When East Meets West: Separating Science from Woo
My work toes the line of health related subjects to which many lay claim -- food, exercise, behavior, wellness. Scientists, dietitians, personal trainers, nutritionists, yogis, exercise physiologists, healers, physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, bloggers. Vaccines, juicing, acupuncture, pesticides, massage, supplements, wine, cleansing, intervals, gluten.How do you know who's right? Doctors? Bloggers? Researchers? Healers?
I do work and research on lifestyle as medicine. I truly and honestly believe that eating the right food, moving your body, sleeping well, and taking stress out of your life are essential to health. But, I'm also a scientist, and I know that modern medicine -- vaccines, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, blood pressure and cholesterol medication -- keep us healthy and alive. They are necessary in the treatment of illness, not simply the prevention of it.
Is there room for both? Of course. And we should embrace the combination of evidence-based natural health remedies AND modern disease treatments. I believe the best thing we can do is take what we have, what we know works, and blend the East with the West. But this doesn't mean we latch on to every tincture, herbal supplement, and naturopathic therapy (...oil pulling, I'm looking at you...). Nor does it mean we treat every runny nose with amoxicillin.
An example: I have been sick for the past three weeks. I don't mean sniffle, sniffle, sick. I mean, green snot everywhere, coughing all night, raging headache, no voice kind of sick. It's been a b*tch. It's also a virus, which means there's no pharmaceutical that can treat it. BUT, there are some promising natural remedies -- elderberry, garlic, and oregano have all been shown to exhibit anti-viral properties (although the evidence is pretty weak). However in my pathetic and desperate state, off to Whole Foods I trudged (through 7ft of snow) to drop $65 dollars on extracts and pills. BUT, because I am a person of science with professional responsibilities, I can't rely simply on nasty tasting herbal pills to work their maybe-magic. I also went next door to CVS and bought some Advil with Pseudoephedrine -- because my head was pounding, my sinuses were completely clogged and I needed something to take the edge off. East. Meet. West.
Another (tragic) example: Over the summer, a friend burned herself. Bad. Grabbed a hot cookie sheet from the oven with no mitt on. While running her hand under cold water, it had already started to blister. Using her good hand, she implored the facebook universe for a "natural" remedy to what seemed like a 2nd degree burn. She specifically stated that she did not want any modern medicine. The responses were wide and varied - ice, salves, creams, tinctures, ointments, dietary supplements. As I read the posts, I started to wonder two things: 1) Why didn't my friend want a modern remedy for an injury that could potentially get ugly (especially if she induced an infection from these "natural remedies"), and 2) Where the hell were these people getting their information about all of these potions?
Now I'm all for a good dose of witch hazel on a pimple or some chicken soup for your cold, but this irrational fear of scientific progress and complete regression to witchcraft has got to stop. Using modern medicine -- when you need it -- is why so many of us live long, healthy lives today. It's why we can live with, and through, diseases that would have previously killed us. In an effort to return to our ancient roots, we may be seriously hurting ourselves in the process. Between anti-vaccination campaigns, treating cancer with raw food, or cleansing the liver, this anti-science, anti-medicine campaign has gone off the rails. People, we are smarter than this and we need to stop letting our fears dictate our actions. What's more, we need to stop feeling guilty and ashamed when we turn to modern medicine. Yes, we distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. Do they do sh*tty things? Unfortunately, sometimes they do. But, on the whole, their products keep you alive. ALIVE.
I know that if you get cancer, you should get chemo or radiation. I know that in order to prevent measles, you should get your MMR vaccine. In know that to avoid infection of your burn, you should use an antibiotic cream. Is it a perfect system? Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing possibly could. We live in the real world.
But, in a world where we used to die from papercuts and now kill ourselves with fast-food induced heart disease, I would say we need to start looking at how and why we use food, herbs, and drugs. Imagine you ate a perfect diet, exercised every day, slept 8 hours a night, and were never stressed...and STILL got a massive bacterial infection because you stepped on a piece of dirty glass. Would you take an antibiotic? Or would you take your chances on self-healing and oregano oil? If you got cancer, would you go to an oncologist? Or would you roll the dice with raw organic broccoli alone?
I think you should trust the science. Because, the consensus of data will point you in the direction of health -- and that is better than any ancient promise, guilty feelings, or big-pharma distrust. Don't ignore or deny science because someone on google said vitamins can prevent Measles. (They can't, but Vitamin A can enhance the effect of the vaccine). Take your elderberry extract when you get a cold-virus, but take the Advil and Pseudoephedrine too. Because you have better things to do than wait around for supplement companies to fill the vacuum of pharmaceutical companies.