• REVIEW OF BOOK REVIEWS: Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, by Paul Offit MD. (Harper 2013)

    Posted October 18, 2013: by Bill Sardi

    Dr. Paul Offit, known as a developer of vaccines and critic of alternative medicine, has taken to the street to lambast alternative medicine practitioners and dietary supplements on TV and radio.  His book is getting lots of attention from the news media, but no reporter is giving Dr. Offit’s critics a chance to rebut his poorly substantiated claims.

    A quick read of the 170 posted Amazon.com reviews of this book (as of Oct. 16, 2013) is a lesson in itself.  What is startling is the percentage of those who posted favorable reviews (nearly 7 in 10 give the book 4 or 5 stars) when there are so many good texts that have taken modern medicine to task over the arrogant position it holds scientific high ground.

    Some texts worth reading: a biting critique of evidenced-based medicine is TARNISHED GOLD by Steve Hickey PhD and Hilary Roberts PhD.  Also, CONFESSIONS OF A MEDICAL HERETIC by Robert S. Mendelsohn MD, and MEDICAL NEMESIS by Ivan Illich, are classics.

    If you want to learn of the miniscule odds of benefiting from what conventional medicine has to offer, read the text: OVERDIAGNOSED by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch MD.

    Yes, there are hucksters, and poorly made dietary supplements, but the greater hucksters of our time come with a Mayo Clinic Diploma.

    Not one book reviewer addressed this question.  Why DO so many seemingly-educated people (example: Steve Jobs) seek “unproven” alternatives?

    Answer: because, for example, modern medicine has (almost) no cures for cancer, falsely claiming it is extending survival when it is only detecting cancer at an earlier stage (patients are dying on the same calendar day).

    Doctors continue to prescribe problematic anti-cholesterol statin drugs (induce muscle aches, liver toxicity, diabetes, memory loss) as the central focus of modern medicine when there is no evidence these FDA-approved pills reduce coronary artery disease mortality in healthy adults (and only marginally – 1 in 70 – high-risk adults). Read OVERDOSED AMERICA by Harvard Dr. John Abramson.


    Regarding the placebo effect, it is only applied by Dr. Offit and others to dietary supplements, not to drugs.  For example, all of the cholinesterase inhibitors (Tacrin, Aricept) used to treat Alzheimer’s disease are no better than placebo (and some result in earlier death), but Ginkgo biloba is demeaned as just another placebo pill.

    Investigators in Germany examined studies where an inactive placebo and “nothing” were compared.  Placebo and “nothing” always produced the same effect.  There is no placebo effect.  The human body is self-healing and gets well on its own, what is called statistical regression by statisticians.  (Look up on your browser my article on “placebo effect” by Bill Sardi.)


    Linus Pauling conducted a study using intravenous vitamin C among cancer patients and this produced survival beyond that of existing anti-cancer drugs at the time.  Mayo Clinic doctors used oral vitamin C, which does not easily reach optimal blood concentration to achieve a cancer-cell killing effect, and Dr. Pauling was unfairly labeled a health quack (dishonored by Quack Watch).

    Dr. Pauling published VITAMIN C AND THE COMMON COLD in 1970 and vitamin C consumption rose 300% which was followed by a steep decline in mortality from coronary artery disease.  (Source: Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University)

    Dr. Pauling dies of cancer in 1994 at the age of 93 when life expectancy for males was 73.3 years.


    Vaccination is basically an archaic technology that attempts to expose subjects to “a little bit of disease” (viruses, bacteria) in hopes of creating antibodies that have memory immunity.

    However, Dr. Offit and virtually every immunologist advocates jabbing kids under two years of age and older adults who have undeveloped or worn-out immune systems and don’t produce sufficient antibodies to achieve immunity.  It is unconscionable for doctors to vaccinate subjects who are deficient in vitamins C and D and zinc, which are needed to produce an adequate immune response.  Toxic adjuvants (aluminum, mercury) are used to provoke an immune response instead.


    It is amazing Dr. Offit is given a free pass by so many seemingly educated book readers when at this point in time modern pharmacology is being taken to task over its hiding of negative drug studies.  Go to TED.com and listen to Dr. Ben Goldacre’s presentation: “What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe.”

    Also, the FDA is being taken to task for approving drugs that are only tested against placebo, leaving doctors and patients in the dark whether newly patented medications are any better than old patent-expired medications.

    Dr. Offit makes the impossible demand that dietary supplements prove their effectiveness like drugs must do.  But if they are proven to prevent, treat or cure a disease, they are by definition a drug.  Using this illogic, vitamin C would have to be a drug to claim it cures scurvy, vitamin D to claim it cures rickets, etc.

    Also, why do the less regulated unapproved dietary supplements kill nary a user while properly-prescribed and dosed FDA-approved drugs kill thousands?


    While Dr. Offit cites seemingly convincing studies, published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, he is citing large population studies which have no bearing on advice to individuals who read his book.  These large studies are conducted to develop policy like for fortifying foods.  The data these studies provide cannot be used to make individual health decisions unless you know what your vitamin status is.

    For example, if a study says vitamin E is of worthless value as shown in a large group of people, that isn’t instructive to the person who may be deficient in vitamin E.  Studies often divide their patients into quintiles (five groups) arranged by increasing intake of a particular vitamin.  While the study may indicate vitamin E was of no benefit overall, it may have afforded a benefit to the group with the lowest intake of vitamin E.

