Book raises alarms about alternative medicine

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The 12-year-old girl arrived at the hospital wracked with abdominal pain.


Doctors diagnosed her with acute pancreatitis, in which pancreatic enzymes begin digesting not just food, but the pancreas itself.

The most likely cause of the girl's condition: toxic side effects from more than 80 dietary supplements, which the girl's mother carried in a shopping bag, says Sarah Erush, clinical pharmacy manager at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where the girl was treated last summer.

The girl's mother had been treating her with the supplements and other therapies for four years to treat the girl's "chronic Lyme disease," a condition that, experts say, doesn't actually exist. While some Lyme infections cause pain and other lingering symptoms, the infections don't persist for years. And, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America, the infections don't require years of antibiotics or other risky therapies given by some alternative medicine practitioners.

Doctors were able to control the girl's illness with standard therapies, Erush says, and she was discharged from the hospital after two weeks.

Although the child's story was unforgettable, Erush says, it wasn't unusual. Parents now "routinely" bring children to her hospital with a variety of alternative remedies, hoping that nurses will administer them during a child's stay.

Written By: Liz Szab
continue to source article at usatoday.com

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  1. Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication. If not, it cannot be sold. That should put an immediate stop to patent medicines, herbal cures, homeopathic medicines, Chinese medicines etc. Shouldn’t be too difficult to produce a watertight definition of what it means to sell something as a medicine.

    I’ve said that before. Also, all practitioners who offer medical treatment or advice, should unhdergo the same sort of scrutiny. Unless they have been trained in an institution which has the authority to teach and test their knowledge and skills, and unless the standards and content of the curriculum are acceptable to the legally established medical/nursing authorities, then they shouldn’t be allowed to practise.

    Quackery and magic are expensive and dangerous activities, which gullible people and overstreached government, insurance and private budgets cannot afford.

    • In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

      Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication. If not, it cannot be sold. That should put an immediate stop to patent medicines, herbal cures, homeopathic medicines, Chinese medicines etc. Shouldn’t be too difficult…

      Unfortunately these aren’t sold as medicines, they are sold as dietary supplements (with the warning that they have no medicinal value, hidden in the small print where no one will ever read it), but I agree they need much better regulation both in the US where this story originates and in Britain where I live. Unfortunately (again) Big Fake-Pharma has enough loud voices to drown out most of the criticism.

    • In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

      Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication. If not, it cannot be sold. That should put an immediate stop to patent medicines, herbal cures, homeopathic medicines,

      Would you ban cinammon and sassfrass? Some people think of them as spices, others as medicinal herbs. I presume you would permit their sale if there were no medicinal claims. But then books would make claims.

      • In reply to #19 by Roedy:

        In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

        Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication. If not, it cannot be sold. That should put an immediate stop to patent medicines, herbal cures, homeopathic medicines,

        Would you ban c…

        Course I wouldn’t ban them. If they’re sold in a deli or herb shop as herbs and spices that’s fine. It’s when they’re sold as medicines or quasi medicines that there’s a problem. I’m sure that any lawyer or legal draughtsperson worth his/her considerable salt, could work out a way of dealing with the issue. They find ways of doing this sort of thing all the time.

        • In reply to #20 by Kevin Murrell:

          Even water, which is really all there is in a homeopathic potion, is dangerous when sold as a medicine for illnesses that need to be treated with real medicine. It would be silly to ban water, but not at all silly to ban the selling of water under another name as a medicine. This is not only a public health concern but also a matter of fair trading.

        • In reply to #20 by Kevin Murrell:

          Besides false claims made by herb packagers, you get false claims made in books.The author profits from false claims by book sales,
          tours, endorsements… He can baldly make false claims, or he disguise them as history “In Tutor Egland people used the xxx for yyy”.

          Currently there are no restrictions on books. Would you create any? I can’t see how you could effectively regulate that.

          • In reply to #24 by Roedy:

            In reply to #20 by Kevin Murrell:

            Besides false claims made by herb packagers, you get false claims made in books.The author profits from false claims by book sales,
            tours, endorsements… He can baldly make false claims, or he disguise them as history “In Tutor Egland people used the xxx for yyy”…

            Well, I’m not a lawyer, but if there was advice given in a book or TV show for that matter, and it produced adverse health outcomes for someone, there might be a case for legal action, I don’t know.

            But certainly something should be done about texts like Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, by Stephanie Messenger, and a lot of the bilge that’s published by the promotors of alternative medicine, but how that can be done without endangering free speech and the right to protest, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps if some of these advocates of quackery had to pay financial or other penalties when their “cures” result in disaster, that might make them think twice.

    • In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

      Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication.

