The Hammer: Health-Care Myths We Live By

TheHammerCharles Krauthammer  writes:  Swedish researchers report that antioxidants make cancers worse in mice. It’s already known that the antioxidant beta-carotene exacerbates lung cancers in humans. Not exactly what you’d expect given the extravagant — and incessant — claims you hear made about the miraculous effects of antioxidants.

John Shinkle/POLITICO

John Shinkle/POLITICO

In fact, they are either useless or harmful, conclude the editors of the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine: “Beta-carotene, vitamin E and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful.” Moreover, “other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases.” So useless are the supplements, write the editors, that we should stop wasting time even studying them: “Further large prevention trials are no longer justified.”

[Charles’ bestselling book: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics at Amazon]

Such revisionism is a constant in medicine. When I was a child, tonsillectomieswere routine. We now know that, except for certain indications, this is grossly unnecessary surgery. Not quite as harmful as that once-venerable staple, bloodletting (which probably killed George Washington), but equally mindless.

After “first, do no harm,” medicine’s second great motto should be “above all, humility.” Even the tried-and-true may not be true. Take the average adult temperature. Everyone knows it’s 98.6 . Except that when some enterprising researchers actually did the measurements — rather than rely on the original 19th-century German study — they found that it’s actually 98.2.

But if that’s how dicey biological “facts” can be, imagine how much more problematic are the handed-down verities about the workings of our staggeringly complex health-care system. Take three recent cases:

Emergency room usage.

It’s long been assumed that insuring the uninsured would save huge amounts of money because they wouldn’t have to keep using the emergency room, which is very expensive. Indeed, that was one of the prime financial rationales underlying both Romneycare and Obamacare.

Well, in a randomized study, Oregon recently found that when the uninsured were put on Medicaid, they increased their ER usage by 40 percent.

Perhaps they still preferred the immediacy of the ER to waiting for an office appointment with a physician. Whatever the reason, this finding contradicted a widely shared assumption about health-care behavior.

Medicaid’s effect on health.

Oregon allocated by lottery scarce Medicaid slots for the uninsured….

Read more…

Charles Krauthammer: The Washington Post

 [Charles’ bestselling book: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics at Amazon] 


2 Comments on “The Hammer: Health-Care Myths We Live By”

  1. Tom Harley says:

    Reblogged this on pindanpost and commented:
    I thought I knew things about health, then I didn’t, then I did, and now? I have a headache …


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