Book Review

Eat Drink and Be Merry by Dean Edell MD

This is Dean Edell Long-Awaited Book on modem medical myths and erroneous beliefs. It was worth the wait. The subtitle, “Why the Health Experts Are Wrong,” is probably the publisher’s idea, and is a bit misleading, but it does represent “Dr. Dean’s” attitude toward health fear mongers, the “health nags” who tell us daily which minuscule and unsupported health dangers lurk in common living habits. He does not like those mongers, and he does not mean real nutrition and health scientists who know better-and whose rational information does not make headlines.

One of his theses is that we are so healthy and removed from real dangers and disasters that befell our parents and grandparents that we are spoiled into thinking that nature is benign and technology is killing us. We also seem to be so gullible that we fall for all that mongering, and try to remove ourselves from imagined dangers-from “chemicals” to electromagnetic fields.

Some chapter titles indicate the punch of the content. Chapter 1 is titled “Trust the Media at Your Peril.” Here, Dr. Edell delivers the punch to his own media, radio and television, as well as the printed press. Sections such as “The Terror Hit Parade” and “A Cure for Cancer! More at Eleven” give one no doubt as to the cogent critiques of media medicine. His “Consumer’s Guide to the Media” states that expert credentials are almost never verified, beware of the breakthrough, major claims require major proof, two events at the same time do not constitute cause and effect, and some research is better than others (repeat after me ten times). All 45 pages of this section are worth memorizing.

The most cogent criticism is that the media are too concerned with “bias” when it comes to quoting skeptics of “alternative” medicine. He recalls the JAMA media sting in 1991 when it printed two studies on nuclear workers and leukemia-one positive, the other negative. Even the “best” newspapers printed more on the positive study and many did not even mention the negative one. Thus the “news” media present biased health and medical news themselves. They actually create fears, and they then report them as the public. To my knowledge, no one in the media but Dr. Edell has had the courage to come out with this critique. 

Even knowledgeable physicians and scientists may be surprised at the revelations in the chapters on “Nutrition Made Easy” and “The Truth About Your Weight.” For instance, being moderately overweight increases morbidity and mortality minimally in youth and middle age compared with accidents, smoking, alcohol excess, and other lifestyle dangers, and the danger actually disappears in the elderly. So how much time and worry do we spend on weight compared with concerns about the others? That’s the point, and Dr. Edell hammers statistical probability principles everywhere he can. 

In “Exercise Is No Fun if It Kills You,” he makes the all-so-simple point that one hour of doing simple chores and fun activities (like dancing) per day will meet the goal of 2000 calories per week-all that one needs to get the maximum benefit for health. The rest is vanity or obsession. This is not original, of course, but from the Tufts University nutrition newsletter; an example of Edell’s reliable sources. 

He has few good words for the holistic and alternative medicine movements in “Would You Fly in a Plane without Wings?” I made that analogy (would you fly in a plane operating on an “alternative” theory of physics?) in a legislative hearing on a 1980s bill to license naturopaths in California. The committee chairman, an optometrist, chastised me for it. The idea was not ready for prime time. I am happy to see the metaphor finally making it. Here Dr. Edell calls the movements for what they are-ideological and without substance. He has some scary stories from his hippie medicine days, as well. 

In the chapter on drugs, he makes logical and carefully reasoned arguments against the war on drugs and the foolishness of outlawing plants and natural substances and sending people who use them to prison. Edell feels this is a public health problem, not a crime problem. Someone-make that everyone-in Congress and in the war on drugs movement should read this section and sleep on it every night. 

The book is not just a trip into pseudoscience and misreporting, but is also a practical guide for physicians and patients in negotiating health waterways. In “There is a Santa Claus,” he explores myths and common questions about sex and family. Physicians should read it carefully because his information is not only valid but understandable and practical. 

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry is written in popular style, using common language and a number of descriptions that evoke emotions-some humorous, others disbelief and wonder at the frailties of human belief and behavior. Dr. Edell is a keen observer, and although the presentation is through popular language, the essential wisdom comes through loudly and clearly. I see the ideal physician’s office having a copy in the waiting room and public libraries with multiple copies. It is the definitive patient reference book for common sense and for instructions on how to think straight. 

Wallace Sampson 

Editor, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 

E-mail: Wisampson@cs.com. 

From The National Council For Reliable Health Information 

Vanadium Caution 

Vanadium is thought to mimic the actions of insulin and to improve insulin sensitivity, but more studies are needed before it can be recommended for these purposes. Concerns about long-term toxicity and adverse GI effects caused the Pharmacist’s Letter (February 2000) to discourage its use at this time. 

Nurse Gets Massage-And Liver Damage 

A 39-year-old nurse in Colorado ended up with liver damage after visiting a massage therapist for deep tissue manipulation, according to HealthSCOUT. The therapist worked on the woman’s abdominal muscles. The woman developed nausea and abdominal pain and, after 72 hours, went to the hospital. She had to have a 2-pint blood transfusion because of internal bleeding from a bruise the size of a small pineapple in her liver. She lost 23 pounds over 6 months due to the nausea. Her physician wrote about the case in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. Although he’s not opposed to massage, he warns that it can result in serious complications such as embolisms and aneurysms. To reduce your risk, choose a massage therapist who is licensed (if your state is one of the 30 that does so) and belongs to a national organization. Tell the therapist about any health problems you may have and don’t ever allow any bruises to be massaged. Let the therapist know if you experience pain. 

Evaluating Complementary Medicine Research 

An article on the WebMD Web site gives valuable information on how to evaluate research claims of alternative and complementary medicine. As the article points out, if alternative and complementary medicine are to become part of a new “integrative” medicine that uses all approaches, then alternative and complementary medicine treatments must be tested through contemporary scientific research. The article goes on to explain all levels of evidence, from testimonials (the lifeblood of alternative medicine) to double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies. In addition, the unique challenges of examining complementary therapies is discussed (e.g., just how do you eliminate or control for the placebo effect from a study of chiropractic or acupuncture?). The article contains useful guidelines that perhaps should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand information about medicine. But the article concludes with a more mystical feel. The author editorializes on the need to examine the role of the placebo effect and how it could be used in medicine. The “mysterious nature of the healing process” is mentioned along with the desire for medicine to become once again “a healing art.”