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Shared Moment of Truth Oh One

Abbreviated version posted over at Oprah/Jenny McCarthy
To Nancy Snyderman/Re:Dateline show on alternative medicine

I was surprised that on the recent Dateline show regarding Suzanne Somers, you did not query in more detail the apologist for mainstream medicine when she went on critiquing "anecdotal" experiences with alternative medicine.

The word "anecdotal" was never used by industry scientists until the anti-pesticide activists began to make some headway. Once activists helped communities see to it that pesticide bans take effect, the industry came up with this notion of "anecdotal..."

In the past, before 1985, the word "anecdotal" meant a "happy or pleasant story." Or it meant that a person had heard someone say that they knew someone who knew some who had experienced such and such. In other words, anecdotal meant an unsubstantiated event.

But the industry forces are now using that word to marginalize people as they relate their own experiences. A person's experiences used to be part of inductive reasoning, and a diagnostic tool, and scientific evidence. I have served for over twenty years as a nursing assistant, and when one of my charges became ill, the ER Drs always would ask me what I observed about the client's life prior to the stroke, or other impairment. That is just good diagnostic strategy.

But now the main stream cancer people and the main stream vaccine people no longer want us to relate our experiences. Why?

Inductive reasoning is part of the process. If you know someone who has indeed become a cancer survivor, and they would like to put their experience into a date base, can they? Have any large Pharmaceutical companies ever let people in the public relate their experiences?

You hear again and again from the "experts" that an alternative medicine practitioner's experiences do not involve enough cases. So why don't those experts pressure the pharmaceutical companies to take the time and put together a compelling data bank of evidence?

I myself and many others think it is because the Big Pharma people do not want to have the truth about anything that they cannot patent to come out for the public to rely on. However, every day another person realizes the health benefits of medical marijuana, which again, is something the Big Pharma companies have tried to keep away from the public's use until they can patent it.

Even in the 1990's Big Pharma companies were reporting on the one hand how marijuana helped MS sufferers in the journals related to such neural illnesses, and then telling the Media that marijuana had no health benefits.

Decent scientific methods demand that people be able to become part of a data base that will examine their experiences and that will count the numbers. I have no idea what words of what people were cut off in the "shaping" of the piece you did on Ms Somers, but even my husband kept saying in frustration, what is it they are editing out of the material to frame the experiences in the way that the Powers that Be want them to be framed?

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twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

all too familiar with the way so many people in conventional medicine automatically dismiss anything "anecdotal."

And heaven forbid you mention medical marijuana to most doctors -- even though there's a considerable body of research showing it can improve symptoms in quite a few serious conditions, and a lot of not-so-serious but very disruptive ones, too. Meanwhile, thousands of people die every year from FDA approved pharmaceuticals. More crimes no one is doing anything about.

Submitted by Elliott Lake on

You are mistaken. Several of the alt-med companies are subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies; plants can and indeed are patented, as are herbal medicines --and alternative meds too. Testing of efficacy and safety is also being & has been done; subscribe to a few online journals like New Scientist and you will see reports of cutting edge research done on such things. But that is real research, not biased in favor of protecting the aura of alt-med by denigrating actual science and fact.

Please do more research before you give cover to Jenny McCarthy and the people who want you to believe in woo. It's dangerous nonsense.

The companies and writers who moan about alternative medicines that work being hushed up are--full of bilge. It's simply not so. But it serves to give them cover for selling things that don't work.

Google is right there; search us patent office ginkgo, us patent office arnica, to name a couple; look up monsanto's plant patenting; the reason most of what is in the healthfood store as alternative medicine doesn't meet fda standards for medicines is that they don't work.

And I say this as a nurserywoman who grows, and uses, medicinal plants.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

Before writing off all herbal/complementary remedies, google some combination of "dangerous" "drugs" and "lawsuits" or similar words. There are hundreds of thousands of people harmed -- and quite a few killed -- by prescription meds every year. Negative outcomes in alternative medicine are infinitesimal compared to those figures.

And before pooh-poohing herbal meds due to "real research" showing they are ineffective, consider this excerpt from a textbook, written by a practicing MD who uses both conventional and alternative remedies in his practice (sorry, no link - the book is not online):

The herb Echinacea provides us with a good example of some of the issues involved in herbal remedies. Echinacea is a very popular herb with a reputation for warding off the common cold and flu type illnesses. What most people do not realize is that there are nine different subtypes of echinacea, including Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea angustafolia. Not only does each subtype have different health benefits, but those benefits vary depending on the part of the plant used.

The leaf of Echinacea purpurea, for example, has been shown to enhance T and B cell functions, whereas the root of that same plant does not. Conversely, Echinacea pallida root has been shown to enhance T and B cell function but the leaf of that same plant does not. Meanwhile, Echinacea angustafolia is rated as a negative herb by the German Commission E. Yet on a recent visit to a health food store, there were more than 100 bottles of echinacea on the shelves and 95 percent of them contained Echinacea angustafolia!

