Bringing in a Ringer to Defend Alternative Medicine

Dr David Katz

I make no secret of my belief in the value of vitamin supplementation.  I consider it an important part of living healthy.  Not everyone agrees.

Many in the medical community believe taking vitamins or other supplements is ineffective, a waste of money, and can be harmful.  I certainly have rebuttals to this type of thinking, but today I’m going to let someone much smarter than me do the talking.

Dr David Katz (bio) is a Yale professor and an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and chronic disease prevention.  He recently wrote an excellent article on the need for continued funding for the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

Vitamins and supplementation are considered a part of complementary or alternative medicine

While Dr Katz doesn’t completely share my views on vitamins, his thoughts on the importance of CAM mirror my own.  I highly suggest reading the entire piece, but here are three highlights from the essay. Stated more eloquently than I’m able.

Untested common practices in medicine

One of the biggest arguments against complementary medicine is the inability to produce clear, repeatable results from typical clinical testing.  Dr Katz:

Much of what is done in conventional medicine is simply time-honored but not truly tested. When time-honored practices are put to exacting tests of evidence, they often fail.

Interpreting study results

On the notion of dismissing evidence that contradicts a health professional’s view (we ALL do this):

Negative evidence should not be ignored — but practitioners of all varieties are reluctant to renounce what they have long believed to be true.

Medicine as a business

Dr Katz nails my views regarding the intertwined nature of healthcare and business.

…the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study of coenzyme Q10 for heart failure, which both the authors, and editorialists who opined, concluded showed that the nutrient was ineffective.

But since coenzyme Q10 is a nutrient no one can patent, it lacked the deep pocket of a patent-owning drug company that carvedilol enjoyed. The study in question followed 52 men for three months. The simple fact is this: If carvedilol had been studied this way, it, too, would have looked utterly ineffective.

…The distinction between large and well-funded trials, and small, under-funded trials is of crucial importance. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

If we are prepared to acknowledge the widespread bullying to which both science and sense are subject at the hands of the almighty dollar, we might commit ourselves to the systematic effort of distinguishing the two….

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