Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Do They Really Work?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are widely used for osteoarthritis pain. My daughter even gives them to her elderly horse. Their popularity is puzzling, since the evidence from scientific studies indicates that they don’t work. Wikipedia has a useful survey of the history, studies, criticisms, and systematic reviews (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_trials_on_glucosamine_and_chondroitin). It includes a long list of references. I

Stick It In Your Ear! How Not To Do Science

Have a sore throat? No worries! No need for lozenges, medicines, or home remedies. All you need to do is let someone stick needles in your ear! According to a recent study, ear acupuncture relieves sore throats. Do you believe that? I don’t. That’s one of those extraordinary claims that would require extraordinary evidence, but

Misinterpreting TACT: No, Chelation Does Not Outperform Statins for Heart Disease

Chelation with intravenous EDTA (disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid) has long been used for heavy metal poisoning. It binds the metal ions and facilitates their excretion from the body. In recent years it has been used for many other indications that are not evidence-based, such as autism and coronary heart disease. The Trial to Assess

Taxpayers Fund Scientology Research on Gulf War Veterans

The “Hubbard protocol” is Scientology’s religion-based, pseudoscientific “detoxification” treatment used in its Narconon program to treat drug addiction. It was dreamed up by a science fiction writer with no medical training. Now it is being studied as a treatment for veterans suffering from Gulf War illness. Our limited public money for research is being wasted on

An Alternative to Appendectomy: Antibiotics

An appendix, mid-appendectomy. My title doesn’t refer to alternative medicine, it refers to an alternative within medicine: treating appendicitis with antibiotics instead of surgery. You may be surprised to learn that patients with appendicitis don’t always automatically need an appendectomy. A recent randomized controlled trial in Finland compared surgery to medical treatment. History of appendicitis treatment There

Placebo, Are You There?

Note: This was originally published as “Placebo, es-tu là?” in Science et pseudo-sciences 294, p. 38-48. January 2011. It came to my attention in the course of an e-mail correspondence with the editors of that magazine, where one of my own articles was published in French translation in January 2015. I thought this was the best explanation of placebo

Glucosamine Update

Stick-and-ball model of the glucosamine molecule (from the Wikimedia Commons, image by Benjah-bmm27) Osteoarthritis, the “wear-and-tear” type of arthritis, affects a great many of us as we grow older. Knee pain is a common symptom. The diet supplements glucosamine and chondroitin have been proposed as a more “natural” treatment than pharmaceuticals, and they are components of

A Scientist in Wonderland

Edzard Ernst is one of those rare people who dare to question their own beliefs, look at the evidence without bias, and change their minds. He went from practicing alternative medicine to questioning it, to researching it, to becoming its most prolific critic. I have long admired his work, and I finally met him in

Is the Ebola Crisis a Reason to Skip RCTs?

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus viron. In a recent “Perspective” article in The New England Journal of Medicine, three physicians (Drs. Cox, Borio, and Temple) make a strong case for not letting the rush to save Ebola patients tempt us to deviate from good science and skip the randomized controlled trial (RCT). Their arguments cut

Study of “Acupressure” for Constipation

A recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine evaluated a treatment for constipation. It tested whether training patients to massage the perineum (the area between the vagina or scrotum and the anus) would improve their reported bowel function and quality of life at 4 weeks after training. They found that it did. It’s a simple, innocuous