An Open Letter to Michael Savage
Published on April 25, 2009 By Daiwa In Health & Medicine

I was incensed listening to Michael Savage's radio show last night.  I catch portions of it a couple of nights a week while in my car, occasionally listen for an hour or two depending on the subject matter and find him interesting and entertaining even when I disagree with his point of view.  Most of the time.  What I heard last night, however, motivated me to write an email to Dr. Savage.  Then I couldn't locate an email address to which to send it - there was no email link on his website that I could find.  So, rather than let a good rant go to waste, I'm publishing it here:

Dear Dr. Savage,

I'm something of a fan of your radio show and a relatively frequent listener.  I absolutely agree that the greatest issues of our time involve borders, language and culture.  You are dead on about that, though I disagree with you on certain aspects and in certain details.  And you are refreshing in your unwillingness to mince words, a trait I admire.  I won't mince mine.

Last evening, April 24th, I was appalled by the demogoguery in your unfounded blanket condemnation of the medical profession and your ignorant and reckless comments on vitamin C.  You are quick to call certain behaviors and actions criminal and I often agree with that characterization, but in this case it was you engaging in 'criminal' behavior in falsely accusing physicians of being 'tools of big pharma,' frightening people into mistrusting the only medical professionals among us whose methods and therapeutics are subjected to rigorous scientific proof and criticism and which must increasingly be justified as 'evidence-based.'  The same cannot be said for homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, accupuncture, ayurvedic medicine or any other of the so-called 'alternative' or 'natural' medical approaches (otherwise known collectively as magic).  If you want 17th century healthcare or modern quackery, that's great and perfectly OK with me, but I'm personally grateful that smallpox is a historical illness and that penicillin was discovered.

About vitamin C.  There have been no valid scientific studies demonstrating efficacy of vitamin C in treating any illness other than scurvy.  Not one.  In fact, the only scientifically valid placebo-controlled double-blind studies of the use of vitamin C in the treatment of the common cold ever published have shown virtually no therapeutic effect, no matter the dose.  None.  Studies have also shown that taking vitamin C to prevent colds simply doesn't work.  The best study ever done, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the 90's, suggested that if someone was taking vitamin C prior to the onset of infection, the duration of the symptoms was shortened by perhaps 8% - less than 24 hours of the total illness.  Even that study remains subject to criticism as the endpoints were entirely subjective and the common cold is not a single, discrete reproducible illness - there are well over 100 different viral strains of varying virulence and natural course which cause the common cold.  In a healthy person with normal vitamin C levels before infection, vitamin C offers no meaningful benefit, no matter the dose, in the treatment of the common cold.

Telling people that they'll get over a cold by taking vitamin C, no matter how you dress it up (powder this, tablet that), is a very safe bet.  It won't kill anybody.  Technically, you'll never be 'wrong.'  But vitamin C will have had nothing to do with the resolution of a naturally self-limited and benign viral illness.  Even if someone makes themselves yet more miserable by taking it to 'bowel tolerance.'  Claiming any benefit to such an approach is misleading at best, even if it is relatively harmless.  I could tell people to put on some red shoes at the first sign of a cold and they'll get well, too, guaranteed.

Given that your doctorate was in epidemiology and nutritional science, it is surprising that you are so shockingly uninformed on this subject and disappointing that you make such unsubstantiated claims so cavalierly.  Although it is an 'essential' vitamin in humans and contributes in a non-specific way to immune competence, vitamin C does nothing to 'augment' the immune system unless you are deficient in the first place.  No matter how nice a man your physician friend was, no matter how many people he 'treated' in the fashion you described, no matter how many times you slander physicians as being mere 'pill merchants,' there is no biological plausibility to or proof of the theory that vitamin C effectively treats the common cold or influenza (a completely different disease, by the way).  Quite to the contrary, when the theory has been adequately tested scientifically (tested, mind you, in spite of its lack of biological plausibility), it has been shown to be completely bogus.  The mere fact that you use the phrase 'boost the immune system' betrays your ignorance of the nature of that system.  The only alternative conclusion is that you are willfully misrepresenting it, something I'd like to think you wouldn't do.

Thanks for listening and keep up the otherwise good work of the Savage Nation.

on Apr 25, 2009

Very nice.


on Apr 25, 2009

Yes, very good and informative.

I heard recently that Savage isn't as good as he used to be years ago.  I haven't listened to him for a couple of years now so I wouldn't know. 

Maybe I'll see if I can find him on the radio down here somewhere. 



on Apr 26, 2009

I've never listened to the guy, but I would definitely take your word over his.

Fortunately, I haven't been to the dr for an illness (beyond kidney stones) for year and years and years.