nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Menu Of Worthless Therapies Continues To Grow

Pick an object--any object--imagine a magical power it could have.  Write a book about it and make a million dollars.  Welcome to the 21st Century.

I read an Assoc Press (Aug 1) article about a South Korean acupuncturist of some fame who had been performing moxibustion in combination with sticking needles in.  Moxibustion is one of those wacky claims that you can burn herbs on somebody's skin and it will somehow exert a therapeutic effect.

Anyway, this guy got in trouble with the medical board because he wasn't licensed to do the burning-herb thing.  So, the Constitutional Court had a hearing to decide whether guys like him could be licensed as alternative practitioners.

The petition failed, but the movement to validate approaches to medical treatment that have never been substantiated by well-designed, randomized, controlled trials is global.

I'm reading Bausell's Snake Oil Science, which is a great book by a biostatistician who can write readably about what he does.  He also directed a federally funded program that was designed to look at CAM from an evidence-based perspective.

In common sense English, he describes the studies on acupuncture where the benefit obtained is fully explained by the placebo effect.  The experiments were able to show that benefit occurred because of one or all of the following:  (1) motivation to reduce pain, (2) desire to believe in the effectiveness, (3) the confidence in and authority expressed by the therapist, (4) various hand-waving techniques during the therapy.  He also talks about how with acupuncture there is an anticipation that releases endorphins, a process that reduces pain but has nothing to do with the procedure itself.

Recommended book.

I then did an experiment.  I went to Amazon, and plugged in "complementary and alternative medicine" into the search box.  Then I ranked the resulting thousands of books by "bestselling." 

The first book that showed any sign of being an evidence-based review of CAM was #420 on the list.  Amazing.  Reviewing the titles that preceded it was astonishing.  There are magical therapies that I had NO idea existed.

Here's my favorite, the #4 bestseller:  Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?  In case you don't know what that is, here's from the publisher's blurb:
"Few people know it, but the ground provides a subtle electric signal that maintains health and governs the intricate mechanisms that make our bodies work-just like plugging a lamp into a power socket makes it light up. Modern lifestyle, including the widespread use of insulative rubber or plastic-soled shoes, has disconnected us from this energy and, of course, we no longer sleep on the ground as we did in times past."
Nuff said.  The species has regressed to pre-civilization ignorance.

Doc D

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