Why would the market be filled with Echinacea angustafolia if it is a negatively rated herb? One explanation is that manufacturers are not doing their homework. Another possibility is that it is a much less expensive or more available herb. Nutritional products that contain Echinacea purpurea leaf and pallida root are clearly superior, since both have been shown in scientific studies to enhance and activate T and B cell functions, to encourage phagocytosis, and to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Unfortunately, if a study is conducted with a product made from Echinacea angustafolia, the results are likely to indicate that it does not work in treating cold or flu symptoms. Studies like this cast doubt on all herbal remedies.

Obviously, it's very easy to "demonstrate ineffectiveness" in a clinical trial. Just use a form of echinacea that has nothing to do with enhancing immunity or combatting virus or bacteria. Those studies become the superficial, 30-second sound bites reported in the "news." And don't be surprised if the commercials during that program are for OTC cold remedies that do absolutely nothing except dehydrate the body's tissues, increase blood pressure and heart rate and other nasty things.

Submitted by Schmoo on

I can see you did not read "below the fold." Or at least, you did not read my entry below the fold very thoughtfully.

If you had, you would have caught my mention of the fact that the medical journals are indeed filled with references of work done by the mainstream pharmaceutacal companies.

If you take the time to re-read the article, you might notice my paragraph about medical marijuana. There you will see that I mention that the mainstream Big Pharma companies had research even back in the 1990's regarding cannibinoids they are planning on patenting for the "good of MS" sufferers. (Of course the real concern is that once they patent their remedies, many MS patients would be paying much more than they currently pay for the medical marijuana through Calif. dispensaries. And often alternative meds work best synergistically - in other words better to have the whole plant's various molecular structures interacting with you than only one of them.)

And of course, several of the alt med companies are now subsidiaries of the major Big Pharma Concerns. I am a consumer has watched with interest as some of the better run, and more effective smaller alt med companies ahve been bought out by the big pharmaceuticals. Not always a good thing, in terms of price availability and even know how.

Another point is this one - people woul dnot be turning to celebrities like jenny McCarthy and to Suzanne Somers for information and help in knowing how to deal with various health problems if alternative medicine and alternative therapy help was forthcoming from the "experts." And even those of us who have doctors who support our desire to do "alternatives" ahve the problem of finding out that often our expensive insurance policies do not pay for even such proven remedies as acupuncture.

By the way, Ms Mc Carthy and I share the same alumnus - Mother McAuley HS.

It does not surprise me in t he least that Jenny is an excellent writer - McAuley students spend an entire year on poetry, another on rhetoric, and its subsidiaries (ethos, pathos and logos) and a year on dialectics as part of the English program. When you leave McAuley, if you have been doing your homework, you can analyze and think.

Although it is true I did not provide a list of the various natural substances that are patented, that is not what my OP is about. It is a letter to Nancy Snyderman about the huge holes that occurred in her piece that aired on "Dateline" TV program last Sunday, February 2oth 2011. Perhaps you also did not catch my introductory phrase that clearly states that that is what this piece is about.

Submitted by lambert on

Is there a way to sort out what work from what doesn't? I mean, in principle, from the botanical information available?

Submitted by hipparchia on

big pharma is only interested in whatever it can patent, which is quite often limited to extracting [from plants, or animal tissue, or ...] and/or synthesizing just one or a few 'active ingredients' when in some cases, it may be that a particular plant works well as a treatment only because of the moderating or synergistic effects of minor 'inactive ingredients' that are also present.

it is to big pharma's advantage, in our current medical system anyway, to make any one chemical into its own blockbuster drug. when a drug's patent expires, they then renew it by making some slight change in the formulation: change the dosage, change the molecular structure, combine it with another drug whose patent has expired, combine it with an ingredient formerly thought to be 'inactive', etc.

not really related to the subject at hand, but a nice primer on how big pharma develops drugs in general.

on the other end of the scale you get the woo artists, who mostly are working off of folklore, and folklore [on any subject, really] is a mix of 'natural remedies' that actually work, 'natural remedies' that seem to have worked, and errors that just creep into the generations' worth of retelling. this is why anecdotal evidence isn't considered trustworthy.

on top of that are the manufacturers who make the pills, potions, powders, wev that make up the alternative medicine market. the active ingredient they're touting may actually do what they say it does, but because the industry is so poorly regulated, the manufacturers can get away with putting in little or none of what the label says is in the bottle.

there's more, way more, but you get idea.

carissa's picture
Submitted by carissa on

Trick or Treatment, The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst.

The authors cover many alternative therapies and, rather than dismiss all of them out of hand, provide info on the studies that have been done, indicate where some work and where some don't. For instance, they write that St John's Wort has been shown to be effective in treating mild depression. They also discuss the placebo effect, (did you know the color of the pill can actually determine whether or not a patient reports a beneficial effect?), the scientific method, etc. They also take to task the media, scientists, and alt med practitioners (and others) with an even hand.

Bios of the authors:

Simon Singh, science journalist and best selling author, lives in London. His books include Fermat's Enigma, The Code Book, and Big Bang.

Edzard Ernst, MD, based at the University of Exeter, is the world's first professor of complementary medicine. He is the author of numerous books for professionals, including The Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine.