Part of a series on WDDTY’s “free” advertorial report “100 ways to live to 100”
10 situations that don’t usually require a doctor
If there’s one thing you can rely on doctors telling you, it’s when you don’t need a doctor. They are about as keen to see people with the common cold as WDDTY is to see evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. And in both cases, that doesn’t stop it happening, all the time.
Some 80 per cent of us suffer from back pain, but medicine doesn’t offer much besides potentially dangerous surgery (which leaves only a quarter of patients free of pain) and drugs. In most cases, an osteopath, chiropractor or Alexander Technique practitioner can sort you, as can exercise.
Let’s unpick that. If medicine cures back pain by surgery, that’s evil. If medicine gives drugs to manage the pain, that’s evil. If medicine recommends exercise and physiotherapy, that’s ignored because it would undermine WDDTY’s pretence that these are “alternative” and thus the sole preserve of quacks like their advertisers.
Why don’t doctors tell you that Alexander Technique works for low back pain? They do. They also recommend osteopathy and chiropractic, but there are severe problems with both these fields, due to the prevalence of crank ideas. Osteopaths need to discipline and exclude charlatans who practice “cranial osteopathy”, and chiropractors need to recognise that there is no evidence that chiropractic works better than evidence-based manipulation therapy, and substantial evidence of actively dangerous practices such as cervical spinal manipulation, potentially leading to stroke, bullshit claims to treat ear infections, asthma and other things unrelated to the musculoskeletal system, anti-vaccination propaganda, and of course the big scam: never discharging a cured patient, but instead trying to sell them an indefinite course of worthless “maintenance”.
If you have back pain, see your doctor, they will recommend the most appropriate treatment. Which might be surgery, drugs, exercise or some form of physiotherapy. Unlike WDDTY’s advice, this won’t be based on dogma or pleasing the advertisers, it’ll be based on the best currently available evidence.
Shout it loud: antibiotics just don’t work for earache. Nor does removing adenoids fix glue ear.39 Instead, try time, mullein oil, a woolly hat, a hot-water bottle, homeopathic Pulsatilla,40 osteopathy or auricular therapy (acupuncture of the ear). Before having grommets inserted in your child’s ear, cut down his fat and sugar, and investigate food or airborne allergies as the potential cause.
Reference 39a: JAMA, 2006; 296: 1235–41 Wait-and-see prescription for the treatment of acute otitis media: a randomized controlled trial. Spiro DM, Tay KY, Arnold DH, Dziura JD, Baker MD, Shapiro ED.
Reference 39b: BMJ, 2004; 328: 487 Adenoidectomy versus chemoprophylaxis and placebo for recurrent acute otitis media in children aged under 2 years: randomised controlled trial. Koivunen P, Uhari M, Luotonen J, Kristo A, Raski R, Pokka T, Alho OP.
Reference 40: Ullman D. Discovering Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1991; AHZ, 1985; 230: 89–94
If you follow this advice, a repeat of a recent and particularly dreadful article, you’ll have to “shout it loud” because your child may be deaf.
The standard of care is watchful waiting, but adenoidectomy may be indicated in the presence of both glue ear and persistent nasal symptoms. Antibiotics work as a primary treatment for bacterial ear infections. Most children will grow out of them in time, but leaving the infection untreated when treatment is indicated, on ideological grounds as WDDTY propose, is perverse.
Homeopathy has three problems: first, there’s no reason to think it should work; second, there’s no way it can work; and third, there’s no proof it does work. Of all alternatives to medicine, it is the most thoroughly debunked. Its doctrines were refuted over a century ago and its only real value now is as a litmus test for lack of critical thinking. A test WDDTY fails on a truly epic scale.
Dana Ullman, the cited source, is a high priest of the cult of homeopathy, he is a proven liar who claims Darwin and Nightingale for homeopathy despite their well documented contempt for it, and is responsible for propagating the lies that Montagnier’s work proves homeopathy and that the Swiss Government found it safe and effective. His propagandising for homeopathy knows no bounds. Each new publication by a True Believer is presented as the final clinching proof of homeopathy, and when it’s shown to be flawed or fraudulent he merely moves on to the next, occasionally repeating the old ones if he thinks nobody will notice. His self-promotion and steadfast denial of reality got him banned from Wikipedia. There’s even an eponymous law: the Dull-Man Law. In any discussion of homoeopathy, being Dana Ullman loses you the argument – and gets you laughed out of the room.
Acupuncture is also nonsense, though it is only recently proven to be completely useless. Auricular acupuncture has absolutely no basis in fact and lacks even the marginal credibility of acupuncture. The ear looks a bit like a baby, therefore the bits of the ear correspond to the organs that would be there if it was a baby. No, not even vaguely sensible.
