Alternative medicine as religion, again

Over the years, I’ve often likened alternative medicine to a religion—or even a cult. Basically, it requires belief in a set of precepts that have at best little and more commonly no evidence to support them that is often accompanied by magical thinking that a god-substitute, be it nature, one’s body, or, of course, the magically mysterious “quantum,” possesses magical powers that will protect one from all harm if one simply believes and acts on that belief. The belief systems that undergird various forms of alternative medicine are every bit as ridiculous from a scientific viewpoint as the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years or so old, that evolution is false, and that all that fossil evidence for evolution out there is either a trick by Satan to lure the insufficiently faithful away from god or a test of faith by god himself. It is not for nothing that I have described the “central dogma” of alternative medicine as being, in essence, the same thing as the new age woo known as The Secret, namely that wishing makes it so. That belief leads believers to twist, for example, the science of epigenetics to support the idea that you can basically rewrite your own biology to your own liking through the power of your mind.

Yesterday I came across a perfect example of just this phenomenon. It comes, not surprisingly, from that conspiracy theorist to rule all conspiracy theorists, that quack to rule all quacks, the man for whom no pseudoscience is ridiculous enough, no quackery is quacky enough, and no conspiracy theory is is out there enough (or compares its targets with Nazis enough), Mike Adams, a.k.a. the Health Ranger, proprietor of one of the top five quackiest sites on the Internet, It comes in the form of a video that tells me that there might be a second “central dogma” of alternative medicine that I had forgotten about other than the belief that wishing makes it so, but it’s related enough that perhaps it’s just a matter of how you phrase it. You’ll see what I mean. In the meantime, take a gander at Adams’ latest screed, The greatest health conspiracy of all time: making you believe you can’t heal without medical intervention. Naturally, it comes complete with a video, which is apparently an episode of a podcast series Adams calls “Awakenings”:

This is basically Adam’s message, which goes far beyond just the dogma that your body is this perfect self-regenerating luminous being:

The newest episode of “Awakenings” reveals what I call the greatest health conspiracy of all time: the institutionalized effort prevent you from realizing that you are born with all the programming you need to create perfect health and even heal yourself of deadly disease.

Even though this universal, fundamental truth is undeniable, nearly every modern institution of medicine, food, science and media tries to convince you that we’re all born as “defects” requiring medical intervention to be “healthy.”

The truth is far more empowering: You are born as a complete, empowered human being, requiring no injections, medications or interventions to achieve and express perfect health!

Now that I think about this, this idea fits in quite well with my previous characterization of the central dogma of alternative medicine, namely that thinking makes it so. Think about it. The idea is that your body can heal itself of pretty much anything if you believe the message that Adams is telling you. But, just as Christians believe that original sin keeps them from reaching heaven, in Adams’ world, big pharma, big industry, and big food, like Satan in the original story of the Garden of Eden, tempt you away from the One True Path of belief with processed food, products that result in “chemicals” being introduced into your body, and the intentional obfuscation of the tools necessary to have this perfect health.

Adams asks, “Why isn’t everyone in a state of perfect health?” Of course, this being Adams, he has a simple answer. Two, simple answers, actually:

  • We are all poisoned by exposure to damaging substances. Of course, these include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in addition to the other usual suspects: food additives, insecticides, heavy metal, endocrine disruptors, and, of course, non-natural “chemicals,” which are, of course, so much more evil than “natural” chemicals.
  • Despite our “amazing DNA blueprint for perfect health,” humans don’t given themselves the “tools” needed to experience “perfect health.” Naturally, these tools include “superfoods.” Personally, whenever I see the word “superfood,” I know that I’m dealing with pseudoscience because there is no such thing as the magical, mythical superfoods that can put your body into a state of perfect health, no matter how much Adams believes there is (or wants to convince his marks that there is).

Naturally, Adams can’t resist going on a typical rant in which he claims that there are miraculous anticancer compounds in the right kinds of foods, such as certain fruits and vegetables, but that because drug companies “can’t patent food” and charge huge sums of money to use it to treat cancer they ignore these chemicals or suppress knowledge of them. Apparently there’s also no money to be made in finding ways to “activate your healing potential” in “your incredible DNA.” While it’s true that DNA is indeed incredible, Adams seems to be invoking it here the same way that Deepak Chopra invokes quantum mechanics, namely as magic, as something that can perform miracles because we don’t understand it. Of course, scientists understand a lot about DNA, perhaps even more than they understand about quantum mechanics, but that doesn’t stop Adams.

