63 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2013
Before reading this book, I had read some articles condemning the author and the book, so I expected the worst. Of course, those who condemned this book were involved in the alternative medicine business, so could hardly be expected to be objective.On the other hand, I use a lot of nutritional supplements myself, and have been writing about nutrition and exercise for over 30 years. I was pleasantly surprised in reading this book to find that, contrary to expectations, the author was not out to blindly attack alternative medicine. In fact, the book is well researched, and the author's conclusions make a lot of sense. I agree about the importance of scientific, or "evidence-based medicine" in determining the ultimate value of any particular therapy, supplement, or treatment.The best parts of the book to me were those in which Dr.Offit exposes the greedy charlatans who take advantage of the desperation of people who seek out the way cures when conventional medicine cannot help them.But as Offit correctly points out, none of these modern day snake oil salesman can relieve their pain, either, although they will empty their bank accounts.I also like the way Offit exposes their frequent attacks on the money-hungry medical/drug company establishment, while conveniently not mentioning how they are getting rich off the money of trusting suckers.I would have given the book a 5-star rating save for one major fault. His chapter on vitamins was the weakest and most inaccurate portion of the book. Offit only suggests using four types of nutritional supplements: fish oil, vitamin D, calcium, and folic acid. The amount of vitamin D he suggests is fine for helping to build bone mass, but doesn't come close to the amount of vitamin D shown to have other preventive effects. Offit's advice to go in the sun for 15 minutes a day only applies to those in which the sun provides enough UV radiation year-round. But what about those who don't consume balanced diets? Where are they supposed to get the required nutrients if they avoid supplements? Offit doesn't deal with that aspect. Also, the studies he chooses to underscore his contention that food supplements are dangerous were cherry-picked to prove his point, since there are countless other well-designed studies that show opposite effects,i.e, the nutrients are protective against disease. But other than his nutritional advice, Offit's other points are sound, and his expose of such media pundits as Dr.Oz and others is commendable. I never expected to enjoy reading this book, but I did.
105 of 132 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2013
Dr. Offit's new book examines different ways Americans try to promote their health outside traditional medicine. He examines the use of vitamins and supplements, telling the story behind their (lack of) regulation, carefully analyzing the studies done on them, and addressing whether any vitamins are useful (and which) as well as potential dangers from mega doses. He examines alternative treatments for autism and cancer, among others. He addresses well known alternative healers and celebrities. He discusses why do some alternative treatments work in spite of the fact that they do not work empirically, detailing the studies of the placebo response. He discusses the relative spheres of alternative medicine and well, medical medicine, and suggests in what situations alternative medicine becomes problematic (for example, when alternative healers urge patients away from life-saving traditional medicine solutions, harming their health). He addresses empirical studies of all of the above and what science knows. And he does all that in an accessible, engaging, occasionally funny and always interesting style. The book brings to life interesting characters, tells tragic stories, and does not hesitate to criticize where justified. I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed it. I recommend it.
99 of 127 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2013
Have you ever wondered about the basis of alternative medicine? How did the various types get started?
E.g., How did chiropractic get started? It was in 1895 by a mesmerist, Daniel Palmer, who used magnets to treat his patients. When a deaf individual came into his office, Palmer wondered if his spine was misaligned and tried to realign it. When he did, the man's hearing recovered. This might have made sense except that the 8th cranial nerve which conducts nerve impulses from the ear to the brain doesn't travel thru the neck.
Or why according to accupuncture does the body have 12 meridians? Because there were 12 great rivers in ancient China. Why is the number of acupuncture points about 360? This was based on the number of days in a year. Offit is sensitive in his coverage, noting that the ancient physicians who started the practice were forbidden from dissecting human bodies and knew little about the internal organs or most importantly the nervous system.
Offit provides these and other fascinating tidbits that will give you a new perspective on alternative medicine. Offit provides both historical context as well as what modern science tells us about these practices. He discusses the scientific studies of the various disciplines of alternative medicine and what they have found.
As someone who teaches health-based risk assessment at two universities, it's great to see a thoughtful in-depth look at an area most of the public sees as risk-free. Whether you are scientist, health professional or somone with an inquiring mind about health, you'll learn much from reading this book.
147 of 196 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2013
The saying goes that "alternative medicine" that works is known as medicine. Everything else is no better than placebo, and may even be dangerous to your health. Have you ever wondered why commercials on television and radio give you the "Miranda Quack Warning" that their products are not "intended" to treat, cure, or prevent a disease, but then they sell it to you with the promise of treating, curing, or preventing a disease? It's because, despite the millions of dollars that alternative medicine pulls in, the industry lacks the evidence to be licensed by the FDA, a process that, albeit is time consuming, is easy to do if you have the cash and the data.
