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I am an IT professional (a.k.a. Geek) and I desire to glorify God in all that I do and say. I like to read, write, and think about morality and worldview as they apply to public policy. In person I have an active and somewhat sardonic sense of humor. In print I repress this trait and try to avoid saying anything that could give offense when not offered with a broad grin. I strive to be genuine in my dealings with everyone and to be frank, straightforward, and kind to friend and foe alike. I believe that the defense of truth is too important to be waged with anger or malice, but when "speaking the truth in love" neither must we shrink from it.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Quacks or Cures? Thoughts on nutrition and health

Alternate nutrition rejects a lot of accepted medical practice, in favor of a more natural approach to health and wellness. The ostensible idea behind the movement is to get back to "natural" remedies that used to work in past times. An over-sweeping theme is that our modern science and medical technology is not helping us with the things we really need, and that the medical profession does not have a vested interest in making us well. This standpoint is also fundamentally optimistic because it holds that we can be in much better health than doctors and conventional nutritional doctrine would have us to believe.

While I'm very much in favor of proper nutrition, and would caution anyone against blindly accepting anything a doctor tells them, I cannot agree with my homeschooled friends on this subject. I believe that most of the arguments, used in the defense of these views, will not bear the light of critical thinking. As the reader, it's your right to disagree with me, however, if your interested, I've enumerated a case for conventional medicine below.

One of the chief arguments used by apologists of alternate medicine, is what you might call the "discount" argument. Let me explain: You see, when a doctor, a scientist, or any kind of medical professional weighs in on the subject of health or nutrition, proponents of alternate medicine will neatly sidestep him/her by stating that, professionals are not qualified to speak on the subject because they are part of the medical profession. After all, what else would "one of them" say? This allows them to, as it where, "switch off" anything else a trained professional says. I think this judgement is premature for a number of reasons. Firstly, it comes off sounding just a trifle arrogant, albeit unintentionally. Doctors have to get through some pretty tough stuff to survive med-school. As someone who finds it possible to keep quite busy enough to suit my needs just getting through college, I have to say that I've developed a new respect for people who go on to do more, (like grad-school, law-school, and med-school.) But more than that, as someone who has taken high-school biology as well as good deal of computer programming at the college level, I can only imagine just how complicated a system the human body must be. I think I may safely say that it is more complex than even the most advanced computer we've made yet. And it has been my experience that when I go to tinkering with some part of a computer that I don't understand, it is all too possible to mess it up worse than I found it. Of course with a computer, the stakes aren't nearly so high, if I mess it up too bad I can usually reset it to default values or otherwise revert to a previous configuration or status. People, on the other hand, don't have a reset button. This is why it is doubly important to "get it right" the first time when it comes to doctoring. It is also why doctors go through years of intense training before they are considered to be competent in their discipline. Most of us are not doctors. This is no commentary  on our relative intelligence, only on our area of specialization. Some of us, myself included, simply may not have a flair for cutting up cadavers. But we do what we do because it's what we've been trained to do and, compared to most everyone else, we're pretty good at it. So when a layman or an amateur in the field of medicine, like you or I, undertakes to tell a doctor that's he's wrong about a medical question, we'd better have something more to go on than our own say so. But more than that, it's a mistake to automatically tune out everything they say. If they don't know what they're talking about, it should be relatively easy to disarm them in a debate. If they do, you may find, as I often have, that you've bitten off a bit more than you can chew. One more thing before I leave this point: We must avoid falling into the trap of thinking that medical truth, (or any other kind for that matter), is relative. The physical laws that apply to my body, are exactly the same for yours. What is a bad idea for me to do to myself, is probably a bad idea for you to do to yourself. Of course, individual circumstances may vary, but as a rule, there are no two right ways when it comes to medical best practices. The chemical and physical realities we live with are the same for everyone.

Now, I can almost hear you saying: "But David, not all education is equal. Who's to say that they haven't been taught/indoctrinated with bad science?"