For common and non-serious infections, try Echinacea, essential oils like clove, lavender, lemon, marjoram, mint, niaouli (Melaleuca), pine, rosemary and thyme oils, and goldenseal, manuka honey, tea tree oil, good old garlic and cranberry, all of which are powerful alternatives to antibiotics.
Alternatives they may be. Effective? Not so much. There’s some evidence of manuka honey as a topical antibiotic but why on earth would you not use antibiotics? They work very well, are generally well tolerated, and they have saved countless millions of lives.
This references a May 2013 article, we’ve added it to the work list.
64 Just-in-case checkups, particularly if you’re aged over 50
If you have nothing particularly wrong with you, going to the doctor won’t necessarily protect but is likely to unleash the entire arsenal testing apparatus have you leaving prescription (or three) in your hands.
So let’s get this straight: it’s wrong to see your doctor in case he finds something wrong with you.
65 Menopause In most cases, holistic measures
In most cases holistic measures (diet, homeopathy, herbs) will help you through the change in a safer way than using hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which continues to be discredited, despite protestations by doctors, because of a link with breast cancer.41 Our medical detective Dr Harald Gaier has had greater success with Phytoestrol N (which contains rhubarb root) than most of the popular herbals for menopause.
Reference 41: Am J Public Health, 2010; 100 [Suppl 1]: S132–9 Decline in US Breast Cancer Rates After the Women’s Health Initiative: Socioeconomic and Racial/Ethnic Differentials Nancy Krieger, PhD,corresponding author Jarvis T. Chen, ScD, and Pamela D. Waterman, MPH.
HRT was discredited years ago, when it was shown not to protect against coronary heart disease but instead to promote it. Well-informed doctors don’t push it unless the symptoms of menopause are extremely bad, or for very early menopause or occasionally hysterectomy.
Homeopathy doesn’t work. Herbs may or may not (remember that a herbal remedy is basically an unknown dose of a potentially pharmacologically active compound with unknown impurities). The source for Harald Gaier’s success stories is Harald Gaier – WDDTY seem to think that blatant conflict of interest is fine as long as the message is ideologically acceptable.
66 Chronic but non-life-threatening conditions
Eczema, psoriasis, non-life-threatening asthma, arthritis and the like generally respond better to alternative measures than drugs, which only suppress symptoms. Check out the alternatives before resorting to lifelong drug use.
Few things are more infuriating than the claim that medicine “only suppresses symptoms” so alternatives are better.
Alternatives do one of two things: suppress the symptoms less effectively and less predictably, or nothing.
There are no alternatives which cure chronic conditions. If there were, they would no longer be alternative (Minchin’s Law).
The easiest way to demonstrate how wrong this advice is, is with a simple case study of one of the “non-life-threatening conditions” listed: eczema.
A couple whose baby daughter died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter.
Gloria Thomas died aged nine months after spending more than half her life with eczema.
The skin condition wore down her natural defences and left her completely vulnerable when she developed an eye infection that killed her within days of developing.
And it’s not the only case. It’s extremely clear that the very last thing you should do when faced with a chronic condition is to consult an “alternative” practitioner, who will follow an ideologically-determined path with no provable value to you, for profit.
All doctors usually have to offer are drugs and calorie counting, which aren’t long term solutions, and numerous slimming drugs have potentially fatal side-effects. Look first for potential food intolerances, get your thyroid checked out, clean up your diet, and opt for low-GI foods and lots of fruit and veg.
The GI diet was developed by doctors. It’s recommended by doctors, who also recommend exercise and weight management clinics. Oh, and they can also refer you for lap band or other surgical interventions which have a reasonable success rate in the chronically obese who are not compliant with diet regimes. Doctors are also pretty good at spotting thyroid problems.
In the end, though, there is only one diet that is proven to work 100% of the time: the ELEM diet. Eat less, exercise more. Every reputable doctor in the UK, and probably the world, will tell you the same. WDDTY seem to prefer nutritionists who generally have no recognised qualifications whatsoever but nevertheless often sell miracle or fad diets.
68 Colds and flu
Unless you’re elderly and your immune system is compromised in some way, there’s nothing your doctor can give you (or your children) to end a cold or flu, which is usually caused by a viral infection (against which antibiotics mostly don’t work). Bed rest and plenty of fluids, plus zinc, Echinacea, Pelargonium sidoides, Andrographis paniculata, vitamin C and probiotics can all shorten the life of a cold (see WDDTY December 2013).
