Monday, 7 September 2015

Physician, Heal Thyself!

I live in a funny place. No, I don't mean Dundalk, although that's funny enough. I mean I live in a fringe "world" where most of my circle are non-mainstream people. And this covers a wide range of people but an awful lot of them are dead keen on alternative healing. And I am a skeptic. I mean a REAL skeptic. Not a person who just dismisses stuff. Not a person who is just rude and obnoxious on the subject. But somebody who asks questions, and demands evidence. This applies to everything, but it crops up most in the healing area.

Some of my friends are extremists. Both ends of the spectrum. Some believe in what can really only be described as magical healing (and this includes Christians, it's no different). Some require clinical trials before they'll use a Kleenex. The whole range.

I tend to fall out over this topic with all of them, because I don't fit into any neat category. I go with what works, and that really means "works on me". So your anecdote may not impress me.

And I am equally skeptical of all treatments, be they Ancient Sumerian, Mayo Clinic, or whatever. Never mind anything else, does it work?

For example, speaking of mayo (see what I did there?) if your kid has head lice, before you rush off to try a prescription shampoo, use mayo. It's cheaper and in my personal experience, it works better.

Don't just believe me though. Try it. Judge for yourself. We didn't choose mayo because we were politically opposed to Nix, we just weren't happy with it, and sought another solution. We found that mayo had many advantages, the chief one being no lice left.

On the other hand, among the many experiments I tried over the years regarding my seasonal allergies, the homeopathic remedies didn't do a bloody thing. I may just as well have drunk water, because that's what it was anyway.

I have had people tell me they've had great results with homeopathy. Great. I'm happy for them. My opinion will not change that it's just water, but if it works, it works.

In my opinion (and I could be wrong, but there have now been multiple studies on this) the power of placebo is what is at play there, and it is powerful indeed.

If you've ever read any Terry Pratchett you may have come across headology. Same thing. If you believe....REALLY BELIEVE....that the bottle of blue liquid will get you better, it will.

This is, actually, a fascinating area of study, because it attests to several other things:

1. The power of positive thinking.
2. The human body's ability to heal itself.
3. My contention that belief isn't a choice*.

Put these together and you've got de facto magic.

Consider the following.

Imagine you have a full size olympic swimming pool. You fill it with fresh, clean drinking water. Add one drop ( < 0.1ml) of something toxic. Would it harm you? Only if it's plutonium maybe? On the whole, no. That's how poison works, or, it this case, doesn't. It's all based on dilution. If that drop was arsenic for example, you'd come to no harm at all. But if you drank the stuff neat, it would kill you.

So, how the fuck can any "active" ingredient diluted to that level have any effect on you whatsoever?

Answer: it can't.

Ah, say the believers, it still has its essence.

Listen. The water you drink from the tap or bottle has the essence of multiple organisms. Everything you drink has been through many people and animals. Or, as they say, you are drinking Leonardo da Vinci's urine. At homeopathic levels.

At homeopathic levels, despite purification, tap water contains the essence of everything.

So, don't waste your money. Drink tap water, it's all in there. Which of course is exactly what most homeopathic remedies are. Water. Prove otherwise? Find a trace of anything in any of them, I dare you.

Ah, say the believers, it's at the vibrational level.

Fine. A little bottle of magic.

LISTEN. If magic is that easy, what do you need the water for? And the same applies to holy water, or whatever.

If magic is available, just bloody well use it and cut out the middleman.

This is what the faith healers, the Reiki practitioners, the healing hands folk do. No magic water for them, they just use their own bodies. And why not? Humans are far more complex than a bottle of water. So, does it work?

Sometimes. Because of placebo. In my humble opinion.

Which is great. Totally. Awesome. Healing is healing.

Go for it.

But don't tell lies. Don't sell snake oil. Above all, don't prey on the weak and vulnerable.

We were talking about this last night. If somebody asks for these services, wants them, believes in them, and wants to pay for them, there is a whole area of ethics involved which is....grey.

