All the News that Isn’t

All the News that Isn’t

News outlets – feeds, papers, and broadcasts – are constantly touting the latest medical breakthroughs, and it’s hard to know what to listen to, what and whose advice to take, especially given all the past bad – harmful! – recommendations we’ve gotten from the medical community, government, and information disseminators of all stripes. Like everything else, medical news is filtered through agendas, biases, and spin, while scientific results are difficult to evaluate – the studies themselves are often unavailable to the public, and if they are available the data and results need parsing and unpacking, sometimes mathematically. Conclusions are hard to draw, and recommendations hard to trust, for all these reasons.

There are several popular procedures and regimens that are discredited by follow-up studies and experiments, and by the hidden practices of the medical community.

I’ll start with calcium, because I’ve experienced first hand the one hundred and eighty degree turnaround in medical talking points about dietary supplementation. My gynecologist starting pushing calcium and vitamin D supplements when I was fifty, ostensibly to protect my bones as I aged. As someone with a deep background in science I was/am naturally skeptical and critical, so I read what literature I could find and decided instead to eat two servings of dairy a day, include weight-bearing exercise in my routine, and make sure to be in the sun for at least fifteen minutes. My doctor and I argued about it every visit, until I confronted him with a study that concluded there was no health benefit (preventing or repairing bone loss) for peri-menopausal women from calcium supplements – rather there were indications that it might even be harmful. Of course he agreed, but with no acknowledgement that previous recommendations were flawed. I still don’t take either vitamin D or calcium supplements (although I am reconsidering vitamin D for other reasons), and I have a new gynecologist. Here is a summary/analysis article about vitamin D and calcium research:
“Are guidelines for calcium and vitamin D rooted in evidence or vested interests?”1

If you are older than forty, you are probably familiar with the old “Food Pyramid” government dietary recommendation circa 1974 that pushed carbs, carbs, carbs, and limited fats. As it turns out, saturated fats in the diet are disputed as a cause of either high cholesterol in the blood or the associated heart disease. And carbohydrates – especially sugars and processed grains – are implicated, along with margarines made from trans-fats. Other fats are good for you. Oops. Have you heard the medical community backtracking convincingly? Media? The USDA has issued new guidelines replacing the original pyramid, but I’m not convinced they are founded in definitive research. As always, caveat emptor. I recommend that you investigate, to make sure you are eating what’s right for you. Here is an article from Scientific American, to get you started: “Rebuilding the Food Pyramid”2

More thought provoking information I’ve discovered falls into the category of Doctors Do Differently Than They Recommend. Physicians know the real efficacy and benefits of many sanctioned preventative procedures, and they opt out. But you know why they want you to do them – it’s an income source, and lawsuit protection. Here are a few interesting items about the ways in which doctors doctor themselves:

Female physicians do not get yearly or regular mammograms. What do they know that you don’t? Breast cancer is least likely to be discovered by mammogram – most women find lumps and other changes by physical exam (performed themselves or by a health care professional). And outcomes (to mean cancer survival rates) are not improved by the earlier detection mammograms may provide. So why subject yourself to a yearly dose of radiation – which is known to cause cancer? Doctors don’t, given the choice. So ask yourself, why should you? The stakes are really different though, if you have had breast or ovarian cancer, if either disease runs in your family, if you are of Ashkenazi descent, or if you have the BRCA genes. Know your risks, and proceed accordingly.

“Ask the doctors, not all women need a yearly mammogram”3

“When should women start regular mammograms? 40? 50? and how often is regular?”4

Female physicians of child-bearing age take birth control pills continually – they do not follow the protocol of three weeks on, and one week off to menstruate. Why? Because birth control pills simulate pregnancy, hormonally, and pregnancy is the best protection against female cancers of all kinds. Has any gynecologist ever recommended that regimen for you or your wife/daughter/sister/mother? Would your insurance company pay? Hmmmmm …

Doctors on average do not have colonoscopies. Why? Because colon cancer risk is high only for certain populations – those people with a family history, or other risk factors like Crohn’s disease or IBF. Canada’s health care system does not even cover screening colonoscopy for average populations.

“Canada rejects routine colonoscopy screening.”5

A few other common practices that are worth reconsidering, based on research, new and old: fish oil supplements, vitamin supplements, yearly physicals, daily mouthwash, probiotics, and sunscreen.

Really, I don’t want you to take my word for any of this, I want you to question and educate yourself instead. These sites do a fairly good job of explaining and vetting medical research:

• sciencebasedmedicine.org
• sciencedaily.com
• medscape.com

If you are keen on the details, here is a source research paper, with my analysis.

I find the best protection is to discuss issues I’ve researched with physicians, directly. If that makes you uncomfortable, you can always ask your doctor, “Is this what you’d recommend for your sister/mother/daughter/wife (father/brother/husband/son)? Do you follow this practice/regimen/protocol yourself?” “Why or why not?”

Wishing you the best of health!


 

  1. “Are guidelines for calcium and vitamin D rooted in evidence or vested interests?”
  2. “Rebuilding the Food Pyramid”
  3. “Ask the doctors, not all women need a yearly mammogram”
  4. “When should women start regular mammograms? 40? 50? and how often is regular?”
  5. “Canada rejects routine colonoscopy screening.”
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