Anyone who has read my book, Finding My Invincible Summer, or spent any time with me knows that I have only tentative respect for the medical wisdom we are exposed to in today’s “evidence-based” world. Most experts contend that medical truth can only be verified if is subjected to the gold standard of double-blind placebo-controlled trials. They automatically reject any approach that doesn’t pass this test—be it homeopathic, traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, Anthroposophical, or from any other system. “It’s all a crock,” to quote a doctor mentioned in my book.
Moreover, these “experts” have repeatedly tried to get the U.S. Government to outlaw the sale and use of any treatment that has not been “proven” to be safe and effective in double-blind placebo-controlled trials.
Several questions come to mind. First, these trials, regardless of their results, do not guarantee safety. Safety depends on many factors: accurate reporting of the (inevitable) side effects; the doctor’s interpretation of these reports, knowledge of the patient, and overall judgment; and, most important, the patient’s circumstances and the extent to which he or she actually follows the treatment.
There are also questions about how the double-blind placebo-controlled trials are conducted and reported. This subject is covered in detail in the Carl Elliot’s White Coat, Black Hat, which I will review in another blog.
For now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that these studies are objective and that their results are reported honestly. I believe that the concept itself of the double-blind placebo-controlled trial is naïve and deceptive. It is premised on an extremely narrow view of health and the human condition. It ignores most of the variables that affect a person’s overall health and resistance to disease. I believe that the very notion that human “subjects” can be compared under the same conditions is deeply flawed.
This concern applies especially to cancer, a major target of drugs being tested in these so-called objective trials. It is well known that cancer is the result of many different factors acting upon the body. The World Health Organization recognized long ago that cancer is multi-causal. It is dizzying to think of all the influences that could contribute to a person developing cancer or dictate the course of the disease.
Ideally, the subjects in a trial for a cancer drug would have to be matched for the following criteria: existing health issues, family health history, prescription medicines, over-the-counter remedies, dietary supplements and herbs, body mass index, metabolic type, digestive status, blood type, exercise regime, current and past smoking habits, environmental tobacco smoke, alcohol consumption, recreational drug use, sleep patterns, daily fluid intake, diet (including types of sugar and fat, meat, dairy, eggs, gluten, corn, diet drinks, colas), pollution in the environment, workplace conditions, exposure to TV and computer screens, cell phone use, history of past exposure to radiation, socioeconomic status, urban vs. rural residence, family dynamics, social support, pet ownership, and many others—all trumped by the single most important factor: the patient’s attitude.
And what if the subject is also engaged in one or several alternative practices? For example: acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, chiropractic, crystal healing, emotional freedom technique, homeopathy, hypnosis, massage therapy, meditation, Reiki, Qigong. There are dozens of possible approaches, and any of them could be affecting the patient’s status. These effects would also have to be factored into the results.
And here’s a thought: maybe the body does what it does through its own natural intelligence, beyond anything we can measure or control.
We simply don’t know, and it’s simplistic to believe that the placebo-controlled double-blind study yields anything but a very rough impression.