(916) 482-5200

America’s Doctor

Published: July 22, 2010

He’s been called America’s doctor, combing upwards of 50 medical journals per day to bring his medical wisdom and insight to the public. As a fellow in both the medical profession and as host to a radio program, it was with great enthusiasm that Dr. Doug was able to interview the celebrated physician Dr. Dean Edell.

RP: Welcome to Radio Parallax, Dr. Dean Edell.

DE: Hi Doug. How are you?

RP: Well sir. Many people associate you with San Francisco, having broadcast from there for years, but they might be surprised to learn that you once lived in Sacramento and directed county alcohol and drug rehab services.

DE: Actually, I began my career in Sacramento. It is where I had quit medicine. It’s a sordid tale. You want to hear the story?

RP: Absolutely!

DE: I had quit medicine in 1972. I practiced in a surgical sub-specialty and took time off. You know what it’s like going to medical school, and internship, and residency. You get on that train and never get off. I actually had an antique art and custom jewelry shop – that’s what I loved to do – next to the Tower Theater. If you’re looking at the Tower, to the right of it now there’s a restaurant. It used to be a drug store. There used to be a teeny shop next to the theater: my shop. One day, a woman came in. She said she worked in what was then [called] the drunk tank downtown. They needed physicians. We had struck up a conversation about jewelry when she found out I still had a medical license. She said they needed doctors for physicals. I went down and met a guy who said, “You’re the first doctor I’ve met who speaks English. I have a friend of a friend who has a radio station. It would be cool for people to call up and ask a doctor any question they wanted to.” That station was KRAK, which I think still is a country music station in Sacramento. She put me on the air, cold turkey. It was a frightening experience…but from there, you know, here I am.

RP: Bertrand Russell said: “What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.” It seems to me that Russell might have been describing your approach to what “experts” say.

DE: That’s a great quote. Of course, its not just the experts. There is a huge resurgence of quackery and misinformation in this country. People “just believe.” People should take a more critical attitude and just not believe everybody who is trying to sell them an idea or a treatment. That includes us in Medicine. I always want people to question authority and understand the difference between somebody who is bringing objectivity and science to the table versus trying to shroud some piece of junk in the mantle of science and sell it with unrealistic expectations! We are fairly gullible. I don’t have an answer for this. If I told you I had a pill you can put in your gas tank and get 100 mpg, you’d laugh. But if I said I had a pill to make you live to be 100 people would say, “Hey, I’ll try that.”

RP: You’ve been unsparingly critical of fad medical treatments. One from a few years back was shark cartilage. It decimated the world’s shark populations without benefiting anyone. Fads in medicine are just a bad idea.

DE: It was laughable. The book was Sharks Don’t Get Cancer. Of course, sharks DO get cancer! So they stated an untruth in a book title. Then you must try to tell people: that’s a lie, that’s not true. I think of all the poor people who have tried shark cartilage, who HAD cancer and who lost their battle. Of course, the perpetrators walked off scot - free! It doesn’t seem that we or Congress or anybody in this country cares about that aspect of health fraud. So, it’s up to consumers to think this through.

RP: Shark cartilage is the fringe of Medicine, but conventional medical wisdom now has America’s kids on medicines for ADD. You’ve taken a dim view of that practice.

DE: Medication can help some of these kids; but there’s no way the percentages of kids that are currently on medication have a real “neurological problem.” Lots of experts are chagrined by the fact that America has decided that the easiest way to deal with kids who may be different learners, who have different personalities, who may be bored with school, or not be behaving in a predetermined way, is to say that these kids have a “neurological illness”. One that doesn’t exist in Europe or Asia, by-the-way. While it makes no sense, it’s an expedient remedy. We’d rather take a pill than do the hard work to find out what’s going on with a child, with the school and teacher, given the child’s learning ability. Some of these kids are smart and clever, I was one of them. I think we often are drugging kids into submission and robbing their creativity. Go back in history. You’ll find a lot of people who were un-medicated hyperactive or ADD kids who made genius contributions to our world. I would say to parents: get the opinion of more than one person. Walk into a pediatrician’s office and a half hour later your child is prescribed Ritalin. You have to ask questions – a lot of questions! I think it is way too quick. No one can make an accurate diagnosis in that short an amount of time.

RP: When it comes to adults, it seems we’re also a nation of antidepressant users.

DE: Antidepressants have saved lives. It is the wholesale over utilization that irks me. They work, but only certain circumstances. They work better when combined with talk therapy. Once again, it’s The Pill Fairy! The magic solution in a pill. We’re lazy, busy, and under a lot of pressure. So it’s always a mixed bag. The pharmaceutical industry has come up with incredible miracles that we all benefit from, but it doesn’t mean that the ads you see on TV about prescription drugs are entirely true. Of course, we are a pill-popping culture, so it plays into that weakness.

In part 2 of this interview Dr. Dean continues his discussion of America’s “pill-popping” culture, and provides some of his famous wisdom on living a healthy, happy life. To stay updated on this and other topics in medicine remember to follow Dr. Doug DeSalles on Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS feed of http://www.sacramentomenshealth.com.