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Monday Health & Wellness: What I Really Believe About Modern Medicine

admin October 15, 2012

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Many times, readers make assumptions about what I believe about health or doctors based on some of the posts on this site about alternative medicine options.  A lot of them assume I must hate doctors and think they are evil money-grubbers who are out to keep my family sick.  They think that I am anti-science and I’d rather go back to the “dark ages” of medicine.

None of this is true.

And since a few people have mentioned that they can’t take me/this blog seriously because they think I believe these things, I need to clear up some misconceptions today.  I’ll explain what I really believe about doctors and modern medicine.

What I Believe About Doctors

Doctors (and dentists, and other medical professionals) are not evil.  They are not stupid.  There are bad ones out there who are both, of course, just as in any profession.  But in a general sense, doctors are not evil or stupid.

I truly believe that most doctors want to help their patients, that they are passionate about what they are doing, and that they are in their profession because they want to make a difference.  I believe that many are doing the best they can to keep current on medical studies and provide the best care they know how to their patients.

Doctors are not bad people.  They are trying to protect their patients and help people be healthy.  Some can be arrogant, because of the lengthy education and experience they’ve undergone.  But as I said — there are bad ones in every profession.  There are also entirely excellent doctors who are careful about every test and treatment they order and who take a cautious approach to medicine.  Doctors run the gamut from excellent to terrible, because they are people too.

Remember this: I do not hate medical professionals nor look down upon them in a general sense.  (I do, however, take offense to individual professionals who want to insult me and rudely tell me how stupid and uninformed and so on that I am.  But that’s personal and related to their rudeness, not their profession specifically.)

What I Believe About Modern Medicine

What I believe about the “system” of modern medicine is very different than what I believe about doctors, however.  While the individual doctors are doing the best they know how, they are working within a system that I feel is broken.

Please understand.  This is not the fault of the doctors who are a part of this system, who dedicate their lives to medicine and helping people.  Many of them fully believe in what they are doing and do not think that the system is broken at all.  This does not reflect on them.

The system is broken, though.

Over the last 100 years, we’ve gotten away from a holistic view of health.  We’ve begun to view the body as separate parts and have forgotten to look at how each of those parts affects the body as a whole.  We have come to believe that drugs are the solution to most issues, and have forgotten what role nutrition actually plays in helping the body to achieve optimal health.

The mainstream medical view holds that nutrition is important only in a general sense.  It’s important to stave off serious deficiency (which they acknowledge can cause disease), and eating less processed foods are better.  They do not, however, acknowledge just how big a role that various vitamins and minerals play in the body.  Many do not believe that a simple vitamin or mineral could solve a huge or ongoing problem (like chronic fatigue or migraines, or even cancer).

Because of this fragmented view, many important parts of health are missed.

Drugs, vaccines, and “tests” (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) are seen as markers of health.  These individual tests can only reveal if some isolated measure is off — and sometimes the answer lies in the full symptom picture, the balance of different measures.  This is often missed.

I do feel frustrated when some doctors tell me that I don’t get it or I’m stupid because I believe in a holistic view of the body.  I’ve had too many experiences in my own life and have met too many people for whom Western medicine simply could not provide the answers, for the reasons above and more.

That’s not to say I don’t think there is ever a place for drugs.  When we’re talking immediately life threatening, I’m happy to have experienced doctors, surgeons, and the options for drugs.  There’s a time and a place for it.  If we got in a car accident or my child broke his arm, we’d head straight to the ER and do what we needed to do.  If I ever had a serious pregnancy complication, we’d go to the hospital and do what needed to be done — drugs, a c-section, etc.  We are grateful in extreme circumstances to have the options that we have today.

What I don’t believe in is the way we treat medication today.  Have a slight headache?  Pop a pill.  More testing and more intervention is better than less…just in case.  (Statistics show it’s not.)  Have a cold?  Take some cold medicine.  Friend posts about being sick on Facebook?  Recommend antibiotics (even though the person making the recommendation has no idea what the symptoms or illness really are, nor are they a medical professional).  We’re so cavalier about intervention and drug use!

