This is a reply to a wonderful post over at Navelgazing Midwife called “The Science of Woo.” Please read the whole article. She discusses Dr. Amy’s inglorious departure from Science Based Medicine, and the science (or lack thereof) behind so called “woo” practices.
I’m a half-woo practitioner. Of course, being a homebirth midwife, believing in chiropractic, acupuncture, massage therapy –for those that believe in them. I don’t think any of the CAMs work for everyone; I think that’s pretty much an understanding we woo’s all share. I have a very hard time with homeopathy, Tibetan bowls, therapies that diagnose through muscle testing or therapies that hook you up to machines and tell you how to relieve your headaches with five more sessions and two referrals. I know, I know… if I just took the time to learn about them, I would believe they worked, too. If I just knew more, I would surely change my mind. I know a LOT about CAMs; I used to own an holistic healthcare center where CAMs came and went, each new therapy sure to cure everything from a broken marriage to cancer. I watched desperate people turning to CAM when traditional medicine didn’t work. I was saddened by how many got sicker and went back to allopathy to try it once again.
I LOVE this post!
I actually sent links from my blog to SBM to apply to replace Dr. Amy. Then, I wondered if I was betraying my midwifery roots. Then, I got angry at myself. The midwifery model IS evidence based. A lot of interventions in a typical hospital birth are not. But, I am still fairly certain that an association with midwifery (even though I am a research fellow at a medical school) may be enough of a woo taint for SBM to want to avoid me. Which I think is a non-evidence based shame.
As for the woo…..sigh. I am all for people doing non harmful things. I see homeopathy as non harmful but pretty much a pile of woo hooey. There are some over the counter products labeled as homeopathic, such as topical calendula, topical arnica, and chamomile teething solutions that I think are effective AND do not follow the ridiculous homeopathic premise of like curing like, infinitesimally small doses of active ingredients, etc. These preparations are not always and do not have to be labeled as “homeopathic” nor made using true homeopathic techniques, which I find very few people understand. (Hint: homeopathy is not the same thing as anything remotely natural.)
The problem I have with the Secret and the other woo philosophies that have to do with positive thinking is that they do, ultimately, blame people for their misfortune. I prefer to believe that bad things can and do happen to good people, and it’s not because they thought too much about what could go wrong.
I think a great midwifery based explanation of this is in “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin. When the first woman in their group was in labor, some of their members of their band of hippies told Ina May and her husband NOT to look up how to handle certain complications in a medical reference book they had, because that would be encouraging such things to happen. She didn’t, and they were caught off guard by a complication (luckily, I think mom and baby turned out OK). Ina May has angrily regretted that attitude since, and all of the midwives at The Farm are very well trained now in complications, including neonatal resuscitation. Ignorance is bliss until something goes wrong.
Ironically, I found medicine, and ultimately midwifery and obstetrics, through a job at a health food store, and then a job in the science department of a nutritional supplement company. I saw people using crystal pendulums to decide whether to buy something at the store. I saw employees telling sick people what they really needed was a complete raw foods diet. I heard licensed practitioners recommending and using iridology. *shudder*
I saw the figurehead of our supplement company showing off his fake degrees, and making unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of his products. I was shocked when I went from being an outside representative of the company, being fed (and then turning around and feeding to others!) these false claims of studies on effectiveness and Jordan’s extensive education, to being on the inside as a science researcher, as they were desperately scrambling to answer the FDA and FTC charges against them. What was even worse was the unreleased information that there was possibly unacceptable levels of lead in the supplements. (This is the first time I have talked about this in public. Hope my non-disclosure agreement with them doesn’t come back and bite me in the butt right now.) They worked hard to remedy that situation immediately, but I was upset that customers weren’t warned about their possible exposure, and I wasn’t the only one in the company to raise those concerns. But, there’s a worse risk of lead poisoning from the ubiquitous children’s toys from China than there is from an unscrupulous supplement company. Both are theoretically very bad, but both can persist in the regulatory climate in the United States right now. I think safety testing should be mandatory for EVERYTHING that crosses our (and our children’s!) lips, and I don’t think that possible heavy metal contamination is a unique condemnation of dietary supplements.
I still think there are many easily documented effective uses of food, herbs, vitamins, and other nutrients. Chamomile tea works for most people, and is a hell of a lot safer and cheaper than a benzodiazepene. Vitamin D is a hugely important nutrient. Don’t get me started on omega 3′s and how wonderful they are. I am currently attending an osteopathic medical school, and think some of the osteopathic treatments are very effective. Some, like cranial sacral therapy, are woo. Sorry, DO team. It’s controversial even within the DO community.
The supplement company I worked for had a lot of problems. A lot. (By the way, SBM, I can talk up and down about DSHEA, if you need someone to.) But, so does the food industry the FDA also regulates. No one says “Oh, but our food is UNREGULATED” because the FDA has about the same control over our food supply as it does the supplement industry. And, our pharmaceutical industry is also all farked up, and has a much higher death toll associated with it than all of the woo therapies combined. Nutritional supplement companies may not have to do research on their own products, but pharmaceutical companies don’t have to release (and DO actively suppress) negative outcomes or adverse events in their research, and don’t have to compare their new drugs to existing treatments.
So, I don’t know if SBM is going to tap me to replace the notorious Dr. Amy. I have a feeling the powers that be over there will take one look at my description as a “hippiefreak idealist” (or, just look at my new tie-dye and tinfoil header) and decide there is no way I can critique evidence. But, all I can say to them is: do your research.