    Also, it is a known fact that more acutely ill patients take more dietary supplements.  Then a study will mistakenly conclude supplements increased the risk of dying when this was nothing more than an association, not a cause of death.

    For example, if 90 percent of pedestrians who get hit and killed by automobiles were wearing tennis shoes, does that mean the tennis shoes caused these deaths?  Obviously not.  Dr. Offit repeatedly makes this mistake as do the authors of the studies he reads.  They pretend to be scientists so they should know the difference between an association and a cause.

    Dr. Offit and others repeatedly refer to the now infamous beta carotene/lung cancer study in Finland, published in 1994 just before Congress voted on the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act.  You can view a chart published in The New England Journal of Medicine which shows there was no meaningful difference (less than 1%) between beta carotene-treated and non-treated subjects in the April 14, 1994 (volume 330, issue 15) issue of that journal.

    Furthermore, Dr. Offit and many other critics of dietary supplements heavily rely upon the NHANES nutrition data (National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey) to claim dietary supplements are not necessary.  But NHANES has recently been declared invalid.  Read the PLoS ONE report entitled: Validity of U.S. Nutritional Surveillance: National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey Caloric Energy Intake Data, 1971-2010.


    The FDA itself doesn’t know a drug is relatively safe till it has been on the market for several years.  So the imprimatur of “FDA approved” gives no assurance it is safe.

    If you had your choice between a stack of unlabeled dietary supplements or unlabeled prescription drugs, and you had to blindly take them, which would you choose?  Rx drugs can kill.  It is far less likely any dietary supplement is going to put a person in the grave, even when overdosed.


    A reviewer of Dr. Offit’s book said she stopped taking vitamins and now adheres to a “healthy diet,” whatever that is.  In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 5-A-Day program to consume five servings of plant foods a day was an abysmal failure (didn’t reduce mortality for heart disease or cancer) and the NIH now pushes its 9-13 servings of plant foods without evidence it lowers morality rates.


    The dietary supplement industry is unfairly demonized as being a $32 billion behemoth, when something like $800 billion (headed for $1.2 trillion by 2016) of prescription drugs are sold annually.  A hidden fact is that the biological action of most prescription drugs can be duplicated with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential oils and herbs without all the side effects and at only a fraction of the cost of Rx drugs.


    Examples of natural products that mimic Rx drugs are: olive oil which mimics Herceptin, an anti-cancer drug; arginine and ginseng, which act like Viagra; fish oil which slows the heart like beta blockers; magnesium which is a natural calcium blocker; apple pectin + vitamin C which reduce cholesterol by increasing bile flow; high-dose vitamin D which produces antibiotic peptides that can conquer any drug-resistant bacterial infection; vitamin C and quercetin that are natural anti-histamines; resveratrol which is a natural anti-depressant via its ability to inhibit MAO (monoamine oxidase); fresh-crushed garlic which thins the blood in a safer manner than Rx blood thinners.


    With this much said, here are the words used by many Amazon reviewers about Dr. Offit’s book:

    • “…he is utterly convincing, because every assertion he makes comes with evidence-based information.”
    • “Finally the truth backed up with undeniable scientific research.”
    • “This author uses science that can’t be disputed to prove the point.”
    • “I am leery of regular medicine, but at least they are FDA approved for the most part.”
    • “It is amazing how easy it is to fool so many people.”
    • “Fact-based debunking of the ridiculous supplement ‘industry.’”
    • “What I found most interesting were his studies of why some cures do work because of the power of our minds.”
    • “Offit understands the science and isn’t afraid to explain it.”
    • “This book is all fact based.”
    • “Dr. Offit does a spectacular job of making the case for evidence-based research and tight controls on acceptable medical and pharmaceutical practices.”
    • “I like the book because we are desperately in need of a clear line between medical science and superstitious beliefs or faith.”

    I wonder how many of these favorable reviews were written by people who have a vested interest in conventional medicine?  For example, Dorit Rubenstein, who is the first posted reviewer at Amazon, is an attorney who is pressing for legal action against parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.  Another reviewer, Norman Sohn is a medical doctor, as are Dennis Pilarczyk, Bruce Wolf, D.R. Schneider, Terry Simpson, Richard A Lippin and Edward Josell.


    Pointing fingers at conventional medicine is not to give marginal alternative practitioners a free pass.  Certainly there are Ouija boards in alternative medicine (example: muscle testing, called applied kinesiology, and the “shadow molecules” of homeopathy).   However, at least the acupuncturists, homeopaths and chiropractors are largely non-invasive and generally achieve Hippocrates first dictum: “first do no harm.” Look up “iatrogenic disease” (inadvertent adverse effect or complication resulting from medical treatment or advice) on any web browser.


    Alternative medicine blindly embraces alkaline diets based upon a mis-read of Dr. Otto Warberg’s experiments in the 1930s.  Cancer cells expel lactic acid, but are neutral pH inside or they would die off.  The digestive tract must be acid to kill off incoming bacteria and fungi in foods.  The bladder must be acid to prevent chronic infections.  The blood automatically maintains a neutral pH of 7.2-7.4 and if the diet could influence blood pH significantly, we would all be perpetually running to the emergency room for saline or lactate intravenous drips.

    — Copyright 2013 Bill Sardi, Knowledge of Health, Inc.

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