Tuesday’s post on Target’s decision to sell homeopathy for the treatment of asthma stirred a lot of questions towards Target, given their decision to market the a product that has no proven medical benefit. There were also supporters of homeopathy in the comments, from a pharmacy student who said homeopathy works because of radiation, and another that suggested that if I don’t believe in homeopathy, I can’t believe in the warmth of the sun. To be absolutely clear, homeopathy is not only unproven, it’s disproven. There is no serious scientific debate about this fact. The best evidence demonstrates that homeopathy is exactly what we expect – an inert placebo with no therapeutic effects. Homeopathy is not “alternative medicine”, it is an alternative TO medicine, and to consumers who may not understand what “homeopathic” means, it’s highly misleading to package and sell this on pharmacy shelves alongside products that actually contain medicine. Continue reading
I can’t think of anything more appalling than selling water to someone and telling them it will treat their asthma. This pic via Ryan Melyon on Twitter, was taken at a Target pharmacy in Chicago:
I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: Homeopathy is an elaborate placebo system where the “remedies” are inert. It’s reckless endangerment of life to sell a product for treating the acute symptoms of asthma when there is no medication in the bottle, even if there is a caution on the front of the box. And it should be obvious, but placebo has no meaningful effects in the treatment of asthma. The sale of homeopathy in pharmacies is not only misleading to consumers, it is fundamentally unethical behavior from a health professional. Target and its pharmacists have a ethical and moral responsibility to pull this product off the shelf immediately.
January 16: Here’s an update on Target’s fake asthma “remedy”. And a petition has been started asking Target to stop selling this product.
Happy 2014 Everyone! It’s been a while since the last weekend reading update. Here’s some links and posts for your reading pleasure. The picture above is from the Toronto ice storm that we’re still recovering from. Continue reading
Happy New Year to my regular readers! Today’s post revisits some old material, repackaged and updated.
New Year, New You, right? 2014 is the year you’re finally going to get serious about your health. You’re winding down from a week (or more) of celebrations and parties. You’re pretty much recovered from New Year’s Eve by now. It’s time to make some resolutions. Conveniently, there is no shortage of solutions being advertised to absolve you of your sins while overhauling your body and soul for 2014: What you need to do is “detox”. You’ll see the detox kits at your local Whole Foods (or even your local pharmacy). Books, boxes or bottles, with some combination of “detox”, “cleanse” or “flush” in the product name. Supplements, tea, homeopathy, coffee enemas, ear candles, and footbaths all promise detoxification. The advertising suggests you’ll gain a renewed body and better health – it’s only seven days and $49.95 away. Or try to cleanse yourself with food alone: Dr. Oz is hyping his Holiday Detox plan. Bon Appetit is featuring their 2014 Food Lover’s Cleanse. Or what about that old standby, the “Master Cleanse”? It’s the New Year – wouldn’t a purification from your sins of 2013 be a good idea to start the year? After all, the local naturopath sells detoxification protocols, including vitamin drips and chelation. There must be something to it, right? Continue reading
Among the many forms of supplementation that I’m asked about, multivitamins are the source of the most confusion among consumers. Multivitamins are marketed with a veneer of science but much of that image is a mirage – rigorous testing doesn’t support most of the outlandish health claims that are attributed to them. Yet not all vitamin and mineral supplementation is useless. They can be used appropriately, when our decisions are informed by scientific evidence: Folic acid prevents neural tube defects in the developing fetus. Vitamin B12 can reverse anemia. Vitamin D is recommended for breastfeeding babies to prevent deficiency. Vitamin K injections in newborns prevent potentially catastrophic bleeding events. But the most common reason for taking vitamins isn’t a clear need, but rather our desire to “improve overall health”. It’s deemed “primary prevention” – the belief that we’re just filling in the gaps in our diet. Others may believe that if vitamins are good, then more vitamins must be better. And there is no debate that we need dietary vitamins to live. The case for indiscriminate supplementation, however, has not been well established. We’ve been led to believe, through very effective marketing, that taking vitamins is beneficial to our overall health – even if our health status is reasonably good. So if supplements truly provide real benefits, then we should be able to verify this claim by studying health effects in populations of people that consume vitamins for years at a time. Those studies have been done. Different endpoints, different study populations, and different combinations of vitamins. The evidence is clear. Routine multivitamin supplementation in most people has not been shown to offer substantial health benefits.
Once again, it’s influenza season. The vaccine clinics are open, and the hysterical posts about the vaccine’s danger are appearing in social media. There’s familiarity to all of this, but also a big new change – at least in Canada, where I am. Pharmacists can now administer the vaccine. And it’s completely free to anyone in Ontario (where I am), so the barriers to obtaining the vaccine are pretty much eliminated. There’s no longer a need to drag your kids to their family doctor or line up at a public health clinic. Anyone can walk into a pharmacy, show their health card, and walk out minutes later, vaccinated. It’s another enabling change that may help improve immunization rates, as uptake rates in the population remain modest.
This year’s flu season is (as of week 47) fairly quiet. Google Flu trends suggests a fairly typical picture, nothing like what we saw in 2009/10, the year of H1N1. My city’s influenza tracker reports only a dozen cases so far this season. Many of us will get our flu shot, continue with our lives, and not think about the flu until next season’s announcements. That’s the hope, anyway. Influenza can kill, and in its more virulent forms, is devastatingly deadly. The worst case scenario (so far) is almost unimaginable today. In 1918/19 an influenza pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide (5% of the population). So among public health professionals, that worry about the next wave is always present. Much has been written at this blog and at Science-Based Medicine on the efficacy and safety of the flu vaccine. In short, the vaccine is effective for both individual and population-level protection, but only modestly so, and its effectiveness varies based on its match with circulating strains. And despite widespread use for decades, there are frustrating limitations with the current vaccine beyond efficacy, including the need to repeat the shot annually. Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with the army you have—not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” The quote is relevant to influenza. The flu vaccine is not a perfect vaccine, but it does offer protection – if not directly to you, then indirectly to those at greater risk of infection. Hospitals and health facilities have been criticized for demanding health professionals either get the vaccine or wear a mask – and the arguments against vaccination are losing. But even the strongest advocates of influenza vaccine will acknowledge its limitations, which perhaps contributes to the understandable perception that there is more that could be done- beyond reasonable and effective precautions like handwashing and hygiene. Continue reading