Reproduced from the
Are people attracted by the mystique that surrounds such therapies,by
a bit of mumbo jumbo quasi-science?
AS a GP with more than a passing interest in complementary
medicine I made a point of watching last Tuesday's episode of
Strange Days on BBC2. Written and
presented by journalist Catherine Bennett, it not only derided many of the
principles that alternative practitioners hold so dear but also took a hefty
swipe at the millions of people who consult them - contentious stuff.
I am not a violent man by nature, but I was urged more than
once during the programme to get out of my seat and give at least one of
the practitioners interviewed a firm prod with a sharpened stick just to
check that they were in the real world. There was much talk of disorganised
energy, build-up of toxins and bodily harmony, and little or none of mode
of action, evidence of safety or, dare I say it, effectiveness. To be frank,
most of it came over as mumbo jumbo.
I know what you are thinking he would say that wouldn't he? - another
dismissive doctor. Well, I beg to differ. I will use and recommend anything
that helps make people better, but we do need to take a long, hard look at
what alternative medicine is actually offering. Why is it that we are so
demanding when it comes to orthodox medicine and yet at the same time are
so eager to flock to therapy centres and undergo unproven, humiliating (colonic
irrigation springs to mind) and expensive
"natural" procedures? Is it because people are
attracted by the mystique that surrounds such therapies and like a bit of
mumbo jumbo, quasi, oversimplistic science, and spending time with someone
who cares? Or is it because some of these healing arts have been around for
thousands of years and therefore must work (a fact I find worrying, not
My colleagues of 200 years ago were inflicting all sorts of
horrible treatments on their patients, convinced that they were removing
toxins and addressing bodily imbalances. Thankfully, modern medicine has
progressed and, as Bennett pointed out in the programme, we now know that
malaria is not caused by breathing bad air, and hysteria is not confined
to women or due to womb trouble. Hundreds of thousands of lives and many
wombs have been saved as a result.
A hundred years ago we used to recommend that people with asthma
took up smoking now we know that it kills them. Why then should homeopaths
refer to a hook written by a man who died in 1843 to decide what remedies
to prescribe in the nineties? Most sixth-form biology students know more
about the human body and disease processes than he did.
Antiquity in itself is nothing to be proud of. Why do we take
on board all the other advances in our lives and yet ignore those pertaining
to our health? Catherine Bennett put it very succinctly in the programme
when she said that alternative practitioners speak a different language,
live in a world where belief overrules knowledge, abandon reason, forget
about evidence and ignore science.
Despite all of the above, alternative medicine has much to share
with its younger sister. Three-quarters of patients who use alternative therapies
find them helpful, despite the fact that such benefits are hard to explain
(placebo effect aside).
To join forces in the fight against ill health, we need the application of
the same rigid standards in both fields. Remedies, therapies and practices
in all types of medicine need proper clinical evaluation and licensing so
that consumers and practitioners know what is helpful and what is harmless.
Until such time as that happens, alternative medicine will remain alternative
and not complementary, despite what its practitioners may tell you.
is it true?
|Catherine Bennett, who outraged many liberal
parents with last year's Spoiling the Child: The Case Against Modern
Parenting, is giving the same treatment to our love of the "fantastic"
in the first of a three-part series, Strange Days.
A prime target is the case of the Southall milk-drinking statue, featured
in this week's programme, and press reactions to it: "Journalists were going
along saying, 'Yes, I saw it with my own eyes!' Not, 'What's the probability
of this really happening?'
"The Beast of Bodmin story was another - serious newspapers sending people
to look for this thing!"
Later weeks treat alternative medicine ("because something's 2,000 years
old, you're told that's a reason to use it, which is absurd") and psychotherapy
with similar scepticism. Why, does she think, are the press and TV so soft?
"These types of subject are audience winners," she suggests. "Programmes
such as Strange but True get enormous audiences.
Astrology columns bring in new readers. Yet few
of the people who make those programmes or put
in the papers believe in them."
|Harmless entertainment or foolish
superstition? Catherine Bennet argues with the astrologers in Strange
|TV is in love with the paranormal. Strange but True,
Mystic Meg on the National
Lottery, Secrets of the Paranormal - all these programmes feed
an appetite for unexplained phenomena. But, argues
Catherine Bennett in this three-part series, such "harmless entertainment"
is fostering superstition.
Strange Days is a cogently argued war cry on behalf of
scepticism, and Bennett is taking no
feng shui and
UFOlogy are all dismissed as "hocus pocus", while
Bennett (filmed gleefully standing under ladders and in broken mirrors) scourges
Future programmes make the case against
alternative medicine and psychotherapy:
sparks will fly.
Dr Mark Porter co-presents
Watchdog Healthcheck Mondays
BBC1 and is on Jimmy Young, alternate Mondays Radio 2.