Do You Believe in Magic?
The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative MedicineBook
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Dr. Paul Offit’s bias is clear from the first page of his newest book, Do You Believe in Magic – he is not a fan of alternative medicines. As the director of the Vaccine Education Centre and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Offit is not a media darling and realizes how unpopular this book may be, but as he puts it quite succinctly, “there’s no such thing as conventional or alternative or complimentary or integrative or holistic medicine. There’s only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t.” He outlines the factors that have created the storm of alternative therapies, such as distrust of modern medicine, desperation of the terminally ill or their relatives, the belief that “natural” or “organic” products are safer than other chemical substances, charismatic people who tout “healing powers” and of course the power of celebrity endorsement. He takes direct aim at some of the most popular celebrities who promote alternative therapies, such as Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, and Jenny McCarthy, a move sure to make him popularly unpopular. Dr. Offit also recognizes the fault of medical practitioners who create environments that alienate, dehumanize and create distance with their patients; though of the many case studies he relates the significant majority deal with alternative therapies gone awry. However it is the many, many (sometimes truly frightening) case studies – examinations of things like shark cartilage remedies for arthritis, ginko biloba for mental acuity and the role big pharma plays in the alternative medicine business - that make this book less a medical manifesto and more a readable and not unreasonable guide through today’s health maze. His real message can be found on the last page of the book – individuals are responsible for making decisions about our health, but to do so without demanding adequate research into therapies and medicines actually violates the basic principle of medicine: “First, do no harm.”
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