I'm sure I'm a bit late to this party, having been on our Womenomics book launch/tour all week, and crazed in ways I was supposed to have banned with the help of Womenomics. But as Katty and I ran through the airport last week, and looked at the cover of Newsweek, we literally thought it was a spoof. A day or so later, when I saw it still sitting in the stands, I grabbed it. And as exhausted as I was, I could not put it down.
First of all, whatever case the reporters were trying to make about Oprah, it would have helped them tremendously to have done it in a dignified manner. That photo was just in horribly bad taste. Picking a photo of Oprah to make her literally look crazy, with a banner headline about wacky cures? Was the point to make her look like a nutty witch doctor? In fact it felt not only misogynistic, but racist. I could almost hear the voodoo drumbeats in the background.
Oprah is hardly a victim, and I can't argue this is a modern-day version of the Salem witch trials. This is a woman with the power to stick up for herself. But here's my shock-induced rant. I was most outraged, frankly, by what I read. If you're trying to accuse somebody of fraud or quackery or whatever it is, it helps to make something better than a shoddy case. Newsweek's was beyond pathetic.
First of all--"Outside Oprah's world, there isn't a raging debate about replacing hormones." Really? What planet are the authors on? There's plenty of debate, despite the research into hormone therapy, and the risks associated with it. Menopause hits many women like a truck, and millions of women wonder what to do. About 20 percent still use some sort of hormones for at least a short time. And, um, as Newsweek put on the cover in 2002 with "The Science of Alternative Medicine," the holistic approach is gaining ground. People look beyond what the standard medical prescription is, and often with good reason. Do we want to go to the extremes Suzanne Somers does? Who has the time? Or the guts? But she's like our food taster. Doing the hard work for us. And if we can seize on 10 percent of what she does as helpful, why not have access to that? Is there really anything wrong with giving people information, and trusting them to ferret through it?
Newsweek decides to go the other way--withholding information seems the point. Reading this Newsweek article, you'd think there was really no difference between the synthetic hormones provided by drug companies and the bio-identical hormones that many doctors prescribe, but which are not produced by major drug companies. "They are actually synthetic, just like conventional hormones." Hardly. Yes, they are both "man-made," but the bioidenticals are created to have the same molecular structure as our own hormones. Synthetic are not, it's a one size fits all approach that leaves many women with uncomfortable side effects. The bioidentical process is quite arduous, and requires lots of testing, but each woman gets a regimen much more suited to her body. Who knows whether they are safer--hormones clearly have risks--and they have not been studied in depth. But if doctors still suggest that some women take them for a short time, why shouldn't we know about all of the options? No--I'm not on them. I'm sure my time is near, and I have no idea what I'll do. But I've done my research. I'm a bit obsessive that way.
Was anybody troubled by the glib disclosure that Newsweek correspondent Pat Wingert, who worked on this article, wrote a book on menopause? Excuse me? Talk about a dog in the fight! I imagine she can't be a big fan of bioidentical hormones in her book.
Oh, and Newsweek's counter to Suzanne Sommers? One doctor, said to be authority of hormone therapy. One expert? When anybody who bothers to read about all of this knows that there's a debate on bioidentical hormones within the medical community? When top doctors might fall on either side of that debate? And no mention at all of the fact that one reason the medical community at large might prefer traditional synthetic hormones, if they are to be used at all, is the fact that drug companies can patent those. They can't patent bioidentical hormones. Hmm.
Last year we at ABC news ran a series on autism, and new methods being used to diagnose it which are--to say the least--controversial. The medical community and established autism community tried hard to get us to kill the report--which suggested (gasp)--that it might be a good idea to actually look at the brains of kids who are thought to be autistic. Do MRIs and EEGs. Hardly a stretch, and there is a growing body of evidence that autism is such a huge catch-all phrase that kids need more diagnosis. A number of prominent neurologists now believe it helps to look at the brain, especially to rule out seizure disorder, which can often produce autistic symptoms, and which is treatable. (That's what McCarthy found, among other things, by the way, when she decided to trust her instincts instead of conventional wisdom.)
But because this sort of diagnosis is expensive, and because it goes against the more established, behavioral method of diagnosing kids, we had to fight to get this on the air. Especially because there were no formal and conclusive studies. Not because nobody wants to do them--all of the top doctors say they need to be done. But nobody has put the money forward to get them done. So every time I asked--why should we wait? Why should I have access to this information but nobody else until 10 years from now when study is finally complete? Nobody could give me a good answer. In any event, I experienced the wrath of the establishment firsthand.
The fact is we just don't know about this stuff yet. Nobody wants to admit that. The medical community has a hard time admitting what we don't know, but there is plenty we don't know about autism, and the staggering rise in cases. Surely that is obvious to everyone. That's why a top doctor at Harvard who works on these issues told me he thinks there has to be a link between vaccines and some of the cases of autism. Why? They don't know. Is it only in children with a certain predisposition to autism? They just don't know. But to say, as Newsweek does, "the baffling rise in the number of autism cases has loosely coincided with an increase in the number of childhood immunizations. Yet researches have not found a link between the vaccines and autism," and expect that to seem conclusive, is nonsense. Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the NIH, at least sounded reasonable when she suggested the case is not closed, as far as the link between vaccines and autism. There are plenty of educated, smart people and doctors who know there's no evidence, yet, but who would never make categorical statements. Or suggest that Oprah and Jenny McCarthy are quacks. Check out www.NVIC.org
Like it or not, in today's world, television and the Internet are providing a constant challenge to the established medical community. No doubt that's frustrating for doctors, researchers and drug companies, at times. Maybe constantly. But in the end, the public pressure and scrutiny and exploration can only be good for all of us. That's the only way I figured out my then 3 month old daughter had reflux, after 2 months of being told it was "just colic." I trolled around on-line and discovered new research being done in St. Louis, and called doctors there and explored what they were doing. I wound up with the right medicine, and she got relief. But there were only a few doctors in my town up on what was going on, and willing to collaborate. And the public at large can't do what I did as easily. (Actually, many can. It was just me being pushy--had nothing to do with my job!) But more information is always better. Should we all be on the Suzanne Somers regimen? Clearly not. Does it all make sense? No. But some of it does. And just because it does not have the seal of approval from the establishment--is no reason to trash it. Quite the opposite, in many cases. And Newsweek, if you are going to go all paternalistic and controlling and establishment, please at least get your facts straight.