Nothing Much More to Say About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (CAM Month Draws to a Close)

Everything You Need to Know About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Part the Third and Last)

(One last time I state the obvious while continuing to marvel that it needs to be explained although judging from my email and comments it does. -PB)

8.You Can’t Have it Both Ways

I have some fundamentalist Christian relatives who believe the Bible to be a literal account of the creation of the world. They’re not wishy-washy Christians who get all mushy around the edges and, in an effort to reconcile science and their weak faith, allow that perhaps “a day to God is a billion years to the rest of us.”  The Bible says the world was created in six days and by golly, it was created in six 24-hour days. God said it. They believe it. If you don’t you’re going to hell. Paleontology? Evolution? The fossil record? All tricks of the Deceiver to lead the faithful astray.

You may think that I dislike people who hold these beliefs, or that I am bothered by what I can only call their profound ignorance, but you would be wrong. I admire their faith and they are as welcome to it as anybody else is to theirs. I’ll even send my kids to one of their private schools if I have the chance because learning math, reading, and writing (something not emphasized in many public schools as they are in the grip of their own peculiar religion) is not strictly dependent on a belief in evolution and we can always do a little deprogramming when they get home.

On the other hand I often find myself in goofy conversations (wrestling with pigs if you know the analogy) where my relatives insist that paleontology is bunk because Carbon-14 dating, apart from being a tool of the Devil, is wildly inaccurate and cannot establish the age of ancient fossils. A little later in the coversation we usually roll around to how someone has found the Ark, a barn-like structure on a mountain in Turkey, that has been positively Carbon-14 dated to the time of Noah. I am not a smart guy and I struggle, yes struggle, with sophisticated intellectual concepts but even I can see the contradiction here, the blatant doublethink required to both believe and at the same time disbelieve something depending on what you are trying to prove.

In much the same manner do the True Believers of Complementary and Alternative Medicine try to eat the proverbial cake and have it, too. The NIH, they proudly point out, studies CAM using the same methods used to study real science. Not only does this establish the validity of quackery in their minds but the very act of a government agency studying their peculiar little beliefs is an act of validation in itself. And yet, when numerous well-designed studies using rigorous statistical methods continue to show that Complementary and Alternative Medicine is nothing more than an expensive and highly detailed placebo, the usual accusations are made that the scientific method is indequate to study qi or spiritual fire shooting from the appendages of the healer. The current meme of the homeopaths, for example, is that independent research of homeopathy is impossible because, through some quantum effect, the beliefs of the investigator influence the actual efficacy of homeopathic remedies.  In other words, only a homeopath who believes in homeopathy can research homeopathic effects.

Which then, is it? Is your particular flavor of quackery a scientifically verifiable treatment modality or is it a religion whose secrets are only available to those who make the leap of faith required to believe it? You can’t have it both ways. If you would enter the arena of science then you have to face the lions.

9. You are not the Pope.

I mean, seriously now. Let’s suppose, for the sake of the argument, that there is spiritual fire that can be channeled from your appendages to cure disease. What makes you think some greasy little sociology major who sat through a couple of motivational seminars is the one who can do it? The Pope, for his part, is the spiritual leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, a deeply pious and theologically sophisticated man, and yet he would be the first to deny that he can work the kind of miracles that are the regular activity of oleagenous Pentacostal preachers and their svelte, holistic counterparts in the alternative medicine world. In other words, how do you verify the claims of your dime-store miracle workers? Has your Reiki healer graduated at the top of his class in Lahore or did he go to a cut-rate Reiki training course in Klamath Falls? How do you know your homeopath is shaking the mixture the right way? If there are several schools of acupuncture with their own meridians (and there are), who’s nailing qi like a big dog and who’s just jabbing you with needles? The fact that many of you don’t even think to ask these questions but accept every smooth-talking healer as the real McCoy indicates a level of gulibility, already incredible, that should be embarrasing for any adult who purports to have any street-smarts.

10. “Holistic” is a marketing phrase.

When confronted by the evidence, the purveyors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine will fight a desperate rear-guard action as they retreat deeper into the interior of their vast, irrational country. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to hold onto even that infertile territory they will rally around the holistic banner, insisting that Complementary and Alternative Medicine treats the whole patient while real medicine does not. If you think about it however, it is real medicine, a profession with both generalists and specialists that is treating the whole patient or at least the important, non-entertaining parts. This is why there are so very few Reiki healers doing critical care medicine. Namely because the whole patient is an order of magnitude more complex than can be handled by what is essentially the entertainment committee. Cardiovascular collapse? Sepsis? Rectal bleeding? Please, they’re too busy managing how the patient feels to be bothered with objective disease.

If there’s one thing I’d like every medical student to unlearn its the supposed signficance of the term “holistic.” It’s just a word like “granola,” a clever marketing phrase which is used to disguise a bunch of unwholesome things. When I hear the word “holistic” I reach for my revolver.

19 thoughts on “Nothing Much More to Say About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (CAM Month Draws to a Close)

  1. I agree with your bit on the term “holistic”. A better definition of holistic: family medicine, general IM or peds — where family, social context, etc., really matter.

