Friday, June 27, 2008

I Don't Believe in It

Naturopathy or homeopathy. It's amazing how many times I meet a new homeschooling mother and have to make the statement in the title. It's a lame statement. It is accurate because that kind of wackadoodleness isn't about medicine or science, but 'faith.' I always hope that the phrasing will stimulate some ill-used critical-thinking area of the person's brain and when they answer 'Oh, I believe in it,' that they'll realize that there is no scientific evidence of effectiveness. That and I'm hoping to emphasize the relation to religion--believing without evidence.

It's not just homeschool moms, though maybe I've been so nicely sheltered by being in an engineering firm and this is my first time being exposed to the general populace. It could also be the sheer number of women I'm currently interacting with. I have always gotten on better with guys and never could fathom women as well as you'd think considering I am one.

I can tell all of the people visiting those types of offices what they can expect:

Cut out wheat, dairy, eggs, and sugar (either one, all, or some combination). Usually on the basis of some 'test' performed (for which the client is charged as part of the initial visit). If you get a really experience naturopath you won't leave there without some supplements that you really need that the naturopath happens to carry.

It makes me sad (like Crying Indian in the litter commercials, single-tear sad)to see people fall for these so-called treatments. Please, please, please gain an understanding of scientific evidence (after all, if you're homeschooling you should be teaching it to your kids).

For the homeschool moms out there: it is hypocritical to teach your child the scientific method while visiting naturopaths--because they don't use it.

And in case you got nostalgic for the 70s, here's the original litter bug ad. Now I just need an excuse to talk about Smokey the Bear. Hey--I just found one!


Monica said...

“It is accurate because that kind of wackadoodleness isn't about medicine or science, but 'faith.”

I don’t agree with that at all. As a scientist and a medical writer who sees how the continuing education of doctors works, I can honestly say that I think the conventional medical community is only on track about half of the time. Whether I were to seek traditional medical attention or naturopathy would really depend on the issue. Obviously, if I have a broken leg, I’m going to the emergency room. But if I have Type II diabetes, I’m certainly not going to listen to my physician’s advice on diet. The naturopath's advice would be far more scientific.

I can't speak to homeopathy as I know very little about it. Homeopathy and naturopathy are rather ill-defined in most peoples’ minds (homeopathy probably having much stricter limits than naturopathy – naturopathy could technically cover the gamut from acupuncture to chiropractic medicine). If we are simply talking about any natural remedy or traditional treatment, such as applying calendula lotion to heal a cut, I’d have to strongly disagree with you. There are some natural remedies for which the molecular mechanisms of action or side-effects are *quite* well-understood. See my recent post on honey being used to treat MRSA:

Even if the biochemical mechanisms are not fully understood (and they often aren’t, even for drugs used in conventional medicine) that doesn’t mean we can’t make observations about the effects of treatment. True, these things aren’t studied in multiple double-blinded, placebo clinical trials, but we also have to ask: where is the money for that kind of investigation going to come from? I’m not going to defend everything these so-called holistic practitioners do, as some of it is not evidence-based. But some of it is, despite not being as scientific as it could be. And to be fair, lots of the treatments pursued by conventional medicine have no basis in evidence or science whatsoever. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Take the treatment of fibromyalgia, for instance. The conventional approach consists of prescribing anti-inflammatories for a disease that is not even inflammatory. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out, after being jacked up on pain killers and anti-depressants for a few years (the only treatments besides anti-inflammatories that the conventional medical community recognizes), that they're going to have to go outside the conventional medical community for help.

I got to discussing this issue with the son of a doctor we know. He relates some stories from his dad that are quite interesting and telling.

“My father was reading about WW2 navel battles and one of the big killers was fire but one of the things that they found was that the guys that were in the cool ocean that they fished out last had a much better recovery then the guys they got out and started treatment on right away.

So here is the idea behind it. The rate of bacterial growth is exponential with temperature (think how long can you refrigerate meat) so if you can decrease the bacterial growth then you can allow the cells that are not destroyed to start to recover. You are saving everything that is not dead yet (the cell growth is reduced under the reduces temp but not as much).

He had one patient that had most of her arm burned 3rd degree due a cooking oil fire. She kept her arm in a 45 degree saline solution for a month and all her skin grew back with minimal scarring. If she were to have gone with the conventional method she would have required skin graphs costing lots of money and a much higher risk of infection.

Of coarse no one in the medical community believe it because it healed so well and was too simple. There is no money for research into this kind of treatment.

He had to fight with the Hospital to let him use the Maggot treatment and even after seeing the results they are still skeptical (besides the fact that the surgeons would have to admit that the Maggots work better).

P.S. Monica he uses some sort of calcium solution to neutralize the bee sting poison. He injects it into each sting location with very good results. His attitude is that adrenalin only allows the patient to live over the poison if you know what the poison is then why not neutralize it. Of coarse one of his highly allergic patients that had been treated many times was stung on vacation and went for medical help and asked the Dr. for the treatment and the Dr. wanted to know what kind of quack had treated her in the past. She could not believe that his treatment, that was far better to the standard, was not widely used.”

Rationality or mysticism? You decide.

Kim said...

I'm not a scientist, but I play one on blogger.

My post addressed naturopathy as defined by those who are practicing it, not the limited definition of using folksy remedies. This page has many of the same stories I hear from people who regularly go to naturopaths--the incredibly restrictive diets, the juicing, the supplements, treatments for rampant systemic yeast, and bizarre detoxifying experiments.

Your friend's stories are interesting (I remember reading them in a comment on your blog). I've always wondered if it is true that doctors would ignore effective treatments because they won't get a lot of money in fees, or drug company kick-backs. That goes against the experiences I've had at many doctor's offices where I've received quick, low-cost care that worked--and kept me coming back.

Whether or not the traditional medical community always has the answer (and I'm not claiming that they do), unproven treatments do vary. There are unproven treatments that are not based in science at all (a lot of naturopathy falls here), and unproven treatments, like those mentioned by your friend, that have a plausible (to this layman, anyway) scientifically-based method of action. They are still unproven, but there is reason to believe they might work. It's also apparent that your friend's father had a different context than traditional doctors, and I cannot fault most doctors for not immediately embracing maggots--until they're shown to be effective frequently.

One thing I like to keep in mind, not being as qualified as you are to judge matters of medicine, is that I know very little. In knowing very little, I might be easily deceived by explanations that seem to make sense to an amateur like myself but that a professional would see an obvious problem with. I feel that way with the stories shown above. They sound reasonable, but the doctors who are not following those treatments may have specific information which leads them to dismiss the efforts. In playing devil's advocate, I can imaging that injecting each bee sting with calcium may seem too labor-intensive if the patient can just take a few anti-histamines, the general treatments may not scale up to larger efforts, doctors may not feel they can count on keeping the cold water bath sanitary for weeks, yada, yada, yada.

You bring up another great point. Why can't these other techniques get studied? Isn't it true that doctors can submit papers even on single cases? I think I've seen such things. Then a possible solution gets out and other doctors interested in research begin to look for similar results. I think that's when the larger studies begin to happen. I know someone who was a bit of a guinea pig for a new treatment for hepatitus C (she had the strain that was not cured with any of the known treatments). Her doctor tried a new combination of Interferon and a pill that wreaked havock with her red blood cell count, but began to drop her viral count in an unprecedented way. Her doctor said that if that treatment killed the virus, he would write up the combination for a paper.

Naturopathy isn't nearly as reason-based as your friend's treatments seem to be.