Is Modern Medicine Killing You? – Episode 1

By Michael Edmonds 03/10/2012 8


Well I have just watched the first episode of “Is Modern Medicine Killing You?” on TV 1 and it certainly could have been worse. There are a few concerns that I have about the show but all in all it was quite interesting.

This week we met two patients, suffering from different conditions, for which they had had little success being treated by the GP’s (as well as consulting specialists). They discussed their cases with the programme’s integrative medicine physician, Dr Frances Pitsilis who provided them with possible solutions, which were then tried by the patients.

The first patient, had developed chronic hand dermatitis shortly after the birth of her child, and had found conventional treatments such as steroids and other anti-inflammatory’s had not worked. Even the use of methotrexate, normally used as an anticancer drug, had been attempted producing unpleasant side effects but no cure.

Dr Pitsilis began by discussing Candace’s diet, discovering that she is a vegetarian who enjoys a diet containing sweets and high amounts of carbohydrates. Considering the possibility the condition might be associated with a deficiency she suggested supplements. This seems like a perfectly sensible approach to me. She also sent Candace to an acupuncturist, which I found less sensible. The sign outside the acupuncturist’s office offered “accurate computerised testing for food sensitivity and allergies which made me wonder how this worked and how it was associated with acupuncture. Also the acupuncturist described some medical conditions as being due to heat being released from the body which sounded a little strange to me.

The second patient was Damien, who was suffering from constant headaches for the past three years and was on a constant regime of aspirin, codeine and other drugs, including sometimes morphine, but with no long term relief in sight. Again Dr Pitsilis began by assessing Damien’s general health pointing out he was overweight with the potential for future obesity, diabetes and several other diseases, including Alzheimers (something I didn’t realise could be related to being overweight). She suggested an improved diet (I think I’m spotting a pattern here) , exercise and more sleep. She also sent him to a oral surgeon (I think) who identified tenseness in the muscles associated with the jaw and suggested phsiotherapy which was followed up.

After a few months of the new approaches both patients were reassessed by Dr Pitsilis. Candace was satisfied that her dermatitis had gone, having changed her diet to avoid gluten and sugar and to include supplements. While this is a perfectly plausible explanation, I can’t help but wonder if the disease, developing so soon after pregnancy could have been hormonal related, and which may have settled over time. However, I’m not going to argue that there is anything wrong with a healthy diet.

After the various treatments, Damien claimed that he felt better overall (and a “then” picture alongside a “now” picture seemed to confirm it) however his headaches still remained, although he had cut back from 4 to 2 codeine tablets a day. So some apparent progress.

However, one thing that did bother me a bit about the “then” and “now” photos was that the then was taken out in the street under natural light, whereas the “now” photo was taken inside the studio/doctor’s office and I couldn’t help but wonder if make up was involved with such close up camera work? This of course could make the patient’s complexion look much healthier.

During the show the patient’s also discussed their “poor” treatment by other medical professionals, which came across as a rather poor indictment on the medical professional as a whole. Dr Pitsilis certainly gave them far more time and attention than any medical doctor I have been to. However, I suspect some of the more damning comments might have been selected out of context from the doctors original intent or meaning. This is a very easy thing to happen in any conversation. Still, I think I would be more than satisfied with Dr Pitsilis as my doctor (sans the acupuncturist of course) – at least at the end of episode 1. If she sends any future patients off to see some of the dodgier alternative medicines I may just have to reassess.

All in all, an interesting programme so far. Though I have to say the title of the programme is certainly an exaggeration based on the cases so far. It is all to easy to forget that while modern medicine hasn’t cured every disease it certainly has provided successful treatments for a significant number of diseases improving both our collective life expectancy and quality of life.


8 Responses to “Is Modern Medicine Killing You? – Episode 1”

  • v nice summary Michael. I think not knowing that a poor diet is bad for health is on a par with not knowing that smoking is bad for health – ie unlikely. Most docs I know tell their patients this. However, they receive v little training in nutrition during their formal studies, so perhaps most GPs are not in a position to “prescribe” specific dietry changes. ie they prescribe what they know. These raises the qn – should we train docs differently, or should we leave them to be that ambulance at the bottome of the cliff when really needed and debvelop a better public awareness of what affects health and what to do about it?

