Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Your Medical Questions Answered!
by Joseph B. Leibman, MD

Diplomate, Board Certification of Emergency Medicine Chairman,
Department of Emergency Medicine Ma'ayenei Hayeshua Hospital

First, let's answer some of my readers' questions. Mrs. S., of Bnei Brak commented on my article about dehydration that water is not a good fluid to replace lost salts such as potassium or sodium. Her children drink a lot of water, and she wonders if they are not getting the salts they need.

My answer to her was that salts are available from other foods in a person who is eating a regular diet. Our concern is in people who are dehydrated and not eating, such as a person suffering from diarrhea and/or vomiting. Such a person would need to replace these salts. Children who drink lots of water and are eating normally are doing just what they should.

Rabbi Cohen of Kiryat Sefer asked me to publicize the problem of secondhand smoke. Smoke from cigarette smokers that is then breathed in by nonsmokers can result in the same diseases that smokers get.

I personally think people who are so careless about their own health and are selfish enough to smoke in unventilated areas are unlikely to listen to any advice. I tell such people I have asthma or that it is interfering with my learning or davening.

I thank Rabbi Cohen for this anecdote. He told someone to stop smoking because in the U.S., they know it's dangerous and so most Jews do not smoke. The person answered him, well it takes things 10-15 years before they make it here to Israel, so I guess its still safe to smoke.

To finish up my series on selecting the specialist for you, I promised to discuss alternate therapies. Alternative medicine is extremely popular. In the USA alone, people spent over 1.2 billion dollars on it in 1998.

Alternative medicine has not fared well in well controlled studies. Chiropractors have been the best studied and the results were not encouraging. Herbal medicines and homeopathy have done somewhat better. It is definitely true that valuable medicines come from plants (such as aspirin). The Germans have compiled extensive reports on herbal medicines, and some do indeed have benefit. Vitamins and biofeedback have shown little benefit. If you would like to know which herbs or vitamins have been shown to work, please write me. Acupuncture definitely works, and is well studied.

In all these cases, I am definitely in favor in using alternative medicines in conditions that conventional medicine does not treat well, such as back pain. I am against its use in disorders that are potentially dangerous without proper care that is proven to work, such as in Hodgkin's disease, where the treatment for this cancer is 99% effective.

In other cases, whether it is effective or not is immaterial. If it works for you, and you believe in it, that's the most important. Certainly, one's mind influences disease. If you don't feel that you will get better, then even the best therapy won't work. This is called the Placebo effect.

What is more of a concern is the safety issues. Since these medications are not well studied, whether or not they are dangerous can be a big concern. People who tell you it is safe because it is natural, or that in twenty years of using it they have never had a reaction are not giving you proof. There can also be problems with impurities.

Dolomite, for example, is a source of calcium, which often has within it lead, a known poison. There can be potential kashrus problems as well: calcium supplements are often made from oyster shells. Often, the exact contents can not be determined. This is often the case in Chinese medicines. Often the person giving the medicines is untrained or took only a three week course.

Alternative medicines can be beneficial in many ways. Please use them safely. Write me at the Yated.


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