Vaccine advocate takes on the alternative medicine industry

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Dr. Paul Offit doesn’t like getting threats. But the 62-year-old pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says it goes with the territory when taking on powerful industries and interest groups whose beliefs are deeply rooted in emotion.


He’s ready for a tsunami of criticism with his latest foray into debunking popular wisdom – “Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine” in which he takes on the vitamin and herbal supplements industry, alternative medicine of all kinds, Congress and celebrity doctors who peddle their own products. It hits the shelves on Tuesday.

“Yes, I do get hate mail,” Offit admits. He makes the case that the vitamin industry in particular has successfully lobbied to keep itself unregulated while selling billions of pills to an eager and gullible public. “People think of dietary supplements as natural, benign and helpful,” Offit told NBC News. “People don’t think of them as drugs.”

Yet studies have shown that not only do vitamin supplements fail to lower cancer risk, but they can actually cause cancer – most notably the 1994 Finnish study that found smokers who took beta carotene – which the body converts to vitamin A – actually had a higher risk of lung cancer than men who didn’t take the supplements. Alternative therapies of all kinds are often not only of no benefit whatsoever — they can be harmful, he notes.

Written By: Maggie Fox
continue to source article at nbcnews.com

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  1. Growing up, I had two cousins who where MDs and two uncles who had PhDs and were medical researchers. All four of them told me that all you get from taking vitamins is expensive urine and that stuck with me. I buy vitamin E capsules, break them open and put them on my face. That’s as close as I get to “taking” vitamins.

    Eat a well balanced diet with plenty of the freshest (that includes frozen) fruits and vegies you can find and you’ll be fine.

  2. I take fish or celery oil for my arthritic fingers. Is that lapsing into atavistic superstition? I rather think that it is, as I’ve never really been certain that it has any beneficial or other effects. Does anyone know?

    • In reply to #2 by Kevin Murrell:

      I take fish or celery oil for my arthritic fingers. Is that lapsing into atavistic superstition? I rather think that it is, as I’ve never really been certain that it has any beneficial or other effects. Does anyone know?

      The spiel on fish oil containers claims a reduced incidence of arthritic pain, lowering of cholesterol and an improvement in “general well being”. My cholesterol has lowered since taking them [although other dietary factors were involved] and I have noticed a reduction in joint pain since using them….. made particularly apparent because if I stop taking them for a day or two, the pain increases quite noticeably. As for elevated mood? Not sure but they certainly have no negative effects as far as I can tell.

      • In reply to #11 by squeegee:

        In reply to #2 by Kevin Murrell:

        I take fish or celery oil for my arthritic fingers. Is that lapsing into atavistic superstition? I rather think that it is, as I’ve never really been certain that it has any beneficial or other effects. Does anyone know?

        The spiel on fish oil containers claims a reduced incidence of arthritic pain, lowering of cholesterol and an improvement in “general well being”. My cholesterol has lowered since taking them [although other dietary factors were involved] and I have noticed a reduction in joint pain since using them…..

        My mother took cod-liver oil for joint pain and it seemed to be effective.

        There have been studies of the Inuit high calorie high-fat diet, which show health benefits from fish oils.

        Eskimo Study Suggests High Consumption of Omega-3s in Fish-Rich Diet Reduces Obesity-Related Disease Risk – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110324153712.htm

        • In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

          There have been studies of the Inuit high calorie high-fat diet, which show health benefits from fish oils.

          Eskimo Study Suggests High Consumption of Omega-3s in Fish-Rich Diet Reduces Obesity-Related Disease Risk – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110324153712.htm

          As I mentioned above, this study doesn’t measure outcomes so I think the title is a bit misleading. I did find a Circulation review article which mentions a study prescribing a Mediterranean diet – it reduced platelet adhesion and, by inference, lowered risk of heart attacks and stroke (just as taking mini-aspirin does).

          Actually, I remember hearing (10 years ago though) about how part of the benefit of fish oils is down to the ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet and that Greenland Eskimos have fantastically low cholesterol and heart disease risk but quite high chance of bleeding to death from a bad cut due to how impaired their blood clotting function was. However, because they got almost all their dietary fat from oily fish/blubber, this was an extreme case of too much of a good thing.

