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How To Avoid Pop Medicine

Some bestselling health books reflect a breakthrough in marketing rather than medicine, critics say. On CBS This Morning, Dr. John Renner of the National Council for Reliable Health Information had some suggestions for judging a health book by its cover.

Dr. Renner suggests you check these criteria before purchasing a health book or following its advice:

  • The doctor's credentials, if it's even written by a doctor. If the author is a brain surgeon and is writing about nutrition, approach the information with some skepticism.
  • The hospital or organization with which the author is affiliated. Is it nationally known, credible institution?
  • Does the book recommend ignoring or rejecting conventional medicine? If so, be careful.
  • Does the book cover contain misleading or hyped up promises? If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Are the studies cited based on rats or other animals, or were they conducted with human subjects?

Here are a few examples:

Dr. Bob Arnot's book, The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet, contains some good information, Renner says, but the title is misleading: "I think he realizes that shouldn't have been the title," Renner says. "Nutrition is important in the prevention of cancer, but it's not the only answer. His book makes it much too simplistic."

Another bestseller, Sugar Busters by H. Leighton Steward et al, suggests eliminating carrots and potatoes from your diet. That leaves some nutritionists puzzled. Renner says the lead author is a businessman and the lead doctor is a cardiac surgeon, not a nutrition expert. That should make you somewhat cautious about its recommendations.

"I think we really need to look and see what the references are, whether there have been control studies, and whether it really makes sense in view of what we know about the way sugar is metabolized," says Renner.

Another book, The Pain Relief Breakthrough: The Power of Magnets by Dr. Julian Whitaker has also been criticized. There is anecdotal evidence for the use of magnets, Renner says, but few clinical studies on the subject.

Renner advises: "If a book is a mixture of nutrition and magnets and lifestyle, exercise, et cetera, some of it makes sense. But I would say we don't have the evidence for it. One of the lead authors is trying to market magnets through her site on the Internet."

Even books written by credible physicians need to be carefully viewed, says Renner. They may not knock conventional care, he explains, but often they still may contain claims that aren't backed up by good science.

"There is a tremendous amount of freedom of press, which we believe in," Renner says,"but it means we all have to become very much more critical in our analysis and our thinking."

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