The Washington Post

Physician criticizes most alternative medicine and dietary supplements

Making sense of alternative medicine
“Do You Believe in Magic?” by Paul A. Offit

From acupuncture and Chinese herbs to coffee enemas and multivitamins, alternative medicine is a bustling industry. There are tens of thousands of supplements and holistic therapies on the market, bringing in roughly $34 billion each year. Half of all Americans report using alternative medicine in some form. But, according to “Do You Believe in Magic?” by Paul A. Offit, only a handful of these therapies have proven benefits.

The book uses scientific research, case studies and Offit’s personal anecdotes as chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to evaluate popular alternative therapies.

According to the book, only four of the more than 50,000 supplements on the market have proven positive results: omega-3 fatty acids (for preventing heart disease), folic acid (during pregnancy), and calcium and Vitamin D after menopause to protect against osteoporosis (though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says the evidence is insufficient). Apparent success with other therapies is due to the placebo effect, which Offit acknowledges can be powerful and is often underrated by conventional medical practitioners.

Still, Offit, whose defense of childhood vaccinations in the 2008 book “Autism’s False Prophets” generated public outrage and death threats, says that, at best, most supplements are a waste of money. At worst, using them can have dire consequences. As an example, he points to paralysis resulting from chiropractic treatment, viral infections from acupuncture needles and the link between some megavitamins and an increased risk of cancer.

The book also examines the lack of regulation in the industry and the impact of celebrity endorsements, charming practitioners, good marketing and public desperation on the proliferation of what Offit equates to quackery.

“Do You Believe in Magic?” by Paul A. Offit (HerbalMed)
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