Turmeric/Curcumin: The “Natural Remedy of the Century” or a Waste of Money?

Turmeric is a yellow spice used in Indian cuisine; its active ingredient, marketed as a dietary supplement, is curcumin. It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is said to balance vata, pitta, and kapha, to kindle agni, and to help reduce kapha and ama. It allegedly supports the blood, liver, joints, immune system,

Functional Medicine: Pseudoscientific Silliness

Language keeps changing. We used to call questionable remedies “folk medicine,” “fringe medicine,” or “quackery.” In the 1970s, the term “alternative medicine” was coined, an umbrella term for all treatments that were not supported by good enough evidence to have earned them a place in mainstream medicine. Then came “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), and

BrainPlus IQ: Lying with Advertising

I got an email urging me to check out a wonderful new product that boosts brain performance: it “doubles IQ, skyrockets energy levels, and connects areas of the brain not previously connected.” It is BrainPlus IQ, a dietary supplement that falls into the category of nootropics, substances that enhance cognition and memory. After looking into

Corydalis: An Herbal Medicine for Pain, with Some Thoughts on Drug Development

Ever since William Withering published his classic treatise on Foxglove in 1775, science has been testing herbal medicines and trying to establish a scientific basis for the ones that work. As many as half of today’s prescription drugs were derived from plants. A new study published in Current Biology by Zhang et al. has identified a compound in a traditional herbal

Plavinol and Other Natural Remedies for Diabetes: “Condimentary Medicine”?

We don’t yet have a cure for diabetes, but we have insulin; it controls the disease and allows Type 1 diabetics to lead a relatively normal life instead of suffering and quickly dying as they all did in the pre-insulin era. We know to counsel Type 2 diabetics about weight loss, diet, and exercise; and when

Diatomaceous Earth? No Thank You!

Would you eat this? It might look like a crunchy new breakfast cereal, but it’s a close-up of diatomaceous earth, the fossilized microscopic skeletons of diatoms. Diatoms are unicellular algae, one of the two major classes of the phytoplankton that constitute the bottom of the food chain in oceans and freshwater. Diatomaceous earth is a

The THRIVE Experience: Masterful Marketing, Short on Substance

One of the few things that aren’t in THRIVE products My daughter told me about the latest health fad among her group of acquaintances. She knows people who are spending $300 a month on the THRIVE program and claiming miraculous results. With a skeptic for a mother, my daughter knew enough to question the claims

Prenatal Multivitamins and Iron: Not Evidence-Based

When I was pregnant, I obediently took the iron pills and prenatal vitamins prescribed by my obstetrician. And I prescribed them for every pregnant patient I took care of as a family physician. I never questioned the practice. It seemed intuitively obvious that it was a good thing; we know pregnancy makes extra nutritional demands

Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons Learned from Aristolochia

This “Brief History of Medicine” has been circulating on the Internet: 2000 B.C. — Here, eat this root. 1000 A.D. — That herb is heathen. Here, say this prayer. 1850 A.D. — That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion. 1940 A.D. — That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill. 1985 A.D. —

Anti-Aging Claims: The Fountain of Youth is Still Only a Legend

The Spanish explorer Ponce de León wasn’t really looking for the Fountain of Youth when he trekked through Florida. That’s only a legend that wasn’t attached to his name until after his death. The idea of anti-aging remedies dates back to at least 3500 BCE, and the hope is alive and well today. Who wouldn’t