Thoughts on Judaism

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Echinacea Bubble Bursts

Everyone knows that echinacea cures the common cold, along with flu symptoms and tons of other stuff. Now there is proof. Proof that is does NOT do any such thing. A properly controlled study published in the NE Journal of Medicine concludes that there is no significant difference between taking echinacea and taking a placebo.

For a real laugh, look at some of the analysis on magic medicine web sites. Just Google "echinacea study" and see for yourself. It seems the sun was in their eyes again.


  • B"H
    Shalom uBrocha!
    I bet you didn't read the whole article inside or more so other articles on the topic yet you put it here as a sort of Evangile NEJM so all rationalists like yourself can make fun of their wives:-)
    By the way there are studies quoted by DR Duke who researches herbs for USDA that it does work.
    Also I don't think that if NEJM will publish a study that prunejuice is not a good laxative but in fact causes constapation even a person like yourself or Gil Student will publish it realizing that despite PHDs attached to it it's probably funded by drug companies since it goes against your own experience.:-)
    Brocha veHatzlocha!

    Ariel Sokolovsky
    Chabad Videos page
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    Long Live our master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 8:25 AM  

  • My favorite study was published in the AMA magazine Jama, done by a 12 year old girl on the powers of healing touch.

    She did a double blind controlled study, not asking the healing touch practitioners to heal anyone, but just asking them to put their hand through a cardboard hole and identify if there was a human hand underneath theirs.

    The results were as expected...50/50, or chance..but the funny thing was to listen to the healing touch practitioners gab away, demonstrating clear lack of statistical basics. I remember one saying something like, "If It works fifty percent of the time that's pretty good."

    By Blogger Ben Avuyah, at 10:35 AM  

  • I see your point. Why would we trust a simple double blind study when we have the hearsay of PhDs from the National Federation of Tea Leaf Readers?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:43 AM  

  • ben avuya

    That is precisely why anecdotal evidence is useless. If a particular candidate cure worked in 5 out of 10,000 cases, we would all agree that it is likely that the cure is worthless. However, with anecdotal evidence, I would have 5 independent miracle cures.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 1:51 PM  

  • "since it goes against your own experience."

    No Ariel, I would assume that further study had indicated that my personal experience was in perception only but that in eliminating my own psychology, they had shown the substance to be ineffective.

    A better line here would have been to say that only one variety of echinacea was tested and other varieties should be studied as well. That would actually be a scientific attitude.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:53 PM  

  • B"H
    Shalom uBrocha!
    So if a study will be published that says that prune juice is not a laxative but in fact causes constipation you'd ignore your own consistent experience over many years instead of questioning the motives and sources of funding of the people conducting the study?
    This would also smack of the "mystical aproach" which you like to bash:-)
    By the way you ignored my comment about reading the study inside check it out it's not so 100% absolutly positive as the article claims it is and it quotes other double blind studies of the same herb with opposite results (if I remember correctly)
    By the way go research how pharmaceutical companies often fund biased studies to discredit the medicinal value of various herbs or to overblow their side effects research the FDA (which is a handmaiden of pharmaceutical companies) crusade against Kava Kava to slap a deceptive warning on the botles stating that it causes liver demage omiting the fact that this only happens when the person takes double the recomended dosage for many years not to mention the fact that literaly all chemical alternatieves to Kava have much worse side effects much sooner even when taken at their recomeded dosages.
    With respect and blssing.
    Ariel Sokolovsky
    Ariel Sokolovsky
    Chabad Videos page
    Chabad Lubavitch Travel Service blog
    Geula Investment Trust .com blog
    Moshiach TV blog
    Long Live our master our Teacher and our Rebbe King Moshiach Forever and Ever!

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 10:59 AM  

  • Ariel

    The reason for a double blind study is to weed out our psychology as a factor in understanding a phenomenon. It increases our perceptual vision, rather than denying what we see, it allows that our original interpretation of what we saw was wrong. We systematically eliminate the variables until we have the one that actually changes the results. The mystical approach starts with a result and tries to sustain it as it dies on the empirical vine, giving magical reasons to refute the results, even to the point of redefining death, on the vine or otherwise.

