Have they found a miracle cure-all?

If someone suggests trying a medicine from the realm of complementary or alternative medicine and it sounds too good to be true offering to cure almost any ailment and illness, like some kind of panacea, then check this handy chart before you part with your hard-earned cash or put your life in the hands of quacks.

Phrases like “helps your body heal itself” or “removes toxins” essentially means it’s a sCAM, you cannot boost liver or kidney function by ingesting a herbal extract. In fact, when you think about it ingesting any additional substance simply gives your liver and kidneys more work as they have to then metabolise and excrete the components of that substance too. Moreover, some physiologically active extracts of plants and animals may actually interfere with liver enzymes and slow down the detoxification of other substances in your blood or interfere with the normal processing of prescription and/or over-the-counter medicines. By contrast, homeopathy has no physiological activity, it’s just water and sugar pills. Period.

If your putative sCAM practitioner mentions energy as being some kind of universally pervasive force, point out that energy is nothing more than the capacity to do work in the thermodynamic sense and ask them in what units they are measuring the mystical energy of which they speak. If they try to invoke ancient wisdom point out that demons, blood-letting and trepanning are ancient wisdom. If they hint at ancient eastern mysticism, remember the words of the mighty Tim Minchin: “There is no eastern and western medicine, there’s medicine and then there’s the stuff that hasn’t been proven to work.”

To paraphrase the words of physicist turned comedian Dara O’Briain: Just because science doesn’t know everything (if it did, it would stop), doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you, such as quantum realignment through touch therapy. And, remember, herbal medicine has (indeed) been around for thousands of years (indeed), we tested it and the stuff that worked became medicine.

The best motto to follow is be skeptical and be safe. But, I suspected I’m preaching to the choir here…pardon the analogy, and the alt med brigade will simply cry conspiracy and tell me I’m a shill for the pharma companies. There is no conspiracy and I am not.

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2 thoughts on “Have they found a miracle cure-all?

  1. Somebody did count…between 30 and 40% of pharmaceutical drugs have a natural product origin (that’s not to say herbal, but they were first identified in a plant, animal, fungus etc).

    What do you mean by “lower liver enzymes”, you mean reduce markers of metabolic activity in the liver. You really wouldn’t want to ingest something that stopped enzymes working…that wouldn’t be good for your health.

  2. Not all herbal medicines have been distilled into “medicine”, in fact I would suggest that most have not (but who’s counting, really?) That’s probably why drug companies (as well as soft-drink and neutraceutical manufacturers) are falling over themselves trying to find the gems in Chinese, Tibetan and Ayurveda herbal medicines.

    But back to this issue of “boosting liver or kidney function”. Some of these functions that we describe get mangled in an attempt to maintain compliance with the US law called The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA). We can claim to support or boost organ functions, but we’re not allowed to claim to fix problems. (Somehow we’re able to get away with “detoxify”.)

    There are many Chinese herbs that I know of that lower liver enzymes, this is a well-documented effect. So, how would you state that in a quack-free way that also conforms to DSHEA?

    I’m all ears!

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