Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pseudoscience, Candy, and Lamar Odom: Brought to you by Daniel Amen

If you follow professional basketball, you've probably noticed that LA Lakers forward Lamar Odom has a well-deserved reputation for inconsistent play. When he's good, he's close to amazing, and when he's bad, he's of little use to his team. So how is this related to mental health? Does he have social anxiety disorder? No, get out of Ricky Williams mode and pay attention...

Odom eats candy. Lots of it. And that's why his play is inconsistent. At least that's the story according to Dr. Daniel Amen, who, according to the Los Angeles Times stated:
Odom freely confesses that he just can't help himself when it comes to the sweet stuff and always keeps a stash on hand of Gummi Bears, Honey Buns, Lifesavers, Hershey's white chocolate, Snickers bars, cookies and more. He eats the sugary snacks morning, noon and night, and even says he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, chows down on some treats, then falls back asleep.

This is bad news for the Lakers. I've been telling my patients for years that sugar acts like a drug in the brain. It causes blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling tired, irritable, foggy and stupid. Eating too much sugar impairs cognitive function, which may explain why Odom doesn't always make the smartest decisions on the court. . . .

As a fan and a physician, it concerns me that our professional sports organizations and players are not more concerned about brain health, which includes nutrition. My advice to Odom and to all sugar addicts is to get your sugar consumption under control. You'll feel so much better and your brain will function better too. And, maybe the Lakers can get their 15th championship and Odom can get his first.
Now, remember that Odom's play is inconsistent, not consistently bad. And if he is eating sugar all the time, shouldn't his play be consistently poor? Oh, and is there any science at all to support the idea that eating sugar impairs athletic performance...? I'll admit to not being a top expert on this, but my brief search of PubMed did not bring up anything to support Dr. Amen's suggestions.

So who is this Amen guy, anyway? He claims that Alzheimer's can be detected early through the use of SPECT brain imaging (single photon emission computed tomography). And he sells vitamins/nutraceuticals on his site which, of course allegedly help to prevent cognitive deterioration. There is sooooooooo much more to read about Amen, and I encourage y'all to head over to Salon to read an excellent debunking of Amen's many pseudoscientific claims.

I've rolled my eyes at this guy for years, but now that he's trying to shoot his witchcraft at the fine sport of basketball, I've hit my breaking point. But what do I know... I mean, Amen apparently wrote that
From the first month that I started to order these (SPECT) scans, I felt that they had a special place in science and that I was led by God to pursue this work
And who am I to argue with a guy who was sent by God to practice medicine. But back to Lamar Odom; he insists that he ate candy for breakfast on the game days in which he played well against the Denver Nuggets. Well, maybe, but I bet a SPECT scan or two would figure out why his performance is inconsistent.

Dr. Amen also has some hot, hot science about the men, sex, and the brain. On The View, of all places. Get ready to cringe.

OK, fine. One more. Dr. Amen can target treatment for ADHD appropriately by... yes, using pricey and unproven brain scans! See below...


Daniel Carlat said...

Please don't even get me started on Amen. Here's a link to an article I wrote for Wired trying to debunk his brand of pseudoscience:

Doug Bremner said...

I get asked about this guy all the time and I usually try and avoid talking about it but after watching a late night infomercial while out of town I finally decided enough is enough.