I happened to catch a show on PBS last night that was a documentary about alternative medicine. In it, they followed the case of a woman who was undergoing an alternative treatment for cancer. She had breast cancer and rectal cancer previously, both cured by Western medecine using radiation and chemotherapy. After an X-ray showed lumps on her lungs, the woman was resolved to not undergo the rigors of chemotherapy again and sought alternative treatment. In this case, she went to a doctor who prescribes a regimen of 150 herbal supplements plus three coffee enemas a day.
Three coffee enemas? Ouch. I often don't enjoy absorbing coffee when it comes in through the other end of the digestive tract. I hate to think about what ingesting it through an orifice that is not the one nature intended must be like.
Scientific skepticism aside, I find it interesting how alternative theories of health love to focus on particular parts of the body. The food reflexology folks seem to think that all sorts of ailments can be diagnosed and cured with pressure points on the foot. The chiropractic folks all suggest that spinal manipulation can cure everything from staph infections to the common cold. The guy who prescribes this cancer regimen thinks that removing material from the human gut can somehow affect tumors in the lungs. Do people have to have Dr. Pepper enemas if they have brain cancer?
Now I know what some of you will say... alternative medecine is all about curing the body holistically. It's all a complex interconnected system, the theory runs... and I do not doubt that a human body seems to be a complex and integrated whole. I also recognize that the bedside manner of Western medecine often sucks; people often seem more like walking diagnoses than human beings. Those who flee Western medecine often seem to want to scream "hello?!? there's a whole person here!!! what about the part of me that isn't my arm/stomach/liver/esophagus???" at their Western doctors.
It's all rather ironic given that Western medecine was so originally grounded in its own holistic system. The theory went that the function of the body was regulated by the balance of four bodily humors (blood, bile, choler... and one I don't remember... I'm sure one of my many history-minded readers could remind me). In those days, a case of lung cancer could mean getting out the leeches. And isn't that just oh-so-entirely appropropriate?
I'm glad we don't live in those days anymore.
Anyhow, color me a little skeptical about a lot of alternative theories of medecine. Yes, I think there are some useful pharmacological substances to be found in some herbal tonics. Let us not put the cart before the oxen, however. Let us not start giving each other coffee enemas until there is a repeatable result showing a causal relationship between such a procedure and something that affects the growth of cancer cells.
But hey... the moniker is "Dr. Geek"... and with a name like that I'm just crazy that way.
on 2004-05-05 at 3:46 p.m.
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