Saturday, 28 July 2012

quackery and the causes of disease

I've seen two signs outside two different chiropractor's offices saying "Dr So-and-so". Let me just advise my readers that chiros are not doctors. Their views are not endorsed by the medical fraternity. Individual doctors (real ones) may send you to a chiro, but if they do, it's probably because they harbour the same confusion you do: viz that chiros are doctors of some kind, ie physiotherapists. They're not. Chiropractic is the belief that all diseases are a result of spinal problems. ALL diseases. And that by manipulating your spine, you can be cured of ANYTHING. If you challenge your chiro on this, he'll deny it, but if you actually read their literature, especially their founding literature, you'll see that is what it is. It is NOT the same as physiotherapy, and it has not been scientifically shown to work. It is in the same category as acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga (the exercise), homeopathy, iridology, chakras, and reflexology. If your chiro calls himself "Doctor", please ask to see his PhD certificate, and ask him what university awards PhDs in chiropractic. I am fairly confident that NO respected, actual university, does so. I know of a university here that runs courses in chiropractic, but then, we also tolerate witchdoctors in our country too, and they never get sued for malpractice because they can apparently curse you too. So I'm talking to the first world. "Doctor" means only one of two things: a GP or general practitioner who has an MBBCh degree (a masters' degree, lower than a PhD). In this case, the term 'doctor' is honorific, not due to the person having a PhD. An MBBCh is a six-year degree. A real Doctor, with a PhD, has probably studied at least TEN years to get it, since a real PhD takes at least three years, and a masters should take six at least (counting undergraduate). PhD is higher than Masters. So no chiropractors are entitled to call themselves 'Doctor', since they have neither MBBCh's or PhD's, unless they did that first and then went over to the ... er... hippie side of the force.

All of these pseudosciences - acupuncture, yoga (as an exercise), aromatherapy, homeopathy, iridology, chakras, and reflexology - claim the same kind of thing that chiropractic claims, and are founded on the same beliefs - that a crude mechanical, electrical or 'imbalance' problem lies at the base of disease, and that a crude mechanical solution can fix it. Most of these 'cures' originated in primitive prescientific cultures (yes, that's not politically correct - but the truth hurts) - OR even worse in the malpracticing quackery of the 1600s in Europe (which was primitive and prescientific too), and which was mostly guesswork based on medieval assumptions and Da Vinci's drawings. (Of course, I'm ranting a bit here). 

E.g. Homeopathy refers to "sameness to the disease" - the idea that inducing symptoms of a disease will cure it. It involves shaking up ingredients - herbal - in water, at 1:100 dilution, then taking 1:100th of that, and repeating, if I recall correctly, about 30 times. IE 1 x 10 ^ -31 dilution. Any chemist will tell you that that is negligible. In a single tablespoon of homeopathic medicine, given that the Avogadro constant is 6.023 x 10^23 (molecules per mole, and taking a tablespoon as one mole of water - 18g, actually, so a bit more), it means that you have at best (power of 31 minus power of 23) - ie - eight zeroes below zero probability, or one in 100 million chance, of finding ONE molecule of the original herbal ingredient. To get one molecule, you'd have to have about 100 000 000 spoons, which is 1.5 million litres. We're talking a dam here. The claim is that water has "memory" and "remembers" the healing power of the herb. Really. I wonder, then, why water doesn't remember the poop that's been in it from when it was in Shakespeare's bedpan? That's about the odds that you're talking about. In fact, more molecules will be absorbed from the air as the 'doctor' goes through the dilution process, than the original herb. The non-water content of your 'medicine' is most likely house dust or pollen. Those pills: they're zinc- or calcium-carbonate, commonly known as chalk. Yes, the same chalk your schoolteacher used. Note how they're labeled with the symptom name, not with the composition. They don't say "zinc carbonate" or whatever, they say "headache". If they're made in a bulk factory, they may list ingredients, but casually fail to mention the percentages. Those bottles: they're ethanol (surgical spirits, highly concentrated alcohol), or, water. Ask your homeopath for the ingredients list in the pills or bottles. Notice how they suddenly become evasive and cagey, and list plant ingredients, not the actual ingredients. Then ask them for a journal article in an "allopathic" journal (ie a real science journal) which demonstrates if there are any better than placebo results for homeopathy for anything other than acid reflux (the carbonates will help with that, sure - but so will Tums or Rennies, or plain old school chalk, and they're much cheaper per gram). You'll find, if you do this research yourself, that only homeopathic journals report success with homeopathic medicines, and vice versa. Check the research methodology used and the sample sizes. You'll notice that homeopathic studies tend to use anecdotes (it cured person X) rather than mass samples (it reduced incidence of measles by 90% in Chile), for example.

Do NOT also confuse homeopathy with 'naturopathy' or herbal cures. These are slightly less quacky, eg making tea from willow bark may help a little with a headache - because that's where aspirin originally came from! Salix = willow in Latin, and salicylic acid = aspirin. But you'll also get all the other undesirable byproducts, e.g. possibly methanol if the tea is allowed to ferment (since methanol distils from wood). So frankly, it's bollocks. If you take any homeopathic 'medicine' and get a chemical assay done on it or a mass spectroscopy (something I've personally done in a lab, so I know what I'm on about), I'm willing to bet that the organic non-carbonate content will be absolutely zero - ie 100% CaCO3 or 100% H2O.

