Friday, April 24, 2009

Alcohol, smoking, Parkinson's disease, heart disease

A word or two about who I am and the purpose of this blog. I have been a family doctor for over 25 years. I have always been disturbed by the inaccuracy of newspaper reports about medical research and articles in medical journals. For the last 20 years, I have been writing letters to the editor (with a publication rate of approx. 50%) pointing out errors in the articles. Even Jane Brody and Gina Kolata have misinterpreted articles in medical journals. Since Ms. Kolata was an excellent science writer when she wrote for "Science", the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, it seems to me that it is difficult, if not impossible, for a non-physician to interpret completely and accurately medical research reports to the newspaper public.

We also have the problem that much of medical information is counter-intuitive (e.g. calcium kidney stone attacks can be reduced by INcreasing the amount of calcium in one's diet), and much of what we "know" about medicine is either false, or has not been demonstrated to be true.

Finally, there is censorship, in the sense that medical articles that contradict popular political-medical beliefs are never mentioned (e.g. the several studies in Europe that statistically indicate that cigarette smokers have a reduced incidence of Parkinson's disease, or the refusal of our government to advocate having a glass of wine three days a week to reduce the incidence of heart disease). With regard to atherosclerotic heart disease, we have known since the fifties that young GI casualties of the Korean War had atherotic streaks in their aortic intimae, and that, all other facts being equal, alcohol drinkers have less blockage and larger internal diameters of their coronary arteries than do teetotalers, but this information was never trumpeted to the public.

I intend to comment periodically on medical stories in the news, and if there are no interesting stories, then to comment on some aspect of medicine that I think needs better understanding by the medical public


  1. Do you have a reference to the study showing smokers have lower rates of Parkinson's Disease?

  2. I can recall at least five studies. One was in the Netherlands, and was published in Lancet. At least one other study was also published in Lancet. I would suggest (a) a PubMed search with smoking + Parkinson's, and a search of Lancet's searchable index for the same co-topics. Unfortunately, I have read so much that I rarely remember more detail about the article than this. If I need the actual source, it is generally in reference to point I made on attending ward teaching rounds, and I ask a medical student or resident to give a short report on the topic complete with references. They are very happy to search for the world on the computer.