    • In reply to #2 by Kevin Murrell:

      I take fish or celery oil for my arthritic fingers. Is that lapsing into atavistic superstition? I rather think that it is, as I’ve never really been certain that it has any beneficial or other effects. Does anyone know?

      I have no idea what’s in celery oil but cod liver oil contains reasonable amounts of Vitamin D, insufficiency of which is associated with muscle/joint aches and pains. Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in the synthesis of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body and per Alan4′s link are associated with lower markers of heart disease (though they’re not measuring actual _outcomes _such as rate of heart attacks).

  3. It still confuses me why anyone would need to send death threats to someone holding different views from you. I could disagree to shouting point with a vaccine-causes-autism activist, and it would never occur to me to threaten to kill him/her. Also, call me naive, but I don’t see what’s so bad about autistic people that one would get into a panic about vaccines that induced their behaviour in others. What’s so scary about autism?

    On another thread recently, I suggested that emotional attachment to beliefs might have something to do with defending one’s expertise, which once in evolutionary history might have spelled the difference between being an indispensable (and therefore protected) survival asset and being an expendable lower class citizen. I wonder if a similar mechanism underlies this commitment to alternative medicine. After all, anyone who could cure you or your friends and loved ones of potentially dangerous diseases would be a very important group member, so anyone who can claim the expertise – however sincerely or accurately – is potentially onto a winner as far as Darwinian strategies are concerned. This would at least go some way towards explaining why a difference of opinion can be treated as a life-or-death matter.

    • In reply to #3 by Zeuglodon:

      It still confuses me why anyone would need to send death threats to someone holding different views from you.

      I think the splendid income from quackolgy sales might have something to do with it. – A bit like AGW denial and coal/oil company directors with executive bonuses!

      • In reply to #4 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #3 by Zeuglodon:

        It still confuses me why anyone would need to send death threats to someone holding different views from you.

        I think the splendid income from quackolgy sales might have something to do with it. – A bit like AGW denial and coal/oil company directors with executive bo…

        New World Order nutrition conspiracy theorists. They must fight the invasion of interdimensional-reptilial overlords that hail from Sirius… seriously. That’s a thing (David Icke, Alex Jones, etc).

  4. I am sceptical of the effectiveness of most alternative medicine but this physician seems biased enough to fail to cite a very recent multivitamin study that found a reduction in cancer rates in men. The following is a quote from the study:

    “In this large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled trial among middle-aged and older men, long-term daily multivitamin use had a modest but statistically significant reduction in the primary end point of total cancer after more than a decade of treatment and follow-up.”

    http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1380451

    Certainly, high doses of vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs can be harmful but please take your bias blinders off. (or are we promoting the sale of a book)

    giggity

  5. High-dose niacin therapy can be effective for the control of high cholesterol. This is not “supplementation”, however… the levels involved are hundreds to thousands of times greater than recommended daily allowances. It’s not “alternative medicine”, either… it’s “medicine”.

    Steve

  6. Vaccination advocate is kind of like saying “hot running water advocate” or “dentistry advocate”.

    The position he takes on vitamins is absurd, as all positions on this topic become due to the strange laws in the US. Of course vitamins are good for you (ask any coke head), but making any health claims means it will be regulated by the FDA, so one would need a prescription for carrots and oranges. Maybe in other countries people get personal scientists assigned to them to make sure supplements are right for them, but in the US the threats to regulate vitamins (GATT CAFTA) is a threat against poorer people (most people, not Dr. Paul).

    Many vitamins are made our of tar in a lab, and there is no bioavailability for them. It’s just garbage going in the body, and that can’t be desirable. As the article mentions vitamins can be dangerous, but so is government regulation of nutrition. I’m a vegetarian. Sometimes I must take a B vitamin as a supplement. Must I see a doctor? Must I burden the medical system and spend a bunch of time and money? Be critical of the claims, yes, but understand the culture is poisoned and both sides of this debate are irrational.

  7. Belief in alternative medicine is as fatuous as belief in manufactured Gods!
    It’s a puzzle as to why supposedly rational people are seduced by the bullshit of alternative medicine .
    Some time ago I saw a documentary where some AM idiot waltzed around his patient scooping the air from around his patient’s head with his hands.
    One wonders how such people can accept such obvious nonsense(and pay for it!)
    If I’d been the patient I would have collapsed laughing.
    I also enjoyed RD’s telly program where he interviewed these mountebanks.

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