The crazy world of medicine

Brendan Seery.

Brendan Seery.

I once thought doctors are infallible. But there’s much we still don’t know.

I was only in my twenties and still wet behind the ears, but I was surprised when our family doctor looked at the X-rays of my knee, ankle and hip and said: “I have no idea.”

It surprised me because, in those days, doctors were second only to the pope when it came to being infallible.

Years later, I appreciate that humility, which one seldom encounters in the modern physician, in my opinion. He had been presented with a situation, an agonising knee pain (so bad I could hardly walk and you could hear the clicking of the joint when I put weight on it) that his conventional training had not prepared him for.

Later, I read a news story about the new medical field of biomechanics and deduced that my problem could have been caused by a leg-length disparity. From then on I built up one side of my shoe. I ran my first Comrades Marathon two years later (in 8 hours 12 minutes, which was better than I expected) with the sole inserts.

My sister, who predicted I would have arthritis by the time I was 40 if I kept running (she was also part of the medical community, a lab technician), was one of the first people I phoned from my friend’s house in Pietermaritzburg.

On the table next to the phone lay my Comrades medal. All these years later, I am still running. These days, thanks to the internet, people are a lot more aware of health and many are openly questioning the conventional orthodoxy in the medical world.

One of the biggest of these movements is the LCHF (low carb, high fat) lifestyle, which is almost diametrically opposite to all the advice on prevention of heart attacks, strokes and type 2 diabetes.

The latest medical “craze” (that’s what it is to me) is statins, the drugs which can lower cholesterol dramatically. In theory, statins therefore reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke. However, I was reading (thanks to Twitter) an article compiled by a medical doctor who advocates living an “alternative” lifestyle, which claimed that many studies showing the efficacy of statins were flawed, both medically and statistically. I checked some of her references and these studies exist.

Statins, according to her and other critics, pose many more threats than they do solutions, including increasing the possibility of cancer and mental problems such as depression.

The list of side-effects from statins is, according to critics, as long as my arm. Mind you, I also pause when I realise that the internet has also led to a legion of anti-vaccination campaigners (who claim the jabs cause autism in children) causing a comeback of disease like measles.

That little bit of knowledge can also be dangerous.

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