Tuesday, 8 September 2009

When placebo is not enough

I sometimes find myself thinking about my current interest in alternative medicines and therapies and wonder if I am getting a bit carried away. I have a number of friends who subscribe to various, what I would consider, sham remedies all of whom believe in the healing properties of needle pricks, positive thought and expensive tiny bottles of water. All these people are doing okay and it doesn't seem to be causing them any problems.

Then you read articles like this http://allbleedingstops.blogspot.com/2009/09/human-cost-of-woo.html. This is not a one-off case either. There are multiple accounts from bloggers, physicians and others of the preventable death, illness and suffering caused by and to those who prefer magic and hope over clinically tested remedies. A good source of such stories is http://whatstheharm.net/

Many people feel that they should never have aches and pains, that they should always be on top form and that general weariness is symptomatic of a health problem. Often this is a mistake for what is in reality the effects of lifestyle, aging and just being human. For those people, on the whole, exposure to crystals, aromas and the like is not going to do them harm. When you read about homeopaths exporting their practice to Aids stricken Africa and herbalists treating cancer you have to question any thought that this is essentially a harmless hobby.

Real illness needs real treatment. Science based medicine is by no means perfect but it is constantly reviewed and when something proves to be ineffective there are systems in place to check, improve or remove failing remedies. There is little or no evidence that this is the case in any of the alternative treatments proffered by the woo mongers.

When people are really ill they want hope and they want it fixed. They are scared and they are vulnerable. They don't need people to tell them that it will be alright if they believe hard enough, take sugar pills and avoid the use of anything that might make them feel better.

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