Battling Quackery

by Gant on February 28, 2013

Attitudes About Micronutrient Supplements in American Academic Medicine


vitamin supplements

Throughout the 20th century American academic medicine has resisted the concept that supplementation with micronutrients might have health benefits. This resistance is evident in several ways: (1) by the uncritical acceptance of news of toxicity, such as the belief that vitamin C supplements cause kidney stones; (2) by the angry, scornful tone used in discussions of micronutrient supplementation in the leading textbooks of medicine; and (3) by ignoring evidence for possible efficacy of a micronutrient supplement, such as the use of vitamin E for intermittent claudication.

Part of the resistance stems from the fact that the potential benefits of micronutrients were advanced by outsiders, who took their message directly to the public, and part from the fact that the concept of a deficiency disease did not fit in well with prevailing biomedical paradigms, particularly the germ theory. Similar factors might be expected to color the response of academic medicine to any alternative treatment.

The above two paragraphs are the start of an article published by the American Medical Association in 1998!

The article goes on to point out the difficulties that Galileo and Linus Pauling had with their “radical” ideas. Also, about the resistance of the medical community to the concept that scurvy, beri-beri, and rickets were caused by vitamin deficiencies.

The article sums up by stating there are only 3 important questions when evaluating a potential treatment.

Does it work? What are the adverse effects? How much does it cost?

Ideally, issues such as the theory underlying the treatment or the guild to which the proponents of the treatment belong should be irrelevant to the fundamental questions of efficacy, toxicity, and cost. The history of the response of academic medicine to micronutrient supplementation suggests that we have not attained that ideal.

Think there is any resistance to new concepts today?

The complete article is available here (right click and download): Battling-Quackery.pdf

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