An Alternative-Medicine Believer’s Journey Back to Science

C C Offline

EXCERPT: [...] Jim was starting to doubt the attitude fostered at conferences like Defeat Autism Now!, where he first learned about chelation. He cringed when he heard of parents mortgaging their homes to pay for wildly expensive and unproven treatments. Alarms went off when parents and doctors would advocate dangerous protocols—hyper-dosing with vitamin A, using extreme forms of chelation. When he spoke out against them, a prominent conference organizer took him aside and warned him never to criticize anyone’s approach, no matter how crazy or dangerous it seemed.

It was in the grip of these doubts when, inside Goofy’s Kitchen, Jim and Louise returned to their table from the buffet and noticed 6-year-old David hadn’t come with them. They saw him standing at the buffet, devouring a waffle. The Laidlers feared the worst. “We’d been told that the slightest smidgen of gluten would crash him,” Jim says. “It was absolutely devastating to watch.” But by the end of the vacation, they realized David was fine. Nothing happened.

When they returned home, the Laidlers took David off his restrictive diet, and he continued to improve—rapidly. Louise stopped Ben’s supplement regimen—without telling Jim—and Ben’s behavior remained the same. Then, after months of soul-searching, Jim Laider took to the internet to announce his “de-conversion” from alternative medicine—a kind of penance, but also a warning to others. “I had this guilt to expunge,” Jim says. “I helped to promote this nonsense, and I didn’t want other people to fall for it like I did.”

The Laidlers’ story is a microcosm of the changing debate over so-called alternative medicine and its cousin, integrative medicine. In 2007, Americans spent $2.9 billion on homeopathic medicine, a treatment based on the belief that minuscule amounts of what causes symptoms in a healthy person will alleviate symptoms in someone who is ill. From nutritional supplements to energy healing to acupuncture, treatments outside the medical mainstream are big business. But the vast majority of scientists find much of alternative medicine highly problematic.

[...] the fight came to a very public head when a group of doctors sent an open letter to Columbia University, demanding the school remove Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has used his syndicated TV show to promote integrative medicine, including nutritional regimens, homeopathy, and reiki—a form of energy healing that claims to use “universal life force energy” to “detoxify the body” and “increase the vibrational frequency on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.”

[...] Whenever mainstream medicine has little to offer, other sources offer a dizzying array of options. Call it a market for hope. Autism, ALS, Alzheimer’s, terminal cancer. There’s no shortage of claims that these intractable conditions can be treated using approaches that conventional Western physicians fail to consider.

Loosely categorized as “alternative medicine,” the approaches include nutritional supplements, dietary regimens, detoxification protocols, acupuncture, energy healing, homeopathy, chiropractic, traditional Indian medicine, and whatever else has anecdotal support yet remains unaccepted by the larger scientific community.

[...] Steven Novella is a neurologist who, like David Katz, works for Yale Medical School. Though they share an employer, their perspectives on medicine differ drastically. Novella talks a bit like an astronomer who can’t believe his department has hired an astrologer. [...] Novella readily acknowledges flaws in our current healthcare system. There’s not enough government research funding, which means corporations have disproportionate influence on the development of new medications. Overtaxed doctors don’t have enough time with patients, forcing them to deliver difficult diagnoses without taking sufficient time to take to answer questions and provide comfort. Doctors, especially surgeons, often have a needlessly gruff and dismissive bedside manner. Reimbursement tends to reward procedures. The list of shortcomings he provides is endless.

Novella says that recognizing flaws in our healthcare system doesn’t mean giving up on rigorous standards for medicine.

But Novella says that recognizing flaws in our healthcare system doesn’t mean giving up on rigorous standards for medicine.

Novella is particularly perturbed that a degree from a naturopathic college—where there is no agreed upon standard of care—counts towards board certification in integrative medicine. As he points out, naturopaths, like the one who misdiagnosed his patient’s ALS as chronic lyme disease, embrace homeopathy, sometimes as a cure for autism. They are also open to chelation treatment and fear of vaccines. “There’s lots of changes that we need to make,” he acknowledges. “But as Paul Krugman says, when the public believes in magic, it’s springtime for the charlatans.”