We’ve critiqued these claims recently. No reputable doctor prescribes antibiotics for uncomplicated viral illness. WDDTY’s view of current medical advice seems to be 20 years out of date and from another continent.
Heat is the body’s extremely clever method of killing foreign invaders of all varieties, and taking anti-inflammatories and other drugs to lower your temperature just hampers that process. Allow your body to self-help by not interfering with a fever unless it’s so high that it may cause permanent damage. Fevers for ordinary viral and bacterial infections won’t exceed 105 degrees F (40.5 degrees C), which generally isn’t dangerous. But see a doctor immediately if you suspect a serious problem like meningitis.
WDDTY don’t seem to know the difference between anti-inflammatories and antipyretics. As it happens, Clay Jones at Science Based Medicine recently wrote a much more nuanced piece on fever, in the context of acute cases in hospital, which seems to be the situation WDDTY are considering.
As it happens, Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, recently tweeted a much more pragmatic piece by an actual doctor. Why would you allow your child to suffer the symptoms of fever, if a cheap and safe drug can bring them relief and let them at least get to sleep?
All your doctor can offer are drugs with horrendous side-effects; isotretinoin, marketed as Accutane and Roaccutane, can cause permanent damage to the cornea, impaired hearing, fatal pancreatitis, depression and even suicide.42 Try changing your diet, balancing your blood sugar and identifying any food intolerances first, then look to acupuncture, shown to help in 80 per cent of cases, or herbs like the Ayurvedic herb guggul (Commiphora wightii).43
Reference 42a: Arch Dermatol, 2012; 148: 803–8 Ocular Adverse Effects of Systemic Treatment With Isotretinoin Meira Neudorfer, MD; Inbal Goldshtein, MSc; Orna Shamai-Lubovitz, MD; Gabriel Chodick, PhD; Yuval Dadon; Varda Shalev, MD
Reference 42b: Am J Ther, 2004; 11: 507–16 Polar hysteria: an expression of hypervitaminosis A. O’Donnell J.
Reference 43a: J Tradit Chin Med, 1993; 13: 187–8 Treatment of 86 cases of local neurodermatitis by electro-acupuncture (with needles inserted around diseased areas). Liu JX.
Reference 43b: J Dermatol, 1994; 21: 729–31 Nodulocystic acne: oral gugulipid versus tetracycline. Thappa DM, Dogra J.
The first source says that “Isotretinoin use may be associated with short-term ocular events, especially conjunctivitis, underscoring the importance of educating patients and caregivers about these potentially important AEs of the therapy.” In other words: always read the label and be mindful of the balance of risks and benefits. To spin “may be associated with short-term ocular events” as “can cause permanent damage to the cornea” is typical of WDDTY.
The second source discusses accutane’s similarity to vitamin A, and thus the possibility that it may lead to hypervitaminosis A (but of course no actual vitamin is bad, as because natural). It’s an interesting paper that specifically note that accutane is indicated only for severe recalcitrant nodular acne but is being prescribed for less serious cases. However, this applies almost exclusively in the US, where drug manufacturers can advertise direct to consumers. In the UK, doctors are much closer to following the actual indications, because parents and patients are much less likely to pester the doctor for the drug they just saw advertised on TV. The increase in suicide with accutane should also be weighed against the fact that acne itself may induce suicidal thoughts. Bottom line: ask your doctor. This is the kind of thing GPs are trained for.
The third source is in a journal dedicated to promoting “traditional” Chinese medicine – in fact largely an invention of Mao. Such journals have serious issues with publication bias. The combined weight of evidence is pretty clear: needling results in only placebo effects. Electroacupuncture may have similar effects to TENS, but traditional it is not. Chinese acupuncture uses bamboo needles – bamboo is a notoriously poor conductor of electricity,
The fourth source, from 1994, promotes gugulipid (guggul). There’s decent evidence this works, but (as with every effective treatment) it has side-effects, which WDDTY either haven’t seen or don’t care about because natural.
It can cause side effects such as stomach upset, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, diarrhea, belching, and hiccups. Guggul can also cause allergic reactions such as rash and itching. Guggul can also cause skin rash and itching that is not related to allergy [...].
Hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Guggul might act like estrogen in the body. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use guggul.
Underactive or overactive thyroid (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism): Guggul might interfere with treatment for these conditions. If you have a thyroid condition, don’t use guggul without your healthcare provider’s supervision.
So, quite a lot of problems there. And guess what? Thanks to assiduous lobbying by the supplement industry, you might well never find out about these.
Acne is a bugger. See your doctor for good evidence-based advice, and see a counsellor if you find the bullying of your peers to be distressing.