If I buy music that makes me feel good, is that unethical? Is this any different?

I remain open to the idea that it's down to the customer. Payment for entertainment. Payment for relaxation. Payment for "feel goods".

Those who oppose the idea do so on the basis that the customer is getting nothing for his money. This isn't strictly true. They are getting what they paid for, even if what they paid for is a nice lie down on a comfy surface while (maybe) music plays, incense burns, and somebody waves their hands over them. They are paying for time and attention.

I think the problem is the promises. "I will heal you."

What ails you? If it's stress (and stress can result in physical ailments) then a lot of the woo woo may do some good. But to PROMISE that it will heal you is too much. To say it will help is fair enough.

If the problem is something rather more urgent, it won't.

I have lost two parents and 2 grandparents to modern medicine. This was not enough to put me off using it or to become one of those who treats it as evil or dangerous.

What it did was give me a healthy introduction to the idea of efficacy. Efficacy is what it's all about. A treatment is no good unless it works. A diagnosis is only as good as its technician, and in any case, is only of any use at all if sought, and in a timely manner.

As in all areas of science, even if we are working with our very best and latest knowledge, and totally competent medical staff, shit happens. And nobody gets out of here alive. So, I don't think this discussion is as meaningful in the life and death areas of healing.

Except where the treatment is harmful. This is where all the arguments tend to congregate. Not so much in lack of efficacy, but in those treatments that damage instead of heal.

And while I'm here....

*Repeat topic of mine, but I'll tackle it again this week sometime.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the video; however, of the two links, I cannot for the life of me figure out the Forbes article you meant to link. The site is horrible.

    I am glad to find you among the group who 'choose to believe' in what works best. Lately, in addition to efficacy (and I will go so far as to stretch factual/physical belief into the holistic realm), the bottom line for healing to me is that it 'do no harm.'

    Let's face it, when one is in dire straits health-wise and that much out of balance, we ought to find the 'least restrictive' way to health. Pretty much the way we opt these days for the least restrictive environment to teach our young. This opens up the world of healing to include any number of alternatives, and as we know what works for some may not work for others.

    It is the hopeful slant that healing "is" out there that drove me to find my own ways to heal the many ills I once had. The possibility of better health is what drives people to find the gluten free as much as the magic gluten pills mentioned in the same article. It's what sends people to the gym as much as to get plastic surgery. Whatever works, right?

    Now, paying for it all (or any of it) quite another ethical animal, to be sure. ;) ~ Blessings! <3

  2. I don't under-estimate the placebo effect; it just doesn't seem to work in this family. Science identified Celiac disease and lactose intolerance, then the marketing maniacs took hold and ran off to the races. Double-edged sword, at least Logan can now eat foods that are, well, RELATIVELY, palatable. As for the alternative healing sphere? Well, I already mentioned, placebos don't do a thing for me but the problem is that the alternative medical community have no scruples, recommending ginkgo as a cure for asthma, for example, is downright dangerous. And then there are my personal enemies of humanity and intellect - the Anti-vaxxers and their autism cures, their detoxification nonsense.. I choose to get my medical advice from someone who actually studied and obtained a recognized degree. Someone who can answer my questions with proven fact, not unsubstantiated anecdotes.

  3. True story that I may have mentioned before. I once listened in on a dinner conversation between two MDs who had the good sense to be fully eclectic, using the best of ALL systems they had at their disposal. They had the right degrees. They would certainly use antibiotics or recommended surgery if that was the best for a patient. But they also used herbs (I met them at a conference of the Amazon Herb Company, when that worthy entity was still going), and they used homeopathy. Their favourite: homeopathy. The words they described was: like a key turning in a lock. I have no personal experience with homeopathy, it does not appeal to me. Too subtle. I am not one of those hyper sensitive people. However, whenever I hear people dissing the system that conversation pops into my mind. Make of it what you will.