The last couple of days I’ve been feeling a bit chesty with a bit of a cough. From experience, I know if I went to my doctor he would probably say there isn’t much he can do and that I should drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep.
This is very frustrating. It would be much more satisfying to do something more active to shake off this cough – take a tablet or employ some sort of treatment. However, modern medicine provides no effective cure for a mild cough, and doctors readily admit this.
This is where alternative “medicine” fills the void. For those who want to feel they are actively engaged in treating their illness there are hundreds of options to pop vitamin pills, drink “magic” water and take other remedies. And for those who choose such remedies, once the illness has run it’s natural course, they may incorrectly assume their recovery was due to the remedy they selected, instead of realising it was their own body’s defenses that have fought of the disease.
And the temptation to look for alternative treatments can be much more pressing for those with life threatening diseases for which modern medicine provides no easy solutions. Such is the case of Jessica Ainscough, 26, who diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma has embarked on Gerson therapy which involves “drinking 13 fresh organic veggie juices per day … five coffee enemas per day and a basic organic whole food plant-based diet with additional supplements.”
In such cases, I find it hard to criticize someone who is vigorously looking for a way to hang on to life. I would however suggest that anyone considering such treatments think about the following:
- does conventional medicine provide opportunities which evidence shows is more likely to work?
- is there any evidence that the alternative therapy might work (apart from anecdotal evidence). Remember that remission can occur naturally for a small percentage of patients with many types of cancer. For a treatment to be demonstrated to be successful, it needs to work for a greater % of patients than the natural remission rate.
- does the alternative therapy have significant personal and financial costs? Is it worth paying thousands of dollars for supplements or undergoing 5 enemas a day?
- is there any evidence that the therapy might cause harm? (what effect, for example, will 5 enemas a day have on the colon?
- How will you recognize any curative effects?
Ms Ainscough has decided that the treatment has worked for her in that “I have had no cancer spread, no more lumps pop up (they were popping up rapidly before) and I can actually see some of my tumours coming out through my skin and disappearing.”
But has this observation been confirmed by a doctor? It is not unknown for patients to observe “improvements” in their condition that is simply wishful thinking.
Cancer is a terrifying disease that can push patients towards alternative “medicine” if they become frustrated with the limitations of conventional medicine. However, it is important to realise that the limitations of conventional medicine exist because they have been studied carefully. Alternative “medicines” have often not been studied at all, and repeatedly fail to provide any evidence that they work. With some therapies costing thousands and thousands of dollars and causing the patients much discomfort, it is reasonable to ask – what is their value?