    Your point about reading the study fully, and not reading too much into a particular study is valid enough. When a study is performed, first they use a small sample, and then if it shows promise, they expand the study to a larger sample to make sure the variance is large enough to be significant (as in the infamous Duke cardiology study on prayer and healing). In this case, the sample group was sizable enough to be statistically valid. But it only tested one variety of echinacea agaisnt one set of symptoms. It would be over reaching to say that the study conclusively proves that echinacea is entirely valueless, based on the study alone. On the other hand, there is no comparable study that shows any other variety to be effective. (Watch the word comparable.) The only reason we would have to believe it is anecdotal evidence, which is valueless, entirely valueless. In Yiddish they say "a maaseh vaxed aigeneh bord." (Lit. A story grows its own beard.) You gotta love Yiddish sayings. :)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:16 AM  

  • B"H
    Shalom uBrocha!
    Anecdotal eveidence is not as valueless as you think.
    For example if you go to a normal (Russian , European British or an honest American) doctor and say "Dr. I have constipation" and he prescribes prune juice on one hand this "prescription" doesn't have an fda study costing millions of dollars backing it on the other hand it has been the experience of that doctor as well as millions other doctors and patients in this generation and in the past generations that prune juice is a sure cure for constipation with no side effects in normal dosage unlike some of it's chemical alternatives. Think about it...
    As Dr. Duke writes in Green Pharmacy:
    Dr. James Duke, a scientist who worked for the USDA, recommended in his typical iconoclastic fashion, that Dan Rather ask the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) if he considered prune juice a safe and effective laxative. "If he answered no, I suggested that Rather request that Dr. Kessler (the commissioner) drink some and experience the results for himself. If he answered yes, I suggested that Rather ask why FDA labeling regulations prohibit prune juice marketers from stating that prune juice is a safe, effective, gentle laxative." "...(It) is probably the cheapest, least unpleasant laxative now available." (The Green Pharmacy, p140)
    paraphrased here
    I wonder when the ancestors of American Jews threw their teffilin into NY harbor (as the story goes) did most of them threw their common sense there too? Just a question not meant to insult anyone or anything.:-)
    With respect and blessing.
    Ariel Sokolovsky
    PS. By the way I'm not trying to say that double blind studies are worthless all I'm saying is that if you learn American history Pharmaceutical companies often finance studies to their advantage (just like tobaco companies or oil companies etc.) so when a study goes much against general human experience (as far as I'm aware or especialy my personal experience ) I tend to take it's results with a grain of salt. By the way let's imagine that same NEJM cnducts a double blind study on the efficiency of answers thru Igrot Koidesh in treating internal illnesses would that make you reevaluate your own position about this issue (it would have to if you realy mean some of the things you said above):-) ?

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 7:01 PM  

  • Anecdotal evidence is completely subjective and under no control. Anyone who ever saw a magic trick can tell you that the cause you think you see is not always the cause.

    Here are some miracle cures that have been verified with anecdotes:

    Kissing the virgin Mary stature at Lourdes and dipping in the mikveh there.
    The Virgin Mary moving the sun around at Majorke in 1917.
    Countless thousands who have been healed at Southern Baptist and Pentacostal Revivals and the like
    Thousands who have visited psychic surgeons
    Faith healers of many religions
    AmerIndian medicine men

    All of them and countless others have the same anecdotal evidence that, in your mind, is not valueless. Each of them has been experienced and can be experienced even to this day, and many will say that something real is happening. The placebo effect and suggestion, especially in a religious context are very powerful psychological forces. Controlled testing protocols factor that out. Anecdotes do not. Controlled protocols verify the before and after results and what occurs in between. Anecdotes do not.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:09 PM  

  • By the grace of G-d
    Shalom uBrocha!
    So to get back to the issue at hand since anecdotal evidence is valueless as you say you'd not use prune juice to give your child if he has constipation but give him some chemical cure with side effects instead?
    Stop trying to win an arguement just be honest with yourself.
    By the way as far as halocha is concerned anecdotal evidence has value (not that it matters to you the mocker of "mystical aproach" there are many pages in Talmud and Rishonim and achoronim devoted to this issue as you know.:-)
    And please don't start a tirade about this last part of the post till you honestly and directly answer the 1st one about prune juice not to mention that you still didn't answer what would you do if there is a NEJM peer reviewed double blind study comes out about efficiency of answers thru Igros and Rebbe's Mikvah water
    in treating internal illnes.:-)

    By Blogger Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky, at 1:25 AM  

  • Ariel
    I sit here, mouth agape. Every scientist on Earth understands things such as cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, placebo effect, etc. No scientist on earth accepts anecdotal evidence alone as proof of anything, though they may use it as a launching pad to do tests. Any magician will tell you how many ways we fool ourselves with what we see, hear and conclude.

