Hollywood Medicine (April 26, 2016)
Ambrose Bierce famously defined a cynic as someone with a visual defect that forced them to see the world not as it ought to be, but as it really was. Bless his heart. Reporting on the Civil War will do that to you, I guess.
But he was quite correct. Even experts in a field (sometimes it seems ESPECIALLY experts in a field) are not free from a sometimes touching belief in things which, if they are not utter nonsense, at least have little or nothing to do with the real world.
A wonderful example of that is "precision medicine", a modern fad in Big Medicine which NIH is sure will save us all. It's defined as "an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person". I have made fun of precision medicine extensively in the past, and if you would like to revisit that you can find it at:
It is one of my better articles. Better than this one, in fact. Maybe you should.... but I digress.
So the idea of precision medicine is great. But if you look at the big picture, it doesn't have a lot of relevance to the important issues of health and disease. Why spend umpteen million dollars to find out which ethnic groups are more susceptible to brain damage from lead poisoning? How about just spending the money to fix the pipes, bucko?
We already know how to prevent over 80% of disease with lifestyle measures which are the same for EVERYONE. Enabling more people to implement these rules would save far more lives than drilling down to tiny details of biochemistry. Plus, when medical error (also known as "doctors") kills hundreds of thousands a people a year, to my mind spending real money a concept like “precision medicine” is just cruel irony.
This is an example of the difference between Real World and Hollywood World, which is how I refer to the disconnect between reality and the way we think about it. If you believe in Hollywood World anyplace except the movie theater or in front of the television, you’re going to get into trouble.
Now if you practice in the field of alternative health, which was my choice and I blame no one for it, you see this disconnect all the time. And unless you write a bi-monthly newsletter wherein you can broadcast such things to a captive audience, it can drive you half nuts. So I would like to briefly discuss three examples of Hollywood Medicine that I find particularly noxious.
It’s better to do something than nothing at all. I lifted this little bit of nonsense from the enclosure in a package of (unsolicited) thermography brochures I found in my inbox one day last week. This is not to pick on thermography -- just on the person who wrote the enclosure letter.
Said letter stated (quite correctly) that the radiation from mammograms is worrisome enough to a lot of women that they will not get mammograms. It proceeded to set forth that therefore thermography should be done instead, because “doing something is better than doing nothing at all”. Please do not nod wisely at that. It sure the hell is NOT.
Your body is extremely smart about healing itself, and it is amazing how many disorders are self-limiting – meaning that they go away if you just wait for them to do so. Any time you choose to intervene in a health problem, you’d better make darned sure that that intervention won’t in itself harm you. Alternative medicine still exists not just because it works so much of the time, but because drugs and surgery can be very, very nasty.
Doing nothing is often a genuinely viable option. If you do something harmful, or something expensive that doesn't work when your body would have fixed itself in time, you will feel very stupid. And rightfully so.
We don't have to take nutritional supplements because we get enough nutrients from food. I know this sounds logical, because if you can't get all your nutrients from food, how were people healthy before Centrum came along? But people ain't what they used to be, and food isn't either.
People used to eat a lot more than they do now (they used to work it off back then. Some people still do). The average American man now eats about 2600 calories a day, and the average American woman 1800. Even though they are both lying, when you take into account the poor quality of most people's diets (including 300 to 500 calories daily of added sugar) there simply aren’t enough calories to get all the minerals and other micronutrients that are important for good health.
So unless you have a reason NOT to take a multivitamin and mineral, I would do so. Given a choice, you are unquestionably better off getting your nutrients from food rather than from a pill. But in practical terms, that choice does not exist anymore.
I'm going to go ahead and get that surgery and finally just take care of it. Good luck to you, my friend. Tell me where to send the flowers.
There’s a feeling among the general public that getting a surgery is “taking care of the problem”, as though ultimately all problems are disorders of unnecessary body parts. This is partly the fault of doctors, who know exactly what they are doing when they point to an x-ray with visible arthritis or an MRI of your sinuses and tell you that you need to have that Thing cut out to feel good again.
Well, here is a dirty little secret. STRUCTURE often doesn’t mean a lot in health and disease. What matters is FUNCTION. You may have arthritis and a bulging disc, but no matter how awful your x-rays look, if everything works right and you don’t hurt, you don’t have a problem. Similar deal for clogged arteries. Etc.
If you have advanced arthritis in that knee that is causing your pain, why didn't it hurt until last week? It's because pain comes from inflammation, and it is very often possible to get rid of inflammation without changing the structure of something. That’s what steroids do. And it’s also what chiropractic, acupuncture, turmeric and no end of other things do as well.
You wouldn't believe how bad an x-ray can look without the problem really requiring surgery. So if you have a choice (and you generally do), do NOT run to the surgeon and give the medical profession another opportunity to kill you until you have exhausted the alternatives.
Don’t wait for Science to save us, as fabulous as that looks on the big (or little) screen. Consider doing nothing, take your vitamins, and try something to heal besides the drama of the operating theater. Take care of yourself properly and when you do have to go to the doctor, for heaven’s sake BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.
--dr. diane holmes
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