Do You Believe in Magic? Dr. Offit and Alternative Medicine

…we need to focus on the quality of scientific studies. And where scientific studies don’t exist, we should insist they be performed. Dr. Paul Offit M.D., Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

I start this book review by saying I have used some sort of supplement through most phases of my adult life. Not a doctor prescribed medication, but instead things I assumed were inherently good.
In high school, I ate diet pills. It was pretty common amongst my peers, and I got them from my mother who was also a compulsive dieter, so I figured they were ok.
I’ve supplemented with caffeine pills, multivitamins, protein powder, any sort of B vitamin I could get my hands on, airborne, green tea, jack3d, amino acids, redmond clay, fish oil. I’ve had acupuncture and acupressure and massages to help in areas that home solutions simply didn’t help.
I’ve turned to holistic remedies to fix minor ailments – cooking myself in a bathtub full of Epsom salts, gargling salt water, dosing with excessive Vitamin C, Vick’s Vapor rubbing my whole body.
I have been under the impression for awhile now that if you eat healthy, exercise, maintain a good weight, and get enough sleep – your body pretty much regulates itself.
Then, in October, I found out I have melanoma.
And although some people still think that vitamins alone can cure cancer, as Dr. Offit explains in his book, I did the adult thing and had a doctor hack that lesion off.


image I am absolutely positive that this book rubs a lot of holistic healers and their advocates the wrong way. Although I still feel there is a place for home remedies, when there are actual scientifically proven cures to diseases, I am sure with all my heart, we need to take advantage of them. This book reaffirmed that notion for me, tenfold.

Dr. Offit does tend to use some truly shocking examples of holistic healing gone wrong. He lays out some heart wrenching stories about parents who opt to treat their diseased children with alternative medicine when there are licensed doctors who can cure them of their ailments. Often times these children suffer unnecessarily or even die.

He takes jabs at television superstars who promote alternative medicine with no proven studies on their actual effectiveness. He likens this trend to times before the FDA regulated anything, when people sold “snake oil” of unknown origin and ingredients to customers looking for cures.

Offit talks about how these supposed dealers of small, natural, products are still profiting the same as big pharma. That there are healers out there who probably can’t cure you, but are more than happy to sell you a lie and take your money.

The most saddening thing to me, however, is the chapters he dedicates to diseases without cures – autism for example. All these parents want is for their children to be healed. Since there are no scientific proven cures, parents turn to the false hope provided by some of these alternative healers, which often times results in a hefty price.

And although Dr. Offit seems very anti-alternative medicine throughout the first half of the book, he does tout the real true benefit of the placebo effect some of these treatments provide. He just cautions against ruining yourself financially or opting out of scientifically proven cures in favor of doing these sorts of treatments.

I really enjoyed this book, and it opened my eyes to a lot of disturbing facts.
First of all, the FDA’s reach is a lot smaller than you think. Be very cautious when buying ANY supplements, even a vitamin or protein powder. There are many loopholes in the production of supplements, and they may not be as unadulterated or produced in as sterile of an environment as you think.

Another important consideration is the fact that alternative medicine is still a business. Practitioners still make money off of providing you these services. Although there are healers out there who passionately believe in their treatments, there are also a lot of greasy com artists who simply profit from giving you false hope. Be skeptical, check facts, consult your actual doctor if you are concerned, but above all, in the case of medicine, always take the practical route.

Lastly, for the most part, a healthy lifestyle will keep you healthy. Eating foods rich in vitamins and omega 3s go a long way. You don’t need to run off to the doctor every time you feel a cold coming on… There is a time and place for home remedies. If going to the chiropractor or getting acupuncture feels good for you and you can afford it, by all means do it. But sometimes life happens, diseases happen, injuries happen and being pragmatic about the treatment and looking for scientific evidence is a much safer cure than drinking snake oil and hoping for the best.

3 Thoughts on “Do You Believe in Magic? Dr. Offit and Alternative Medicine

  1. Bethany lee on January 29, 2014 at 9:28 am said:

    I didn’t know you had melanoma! Glad you got it cut out! Are you OK otherwise? Sounds like an interesting book. I too use alternative stuff but also like you, I wouldn’t use it for something serious that otherwise has an answer in the medical world.

    • I am fine! Just a weird mole that’s gone now… I just have to be more mindful. I used to be a tanning bed addict when I was younger.
      You would be amazed at the people who have a very widespread reach that promote alternative medicine where there are actual proven scientific solutions – Steve McQueen was an excellent example in the book. It scares me that people are more likely to listen to celebrities than doctors!

  2. Bethany Lee on February 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm said:

    I know. It’s crazy but I guess that’s “influence”.

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