When I am at home, I have a regular Sunday morning ritual: I watch the Fox News medical correspondent while working out. It’s a fair bet that every week he will make at least one major howler that is guaranteed to increase the amount that I can bench press by 50%!
I don’t personally know the Sunday Fox medical correspondent, and he seems a nice fellow. But why oh why doesn’t he do his research before going on the air?
A few weeks ago he was endorsing “Wilson’s syndrome” that was created by E. Denis Wilson, M.D., who practiced in Florida in the early 1990s. The syndrome's supposed manifestations include a rag bag of fatigue, headaches, PMS, hair loss, irritability, fluid retention, depression, decreased memory, low sex drive, unhealthy nails, easy and excessive weight gain, and about 60 other symptoms. Wilson claimed to have discovered a type of abnormally low thyroid function in which routine blood tests of thyroid are often normal. He claimed that the main diagnostic sign is a low body temperature that is on average below 98.6° F and that the diagnosis could be confirmed if the patient responds to treatment with a "special thyroid hormone treatment." The American Thyroid Association published a position paper about this syndrome, saying that it probably does not exist. People have paid good money to be tested and treated, and though some may have benefited, most probably have not.
It is very easy to check these facts. So why didn’t the Fox medical correspondent do so?
Then a couple of weeks ago he talked about an herbal preparation without once mentioning that the FDA had just issued a warning about potential liver toxicity.
Then today he starts discussing a preparation called Airborne, that is purported to help prevent colds. It may or may not do so. The FDA has not evaluated the claims. The problem was that the correspondent then said that it could do no harm. Yet that is quite wrong. Though I could find no published cases of harm, the possibility most certainly exist, and the public needs to be made aware of the reasons to be a bit cautious:
- It contains 5,000 IUs of vitamin A. If you take it every three hours as recommended, some people could overdose on it.
- The same with vitamin C. If you take a lot, most is quickly passed out in the urine. But some people can get bladder irritation and could conceivably get kidney stones from taking that amount over a period of time.
- The remedy also contains seven herbs: Lonicera, Forsythia, Schizonepeta, Ginger, Chinese Vitex, Isatis Root, Echinacea. In a couple of hours I did a literature review looking at potential toxicity of these compounds. They all look fairly benign, but there are scattered reports of side effects with a couple of them.
- The difficulty is that side effects can be cumulative if several herbs and supplements are taken at the same time.
I have nothing at all against the Sunday Fox Medical Correspondent: he seems an affable and quite knowledgeable fellow. Neither do I have anything against Airborne. If it helps people, all well and good.
The trouble is that we have had at least three occasions in the last couple of months where advice has been given that had clearly not been checked. I think that unfortunate. Before I post any article I spend hours checking and re-checking. Even with all that checking, I’m quite sure that something could slip through, and if an error occurs, I shall be delighted if someone picks it up, so that I can correct it.
I only wish that everyone who writes or speaks about things medical would do the same kind of obsessive checking.
I really do believe that readers, listeners and watchers deserve nothing less.