  2. Say what you like about CAM, but I will not stand idly by while you defame granola!

    I’m composing an angry note with detailed, bullet-pointed reasons why you’re wrong, which will be forthcoming once I can control my fury long enough to type straight. So start shaking in your boots now.

  3. But my granola says “100% All Natural” – it MUST be healthy! Not to mention the pictures of wheat, oats, and daisies on the box…

    Great post. My wife is a sociology major. I once ran out of gas about 3/4 of the way between Lakeview and Klamath Falls. I left my revolver in the car with my sister her baby and hitched a ride to KF to buy gas. Bizarrely pertinent story for me.

  4. You remind me of Dr. Cox (scrubs). I don’t know why, but every time I read you blog I always think of Dr.Cox lol.
    What do you think about DO schools? I want to go to one. Well MSUCOM to be exact.

  5. Holy Batman! I grew up in Klamath Falls! I never knew I was so close to enlightment. I guess there is more to Klamath Falls than potato farming, drunken Indians, and environmentalist whackos trying to save a chub fish.

  6. “When I hear the word “holistic” I reach for my revolver.”

    I laughed pretty hard at this line. Congrats on the sponsor.

  7. With respect to quantum effects, I hope you all know that if one is not talking particle physics one is talking nonsense. Even more to the point, concerning quantum entanglement; its leading proponent seems to be Lionel Milgrom.

    Since 2001, Milgrom has written at least 5 long papers on entanglement, relying on Weak Quantum Theory (WQT). What he de-emphasizes is that WQT leaves out Planck’s constant. Planck’s constant is the factor that relates the pure math of QT to reality. Therefore, Milgrom’s extensive equations mean nothing.

  8. LOL Sorry but never did see where the big conflict was in the evolution theory. Big bang theory pretty much follows what’s written in the bible. There’s also a passage where it says a day could be thousand years or thousand years, a day. In other words time is irrelevant. As for the timeline bit, hasn’t carbon dating places humans living a lot sooner than science community has stated. This in reference to a dig saw on tv in Mexico if remember right and set of human and dinosaur tracks next to each other in Arizona.

    One of my beefs with medicine is mostly docs treat symptoms and not the disease. If they can’t treat it, don’t bother coming. Also believe that many health problems are coming from food and/agriculture areas.

    Granola can be 100% natural and still not be healthy. Not with the way that corn, flour, and fruits have been gingineered. Poisons have become a part of fruit dna so that bugs can’t damage it. Also with making fruit bigger, it has become less nutritious. Then got DDT, pesticides, and herbacides floating around and getting into plants and animal fat.

    My Cam advice for acid reflux is to avoid brand names causing it.

  9. Panda Bear, you say you trust medicine but not CAM, but WHY?


    FDA Reports Agency is Underfunded and Understaffed

    This repiort raises the sticky questions of ‘who do you trust’ and ‘who can you trust’ in medicine?

    It seems that it is probable that much of standard accepted practice in medicine has not been verified scientifically and cannot be said to be reliable.

    How can you be sure about that drug/treatment/device/surgery you prescribe?

    Simple fact is that you can’t be.

    So why should patients trust medicine/you?

    Providing medicine’s latest and best is or should not be reassuring after learning about the near total lack of FDA oversight of medical practices, devices, surgeries and prescription medications.

  10. im1dc asks

    “Panda Bear, you say you trust medicine but not CAM, but WHY?”

    Speaking for myself (and I hope to see PB’s response to the spurious notions you bring up) medicine is based on knowledge and reliable evidence, “CAM” is based on neither.

    “CAM” is a marketing term intended to convey the impression that magical thinking and anecdote are, somehow, on a par with real health-care considerations.

    When have you ever seen an ambulance arrive at a chiro clinic except to pick up someone who is actually ill (therefore, not amenable to chiro) or injured by the chiro? Face it, “CAM” practitioners can cause problems, they rarely solve them.


    (You seee, I don’t trust anything about medicine.  Sure, I function on a daily basis as if I believe in everything I am doing but there is not one treatment, one drug, or one intervention that I would not happily discard if it could be demonstrated that it was harmful or worthless.  I’m not in love with any of it and the more rational medicine becomes the better, allowing for the fact that there will always some “art” to it.  The difference between medicine and CAM is that CAM is a cult.  There is no amount of evidence that will shake im1dc’s faith in chiropracty and if the evidence keeps mounting up, well, its just a conspiracy or some as yet unelucidated principle of quantum physics.

    I join im1dc in my disdain for corruption, shoddy research, and tradition for its own sake but I must still ask, “what’s his point?” -PB)

  11. You know, if the degree of regulation and government oversight is your yardstick of how safe and effective a treatment is and thus how much you can trust its practitioners, um, why are you plugging for CAM again? Not that I’d cry that much if the FDA disappeared tomorrow, but I also have to ask what exactly was your point?

  12. ***THE POINT***

    I’ll keep it simple by using the following article from today’s news for illustrative purposes.

