Whenever I want to verify scientific claims about arthritis treatments, one of the first places I go is PubMed. It is a free on-line service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). It contains publication information and (in most cases) abstracts of articles from biomedical journals. You can learn a lot by scanning titles and reading abstracts. It is a quick and easy way to get an overview of what research has and hasn’t been published in reputable medical journals. Ideally, you only want to try out treatments that have done well in human trials, not just in test tubes, cell cultures or in animals.
About a year ago, at the invitation of a friend, I attended a meeting promoting the healthful qualities of a new fruit juice drink made from mangosteen, an Asian fruit. The presenters at this event referenced research findings indicating that this juice is effective against cancer and other aliments.
When I got home, I decided to explore the scientific part of their claims. It was easy to see from a simple PubMed search that almost no research been published on the subject. Furthermore, what had been done used only isolated cells lines. It is common knowledge in medical research that effectiveness in a test tube, cell culture or animals is no guarantee that it will work in real live humans. No studies had actually been done with live humans drinking the juice.
Is their drink as healthful as they claim? I don’t know.
Do they have the hard evidence they claimed to have had? No.
Am I willing to buy a product from a seller who misrepresented the evidence supporting his claims? No.
Example Two: Checking Out a Folk Remedy
Suppose you are curious about whether the folk stories about bee stings as a cure for arthritis have every been scientifically tested. If you type “bee venom arthritis” into PubMed, 57 articles come up.
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The first one is “Inhibitory effect of whole bee venom in adjuvant-induced arthritis.” If you click on the link, you can read the abstract, which will let you know the work was done with live rats stung every other day for 14 days with a honey bee. The stings had a strong positive effect on reducing the arthritis in rats. In this particular case, it has been documented that the type of arthritis the rats had is a good model for human RA.
So far, so good.
You scan further down the list of research papers. The next title that catches your eye is: “An Overview of Bee Venom Acupuncture in the Treatment of Arthritis.”
Reading the abstract you find that there is treatment called Bee Venom Acupuncture (BVA) that is growing in popularity in Korea. You find “Two randomized controlled trials and three uncontrolled clinical trials showed that BVA was effective in the treatment of arthritis.” Good again. Based on clinical trials done so far, this works for arthritis.
You return to the citations and yet another study catches your eye. In this abstract you learn that “Bee venom (BV) has been used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in traditional Oriental medicine, especially in chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).”
In less than 10 minutes you have learned that there is some good preliminary scientific evidence that bee stings actually have a good track record of reducing or eliminating arthritis in animals and in humans.
How New Information Generates New Options
Researching this folk remedy on PubMed is a good example of how new information can help generate new options. Without having checked out “bee venom arthritis” on PubMed I might never have realized that BVA practitioners existed or that I might be able to go to a practitioner of Oriental medicine to receive bee venom treatments. I might never have realized that there was so much evidence that bee venom helped arthritis or that treatment might be a simple as visiting a beekeeper several times a week and having him or her sting me with a bee.
I’m not saying that this treatment is for everyone. Like all treatments, it will vary in its effectiveness. And, at least with respect to the visiting a beekeeper idea, some of us might be more squeamish about the idea of being stung. But isn’t it nice to know that you have the power to generate new options for yourself?
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