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Jeff Sutherland

Twice the Energy with Half the Stress

PBS Documentary: How Alternative Medicine made it at NIH and the nations leading hospitals

If you didn’t see this show, you can view it online.

In an attempt to be “unbiased,” Frontline gave the critics of alternative medicine more time than they deserved and allowed them to communicate that alternative medicine is a total violation of good science and should be trashed immediately.

They did not mention that it is generally agreed in the medical community that over 85% of the practice of conventional medicine is not evidence based and has never been tested in clinical trials. In fact, this week I attended the Center for Integration of Medicine & Innovative Technology (CIIMIT) annual briefing to stakeholders and variations in physician practice was touted as one of the biggest problems in medicine. CIMIT is one of the leading research consortiums in the United States, maybe the world, and includes all the major hospitals and medical schools in Boston and many of the large hardware, software, and pharmaceutical vendors.

If you have three physicians look at your problem, you are likely to get at least three different treatments. If they give you a drug that has been through a clinical trial, they are likely to give you a dose that is not recommended by the manufacturer (Gleevec was the drug cited at the CIMIT meeting). The Brigham and Women’s hospital has published a study showing that over 25% of outpatients are subject to medical error, and in certain cases, like a leading drug prescribed for diabetes, 25% percent of the physicans prescribe the drug to a patient who has conditions on the warning label of the drug that recommend against perscribing of the drug.

I could go on and on about this. The point is that medicine is not as scientific as some would have you believe and there are major problems with its practice. Medical error is the third leading cause of death in this country. A recent report included unnecessary deaths in nursing homes from malnutrition and negligence. With those deaths included, medical error is the number one cause of death in the United States. It is really hard to find a dead patient who took too many vitamin pills.

The only dead person they came up with in the documentary was the overweight baseball player who died in the hot sun, alledgedly from misuse of ephedra. There was no mention of other drugs in this players body, only that the FDA has received 7000 complaints about ephedra. What about aspartame? This neurotoxin has generated more complaints to the FDA than any other drug. How many dead are there? No one knows and nothing is done about it.

There were a couple of issues raised that deserve attention by promoters of alternative medicine:

1. Many supplements do not have in the bottle what the label says. The vendors should be prosecuted and I think there are laws on the books that allow this.

2. Herbs, which I use sparingly, have medicinal affects that may cause negative interactions with perscription drugs. They should have a warning on the label about this, just as prescription drugs have. Given that 25% of physicians do not appear to read warning labels, I doubt the general public is any worse.

3. There are certain things like Bacillus lichiniformis in some supplements which will increase your risk of cancer. Science has not figured this out and the EPA has specifically decided not to regulate it. The NIH should do some real science on this organism. I believe it would have far more benefit that most of the studies they fund today.

There are at least 10 other issues that require serious discussion because the alleged “scientific” logic in the Frontline presentation has fatal flaws that will not hold up to intelligent scrutiny. They include serious misunderstandings of the value and problems with clinical trials, failure to mention that no signficant increase in survival in conventionally treated cancer patients has been seen in the last 25 years since Nixon declared a multibillion dollar war on cancer, a total misrepresentation of the value of the placebo effect, a lack of discussion of the fact that science is thwarted by which treatments get high reimbursements or that amount of treatment depends on the number of specialists of certain types in your area. I’ll have to save these and others for further discussion in other notes.