Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Natural" Healing, "Alternative" Medicine

I'm getting increasingly tired of the number of "Natural" and "Alternative" health accounts I've accidentally followed on Twitter.  You guys are crafty.  You do your best not to look crazy right away, and present yourselves in a medically authoritative way.  Seems like that's working for you.  But then I start to see the kind of articles you post, and I realize I've been taken in.  You post things on Twitter with titles like: "(Rare bit of foliage) will make every aspect of your life better!" or, "Now, rub potato skin on your genitals to make women want you!" and, "XYZ will treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes, MS, lupus, the common cold, stretch marks, a stubbed toe, pinkeye, indigestion, testicular chafing, and having no one in your life who loves you."

Or, my favorite: "A new study has shown that mainstream medicine is a conspiracy, and the only substance of any actual medicinal value is a smoothie made with sloth toenails."  Just what studies you pull from, the world will never know, because you never, ever, cite them.  And when you do, they're not in English, and are written by people who are not medical professionals.  In the last article I read, the author actually thought it appropriate to cite "anecdotal evidence" as source material.  As in, "So-and-so said he felt much better after taking the pills made of dragon spines, and everyone in his life noticed how happy he appeared at the pancake breakfasts.  He is still very much dead, but the dragon spine pills totally work.  Please buy them."

I keep following you until I get just disgusted enough to leave your nonsense behind.  Because I truly believe that it's better to be aware that you're out there, spreading fear-mongering sensationalism to line your pockets, so the intelligent human beings among us can be prepared to deal with you.  Even so, after about halfway through most articles, I click "unfollow" on whoever posted that particular batch of pseudoscience.

Articles about alternative medicine are usually written by people who haven't responded well to their own diagnosis, or people who have absolutely no idea about the true horrors of facing a health crisis.  The former usually have bios like: "Karen Ladypants was diagnosed with an incurable terminal illness, but cured herself by eating a steady diet of whale placenta."  No, Karen, you didn't -- and fuck you for misleading people.  The latter bios often contain more acceptable information, and belong to people who have become invested in the epidemic of the American food industry, and go something like this: "Lulu Treebeard discovered in 2009, that everything you come into contact with in daily life is made from synthetic chemicals supplied by greedy corporations that pushed the Lorax into retirement.  She has adopted some fringe beliefs and now dedicates her time to promoting a healthy lifestyle, along with her husband and one very socially awkward son."

Let's be fair; there's nothing wrong with promoting a healthy lifestyle.  There isn't even a whole lot wrong with denial.  Promoting a healthy lifestyle is exactly what this author aims to do.  But I like facts, and because of that, you won't find me buying into anything for which there's no evidence of any benefit.  There is something wrong with pushing things that have no medicinal value, and that are occasionally dangerous or that cause the opposite of the desired effect.  I also consider it unethical to promote a product that has no known benefit, even if it isn't physically dangerous.  Because, in doing so, you are manipulating consumer fears to make yourself richer.  All of the darkest corners of economics can be found in the neighborhood of healthcare.

In terms of denial, or not fully adjusting to the new normative state you've entered through a tragic diagnosis or other event, I should first say that I completely understand.  I lived an entire year of my life curled up on the couch under a snuggie.  You want terrible things to go away, and you deal with that desire for a clean slate however you see fit.  But dealing with your own fears is one thing, playing on others' fears to validate your own denial is quite another.

This is what bothers me the most about the community to which I now belong.  In the midst of tragedy, you have a tremendous opportunity to help people.  In order to do so, you must have the courage to face the realities of your circumstances.  Cancer is incurable.  Science can't do it, the turnips in your backyard won't do it, either.  Man up, use the wisdom you've gathered from staring down the gates to the other side and make the world better.  Instead, these alternative health folks choose to increase the amount of suffering in the world by pushing placebos, or dangerous, ineffective treatments.

If it isn't proven to be effective, peer-reviewed, overseen by governing bodies, results recreated and independently verified, if there aren't statistics and survival rates and facts and figures, then you are doing something to your body and no one can predict the results.  Seek out alternative treatments only in conjunction with a conventional treatment regimen, and only if those particular alternatives have proven clinical benefits.

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