Hey, give us a break! We get foot-tall stacks of journals every week. You can’t really expect us to do all that reading? What many people do is skim the titles and conclusions. It’s the Readers Digest way to get the information down.
Unfortunately, a little knowledge is dangerous and there’s a huge problem with practicing this kind of Readers Digest medicine. Why? Because the conclusions that get printed aren’t necessarily true!
A 2003 article in JAMA shows that most of their own articles, as well as articles in other well-respected journals, contain data that doesn’t support the statements made in the conclusion. This happens nearly 100 percent of the time in drug-company sponsored research articles, which were found to exaggerate benefits and minimize potential harms, sometimes to the extent that they make false claims of safety and efficacy.
I was never a big fan of bone density drugs because I understood that they worked by suppressing an important physiologic process called bone turnover. A recent NYT article now warns that they may indeed be harmful. I practice what I believe to be safe medicine by remembering the basic physiology I learned in medical school, and you can encourage your doctor to do the same by asking him to explain to you how any “preventative” drug you are taking works, and why he or she thinks a given pill is safe enough to take for (potentially) 10 or 20 or more years.