In the spheres of skepticism and alternative health there are two main perspectives we encounter:
The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’
1) That of the incredulous skeptic who insists all is bullshit, gets angry at the quacks and tries to stop them peddling rubbish at gullible people.
2) The alt med proponents; be they sellers or consumers, they aggressively try to persuade you that it works and big pharma/your doctor are lying to you and the global conspiracy has suppressed all the ‘natural cures’.
Of course there are various severities of those views, stronger and milder, but they’re the most prominent types.
However, there is a point of view that receives less attention. The sufferers of chronic incurable conditions whose friends and family, often merely out of care and concern, insist on telling them about this or that treatment/remedy/ritual/product that will make them better or even cure them.
Once or twice these suggestions can be laughed off or you can humour the person, but after a while it becomes more difficult to ignore.
One of my best internet friends (we’ve never met [Edit 2014: we have now!] but have talked for years) has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a rare genetic disorder that affects connective tissue and causes frequent and painful dislocations and many other complications, depending on the exact mutation involved, that can make life very difficult.
Recently she’s expressed extreme frustration at all the people sending her articles about things that will cure or make her feel better. She suffers from other conditions as well, including Crohn’s disease, which gives the obsessive alt medders even more ammunition. I’m going to use her words (with her permission) because they convey the feeling better than my commentary would.
Here’s your anecdotal evidence
“I now have three people trying to convince me that eating right (read bizarre hippie stuff) will “cure” my EDS. Yes cure the syndrome I have, which is caused by a faulty gene I was born with.
I’ve to boil a chicken for at least 24 hours, until the collagen in its joints breaks down, because consuming that will cure me. To think I’ve wasted all this time going to doctors who’ve only studied the condition for years and know how genes work. I should have been chatting to this woman who read a page on the internet! It had nothing to do with EDS but her logic is sound.
Until this cure kicks in, I’ve to make an “elixir” of grains which have been fermented in raw milk from a pastured cow, raw honey, chillies, vinegar and mixed aromatic spices, which has been left to stand in a dark cupboard. I’ve to make it on the night of a new moon and allow it to brew until the next new moon. I then swallow a few spoonfuls several times a day. This will build up my strength, prevent pain and stop me from catching any viruses. It’s been proven to work. The guy whose website it’s on has posted several testimonies from people who tried it (the ones who didn’t die one assumes).
I’m only in pain though because I take painkillers (amazing how that works, I thought I didn’t start taking them until I was in pain!). Oh and my genetic abnormality (that I was born with) was caused by my being fed that poison called baby milk and getting the rubella vaccine (after I was born).
Another concerned friend enlightened me with the fact that if I consume large quantities of raw milk, raw butter and raw eggs, again from those “pastured” animals, along with “good meat”, more fermented grains and fermented beans, I will cure both my Crohn’s and psoriasis pretty much immediately. She has a friend who did it and cured herself and all her children. Those idiot doctors are just trying to make money so they hide the truth from us. There are several websites that prove this too.
Yet another friend knows of an homeopathic pill which will also cure my psoriasis. Yup, expensive water on sugar pills, plus fermented beans, will cure my autoimmune diseases.”
(To jump in here myself – my friend is obviously very sensible and intelligent, she knows all this is nonsense. But not everyone has that advantage and there are a lot of vulnerable people looking for advice and support online, including very seriously ill individuals…)
“A woman posted on a forum looking for advice. She has breast cancer and breastfeeds. She’s about to start chemo and radiotherapy so has to stop feeding her baby this way. Her baby refuses to take a bottle though and frequently uses the breast for comfort but won’t take a dummy. What should she do to help him adjust? Well these educated women leapt in to help:
DO NOT go for chemo or radiotherapy, it kills more people than they let you know. Instead, go to this website or that website where they have “proven” you can cure cancer with the right diet. All you need is this combination of supplements and drink lots of vegetable juice. Don’t go back to your doctor, this man has a Facebook page that explains how to cure cancer naturally.
The best one?
You have lots of time before you need to worry, don’t trust your doctor. It’s much safer to use this diet.
Apparently, just by reading some website she trundled across one day, this woman is able to asses the progression and stage of your cancer and determine how much danger you’re in. Since she obviously knows more than any oncologist (well have you ever heard of one with this amazing skill?) I think we should all listen to her. Damn the big pharmaceutical companies and their sinister plot to suppress this life-saving knowledge. All it takes is some fermented grains, the tumor will evaporate and all remaining cancerous cells will reverse-mutate into happy ones again.
