Your grandmother, or possibly even a parent will reach into a drawer and pull out a jar of some foul-smelling concoction, which they will proudly offer to you along with the following advice. “Just rub that on, it fixes pretty much everything”. Strangely, once you’ve gotten over the odor and dusted of the jar, you may find the parent or grandparent was spot on.
That annoying rash, infected wound, or dry and brittle eczema starts to fade and three days later, it’s cleared up. Astonished and impressed you ask the wrong question.
“What’s in the jar”?
“No idea”, the family member responds. “The old pharmacist from Jenners used to mix the stuff up”.
This would be the same pharmacist who’s been dead for over ten years, which explains the dust all over the bottle and possibly the smell. You check your hand again, worried now that the concoction may result in the actual loss of the entire limb, but it’s all good. Whatever the old man used for his recipe, it worked and still does. You’ve just found the first thing that seems to soothe your chronic eczema and you’re desperate to know what’s in it.
The tale above is an all too common occurrence. It provides anecdotal proof of the efficacy of natural ingredients in the hands of skilled practitioners and is repeated daily, across the globe, in a thousand variations. Alternate medicines offer huge and mostly untapped treatment potential for almost every known affliction that affects mankind.
And yet, the alternate health industry is belittled by doctors and dismissed by almost every science-based group as a “bunch of quacks” and charlatans. Why? Let’s take a quick journey back in history.
Medicine and Magic
I still remember a story my mother would tell of their family skinning a live cat to place the hot skin on the chest and back of young children who were suffering from consumption, the old term for tuberculosis. It worked, for whatever reason, and provided relief. The barbaric nature of the cure or treatment is undoubtedly the reason the practice was discontinued, but I remember the story fascinating me. It still does.
Something in the hot skin of the cat interacted with the body it was placed on. We will never know what mechanisms, chemical or otherwise were involved. More to the point though, and what really fascinated me, was this. How did the older generations happen on this treatment?
Today’s evidence-based medicine is a far cry from its original roots of witchcraft and traditional healers. These mysterious and often revered members of the ragtag groups of earlier civilizations (some still persist to this day) were the true forefathers/mothers of modern medicine. Their oral knowledge of the medicinal value of plants and herbs was carefully preserved over generations.
Early societies would often ascribe the miraculous properties of these plants to supernatural powers which probably led to the next unfortunate development.
As always, the church interceded, and in the late 16th century set about establishing a clear divide between God and traditional herbal folklore. Labeling the traditionalists as witches, they set about destroying generations of knowledge. “Witches” were burnt, drowned, and pilloried. Again, the poor cat featured. Owning one at the time wasn’t a good idea, particularly if you were a woman with a penchant for plants and a postcode anywhere near Salem.
A clear division had been established between modern medicine and the traditional healers, one that persists till today, despite the fact that many of modern medicine’s traditions and treatemtns had been appropriated from their “witchy” cousins. To ensure medicine’s future and widespread acceptance for the profession, the simplest route was to discredit the natural healers and cast doubt on their abilities and treatments.
It was a spectacularly successful marketing stitch-up that continues to this day, now aided and abetted by the real con artists and quacks that litter alternate health.
If ever a rebrand was needed…
Health is a huge business, a lucrative business, and a continued repeat-business. The problem is that most modern medicine and alternate health practitioners seem blithely unaware of this. The sectors that have grasped this truth within healthcare are arguably not those that directly impact the health and wellbeing of patients, and these sectors most certainly don’t operate with the patient’s interest as their driving motivator. Profit rules their worlds.
In medicine, pharma and tech understand and “get” the business drivers for healthcare. They are business operating within, arguably, one of the most stable and lucrative business fields in the world. That business is your health.
In alternate health, an emerging and equally lucrative market, those who stand to benefit most are those that are best able to best exploit their markets. These individuals have proven themselves to be numerous, resourceful, devoid of ethics, and willing to adopt a “whatever it takes” attitude to monetize their businesses within the sector.
The alternate health market has proven so lucrative it has attracted some of the most deceptive and dishonest swindlers, some from within its own ranks, some from outside the industry, and some from within the hallowed halls of medicine and science. No one would appear immune to the lure of fast money and the literal fortunes waiting to be made.