All medicines should be subjected to scientific testing and review in anonymously peer-reviewed journals, and should be tested independently by separate laboratories. As long as big pharmaceutical companies are doing this review process/procedure properly, you can trust them. Obviously, however, the profit motive kicks in and they may allow some sloppy work, which is why some medicines get recalled. But have you ever heard of an 'all natural' medicine or healing practice being tested BY ITS OWN PRACTITIONERS using a SCIENTIFIC process? Have you ever heard of any of THEM recalling their stuff and admitting it's harmful and doesn't work? No. So in my view, they're WORSE than "big pharma" because they're never owning up to quackery, they're not even testing their stuff properly.

PS. Do you know what you call herbal medicines that have been proven to work? Medicine.

These are the actual causes of diseases:

1. Physical injury/blockages/Parasitism. In this case, it's not a disease per se, but an injury. It causes a disease when bacteria or viruses or whatever invade it. So this covers cases like gangrene or malaria; the disease comes after the injury. Exceptions here are parasites that live inside you, e.g. tapeworms and amoebas. In the case of each of these, the 'disease' is not so much disease as that the parasite is taking your food. Obviously, some parasites live on blood, but it's still ultimately just to take your food. Blockages include constipation, strokes, and heart disease.

2. Poisoning (e.g. carcinogens, arsenic, lead). PS. There are no such thing as 'toxins' that are not also poisons. There are no toxins in your food, unless you regularly eat lead, arsenic, uranium, etc. "Toxins" is a foo-foo word for "bad manufactured food". "Detoxing" is another myth. Look up "toxins" in any real journal and you'll see it refers exclusively to actual poisons, which are chemicals that disrupt your body's functioning. So, CO (carbon monoxide) chelates haemoglobin, and thus prevents blood oxygenation. That's the kind of thing poisons do; disrupt normal metabolic processes. Sugar, for example, is not a toxin. Nor is salt, or MSG, any other significant food ingredient. (I'm less confident about preservatives and artificial sweeteners, and this new fad of using silicon dioxide (sand/glass powder) but that's irrelevant). Examples of toxins are lead, mercury, uranium, arsenic, chlorine. Unless the ingredient list contains those, your food does not contain toxins. In fact, even the hormones they feed to beef cattle don't count as toxins either. They're just artificial metabolites. Antibiotics fed to cattle are debatable, because they might affect human metabolism, e.g. hormone production. But this is wild speculation on my part. Cirrhosis is an example of poisoning.

3. Cancer (bad genetic mutations that grow out of control in your own cells as a result of cell replication aka growing or healing - mitosis and meiosis).

4. Viruses (tiny boxes of DNA that get your cells to replicate the viruses' DNA). Antibiotics do not do anything to them. Vaccination does, but it has to be done beforehand. You give the body a sample of dead/inactive virus protein, and the body attacks it, and learns to attack it in future. Example: flu, herpes, AIDS, etc. They evolve, which is why you can never really get immune to them. They can be wiped out if your country has a vaccination programme and applies it 100% to everyone. E.g. Smallpox was made extinct through vaccination. No, it does not cause autism. Read something newer than 1998 if you still believe that garbage.

5. Bacteria, tiny boxes with DNA, RNA, mitochondria, vacuoles, ribosomes, etc., which eat stuff in your body - including, sometimes, parts of it - and poison you with their excretions - apart from the actual damage done. Antibiotics work on these, but they evolve to become resistant to them. Example: bronchitis, pneumonia, TB.

6. Then there're amoebas. They're like bacteria except they have no strong defined cell wall, they ooze along like little blobs of jelly and eat stuff. (Note spelling, please. Jell-o isn't a word. Jam is the stuff you put on toast, jelly is that wobbly stuff made from gelatine). I can only think of Dysentry here.

7. Fungal infections. Tiny mushroom-like entities growing on or in you, spreading roots. Examples: ringworm, athlete's foot. Most fungicides are creams or powders and most work. Note that fungi are not plants at all, since they don't photosynthesize, they're just structurally similar to plants. 

8. Allergies. This is where your immune system has nothing better to do, so it decides that any arbitrary unfamiliar protein is an enemy, and must be attacked. The system goes into overdrive, and starts inflaming and attacking your own cells. Apparently the solution to this is to grow up on a farm and get dirty. Too late if you didn't.  

9. Non-intentional Malnutrition. Eating wrong can cause many problems eg vitamin deficiency, ulcers, acid reflux, kwashiorkor, etc.

10. Lastly, bodily abuse. Eating incorrectly, not exercising, inhaling or eating carcinogens, deliberately over-dieting or over-eating, etc., cause diseases too, but only some of the types listed above, specifically cancer, poisoning, possibly allergies and blockages, malnutrition. Bodily abuse does not cause viruses, bacteria or amoebas. At worst it can lower your resistance to these by depleting resources normally used to defeat these diseases. So, for example, if you get a certain metabolite (vitamin, say) from only certain plants (citrus, say), neglecting these from your diet will cause the relevant form of disease to occur (e.g. scurvy). The human body is not 'designed' to 'defend' itself against all diseases ipso facto on a good diet; it doesn't matter how good your diet is if a virus, cancer or bacteria is aggressive enough. You could eat perfectly and still die of ebola or TB.

PS. I am not acknowledging environmental factors here. Diet, exercise, and avoiding sources of radioactivity, or air pollution, etc., are all obvious other things one needs to do to stay healthy. Obviously. I'm talking about superstitions. Like colds causing colds. Why are the Inuit not extinct? They live in -50 deg C most of the year. Scientific facts must be checked before you accept medical advice. Even from a doctor. There's a new fad to recommend a high-protein, low-carb diet. I remember what happened to Mr Atkins - he died. It sounds bad to me. Aristotle was right: balance and moderation is the answer.

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