      Peer reviewed publication, FDA approval, etc.have done nothing to ensure our drugs are safe. The FDA forces recalls on the average of 2 per week. Most are minor, such as lack of sterile packaging, some are more serious like the wrong dose or medicine in the package. 49% of FDA recalls are NOT dietary supplements, homeopathic remedies, etc. they are products from Big Pharma. You know, the ones with the big advertising budgets and deep pockets from which lobbying is done.

      Anyone remember Vioxx, H1N1 flu vaccine, all generic drugs produced by Able Labs and Baycol much less the tons of class action lawsuits against others? Ever notice how in a 30 second TV commercial for a prescription drug, 20 seconds is spent listing the side effects?

      The worst are the meds to fight high blood pressure. Go to RxList or other sites and read the warnings from the manufacturers. If they weren’t being sold by Big Pharma, every one of them would have a skull and crossbones on them.

      • In reply to #30 by LVWolfman:

        In reply to #1 by Kevin Murrell:

        Nothing should be permitted to be sold as a medicine unlesst its efficacy and safety is demonstrated by peer reviewed publication.

        Peer reviewed publication, FDA approval, etc.have done nothing to ensure our drugs are safe. The FDA forces recalls on the average of…

        Can’t say that peer review etc, have done nothing, most drugs are very, very safe, which they certainly weren’t when Kevvy was a boy. Mistakes are made, vast Pharma companies have clout etc, etc. But….in an imperfect world, that’s far better than nothing, and the fact that these “mistakes” are picked up, albeit it late, is also reassuring. No one will tell you that drugs are completely safe.

        So called “food supplements” are subject to little or no scrutiny as to their efficacy or safety.

    • In reply to #2 by rod-the-farmer:

      Any chance Child Services can step in and remove the child from her parents ? How much of a case for endangerment needs to be made in cases like this ?

      Probably not. The child services people in the US are encouraged to not take the child away except as a last resort. Its not a completely unreasonable policy given how terribly under funded the US system for foster care is. The child would most likely not have much of a life in the foster care system either. And as bad as this is — on the scale of physical torture and sexual abuse that child services people see on a regular basis its not the worst.

    • In reply to #2 by rod-the-farmer:

      Any chance Child Services can step in and remove the child from her parents ? How much of a case for endangerment needs to be made in cases like this ?

      I doubt it – it depends on the state, its staff, and how much evidence is needed.

      Missouri Department of Child Services, e.g., is bedeviled with an overload of cases, and pitiful communications problems. The result is total heart-wrenching stories of children dying from abuse.

  2. To just look at this as a problem with a stupid mother who believe nonsense is overly simplistic. Yes, it is that but there is more going on here. The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter. Quite possibly the woman couldn’t have gotten any treatment from an actual doctor until her child had severe pain. And even now after her trip to the emergency room she will be hounded by credit agencies until she pays off what is going to be an insanely expensive bill for a person like her. Its no wonder that people in her situation don’t trust the medical establishment and turn to pseudoscience in desperation.

    • I get the impression that there is nowhere near enough support for a European style welfare system in the US.
      When I watched this talk by Elisabeth Cornwell I was surprised by how negative she was about the welfare systems in
      Europe, based on her experience in Finland and England. Skip to about 1hr 33mins. in the video.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4PpA_-YEmw&feature=youtu.be

      In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

      To just look at this as a problem with a stupid mother who believe nonsense is overly simplistic. Yes, it is that but there is more going on here. The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter. Quite possibly the woman couldn’t have gotten any…

      • In reply to #7 by Marktony:

        I get the impression that there is nowhere near enough support for a European style welfare system in the US. When I watched this talk by Elisabeth Cornwell I was surprised by how negative she was about the welfare systems in Europe, based on her experience in Finland and England.

        I wouldn’t even call this a question about the welfare system. Unless by welfare you mean just the basic infrastructure to support poor people. In the US “welfare” has a more specific connotation, its what I think in the UK they call “being on the dole” when you can’t find a job how do you live. That is an issue and there could be more support for that in the US I agree. But this is more basic. The US spends more of our GDP than any other first world country on healthcare. Yet the results we get are way down at the bottom, on some things (I think pre-natal care is an example) we are down there with third world countries.

        This is why I find it so amusing (in a want to tear my hear out kind of way) that the “conservatives” talk about fiscal responsibility, etc. By any rational metric its obvious that the healthcare system in the US is terrible. Its not an ideology question its just simple economics. We spend the most and we get crappy results and that is a big factor in making people feel disillusioned about the whole system and seek out pseudoscience cures and quacks.

      • In reply to #7 by Marktony:

        I get the impression that there is nowhere near enough support for a European style welfare system in the US.
        When I watched this talk by Elisabeth Cornwell I was surprised by how negative she was about the welfare systems in
        Europe, based on her experience in Finland and England. Skip to about 1hr…

        One more point, I haven’t watched the video yet but even without seeing it I’m not surprised by what you say. Its pathetic how so many people in the US have been brainwashed to just think there is something “un-american” about universal healthcare. The arguments usually go something like this: “Q: why don’t you like universal healthcare” “A: Because freedom! and FEMA Death Camps! and Death Panels!”

