Tuesday, December 23, 2003

# 65: Science, ‘Bad Science’ and Alternative Medicine • Who can ‘bear’ such food? • Hangovers

Science, ‘Bad Science’ and Alternative Medicine

Last week I discovered a columnist that I’d never read before. He is Ben Goldacre who writes a column called ‘Bad Science’ in the Guardian. Apparently Mr. Goldacre has a mission to expose fraudulent or pseudoscientific data wherever it appears. For example he criticises the Science Museum for advertising in its gift catalogue, a ‘salt crystal lamp’ which ‘cleanses the air by absorbing humidity’. This is fair enough; the Science Museum should know better than to publish such unproved nonsense. He goes on to attack the Daily Express for ‘raving’ about a magnetic coaster that apparently improves water by making it more likely to ‘flush away toxins’. Okay, once again Mr. Goldacre has a point.

Then this truth-seeking columnist expresses horror at how a patient with pancreatic cancer (a particular deadly form of tumour) was duped by an alternative practitioner who treated him with a ‘high frequency therapy’ machine. Unsurprisingly this did not work and the patient died. Again Mr. Goldacre is entitled to be galled. However he then goes on to use this case to make a wildly unfounded attack on all alternative medicine. He writes: ‘Alternative medicine is defined by being a set of practices that cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or have consistently failed tests.’ This is a ridiculous statement worthy of the contempt that Mr. Goldacre himself has for magic coasters and air-cleansing crystals. Whose definition of alternative medicine is this? Who says that alternative medicine cannot be tested? There are many trials of homeopathic medicine, some positive and some not. There is a department of Complimentary Medicine at Exeter University that is consistently doing trials of alternative approaches such as acupuncture and osteopathy. Can Mr. Goldacre substantiate the part of his definition that says that alternative medicine ‘refuses to be tested’? I doubt it. My experience in the world of alternative medicine is that most practitioners would be quite happy for their work to be tested. Trials of all medicines are very, very expensive however and guess who can really afford such trials. Yes, the pharmaceutical companies…

Who can ‘bear’ such food?

Finally a story worthy of this time of the year comes from the USA. Apparently bears are rather partial to junk food, well junk food leftovers to be precise. The Independent reported that bears along the Nevada-California border have started to stroll into urban areas and eat leftover hamburgers out of rubbish bins. It’s apparently a lot easier than hunting and foraging. So much so that these bears are 30% fatter than their health-food eating brethren, which is tantamount to clinical obesity in humans. It’s nice to know that another species shares one of our commonest health problems!

Homeopathic Tip of the Week: Hangovers

At this time of the year everyone starts talking about the way of treating a hangover. The fact that there is no absolute wonder cure for a hangover makes it open season for the most ridiculous suggestions. Perhaps a book should be written about all the hangover cures ever described. A useful conclusion can be drawn from this: When there are hundreds of different ‘cures’ for any problem, you can be sure that none have been proven. There is only one cure for acute appendicitis and that is surgery. It works, it’s reliable and there is not an alternative. With hangovers there is no such magic bullet, but here are some suggestion that are often helpful.

Keep hydrated: Prevention is better than cure. With each drink you have, ask for a glass of water as well. Much of the discomfort of a hangover is due to dehydration and this is easily prevented by this suggestion and by drinking a beer mug full of water before you go to sleep. Yes, it’s a lot of fluid, but you weren’t complaining about that when it was full of beer!

Homeopathy: If you would like avoid any drugs and take something completely safe and natural, the homeopathic remedy Nux vomica has a very good reputation in treating hangovers. Take Nux vomica 6c (available from most chemists), one dose before going to sleep and the next morning one pill every two hours until you start feeling better.

Aspirin: If you know you can tolerate Aspirin well and are definitely not allergic to it, you could take one 300mg tablet of Aspirin) with your beer mug of water before you go to sleep.

So in summary, Dr. Kaplan’s hangover cure:
While drinking: Drink plenty of water as well.
Before sleeping: Take one 300mg tablet of Aspirin (if you can tolerate Aspirin) + one tablet of Nux vomica 6c + 500-750ml of water.
Next morning: Nux vomica 6c tablets: one every 2 hours until feeling better.

Seasonal Greetings to you all and see you next year!

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