Monday, June 10, 2013

Alternative and Natural Medicine Rant

After reading one more attack on the medical system from someone praising a good idea (eating nutritionally) and wishful thinking (that herbs cure cancer), I have to say something.

Admittedly, drug companies are out for profit. Despite this Ida-Rubicin, Vincristin, Cytarabine, Methatextrate, tacrolimus, prednisone, and other drugs saved my life. Zofran, Prilosec, and other medications made the treatment I required bearable. Those all came from pharmaceutical companies.

The reason that corrupt, money-hungry drug manufacturers save lives is because there is a scientific method and there are laws and agencies requiring the medical establishment to make every effort to follow the scientific method. It has its shortcomings, but because hospitals, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies have to report their results publicly, they are scrutinized, and we learn.

The result? A few years ago a guy with BPDCN-like leukemia, like me, was guaranteed dead in two years, probably less, and that only if he went through chemotherapy. Diagnosis to death for aggressive leukemias killed in an average of 6 weeks in the 1960's.

Because of a lot of research, we now know you can save BPDCN patients by giving them a bone marrow transplant. Only five or six years ago, such a transplant killed 30% of the recipients. This year, however, it is down to 5%.

FIVE PERCENT! People ought to be cheering them, not attacking them.

How did they do it? By expensive drugs? Partially. They always had the expensive drugs. They dropped the death rate from 30% to 5% by assigning only a few patients to one nurse practitioner. The NP diligently tracks the patient's health and gives advice, including nutritional, attitude, and lifestyle advice. The NP learns the patients, sees them often, and notices if a problem arises.

So let's compare that to alternative, natural medicine. I hope it's no surprise to you that I researched the dozen or so natural therapies that well-meaning friends recommended to me. What did I find?

Nothing. No records. No people that could be contacted. First names and user names with comments on web site. Absolutely nothing verifiable. I was insulted by one "camp" that promises turned around health in three weeks because I asked them if they had any references to prove their method worked.

Gerson Therapy has recently started releasing their records. Kudos to them. The results are not very impressive, but they do have results. Gerson Therapy, according to the Gerson Therapy web site, doesn't do anything for acute leukemia, so I quite researching them once I found out.

Everyone else? Nice claims. Wishful thinking. No evidence.

I once looked up the claims that a company called Lose Your Back Pain (I think) was making for an enzyme that you could take by mouth. They said it would relax your muscles, relieve pain, and help your back.

I looked up the enzyme on the PubMed database. It was there! Only one study, but the study concluded that the enzyme relieved pain and inflammation as well as ibuprofen.

The problem is, very few alternative medicine claims pan out like that. And when they do, the herbs or enzymes are sold almost as expensively as pharmaceuticals. A small dose of the enzymes costs $60/month.

People make excuses. "No one will study these herbs because they can't make money on them."

That is just not true. The last time I checked there were three ongoing studies on the efficacy of Pomegranate juice for preventing prostate cancer. It's hard to find a natural food claim that hasn't been studied.

I want to make it clear that I agree with the importance of good health. We could greatly reduce cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other diseases by eating more healthy and exercising.

However, it is ridiculous to claim that doctors don't know and don't promote healthy eating and exercise.

Miracle health, from drinking Acai juice, doing Pilates, or taking colloidal silver, is a fantasy. Colloidal silver, by the way, can permanently turn your skin gray if you drink too much of it. Oh, yeah, the medical establishment has studied colloidal silver, too.

It makes me angry that people with no evidence to back up their claims, and who have no intention of keeping track of the success of their claims, fire salvos at a medical establishment that has a lot of problems, but which has almost doubled our expected life span over the last century.


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  2. I looked at the link you put there. I have to admit I rolled my eyes.

    Meditation and prayer have very peaceful effects on people's lives. It reduces stress, slows things down, and that has health benefits. I doubt seriously Trivedi is transmitting any energy, but he is getting believers--those most susceptible to the placebo effect--to relax. Relaxing is extremely beneficial.

    Mind you, I believe in God, and I believe in spirits (demons and angels). I know a couple people who got themselves in need of deliverance from God through self-hypnosis, and I don't just easily talk about meditation. However, meditation as quiet reflection in a peaceful environment has proven health benefits.

  3. My friends have recently become obsessed with alternatives medicines, blaming current medicine for being corrupt and ineffective even though many of them are currently taking prescription medications to help with their ailments. As a friend to them, I wouldn't want them to choose alternative medicine and lack medical treatment so I'm trying to think of a way that I can help reveal to them that current medicine does save lives, and isn't as horrible as they think. Do you have any advice?

  4. Maybe someone could give you a better answer than me. I got familiar with the evidence for alternative medicines (some are really good, but there's a lot of hoaxes) and for traditional medicine at, the National Institutes of Health web site. They have a whole alternative medicine section where you can research herbs your friends are leaning on and find out if anyone has kept records of effectiveness or risks.

    Conspiracy theories, and much of the anti-medical propaganda that's out in public is just part of the conspiracy theory mindset, are very tempting. It feels good to slander people and prop ourselves up as knowledgeable. It's a temptation for all of us. Sometimes it's difficult to awaken those who have fallen into it.

    I do know that you should let your disagreements be known, at least in a sentence, when the propaganda starts. Even if all you say is, "I don't really agree with that," it's enough to perhaps knock them off their roller coaster ride.

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  6. I too, am dealing with an acute form of leukemia. Yes, the drugs are expensive, but for us, necessary at a shot to live. This is a great post. I love my NPs (I have 2) and my entire team of docs and nurses. I hate the side effects of all the drugs, but without treatment I would have been dead in February. Now I'm just finishing my last chemo treatment.