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Read the Label Carefully!

by Donald Prothero, May 18 2011

I was in a big hurry and needed to pick up a strong cold medication for sinus congestion before going to a Skeptic Society meeting. Not knowing any better, I stopped a health food chain store in Pasadena—and was stunned by what I saw. Everything was advertised as “organic” (even though studies show no clear evidence that organic is significantly healthier, or that all foods labeled “organic” are indeed grown or raised that way). Everything was WAY more expensive than conventional grocery store prices. The place was crawling with yuppie couples in Birkenstocks and expensive designer clothes from Land’s End and L.L. Bean. It was a two-story chaos, with lots of dead ends and confusing and poorly laid-out aisles. It was almost like a casino, which is designed to slow you down and make you see as much of the floor space as possible. Consequently, it took me quite a while to find the cold products. By this time, I was running late. Because the clerk recommended it, I grabbed a box off the shelf called “Umcka cold care”. When I reached the checkout, I discovered it cost $17 for just 20 tablets!

When I got back to the car, I looked closer. In tiny letters, the box said “Homeopathic”! I guess I should have expected that in a heath food store, there would be homeopathic remedies, but I didn’t realize that they would ONLY have quack medicines. Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the problem with homeopathy. Most homeopathic medicines are diluted down so much that they contain few or no molecules of the active ingredient, and so they are literally just drinking water. In the case of these pills I bought, there is a long list of inactive ingredients, and just a tiny amount of the Pelargonium sidoides plant, a South African herb that MIGHT have some effect on reducing cold symptoms—although the medical studies are inconclusive, and most colds go away as our immune systems take care of the viral infection. Continue reading…

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A Skeptical Triumph Over Medical Flim-Flam

by Michael Shermer, Nov 03 2009

Skeptic Bruce Flamm, M.D. is vindicated in his drawn-out court case

On Friday, October 24, 2009, a California Court of Appeals vindicated Dr. Bruce Flamm, an OBGYN physician and professor at the University of California, Riverside, and member of the Skeptics Society, by throwing out a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a man who claimed to have proven that prayer can increase pregnancy rates in women trying to conceive.

Back in 2001, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine published a study by three Columbia University researchers claiming that prayer for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization resulted in a pregnancy rate of 50 percent, double that of women who did not receive prayer (i.e., a 100% increase in pregnancy rates!). Media coverage was extensive. ABC News medical correspondent Dr. Timothy Johnson, for example, reported, “A new study on the power of prayer over pregnancy reports surprising results; but many physicians remain skeptical.” One of those skeptics was a University of California Clinical Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics named Bruce Flamm, who not only found numerous methodological errors in the experiment, but also discovered that one of the study’s authors, Daniel Wirth (AKA “John Wayne Truelove”), is not an M.D., but an M.S. in parapsychology who has since been indicted on felony charges for mail fraud and theft, for which he pled guilty. Continue reading…

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Is Homeopathy So Bad?

by Kirsten Sanford, Jul 10 2009

This video is a brilliant piss-take on holistic healing. We are quite lucky the Brits evolved such a fantastic, dry wit. This kind of programming would never make it on US television for fear of offending an advertiser. Found via Boing-boing and Cory Doctorow.

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Homeopathic A&E

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Reckless Science Leads to Rash Conclusions in Stem Cell Tragedy

by Kirsten Sanford, Feb 27 2009

Last week’s news of the teenage boy with spinal and brain tumors resulting from stem cell therapy broke just in time. A failure for stem cell therapy in the eyes of the media. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research now have new ammunition against the recent FDA decision to allow clinical embryonic stem cell trials to progress.

But, would they still have the ammo if the story had been told a different way? What if the researchers hadn’t used the words “neural stem cells” in the title of their paper? Maybe a tale of reckless research methods would be better for everyone. Continue reading…

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Headaches? Stick Yourself With Needles… Or, Not

by Kirsten Sanford, Jan 23 2009

I ran across a press release on this week that piqued my interest.

“Acupuncture Stops Headaches, But ‘Faked’ Treatments Work Almost As Well”

Really? Interesting headline, I thought to myself, and proceeded to ingest the release. I have a love-hate relationship with acupuncture, you see. I don’t believe that it actually works. The evidence certainly hasn’t piled up in acupuncture’s clinical favor.  Yet, I have a friend or two (who I love dearly) who attend acupuncture school, and plan to make the craft their careers. So, I had to read on… maybe there is proof to my friends’ claims. Continue reading…

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Kombucha – Healthy Elixer Or Not?

by Kirsten Sanford, Nov 14 2008

I’ve watched over the past year as a drink called Kombucha has become more and more popular within my group of friends. Most of them drink it because the bottle tells a story that all but promises freedom from sickness of any kind. They also say that it makes them feel better.

From the GTS Kombucha website:

“In 1995, founder GT Dave’s mom, Laraine Dave, had been diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer with a trajectory of illness known to move quickly to the lymph and bones. When she was diagnosed, doctors held out little hope for her given the aggressive type of cancer and its advanced stage. But to the surprise of everyone, her cancerous cells were found to be dormant with no metastasis. Her physicians were baffled and asked what she was doing that others in her situation were perhaps not doing. The only thing she could think of was that she had been drinking homemade Kombucha every day for the last couple of years.”

Anecdotal evidence is never convincing to a skeptic, so I’ve remained skeptical about Kombucha’s health providing properties even though several of them profess its wonders.

Continue reading…

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Tao of Traditional Chinese Medicine – II

by Yau-Man Chan, Nov 09 2008

Rewind the tape 50 years – I awoke one morning with a bit of extra sleep on my eyes and complained to my mom about canker sore in my mouth. That afternoon when I came home from school, a tall glass of cooling barley water awaits me to offset the extra heat due to too much activity in my liver. In the folklore of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), our bodies can be too heaty, or too cool, or damp or dry. Our bodies can also, according to that tradition have a combination of these undesirable conditions such as dry heat or damp heat which must be treated accordingly.  By Western (and modern) standard of behavior, as an eight-year old kid with a ten-year old brother, it would not be considered the least bit unhealthy to engage in some sibling rivalry scuffles and quarrels. But whenever we bickered or had some spat in front of older relatives we could count on them to admonish my mother to brew us some chrysanthemum tea (and make it extra sweet!) Childish verbal or physical jousting between us brothers must be due to overly vinegary or acidic disposition and can be neutralized by sweet chrysanthemum tea. Arthritis is damp wind in the joints so the cure is to take herbs that will remove the wind and dry up the joints. For every condition, physical or mental where external manifestations can be observed, there are corresponding herbs, animal parts/by-products or even toxic minerals to help neutralize and restore harmony to the body. This is TCM in its most rudimentary form and is still practiced today. Continue reading…

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The Tao of Chinese Medicine – I

by Yau-Man Chan, Nov 02 2008

I am not a medical doctor and I don’t even play one on TV!  So how am I qualified to write about Chinese medicine?  Well because I grew up with it! Is that really good enough?  Yes, and every Chinese who grew up in a Chinese household in a Chinese community are inculcated with knowledge about Chinese medicine and how it works.  Like any other Chinese kid growing up, when I was sick my mother could quickly diagnose my illness and if she couldn’t, she could turn to her mother or aunts or other higher authority figures. In more severe cases, there’s always the guy selling herbs. Continue reading…

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