        Its one example of how corrupted the debate in the US has become, certain questions, basic answers to problems like gun control and healthcare that obviously work by the evidence we can see in other countries, those solutions can’t even be taken seriously due to the “free market” bias that governs debate in the political sphere.

        • Or

          A. Are you some kind of Socialist.

          In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #7 by Marktony:

          I get the impression that there is nowhere near enough support for a European style welfare system in the US.
          When I watched this talk by Elisabeth Cornwell I was surprised by how negative she was about the welfare systems in
          Europe, based on her experience in Finland an…

          • How can anyone that has been educated in a public school system scream that universal healthcare is socialism? Public Libraries, Public Schools, basically anything that’s funded by the city, state, or federal government is inherently a form of socialism. “You went to Elementary School, damn socialist!” This has to stem from Cold War hysteria.

            In reply to #10 by Marktony:

            Or

            A. Are you some kind of Socialist.

            In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #7 by Marktony:

            I get the impression that there is nowhere near enough support for a European style welfare system in the US.
            When I watched this talk by Elisabeth Cornwell I was surprised by how negative she was about…

          • In reply to #11 by ThereIsGrandeur:

            How can anyone that has been educated in a public school system scream that universal healthcare is socialism? Public Libraries, Public Schools, basically anything that’s funded by the city, state, or federal government is inherently a form of socialism. “You went to Elementary School, damn socialis…

            I think of the word socialism in narrow economic terms, as in a socialist nation is one that has a large degree of centralized planning of the means of production. If publicly funded libraries, firefighters, and police squads are also considered forms of socialism, then virtually every town in the US is socialist.

    • In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

      To just look at this as a problem with a stupid mother who believe nonsense is overly simplistic. Yes, it is that but there is more going on here. The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter.

      America spends double per capita what the OECD average is for healthcare, and for (often) far worse outcomes… infant mortality is near third world levels, for instance. The “lost” money is bleeding into the pockets of (by world standards) grossly overpaid medics, and the shareholders of insurance companies.

      Additionally, averages mask the fact that there is (at least) a two tier healthcare system. The rich are getting the best of the best, and no doubt excellent infant mortality rates. And the poor are getting correspondingly worse. At least half of Americans really do “enjoy” a third world health system. And America should hang its head in shame about that.

      As you say, it’s no surprise in the circumstances that a lot of people turn to woo instead – out of necessity. What next? Witch-doctors?

      • In reply to #16 by Stevehill:

        In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

        To just look at this as a problem with a stupid mother who believe nonsense is overly simplistic. Yes, it is that but there is more going on here. The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter.

        America spends doubl…

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, though I’m not an American so I really shouldn’t comment. I suspect that US doctors expect to receive a far higher income after graduating and this is felt down the line.

    • In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

      …The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter. Quite possibly the woman couldn’t have gotten any treatment from an actual doctor until her child had severe pain…

      I think I get this but how is this related to the kid’s mother ‘treating’ them for a non-illness?

      • In reply to #22 by Docjitters:

        I think I get this but how is this related to the kid’s mother ‘treating’ them for a non-illness?

        The mother thought her child had “chronic Lyme disease” a disease which doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean the child didn’t have any symptoms. My point is that its possible the mother is not being totally irrational in her mistrust of traditional medicine. The system is telling her she doesn’t matter. If she had access to an actual doctor she could afford then possibly she wouldn’t have embraced the quackery.

        My other issue is about how people respond to this. If you want to stop these kinds of things from happening in the future then you need to have an honest discussion of some of the root causes which was what I was trying to initiate. Being smug and mocking the poor woman is pointless at best IMO unless the only reason you want to comment is to find people you can look down on and hence feel better about yourself.

        • In reply to #23 by Red Dog:

          The mother thought her child had “chronic Lyme disease” a disease which doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean the child didn’t have any symptoms…If she had access to an actual doctor she could afford then possibly she wouldn’t have embraced the quackery.

          I don’t doubt the child had symptoms – otherwise she wouldn’t have thought the supplements necessary. I think I got a bit hung up on the phrase ‘couldn’t (my emphasis) have gotten any treatment from an actual doctor until her child had severe pain.’ I wasn’t sure if you meant the ‘chronic Lyme disease’ or the pancreatitis.

          I confess, I made an assumption (probably wrong, now that I think about it) that the child had at some point treatment for actual Lyme disease but had residual symptoms. I guess a big question is did the child ever have Lyme disease in the first place?

          Being smug and mocking the poor woman is pointless at best IMO unless the only reason you want to comment is to find people you can look down on and hence feel better about yourself.

