Tuesday 15 October 2013

What "What Doctors Don't Tell You" Don't Tell You

As anyone who follows me, especially on Twitter, will be aware, there's been a bit of a fuss recently regarding the magazine "What Doctors Don't Tell You"  (WDDTY).

I've got enormous concerns about this magazine.  It's not simply an "alt-med" (alternative medicine) magazine devoted to home-grown treatments and alternatives to drugs.  It's actively telling people that homeopathy and various supplements are realistic treatment alternatives for conditions such as HIV and cancer, and that vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided.  Frankly I look forward to the days (around a decade from now) when children who have suffered life-changing measles infections bring their first legal challenges against the parents who decided they shouldn't be vaccinated.

However, there's always two sides to a story.  There is indeed a place on the magazine racks for an alternative health magazine.  I've been accused of both "moaning" and "bullying" for my anti-WDDTY attitude.  To counter this I've laid down a little challenge on Twitter: write an article that WDDTY should be about.  Not scaremongering, real criticism of the "medical establishment", just to prove that WDDTY could, if they wished, produce a responsible and useful magazine.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
One of the greatest challenges facing the medical establishment is the gradual failing of antibiotic treatments.  These were, when first discovered, one of the greatest human discoveries of all time.  Simple infections killed many people, from a simple boil to meningitis.  Any bacterial infection that the body couldn't handle had a high chance of killing you.  The discovery of antibiotics, penicillin and the like, was to change all of this in a manner which was frankly miraculous to anybody living at the time.  The equivalent today would be a cure for cancer, HIV, malaria, 'flu and car crashes all in one.

Penicillin was so useful, and so difficult to produce, that the urine of patients given the new wonder-drug was even filtered so the excess penicillin they excreted could be recovered and given to another patient.  It was, I repeat, miraculous.  I don't use that word lightly, what with not believing in god and miracles and all.

But we're facing a big problem.  It's not working any more.

Penicillin, the original drug, is of very limited use these days.  It has very little impact on most of the bacterial infections it used to cure.  There are very similar variants that have been developed - Amoxicillin, Dicloxacillin and lots of other things ending in "cillin", but they're still all just a symptom.

The problem is something else that appears to be contentious in the world of science: evolution.

The problem is, if you use a drug that kills 99% of germs then you're left with the 1% of germs the drug won't kill.  And then that 1% keeps breeding until there's as many as you started with.

This is the reasoning for all of the stern warnings on the antibiotic packets about finishing the course.  Yes, you feel better half way in, that's because half of the bacteria are gone and your body has a chance to catch up on the whole "immune system" thing.  If you stop taking the drugs, however, all you're doing is letting the drug-resistant versions (which have survived so far) take over.  It's like the 1940s USA dropping a nuclear bomb along with millions of leaflets on how to stop nuclear bombs exploding.  Sure, most of the leaflets will burn up, but one will survive, making all of your research null and void.

So if there's any criticism of the medical "establishment" to be made, it's that they've squandered an incredibly valuable resource.

Why did they do this?  It's partly simple human nature: we feel better, so we stop taking the drugs.  There's also strong anecdotal evidence to suggest that antibiotics have been over-prescribed, simply dished out to patients who have a bit of a cold and go to their doctor demanding the "miracle cure".  The fact that they have precisely zero effect on viral infections like the common cold seems to be lost amongst the sheer need to get rid of a demanding but would-get-better-anyway patient.

Antibiotics have been used as placebos over the years, because of budgetary pressures on GPs.  That's something which doctors won't tell you, because they don't have the time and money to discuss it.  They have to save the money for patients with advanced cancer who insist their "vitamin C tablets will deal with it, and by the way, can I have some more morphine?"

1 comment:

  1. Hi. There's now a website devoted to what "what doctors don't tell you" don't tell you: - enjoy!