Seriously there were so many people claiming this stuff. It was scary. I hope this poor woman has the sense to ignore them. How vile can you get? They are risking the life of a woman, with very young children, a woman they don’t even know! All because of their paranoia and their hatred of doctors and drug companies.
Oh and don’t get me started on their claims about what chiropractic can do. So many, Americans especially, believe in chiropractic and homeopathy. I wonder if they have ever actually looked at how these “treatments” are supposed to work? It’s the most surreal nonsense ever. Someone did say I should go to a chiropractor for my Crohn’s once. Of course, it’s obvious, cracking my spine is sure to stop my immune system from attacking my gut.
I know people on Facebook who take their newborn babies to chiropractors. It’s madness. Why the hell would you trust some glorified massage therapist to manipulate your baby’s spine? At best it’s painful and scary for them. God knows what they could accidentally do.
Then there are my ‘real life’ friends who keep trying to convince me I should let them do Reiki on me. It’s so logical, have someone hold their hands somewhere near you while they think really hard. I bet I can stop taking my pills after just a couple of sessions.”
I’m not stupid
“I know it comes from them wanting to help but I think it’s also that they want to show how much they “know”. They’re also saying that they know much better than me, the person who has to live with these conditions, and implying that I haven’t bothered to do any research. If I had, then of course I would have come to the same conclusion as them.
If anyone dares challenge their opinions, it’s claimed that you just haven’t done enough research. Apparently doctors do not use evidence based information in their treatments. I had one person tell me that some people want to heal themselves, others just want to treat the symptoms. Basically saying that my choice of conventional medication and therapies is stupid. I actually get pitied for trusting the doctors who have specialised in my disease for most of their lives. Who have seen thousands of people like me and have been able to compare their histories, eating habits and symptoms.
It’s draining and sometimes offensive. I don’t want to upset anyone by asking them to shut up about this stuff, so I bite my tongue but it gets to me after a while. I am not an idiot and I’m not naive. I am doing what I believe is best for me and for my family. I’m sick of the attitude and frustrated that they don’t respect my choices. Especially considering the stuff they choose to believe is based on bizarre, illogical claims.
At best their repeated claims are annoying and frustrating. At worst they’re downright dangerous. I don’t have an annoying cramp or a case of the runs. I have a very serious disease which almost killed me. It will not go away and there is every chance my life will be in danger again. If they hadn’t gotten my immune system under control, it would have destroyed my bowel. Now imagine that I had been determined to not take any of these “toxic” drugs. My body could have been so badly diseased that I couldn’t recover, that’s if I didn’t starve to death.
The only reason I am able to eat now is that I take two different pills, three times every day, which stop me rejecting everything I eat and drink. Trying to digest pulses would be so dangerous for me. Yet these people insist it’s what I need to do to get better. Thank god I know enough about my body and my disease that I haven’t tried it.
What if I didn’t know that? What if that poor women with cancer isn’t smart enough to immediately dismiss everything she was told? It was all presented as fact. “
She also has issues with the amount of prayers people are offering, something I agree with but not everyone will and not as potentially dangerous as the kinds of things discussed here – so I’ll leave that out for now. Another popular one, especially on Facebook, at the moment is chemtrails. Sigh.
Not only risking yourself
While the stories of people choosing woo to treat their own conditions is sad in itself, worse still is people forcing it upon their children, potentially risking their lives.
“One of my ‘friends’ daughters developed a severe rash, really nasty. It seemed allergic. She decided not to get it treated at all. Instead she dabbed breast milk on it and left her body to fight it. She actually risked her daughter, not herself. Refused to get it checked even though it was horrendous. She posted photos of it in her blog. It spread over her entire body, which was all swollen. Her face swelled badly, closing her eyes.
She knows better than any doctor though. The breastfeeding, no-vaxing mothers all talk about how amazingly healthy their children are…”
In addition, not only do these attitudes endanger them and their children, but other people’s as well. Declining herd immunity means we have seen resurgences of whooping cough and measles, for example.
Yet now, people are trying to promote recovery from Andrew Wakefield‘s fraudulent claims in the form of publicly-available written accounts, our libel laws are once again an impediment – fascinating and disturbing that the solicitor who paid Wakefield is also the director of the Society of Homeopaths, considering homeopathic measles ‘vaccines’ have been under scrutiny of late (on Newsnight, for example). Just sayin’.
We’ve a very long way to go.