Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit

Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative MedicineDo You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Medical expert and health advocate Dr. Paul A. Offit offers an impassioned and meticulously researched expos√© of the alternative medicine industry.

A half century ago, acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese herbs, Christian exorcisms, dietary supplements, chiropractic manipulations, and ayurvedic remedies were considered on the fringe of medicine. Now these practices—known variably as alternative, complementary, holistic, or integrative medicine—have become mainstream, used by half of all Americans today seeking to burn fat, detoxify livers, shrink prostates, alleviate colds, stimulate brains, boost energy, reduce stress, enhance immunity, eliminate pain, prevent cancer, and enliven sex.

But as Offit reveals, alternative medicine—an unregulated industry under no legal obligation to prove its claims or admit its risks—can actually be harmful to our health. Even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly. In Do You Believe in Magic? he explains how

megavitamins increase the risk of cancer and heart disease—a fact well known to scientists but virtually unknown to the public; dietary supplements have caused uncontrolled bleeding, heart failure, hallucinations, arrhythmias, seizures, coma, and death; acupuncture needles have pierced hearts, lungs, and livers, and transmitted viruses, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV; chiropractic manipulations have torn arteries.
Dr. Offit debunks the treatments that don't work and explains why. He also takes on the media celebrities who promote alternative medicine, including Mehmet Oz, Suzanne Somers, and Jenny McCarthy. Using dramatic real-life stories, he separates the sense from the nonsense, showing why any therapy—alternative or traditional—should be scrutinized. As he advises us, "There's no such thing as alternative medicine. There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't."

My thoughts: I found a lot of value in this book. Living in the mecca of snake oil vendors (Utah), I decided years ago to not buy into all the claims of magic juice that cures whatever ails. The fancy double speak was underwhelming and did nothing to answer questions I had. Yet even when I took a hard line, I've still found myself wandering the homeopathic aisles at stores, comparing labels and walking away completely befuddled.

Offit breaks the book up into 12 easy to read and understand chapters. He explains the FDA, the Dr. Oz superstars, the mega vitamins and special diets, and the science behind all of it. Most disturbing is the politics behind all of it. Pharmaceutical companies have a reputation and have been trashed further with distrust and the "organic" touting companies. Offit does not defend pharmaceutical companies except to explain how drugs are tested and approved by the FDA. He is not a proponent for pharmacology but for science and information.

When we buy our food or drugs at the store, the ingredients are clearly listed. There is oversight in the conditions that our food and drugs are prepared. It is illegal to label our food and drugs with claims that have not been scientifically proven. This is not so when considering alternative medicine. Labels and "specialists" touting cures for cancer, autism, Chronic Lyme Disease (which is not a medically recognized condition), can not be supported by scientific evidence. In fact, the opposite has been true. Many treatments have proven to be nothing but expensive and time consuming. Additionally, some treatments have caused disability and death.

No matter what your political leanings, this is an excellent book to read to trace the ancestry of holistic medicine and the way it is helpful and harmful.

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