Saturday, June 23, 2007

Primum non nocere

We have some friends who are constantly reading up on good supplements, diet fads, etc. They do pretty well for folks the medical establishment gave up for dead decades ago. Over the years they've tried some silly things (like lead foil-lined hats), but they've also made some helpful recommendations (ALA, colloidal silver, cell food/plankton et al). They've alerted us to a number of issues (chewable/liquid vs solid multi-vitamins, vaccination preservatives). They've helped me establish a baseline on some questionable suggestions made by others.

I don't just blindly follow their advice, or anyone else's for that matter. Happily, these aren't the kind of folks who will turn on you for not jumping on their latest bandwagon! These friends are good for offering studies & books on whatever alternative herbs, foods, and diets they try out. The good ideas stay.

They will always have tried anything they recommend for several months first, so I can see for myself if it worked for them. [ex: The all raw foods diet was a wash, though an increased percentage of raw fruits & veggies in the diet has proved a permanent addition. Using freshly ground grain instead of store flour also proved helpful to them & I hope to get a grinder of my own one of these days. ] They take chances, but they don't ask me to try anything they haven't tested. Any wonder my respect for them is so high? I wish everyone was as conscientious as they are!

& so I read their books & pamphlets, then look up any countering arguments or concerns. After that I am ready to make a decision of whether we could or should try it ourselves. That's the path I recommend to you. Most herbals are, at worst, harmless - but there are exceptions, and even the placebos can prove pricey experiments. It isn't wise to follow every suggestion you hear. Its always good to check other sources. Besides, its a good way to learn more about the subject!

To give you one example, one woman online claimed to be an herbal healer (a company rep) and strongly recommended a bowel cleansing formula to be taken daily. I considered her proposal as probably hostile, given some of her other behaviors, and certainly counterintuitive, given the great concerns excessive diarrhea has always caused doctors & hospitals, but I double-checked, giving her the benefit of the doubt. The time spent proved worthwhile. I learned a good deal about current treatment trends in parasitology, intestinal clutter, (and online quackery) - while listening to the local herbalists & medical professionals -umm, lengthy and dynamic reaction - when I mentioned her 'health plan' to them. Kaboom! lol

For the record, the regional experts would only recommend one weekend cleansing every three months - at most. Some only advise cleansing twice a year. Why? While it is good to get rid of intestinal build-up periodically [& possibly lose some parasites into the bargain] when you dump a lot of 'stuff' too often, you can also lose many nutrients and risk putting your body badly off-balance. [Balance is considered key to good health.] Also, if you fail to keep up with the fluid loss, you can dehydrate. This is the mechanism of injury by which dysentery has killed so many people. Their bodies couldn't keep up with the losses and went into shock.

Mind you, I never seriously considered adopting that lady's plan. Over the years, thanks to friends and family alike, I have learned a little bit about supplement & herbal solutions. Though I like to think I am open to new ideas, and it seems like there are always new discoveries coming down the pike - or at least old ones I hadn't yet heard about, I take some care. I will listen respectfully to most anyone, young or old, but I am careful even of the supposedly 'ancient' 'tried and true' remedies. You gotta be. If you aren't cautious, you run the risk of being the latest victim of a very elderly bottle of snake-oil.

A good example of that turned up today. I was aware of the movement to add back older grains (& millet in particular) to improve public health. I'd been told it was better to use old-style sorghum molasses instead of corn or pancake syrup. I already take vitamin B supplements everyday because I've known since I was a kid I had a difficulty in getting enough of them from food. Talking about B vitamins (& deficiency health issues) prompted a friendly soul online to recommend watching this video. She figures that this must be why these foods are so popular again. Who knows? Maybe it did have an impact, but that doesn't mean it should be accepted at face value.

The film itself had a few elements that always set off my baloney detector. The first 10 min in every 'conspiracy' documentary are often given over to explaining how often the regular establishment(s) have been slow to accept or adopt new ideas, treatments, paradigms etc and/or secretive in testing them. Okay, true, but also irrelevant. It is a fact that human institutions are slow to change once they become established, and that some 'experts' will resist change because they or their department will suffer some loss (at least of reputation!) with it, unless a very large impulse or force makes such change immediately desirable. This is not proof (or disproof) of any specific theory, treatment plan, or the presence of aliens.

