Monday, May 23, 2005

Is the Medical Industy Always Right?

It seems that the medical industrial complex has grown substantially in significance in our society during my lifetime. It’s almost to the point of worship in some circles. We make many lifestyle choices based on the latest information flowing from the omniscient oracles of medicine. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what we should be doing and about new epidemics plaguing our society. Please note a tone of cynicism in my approach to this topic.

I find it humorous on one hand and pathetic on the other when information comes along that contradicts what has become conventional medical wisdom. Every year as spring moves toward summer the media spews a ponderous pile of preaching about skin cancer. I mean, we all know from years of indoctrination that sun is bad for us and that we need to slather ourselves with sunscreen if we ever think of going out in the sun, right? Check out a few recent Deseret News articles on the subject.

Some states and cities regulate tanning bed use by minors due to skin cancer concerns. (Mind you, I think that spending time on a tanning bed is idiotic, but I’m not sure government’s role is to regulate stupidity). Teenage tanning is a bad idea. Teens ignore tanning risks. (This is news? Teens have been ignoring the risks of all kinds of risky behavior for generations). UofU group cancer prevention advice includes staying out of the sun. Utah 4th in U.S. for skin cancer. Scare article about rare but increasing melanoma in kids. Vitamin D from direct sunlight a good thing (in limited doses). Two Utah women conducting crusade against skin cancer. Lack of vitamin D causes 30 times more deaths than skin cancer from sun.

This last one is a very interesting article. It challenges the medical industrial complex’s accepted view that exposure to sun is bad and that we always need sunscreen when we go outside. Dr. Michael Hollick of Boston University has research that shows that we need more vitamin D and that we need to get it from the sun. Supplements are very poor transmitters of the nutrient. Dr. Hollick says, “The problem has been that the American Academy of Dermatology has been unchallenged for 20 years. They have brainwashed the public at every level.” Dr. Henry Lim, chairman of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit says, “The statement that 'no sun exposure is good' I don't think is correct anymore.”

Undoubtedly, this is not the last word on sun exposure. But my point is that we regularly suck down whatever the medical industry tells us in a rather uncritical manner. We regulate our lives based on industry propaganda. We need to realize that even the best medical information is not necessarily the whole story. It is just the latest information. If the industry gets too bogged down with accepted “knowledge,” it may fail to do research that might refute or improve that information. There are also constituencies and politics within the medical industry that may skew public information. As we embark on crusades to stop epidemics, maybe we should consider the information basis of each crusade with a grain of salt.

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