First published on on Sept. 17, 2014
In response to the question: What current health fad do you wish people would ignore?

It’s quite simple. ALL health fads should be ignored. The proof is simple.

If any fad were as startlingly effective as most fads claim to be, it would be easy for the medical profession to study and validate this effectiveness – at which point the fad ceases being a fad and becomes a bona fide medical therapy. QED.

So please don’t judge your physician harshly if she appears to roll her eyes when you talk about the latest internet sensation. She remembers shark cartilage, anti-neoplastins, laetrile, and dozens of other fads that were effective only at bilking the sick and credulous.

Yet, such fads inflame me far less than most physicians, because I have surrendered hope they can be eradicated. They are as inveterate in human society as cockroaches, and have been the hair shirt of physicians for millennia.

The great physician-essayist, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., illustrates this. In 1883 he irritably observed that “Ignorance is a solemn and sacred fact, and, like infancy, which it resembles, should be respected.”

But Holmes also understood the desperation of the sickbed, and captured what is surely a fundamental truth of human existence: “There is nothing men [and women] will not do, there is nothing they have not done, to recover their health and save their lives. They have submitted to be half-drowned in water and half-choked with gases, to be buried up to their chins in earth, to be seared with hot irons like galley-slaves, to be crimped with knives like codfish, to have needles thrust into their flesh, and bonfires kindled on their skin, to swallow all sorts of abominations, and to pay for all of this as if to be singed and scalded was a costly privilege, as if blisters were a blessing and leeches a luxury.”

Holmes omits that each of these therapies was once medical orthodoxy. The medical profession has fads, too.

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