Thursday, September 12, 2013
A Healthy Way Of Living - My experience with "Alternative" Medicine
I can almost hear the collective clench of sphincters as hundreds of med students and doctors read those two words.
Call it whatever you want. Naturopathy, "Eastern" medicine, Homeopathy - it's something that a lot of people turn to instead of real medicine when they're sick. It's basically the idea of taking natural remedies or therapies rather than "Western" drugs when dealing with diseases.
Most doctors and other health professionals just don't trust them.
You see, a lot of alternative treatments aren't researched, tested and often, they have no scientific backing whatsoever. They can be anything - from herbal remedies suggested by ancient scriptures to, to random chunks taken from exotic animals to full-fledged vitamin based treatment protocols administered instead of conventional drugs to treat things like cancer.
And in a majority of cases - they haven't been shown to work.
Most of the time the people who prescribe them mean well and really do believe their cures work. Sometimes though, they're simply just scam artists and fraudsters - disgusting people taking money off suffering, sometimes even dying, people.
But, though they are often referred to as quacks, some of their treatments do have merit.
For example, arsenic had been used for hundreds of years by the Chinese as a traditional treatment for severe tiredness. Today it's actually the first line treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia and has rendered many forms of CML a very high survival rate. There are thousands of "super-fruits" or wonder-juices which have actually been shown to have high levels of antioxidants and other beneficial substances (though most are monopolised and overpriced it seems) and treatments like acupuncture and activities like yoga have been proven to calm, relax and ease pain.
And the whole western, "take a pill and you'll be fine" attitude is destructive.
In the developed world, we've become just plain lazy and our health is the usually the first thing that goes out the window because of it. Rates of obesity are increasing exponentially, working hours are getting longer and longer and we often just want the fast way out of medical problems rather than living healthily as we ought to do.
I recently had my own experience with alternative medicine. My mother was told of a man who was apparently helping out and even curing cancer patients. When she told me about it, I rolled my eyes. I'd investigated probably a hundred of these claims before - heaps from soon after being diagnosed with cancer and some from suggestions from family or friends, and all had turned out to be useless, or scams of some sort and most were very expensive.
But then she told me the guy was actually researching cancer treatments at the University of Sydney. And that he wasn't selling anything or charging for visits either - rather talking to and advising patients in his own time on the weekends. That in itself was different to the ones I'd seen and read about before...
So, after a few weeks of putting it off, I decided to meet the guy. It couldn't hurt could it? And who knows, it may just help in some way.
So we rocked on up to his house one Saturday afternoon and met him.
I was pretty suspicious at first - almost sure he'd be sucking us into subscribing to some sort of product over the next hour.
In a way he did. But surprisingly, it wasn't really a product. It was an idea. One basically advocating a healthier lifestyle. Though I wouldn't agree with all he said, and sometimes, the way he said it, a healthy lifestyle is something that's been tossed aside in our medical system. And it shouldn't be.
So, what did he actually say?
Well, he begun by establishing the idea of us relying on medications too much in life... and by trying to convince us of a sort of conspiracy taking place where pharmaceuticals didn't want to cure people. That they didn't want to cure diseases, rather to get people to buy their drugs more and more and foster a "take a pill and you'll be fine" culture.
In a way it's true.
Pharmaceuticals are businesses after all, and they're making billions off others' misery and sickness. In America, a prime example of where pharmaceuticals hold too much power, it costs $400 for a hospital to put up a bag of saline. It costs less than $1 to make one. And they do anything and everything to increase their profitability. From mass advertising of unnecessary medications treating made up or over-diagnosed diseases, to buying out studies and politicians to even effectively buying out doctors by sending them on vacations and giving them other "gifts" in exchange for them prescribing their medication.
Yet at the same time - this profiteering is necessary. It costs literally billions to develop new drugs and the industry is filled with risks. Without it, we'd never see drugs coming out. And the idea that a pharmaceutical wouldn't want to develop a drug to cure a type of cancer or a disease like diabetes because they make so much already off chemotherapy and maintenance drugs, though it seems feasible at first is ludicrous when you consider the pharmaceutical that came up with that drug would be the richest in the world.
What I couldn't agree with at all though, was the way he presented his view. To someone who may not know too much about the medical system or the way the body works, he may have convinced them to give up medications which are vital to keep them functioning at the moment, or led them to believing his changes would save them in a real emergency when they worked over the long term.
And his claims that his lifestyle changes will cure cancers and diabetes and other sort of ailments is simply misguiding. Not only because he hasn't got any proof for it yet, but also because he'd be giving potentially dying or suffering patients false hope (see my opinion on hope and medicine here by the way).
