A homeopath unplugged from reality

Yesterday’s post made me sad. It always makes me sad to contemplate a 14 year old boy facing the loss of his father to an aggressive form of leukemia, as Danny Hauser is. The kid just can’t catch a break. First he himself develops Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Because he happens to live in a family that has taken up a faux “Native American” religion that claims its “natural healing” is better than chemotherapy, he resists undergoing treatment, and his family supports him. After a judge orders him to undergo chemotherapy, Danny and his mom then take off on the lam from the law, heading for Mexico and the sanctuary of quackery that exists in Tijuana. Fortunately, they aren’t on the run for long, and Danny’s mom brings her him back and turns herself in. Ultimately, the family agrees to see to it that Daniel undergoes chemotherapy, which he does and as a result is alive and well today.

Then his father contracts a rare and aggressive form of leukemia that is likely to kill him within a year.

See why I’m sad? Fortunately for me, there’s Dana Ullman. No matter how sad I am contemplating a boy losing is father, good ol’ Dana’s there to unintentionally cause a big, silly grin on my face. Unintentionally, you ask? Yes, unintentionally, because Dana is always pretty much dead serious about promoting the outrageous quackery that is homeopathy, and his doing what he does best is what brought a smile back to my face–although again, completely unintentionally. I’m referring to Dana’s latest bit of propaganda for homeopathy published in–where else?–that repository of quackery, anti-vaccine propaganda, pseudoscience, and New Age woo, The Huffington Post (a.k.a. HuffPo). It’s a little gem our “expert in homeopathic medicine” calls Unplugging From Your Medicine Cabinet: Respecting the Body’s Intelligence.

Thanks, Dana! I needed that!

I’m going to start with the end first, because it’s most telling. You’ll notice an asterix at the end very first sentence. Scroll down to the end of Dana’s post, and you’ll find:

* I am primarily referring to taking a vacation from over-the-counter drugs, but if you’re taking prescription drugs (Rx), I suggest you to talk with your doctor about creating a plan to diminish the doses of whatever drugs you’re taking, with a goal of stopping the medication(s) for a period of time, if possible and appropriate.

Dana, Dana, Dana! But I thought you had utter confidence that your watery homeopathic magicks were every bit the match-nay, the superior!–of anything that the evil, reductionistic “Western,” science-based medicine could come up with! After all, wasn’t it you who said that there was no science in science-based medicine, comparing it unfavorably with his favorite magic, homeopathy? Yet here Dana is, using weasel words in the form of an asterix leading to a disclaimer that he wasn’t really that serious. Perhaps someone told him that recommending that people stop their medications wasn’t such a good idea. Someone on coumadin for atrial fibrillation, for instance, might end up having a stroke. Type I diabetics stopping their insulin would end up in diabetic ketoacidosis, and type II diabetics stoping their medications might end up in a hyperosmolar coma. Perhaps someone told Dana that, if something bad happened to someone as a result of following his advice to “unplug from his medicine cabinet, a big, fat lawsuit might be the result. I can just see HuffPo’s lawyer reading Dana’s post, seeing that he’s recommending that people stop taking their medications, and suggesting that such a post might expose HuffPo itself to legal liability; that is, after the lawyer stopped clutching his chest.

In fact, one other thing just occurred to me. Besides the fact that over-the-counter drugs in general aren’t meant to treat serious illnesses, recommending that people “unplug” from over-the-counter drugs includes within it a rather interesting unintentional implied suggestion. Think about it. Many of the over-the-counter remedies sold in this country are vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies. Heck, some over-the-counter remedies are even homeopathic remedies (or at least herbal remedies with the moniker “homeopathic” slapped on them). “Unplugging from ‘over-the-counter'” medications thus implies unplugging from all those “natural” herbs, supplements, and homeopathic nostrums!

You know, I think Dana just suggested something I could actually agree with.

The rest of Dana’s article is predictably full of Ullman-speak, which in general consists of science-y sounding word salad with the words “homeopathy” and “homeopathic” sprinkled here and there, mixed with terms like “bodymind” and “wisdom,” like, well, sprinkles added on top of a turd cupcake to try to mask the flavor of New Age homeopathic woo contained therein. Here’s an example. In the midst of the preamble, in which Ullman blathers on about the evils of “drugs,” he says:

You’ve probably also experienced other symptoms and syndromes for which you’ve been encouraged to take additional drugs. If you’re smart enough, you’re wondering what interactions the drugs have. Your doctor has told you that “there are no problems” taking two, three, four or five medications together, but he cannot point to ANY research that has ever studied that question.

