Archive for Medicine

Read the fine print: who funded that study?

Whenever I hear about new medical research, I always ask one question first: who funded it?

Too often, reporters — even reporters for respected news sources like Reuters — don’t give us this essential information when they cover new studies.

Take, for example, the flurry of recent news items with titles like “Morning sickness linked to smarter babies” and “Study links morning sickness to higher IQ.” I found this kind of an intriguing idea, so I read the Reuters article. The article didn’t mention the study’s funder, but the very small size of the group they studied, and the fact that they also studied the safety of a drug for morning sickness, made me suspicious.

A quick visit to the website of the Journal of Pediatrics, the study’s publisher, showed me I was right: the fine print on the abstract indicated that the study was funded by the maker of the anti-nausea drug, and one of the study’s authors is a paid consultant for the company. Why, exactly, didn’t Reuters think this was worth mentioning?

The only article I found (on an admittedly cursory search) that brought up the obvious problems with the study was this one on the website

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Mexico, flu, antibiotics, and death.

Everyone seems to wonder why people are dying from the “swine flu” in Mexico, but not in other countries where the virus has been confirmed. (The one US death was a little boy visiting from Mexico with unidentified “underlying health issues.”)

I have a theory. Or an idea. Or a question.

It is common practice in Mexico to self-medicate with antibiotics at the first sign of illness. (Antibiotics are widely available there without a prescription.)

Antibiotics kill bacteria, including commensal bacteria. 

Commensal bacteria are an important component of the human immune system.

So, are people who self-prescribe antibiotics for a viral illness compromising their immune reponse to that illness?



(If you’re interested in coverage of swine flu, especially as it relates to factory farming, check out The Ethicurean‘s Aporkalypse Now series.)

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A “duh!” and an “eek!” in the Times today.

I know it’s time for the blog party, and I’ve been mulling over my contribution, but I just couldn’t let these two items in the NY Times today (well, yesterday) go by:

Metabolic Syndrome Is Tied to Diet Soda, to which I answer, oh-so-eloquently, “Well, duh.” Henriette explained it her characteristic plain language a while back, and if you’re into weird rat studies, you can check out this and this.

The bottom line? It’s not a good idea to try to trick your body with imitation foods. If you’re going to eat sugar, eat sugar. Your body knows what to do with that. Best to keep the chemistry experiments in the lab.

(Here’s the most amusing part. The column quotes one of the study’s co-authors, apparently totally perplexed: “Why is it happening? Is it some kind of chemical in the diet soda, or something about the behavior of diet soda drinkers?”)

And even better…

New Food Formula: Tastes Fine, Kills Worms. I swear to you, Donald G. McNeil, Jr. of the New York Times wrote an entire 500-word column on Kraft’s development of pesticide-laced “foods” without once questioning whether tapeworm-killing vermicides should be fed to children in the developing world in the shape of “a cheese, a pasta, a granola bar or something else” rather than, well, say, a pill? Vermicidal granola bars. Eek!

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Barking up the wrong tree.

The New York Times ran an interesting piece today on the fact that the reduce-cholesterol-to-treat-heart-disease theory is possibly terribly flawed.

Yes, that’s the theory that sells many billions of dollars worth of pharmaceutical drugs every year.

Yes, that theory just might be totally wrong.

Apparently the FDA has been so confident in the veracity of this particular theory that it hasn’t required proof that new heart disease drugs actually affect heart disease—proof of a cholesterol-reducing effect has been enough to get a drug on the market. Oops.

It turns out that some cholesterol-lowering drugs affect heart disease and some don’t. Some even make heart disease worse.

How did this happen?

Well, there was money to be made, for one thing.

And then there’s the fact that scientists are social beasts, too. If everyone seems to think something is so, it’s hard to be the one who says “Well, maybe not.”

Further reading from the Times archives:

Gary Taubes: Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?

John Tierney: Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

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