The worlds of alternative and conventional medicine often clash. The alternative side accuses the conventional side of being in bed with Big Pharma and getting as many people as possible hooked on pills. The conventional side accuses the alternative side of practicing quackery, ignoring scientific research and selling snake oil. The sad conclusion is that one side is usually more intent on proving the other side wrong rather than joining forces with the common goal of improving people’s health and well-being. The clash is, like many clashes, overtly hypocritical. The alternative side condemns the traditional side for pushing the agenda of multi-million dollar pharmaceutical companies, thereby getting person after person hooked on prescription drugs. Yet, while that does happen and while the pharmaceutical companies often reward doctors who prescribe their brand of medication, one needs to keep in mind that many on the alternative side also view “health as a business.” There are tons of companies selling blockbuster supplements that bring in millions of dollars per year. The CEOs of supplement companies are sitting pretty, as are the CEOS of pharmaceutical companies. Common sense should dictate that a proportion of the conventional proponents and a proportion of the alternative proponents will always, always, always view health-conscious or sick people as consumers.The traditional side will point out that the supplements winning big money for the alternative side are exempt from the FDA approval process, meaning that supplements require zero evidence-based research before being sold. The traditional side is right. Technically, anyone can make a supplement in his or her basement, bottle it, label it and market it as the next best thing for your health. The alternative side will argue that the FDA is corrupt and merely a pawn for Big Pharma. The alternative side will point out that the pharmaceutical companies have the capital to run numerous research trials on pre-approved drugs until they find a significant result, present it to the FDA, and then officially get FDA approval, even when the long-term effects of these drugs are impossible to know. Next, after the pharmaceutical companies win FDA approval, they spend even more millions on direct-to-consumer marketing via elaborate and convincing T.V. commercials, usually involving actors posing as smiling, treated patients, now happily medicated and able to enjoy life on the comforts of a porch swing or by skipping through fields of beautiful flowers. Commercials so convincing that they undoubtedly encourage individuals to become “Living Room doctors,” who see the commercials, speed-dial their real-life doctors and tell him or her the exact drug he or she needs to be healthier. It’s marketing. It’s money. It’s getting rich. Both sides, alternative and conventional, are guilty of all three. Why? Because they’re Homo Sapiens.
And yet while the business side of the supplement industry and the prescription drug industry is ridden with greed and corruption, there exists beneficial supplements and FDA-approved drugs that save lives and keep people alive. It would be wise to remember that while people are being duped into taking supplements they don’t need and getting hooked at young ages on medications with horrendous side effects, there are people living happier and healthier lives due to both medications and supplements.
Next, I’d like to address common lines and cliche answers I hear tossed toward either the alternative or conventional side.
The Conventional Side to the Alternative Side:
1) “There is absolutely no research to support that.”
While there may not be research to support a particular alternative treatment or supplement, that does not mean they have absolutely no positive effect on one’s health. For example, if someone is taking an inert supplement, perhaps it is creating a placebo effect inside someone that is calming his/her mind thereby putting him/her in a more positive, stress-free environment. The placebo effect can certainly lower one’s stress level, and lowering one’s level of stress is proven to be beneficial for one’s health. As long as the supplement is not harmful, and as long as a person is not taking it under the misconception that it will cure a deadly disease, what is the harm? Consider your good luck charms. They are essentially placebos, and let me tell ya, my lucky underwear have made me the woman I am today. 😉
Also, despite the lack of support in the form of scientific research, if a person is taking a supplement or undergoing an alternative form of therapy ( say, energy therapy) and that person claims the supplement or therapy is helpful, who are we to say it’s not? Who are we to say it doesn’t work at all? Of course, anecdotal evidence is not as strong or rigorous as that determined from a controlled, scientific experiment, but it still has merit. To disregard it as “nonsense” is to arrogantly shut down someone else’s belief and personal experience, while ignoring the mysterious connections between our minds and bodies that have yet to be unraveled. No one is God.
While a randomized,controlled trial(RCT) is considered the gold standard in terms of producing scientific evidence, it’s important to remember that everything in a RCT is manipulated by the experimenter. Subjects have to meet a certain criteria before being accepted into a study ( Which, in my opinion, takes away from its randomness) and potential confounding factors are controlled as best they can be. The experiment takes place in, essentially, vacuum-like conditions. When do vacuum-like conditions ever exist in real life? They don’t. Everything is confounding and dynamic in real life, which, by its nature, reduces the applicability of the results of any research study to someone’s day-to-day.
The other factor to consider is the overwhelming quantitative nature of research studies, which often ignore the entire field of qualitative research. Qualitative research is a multi-disciplinary field that explores all of those factors that cannot be quantified, yet absolutely have an effect on the success of any medication, therapy, treatment or supplement. Qualitative research explores phenomenons like cultural and societal constructs, belief systems, apathy, feelings, trust, etc.- all of those dynamic elements randomized controlled trials can’t possibly capture.
The Alternative Side to the Conventional Side:
2) “Drugs and Vaccines Kill people”
I hear statements like this a lot from the most ardent on the alternative side. All I have to say is four words: Penicillin and Polio Vaccine. Read a history book. Vaccines and traditional medications have saved a lot of lives and to ignore that fact is to be ridiculously ignorant. Yes, there are some dangerous drugs on the market with horrible side effects and superfluous vaccinations, but don’t shun traditional science to the point that you “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
The Alternative Side to the Conventional Side:
3) “I don’t know why it works but it works.”
Heck, they might be right. It sometimes takes years to figure out mechanisms of actions and most are never one-hundred percent figured out. The body is a never-ending mystery novel in which things are happening whether there is research to support them or not.
The Conventional Side:
3) “Take this drug.”
My advice is to be sure that you need it and be informed. Weigh the pros and cons and get second, third and fourth opinions. For example, if it is a psychiatric drug, make sure you understand that you are putting a drug inside your body that will create short-term and long-term side effects. Know what they are and consciously choose them over first attempting to alleviate your symptoms via sleep, exercise or diet modifications. Or, try to first modify your sleep, diet and exercise routine and then seek out medication. ( P.S.: I’m not picking on Psychiatry here. Just using it as an example. 🙂 )
The Alternative Side:
4) “Take this supplement”
Again, my advice is to be sure you need it. I see A LOT of people buying supplements because they are convinced they are “natural” and will help them. Ask yourself why you are convinced a supplement will help you. Are you really deficient in something or do you just think you are deficient in something? Find out with a blood test if you really want to know. Make sure you aren’t falling victim to buzz words like “anti-aging,” “detox,” “rapid weight loss,” and more. I advise against putting a supplement in your body unless you’re certain it will help you. That said, if you are taking a supplement and feel better on it and are aware of its potential short-term and long-term side effects, then I see no reason why you shouldn’t continue taking it. But just make sure you aren’t getting caught up in the fad of spending money on and swallowing supplements. Today, it is very, very trendy to take supplements…, almost as trendy as buying shoes. My opinion is that health should never be trendy, yet there are people out there taking a ridiculous amount supplements that I half wonder why they bother to eat. 😉
In short, be smart. I write that knowing full well it is easier said than done. 😉