Celebrating Two Years of SBP

Science-Based Pharmacy hits its second birthday today.  Two years ago it started with this post on homeopathy, which I recognized as the most ludicrous “health” product I’d ever seen sold in a pharmacy, and one I felt seriously compromised the credibility of the pharmacy profession.  That assessment still stands. After two years, homeopathy remains as absurd as ever, but the public consciousness of this pseudoscience is growing. And since that first post, there’s been 120 more, earning 260,000 views, new pharmacist contributors, and even a few guest posts. The result? Some growing resonance in the pharmacy profession – and beyond. I was invited to join the influential and widely-read Science-Based Medicine blog in 2010, and I’m grateful to Drs. Gorski and Novella for the kind invitation to become the only pharmacist  contributing to their blog, where I can expand on some of the topics that have originated at this blog. Continue reading

The risks of CAM: How much do we know?

Working in pharmacies where supplements are sold alongside traditional (over-the-counter) medications, I’m regularly astonished at the different perceptions consumers can have about the relative efficacy and safety of different types of products. Once, speaking with a customer about a medical condition she wanted to treat, I indicated that there were no effective non-prescription therapies — she needed to see a physician for access to an effective treatment by prescription — and I gestured behind the counter. “Back there?!” she pointed. “That’s where you keep the stuff that kills people! I want something natural!” Suggesting that my patients with heart disease or HIV had a somewhat different perspective, I tried (unsuccessfully) to talk her out of a questionable-looking supplement (Hint: avoid anything from a company with a P.O. box as a mailing address.) This appeal to nature, combined with a perception that natural products are safe, and conventional drugs are unsafe, is pervasive. Continue reading

After Wakefield: Undoing a decade of damaging debate

from flickr user debsilver

It's said you can't unring a bell

This article was co-written with Kim Hebert, Occupational Therapist.

Immunization has transformed our lives. This single invention has prevented more Canadian deaths in the past 50 years than any other health intervention. Our parents and grandparents accepted illness and death from diseases like smallpox, diptheria, and polio as a fact of life. Mass vaccination completely eradicated smallpox, which had been killing one in seven children. Public health campaigns have also eliminated diptheria, and reduced the incidence of pertussis, tetanus, measles, rubella and mumps to near zero.

The sickest and most vulnerable in society rely on the immunization of others to protect them from vaccine-preventable disease. When immunization rates are high, it’s much less likely a virus or bacterium will be carried and transmitted from person to person. But when vaccination rates drop, diseases can reemerge in the population again. Measles is currently endemic in the United Kingdom, after vaccination rates dropped below 80%. When diptheria immunization dropped in Russia and Ukraine in the early 1990’s, there were over 100,000 cases with 1,200 deaths. In Nigeria in 2001, unfounded fears of the polio vaccine led to a drop in vaccinations, an re-emergence of infection, and the spread of polio to ten other countries. Continue reading

Energy Drinks

My stimulant of choice is coffee. I started drinking it in first-year university, and never looked back. A tiny four-cup coffee maker became my reliable companion right through graduate school. But since I stopped needing to drink a pot at a time, an entirely new category of products has appeared — the energy drink. Targeting students, athletes, and others seeking a mental or physical boost, energy drinks are now an enormous industry: from the first U.S. product sale in 1997, the market size was $4.8 billion by 2008, and continues to grow. (1) Continue reading

Resolving to Lose Weight?

Right on schedule, once January 1 rolls past, you see the advertisements for weight loss products. And pharmacies want their share of your resolution-related spending. This past weekend, a national pharmacy chain dedicated two pages of their flyer to “fat burners” and other products that promise a slimmer, healthier you. But before you make any purchase, keep this in mind: Continue reading