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Who Can You Trust For Healthcare Information?
by James Lange, CPA, Attorney, and Financial Advisor
A line in the sand could be a strict reliance on the peer-review process. But that is a high bar—and not without internal machinations and prejudice—and it could mean missing out on a treasure trove of useful information that will enable us to live healthier longer lives.
We could also use “FDA Approved” as a baseline. But the fact is that many FDA approved drugs are prescribed by doctors for “off label” use. That is to say, the prescribed drug is not approved by the FDA for the condition that you and your doctor are attempting to treat but the anecdotal evidence says it helps. It is entirely legal and very common. Some examples include anti-depressants for menopause symptoms and blood pressure medications for migraines. If they help and don’t have serious side effects, would you be willing to say the people who take those medications are gullible or unduly influenced by anecdotal evidence? Here is a link for a peer-reviewed publication on off-label prescribing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538391/.
In my case, I craved peer-reviewed information on stem cell therapies. But even when I found it, it was not written for the layperson—I can attest to the fact that even intelligent consumers can be stymied by “medical-ese.” The prevailing acknowledgment in most of the respected journals was that we just don’t know enough about stem cell therapy to say it is a good idea or bad idea. We need to wait for more information and research.
But I was hurting and didn’t think I had time to wait.
After due diligence, I concluded that the upside substantially outweighed the downside. The biggest downside was potentially wasting time and money. So far, I have had three stem cell treatments out of the country because the techniques that I received are not permitted in the United States. (In the U.S., you can be treated with your own cells, but not someone else’s cells). I am very glad I went and plan to continue treatments out of the country in the future.
Another area of controversy is the area of nutrition, diet, and supplements. So, for me, believing that there is a strong correlation between what we eat and our general health, I have followed the recommendations of the following two “gurus” who I believe offer some extremely valuable information:
- Joe Mercola at www.mercola.com
- Dave Asprey of Bullet Proof Diet at https://blog.bulletproof.com
But I don’t completely trust either one of them to always put the interests of their readers ahead of their own interests.
Joe is a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.s are licensed physicians who, like M.D.s, can prescribe medication and perform surgery in all 50 states. D.O.s and M.D.s have similar training requiring four years of study in the basic and clinical sciences, a residency, and the successful completion of licensing exams) and his website has a vast amount of information, most of it very good and available for free at www.mercola.com. I started taking fish oil, turmeric, and vitamin D years before it was a popular recommendation because Joe thought they were the most important supplements and gave a fairly compelling case for each one. (And yes, he sells all of them and all the brands that he sells, especially the private label brands, are quite expensive).
I have met and talked with Joe and I could be wrong, but I believe he is basically a good person providing his audience with important information. The part that makes me uneasy is there seems to be a pattern with many if not most of the articles on his website. While the content provides good information, it frequently seems to be associated with a product he is selling. For example, I searched “Vitamin D” on his website and was directed to what seemed like a series of helpful articles. But, as expected, there were offers for his private label favorite formulations of Vitamin D. You could also buy his special Vitamin D testing kits.
Do I hold it against him that he is making money by providing information to his audience? No. But, I’m not confident that his products are necessarily the best product at the best price. If I could be sure that his products were significantly better, I wouldn’t mind paying more, but I don’t have that confidence. Even if I thought his products were at least as good, I wouldn’t mind paying more, but I am not sure. They are at least as good as other products on the market.
Dave Asprey acquired notoriety with his book, The Bulletproof Diet. He has written two other books since then. I have followed a lot of his advice because I find it worthwhile. He recommends starting the day with a big cup of coffee with ghee (clarified butter) and MCT (medium-chain triglyceride oil). Is it a wild coincidence that he offers his own specialized brand of MCT oil that is considerably more expensive than even a high-quality organic MCT oil that you could find at Whole Foods or on the internet? He also sells his own brand of coffee that is much more expensive than even a high-quality organic coffee. Same thinking as with Joe Mercola, are these recommended products even at premium prices the best available?
Amy Myers, M.D. wrote a superb book for people with autoimmune diseases called The Autoimmune Solution. I have recommended it to many people. I think her recommendations for changing your diet if you have an autoimmune disease are right on point. Of course, she recommends supplemental solutions to complement dietary changes. Is it a coincidence that many of the solutions require products that she so happens to be selling? Her prices are significantly more expensive than what might be an equivalent product on Amazon or even over-the-counter at a CVS.
Many of these “alternative” gurus tend to downplay or eschew traditional Western medicine in areas that I think Western medicine is essential. If I am in an auto accident, take me to the hospital, not the homeopath. Joe sometimes recommends pulling teeth that have had root canals, and for skipping some of what I consider essential vaccinations—for adults and children. That is advice I will not follow. Does his opinion on pulling teeth that have had root canals and skipping important vaccinations make me more skeptical of his entire body of information? Yes, but I still follow many of his recommendations. I try to keep an open mind, and I am willing to try things that seem to make sense.
There is so much we don’t know about human health and how to support our biological system. Each day brings new discoveries and old beliefs are discredited. The Washington Post recently reported that the incidence of a serious fatal complication from measles—subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, or SSPE—is much higher than previously thought and vaccinations are the key to reducing the incidence: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/10/28/new-data-show-a-deadly-measles-complication-is-more-common-than-thought/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0d9f9d3f4a60.
I would never suggest that anyone should follow a dietary regimen or consume supplements without doing some research. But there is a surprising amount of credible information out there backed up by credible studies published in the database of the National Institute of Health, for instance.
I can only conclude that if you find a topic intriguing, try to get as much verifiable and trustworthy information as you can. Maintain a healthy level of skepticism, but don’t simply dismiss the advice because it is accompanied with a sales pitch—you can glean valuable information if you keep an open mind.
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The Client Corner
We’d like to take a moment to recognize longtime client* and friend, Dr. Thomas Benedek, who recently authored Medicine and Humor from the Writings of Hans Sachs and Hans Folz, Meistersinger which was published by Nova Science Publishers and is available now on the publisher’s website and amazon.com. My personal connection with his family goes back many years to when I was at school with his son, David.
A prolific author, Dr. Benedek, who will celebrate his 93rd birthday next month, has written three books since 2015. One of our staff members had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Benedek to get you the inside scoop about this book and its fascinating and accomplished author.
For this most recent book Dr. Benedek reviewed the writings of Hanz Folz (c. 1437-1513) and Hans Sachs (c. 1494-1576), two of the most prolific German Meistersingers (composers of a particular form of lyric poetry called Master Song) of the early modern period and selected those “that have relevance to medicine both metaphorically and realistically.”
His goal was to “get a snapshot of what two laymen, both gifted writers, knew of medicine and of the relationship between the peasantry and the healers available to them.” The result is a compelling analysis that both informs us about life, society, and medicine in 16th century Germany and provides a portrait of the doctor-patient relationship from which we can draw parallels to modern life.
After graduating from the University of Chicago Medical School, Dr. Benedek began a long and accomplished career as a rheumatologist here in Pittsburgh.
Dr. Benedek has an inveterate interest in the history of medicine and taught courses on the subject for the better part of four decades at the University of Pittsburgh where he is a Professor Emeritus of Medicine. And if he wasn’t already enough of a Renaissance man, he translated the nearly 400 pages of selected passages included in his latest book from their original 16th century German into modern English! Congratulations on this triumph Dr. Benedek, and we look forward to your next masterpiece.
*When discussing clients, we must state that our mentioning Dr. Benedek should not be misconstrued as an endorsement of our services.