not squirm out of it as easily as he has in the past. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on his latest example of legal defiance (WebCite cached article):

Kevin Trudeau held in criminal contempt, facing jail time

Kevin Trudeau, the slick, silver-tongued infomercial king and best-selling author amassed a fortune over years of persistent, late-night hawking.

This week, he made the wrong sales pitch.

Trudeau was found in criminal contempt of court Thursday and nearly had handcuffs slapped on him after he asked his supporters to email the federal judge overseeing a pending civil case brought against him by the Federal Trade Commission.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said he was flooded with hundreds of “harassing, threatening and interfering” emails, locking up the judge’s email system and shutting down his Blackberry for part of the day.

“This is direct contempt — that’s how I view it,” Gettleman said. “He interfered with the direct process of the court.”

Gettleman hauled Trudeau into court a day after he posted a message on his Web site with his appeal. Gettleman ordered Trudeau to turn over his passport, pay $50,000 bond and warned he could face future prison time.

I’m not sure what’s worse … that Trudeau would consider himself so impervious to the legal system that he would take it on directly, by siccing people on the court … or that there were enough people who actually obeyed him, to cause a problem with the court’s email system.

People, get this: Trudeau is a convicted felon. He doesn’t deserve your support. You need to stop doing what he tells you to do, even if you think his “cures” work.

Americans are, sadly, vulnerable to Trudeau’s claim, which is the title of his book, that there are natural cures that “they” (whoever that might be) don’t want you to know about. Unfortunately this is absurd on its face. Any “cure” for any significant ailment, is worth tons of money to whoever knows about it and can show it works. No one has any financial incentive so sit on one and never allow it to be disclosed.

Hat tip: Skeptic’s Dictionary.

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Of all the crazy things to be included in the healthcare reform proposals, this one may be the craziest. It’s so crazy, I had to check it out to be sure it was true … and it seems to be genuine (unlike Sarah Palin’s famously false “death panels” scaremongering). The Los Angeles Times reports that prayer treatments may be included in universal healthcare:

Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The provision was inserted by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) with the support of Democratic Sens. John F. Kerry and the late Edward M. Kennedy, both of Massachusetts, home to the headquarters of the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.”

That’s right folks. Prayer could be funded as a treatment (or rather, more accurately, as a substitute for treatment). Of course, Christian Scientists* are thrilled and have no idea why anyone would object:

Phil Davis, a senior Christian Science Church official, said prayer treatment was an effective alternative to conventional healthcare.

Of course, clinical studies of prayer as a medical treatment show it to be anything but “an effective alternative” … but hey, when you’re a religionist, little things like “facts” hardly ought to get in your way. The story goes on to point out other problems with this:

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of atheists and agnostics that promotes separation of church and state, said the opportunity to receive payment for spiritual care could encourage other groups to seek similar status.

The problem is not solely limited to religion. It could be used to force the government to reimburse for any unproven treatment; all someone has to do is set themselves up as a religion (even if it isn’t really one), make the treatment — whatever it is — a basic tenet of the (phony) “faith,” and force the government to pay for it.

Nice going, Senator Hatch. Every kook and oddball with some goofy idea for a medical “treatment” is going to declare him- or herself the “prophet” of a new religion and force government to pay for it … based on your precedent.

Note: Despite the name of their church, there is nothing “scientific” about Christian Science. It is not a “science,” it’s a religion. Period.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches blog.

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Actor Peter Bergman was famous for his commercials in which he said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Say what you want about the commercial, but at least he was honest and up-front. Not so with Suzanne Somers, who recently published a book full of medical advice. Even though she’s no doctor, and hasn’t a minute of medical training, she nevertheless feels free to tell you how to treat cancer. It’s all about “alternative medicine,” you see, because to Ms Somers, “conventional medicine” is “destructive.” The Human Condition blog at Newsweek reports on this book:

The gist of Somers’s argument is that conventional cancer treatments—surgery, radiation, chemotherapy—take a destructive approach and that chemo, in particular, is overused. Long an advocate of alternative therapies, Somers argues that it makes more sense to build up the body to fight cancer than it does to tear it down through radiation and chemicals. She is particularly enamored of nutritional “cures.”

Even though Ms Somers has no medical credentials to speak of, she nevertheless claims to have them:

Of course, Somers has had no formal medical or scientific training, but considers herself an authority—in part because she’s survived breast cancer after choosing not to have chemotherapy, and because she’s a regular on the alternative-medicine circuit. This book, like her others, consists mainly of transcripts of her conversations with various alternative-medicine doctors, as well as lots of details about her own experiences and prevention regimen, which she has spelled out many times before, most notably on Oprah earlier this year. It’s noteworthy that her promotion of the book began by publicly blaming Patrick Swayze’s recent death on chemotherapy, rather than his pancreatic cancer. (She has since apologized to his family.)

How very nice of Ms Somers to take advantage of another person’s death, to promote her book. (Yes, she did apologize … but she knew what she was doing when she did it, and it was every bit as mercenary a decision as I just described it.)

Sprinkled into her anti-medicinal whiney tome is a bit of good advice and sound medical caveats, as Newsweek concedes:

Not all the recommendations Somers makes in the book raise eyebrows. She says eating healthy and exercising, reducing stress, and getting a good night’s sleep may reduce the risk of cancer. That’s true, but it’s not news. She’s right that not every woman with stage I breast cancer needs chemo. Few doctors would argue. In fact, they have the technology to calculate the size of the likely benefit, and agree that sometimes it’s quite small. Most doctors offer it as a choice to women who want to do everything possible to prevent cancer’s return.

But dropping a load of bullshit on people, doesn’t become any less bullshit, because she sprinkled a (metaphorical) cup of sugar over it. It remains predominantly bullshit.

The unconscionable part of this is that Newsweek had, earlier this year, exposed Somers’ questionable medicine in the course of its exposé of Oprah Winfrey’s pseudoscience promotion (as I blogged in June). Given this revelation, Somers has no viable excuse for having chosen to proceed with publishing a book full of assorted pseudomedicine and potentially-harmful medical instruction.

This whole episode just goes to show that Americans are a strange — and overly credulous — bunch. All someone has to do is become an actor or actress on a famous show, and people attribute all sorts of expertise to that person, which they do not actually possess. Ms Somers is irresponsible to assume the mantle of “physician” merely because she’s a celebrity and had cancer. Lots of celebrities have, unfortunately, had cancer … but few, if any, are credentialed to actually practice medicine or offer medical advice; and most are responsible enough not to “play doctor” by writing books on “medicine.” It’s time we realized that the cult of celebrity-worship — coupled with a vast lack of critical-thinking skills — that has consumed the US, is becoming dangerous.

Update: CNN has commentary by Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Unlike Ms Somers, as a practicing oncologist, Dr Brawley actually does possess credentials in the treatment of cancer. However, I’m sure Ms Somers, her friend Oprah, and their sheep followers will dismiss what he says, since he’s part of the Vast Conventional-Medical Conspiracy that works to destroy people and keep them sick, rather than cure them. (OK, folks, that was just a touch of sarcasm!)

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