Of course that’s a sign of the times — medicine’s big business.

History of Medicine

I’m going to try to keep this brief, but much of the true history in many subjects has been edited heavily or removed from what most of us have learned.  And unfortunately those clipped parts reveal a lot more about the world than the parts that weren’t.

Modern medicine came to be largely because of John D. Rockefeller. In the early 1900s, the young AMA and its counterpart, the association of homeopathy, were of similar size and influence.  Homeopathy may have even been more popular.  Rockefeller himself had a personal homeopath that he used throughout his life — it was his chosen medicine.  In fact, he wanted, at various points, to offer grants to homeopathy institutions.  His advisers, however, told him not to.

Why not?

Most new pharmaceutical products — including the so-called “wonder drugs” — were made from coal or crude oil.  Before anyone really had electricity or cars, there was very little market for these products.  Rockefeller owned Standard Oil.  By promoting modern medicine, he created a huge new market for his oil and coal, driving his profits through the roof.

It was about business — not about health.  Most researchers knew even then that these petroleum-based products were at least partially responsible for cancer and other degenerative diseases.  It was especially true with the primitive drug technology available in the early 1900s. Most people consider Rockefeller nearly single-handedly responsible for the promotion of the AMA and conventional medicine, and the slow death of homeopathy.

Today most people are unaware of this history and have come to believe that homeopathy is little more than voo-doo, mere quackery and not actual “medicine” at all.  The last 30 years or so have seen it, and other forms of alternative medicine, on the rise again.

It’s sad that we have wandered so far away from medicine that is affordable and helps people, especially when we’re talking about acute conditions, or non-life-threatening chronic conditions (i.e. conditions that aren’t going to kill in an hour or tomorrow).  There have, as I mentioned, been excellent advances in emergency and trauma medicine.  Many of the “advances” are not really advances at all, sadly.

Sources:

Anti-Science

Some might read this and think I’m anti-science.  If I really believed in science or if I really “got it” I wouldn’t say things like this.

False.

I’ve read lots of medical journal studies and other forms of research.  I’m not against science.  I’m for science.  I’m for unbiased science.  I’m for the least interventive way to help people.

When studies show that petroleum-based products cause potential harm, I expect doctors to advise against them.  When studies show that BPA and similar chemicals may cause birth defects and other serious complications, I expect companies to stop using them.  When studies show that the maternal death rate has doubled in the last 30 years as the c-section rates have risen, I expect them to re-assess guidelines and perform fewer c-sections.

There are science-based explanations for all of the alternative medicine that I believe in.  Unfortunately some people seem to reason the way my 3-year-old does: “If I don’t look, the evidence isn’t there!”  (On every controversial post I write, which always include several links back to the original sources, I’ll have someone completely fail to click on any of the links and then claim I have no sources and no evidence.)  This is not helpful to promoting and improving the health of the general population, nor promoting an informed public.

The Bottom Line

I believe individual doctors and medical professionals are generally doing the best they can.  But I believe they are working within a system that is corrupt in extremely complex, far-reaching ways.  I certainly don’t think that doctors and modern organizations are “out to get us,” but there are just too many pieces of history and understanding missing — and it’s the patients who suffer.

Every person is responsible for their own health and the health of their families.  If you don’t like the advice being given by one professional, or you find it isn’t helping you, go find another.  Go ask as many as it takes until you find all the pieces of the puzzle.  (And this goes for alternative as well as conventional professionals.)  Health isn’t some magical, ultra-complex thing that we normal humans can’t understand.  It’s not just knowledge of the elite that matters.  Take your health into your own hands, and find professionals who work for you and with you.  That’s the key to real health.

What do you believe about doctors and modern medicine?