In his book, Dr. Offit lays out the evidence for and against the use of alternative medicine, vitamin supplements, and the like. Yes, it's not all a "hate fest" against SCAM (Supplementary and Complementary Alternative Medicine). Dr. Offit lays out how some alt med became regular medicine once it was shown to work. Everything else remains SCAM.
Of course, there will be those who, even without buying let alone reading the book, will tell you that it's "crap" or that it's "awful" or that Dr. Offit "makes millions" from the vaccine he co-designed. If you do proper and responsible research into his actions (let alone his intentions) throughout the years, you will come to the rational agreement that he is a man in defense of science, medicine, and truth. On the other hand, if you have gone far deep into the rabbit hole of homeopathy, acupuncture, and megavitamins, then this book is not for you. It will give you an allergic reaction. Then again, maybe just the letter "F" cut out of the book and put into a gallon of water then shaken up real well will protect you from the truths and evidence in the book?
Overall, a great read, with plenty of personal stories interwoven in a narrative suited for everything from light reading to academic discussions. A must read.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2013
Spent time in both the allopathic and naturopathic worlds. Offit’s book, complete with historical and political explanations about alternative medicine encourages my confidence to lean towards science and evidence.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2014
I am a cancer survivor. While I was sick I was astounded by the number of people offering sincerely believed but useless advice. I think it is a result of the lack of scientific education in our school system. The general public is incapable of telling the difference between good advice and complete bullspit. Dr. Offit covers all the popular alternative treatments, everything from acupuncture and homeopathy to organic food, and uses real data and clinical results to debunk them. So how does a layman know the difference? First clue; if treatment involves pumping coffee up your keister, run the other way.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2014
About 6 years ago, my wife was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. A neighbor down the street was diagnosed with a similar cancer about the same time. We discovered that the internet is crammed with sites promising all sorts of miracle cures. None the less, my wife took the conventional route - surgery, 6 months of chemo, radiation. Our neighbor choose to take the alternative medicine route, treating her cancer with radical nutrition for about a year before she finally had surgery. This year, my wife's oncologist gave her a clean bill of health. About 3 years ago, our neighbor's cancer metastasized, and she died. We learned to trust regular treatment, and learned that oncologists would love to find an easier way to treat cancer. By the way, my wife's thoughts didn't give her cancer, she's not glad she went through the experience, and she's admittedly not a better person for it. She is, however, thankful for modern medicine and glad to be alive.
Thanks for the book.
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2013
The overriding theme in "Do You Believe in Magic?" is to encourage educated consumers of healthcare products to carefully evaluate healthcare services and products based on hard evidence. Dr. Offit notes the increasing utilization of "alternative medicine" in recent years, which perhaps he feels threatened by, and tries to dissuade consumers from abandoning allopathic medicine for the wrong reasons, while noting significant potential harm from alternative medicine.
Dr. Offit denounces most supplements and vitamins, particularly megadosing on vitamins, stating that only 4 (of 51,000) have therapeutic value. "Do You Believe in Magic?" is particularly devoted toward discrediting certain healthcare practitioners for promoting alternative practices, such as Lyme Literate doctors; Mehmet Oz for promoting alternative healers on his show; Jenny McCarthy for her anti-vaccine stance and autism treatments; Suzanne Somers for her anti-aging products; Linus Pauling for promoting vitamin C; Dr. Buttar for his IV chelation on autistic children; and Dr. Burzynski for his use of antineoplastons for treatment of cancer. He also lists Dr. Mercola and the notes the numerous products he sells, as well as contending that the placebo effect is the primary reason people may benefit from alternative medicine. Dr. Offit sums up his position on alternative medicine in the final chapters in which he claims that alternative medicine becomes quackery when 1) alternative medicine practitioners recommend against life-saving "allopathic" treatments; 2) when alternative medicine harms without adequate warning 3) when alternative medicine drains the bank account and 4) when alternative medicine denies scientific findings.
While I can totally appreciate Dr. Offit's demand for evidence-based practices and his discussion on when alternative medicine becomes quackery, I strongly disagree with his underlying tenets that a) conventional medicine is entirely safe and effective (e.g., how many drugs get pulled from the market only after killing thousands of people and how many are used off-label?) and b) that alternative medicine is more or less based entirely in pseudoscience, and the best alternative medicine can offer is a placebo effect. In fact, I think this book reads more like a mystery novel entitled the "Dark Side of Alternative Medicine" than an objective discussion on what alternative medicine treatments work, what doesn't work, and what alternative treatments can truly cause harm. Dr. Offit may be a great storyteller, but he is not an expert on alternative medicine and it shows. Dr. Offit's main mission to discredit alternative medicine is revealed where he laments that people shouldn't just give alternative medicine a free pass because they are fed up with allopathic medicine (page 255). Lastly, his discussion on vitamins and supplements is the least objective part of the entire book.
Now let's evaluate Dr. Offit's claims.
The FDA estimates 50,000 people experience adverse reactions from supplements in 2012 (page 91), with adverse reactions under-reported to the FDA because of a lack of reporting system.
