Politics Masquerading as Science
(This is the 1st of four posts on the effectiveness of “natural” or “alternative” health care.)
I find it ironic how eager mainstream doctors are to condemn natural health treatments for not being “evidence-based.” Especially when Western medicine can produce little or no scientific evidence regarding the long term effectiveness and safety of many of their treatments. This is particularly true of heart surgery and immunization protocols. We operate on hearts and vaccinate kids for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific evidence. At the same time, we hold “natural” or “alternative” health providers to a much higher standard of proof. This is for complex political reasons that have given organized medicine and Big Pharma a virtual monopoly over health and healing. It has nothing to do with science.
The Myth of Evidence-Based Medicine
Doctors seem to forget that most common Western remedies were incorporated into the medical armamentarium centuries ago without any “proof” whatsoever of their effectiveness or safety. There were no randomized controlled trials when doctors began using digitalis for heart failure, morphine for pain, or sudafed for nasal congestion. All, like many other drugs, are plant-based treatments* originally used by midwives and herbalists (women the Catholic Church condemned as “witches”).
It was only when pharmaceutical companies began to develop synthetics substitutes that drugs were subjected to randomized control trials. Likewise, the long term outcome of many surgical interventions is never studied before they are rushed into the marketplace. A recent Wall Street Journal article examines the cost effectiveness of two common cardiac procedures – coronary angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery.
According to the article, in 2006 American surgeons performed 1.3 million coronary angioplasties at an average cost of $48,399 each – at a total cost of more than $60 billion. The same year they performed 448,000 coronary bypass operations at a cost of $99,743 each – at a total of more than $44 billion.
Despite these costs, a randomized controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that angioplasties and stents don’t prolong life or even prevent heart attacks in stable patients (i.e. 95% of patients who receive them). Likewise coronary bypass surgery prolongs life in less than 3% of cases.
The Bias Against Natural Health Care
The authors ask: Why do Medicare and health insurance companies pay billions of dollars for dangerous, expensive, and largely ineffective heart surgeries – yet balk at paying for “natural” approaches that have proven to reverse and prevent the chronic diseases that account for at least 75% of health care costs (INTERHEART study, The Lancet, Sept 2004)?
*Below are just a few common medicines based on ancient plant-based treatments:
(To be continued.)