Indeed, Adams goes on to marvel at how the body “knows how to heal itself,” which is true for some things. As a surgeon, I’m continually amazed that, for example, if I sew to pieces of bowel together end-to-end, they will heal together and function properly, or that if I place a skin graft on properly prepared dermis it will attach and function as skin, or that if I sew two blood vessels together end-to-end, they will heal together and function as one continuous blood vessel. Biology is amazing. Our cells are amazing. How our cells work together to heal after an injury is a source of continual wonder and awe, every bit as much as the stars and black holes as described by Neil deGrasse Tyson on the new version of Cosmos are. The mysteries of biology are part of the mysteries of the Cosmos, and they are wondrous enough without magic.

Unfortunately, magic is what Adams gives us. He even goes so far as to claim, near the end of his podcast, that if you consume these super foods and add the magical substances they contain to your blood, if you “detoxify” yourself and avoid the “toxins,” you can be a super man or a super woman. I kid you not. Adams even claims that if you do these things you’ll become so intelligent that people will think you’re a genius, adding with faux humility that when people ask him why he’s so awesome (OK, Adams didn’t phrase it that way but there’s no doubt that’s what he meant), he demurs, saying, “I’m not a genius. I’m just a human who isn’t poisoning his brain.” He then adds as an explanation, “I just eat superfood, and I don’t poison my brain,” further adding that we’re all geniuses, we’re all spontaneous healers, and we’re all amazing beings.

Well, we are, but not all of us are geniuses, I don’t care how many super foods we eat or “toxins” we avoid, and the human body has limits. Critical looks at faith healing will often ask, “Why can’t God heal amputees?” Well, the same thing applies here. Nothing Adams can do will enable a human being to regrow an amputated limb. Let’s say that you really do poison yourself with large amounts of alcohol, in the process destroying your liver, leaving it in end stage cirrhosis. Eat all the super foods you want. Detoxify all you want. Avoid all the “toxins” and “heavy metals” you want. Your body won’t be able to heal that burned out liver of yours, and the only thing that could save your life will be a new liver, as in a liver transplant. And, no, it won’t be big pharma holding you back; even if you do every single thing Adams tells you, avoid GMOs and all those other “toxic” insults, and eat super foods, your liver will still be toast.

It won’t grow back.

No matter how much Adams blames toxic metals, endocrine disruptors, lack of nutrients, GMOs, and chemotherapy for poor health and lower IQ, the truth is exactly the opposite of Adams’ “Secret” (and it’s no coincidence that Adams chose that precise word). You can’t believe your way back to health or eat your way back to being that “perfect healing being,” because you were never a perfect healing being in the first place.

Indeed, all it takes to understand this is a minimal understanding of evolution and how adaptive responses can lead to disease. For example, acute inflammation is something the body is very good at healing by itself. It’s how the body heals wounds, and it works very well for that purpose if the wounds are not too extensive. However, chronic inflammation, which is nothing more than prolonged inflammation, can lead to a whole host of diseases, including heart disease and, particularly, cancer. It’s associated with many of the other chronic diseases of our time, such as type II diabetes. It’s an example of an adaptive response that goes too far and goes on too long, leading to disease.

In the end, the central dogma of alternative medicine is indeed that wishing makes it so, but wishing makes it so because a second part of the world view of alternative medicine is that the body is somehow this perfect spiritual organism that would always be in perfect health if we human beings didn’t always muck it up by assaulting it with all those “bad” things that Adams blames for the myriad health problems that plague human bodies. Naturally, it’s turned into a big conspiracy, with big business, big pharma, big food, and big government all conspiring to keep us eating unhealthy food that they sell us, to keep us sick so that we need pharmaceuticals, and to keep us unaware of how faith in the natural can save us.

Hmmm. That rather sounds like Satan, doesn’t it?

There is a major component of so much of alternative medicine that shares another major component of religion, and that’s the infantile belief that the universe actually gives a rodent’s posterior about you. In other words, many “alt-med” modalities have at their basis the idea that we humans can somehow bend the unfeeling universe to our wills in order to prevent us from ever suffering from ill health or, if we do suffer from ill health, to enable us to overcome it. The bottom line is that the belief system underlying alternative medicine is indeed very much akin to religion. We have the perfect, sinless (in this case, disease-free) creation that is rendered with sin (disease) by an evil force such as Satan (or in the case of the version of alternative medicine promoted by Mike Adams, GMOs, vaccines, “toxins,” and the like). Virtue is health, which implies that lack of virtue is ill health. What flows from this concept is that if you behave virtuously you will never get sick. The universe/nature/great spirit/whatever will see to that, because it likes it when we do the “right” things and doesn’t like it when we do not. Only following the One True Faith can redeem us. Well, that and buying whatever supplements that Adams wants to sell you.