You Chase After Dry Chaff? - Job
Larry Gazzini, MD
Imbedded in the
chaff is some good wheat. It takes the right process
or person to get to it. In recent years much attention
has been given to Alternative Medicine. There are a
few good things out there, but most of what is promoted
is chaff, not wheat.
Sorting this is
made difficult by the amount of material on various
herbal, homeopathic and alternative products. Even the
term "Alternative" is stretched at time to
include traditional practices. There is almost always
one family member who swears by them. I have come across
"Christian" radio stations that have had several
alternative speakers. Unfortunately, as long as these
people buy commercial time. they will escape being filtered
out. I called one station to let them know that one
routine speaker was giving out dangerous advice. They
responded that several people had given them testimonies
to let them know how much he had helped them. My replay
was that even Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses have testimonies.
We worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Thus any testimony
needs to accompany truth. Other buzz words for these
types of treatments are "Complementary" and
Much of the attention
given to Alternative Medicine is profit driven. Supplements
can be sold over the counter without the scrutiny of
the FDA. Thus there are not product research and development
costs. This translates into quick profits. I have been
approached to sell products for Rexall Drugs. Depending
on how much effort is put into it, several thousand
dollars a month can be made. In a world of decreasing
payments for insurers, this can be appealing to some
physicians who have seen their incomes drop markedly.
The AMA has made an official statement to try to discourage
MD's from selling vitamin type products in their offices.
Another major concern is the arena of drug interactions.
As these products are generally not put through studies,
it is one big unknown.
It is amazing
to see how many vitamin products can be bought at the
grocery store these days. Sometimes more than one row
of shelf space exists for vitamin C alone. There is
hardly any research to back up the use of extra vitamin
C. Dr. Linus Pauling tried for years to prove benefit
with it but was never able to prove his theories. Recent
insights have linked accelerated atherosclerosis with
use of vitamin C supplements. Also in another recent
journal it has been linked to causing oxidants in smokers,
thus acting the opposite of its desired effect. Vitamin
A (beta-caotene) is the worst supplement to use. It
has been associated with a two fold increase in heart
attacks, and up to a three-fold increase in cancers.
The excitement over vitamin E has also been over rated.
Large studies do not demonstrate any cardiac significant
benefit. But not all is lost here. Multiple studies
do show that eating three vegetables and two fruits
daily can lower cardiovascular risk as well as cancer
risk. That is as natural as it gets. Vitamin pushers
will sometimes say that with the current use of fertilizer,
foods do not have as many vitamins as they have previously.
That simply is not true. A healthy diet can reduce your
chance of cancer and MI's, a vitamin pill cannot. While
the term antioxidant sounds good, we really do not have
a proven one.
Now large doses
of niacin can get cholesterol down. But this is associated
with marked flushing. It is not user friendly. Only
do this with specific instructions from a MD. It also
requires following up as in increase in glucose can
occur. Some over the counter products have been associated
with a drug induced hepatitis. This is a good example
that anything which has good effects also has side effects.
Thus, if something says "no side effects,"
it also means no effects. It is possible to get side
effects from excessive water intake, something occasionally
seen in the elderly. Also their is a small subset of
people who can benefit from folic acid and B vitamins,
but this is for the rare person who has an elevated
has been advertised for decades as a treatment for the
removal of plaque from arteries. It has been around
since the 1950's for the treatment of heavy metal poisoning.
Some proponents, then as now, state that it can remove
plaque from all over the body. Thus they claim it can
eliminate the need for angioplasty (balloon procedure)
or bypass surgery. Studies done in the US and abroad
have never been able to demonstrate benefit using angiography
(dye in an artery to measure the amount of plaque).
Proponents of this state that they have studies with
thousands of patients, but none of these were controlled
studies. Thus patients who do not come back are not
counted. The most common agent used for this in called
EDTA. It is usually mixed with minerals and vitamins
and given through an IV. The format is usually 20 or
more visits with the IV injections. Each treatment generally
costs $75-100 and may be given over two or more months.
With this cost it is generally more than what Medicare
actually pays a heart surgeon to do bypass surgery.
The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic have
position statements stating that chelation therapy has
no proven role in treating atherosclerosis (plaque disease
in arteries). The American College for the Advancement
of Medicine (an alternative medicine organization) has
been told that if it advertises chealtion for the treatment
of atherosclerosis it will receive a fine from the Federal
Trade Commission. There are several case reports linking
EDTA with causing kidney failure. Thus it is not an
entirely benign therapy. Like a cult, these false statements
give people false hope.
It is hard to
believe that in this day there are proponents of coffee
enemas. But with catchy statements like "death
begins in the colon," these people are ready to
serve. Claims are made that it can detoxify the liver.
Never has there been any type of proof to back this
up. The stomach is much closer to the liver than the
colon, thus drinking coffee should be more effective.
As caffeine is a stimulant, it does have a stronger
stimulating effect on the colon than a plain water enema.
But other than this, it is just coffee down another
Things out there
with some established benefit include high dose niacin
for cholesterol, saw palmetto for an enlarged prostate
and glucosamine sulfate for arthritis. The evidence
for saw palmetto and glucosamine sulfate is very weak.
In the Journal of the American Medical Association (April
18, 2001), a study of the effectiveness of St. John's
Wort reveals it is not effective for major depression.
The same article also reviews two dozen earlier studies
pointing out significant flaws in the studies themselves.
Thus if you are on a prescription medicine for depression,
do not change to St. John's Wort. Also, because of a
fear of making high blood pressure worse, people taking
this are generally not accepted into high blood pressure
But there were also false prophets among the people,
just as there will be false teachers among you. They
will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying
the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction
on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways
and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In
their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories
they have made up. Their condemnation has long been
hanging over them, and their destruction has not been