Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Saturday, 27 June 2009

Ben (formerly of Eclectics Anonymous), who I would really like to see get back to blogging again…sent me a couple of books (thanks, Ben) that I have now read, and am prepared to recommend.


The first is Trick or Treatment, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst.  I really liked this book.  They did a great job of communicating the history of the current controversies involving conventional and alternative medicines.


They also did a thorough run-down of the state of research regarding the more common areas of alternative medicine.


The only problem I had with it is that they often made statements to the effect that it is not important to understand the underlying mechanism of a treatment before legitimizing it as medicine.  As long as the treatment can be shown to work in studies, in other words, it can be applied as a treatment.  I understand that, I used to think that as well, but the more I think and read about it, the more I support science-based medicine, as opposed to what they describe as “evidence-based medicine”.


Basically, if we don’t understand the mechanism for how a treatment works, it would be very difficult to say with any certainty that it will work under varying conditions.  For instance, if raw Ginger root were found to reduce inflammation, how would we know (not understanding the mechanism by which it does so), if we could get the same results from dried and powdered ginger root, or ginger root extract, or whatever?


Would we have to independently test each of these options with numerous high-quality trials?   It doesn’t make a lot of sense, given the limited resources available for such research, why would we not focus that research on medicines and treatments that the current scientific models suggest will work?


You might ask, at this point, how I can say that, since I have used chiropractors and also take a number of supplements that could be considered “alternative” medicine.


Well, frankly, I use chiropractors when I have something out of joint in my neck, back, hip, or shoulder and it is causing me pain…which is what chiropractors have been proven to have success in treating.  Now, most back problems like that will fix themselves if you just relax and pop some pain killers and rest for 4-8 weeks.  I don’t have that kind of patience.  *shrug* so there you go.  I don’t think it’s going to cure my thyroid condition, or my asthma.


I take fish oil on the direction of my doctor in order to raise my level of “good” cholesterol, and I take Glucosamine and Chondroitin for my knees because, I’ve got a perfect horror of the idea of arthritis in my knees, which I was told to expect at a very young age after my knees were run over by a hay wagon when I was in grade school (don’t ask).


Glucosamine is known to be effective for osteoarthritis, and due to the trauma to my knees, as well as a family history of OA, I don’t feel it is that weird for me to take it now that I am 41 and showing mild signs of arthritis in my knees.


I also take a number of vitamin/mineral supplements which are recommended by my doctor because I am in a population that tends to be deficient in those vitamins and minerals…but I don’t take crazy “Dr.” Weil mega-doses…just the AMA recommended amount.


Finally, as I had two mid-wife great-grandmothers, I was raised with a number of folk remedies that I resort to habitually.  You know, chicken soup, cranberry juice, salt water gargle for sore throat, Soda water for acid stomach, ginger root for nausea…


Hey, I’m not saying we shouldn’t let people be irrational, I’m just saying that medicine should be medicine, and food should be food.  In other words, if I want to take chicken soup for a cold, I should buy it in the soup isle at regular soup prices, and people should not be trying to sell me a chicken soup pill in the pharmacy, and claiming it is medicine.


This book does a good job of separating out those issues, and addressing them coherently.  It was a good book.


Tomorrow:  Longitude

P.S. go to Eclectics Anonymous, and urge Ben to start blogging again.  Do it for me, PLEEEEEESE!

Saturday, 27 June 2009 21:43:45 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [1] | #
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 13:34:15 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)
OK Trees. Got the message.

But I wouldn't want to leave the wrong impression of Singh and Ernst's book.

I think it is important to mention that Ernst studied chiropractic medicine and started asking the skeptical question..."Does it really work?" This book is partial result of that work.

As I understand what they want is to have people taking medication or having treatments that can be proven to work better than the currently best treatment.

One of the most important themes is that CAM (Complementary or Alternative Medicine) often publishes studies proving that treatment XYZ is better than a placebo. But today that isn't enough. "Real" medicine has to prove itself against the currently best treatment that "mainstream" medicine offers. Better than placebo just doesn't cut it anymore.

Actually most of the things you mention would probably be supported by both of the authors. (Try writing Simon Singh an e-mail and ask.) At worst you won't get an answer.

Second. Something I took from the book isn't that they are against all alternative medicine. They agree that chiropractic treatment can help in muscular/skeletal problems. It will not just probably not cure deafness, bedwetting or impotence.

Perhaps most importantly, Simon Singh is now being sued in Great Britain for libel by the British Chiropractic Association, not for the book but for an article he wrote for the Guardian (The archived version is here The Guardian has since removed the article from its web page). For those unfamiliar with the British libel laws, the burden of proof is on the defendant and not the accuser. (For an example of how bad this can get go here or read the books.
I would personally just recommend reading the transcripts of the trial. They are enough and actually rather entertaining.

The British laws are so bad that a number of states are considering laws to protect Americans against British libel laws.

So if you care about science, reality based medicine and improving British libel laws go here and donate.

And of course read the book. Otherwise I wouldn't have sent it to Trees would I?

By the way Trees. Pass the book on. Make those who believe in say herbal medicine read it!
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