I apologize in advance to all the novice documentary makers out there who believe they know an important, overlooked truth and just don't know another way to tell the great grand public 'please be open-minded' - but anytime I hear the likes of Galileo & the Wright bros offered as proof of the need to struggle against the powers that be before the truth can get out, my skepto-needle goes off the charts. These examples are poor, as the folks mentioned were all famous and fairly reputable in their own time, (despite opposition or even their own peculiarities) & had NOTHING to do with medical advances, or much of anything else outside their specialty. Its the guys who had great theories that were proven to be correct decades or centuries later- but no funding or respect in their own time who'll make your point. They existed, if you need to convince people of this. Also, please try to keep to the examples in the field you are addressing! Research, people!

Basically, what you have there is a faulty appeal to authority. The suggestion is that we would have believed Galileo then (being modern folks who have been taught better) so we should believe Krebbs (or whoever) now.

The documentary had plenty of technobabble, which initially sounded moderately impressive, even scientific, but it seemed odd to me to realize that while the film was quite old, I had never heard B17 recommended by any herbalist or nutritionist - while many other supplements have gone mainstream.

& I always look askance at any documentary with only a few 'experts' who are quoted over and over - followed by foundation/organization names that seem close to very famous ones. You may only have a few experts for a real point, but when you obscure that with sound-alike societies, you invite a charge of intentional humbuggery.

So the documentary ends and I start doing a few keyword searches. Doesn't take long to come a conclusion. After checking out laetrile online, I will stick to eating millet, almonds, apples, & apricots occasionally- probably sans kernels. If they are right, I should get plenty of benefit from the foods mentioned. At worst, it won't hurt me.

All this boils down to one principle - be careful of casual medical suggestions - online or at the bbq. Be careful of friend-of-a-friend anecdotes of what might cure you. Be careful of passing along trendy nutritional ideas to those you care about. 'Be careful' doesn't mean reject everything you hear, but be willing to check it out first! Be prepared to spend some quality time with search engines, encyclopedias, reputable herbal encyclopedias, herbalists, and any friends you have who regularly test alternatives.

When a friend or family member says they hurt, we want to help - that's only natural - but with many conditions, we can't be sure if an herb or diet plan really will help. Its best to stick to those suggestions that aren't likely to drinking lots of cranberry juice for a kidney stone before the next trip to the urologist. If you think you have fixed your problems with diet, herbs, yoga or whatever, great! Just please don't cancel the appointment for your next check-up. I'm sure the doctor will be delighted to share in the happy moment with you.

All that said, sometimes there are simple answers that have often been overlooked. Scurvy has a lot of horrible symptoms, and seemed quite complicated when it was first written up, but it was and still is curable with any source of Vitamin C. Are your gums bothering you? You may fix it just by grabbing an orange! Some people have been able to control mild asthma attacks with chocolate and coffee. Conversely, eliminating caffeine has cured sleeplessness, among other things. Drinking plenty of actual water (as opposed to soda, coffee, & strong tea) eliminates many irregularities. Taking ten deep breaths - deliberately breathing in as much as you can, holding for a second, and then exhaling gently - does wonders for nausea, heart racing, and nervousness. You can safely try any or all of these commonplace cures without risking yourself.

So - eat an apricot or a clementine. Have some multi-grain bread. Drink lots of water.
Breathe deep, friends, and relax. Its good for you. :)


Pat said...

Another check carefully: an elder relative's special bottle of wonder 'stuff'; I threw out one over 50 years old. She was thrilled for my using it up, just knew it was the right thing! It may have done her good once, I'm sure she'd just lost track of the time.

Anonymous said...

Most people don't want to drink lots of water, eat lots of fruit, and exercise any way at all. We'd rather pop a pill after it gets bad. That's why so many of us are sick!

Its like Naaman not wanting to bath in the muddy Jordan river even though he had been told by Elisha that it would cure his leprosy.


Shushan said...

Beth, I believe you are right.

Mom, that is a good additional point. Sometimes folks want to share old cures that may have long since expired. People just lose track of how long its been since they used it!

Anonymous said...

Two more easy things - freeze your milk before drinking it

and take echinacea when you have a cold

but don't trust the fda

The Peanut Gallery

BookTestOnline said...

Last summer my family & I started jogging on mini tramplines. (from Academy Sport) cost about $30.00
It works great while watching TV.

I do not know very much about herbs ect. I am 16. Found your site when searching through blogspot. If you have time to visit mine find it below. Thanks

Also, Jane Austen is one of my
favorite writers too.

Elizabeth G.

Shushan said...

Nice to meet you, Elizabeth :)

Couple more suggestions I've heard lately include using vitamin E or lavender oil on fresh burns to promote healing & prevent scarring.

Sounds like a harmless thing to try, anyway!