It seems that every week we hear a report of either a new health benefit from taking a medication, or problems found with one. Now a prominent anesthesiology researcher has been accused of fabricating data and committing fraud in at least 21 studies concerning multimodal analgesia (mixing different medications to achieve pain relief and sedation). Read about that here.
It is also concerning that pharmaceutical companies partner with physicians to perform trials using their medications, and only positive studies get published. I have also seen study results trumpeted at press conferences as opposed to first being published in journals and undergoing scientific scrutiny prior to widespread use. Vioxx, a widely used pain reliever, was taken off the market in 2004 due to concerns about an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
As I drive to work on weekend mornings most of the local AM stations have infomercial shows taking about various health supplements. We are bombarded with health product and dietary supplement advertisements on television, the internet and radio. The names are creative: super beta prostate, dual action bowel cleanser and colovox, which claims on their website that “…the average person has 5-10, and even up to 20 pounds of undigested food rotting in their stomach.”
What is one to believe and what is effective? One good method is to use evidence-based medicine as an evaluation tool. This looks at studies of a particular medicine or treatment, rates the quality of the studies (from I-III), then rates the level of recommendation (from A-D, or I which means data is lacking).
The Cochran Collaborationis a great place to look up different medications and supplements as they perform systemic reviews based on evidence-based medicine. NIH has a National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,which disseminates research-based information.
Beware of exaggerated claims and use your physician also as a resource. Supplements are currently not regulated by the FDA and their ingredients have been found to widely variable. Also be very careful about any mail-order medications. Below are a few examples of the usual questions I get.
Does cranberry juice cure urinary tract infections?
Research shoes that cranberry juice may decrease the ability of E. coli bacteria to cling to the walls of the bladder. Some studies have shown benefit to preventing infections but there have not been studies showing clear effectiveness in treating urinary tract infections, so you will still need an antibiotic.
Is aspirin really that effective for prevention of heart attack and stroke?
Yes! Even with all the advanced technologies and new medications, 325 mg of aspirin has been the best medication for prevention of heart attack and stroke. There is a new class of medications called thienopyridines (Plavix, Ticlid) which may be slightly better but also have more side effects. Did you know that aspirin (salicylate) was originally extracted from the bark of willow trees?
Does vinegar work to treat swimmer’s ear?
Yes again. Vinegar is acetic acid, and changing the pH of the ear by adding a few drops of white vinegar usually inhibits the growth of bacteria (pseudomonas) that cause otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear.
Check out your medications at the sites provided and ask your physician about the side effects and dangers of all medications – not only the ones he prescribes but especially any supplements you are taking. Remember the old adage – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Medications I wish I could invent
Disclaimer: This does not take the place of regular medical care, and is not a complete review of any medical conditions. Consult with a physician before any treatment or taking any medications. Seek medical attention immediately for any serious symptoms, or call 911. No current or local patients have been referenced, so any resemblance is purely coincidental.