Blog | Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Medical skepticism goes to summer camp


GlassHospital has trekked up to the White Mountains in the 'Live Free or Die' state of New Hampshire, where the air is pure and the Wi-Fi is spotty. We're working as camp doctors, tending to the sprains and bruises of an energetic group of youngsters and staff who amaze us with their talents and good will.

No better setting than to explore a recent perfect storm of media coverage over sports drinks.

Wait.

Are they controversial?

Mom always told me after a long summer day of playing outside to replenish my electrolytes with Gatorade, or some such concoction. Didn't yours? [Actually, it wasn't my Mom. I think it was those TV commercials featuring Michael Jordan. I want to be like Mike, at least on the b-ball court ...]

And therein lies the problem.

As with all products that have medical claims, it pays to examine the evidence above the advertising claims. If we are brand loyal, we want to believe Mike. We want to believe that stuff is good for us. We want to be like Mike, after all.

Must be because of the upcoming London Olympics, but one scientific article (thank you, British Medical Journal) led to lots of UK media coverage, followed by a piece in the Atlantic and a post on NPR's "The Salt" blog. I'll list & link them here:
--BMJ article "The Truth about Sports Drinks"
--theAtlantic.com article "The Controversial Science of Sports Drinks"
--NPR blog post "Some Athletes Reject High-Tech Sports Fuel in Favor of Real Food"

If you're really wonky about this stuff, here's a link to a video (spoiler alert: super boring 9 minutes of white people sitting around a table talking in low voices) in which the BMJ editors discuss their hassles amassing enough evidence about this issue to crank out a meaningful paper. Turns out a lot of the info on these drinks is "proprietary," held in confidence by the manufacturers of the drinks.

Remind anyone of, say, tobacco?

Read the links, form your own opinion, and comment below.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.