I guess that’s why each PDR entry and virtually every entry on every drug in medical reference manuals will contain somewhere within it a list of known interactions that drug has with other drugs–and even food! I guess that’s why, if I search PubMed for the term “drug interactions,” I get 185,012 entries (as of yesterday), and a search for “polypharmacy” brings up 2,278 entries. I guess that’s why drug companies and the government spend millions–even billions!–of dollars researching drug interactions. I even remember 25 years ago in my second year pharmacology class in medical school, when we had to know the interactions of every drug and drug class we studied; that is, if we wanted to pass the class and move on to our third year. Then there are all the articles we see warning against the dangers of polypharmacy, particularly in the elderly.

So what does Dana propose as an alternative? Against the evils of scientific, reductionist, “harsh my buzz” medicine, Dana proposes this:

The logic and wisdom of “unplugging” from various stressors in your life is that there is an inherent intelligence of our bodymind that continually strives to defend and heal ourselves. Living systems have certain innate self-organizing and self-healing propensities, and unplugging is simply an important strategy that enables your bodymind to work its every-day magic as it manifests its magnificent survival strategies.

Sadly, many of us are so arrogant that we think that we are smarter than our own bodies. We think that we can do better than what nature has provided us. The idea that we can or even should “conquer” nature is so 19th century. Some people today actually think that our bodies are not very smart and that we could and should overcome its weaknesses by the use of pharmaceutical agents that can rid the body of its symptoms.

I love the term “bodymind,” but I wonder: Why “bodymind” and not “mindbody”? Is it that Ullman values the body over the mind? Given the quality of his writing and logic, it wouldn’t surprise me. But I digress.

Or maybe not. Perhaps the reason Ullman says “bodymind” is to emphasize his seeming lament that we unimaginative reductionistic physicians think we’re “smarter than our own bodies.” Of course, it’s not so much that we think we’re smarter than the body; it’s that we have come to understand many of the ways our body can malfunction, with the result being disease. For many of these diseases, we now have an adequate understanding of the physiology and biochemistry to be able to design drugs that counteract the abnormalities in these processes that lead to disease. This has nothing to do with the body being “smart” or “dumb.” The body just is, and it functions the way evolution led it to function.

Dana also seems profoundly confused. (What else is new?) In his post, he goes on and on and on lauding the “wisdom” of the “bodymind” for its self-healing ability, a self-healing ability that pharmaceutical drugs apparently interfere with by “masking symptoms.” However, if the body were so miraculous at always healing itself, then, even if it worked, homeopathic medicine would be as unnecessary as pharmaceutical medicine. Yet Dana can write:

Our human body has survived these thousands of years because of its incredible adaptive capabilities, and one of the ways that it adapts is through the creation of symptoms. Whether it be through fever and inflammation, cough and expectoration, nausea and vomiting, fainting and comatose states, and even the variety of emotional and mental states, each symptom represents the best efforts of the bodymind in its effort to fight infection and/or adapt to physical and psychological stresses.

Although symptoms may be the best effort of the organism to defend itself at that time, it is not usually effective to simply let the body try to heal itself. Most often, some treatment must be provided to help nurture, nourish and augment the body’s own wisdom. The challenge to physicians, healers and patients is to determine when to help aid this inner wisdom of the body and when to intervene to make certain that the body does not harm itself.

Wait a minute! I thought the “bodymind” was so wise that it could heal itself! If that’s the case, then why on earth does it require the intervention of a healer to “aid this inner wisdom”? Maybe the “bodymind’s inner wisdom” isn’t so wise after all.

The fact is that sometimes it isn’t. Dana mentions that symptoms are the best effort of the organism to “defend itself,” but the very term “defend itself” implies an outside attack. Many of our most common ailments these days are due to aging and lifestyle, be they diabetes, heart disease, or whatever. One can argue that these diseases are heavily influenced by diet and lifestyle, which they are, but ultimately they represent a malfunctioning of the body, not an external attack of some kind that needs to be defended against with symptoms. Diabetes, for instance, represents either a failure of insulin production (type I) or the development of resistance to the actions of insulin (type II). The end result is hyperglycemia, high blood sugar, which itself results in all sorts of other problems.

