Mike Wallin reacting to one of the Daily Quotes:

“Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.” This was said in Perkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) a thousand years before Ben Franklin. Ask your local Rabbi.

Dana Nibby reacting to the July 29th mention of Echinacea and Ginkgo Biloba:

Ginkgo Biloba has only been shown to provide a mild cognitive benefit with impaired, elderly folk. And it can have a positively negative effect on those with blood clotting disorders. Self-medicating with herbs may be fun, but there are potential dangers. Be certain you let your physician know what you’re self-medicating with. Ginkgo is a relatively harmless herb; others less so.

Herbal extracts essentially are drugs — something like the difference between coca leaves and cocaine — and like illicit drugs, the concentrations of active ingredients vary enormously between manufacturers. At least with a drug, you know precisely what you’re getting. Just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe or salubrious.

I like Varro Tyler’s book The Honest Herbal — it’s the only responsible, non-credulous book I know of on herbal medicine; one that takes a sobering look at what the scientific evidence supports — written by a top-notch professor of pharmacology.

You could also try Camilla’s web page — a skeptical RN whose information I’ve always enjoyed. She maintains sober FAQs on the medicinal uses of various herbs — http://www.primenet.com/~camilla/herbs.htm.

Some herbs do in fact heal; some are physiologically inert; and some can do extreme damage in concentrated doses The notion that something is safe because it’s natural isn’t born out by the facts; i.e. some of the most effective poisons are natural as well.

Most people don’t have a clue about the concept of herbal extracts as drugs, and consequently don’t consider the consequences of possible interactions with other drugs.

Another thing that worries me is the whole homeopathy craze — on the one hand, it could be considered as harmless as taking sugar pills (placebo effect); on the other, anyone taking homeopathic remedies to combat something like strep throat could end up slowly destroying his liver or heart valves (rheumatic fever). Stuff like bacterial strep infections are not to be messed with. I’d be dead several times over if it weren’t for antibiotics.

And there’s what’s known as the false placebo effect — when people think they’re better only to die several months later. James Randi makes a similar point in his book The Faith Healers. When cancer patients eschew western medicine in favor of faith healers, proclaiming they’ve been healed, they often die several months later. So faith healing isn’t just a quaint harmless practice. It can be positively harmful when people use it exclusively.

Howard Smallowitz, reacting to yesterday’s column on mothers:

The first Jewish president calls his mother to invite her to the White House for Thanksgiving.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t going to do Thanksgiving this year. It’s such a hassle with all the cooking, the cleaning and the serving, and I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

“Mom,” he replies, “I’m president of the United States of America. I’ve got a hundred people whose job is is to cook and clean and cater to my every whim. You won’t have to lift a finger.”

“Yes,” she says, “but with all the traffic on Queens Boulevard, who can get a cab?”

“What are you talking about, mom?” says the president. “The secret service will pick you up in a limo. You won’t even have to lift your own suitcases.”

“I guess,” says the mother, “but you know how congested airports are. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year, and who needs to fight the crowds?”

Again the president sighs. “Look mom, I’ll have Air Force One waiting to pick you up. You’ll fly into Andrews Air Force Base, where a helicopter will whisk you to the White House lawn. You’ll be here in no time.”

“Well, okay,” the first mother finally relents.

A few days later she’s talking with one of her friends. “So what are you doing for the holidays this year?” the friend asks.

“I’m going to my son’s house.”

“Oh, the doctor?” says her friend, impressed.

“Nah, the other one.”


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