Monday, 13 April 2015

Control Freak

A BBC documentary with controls! Always worth highlighting!

The truth about...your medicine cabinet

A one hour documentary looking at the effectiveness of over-the-counter drugs in the UK.
There were several demonstrations looking into the effectiveness of cough medicines (just use honey and lemon) and indigestion treatments (they work but watch what/how you eat) but the control experiment in question was looking at deep heat vs cold creams for muscle injury/recovery. They were actually looking at whether ice vs warm baths help aid muscle recovery (of current interest to me as I have a jogging-related muscle problem)

To do this the presenter had 15 people do the same assault course. 5 of them took a 15 minute hot bath and another 5 took a 15 minute ice-cold bath. Then they followed them over the next few days measuring different factors for assessing muscle pain/recovery. The key thing was that the remaining 5 people didn't take a hot or cold bath after exercise.
The results highlighted the importance of the negative control as hot and cold treatments had virtually the same effect. Those who didn't use either showed significantly poorer recovery. If the negative control had looked the same as the hot/cold treatments we could have concluded neither treatment has an effect but now we know hot/cold treatment is better than nothing!

It's not the perfect experimental set up but I think for a TV show this is the right level and the results hopefully showed casual viewers why the control was important.

The presenter hosted an episode on sugar vs protein diets with his identical twin last year so he clearly likes to get the concept of controls across. Although it seems his twin wasn't taking part in the experiments this time. I guess they decided a higher "n" value was more important than controlling for genetic variance :P

The show itself was surprisingly quite interesting It was somewhat disturbing how many ailments are focused on treating the symptoms when adjusting your diet would prevent them happening in the first place eg diet can solve the need for vitamin supplements and indigestion remedies. It does concern me how we (and I know I'm guilty of it) look for an easy fix rather than a long term beneficial solution. Stubborness, I guess.