  • Thanks, John.
    I guess GP’s have so much to fit into their heads during their training that there isn’t too much time to go into nutrition in detail. Perhaps if, with a few poignant questions, a GP might at least spot where nutritional advise is needed and then pass a patient onto a nutritionist to augment (not replace) the advice they are giving the patient.
    And while I agree with you that most people should understand the basics of nutrition I think for some people it just goes into the too hard basket – while they often know what they shouldn’t be eating, I’m not sure everyone understands clearly what they should be eating. And I tihnk this can be exacerbated by various nutritional information that makes it into the media, for example various “wonderfoods” which arise virtually every month

  • Excellent summary. I too had my concerns about the show after seeing the title and adverts but it would seem it is not all about promoting alternative therapies. The show seems like it will promote good diet and lifestyle as a remedy to many conditions vs prescription meds and hopefully stay away from promoting placebo therapy. The fact simple diagnoses such as teeth grinding were missed for so long is probably a reflection on the fact that consultations are quite short. 15 minutes is average for GPs. Doctors who take longer (and tend to cause the clinic to run late) are better liked by their patients. A proposed reason for the success of alternative treatment such as homeopathy is the fact that the homeopath spends up to an hour in the initial consultation.

    Minor points: methotrexate is not only a chemo drug. It is first-line in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and used in many other immune-mediated conditions such as Crohn’s disease and lupus. The use in treatment resistant dermatitis is thus justified, something the show did not quite point out.
    Also, the presentation of acupuncture and their explanation and pathogenesis for the skin condition made seem on par with the proposed gluten allergy theory.
    There do seem to be some underlying themes of anti-medical establishment and in following weeks these may reveal themselves.

  • Thanks for those additional points Atticus.
    Although I have a good GP, I must admit that I have 15 minutes to try and have a good discussion aobut any health issues I have. When necessary I will book a double appointment.
    I suspect a lot of people are too intmimidated by their doctors to ask the right questions sometimes. I learnt a long time ago that you have to be proactive. At one stage I had to assert myself to get an amylase test done to confirm I had pancreatitis when the house surgeon didn’t think the symptoms were right. Also, I experienced an additional 6 hours of starvation because someone forgot to update a chart. Doctors and nurses are fantastic but they are only human and sometimes hospital systems let them down so it pays to be proactive.

    It will be interesting to see how this programme turns out.

    Did you feel that as well as some valid comments the acupuncturist also invoked some dodgy statements about heat and disease?

  • The jaw grinding was interesting. A comment was made that the headaches occured after a severe cold (I think). There is nothing worse than sleeping with a cold and (having to) breathe through your mouth. Dry throats are extremely irritating and bloody sore. My conjecture is that the jaw crunch (and headaches) developed as an unconcious need to keep the mouth shut while sleeping………6 hours of holding your jaw shut would likely give anyone a headache.

    $155 please.

  • Yeah 15 min consultations are a joke… Many have the notion that advances in medical care and pharmacological interventions have increased our life expectancy by some 28 years. But this simply isn’t true.
    When you examine the life expectancy of adults over the last 100 years, you’ll find that we have increased the adult life expectancy by only six or seven years. The number we need to focus on is how many years of vitality have been added to the adult life span. The reason we’ve seen a 28-year increase in the life expectancy at birth over the last century is related to the dramatic decline in the neonatal and infant mortality rates.
    Some 100 years ago, every fifth baby died before reaching the age of one. But once a person had reached 40, 50, or 60 years of age, and he/she no longer had to worry about childhood diseases, their life expectancy was about the same as it is today.
    Once we’ve accounted for those changes in the neonatal and infant mortality rates over the past 100 years, we see there is a mere six or seven additional years of adult life, in spite of dramatic advances in modern medicine.
    Some 100 years ago, we had virtually no health care system. Physicians were seen as glorified barbers. Modern medicine was in its infancy. Even so, adults lived much longer lives than is suggested by the life expectancy data. When people talk about increased life expectancy, this has everything to do with how we view and understand the data. Yes modern medicine can be very good at saving lives in acute situations… However I question wether the tide of drugs being dished out like lollies has reduced mortality. Probably added to it….
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2669876/

    • “Even so, adults lived much longer lives than is suggested by the life expectancy data.”

      I assume you mean the luckily few who survived childhood and then spent their adult life enduring the efects of a range of afflictions including lice, syphilis etc, and where a simple cut could result in death from septicemia?

      “However I question wether the tide of drugs being dished out like lollies has reduced mortality”
      I doubt any good doctors dish out drugs like lollies. These days a good and effective doctor considers all of the options and only prescribes drugs when necessary. My doctor will only ever prescribe antibiotics when necessary and has worked with me to minimise the amount of medication I need to control my asthma. He also encourages exercise and healthy eating.

  • “But once a person had reached 40, 50, or 60 years of age, and he/she no longer had to worry about childhood diseases, ”

    I understand that chicken pox, mumps, & even measles can actually be extremely unpleasant when contracted as an adult…