There are a number of ways I could come at this, but I must say that if they have been taught bad science, we're in a little bit of a pickle. I'm not convinced that any of us are knowledgeable enough to call them on it. If this is true then it's a case of the blind leading the blind. However, I hear the medical profession being accused of conspiracy much more than of ignorance. Just how likely is it that the entire medical profession is part of a vast conspiracy by "big pharmaceutics" to keep us all dependent on popping pills that don't even make us better? Well, it's not hard to understand why they want to sell us medicine, but what I can't wrap my mind around is why, they wouldn't want to make more money by selling us medicine that actually works. And if it made us better, and we didn't buy it anymore, would we never get sick again? If even one pharmaceutical company broke ranks and started to sell the real cures that actually work, how long would it take for them to bankrupt every other company that refused to do the same? If there's a crime going forward, I'd be surprised because I just don't see a motive.

It isn't as if people are saving any money by going to alternative medicine. From what I've seen, you can drop every bit as much money on that as you can going to doctors or buying prescriptions. Nutrition seems to be the big thrust here, and as stated before, I'm a big fan of nutrition. But surprisingly, most of this energy has been directed at eliminating entire food groups out of hand. This is puzzling to me because, from a nutritional standpoint, more variety is better. The food groups that get the ax are often replaced with rare and not always appealing products that are usually produced in remote places at great expense. Most of western civilization's longstanding dietary staples fall victim to this nutritional zeal. If it's cheap, plentiful, and grown in the US of A, it's bad for you. Ironically, replacements often fill similar roles in the parts of the world where they come from. Apparently, the grain, as well as the grass, is better on the other side of the fence.

"Oh, but David, don't you know that it's all genetically engineered over here?"

Well, yes, and that's why we're not starving right and left like they do in a whole lot of other parts of the world. It's also why we're the second tallest nation in the world, (behind the Dutch). We do pretty well over here. And if there's a problem with our food, it's that we have too much of it, or more correctly, that we don't have the discipline to make ourselves stop eating it. But if the genetically engineered stuff was bad for us, you can bet your life that trial lawyers would be swarming all over it. We live in a pretty incredulous society, and believe me, folks have gotten sued for a whole lot less. There are just too many people who could stand to gain from capitalizing on such an enormous cash cow for any vast conspiracy theories to be plausible. Give human selfishness some credit.

"David, are you defending trial lawyers?"

Well, you got me there. Perhaps, like everything else, they have their place.

There's one other thing that I'd like to address before I close. That is the subject of online information and it's uses. We have to bear in mind that anybody can post almost anything they want online. There is no system of peer review online as there is for publication of information or hypothesis about that information in books or periodicals. The result is that, no matter what your viewpoint, you can pretty much always find somebody else to agree with you about it online. And that's not all a bad thing. A wealth of useful information can be found online at reputable websites. Even websites that must be taken with a grain of salt, such as Wikipedia, can be extremely useful in satisfying casual curiosity or directing the avid scholar to other, more credible sources on the topic in question. However, if the only place you can find support for your view is online, it generally doesn't bode well. Most of us know how easily the most outlandish rumors can propagate through social media. This type of information carries less clout than word of mouth, because, in most cases, you know considerably less about the person writing it then you do about anyone you would talk to in the flesh. And yet, out of habit, we tend to attribute more importance to information that is in written form than we do spoken words. Recently, I talked to one of my fellow students, who was, quite frankly, a little bit racist against Jews. He cited "research" that he had done online. He claimed that there was a massive Jewish conspiracy that was all but controlling the United States. He also suggested that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Jews upon other Jews. Clearly, we can't swallow everything we hear online.

It's been said that "Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean that everyone isn't out to get you." Well, laughs aside, maybe so. But most generally, there has to be a motive for wrongdoing. Unlike good people, bad people don't do what they do purely on principle. This is why I'm not a proponent of alternate medicine. Not because I blindly accept what I'm told, but because I believe that when you consider the source and the source's knowledge and motives, you can make the best decision about the credibility of that source.

Note: I'd like to clarify that my nutritional comments where not in reference to people who have allergies or whose bodies, for one reason or another, can't handle certain types of food. That is not what I am referring to. There are some foods that I myself cannot eat without incurring immediate and rather unpleasant consequences. So believe me, if you're one of those people, I feel your pain.

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