I was listening to a talk on tropical medicine the other day, and I got to thinking of how we got some of the anti-malarial medications, among others. (Podcasts are great to listen to on the way in to work, by the way.) Artemisinin, a drug widely used against the deadliest form of malaria (P. falciparum), is derived from an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. Aspirin, which we use against headaches, blood clots, and even to reduce the risk of heart attacks, is the result of the chemical analysis and isolation of the active ingredient from willow tree bark, which was used to treat headaches. Papain, an enzyme used to clean wounds and dental caries, and to treat intestinal worms, was isolated from papaya fruit after scientists got curious when seeing that papaya was used to tenderize meat. These are just a few of the examples of taking a natural or “traditional” treatment and applying it in medicine.
This is why I am highly skeptical when someone says that their treatment for something is “thousands of years old” and that “drug companies don’t want you to know this.” If it is thousands of years old, and it works, why haven’t pharmaceutical companies studied it, isolated the working ingredient, and packaged it for mass distribution? Hint: I bolded “and it works” for a reason.
But let’s not just question the “thousand-year old” therapies. This clinic has been saying for years that they have the one true therapy for cancer, and the parade patients who paid thousands and thousands of dollars to get into a clinical trial at the clinic as evidence. No, they haven’t published any findings of the clinical trials for peer review. No, they have not put out any of the data on their trials. They just expect us to look at the people who were treated there (some of whom received plain-old chemotherapy along with what the clinic is selling), and they expect us to take it at their word. Cancer is “too serious a business” to take it at anyone’s word.
Further, if we are to take their word for it, then what about the word of the many patients who were not helped? We need objective data to say that this clinic has found the cure for cancer. So far, no one has seen it, if it even exists.
The FDA has a saying that “In God we trust. Everyone else bring data.” I like that idea.
This past weekend, I noticed that anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) rallies were taking place around the world. People are truly concerned that gene-splicing to make better crops is bad for us. Without any context, or data, or objectivism, the Prince of Wales warned of an environmental disaster due to GMO crops. He said that big companies are taking over arable land and destroying it. But, again, where’s the beef? (So to speak.)
Of course, this blog post will be interpreted by some as my defense of multinational corporations and the bad things that they do. It isn’t. Are big companies responsible for some very serious things like oil spills, water contamination, and letting people die? Yes. Could we do without the big companies? No. As much as we would like to think that we could get by on organic farming and “natural” living, we can’t. More and more of us are living in big cities, and it is inconceivable to think that we can have sustainable living in the big cities. We need those big companies to bring us food, water, clothing, and medicine.
What we can do is put pressure on companies that are not living up to their civic responsibilities and take our business to companies that do. Don’t buy gasoline from the company that caused the oil spill. Buy it from the company that gives back to the communities where they get the oil. Or buy a less gas-dependent car. Or ride public transportation as much as you can. Personally, I don’t buy from the companies that had workers die in the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh until they agree to international accords on worker safety.
After all, we are the consumers. We are the ones with the real power, our dollars and cents. Public Relations is a powerful tool to hold corporations responsible, especially in the age of social media and telecommunications. Because natural is good, but only when you can prove it to be good. Until then, it’s just herbs and potions and placebo effect.
So, please, all-natural this and that proponents, bring data.