Medicine For People!
- Alternative Medicine Hall of Shame
- Liver Flush
- Illness is Your Own Fault
- Fluoride Scare
- Homeopathic Rauwolfia
- Mercury Amalgam
- And the List Goes On
Debunking Hocus Pocus
Last month I put forth the hope that we and our children will be able to access the best of the various schools of medi cine discussed in our last newsletter. Each of these healing systems has strengths and weaknesses. Since most of our American experience has been with mainstream doctors, we know most about their shortcomings.
For many people, disillusioned about mainstream medicine, anything "alternative" carries cachet. Unfortunately, this faith in alternatives creates an arena for errors, ranging from poorly-researched hope-based cures to outright fraud. I urge you to be as skeptical about alternatives as you are about mainstream medicine, perhaps more so, since most alternatives have not been subject to substantial research or critical evaluation.
In this month's newsletter, I take a look at several popular alternatives that I find useless if not damaging.
The Claims: The so-called "liver flush" purports to flush gallstones from the gallbladder. It involves drinking water, juice, olive oil and other substances. Advocates of "colonic therapy" make the same claim and show their customers firm gray or black nodules that come from the colon. They claim these are gallstones.
The Truth: They may look like gallstones, but there is not one whit of evidence that they truly are gallstones. Mix oil, water, and the contents of the GI tract and you can create a nodule of sludge. Real gallbladder disease involves not just stones but irreversible changes in the gallbladder wall. Most people with a real gallstone in their intestine suffer so much pain they rejoice at the suggestion of surgery.
Many people have consulted me about real gallstones appearing on X-ray or ultrasound. Some of those people have tried a "liver flush" or colonic therapy to remove the stones. Not one has succeeded. While occasionally someone will find their discomfort is reduced by a restrictive diet, this is usually temporary.
A "colonic" involves instillation of fluid into the colon. Usually the fluid lacks the minerals in our blood, which then leach from our bodies out into the fluid, quickly reducing sodium, calcium, potassium and other mineral levels in the bloodstream. As a result, the person receiving the treatment will experience mineral fluxes in the brain and a mild alteration in consciousness as a result. I suspect this is the real cause of whatever elevated feeling some people may experience during the procedure. To the extent that the procedure treats constipation, it can replace an enema. Beyond that I am not sure it is of much value.
The Dangers: Trying to flush out gallstones by drinking olive oil can induce nausea and vomiting or cause the gallbladder to contract excessively. This can lead, albeit not usually, to emergency surgery. Colonics can cause an electrolyte imbalance resulting in fatigue, nausea, headache and, in extreme cases, seizure.
Illness is Your Own Fault
The Claim: All illness, including cancer, is a result of poor lifestyle, poor diet, pesticides from food or gardening, negative thoughts, or some sin from a past life.
The Truth: Sometimes we just get sick and we don't know why. It's hard enough to be ill. Don't let some quack tell you it's your fault.
The Claim: In sufficient quantities, fluoride is a poison.
The Truth: Many substances are poisonous in sufficient quantities. Too much oxygen is poisonous for a newborn. Too much sodium and potassium will harm adults. Fluoride exposure at the proper amount is a blessing. One of my boys insisted on flossing his teeth with Snickers bars, but thanks to dental sealants and fluoride, his teeth look way better than mine.
The Dangers: Avoid fluoride and end up with dental disease.
The Claim: homeopathic doses of rauwolfia lower blood pressure.
The Truth: Rauwolfia, an herb, is effective for high blood pressure. Indeed, when I was in medical school, under the brand name Serpasil, it was one of our few remedies. Later largely abandoned by medical authorities, it has recently enjoyed resurgence as a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathic theory says that if something causes a symptom at high doses it will trigger the opposite symptom at low doses. By that theory rauwolfia which lowers blood pressure in high doses would raise blood pressure in homeopathic doses. Both in theory and practice this product is total and complete nonsense.
The Dangers: Untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack and stroke. Mainstream methods, including lifestyle changes and medications, safely and effectively lower blood pressure, preventing thousands of strokes every year.
The claim: Mercury amalgam in your dental fillings is a toxin that causes brain damage in children, Alzheimer's in old folks, stomach aches, lethargy, and the list goes on. To stay healthy you must remove the mercury amalgam and replace it with some other substance. The mercury fillings must be removed correctly or more harm can result.
The Truth: Mercury is a poison. However mercury in our teeth is like the asbestos in the pipe insulation. As long as it is sequestered, it doesn't cause significant harm. That said, if you don't have mercury in your teeth, ask your dentist to keep it that way. They have pretty good plastics these days, and dentists are happy to use them.
One of my patients consulted two different "holistic dentists" on the Olympic Peninsula. Both used an instrument purported to measure electric currents in the teeth caused by the mercury fillings so they would know which fillings to remove first. Each came up with a different result, and the patient decided to trust neither one. As the years passed and his fillings came up for replacement, his usual dentist switched them all to plastic or gold.
The Danger: I've seen too many sick people put thousands of hard-to-come-by dollars into mercury removal, and I've not seen long-term success. They come in and say "I still feel bad. What do I do now?"
And the List Goes On
To read about more candidates for the Alternative Medicine Hall of Shame, follow these links to past newsletters:
Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington. Edited by Carolyn Latteier.