    The Point: If what happened in the NYC Police Lab happened, then the same thing reasonably and logically can and does happen in other high tech labs such as our nations University and Corporate Labs.

    What this article illustrates is that people respond to their perceived incentives, even supposedly ‘objective’ scientists.

    Once again I ask you “who can you trust” and “who do you trust?”

    So that everyone following this tête-à-tête gets ‘THE POINT’ let me phrase the argument thusly: If medicine is built on science and science itself is corrupt(ed) does it not follow logically that medicine is corrupt(ed)?

    Simple enough for you?

    Sloppy Police Lab Work Leads to Retesting

    Published: December 4, 2007

    “The New York Police Department has begun to test thousands of drug evidence samples, as a review by the state’s inspector general has found that sloppy work by analysts in the department’s crime laboratory could have skewed drug evidence used by prosecutors.”

    “But since the mistakes in the laboratory, the nation’s busiest, were found to have been made in 2002, some of the evidence has been destroyed, making any new tests very difficult, according to the review, which was released yesterday…”



    (You played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, didn’t you? -PB)

  13. I hate to break it to you, but lazy police lab techs aren’t scientists, drug evidence isn’t peer reviewed and published, they probably called a real scientist rather than some back-cracker or homeopath to fix this mess, and this really doesn’t have much to do with anything. Try again. Why don’t you give Google News for “laboratory mistakes” another go, maybe you’ll turn up a 13-year old chemistry student who burned his hand while trying to make methanol and in the process dealt the discipline of Organic Chemistry a blow from which it may never recover.

  14. Ah hell. im1dc’s evidence is irrefutable. A few mistakes made in a lab? The only logical course of action is to give up on science completely. Thanks but no thanks, chemistry, physics, biology, astronomy, climatology, geology, and the like. I suppose logic, mathematics, and statistics are still ok to trust, as they’re considered formal science, not empirical.

    OR ARE THEY?? See, his evidence blew my entire world view.

    Sorry, got to go throw a rock at a deer. I’ve been soooo hungry since I gave up on science.

  15. Panda Bear,

    This may give you Christmas indigestion.

    Study Of African Traditional Medicine Will Begin World-first Clinical Trial

    “…funded by a $4.4 million, 4-year grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health.”



    (Why would it bother me any more than any other idiotic thing upon which the government wastes money?  They gave you a guaranteed student loan to go to chiropracty school, after all, and if that doesn’t bother me, nothing will.  -PB)

  16. Panda Bear,

    That’s good to hear and therefore I won’t fear that the following will upset your digestion.

    Though I suggest you swallow the following with a spoon full of sugar.

    THE TAKEAWAY:“Herbs and other natural remedies can be as effective as traditional treatments, often without the same negative side effects” says Roberta Lee, MD”…

    10 Best Healing Herbs

    WebMD Feature from “Prevention” Magazine

    By Nancy Kalish

    New science shows these herbal power-healers can ease pain, prevent Alzheimer’s, and ward off cancer and heart disease. Try 3 natural wonders you haven’t heard of yet

    Your arsenal of home remedies is about to get a lot spicier. Though herbs have been used for hundreds of years to heal, scientists are finally starting to substantiate these plants’ abilities to alleviate arthritis pain, reduce high blood sugar and cholesterol, and help with many other conditions. They’re even discovering amazing new powers in some herbs, such as the ability to kill cancer cells and help problem drinkers curb their alcohol intake.

    “Herbs and other natural remedies can be as effective as traditional treatments, often without the same negative side effects,” says Roberta Lee, MD, medical director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. So here are 10 superhealers you’ll want to add to the all-natural section of your medicine cabinet…”


  17. Panda Bear,

    Allow me to introduce you to CAM in the real world: making a good thing better.

    Regimens: An Herbal Extract Eases Symptoms of Heart Failure

    Published: February 5, 2008

    In a review of 14 studies, researchers have found that the herbal supplement hawthorn extract is effective in treating symptoms of chronic heart failure.

    In most of the studies, which were randomized and placebo-controlled, extract from hawthorn leaves, fruits and flowers was used as an adjunct to conventional treatment. The paper was published Jan. 23 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

    None of the trials reported data on mortality, so there was no evidence that the herb extends life. But it worked significantly better than placebos in improving exercise endurance and the strength of heart muscle contractions.

    Most studies reported mild or no side effects, and the authors conclude that the extract, when used with conventional symptomatic treatment, is beneficial.

    Still, Dr. Max H. Pittler, the lead author and deputy director of complementary medicine at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in England, warned that patients should not imagine hawthorn is a substitute for regular care. “Patients need a proper diagnosis from their doctors,” Dr. Pittler said, “and they need to consult with their doctors if they want to take hawthorn along with their conventional medicine.”

    Dr. Pittler said it makes him uncomfortable that hawthorn is available without a prescription. “We don’t really know the mechanisms by which hawthorn works,” he said, “and it is important to caution that patients should not self-diagnose, and then self-treat with hawthorn.”

    Reconstuct link: http















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