Comments about Paul Offit, MD’s book, Do You Believe in Magic?

I read Paul A. Offit M.D.’s book, Do You Believe In Magic? in which he takes on Dr. Oz and Andrew Weil among others. Dr. Offit argues that alternative medicine is fine until it crosses certain lines. If a practitioner advises against a conventional medicine treatment that might save a life such as chemotherapy for cancer or insulin for diabetes then that is wrong. Another example of alternative medicine gone wrong is when the cost is astronomical. Patients and their families are very vulnerable when they receive a devastating diagnosis. They will pay anything for unproven therapies that offer some hope.   Examples of less expensive alternative treatments are amber necklaces for teething and plastic bracelets (with metal discs) to improve coordination. Any benefit from these is due the placebo effect.

I have noticed a lot of families buy expensive vitamin supplements for their children. It seems that their money would be better spent on a gym membership, college savings or a nice vacation. But that is a personal decision.
Vaccines have been under attack ever since I started practicing pediatrics in 2000. First it was the MMR accused of causing autism. Next it was the preservative thimerosol which was supposedly to blame. Oprah, Jenny McCarthy and others helped to frighten millions of new parents about vaccines. Fortunately it seems most families recognize that those earlier claims are false; however many still think that we give too many vaccines to our children. I worry when parents choose not give certain vaccines or “miss” appointments for their well child visits thus falling behind on their vaccines. 
Doctors, Physician Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, nurses and scientists need to do a better job of promoting rational medical treatments. If history has taught us anything it is that careful reasoning and science are our hope for the future.
P.S. Buy Dr Paul A. Offit’s book. It will cost you less than a bottle of magic pills.
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Review of the book: The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis

     I recently read The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz which was first published in 1956. It is an account of his escape from a Soviet Gulag and trek across Siberia and Mongolia to India. The book inspired a movie in 2010 called The Way Back starring Ed Harris. While I really enjoyed the book I started to wonder if it was true. “Slav” and his band of friends walked for 12 days through the desert only stopping to drink muddy water once. Really? Near the end the author describes his close encounter with a Yeti.  Others have questioned the truth of the story including the BBC. I was disappointed to learn that the book is fiction. But isn’t that the case with a lot of what we see daily? Jimmy Kimmel recently perpetrated an internet hoax which went viral. Spam email often includes scams and crazy rumors. Now I check the Snopes website whenever I see a strange internet rumor. My favorite rumor is the one about applying Vicks to your feet to treat a cough. That one has been going around for at least five years.

     In April, 2013 The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis was featured in The Daily Beast. After reading the article I knew that the author was going to say a lot of negative things about pediatricians and obstetricians, but I was curious what she had to say. According to the author, hospitals in the US do just about everything wrong in labor and delivery. Nurses start an IV then put the mother in bed on her back. Next comes an epidural and medicines to induce labor which leads to a C-section and higher infant and maternal problems. The author also blames pediatricians for giving a bunch of expensive and dangerous shots in order to make money. On a positive note I liked her comments about potty training being unnecessarily delayed in the US. Also she berates the American Academy of Pediatrics for taking donations from infant formula manufacturers. I agree with her that taking donations from formula makers while promoting breast feeding seems wrong. The book was well written and thought provoking, but very one sided. Her assertion that prenatal ultrasounds cause autism was not backed up by much evidence. I would characterize the author as a sensationalist rather than a journalist. It was an enjoyable read, but weak on careful evaluation of scientific research.