Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sometimes there's no alternative.

Alternative medicine isn't something I've studied at all. I don't bother conventional doctors much either because I'm rarely ill enough to take up their time. I haven't even had my blood pressure tested in decades and I've never had a cholesterol test. Shocking, isn't it? Here I am, managing to stay alive without being tested for anything. How dare I?

So I haven't experienced much at all in the way of medicine, alternative or conventional.

As far as I understand it, 'alternative' includes things like homeopathy, acupuncture, something involving poking your feet that I can't recall the name of and other things that I would consider harmless. Whether they are effective or not I wouldn't like to say, having experienced none of them myself. Yet I would consider them harmless because they don't involve any invasive techniques, no cutting, no drugs, nothing like that. Even homeopathic remedies I would say are harmless because of the extreme dilution.

If someone has a stress-related illness, with symptoms that are entirely psychological, then any placebo will work as long as the patient believes it. Any relaxation treatment will help with stress, anything the patient believes in will alleviate imagined symptoms.

I don't discount the possibility that some of these alternatives might have effects on real diseases too, but I'm a scientist so I need to see data to convince me. Many herbs have proven antibacterial effects, and some have proven systemic effects. Wintergreen for headaches, for example, does work because wintergreen contains salicylic acid (better known as aspirin). New data (unpublished so I can't say too much or someone won't ever tell me anything again) has shown that some types of fruit have a direct effect on Salmonella infection, and other infections, in the gut. Anecdotally, I know several people who say that acupuncture has definitely helped them with arthritic pain. Whether it alleviated the arthritis or simply reduced their perception of the pain, doesn't matter to them. They feel in less pain and that's what counts.

So I maintain that alternative medicine is harmless. What is not harmless, however, is some people's mania for these treatments which reaches a level bordering on the fanatical.

There are many things alternative medicine can't do. There are some things that medical science simply must be trusted with. If you have a serious and chronic gut infection, don't just eat fruit. Get antibiotic treatment. Eat the fruit too - it'll help your gut recover - but get the antibiotics. If you have cancer, do not rely on herbal tea and pins in your skin. Get to a doctor and get that thing cut out. If it's done early your chances of survival are good. If it's left to fester while you run the gamut of alternative therapies, you're going to die. Get it out first, then go to alternatives for pain relief and recovery if you wish.

Should you be one of those who regards 'alternative' as your only choice, then I suggest you read this all the way through.

Alternatives have a place. It's good to have choices.

The trick lies in making the right choice.


ThatGreenyFlower said...

That blog (and the 180+ comments I read) was fascinating.

Thanks for the nudge!

tom sheepandgoats said...

The linked experience sounds nasty. But if you know anyone who's had the opposite experience, you're less enthused than the author about outlawing all medicine (alternative) that does not conform to methods he holds dear.

A friend of mine was similarly diagnosed with breast cancer and aggresive chemotherapy treatment prescribed. She tried it, got so sick she gave up on it, and went to a clinic in Mexico, against the pleadings of doctors & family alike. Herbal treatments, strict diet & she returns yearly for checkup. No sign of the cancer anymore. She has yearly medical checkups as well with her own medical people who think the herbal stuff is all quackery but can't deny she is better and want to keep up with the treatment she takes.

Look, if it works for a person, let it be their personal choice. Who needs medical staff dissing it just because they cannot explain it? The female doctor in your linked story has a Messiah complex. For the patient in the story, alternative did not work and it does seem tragic she would not consent to conventional treatment. Soemtimes, though, it is quite successful.

Meantime, and more in keeping with your own example, Pop fell 10 feet off a ladder. Pop, who's 85, in perfect health, and attributes that perfect health to staying away from doctors (of any sort, conventional or alternative) Do you think we could persuade him to go in for an Xray? In excruciating pain, no appetite, no elimination, surely he had a hip fracture? Naw, he didn't hear anything break and he's still symmetrical. He'll just work it out. You can't run to doctors for every little ache and pain, he says.

Several days later he went in thinking to get some high-powered laxative & they leaned on him hard to get Xrays. For our sake (he says) he acquiesed. No hip fracture, but some broken ribs that just have to heal on their own, and hairline spine fractures, which may be old. Rest up a bit, they told him, and come in for more testing. Naw, he's not going to do that. It's enough that the hips are okay, as he thought in the first place.

Go figure.

Southern Writer said...

I didn't go read it because I just don't have time right now. I feel lucky just to get here and say hi.

For the record, I'm cynical about herbal remedies for everything. They have their place. But I also believe that antibiotics can be overdone. Too many is just as bad as not enough. We're creating super strains of infections that are resistant to them. My sister believes the antibiotics she took as a teenager are responsible for the Crohn's disease she has today.

I also want to say that when four disks went out in my neck, completely, totally incapacitating me for months, that neither pain pills (by the handful until I thought they would kill me) nor chiropractic treatments, stopped the pain. However, two 30 minute reiki sessions did, and I've had no problems with the disks since. Oh, sure, I get tension in my neck from stress or not sitting properly, or occasionally lifting something too heavy, but nothing to the extent of the excruciating pain I suffered then. No one will ever convince me that reiki doesn't work when performed by a gifted master.

Romulus Crowe said...

Tom - I'm with Pop on that one. I have a letter inviting me to attend the local doctor for a blood pressure test. I have blood pressure. If I make a hole, it leaks out so it's okay. I just know if I go there, he'll have a list of other things to test too.

SW - Yes, herbal remedies etc can have a place. I dont think any of them are dangerous. I suspect most of them work well in the right circumstances. What's dangerous is when, as in the linked article, they aren't working on a particular ailment and the patient won't consider anything else.

What's worse is when an alternative practitioner, faced with something they can't cure, refuses to admit it and keeps going. Mainstream doctors can be guilty of this too, of course.

It's best to keep all options open, I think.

Oh, and the problems of antibiotics (MRSA and Clostridium difficile) are the main reasons you won't get me into a hospital conscious, no matter what might be wrong with me.

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