A pull-no-punches attack on the hucksterism of alternative medicine and an exposé of the federal government’s failure to regulate the vitamin and supplement industry.
Offit (Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, 2011; etc.) relates shocking stories of the harm done to people by promoters of false claims, and he doesn’t hesitate to name names. His brief account of the lobbying and politics behind the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, called by the New York Times “The Snake Oil Protection Act,” is particularly eye-opening. Offit casts an especially critical eye on celebrity promoters of alternative therapies. Among those who come under his scrutiny are former actress Suzanne Somers with her so-called anti-aging product line; TV’s charismatic Dr. Mehmet Oz and his “Superstars of Alternative Medicine”: Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra; and osteopath Rashid Buttar, a prolific author and promoter of an unlicensed anti-autism cream. Offit also gives his take on various common products that practitioners of alternative medicine claim have therapeutic value—e.g., garlic, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and milk thistle. Of special interest is his chapter on what has been learned about the value of the placebo response and how it explains the positive effects of some alternative therapies. The harm, he writes, comes when their promoters recommend against helpful conventional therapies, when they promote potentially dangerous therapies without warning, when they give patients false hopes and then drain their bank accounts, and, finally, when they promote magical thinking or scientific illiteracy.
A rousing good read, strong on human interest and filled with appalling and amazing data.