Dana also puts far too much stock in the “wisdom of symptoms,” as well. For instance, type II diabetes may be completely asymptomatic. A better example is hypertension, which isn’t known as “the silent killer” for nothing. As blog bud PalMD points out, hypertension is usually completely asymptomatic right up until a person has a heart attack or a stroke or develops peripheral vascular disease that results in symptoms such as claudication. During the (usually) years or decades leading up to the appearance of catastrophic symptoms such as chest pain or neurological compromise due to a stroke, the “bodymind” does an absolutely crappy job of warning itself about the danger it is in because the “bodymind” usually has no symptoms. Some “wisdom”!

It goes the other way, too. I know I’ve used this example before, but I’ll use it again. Dana speaks of fever and inflammation as symptoms serving a purpose. And so they do in many cases. However, they are also fairly easily turned upon the “bodymind” itself. Again, the example I like to use is sepsis. Sepsis is not, in and of itself, infection, but rather the reaction of the body to severe infection. This reaction can get quite out of control, to the point where it is the massive dilation of blood vessels leading to a collapse in blood pressure and the heart pumping mightily to try to bring it back up (I’m simplifying, obviously) that results in more damage than the actual infection. Moreover, the mechanisms behind sepsis can be triggered by stimuli not involving infection. Serious trauma, for instance, or even just a significant operation, can result in a septic-like syndrome called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). SIRS looks all the world like sepsis, but there is no detectable infection present.

One last example is from the dreaded realm of psychiatric problems. I say “dreaded” because if there’s one area of medicine that the “natural” crowd detests the most, it’s psychiatry. This example is anxiety disorders, specifically panic attacks. The “fight or flight” response is one of the most useful survival responses evolution has produced, as it gets the “bodymind” ready either to flee or to fight for its life. Unfortunately, when this response is triggered inappropriately or too easily the result can be panic attacks; when this response is turned on far more often than is adaptive, to the point of chronically being turned “on,” the result can be anxiety disorders.

Maybe the “bodymind” isn’t always so wise after all.

The odd thing is, though, that Dana essentially admits this. He says it is “usually not effective” to let the body heal itself and that “something” must be provided to “nurture, nourish and augment the body’s own wisdom.” How on earth could this be, if nature and our “bodyminds” are so wise and self-regenerating? Why does the “bodymind” need Dana’s magicks to heal itself? And if the “bodymind” needs a little “something” to augment its wisdom and help it heal, what is the difference between homeopathy, which, as you might recall, is based on the principle of “like cures like,” as in like cures like symptoms. Samuel Hahnemann based homeopathy on treating symptoms, not causes. In marked contrast, for many diseases modern scientific medicine knows the cause well enough to intervene and attack the cause. For example, antibiotics treat infections by killing the infectious organisms causing the disease.

Regardless of the nonsense quotient that precedes it, no Dana Ullman screed is complete without some quantum woo thrown in, the way a chef throws various spices in for seasoning:

Concepts in new physics offer further support for the notion that living and non-living systems have inherent self-regulating, self-organizing and self-healing capacities. This ongoing effort to maintain homeostasis (balance) and to develop higher and higher levels of order and stability have been described in detail by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ilya Prigogine in Order Out of Chaos, Fritjof Capra in The Turning Point, and Erich Jantsch in The Self-Organizing Universe. In systems thinking, “perturbations” are understood as efforts of a system to re-establish balance and to increase its complexity so that there is greater dynamic homeostasis.

All of which is probably true, but irrelevant to whether homeopathy is anything other than magical thinking, which it is, no matter how much Dana tries to hide it with science word salad, although he still uses the same old lame homeopathic apologist claim that vaccines and allergy treatments are based on the homeopathic principle of “like cures like.” This is, of course, nonsense, not the least of which because there is–you know–actual substance in vaccines and allergy remedies. They are also designed based on an actual understanding of human physiology, rather than the principles of sympathetic magic, including a variation on its Law of Similarity and Law of Contagion.

Homeopathy is perhaps one of the silliest of “alternative medicine” modalities; it’s nothing more than the purest quackery. It’s so ridiculous because not only does its precepts violate many of the known laws of physics and chemistry, meaning that, for homeopathy to be correct, much of what we know about these disciplines would have to be very, very wrong, but also because the concepts behind homeopathy involve what is in essence prescientific knowledge fused with magic. Because this is so, even the glibbest of the glib who defend homeopathy can’t come up with anything less ridiculous than what Dana just wrote. In fact, Dana can’t even come up with anything new. His HuffPo post contains a bunch of recycled text from previous stints on NaturalNews.com and Gary Null’s website.

Sometimes Google is your friend, and if there’s anything that needs to be “unplugged,” it’s Dana’s access to the Internet. He’d embarrass himself a lot less if that were the case.