by Sharon Begley. Excerpts from the Newsweek article on 24 January2011
If you follow the news about health research, you risk whiplash. First garlic lowers bad cholesterol, then—after more study—it doesn’t. Hormone replacement reduces the risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women, until a huge study finds that it doesn’t (and that it raises the risk of breast cancer to boot).
More and more scholars who scrutinize health research are now making that claim. It isn’t just an individual study here and there that’s flawed … Instead, the very framework of medical investigation may be off-kilter, leading time and again to findings that are at best unproved and at worst dangerously wrong. The result is a system that leads patients and physicians astray.
Chief of Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, Ioannidis … (said): “People are being hurt and even dying” because of false medical claims, he says: not quackery, but errors in medical research.
If Ioannidis is right, most biomedical studies are wrong.
- A major study concluded there’s no good evidence that statins (drugs like Lipitor and Crestor) help people with no history of heart disease. The study was based on an evaluation of 14 individual trials with 34,272 patients. Cost of statins: more than $20 billion per year, of which half may be unnecessary.
- Numerous studies concluding that popular antidepressants work by altering brain chemistry have now been contradicted (the drugs help with mild and moderate depression, when they work at all, through a placebo effect),
- as has research claiming that early cancer detection (through, say, PSA tests) invariably saves lives.
- … the list goes on.
- Of course, not all conventional health wisdom is wrong. Smoking kills, being morbidly obese or severely underweight makes you more likely to die before your time, processed meat raises the risk of some cancers, and controlling blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke.