More Bad News from Clincial Studies

The practice of medicine is not a science. There are many scientifically proven medical therapies, but there are many areas where a scientifically proven answer does not yet exist. Unfortunately, doctors do not always have the luxury of waiting for a clear answer.

Another clinical study has come out and the New York Times reports that calcium supplements are not effective at preventing broken bones. This comes on the heels of studies that show low-fat diets do not prevent heart attacks or cancer. In this case it was also shown that supplements do cause kidney stones. Overall it appears that recommending large scale use of calcium supplements is unwise. Luckily there are treatments that are proven to be effective.

Women who actually do have the condition should consider taking one of the seven F.D.A.-approved prescription drugs on the market that have been shown in rigorous clinical trials to prevent fractures, he advised. Six of the drugs inhibit bone breakdown and one spurs the growth of new bone.

In the end there are going to be two problems. One is that doctors’ credibility will be hurt, and the other problem will be for the supplement makers.

Its investigators also realized, of course, that they would be applying the cold light of science to popular messages that have fueled a booming calcium supplement industry, with annual sales, reports Dr. Joel S. Finkelstein, an osteoporosis researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, of $993 million on 2004.

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7 Responses to “More Bad News from Clincial Studies”

  1. “The practice of medicine is not a science.” Ouch. It’s a bit harsh to completely rule medicine out as a science. It may be partially an art, but as a young scientist and a fututre medical doctor, I am hurt. Physics isn’t the only science, you know.

  2. The practice is not science. When done best it utilizes scientific knowledge, but doctor’s do not do experiments on people. They do not try to control all the variables and vary one to see its effects. They do not try to rule out all but one explanation. Medicine is much more practically oriented than that. Doctors look at the collection of symptons and make a educated guess as to the underlying problem. They then treat that. If it works great. If not they eliminate that cause and make another educated guess.

  3. You need to watch more HOUSE. He tries to control all the variables and varies one to see the effects. Science IS about educated guesses, they are called hypotheses. We are scientists, darnnit!

  4. House is the worst example I can think off. He always gets it wrong three times before he gets it right. He is positive that he is right then nearly kills the patient.

  5. Actually, there is a difference between clinical studies and doing research. My friend, who was a researcher at UCSF, a place that has many MDs as well as PhDs, said that whenever her group of PhDs and grad students would start a new research project in collaboration with MDs, the MDs invariably had the attitude that research was this trivial thing, and why do the PhDs take so damn long. Then, when they got into the project and saw all the factors that were involved in setting up an actual experimental protocol for the medical devices they were testing and interpreting the data, the MDs invariably started to simmer down with the dawning realization that research was a far more involved and complex activity than the semester-long course that they had in their medical training.

    I think what Mike means by his “the practice of medicine is not a science” statement is that there are many situations in which we don’t have outcomes practical and repeatable enough to know whether eating certain foods or taking certain medicines makes a damn bit of difference after all. When we can say with certainty “if you do A, then B will happen,” then that is a scientific result. But these studies are showing that a lot of recommended dietary regimens are perhaps more faith-based than evidence-based.

  6. […] I have been blogging about the Women’s Health initiative as the results on low-fat diets and calcium supplements have been released. These studies have shown that some highly recommended life style interventions do not show signifcant health benefits. Today the was a nice article in the Washington Post trying to explain how these results could occur. […]

  7. Who really now is engaged in the control of health? To mine it neglected the large pharmaceutical companies and the medical centers. There should be a centralized management WBR LeoP

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