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Earlier in the year, in a discussion about those with illness that medicine cannot offer a treatment for, a commenter, Lynley Hood, offered the long and thoughtful comment copied below. I’m bringing it up as a guest post of sorts as I feel it deserves to be more widely read. You’ll want to read it to the end, it’s the final answer that I think raises something worth thinking about.

(Update: This is not about azoor. Replace azoor with any illness that has no accepted treatment. Consider a parent of a child being treating for cancer whose oncologist has told them they cannot do more for their child. Consider, even, something mild like a common cold.)

In an online discussion group I belong to the question of health supplements was raised by the sister of young woman recently diagnosed with the rare retinal disorder (azoor) for which there is no known effective treatment, and for which the outcome is uncertain (but it sometimes resolves spontaneously). Fear of blindness was the big underlying worry. This is how the discussion played out:

Q: Do you think she should start taking vitamins? I just bought her fish oil. Is that good for her, or will it harm her?

A: People on this group have different views on vitamins and other health supplements. There is no one answer, so it’s important that you and your sister make up your own minds and do what you both feel is best.

This is my view. I’m sure the fish oil is fine. It certainly won’t do any harm. But I think that the best anyone can do is eat a good healthy balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Including oily fish like salmon in your diet is good too. And don’t forget regular exercise and plenty of rest.

Mainstream medicine can be very frustrating when it doesn’t have all the answers. But that is usually because nobody has all the answers, and doctors have a duty not to promise more than conventional medicine can deliver.

Many people turn to health supplements and alternative remedies when they have health problems that mainstream medicine can’t fix because they want to take positive steps to help themselves or their loved ones. While the supplements won’t do any harm, I think they can sometimes make life more difficult. Firstly, because health supplements usually promise more than they can deliver, so you can end up spending a lot of money on something that makes no real difference in the long run. Secondly, worrying about whether the health supplements are working or not (am I better today than I was yesterday, or worse, or the same?) can make you more anxious and worried than you are already. Thirdly, in my experience, purveyors of alternative remedies start circling like vultures when they get the smell of human vulnerability in their nostrils — after talking to alternative practitioners you can end up worrying far more about your health than you need to, and feeling pressured into taking supplements that you don’t need and which won’t make any difference to your health.

In my view, those of us who don’t get on the health supplement treadmill probably do just as well as those who do and have more fun while we’re doing it.

That’s my view. But, as I said, others have different views. You and your sister need to make up your own minds.

Q: that makes a lot of sense. We’re working on not just her but the whole family eating healthier because of her condition. My family is all for it. Also the doctor didn’t tell her to do anything — just to let it go and see what happens. Is that normal? Shouldn’t she get meds or something?

A: The doctor is right — and wise. We’re so used to getting a prescription that it’s surprising when we don’t, but the reality is that there is no known effective treatment for azoor. Anti-virals and corticosteroids have been tried, but there’s no evidence that they work, and since they have side effects that nobody wants you’re better off without them and — as you say — eating a healthy diet and leaving the rest to mother nature. Good luck

Perhaps we have become too conditioned to there ’always’ being a remedy?