But when he went on to explain his treatment or outline his plan for me, to my surprise, he didn't advise me to stop my medications. In fact he told me to keep them up. That all my treatments and all I'd done so far was the best thing I could have done.
That shocked me - after that diatribe I was half expecting him to ask me to regurgitate my morning medications...
According to him, all cancers thrived in low-oxygen, acidic conditions - and fed off glucose - or sugar and that cancers didn't exist before 1970 and was something that emerged with the advent of chemical preservatives and other such additives to our food.
I questioned this immediately.
First of all, the body needs glucose - it's what our body uses as fuel. And even if you were to stop it completely - the body could still make it from other types of sugars and even proteins and fats! And if cancers did exist in low oxygen, acidic conditions - it was most likely because they created that environment (bit of science here - because tumour cells are hungrier than most, they'd use up all the oxygen in the vicinity, making the region low in oxygen, and hence have to use the lactic acid pathway for energy - which releases lactic acid, which would be responsible for the high acidity). And the idea that cancers only started in the '70s is laughable. Yeah they may have become more prevalent around that time, but that's because our life expectancy grew in that time and one of the factors that contributes to cancer is old age, and prior to then, we couldn't even diagnose a lot of cancers til AFTER death because of it! And there is evidence to suggest that mummies had tumours - not to mention thousands of documented leukemias and tumours dating back to the early 18th century.
But he did give some explanation and proof to back up his statements - even if they weren't too solid in their science at times.
Cancer cells probably may just grow more when you have consumed excess glucose, or carbohydrates essentially. And as cell dividing, the process by which cancer grows, takes a lot of energy tumours would be glucose hungry. Therefore by stopping excess carbohydrate intake, you could starve cancer cells to some point. Whether or not it can stop them is dubious. And this idea - though pushed by many around the world - doesn't have too much proof to back it up.
As for his plan to increase the pH of the body in order to slow down cancer growth - he explained that the low, acidic pH observed around cancer cells has a variety of mechanisms which increase cancers' spreading. His "treatment" would be taking sodium bicarbonate, a non-toxic substance, twice a day or otherwise increasing pH (with things like alkaline water - easily available for about $1/L) and he believes that you'd possibly arrest or even reverse cancer growth because of it. He produced a study done by the University of Arizona on mice to show it to be effective in shrinking tumours, and he's currently doing a phase 1, or small scale, safety and efficacy study, of taking sodium bicarbonate along with various chemotherapy drugs in humans too - so it may, in the future be a possible treatment path.
What was surprising was that he said that it was extremely hard to secure a company who wanted to actually do the trial because sodium bicarbonate is cheap and easily available, something not marketable for them. That got me thinking that a lot of these sorts of simple diet and lifestyle changes may not be tested because of this reason - or because it's just too hard to ensure patients are actually following and complying to any diet changes in comparison to making sure they took a pill, or had an injection of some kind.
His final suggestion was to take supplementation alongside these of all basic vitamins and minerals the body needs - as modern farming methods mean that foods we eat today are not only filled with pesticides and other chemicals designed to keep them fresh, but also lacking in nutrition. Whether or not this is true I can't say, but supplementing vitamins is only useful if you aren't getting enough of them - if you are, they'll just be removed from the body. So essentially, if you were already eating a healthy, nutritious diet encompassing all your necessary intake requirements, taking vitamin supplements would mean you're essentially paying for nutrient-rich pee.
All in all - his "treatment" involved only small, very affordable changes that I was willing to make. And he wasn't profiting from it at all (though he did advocate a particular brand for the vitamins pretty vigorously...). All we had to buy were things like fresh, organic food and inexpensive, edible sodium bicarbonate.
And in the end his methods pretty much led to a healthier lifestyle. Healthy eating and living seems to make sense where iridology often doesn't.
So I've decided to follow most of his advice. And so far, about a month or so in, I'm feeling great to be honest.
In the end, a healthier lifestyle is something that doesn't seem to be advocated enough in our health system and by doctors these days. Maybe because there's no proof (from even first year of med school, doctors are taught not to advocate or prescribe something that hasn't been proven in properly done trials) or maybe because you just can't expect people to listen or change their habits anymore - whether it be drinking, eating unhealthily or smoking - and for that reason the industry and the individuals working in it have just stopped trying.
My final opinion: Alternative medicine has its place. It has the potential to help but it should be regulated in some way and people should proceed with caution.
Healthy living, however, is never a bad idea.
So why not do it?
A link to the studies on acids and tumours is below:
A link to his website is here too: