Red Yeast for Cholesterol: It Works, BUT…

John’s cholesterol is high but he doesn’t like taking prescription drugs. Should he take red yeast as a “natural” alternative? Evidence shows that it is effective in lowering cholesterol. In 1994, the Diet Supplement Health and Education Act was passed, allowing the fiction that “natural” medicines are really “foods” and need not be regulated the

Misleading Ads in Scientific American

I’m frequently asked, “Is what that ad says really true?” Three recent inquiries have been about products advertised in Scientific American. An ad may acquire a certain cachet by appearing in a prestigious science magazine, but that doesn’t mean much. Scientific American’s editorial standards apparently don’t extend to its advertising department. I remain skeptical about

Is Kava Safe?

Piper methysticum aka kava kava; is it useful? Is it safe? Kava is a plant that grows in the western Pacific. It was traditionally prepared as a drink and used for its psychoactive properties, including sedation, relaxation, and relief of anxiety. It is intoxicating but not addictive. It has become a popular supplement in the

Polypharmacy – Is It Evidence-Based?

Polypharmacy essentially means taking too many pills. It’s a real problem, especially in the elderly. A family doctor gives an elderly patient one pill for diabetes, another for high blood pressure, and another to lower cholesterol. The patient sees a rheumatologist for his arthritis and gets arthritis pills. Then he sees a psychiatrist for depression

An Herbal Cure for Peanut Allergy?

Peanut allergy is uncommon but devastating. Even a tiny trace of peanut can cause an anaphylactic reaction and death. That’s why labels specify “produced on shared equipment with nuts or peanuts” or “produced in a facility that also processes nuts.” There is no effective treatment: patients have to rely on avoiding peanuts and carrying emergency

Should I Take a Multivitamin?

I’ll start with a confession. I used to do something irrational. I used to take a daily multivitamin, not because I thought there was good scientific evidence to support the practice, but for psychotherapy. I tried to eat a healthy diet and worried about it. By taking a pill, I could stop worrying. Then I

Glucosamine Update: A New Study and a New Product

When I recently wrote about glucosamine, I discussed the evidence up through the New England Journal of Medicine study of 2006, which I thought was a pretty definitive study showing that neither glucosamine, chondroitin or a combination of the two was more effective than placebo.  Subsequent studies have continued to fuel the controversy. One 2007 study showed that glucosamine sulfate was better than

Does Glucosamine Really Work?

 Glucosamine and chondroitin, used separately or together, are among the more popular diet supplements. They are used widely for osteoarthritis, especially of the knee, and have been better studied than most other diet supplements. But do they really work? The journal of my medical specialty, American Family Physician, recently published an article about the use

Akavar 20/50 and Truth in Advertising

Over the last few months, I have had a truly surreal experience. It started when I noticed a two-page full color spread in TV Guide magazine advertising a product called Akavar 20/50. It contained the same claims that so many bogus weight loss products do: eat all you want and still lose weight. What attracted

Popular Fallacies: Ancient Wisdom, It Works for Me, and Natural is Good

Advocates of so-called alternative medicine (i.e. unproven treatments) don’t always use the best critical thinking skills. False assumptions and logical fallacies abound.  Three that I encounter constantly are (1) “ancient wisdom,” (2) “it works for me,” and (3) “it’s natural.” Ancient Wisdom The argument usually goes something like this: Our wise ancestors used X to