Proponents of science-based medicine are fond of saying that there’s a name for alternative treatments that pass scientific tests: medicine. But what they don’t mention are those parts of long-established medicine that get demoted to “alternative” status — or should be.
And now, Kaiser Health News is reporting that most older Americans are “hooked” on vitamins. The story, which ran in the New York Times, detailed a litany of scientific studies showing vitamin supplements either failed to deliver benefits or caused harm. Experts quoted in the story presented all this as if consumers were buying into some egregious form of pseudoscientific quackery — as if this were never part of established medicine.
The benefit of supplemental vitamins for healthy people was, he said, based more on assumptions than data, as are many other common practices in medicine. And even as 21st-century medicine advances at lightning speed, with precision genetic testing, immunotherapy and robotic surgeries, it can slow to a crawl in discarding outdated practices.
Doctors were slow to stop pushing low-fat diets, Offit said, and are still reluctant to acknowledge data pointing to the downsides of the standard mass screenings for prostate and breast cancers. The notion that people should take antibiotics long after they feel better was never based on testing, he said. That’s now being called into question.
There was data showing that calcium supplements did not decrease the risk of fracture and might increase the risk of kidney stones. A large population study found that less than 3% of subjects were deemed deficient in iron, but around 13% had levels that were dangerously high.
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