1,080 dietary supplement adverse effects reports (AERs) were reported to FDA.
526,527 prescription drug AERs were reported.
26,517 vaccine AERs were reported.
Source: 2013 GAO report.
Chiropractic and acupuncture can be dangerous.
Highly unlikely. I have been receiving chiropractic and acupuncture services for years and have never had a single adverse reaction from either. Malpractice insurance is low in both fields. Chiropractic care has helped me with a recent back injury, while acupuncture was effective at reducing pain I have experienced from TMJ. Neither costs much.
Vitamin D should be received at 600 IU/Day (via sun exposure, if possible) for healthy adults (page 105).
Dr. Offit is not a nutritionist, so I would trust a nutritionist for effective supplement usage and nutritional advice rather than Dr. Offit. Dr. Offit's recommendation of 600 IU/day for Vitamin D is far too low to bring up your vitamin D levels to a healthy range and many Americans are likely deficient in Vitamin D. The Vitamin D council recommends 8,000 IU of Vitamin D/day, with regular monitoring of your blood levels. I have been taking Vitamin D at 5,000 IU/Day for years, and my blood levels have consistently been in the 60's which is a healthy level. Newly emerging research suggests you should take Vitamin K with Vitamin D.
Vitamin C, or vitamin C used in combination with an antihistamine, has no effect on the duration and severity of the common cold (page 53). He goes to great length to discredit Linus Pauling - who lived to be 93 years old - for his promotion of Vitamin C.
Recent meta-analysis reveals that regular Vitamin C supplementation reduces the duration of the common cold by 8% in adults and by 14% in children (Source: "Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold", Cochrane Database Syst Rev., 2013 Jan 31). For $40 per year, I don't think investing in Vitamin C at 2,000 mg/day (the upper recommended limit for healthy adults) is a bad investment.
Claim # 6:
Dr. Offit states that most supplements are useless, citing probiotics (pages 131, 147, 247) among the various types of over-hyped supplements on the market. If you went to Dr. Offit for an antibiotic, perhaps you would be likely for him to recommend "yogurt" to be taken with it?
Probiotics are very important, if not critical, particularly during and shortly after taking an antibiotic. In fact,recent research indicates that you should take probiotics 2-4 hours after taking an antibiotic (so the antibiotic doesn't just kill the probiotic), and for 1-3 weeks after you are done taking the antibiotic (Source: Coadministration of probiotics with antibiotics: Why, when, and for how long?, April 2013, Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther). Additionally, further research also recommends adults should take 10-20 billion Lactobacillus strains, 5-40 billion Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and 250 mg or 500 mg of Saccharomyces boulardii while taking an antibiotic. If Dr. Offit has his way, and probiotics and other supplements are regulated by the FDA, we can expect the pharmaceutical companies to jack up the price on probiotics (and all other supplements) for increased profits, and buy it for a small co-pay at our pharmacy only if our healthcare provider decides to prescribe it for us. Not a good situation, and one in which I'd probably switch to eating fermented veggies if this were to happen. That said, DO WE REALLY WANT THIS FDA "PROTECTION" ON SUPPLEMENTS?"
The problem with this book is not that it emphasizes evidence-based medicine, a point I fully agree with and appreciate; I do believe in the effectiveness of vaccines and drugs prescribed appropriately, as an aside; and there probably are a few instances where alternative treatments can cause harm; rather, it's that it has a sole mission to totally discredit alternative medicine as a bunch of bunk. The best outcomes for patients, myself included, is when we use our level-headed brains to get the best that both conventional and alternative medicine has to offer. Alternative medicine can be great for preventative care, addressing lifestyle factors and sometimes in treating chronic health ailments with a personal touch, while conventional medicine tends to be better at emergency care or treating those with acute health crises.
Dr. Offit may have done a service by encouraging consumers of alternative medicine to want or demand evidence-based information, but he has done a much bigger disservice in fueling distrust for alternative medicine - in that sense, creating partisanship, not partnership between allopathic and alternative providers - and therefore not bridging a gap between conventional and alternative medicine that is sorely and desperately needed.
60 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2013
Some people aren't going to like this book because it 1)explains how many supplements and vitamins have not been proven to have the effects claimed 2) the person may be in the vitamin/supplement business 3)their favorite supplements/treatments may be debunked.
Most supplements/vitamins have never been tested for efficacy. The supplement business is not regulated. Many supplements do not contain the dosage stated and may have contaminants. These contaminants (like lead) themselves may be harmful. ConsumerLab does test supplements and has found these problems. Check out their website for more information.
If you read this book with an open mind, you'll be better able to make an informed decision about what substances you want to take and what treatments are best for you. More information and scientific testing help us make better decisions about our health.
This book is well worth the read.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2013
Well research book on supplements and their safety or lack there of. Reviews the fact that the supplement industry has no regulations and unfortunately they do not self regulate.