You would think that simple remedies, which could help a large number of people, would be more newsworthy than “miracle” breakthroughs which are at best years away and realistically, in 89% of instances, rubbish.
Sadly you would be wrong.
Hardly a week goes by without news of some medical breakthrough. The storyline is that some new discovery has been made that will lead to a cure, usually but not always, for cancer. Generally the end paragraph suggests that more work will be needed and that it could be some years before the breakthrough becomes available.
One week recently we have had two.The first is a cure for opiate addictions. The researchers claimed that they had discovered that blocking an immune receptor stopped opoid cravings. Trials on humans could be started in two to three years and IF successful the new treatment could be co-prescribed with narcotic analgesics.
The second was a contraceptive pill for men. Scientists in The USA have developed a molecule, which reversibly blocks sperm production in mice and rats. Reading through the article we find that extensive animal testing would be needed before human trials and that at best it may take 15 years.
I will stick my neck out here. We will never hear of either of these again. And nobody will care!
Given how bombarded we are with news and messages, we are highly unlikely to recall a story from last month or even last week extolling the latest breakthrough. So when nothing further happens few people are left wondering” what ever happened to that new cure?”
A review by American researchers found that there is another reason why we don’t hear much follow up on breakthroughs. Some 89% of studies, which claimed new findings with regards cancer, could not be replicated! In other words the findings could not be verified. Hence they are never heard of again.
If we widen that out to other aspects of medicine it is likely that the figure would be similar. In part this reflects the scientific process, which can have many dead ends before success.
But there are two other factors:
It is easier than ever to get papers published. I was sent an email by a medical website I subscribe to inviting me to submit a paper. This group puts out around 100 titles and so that is a lot of journal to fill. I was promised a rapid process with a maximum of 17 days between submission and first editorial decision, including peer review.
It is little wonder that so much that passes as research fades without a trace.
Secondly is the willingness of the media to give prominence to these “breakthroughs”. The male contraceptive was page three news with the headline “ Eureka – male birth control pill is a goer”.
I suspect that medical miracle stories sell papers and get hits on websites.
In contrast to new discoveries that essentially have no basis which make the front page, research on simple remedies fail to get any publicity. Recently there have been two studies, which made simple useful findings which could benefit many people.
The first was that drinking more water reduces headaches. This has been shown previously. Nearly half the people with regular headaches who increased their water intake by 1.5 litres per day over 3 months had a significant improvement in their symptoms!
Another study showed that giving honey to small children aged 1 to 5 with a nighttime cough, improved the symptoms significantly. Honey is reputed to have been one of Hippocrates’ preferred remedies. It may not work for every child but it is simple, inexpensive and (excluding allergies to honey which is rare) basically side effect free. And there are few other options for treating coughs in this age group.
The significance of this has been increased as the TGA in Australia has now advised against use of cough mixes in children aged under 6 and that they only be used on medical advice in those aged 6-11!
Headaches are common. Something, which can reduce rates in 50% of sufferers, would interest a lot of people. A cough in small children, particularly in winter, is also common. And there are fewer options than ever. Something as simple and ubiquitous as honey is worth people knowing about.
Simple remedies still work- even if they are not front page “breakthroughs”.