British epidemiologist Ben Goldacre believes much the same thing: “Just because there are problems with aircraft design, that doesn’t mean magic carpets really fly,” he writes in his book Bad Pharma. It’s a great line and a good rule for critical thinking about implausible approaches to medicine. But it doesn’t solve the problem of uncertainty and despair...
Mr Doodlebug Offline
Many accepted medicines and treatments come from what were once alternative treatments.
Treatment with drugs is a direct descendent of herbal medicine, plants being little chemical laboratories that are still being mined for future medical marvels.
There may be something for a large number of people in the gluten/autism theory.
Or something for a few people.
Or maybe nothing at all.
If I had an autistic child, I would try anything I thought reasonable to help them.
There are charlatans everywhere, even in orthodox medicine.
elte Offline
I have an alternative medicine idea that really works.  I have used this technique many times on myself very successfully.  If something causes a minor cut, scrape, or maybe even a puncture on an ankle, foot, or hand, or possibly any extremity or limb, the healing time can be cut and infection kept away by using a vibration therapy that is done with just the body itself as the source of the vibration.

Usually the hand, like the heel of it, can be struck quickly and repetitively near the injured area, usually upstream in the circulatory system somewhere.  There is sensory feedback when the sweet spot is found.  My sores have healed at least twice as fast this way and probably kept me out of the doctors office or hospitals at least a few times.

This thread is timely because Dr. Oz is getting flack right now for his controversial role in promoting nonstandard treatments of medical conditions.  I can't help associating him with the great and powerful Oz from the famous movie!
C C Offline
I'm either in-between or just require more specific damnings and praises than alternative medicine as a whole being completely this or that. Miraculous cures for major clinical conditions and diseases is usually bogus country. But relief or recovery from, and prevention of many minor problems (as well as forestalling some principle ailments) is easily there for personal trials / experiments without having to break the bank.
Mr Doodlebug Offline
I agree.
If you are having a heart attack go straight past the herbalist and carry on to the hospital.

People offering miracle cures are bogus, especially when they offer a salve that cures everything.
That's snake oil.
Mr Doodlebug Offline
A lot of "supplements" are actually untested medicines.
It is possible that they may help an individual more than any approved pharmaceutical.
Or they may do harm. 
All chemicals that act on the body affect more than one thing, including medicines.
Supplements are statistically more likely to do harm, because they haven't undergone rigorous testing.
Clued up people don't take supplements on a continuous basis. (Which could sometimes be a better way to take "real" medicine)
They take them in courses and then take a break.
A typical course is 8 weeks, or less.
Taking supplements on a continuous basis uninterrupted is asking for trouble.
You have no idea what they might do in the long term.
C C Offline
Whether vitamins or CoQ10 to ALA, should definitely be taken with a meal.
elte Offline
The vibration therapy that I've been using on my ankle has been helping a lot.  A couple weeks ago all the standing to work on my personal electric bicycle that I'm building piece by piece, that I'm also designing, had caused an infection to begin on my problematic ankle.  It got rid if that, but several days ago, I was backing my regular bicycle back up on a sidewalk next to a building so that I could lean it against it.

Unfortunately, my foot hit a gutter downspout, causing it to deflect inward and making my ankle hit the pedal, badly scraping it.  That is even with plastic pedals that are on the end of the cranks.  Before the vibration therapy idea, I would have had to go to the doctor and get an antibiotic, put on a new wet to dry bandage on twice per day, and keep it elevated almost constantly.

With the vibration therapy, I don't have to do any of that and it is still recovering as best as it can at least four times faster.  I say as best as it can because the skin down there is a mess even without scrapes and infections.  It could be described as decrepit.

I also normally put odorless lotion on it after each shower and do that regardless.  Another thing that is helping is trying to keep my foot bent back at the ankle a little for periods of time so that the skin can heal in a stretched state.  That is because the normal poor skin quality there lacks elasticity and has a hard time staying closed up without the extra slack.

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