SCAM-mers (SCAM = Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine) are funny folks. Their grievances with the institution of Medicine are fought utilizing tired, easily debunked tirades appealing to mass hysteria to swing well-meaning patients to their cause. Instead of utilizing science and research to prove their points, they rely on slander, fear, and anecdotal evidence (It worked this way for ME!!) to justify their position. Today, I’ll look at one of the most common arguments they make.
“Doctors don’t treat the cause. They only treat the symptoms!”
How many times have you heard that from friends, family, neighbors, or just the good old quacks on the internet? It’s a common phrase, tossed around quite frequently. But is there any truth to it? Let’s try to shed some light on it.
Contrary to what most peddlers of nonsense wish for you to believe, I’ll go so far as to show my bias and proclaim that the academic training of physicians is rather rigorous. Despite the way some people may wish to paint us, we don’t sit in class and learn how to “toss drugs at a memorized list of diseases”, nor are we “glorified mechanics”. Our training begins at the molecular level, and we are taught how, why and when the human body works. We spend agonizing hours in the lab and the classroom learning how the body controls itself, as well as how it can be damaged. The very nature of medicine as a profession is to understand how human nutrition, environment, genetics and physical activity affect us as a species. And what’s more, the claim is slung around that we have “little to no understanding of these topics.”
Every physician’s first line of treatment is prevention. That’s what we are taught, and that’s the philosophy of medicine. We WANT our patients to exercise, eat healthy and live enriched lives. We encourage our patients to do these things. Preventative Medicine paves the way for lower healthcare costs, less morbidity and mortality, and an over-all healthy populace. However, we need to view this issue from both sides, not just one.
Take the average American. Studies show us he’s middle aged, overweight, probably Diabetic, sedentary, and lives on a diet of fast food. What’s worse, he may even smoke or drink (too much). When this patient visits us in the clinic, we will advise lifestyle changes. The average patient might take this to heart, and begin these changes. But statistics show this trend won’t last, and the patient more often than not “falls off the wagon”. And this is a best case scenario with patients who WANT to live the “preventative” lifestyle! What of those who are non-compliant? Those who don’t care to change? When these patients return to the clinic with uncontrolled hypertension or blood sugar, I need to do something. I cannot hold a gun to their head and force them to change. My only option now is the counsel them further and then prescribe a drug. It is in this action that the quacks shout the loudest “You’re only applying a band aid! I TREAT THE WHOLE PERSON!”
We must also remember that there are also conditions that we cannot treat the root cause of. Diabetes is a good example. Yes, there are experimental drugs and treatments, but at the time of this writing the only thing we can do chemically IS treat the symptoms. That is the best that ANYONE can do. Prevention can help in the beginning, but eventually with most disease, pharmaceuticals are required. And these are administered as a last resort, and follow careful monitoring of the patient’s blood and other physical changes.
If there existed a magic, natural cure for diabetes, we’d already be using it. Countless websites claim to have the answer. “Use this supplement! It’s ALL NATURAL”. Forgiving the fact that “natural” products have just as many side-effects and complications as pharmaceuticals, and even forgiving the fact that most pharmaceuticals are simply the purified form of those aforementioned “natural” products, the fact that something is “natural” doesn’t automatically make it safer or better. If you’d like to eat Willow Bark for your headaches, be my guest. I however, will take Aspirin, the same “natural” cure purified of all the impurities and possibly toxic substances nature left in it. And I will know the exact dose I’m getting, along with a statistical knowledge of the likely side-effects. And I get the assurance that my medicine is clean and safer than what Mother Nature first started it as.
It’s hard to do, but we have to fight the fear mongering. I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in medicine. There are tons. But it’s the best we have, and quite simply, we aren’t using “alternatives” because they are either unproven, dangerous, or ineffective. As writer Tim Minchin says: “Do you know what they call Alternative Medicine that’s been proven to work? Medicine.”
And right he is. There truly is no such thing as “Eastern” or “Western”, or “Allopathic” medicine. We have what science has shown to work, and the rest is left to the realm of speculation or abandonment when it was shown to be ineffective or dangerous.
So in closing, don’t let people sway you from seeking medical care because your MD “Only treats the symptoms!” Honestly, I don’t profit from your misery in any way, nor do I make more money if I prescribe you drugs. If I can find an easy way to alleviate your pain or fix your underlying problem, I will use it. Otherwise, my only options are to help you feel and live the best possible way you can. And barring a few hucksters, that’s the motto of most doctors. We’re here to serve YOU, the patient. Not the other way around.
So take steps to make your life better. Exercise, eat healthy, stop smoking and drinking, and don’t use illicit drugs. But if there comes a time when that fails, don’t be scared to seek out medicine. We’ll give you the best shot that humanity has, and you’ll walk away from that knowing you can get information about any drawbacks, side effects, or complications. Every treatment is a doubled-edged sword, “natural” or otherwise. The benefit you get with us VS the “natural” is that we give you that information. Mother Nature doesn’t.
As always, stay healthy and stay skeptical folks.