Evaluating Medications and Supplement Products (cont.)

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What are doctors' limitations in evaluating products?

Ideally all products used in treating and preventing diseases should undergo prospective, randomized, double blind placebo-controlled trials involving a large number of study subjects. But these studies are costly, and not all proposed studies can be funded. Furthermore, disease prevention studies generally take many years to complete. Therefore, doctors often have to make recommendations based on incomplete knowledge and scientific data. When conclusive proof of effectiveness and safety are not available, doctors sometimes rely on less reliable information from observational studies and even anecdotes.

Even expertly designed and carefully conducted clinical trials may not detect all the adverse effects of a drug or product. Some adverse side effects of a new product may not show up until many (often millions) of users have used it for a long time (months to years).

What is an anecdote in medicine?

In medicine, an anecdote is a treatment response observed on a single person or a number of people. The observations are made outside of a formally conducted, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.

What are the shortcomings of anecdotes in medicine?

Anecdotal benefits cannot be distinguished form placebo effects. More often than not, anecdotal benefits cannot be confirmed by double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trials. Therefore, doctors generally are hesitant to recommend treatments solely based on anecdotal evidence. Moreover, potentially serious adverse side effects may only be uncovered by a carefully conducted placebo controlled clinical trial.

However, anecdotal reports of benefits, especially if they seem plausible in a scientific sense, may induce medical researchers to conduct clinical trials to determine the effectiveness and safety of a given product or treatment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/16/2015