On November 21, 2019, I considered myself a firm believer in science-based medicine and proven health care solutions. Less than a week later, I found myself questioning more and more on what I thought I knew about the way our health care system works.
Today, I still believe in science-based medicine and licensed health care professionals. But as my father and our family have occasionally fallen upon the dark underbelly of America’s health care system, I can see why many more Americans have fallen prey to the allure of “alternatives” that claim magical healing superpowers… And provide nothing but overpriced placebo and dangerous promises of “wellness” that can never really be fulfilled.
Believe it or not, science-based medicine works.
Yesterday marked two months since my father’s heart attack. Yes, I spoke with my dad again this morning. He’s still at the rehab center, and he’s gradually getting better. He finally has his own walker, he’s starting to move around more and move all on his own, and he’s finally scheduled to go home next week.
Whenever I feel bummed about my dad’s ongoing vision and mobility challenges, I remind myself of all the progress he’s made in the last two months. When I first flew into Orange County to visit him at the first hospital, I was fearing and preparing for the worst (as in, death). When I came home last week, he survived a successful open heart surgery and secured release from the third hospital.
This happened because my dad was treated with the best available medicine. The first hospital used hypothermia therapy to stabilize his condition during the first 48 hours. The third hospital had specialized ophthalmological medicine available to restore vision to his eyes. And then, the third hospital had a world-class team of surgeons, other doctors, and nurses to ensure a safe and successful heart surgery and recovery. If it weren’t for all this science-based medicine, my dad wouldn’t have survived.
And yet, we’re increasingly living in a world of woo.
No, I haven’t watched any of actor turned “wellness guru” Gwyneth Paltrow’s new The Goop Lab series on Netflix. And quite frankly, I’m afraid to. I’m afraid I’ll get sucked back into the world of woo I had successfully managed to escape.
I feel so dirty saying this, but I need to come clean: Not that long ago, I stocked up on herbal teas I thought were “alternative medicine”. I noticed all The Real Housewives who were hawking everything from essential oils and vitamin IV drips to yoni eggs and coffee enemas, and I thought they were just “health conscious”, if maybe a little quirky in their “consciousness”. I listened as family members and friends offered all sorts of advice on “natural home remedies”, and I actually tried some of them.
Oh yes, they can and they have. And unfortunately, they opened the door for Gwyneth Paltrow, Alex Jones (remember him?), Mike Adams, and many more snake oil salespeople to convince us that their respective brands of “all natural”, “cruelty free”, “vegan friendly”, “keto friendly”, “superfood superpowered”, and/or “toxin cleansing” snake oil will magically cure us of all our alleged ailments.
Just because it feels “cold” or “uncaring” doesn’t mean science-based medicine doesn’t work.
For the last two months, you’ve had to endure all my griping over the various shortcomings in our health care system. But really, try spending time in a hospital where a loved one is in the ICU. Or worse yet, try calling the hospital and asking for someone, anyone, who can pick up the phone and tell you how your loved one is doing. Just with the standard issue of having so many questions and so few people available to answer them, it’s easy to feel incredibly dejected.
But for people who suffer diseases and other conditions that haven’t received enough research, and more often than not these people tend to be women, it’s an even more infuriating. When patients seek answers and instead encounter smug dismissal, we can see why some of them turn to those who promise all kinds of answers, even if those answers are based on little or no scientific research at all.
Let’s approach this another way: When my dad was in the hospital (as in, all three of them), he occasionally just waited in his room for someone, anyone, to come and walk with him, or to help him order his lunch, or to help him move into the bathroom. We occasionally had to remind each other that these medical professionals are super busy and must treat many more people in his wing of the hospital. When we experience science-based medical treatment and find them “cold” and “uncaring”, it can feel rather alluring to encounter “alternatives” that feel much “warmer”, “caring”, and ready to help.
Just because your favorite relative, or perhaps your favorite celebrity, promotes woo doesn’t mean it works.
Again, this “help” appears all over the place. Whether it’s an “Instagram fitness model” claiming, “This all-natural protein powder helped me become a champion bodybuilder!”, a reality TV royal claiming, “This herbal tea helped me lose 40 pounds!”, or a “self-made entrepreneur” claiming, “My stem cell therapy will help you feel younger and better than ever!”, it’s becoming more and more difficult to look away from all this woo.
Even while I was researching and preparing this very article, the woo was coming my way. While on YouTube, I spotted a promotion for some chiropractor in LA and another promotion for another chiropractor who was selling essential oils. I then spotted another online ad for “natural supplements”. And just hours earlier, while shopping at a local “natural foods” grocery store, I noticed that one aisle where I used to pick up “naturopathic medicine” because “it’s ‘all natural’, so it must be better for our health”.
And then, we have the well-meaning family members saying, “You must try this!” We have the friends who say, “This will help you feel better.” We have others in our trusted social circles saying, “It’s natural, it works, and it’s knowledge ‘they don’t want you to know’.” No really, the woo is pretty much everywhere.
The problem actually isn’t with the science. And rather than cure our diseases, pseudoscience is only making us sicker.
Unfortunately, we have experienced major failings in our health care system. Even before journalists began digging into the dirty dealings of the Sackler family, it was painfully obvious that too many people were being prescribed way too many opioids. And as we’ve been discussing for some time, we live in a country where over 30% of all GoFundMe fundraisers were for medical needs.
Whether it’s President Donald Trump railing against the “rigged system” or U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) decrying the greed of multi-billion-dollar insurance and pharmaceutical companies, this outrage against the health care “establishment” is growing across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, this (often justified) outrage has led many Americans into (unjustified) distrust of science-based medicine and dismissal of medical science as “establishment/corporatist/big guv’mint bulls–t”.
This makes it even easier for the likes of Alex Jones and Mike Adams to tell folks on the right that “big guv’mint” is out to poison real, red-blooded, patriotic Americans with vaccines and fluoride… And for Gwyneth Paltrow to tell folks on the left that “big corporations” are out to poison people with all sorts of “toxic chemicals that make you sick”. And ironically enough, we see these parallel universes mirror each other as Mike Adams weaponizes his fake news empire to sell his “pure, unadulterated” snake oil while Gwyneth Paltrow deploys her Hollywood star power to sell her “heirloom, organic” snake oil.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s far more effective than that sweet, sweet snake oil placebo.
I know this is a lot to digest. But let’s face it, you almost certainly know folks who clicked onto Natural News and/or Goop, then went ahead and tried some of their “natural remedies”. “Sure, they cost money,” they might say. But then, they’ll add, “At least I know what I’m putting into my body! Do you know what your ‘big pharma shill’ of a doctor is putting into yours?”
Actually we do, because science-based medicine is based on (drum roll, please) science and thoroughly regulated by public agencies around the world to ensure its safety. Here in the U.S., however, “complementary and alternative medicine” is a thoroughly unregulated hot mess where snake oil peddlers can apply all sorts of labels (such as “all natural”, or “toxin free”) to their snake oil with broad legal immunity. Remember this: Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe for ingestion, injection, or insertion.
Yes, I know this is a lot. So if you’ve been skimming through, I’ll try my best to give the TL/DR version here: Science-based medicine actually works, and so-called “alternatives” have no real evidence to back them up. My dad’s alive and better because of science-based medicine, and just because we’ve run into problems with our health care system doesn’t validate the gospel according to anti-science extremists.
And please, oh please, do some actual research and seek verified medical information before signing up for anything you see on The Goop Lab.