    Let's look at the example of prune juice. People drink it and it seems to have a diuretic effect. I give it to 500 people, and 450 say it has this effect. Were the other 50 lying? Did the 450 take metamucil and just not tell me because they didn't know it was significant? Do they all say that it works, because who wants to the fool who speaks against what everybody knows? So I, the studier, lay down prarmeters and record what they consume and eliminate all diuretic factors that I know of other than my experimental factor. I define to my staff, in objective terms, what constitutes affirmative or negative effect. Then, I take half the group and I give them prune juice, in identical dosage, and the other half and give them, unbeknownst to them, a very similar liquid that is known to be inert. The doses are premarked so even the researchers do not know which is which until after the test is complete. Does it still have the same effect at the same rate? Many who took the inert substance will experience the same effect, or will believe that they do. If we find that there is still a significant variance, we try to isolate the substance that is active in prune juice and define its properties. That is why penicillin, rather than moldy bread, cures infections.

    Side effects - any drug that has effects, effects that we want, also will have side effects, ie effects that we do not want. That is because reality doesn't care about what we want and what we don't want, unless you follow the mystical approach, of course, and any New Ager will agree with that.

    Halacha - take kidush hachodesh fo instance. Two witnesses, or hundreds, come and independently say that the moon was in the North and tipped at such and such an angle. We have independent anecdotes, we should have Rosh Chodesh. Yet, halacha prescribes that the judges figure out where the moon should be and how it should look, based on astronomical principles. If they find that it should not be where and when the witnesses said they saw it, they must conclude that the witnesses were fooled by the clouds or some other phenomenon, that made it APPEAR as if the moon was there. Hmmmmm.

    See my earlier posts on the The Ramban concluded that Arab foretunetelling was valid, based not on Torah, but on observation, "we cannot deny what we see with our eyes", said the sage in Parshas R'ay. Similarly, many sefarim say that a certain cure that we know does not work is "examined and researched" based on anecdotal evidence, back before placebo effect was understood. Why do these cures or observations no longer seem to hold, according later sages? Nishtaneh HaTeva, of course. :p

    As for the igros, even anecdotal evidence does not sustain it, as you yourself, have proven conclusively.

    I had not heard of the Rebbe's mikveh eater having magical properties, but it wouldn't be the first time, as in the kabalah water with which you are already familiar.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:08 AM  

  • Also, a point about comparing igros to taking medicine. Wehn I take medicine, I can specify the compostion, the dosage and other factors. Therefore, double blind tests are appropriate to test them. With igros, there is no protocol. There is no way to determine what the interpretation is, other than personal feelings. There is not even a standard way of performing the procedure.

    As an example, a friend of mine, an ardent Meshiachist, was arguing with an Elokist some time ago. The Elokist explained that he had asked igros and the letter that he got by whatever method was an exhortation from the CR to write the name of G-d carefully in the place that it belonged, because one cannot erase it. In other places you should write the name with a dash in the middle, even in foreign languages.

    The Elokist interpreted this as sustaining that he should write G-d in the proper place, namely after the CR's name. The Moshichist interpreted the exact opposite, that he was being told not write the name in a place where it doesn't belong and not to profane it. In scientific protocols, there is no room for such flexibility of interpretation.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 9:29 AM  

  • Hey I've got an idea.Lets all mix a copious amount of echinacea and mix it in a big glass of prune juice,then hold hands with an unseen 12 year old girl and see if anybody involved either...
    A - catches/cures the common cold
    B - cures/becomes constipated
    C - becomes telepathic

    Please forgive me fellas.I just couldn't pass on this one.

    All in jest.
    Be well

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:12 PM  

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