Thursday, December 23, 2010

Airborne, Oscillococcinum and Other Flu Remedies

With flu season in full swing, it's very easy to become desperate (flu, and associated symptoms can really wear you down), and pick up the first medicine you see in a pharmacy, especially if it is advertised as a "miracle" drug.
For many years such was the case with Airborne, which was advertised as a cold prevention medicine, until its makers were sued and had to settle and rephrase their claims (Cold Remedy Airborne Settles Lawsuit).
The new wonder-drug found all over the pharmacies this year is Oscillococcinum.
Is it any better? Does it help?
First, it's homeopathic, which is the first clue that the most you will probably get out of it is placebo effect. I will not get into in depth discussion of principles of homeopathy now, since they can be easily located on the Internet using Google, but to make it a short story: it's BS... sugar pill, water, etc.
It's actually entertaining to check the product Web page, and find this:
Each 0.04 oz. dose (1 g) of Oscillo contains 1 g of sugar
So, if 1g of the product contains 1g of sugar, where is the active stuff? Oh, I'm sorry, it's homeopathic, and it's the 200C dilution. 200C, means 10 to the 200 power. As anyone with any scientific knowledge would point out, that's way, way, way, way, way, way... more than all the atoms in the Universe. So, where is the active ingredient? Probably in our pockets, as this remedy tends to be rather pricey, especially for 1g of sugar.
If you want to get more, entertaining information about this, and other flu-related topics, check this out:
I keep half an eye on the medicine displays in stores when I shop, and this year is the first time I have seen Oscillococcinum being sold. Airborne as been a standard for years, but Airborne has been joined by Oscillococcinum on the shelves. Dumb and dumber. It may be a bad case of confirmation bias, but it seems I am seeing more iocane powder, I mean oscillococcinum, at the stores.

Ososillyococcinum and other Flu bits.

As, always, from the priceless Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Popular Myths: Probiotics

The probiotics commercial assault has been with us for a few years now, and most of us spent a pretty penny on some product that claimed some kind of probiotics benefit.
There is an interesting piece of news today about a product that most of us have probably seen on TV: Dannon yogurt:
The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday there is not enough evidence to back the claims as currently stated in its marketing and packaging. It announced that it has reached a settlement with the company that prohibits it from making certain claims unless they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Article: Dannon Yogurt Drops Misleading Nutrition Claims From Packaging, Must Get FDA Approval (sorry for the HuffPo plug).

For more info and some really good discussion see the post on The Science-Based Medicine Blog:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Website of the Week: What's The Harm?

I gave up on this (WotW) endeavour for a while, due to a substantial lack of free time, but the very recent news from the skeptical front (as described in my recent posts: here and here) gave me a gentle nudge to plug in this Web site:

What's The Harm

As described there:
We are all confronted with new information daily. It comes to us via newspapers, radio, television, websites, conversation, advertising and so on. Sometimes it seems like a deluge.

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.
It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.
This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.
We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.
We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.
Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.
Please check out the list of topics and read what interests you.
[What is this site?]

As stated above, we are under a deluge of uncritical thinking. We run into people trying to get out money, even if it means hurting us. We all see it in our daily lives, sometimes without even noticing it. We all know not to trust a "car salesman", because that's what our experience tells us (they are there to make money), but we trust anyone who appears to try to sell us a book about healthy living, a revolutionary dietary supplement, or an incredible new therapy which cures it all. We might go to a doctor, who seems to have all the proper education, training and experience, but at some point he or she had dived into some sort of alternative medicine. Some of them might do it for profit, some out of honest belief that they are helping us. But belief alone, while providing a nice placebo in some instances, will not cure a real ailment, and if we give ourselves blindly to such beliefs, they just might kill us. Learning form other people's mistakes could save our wallets, health and maybe even our life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Let Oprah Know What YOU Think

Following the article I linked to yesterday, and my own post, here is an appeal from Orac:
This strategy requires a lot of people bombarding the Oprah website with requests. It's unlikely to work just from my readership alone. It needs other bloggers willing to urge their readers to do the same thing to have even a wisp of a chance of working. So, if you have a blog, consider urging your readers to remind Oprah's producers about Kim Tinkham. Let's put it this way. Even if nothing at all comes of this, at the very least Oprah should be made aware of the price of quackery such as that which is about to claim Kim Tinkham. Yes, I know that Tinkham is an adult. I know that she bears major responsibility for her own choices. Yes, I know it's true that no one forced Tinkham to go to Robert O. Young for help. On the other hand, I also know that it is true that the sort of wishful thinking that Oprah promoted "primed the pump," so to speak. Even so, Robert O. Young and, yes, Oprah also bear a major share of the responsibility as well. Robert O. Young is beyond shame, but maybe Oprah is not.
Let Oprah know that Kim Tinkham is dying of cancer

Great idea!!!
Maybe it'll take away a few drops from the flood of nonsense coming from Oprah, maybe it'll make her think about consequences next time she promotes some total BS. Like Orac says, it's worth giving a try.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Appeal of Woo: Be Careful

The story below (from Science-Based Medicine) is a sad and unfortunate example of what uncritical thinking can lead to. It shows the real dangers of alternative medicine, the dangers most people don't perceive, usually responding: "what's the harm?"
It also presents yet another example why Oprah is a villain in my book, despite all the good she's done in other fields.
Read it, think about it, and make sure to follow your brains, not someone's "feel good" woo, when faced with important decisions.
Basically, The Secret is what inspired Kim Tinkham to eschew all conventional therapy for her breast cancer and pursue “alternative” therapies, which is what she has done since 2007. Before I discuss her case in more detail, I’m going to cut to the chase, though.
Death by “alternative” medicine: Who’s to blame? (Revisited)