Monday, 7 June 2010

Big Placebo

Yesterday I went for a walk around a major shopping centre just to see what stores there were. What took my interest was that there were two stores in this centre dedicated to vitamins and other "natural" products but only one pharmacy, and even the pharmacy had a large section dedicated to natural remedies. Combine that with a massage / acupuncture / reflexology clinic called Miracle Therapy, and I couldn't help but think about the influence that Big Pharma has over us all. Big Pharma is so big that it's practically non-existent!

The ideological battle between conventional medicine and alternative medicine is far more in favour of alt-med than the rhetoric would suggest. While accusations of being in the pockets of Big Pharma are thrown out to anyone who defends anything that might have a pharmaceutical aspect to it, Big Placebo has become a multi-billion dollar industry and how people self-medicate.

That even pharmacies are selling alt-med products is a strong indicator of where the market lies. Combine this with semi-frequent news of drug recalls and conflicting reports of what is healthy and its no wonder people are turning away from science-based medicine and towards anecdotal accounts of healing. What good are magnetic pillows except as a cash cow?

The battle is not only with the availability of products and services but with information spreading too. Testimonials are the worst form of evidence yet the most easily believed. Clinical trials are the least rigorous means of testing science, but enough to give a product the appearance of evidence-based backing.

The greatest tragedy of the alt-med movement is the anti-vaxxers. vaccines are probably the greatest advance in health in human history, yet now is showing to be a victim of its own success. Don't have to worry about polio? There's a reason for that and that reason is vaccines! Measles outbreaks are happening again now that vaccination rates are lowering, the whole autism link but a tool of those promoting their ideological agenda.


While there are some driving it through ideology, it must be remembered that health is a very important issue for us all. It's no surprise that on the left that individuals are shying away from what they see as corporate-controlled medicine to something with the appearance of a community-driven approach (At all times it must be remembered that Big Pharma has a large stake in Big Placebo), just as it should be no surprise that individuals want to feel in control. Putting trust in a testimony makes a lot more sense than a doctor writing a prescription.

Another factor I feel is involved is the cost. Going to the doctor is expensive, it's paying a large amount of money for a few minutes of consultation where very little is discussed. Last visit cost me a few hours wage for a doctor to check whether I needed stitches for a head wound (I didn't thankfully). They are a valuable commodity and so is their time, which is hardly what I think is good when they are the ones with the knowledge to help us with looking after ourselves.

Going in and buying a health supplement is easy, even in supermarkets one can purchase vitamins or herbal remedies. Vitamins are almost intuitively good, even buying natural (or to an extreme organic) sounds so much better for us than artificial. That the science doesn't back this up simply doesn't come into play.

I'm all for science-based medicine, but there's a problem when something so successful can be easily replaced by pseudoscientific and nonscientific products. An overhaul of the health system (that's being proposed in Australia now) can't just be looking at waiting times, bed numbers, and hospital deaths. It needs to address the issue of why conventional medicine is suffering in the hearts and minds of the population at large.

3 comments:

Richard T said...

Placebos are super effective though.

Intelligent Designer said...

Hi Kel,

Unfortunately, Doctors are often too eager to prescribe medication or recommend surgery. My doctor always gets the third degree from me when prescribing medication. The first thing I want to know is if the medicine is going to cure me or just relieve symptoms. I tend to prefer to suffer through the symptoms so that I know is if I am really getting better and to avoid the negative side effects of the medication. The second thing I want to know is if there are any dietary or lifestyle changes I can make first before taking the medicine. I was once perscribed high blood pressure medication for tachycardia even though I have excellent blood pressure. After reading up on the medication I discovered that it doesn't always work for tachycardia -- it's kind of a trial and error thing and it could make things worse. Also it would increase my risk for diabetes. Since I have had tachycardia episodes all my life about once every five years I was wondering how they would know if it was working. When I expressed my concerns to a cardiologist she mentioned that I could alternatively eliminate or reduce caffeine consumption. This is just one example from my personal history. I could go on and on with case histories from my family.

The problem is that medical practice, at least in the US, is more profit-based than science-based.

I wonder how many doctors would recommend grinding and consuming a tablespoon of flaxseed before prescribing arthritis medication with dangerous side affects.

Intelligent Designer said...

I ment to say: I wonder how many doctors would recommend grinding and consuming a tablespoon of flaxseed per day before prescribing arthritis medication with dangerous side affects.