Anti-Science Medicine as a Local Industry
Names like Nu Skin, Usana, XanGo, and Tahitian Noni are familiar to me, even if I don’t know exactly what sort of snake-0il supplementation they’re selling, mostly because I see their signs over public music/sports venues or in giant faux-gilded signage from I-15 driving south through Utah County. But I’ve never really had friends or family that I knew to buy into and use these products, so I guess I simply assumed that most of the people here were more or less in favor of science-based medicine treatment modalities. I wish I still believed that.
I had an absolutely stunning conversation with a coworker I still want to like the other day when talking about the problems we’ve been having with insurance coverage of Thrack’s colitis. I knew she was a super-devout neo-con sort of Mormon, but honestly, given my work environment, that doesn’t actually make her stand out overly much in this very conservative office. So I was resigned to like her (because she’s nice, even if reality doesn’t seem to be high on her list of valued things), and then I made the mistake of telling her I was stressed about our struggle to find affordable treatment. She wanted to know if we had tried changing his diet or natural remedies because the actual medicine (you know, the stuff that’s been studied a lot, statistically proven effective and safe and approved by safety boards) was too expensive under our ridiculous insurance prescription formulary. (Yes, despite what we’d been told, treatment is still too fucking expensive each month, so we’re looking for alternatives.)
I explained that diet doesn’t have any measurable effect on his inherited non-specific non-ulcerative colitis; he can wake up and drink a sip of water and be triggered just as easily as he can be by any food type. We’ve tried to keep our diets more low fat, etc. but that hasn’t had any effect on his digestion because his system is just angry and broken. Thrack has a few autoimmune things going on, and this is just one of them. As for natural remedies, well, the only thing known be effective is smoking. Yes, seriously, if he started smoking, it would treat him. Not really a great option, of course, but it’s the best “natural” option out there. Of course, when I mentioned this, said coworker was horrified. (She also seemed to resent that this is the only alternative treatment with any efficacy, probably because it violates what her god says in the Word of Wisdom.)
I mentioned the problem with lots of herbal treatments is that they don’t have the rigorous evidence for efficacy and are more likely to have side effects because of the other compounds in them. To which she replied that exactly the opposite was true. Not only did she claim that all “natural” things are better than purified, tested derivatives because they’re natural. (Guess what else is natural? Nightshade, arsenic, lead, hell all heavy metals, formaldehyde, strychnine, etc. Natural treatment fallacies are just stupid. Modern pharmacology encompasses all the healthy/beneficial element of traditional modalities in medicine. Plus traditional medicines can also sustain incredible cruelty, as with bear bile. As a warning, the bear bile link is heartbreaking/stomach turning.) But on top of insisting that all natural things are better, she insisted the reason that herbs are better is because they’re not purified; heavenly father (yes really) knows better than us and wouldn’t mix things that were bad for us (yes, REALLY).
I tried pointing out that herbal medicines often cause problems for people because they don’t actually understand all the effects of what they’re taking, lacking both a doctor’s guidance and measured/regulated dosing. I tried to point out that lots of people self-medicate thinking herbal drugs have no effect on other treatments, and end up blocking absorption of their actual medication, like with St. John’s Wort. No dice. As a last ditch attempt, I tried to point out examples where synthetic derivatives are more healthy than the old natural derived ones using the example of insulin. To which she responded that with diet, no one ever needs insulin ever again. [Information on what's she's talking about, the raw/"living" foods hype machine, here.]
Then we got even further down the rabbit hole when she started to tell me that her god created us all to be obedient, thoughtless idiots who should just not even try to figure things out and should throw scientific inquiry away while we were at it. It’s just better to be grateful for the apparently perfect easy-to-figure-out world of woo and anti-science alternative herbal modalities.
Man doesn’t understand as much as he thinks he does. He tries to figure it out but can’t because he isn’t God.
I really have liked this woman in the past, but when faced with so much willful ignorance about science, medicine and just reality in general, I don’t know how much I can keep that fondness going. It’s hard to like someone you can’t respect. (She’s also told me, for example that it was over-regulation that led to our financial downturn.)
And this is just one person. Here in Utah, we’re currently facing an outbreak of measles because assholes credulously buy into the bad-science fear-mongering about vaccines. Currently, all of the affected children were themselves unvaccinated, but there is always the possibility of infecting some innocent immune-compromised person who relies on the greater herd immunity to stay healthy and not die. Within days of the outbreak spreading, my brother in law complained that coworkers were talking about how all them fucking believed the vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders. Another loss for science and skepticism.
Which brings me back around the companies I mentioned at the start of this post. Utah has always had a fairly large stake in the supplement industry, which I knew, but I didn’t realize how much our elected representatives catered to the Big Placebo* industry. I had no idea how strongly our legislators have advocated relaxing what little regulation exists on supplements and the claims they are able to make, and now that I know, I’m more than a little pissed off. I wonder if there’s any state-wide pushback against the supplement and “nutritionals” makers; I’d like to know that there are some people here that acknowledge the danger in allowing non-medicine to gain legitimacy.
*I may not be terribly pleased with pharmacology manufacturers or the insurance company panels that decide what to cover, but at least the products they produce have to be shown to be effective and worth the risks associated with treatment. The woo-woo medicine crowd is so fond of demonizing “Big Pharma” but at least their products are helpful. Alternative medicine treatments have no such guarantee and are a huge and profitable industry.