Do You Believe in Magic, by Paul Offit M.D. (Book Review Pedcast)

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Do You Believe in Magic?: Vitamins, Supplements, and All Things Natural: A Look Behind the Curtain


Welcome to the pediatric blog. I am your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, a practicing pediatrician and founder of the docsmo blog. Thank you for joining me today. Today, I am going to review an interesting book written by a well known pediatrician and vaccine expert, who authored  a book that analyses the alternative medicine  and supplement practices in the U.S..

Dr. Paul Offit, the author of Do You Believe in Magic, is a pediatrician and effective advocate for children’s health. He is a hero to many practicing pediatricians because he has been such an effective advocate for vaccines.  In fact, he is probably the most influential advocate doctors have to promote vaccines.  After reading Do you believe in Magic, I can now see why his foes in the anti-vaccine movement dislike him so intensely.  He does not mince words when he decides to criticize practices he does not approve of.  In Do You Believe in Magic, Dr. Offit challenges the biggest names in alternative medicine and politics, with biting pointed criticism of what he sees as mostly quackery and snake oil sales.


The foundation of  Dr. Offit’s book is his faith in the scientific method.  For Dr. Offit, a therapy is only effective if there is good scientific evidence of effectiveness.  Much of the alternative medicine world has no peer-reviewed scientific support and therefore, according to Dr. Offit, is useless …or worse.  Unfortunately, the world is not always so black and white.  Dr. Offit is very good at pointing out instances when reliance on alternative therapies have done great harm to patients, especially when treating famous patients like Steve McQueen and Steve Jobs, but he seems to give conventional medicine a pass on poor science that inflates the effectiveness and minimizes the side effects of western medicinal practices.


Do you Believe in Magic brings a strong point of view to the discussion of alternative versus modern medicine.  Since the majority of people in the U.S. now consume alternative therapies, be they herbs, vitamins, supplements, physical manipulations like chiropractry, or acupuncture, Dr. Offit has started an important discussion.  Even though his title claims to be a balanced look at alternative and complementary medicine, his blunt criticism and visceral tone are anything but balanced.  Magical theories of disease, unproven therapies, false hopes of cure that delay or prevent effective therapy can certainly do great harm as Dr. Offit is quick to point out.  On the other hand, emphasizing better nutrition, stress reduction, improved sleep, the healing power of exercise and meditation are good things that alternative medicine brings to the discussion and can provide healing where pills cannot.  Just because no one has done a double blind, placebo controlled study to prove that the child eating his or her salad everyday improves his or her health doesn’t mean that the salad can’t be helpful to their health. As parents are faced with ever increasing limitations on their healthcare spending, making wise use of these healthcare dollars is increasingly important. For those parets interested in healthcare policy and debates, Dr. Offit’s book is an interesting read. For those parents looking for practical advice and information about pediatrics, you need to look elsewhere. I give Dr. Offit’s latest book 3.5 out of 5 Doc Smo stars.


Thanks for joining me today. I hope you take a few minutes to explore the hundreds of interesting posts and articles I have on my blog,  Until next time.