Quack medicine, Traditional medicine, and Whole person healthcare

I went to a health talk last night from a woman who has what I will describe as a whole-person clinic. She is a chiropractor, and other services at her clinic (offered by other professionals) include counseling, acupuncture, yoga, herbal medicine, etc.

I really want to give these types a place at the table on science & medicine discussions. I have a hard time taking them seriously when they say that an alkaline diet cures cancer, or that arthritis starts in the bowels. They have a tendency to grab onto some science report they read and run with it. Maybe they read that inflammatory molecules are found in arthritis, and then they read that casein (a milk protein) induces cells in the lab to secrete some molecule involved in inflammation, and they leap– they bound– to the conclusion that casein–> inflammation, inflammation–> arthritis, therefore milk –> arthritis.

I’m not saying that milk doesn’t cause arthritis. I really don’t think the evidence is strong on that– or many of the other supposed health adversities of dairy.

The problem is that the evidence isn’t strong enough for so much of what they say. Because we don’t have good strong evidence yet, the only way to find out if milk is causing your problems is to experiment on yourself. Maybe these quack-docs did that. They have good strong evidence that milk is associated with their own problems. That is still an n=1 and doesn’t mean that it is true for anyone else.

The evidence IS there for many things, like exercise, sugar, and sleep. She did tout exercise and sleep and disparaged sugar, but it was so mixed in with all this other quack-science that it lost its impact.

She paid lip service to “I can’t tell you what’s right for you” but then she went on to do just that, and if anyone disagreed with her she started in on “compromises” whereby the person would come around to her way of thinking.

Not everything she said was wrong. Most of it was standard health advice. I was glad to hear that she put sleep as #1 priority driving all other health habits. I like to say “sleep is the new vitamin”. It wasn’t very inspirational, at least not to me. Except for her quack diet, I practice the things she was encouraging, probably more so than she does herself. She doesn’t bike to work anyway. I don’t think I was her target audience, nor was I representative of the majority of people sitting in the room. While I think it is quite a stretch to say that all diseases start in the bowels, I agree that poop is important and interesting.

One thing she said, however, not only did I disagree with, but it made me quite angry. That was the bit about alkaline diet and cancer. That is the one of the most thoughtless, rude, and hurtful things anyone could say. You are telling people that if they just eat an alkaline diet their cancer will go away, or if they had eaten that diet all along they wouldn’t have cancer. People with cancer get barraged with information from well-meaning friends and family about this miracle plant or that which is supposed to cure them. They don’t know how to sort out what’s real and what’s not. They end up feeling guilty for having cancer.

I’m sad that the concept of “whole person healthcare” can’t get out of the realm of quack medicine. If you are truly looking at the science, it’s obvious that there is something to whole person healthcare. Neither model– not quack medicine and not traditional medicine– is correct. Diabetes is not just a disease of the pancreas. It’s not just a disease of obesity either. It’s bigger than the pancreas, bigger than the fat, bigger than the individual. It is a part of community and the fact that there is one centrally located grocery store to serve a 5-mile radius. (Where we used to live, we had our choice of 2 grocery stores– located across the street from each other, both of them serving the same 5-mile radius.) It’s our social network that assumes a car and assumes driving and treats exercise as something separate and optional to lifestyle, something done by health nuts, an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s the unregulated advertising and marketing and ubiquitous sugar injected into all our food. It’s all wrapped up in all these things and the individual suffers not just the disease but the social stigma of having failed his responsibility to his health. There is absolutely nothing there to encourage or even make it possible to change his lifestyle.

That’s just one example. I don’t know exactly what whole person healthcare looks like or what health care providers should be doing differently than what they are doing now. They should be asking questions about more than just the presenting ailment. They should be listening to the patient. The patient should be the primary decision maker and the health care providers–yes, even the doctors– are advisers.

Speaking of the patient as the primary decision maker, Dr. Google & I successfully diagnosed and treated my lower back strain in January. We concluded that it was probably a bad strain that would get better on its own over time. We admitted the possibility that it could be a ruptured disk, because a) the treatment is the same (it’ll get better on its own) and b) the symptoms matched up somewhat. We rejected the possibility of a slipped disk because a) that would be horribly inconvenient and b) the symptoms didn’t match. After it did get better on its own, we retrospectively diagnosed it as a bad strain, and not a ruptured disk.

This approach involved a daily walking test and a daily stair test so that I could track my improvement. The follow-up is to work on core strength so that this never happens again. I felt it was remarkably successful and I will continue to use the Dr. Google/ self diagnosis approach for my medical care. The tracking is key, an objective measure. Lots less worry that way.

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