Where is the Science in Natural or Alternative Healthcare (CAM)?
Updated: Jul 21, 2018
NB: This is part of a series on Romantic Healthcare, setting out the foundational ideas of a system of healthcare based on vital nature and vital science. Each can be read independently, though it is recommended to read the introductory article, 'What If You Gave a Revolution and No One Came', first. Some articles refer to previous ones, so this can guide you to go and read these as well, either before or after the article you are on.
This blog follows on from the previous one regarding science, or rather the lack thereof, in allopathic medicine.
Sad to say, we go from transparent allopathic cloth to a patchwork of natural rags. Whereas the emperor’s attire at least has been cut from the same piece of cloth (materialist science), however threadbare it may be, the dress of the 'pretender to the throne' has simply been patched together from various and disparate pieces. It has not been cut from whole cloth as with allopathic medicine, despite its fundamental flaws.
The allopathic attire is cut from the following cloth:
Life, and by extension health, are an epi-phenomenon arising out of inert matter or material particles. Life arises out of death.
The answers to questions affecting life, that is, health, lie solely within the purview of the inertial sciences, essentially physics and chemistry.
Illness is either a material assault from without (‘germs’) or a chemical breakdown from within.
Healthcare is essentially either chemical (internal medicine) or physical (surgery).
The chemical solution: selective poisons (pharmaceutical agents, from the Greek for ‘poison’), either to kill the offending microbe, or to shut down the faulty metabolic pathway producing a given set of signs and/or symptoms.
The essence of internal medicine, then, is either to identify a microbe or to isolate certain signs (semiotics) and symptoms (symptomology) as connected to a certain chemical breakdown. A pharmaceutical agent (drug) is then given that is known to kill the offending microbe or shutdown the damaged metabolic pathway.
Failing chemical means (or initially in accidents), physical repair or removal of damaged or dead tissue is employed (surgery).
The body is regarded as a collection of parts - organs and systems at the macro level, cells and chemical reactions at the micro level.
There is a protocol for treatment: see the general practitioner, who assesses your ‘condition’, then treats it (drug or surgery) and/or refers you to a specialist in one or more of the organs or systems for a more detailed assessment and treatment (drug or surgery).
The main claim by the ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) movement in response to this model is that CAM is ‘wholistic’ and ‘natural’. By wholistic is generally meant that there is a vital force that animates the physical body, is behind healing and must be supported, not suppressed or weakened. By natural is meant that only products already found in nature, not synthesized in the lab, are used, as being safer, and various techniques are employed to support healing, such as various physical manipulation and psychical relaxation therapies. However, the term CAM presupposes that there is a coherent, logically consistent system, organized around a rational organizing idea involving natural laws and principles.
CAM essentially operates, despite its rhetoric and opposition, from the allopathic model of ‘offending microbes’ and ‘designated conditions’, based on a fragmented view of the organism. Under the allopathic model, either an illness is ascribed to a germ (e.g., Lyme) or it cannot be and is then named according to a certain set of signs and symptoms, whether physical (diabetes, arthritis, Crohn’s) or psychical (depression, anxiety) or both (ASD). A specific agent or protocol is devised to address the ‘germ’ or the ‘condition’, that is, to poison the germ or the metabolic pathway involved in producing the symptomology.
CAM accepts these labels, but replaces drugs with herbs, nutritional supplements and various other natural products and approaches. This hardly constitutes a wholistic system, however much one may wish it so.
A condition is only a label given to certain discernible results or effects of an illness. Whether a drug or herb is given (aspirin or white willow bark for inflammatory pain or fever, synthetic or herb for parasites), whether a synthetic or natural supplement (ascorbic acid vs acerola cherry concentrate for Vitamin C deficiency), whether a mechanical or more functional adjustment (back brace vs osteopathy, or physical therapy vs chiropractic), the basis for treatment is mostly based on semiotics (signs) and symptomatology, that is, on the results and expression of illness.
The reality is that CAM is a disparate, often rag-tag group of treatment modalities only loosely organized under the umbrella of ‘wholism’ and ‘natural health’, much like the various German principalities at the start of the 1800s, some greater, some minor, operating independently, all the while ostensibly part of the nominal and mostly ceremonial Holy Roman Empire, with the Pope at its head in Rome, a vestige of an different time.
The lack of a rational system based on a true science of vital nature means that CAM is compelled in reality to operate from the dominant model based on material science, even if rejecting it in principle. CAM thus ends up being, to borrow a colorful phrase from a colleague, ‘allopathy tricked up in chicken feathers’, or as stated more formally by a well-known researcher and practitioner in the field of nutrition, “very little really separates those of us in the alternative realm from the orthodox.” (The Death of Allopathic Nutrition, W.L. Wolcott, address to The Society for Orthomolecular Health-Medicine, March 1, 1998)
CAM constitutes a rebellion by various local groups, seeking much the same goal, but with no unifying idea or overall strategy to meld them into a systematic alternative. As a result, the ‘natural health’ movement is reduced to localized guerrilla tactics, sniping as best they can at the enemy, but unable to mount a full challenge to the citadel of orthodoxy.
Whereas allopathic medicine is a command and control system from the top down, CAM is a loosely knit group of disparate approaches, often competing and sometimes contradictory. In both cases, however, treatments end up being ‘one size fits all’. As a result, for allopathic medicine, with their monetary and institutional dominance, efficacy is measured, where it is at all, as a statistical benefit (reduction of symptoms) over (iatrogenic) costs. There is only one approved treatment, but whether it will work in a given case for a given condition is only a statistical probability.
For CAM, each independent treatment is proposed for almost all, if not all, cases that present themselves on the basis that it has worked in other cases (anecdotal evidence). The individual practitioner not only cannot say whether the treatment will work in a given case, but the patient is left with the unenviable responsibility to choose which from among the competing claims for a given condition is the most efficacious.
As a result, whereas allopathic medicine is mono-therapeutic, CAM is replete with tactical approaches to a given condition based around certain signs and symptoms, such as 'diabetes' or 'chronic fatigue' (CFS). Each approach seems to work for some cases and yet not for others, and as with allopathic medicine, no one can really say at the start which cases it will work for and which not. The result is a lot of trial and error.
There is fundamental reality, known certainly since the 1950’s, that both allopathic and alternative healthcare ignore, namely biochemical individuality, based on the uniqueness of each person’s genetic code. At the same time, the organism only has so many ways to express stress and imbalance. What this means is that a given cause can produce different signs and symptoms in different people, and also, a given condition can have different causal factors in different persons. There can be no effective, scientific therapeutics based on ‘one-size fits all’, regardless of any statistical or anecdotal evidence.
A true healthcare system must be grounded in an understanding of vital nature. Inert nature is an arrested part of vital nature, but all treatments must be directed to the dynamic aspect of the biological organism. The living organism cannot be approached with any degree of success by reducing it to a complicated machine with many moving parts, or as a passive recipient of inputs. It can also not be approached with a mystical notion of a vital force cobbled to a more ‘natural’ approach to getting rid of specific signs and symptoms (labelled conditions). Both are pseudo-scientific in this regard, constituting nothing more than ‘guess-timations’, randomly throwing darts at a dart board while blind-folded and hoping to hit the bull’s eye. And when you do, you are really none the wiser as to why it happened and how to repeat the feat.