This, along with the glaringly inadequate lack of evidence-based claims, is what most plagues the alternate health industry and holds it back from serious acceptance by the scientific community.
There are other factors, that play a role to a lesser degree. Fields within the sector such as homeopathy, considered by most to be complete nonsense, do nothing to bolster the acceptance of alternate health, but it is primarily the charlatans, quacks, and con-artists that permeate every corner of the industry that destroy any vestige of respectability or acceptance.
Time to clean house
Recognized medical doctors like Zach Bush have been drawn into this murky world, losing their way, lured by the promise of huge returns. Ingredients like household bleach are sold to vulnerable desperate patients by con artists like Dr Fitt, Roby Mitchell.
Once revered medical voices, like Christiane Northrup, have been swallowed up by the conspiracy theories that permeate the industry, happily embraced to expand sales. Some, like Kelly Brogan and Dr. Joseph Mercola are just patently dishonest and profit from eliciting trust in a gullible public.
The list of names is long and seemingly endless, dwarfed only by the disgusting unethical marketing tactics these doctors, quacks, and charlatans engage to sell their false hope to millions of desperate people. If you can bottle water, stick on a label and get your pitch right on Youtube, then you’ve got the next cure for cancer or diabetes. Just don’t come right out and say it, that could get you into trouble.
These unscrupulous individuals need to be identified and excommunicated from the alternate health sector. Until the industry recognizes the makings of its own downfall, it will continue to be seen by medicine for what it currently is. A sad punchline to a very dangerous joke. One that claims lives. The alternative will be enforced regulation by bodies from outside the industry and that is a double-edged sword.
While enforced regulation may very well weed out fraud and misselling, it will undoubtedly cripple the industry and stifle growth and we need this sector to function, and function successfully for one very simple reason.
Natural herbs and plant-based extracts offer untapped benefits to many people who so desperately need alternatives. Cheap, cost-effective treatments to alleviate suffering. The potential for a well regulated (self) alternate health sector to provide these treatments is huge.
Planning for tomorrow
Why not conduct clinical trials to establish efficacy for these herbs and plants? It’s a complicated issue that once again resolves down to one simple factor. Money and profit. Unlike synthetic pharmaceutical compounds that can be developed, designed, and patented, natural products cannot be patented.
Accordingly, there is no mechanism for a company that does the research on a particular plant, say for instance dandelions and their efficacy in treating indigestion (an example, please don’t start swallowing dandelions for your heartburn), to benefit financially from the research. Research is useless unless made public and once in that domain, anyone who sells dandelions stands to profit from it.
The solution is a simple one. Create an internal regulatory body and task it with the research. Fund the body through grants and compulsory membership. Traditional pharma would be a willing partner, eager to explore promising clinical trials of natural ingredients for the production of synthetic versions. The alternate health sector is a cash-rich industry and the money exists within the sector to fund an organization of this nature.
One that would enjoy scientific credibility and possible legislative recognition. It would finally draw a line below the anecdotal references the industry relies on and allow modern science-based doctors to accept the many benefits alternate health has to offer their patients. A mutually respectful relationship between the two sectors would be of immense benefit to patients.
Until this happens though, expect the ridicule to continue. Science doesn’t tolerate fairies and fake cures any more than it accords respect to charlatans. They are exposed and shamed and we will continue to assist in this process, ever hopeful that the parent of modern medicine can reclaim its rightful place in the world of health.
Don’t take too long about it
Time isn’t on the side of alternate health. Our planet is at a tipping point and the loss of insect diversity directly impacts our flora diversity. It isn’t just the animals that are feeling the impact of global warming. Massives swathes of tropical jungle are under threat, from both human and environmental pressures. The same jungles that are, without a doubt, a treasure trove of yet to be discovered medical compounds.
By stabilizing the alternate health sector, we encourage research and exploration to increase the diversity of the plants we study. Increased interest leads to increased funding, but we don’t have any time to waste.
Any cessation or slowdown in the processes that contribute to global warming is unrealistic, given our lack of engagement. That rich reservoir that could potentially offer cures for billions is under serious threat and with each passing day, we lose more and more of it. We aren’t simply losing the lungs of our planet, but potential cures for diseases we have yet to encounter.