          I agree, and I’m certainly not asking silently for the child to be taken into care from the safety of my laptop. Certainly I’ve seen plenty of rich middle-class parents buy into stuff like this despite expensive medical consultations. Whilst I can see mistrust of doctors that appear to be money-driven being high on the list of causes, I think some people find it hard to accept medical uncertainty – especially when it’s their kids and they feel they have to do something. The issue at hand is still the unregulated use of supplements with adverse effects and just who is diagnosing these non-existent illnesses?

    • In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

      To just look at this as a problem with a stupid mother who believe nonsense is overly simplistic. Yes, it is that but there is more going on here. The healthcare system in the US is a nightmare for people like the woman in the story and her daughter. Quite possibly the woman couldn’t have gotten any…

      “Quite possibly the woman couldn’t have gotten any treatment from an actual doctor until her child had severe pain.”

      Exactly.

      I’d be interested to know how many real doctors this mother went to before she turned to alternative medicine. I wonder if in the beginning stages of this girl’s illness, she took her to doctors who said there was nothing wrong and maybe even said the child was just trying to get out of school. That’s when people turn to alternative medicine and diagnoses like “chronic lyme disease”. It’s highly unlikely this woman diagnosed her daughter with chronic lyme without first taking her to a doctor, or multiple doctors first. The real problem is probably not belief in alternative medicine or Munchausen by Proxy.

  3. “Although the child’s story was unforgettable, Erush says, it wasn’t unusual.”

    My first reaction is empathy for the children, that they have to suffer through these things and have such fools for parents.

  4. Patent medicines and quackery have been around a long time. At least nowadays (in theory), it says what is in it. Maybe it’s a case of people getting what they want and wanting what they get. I wonder how a GP or hospital in the UK would respond to someone bringing in their own ‘medicine’?

    • In reply to #18 by finchfinder:

      …I wonder how a GP or hospital in the UK would respond to someone bringing in their own ‘medicine’?

      The doctor makes a decision as to whether it’s harmless or likely to screw things up – case-by-case consideration. I am amazed how many parents don’t think Calpol (paracetamol/acetaminophen syrup) is medicine…

  5. Well. Is it the mother’s fault alone? I have come across many mothers who eschew the pediatrician’s advice (which is sometimes awful!), for the Natural Doctor, because the pediatricians only advice was masses of drugs for a simple problem. (ie, reflux- drugs instead of changing the child’s diet first.)
    So they seek out a Naturopath, or Chiropractor, dietician, herbalist.. None of these are actually educated enough to make those decisions, but since the pediatricians are completely against anything that is not a prescription, they look for alternatives. If Doctors were not so close minded, and testing/rules were stricter about offering “professional medical advice” by Chiropractors and the like, things might be different.
    Meanwhile the layperson (Mother) is the one villified, when they believed they were taking “medical” advice on supplements.

  6. while i respect modern medicine,many vitamins,herbal supplements,and homeopathic treatments are useful and effective.This lady was both lazy and crazy.She did not do her research like many of the user of these products do.Empirical research is done with some but ignored by the vast majority of western medicine from cultural education.The huge pharmaceutical investment into chemical drugs drives doctors with unclaimed benefits from the same,to push their drugs and not look to natural methods.Freedom to choose should be left always to the individual and government intervention into removing this option is nothing short of dictatorship and control. I personally have many proven success with myself and family of treatments given that improved or eased illness,when western medicine was doing nothing but making a chemical zombie of the person. Aspirin was once a plant until it was chemically made for profit to big business.Hemp oil was and still is used by many countries for many health reason with a vast history of positive,usefull effects.It was outlawed by fear,hemp farming cost Americans over 440million in imports and help other countries like China,when we could employ thousands here and study it freely. VitaminC has been used in clinics all over the world for treating many illnesses,as well as Magnesium, these all can be and they are abused by ignorant people.Should we remove them because of a few? NO! Should wine be removed and regulated to a prescription? It is used in homeo treatment of stress,to helping with good heart health.Can it be abused? sure it can. Can ignorant people harm their kids or selves? sure! but we do not punish all for the effects of a few! Welfare should inspect this case! She is either a mother suffering from ignorance,or maybe hypochondria. I managed my asthma for many yrs,did military service with it and Never had trouble.Passed with Great medical reports.Controlled with the “MaWong” plant.Have to see a doctor now because some jerk sports players used it wrong and a few died.I was robbed of taking care of my self and now have to rely on going to a doctor,buying prescription meds and paying high medical visits and auto fees.because a few fail to use the common sense! America was founded on freedom and using our common sense! let us not have the government regulate this,we have seen what they did with the IRS!

    • In reply to #32 by ganuska:

      while i respect modern medicine,many vitamins,herbal supplements,and homeopathic treatments are useful and effective.

      In which universe homeopathic treatments are useful and effective? ‘Cause it ain’t the universe we’re living in.

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