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23 Comments

  1. I’ve only recently started following your blog, but I wanted to respond and say that I appreciate your voice of reason on an increasingly controversial subject. It’s clear you’ve thought out your position and done your research. What you’ve said makes a lot of sense to me, and I would like to get away from medications I’m taking for migraines, if only I knew what to replace them with (naturally, homeopathically). The way you feel about medicine, I feel about the education system, so I know where you’re coming from. Enjoying your writing…

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    • I agree with you Kathy as I was reading this about caring about business and not medicine I completely substituted the word medicine with education and the truth of common core.

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  2. Go, girl! I am sorry you receive flak from commenters on your blog. It’s always a dangerous thing to speak against the status quo–but we desperately need people to in many arenas. I really appreciate your posting that summarizes the research you have done–I learn a lot.

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  3. Thank you, Kate. You have articulated so well my own beliefs about medicine. I have many friends in the medical field and know that they care and have the best of intentions. So I don’t hate doctors, or even medicine, either. But I also am not ignorant and can’t stand being talked down to by doctors as if I don’t know anything. I agree that the system is flawed, and that many do not see it. I have had to “shop around” to find a doctor who welcomes my input and is not just going to prescribe a drug when there are natural options to address the problems. Keep up the good work!

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  4. I so agree with everything you wrote. I really enjoy getting your posts. I actually had a doctor when questioning him about vbac’s after a classical and he actually knew that it was safer to do a vbac but kept telling me it wasn’t safer. It wasn’t till I told him statistics that he finally admitted I was right but he said that doctors are told to tell patients the lie. He also couldn’t do vbac’s because of his insurance.
    I have had doctors tell me that nutrition has nothing to do with crohns disease. We went from one doctor to another all with children’s hospital. One after another said nutrition had nothing to do with it. I took my son to an allergist and found out he was allergic to a ton of things. Took him off those items and guess what it cleared up. The hospital was starting to threaten children services if we didn’t follow all these drugs they wanted. I told them we needed a few days to think about it and they agreed, My son was turning 18 during that time and then they couldn’t do anything. He still is seeing a doctor but ones that understand nutrition.
    Could you believe one doctor said they wanted to put a feeding tube in him at night and that would feed him and he could eat one thing a day like tatter tots but thats it.

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  5. We believe very similar, and I am a nurse by profession. I have seen the flaws in the medical system, when it comes to birthing babies, (which is my field) and was always horrified at the rate of use of epidurals and pitocin, and how nurses and doctors look down on anyone going the “natural” route. I’ve been there. I am also sad that parents are so misinformed that they ask for antibiotics when their kids are sick (I’ve also worked in pediatrics), and doctors give in because they don’t want to argue with parents, and parents think it is the cure-all. Maybe parents are getting smarter, I hope, and start taking their health and their kids health a little more under their control. Like eating healthy, for one. It is disturbing to see a pop-tart commercial disguising its “food” as healthy, made with “real fruit” and things like nutella that say on the bottom of the commercial “made without artificial colors or preservatives” but fail to mention the sugar and artificial vanillin they put in there. We are so far from healthy, but the commercials for “healthy” things confuse parents. It seems like the medical field, the FDA and the drug companies need a re-vamp, to start.

    That being said, I too am so grateful for modern medicine, when it is needed. So you won’t die from a systemic bacterial infection, or meningitis (hopefully) and that medicine is good for somethings, but not every little thing.

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  6. While I believe that pills, medication and surgery are frequently overused, the last year has taught me the true value of – maybe even miracle of – modern medicine.

    After developing a severe uterine infection while I was five months pregnant, doctors saved my life and extended the life of my unborn child by performing an emergency c-section. My infection required extremely potent antibiotics – my infection was so severe that without them I could have lost my life. Thanks to modern medicine, I was able to spend a whole week with my son – kept alive by modern machines, treated with modern medicine. 100 years ago, it is highly likely we both would have died.

    While I still avoid most OTC drugs, my only current doctor is a chiropractor, and I believe in treating most everyday health issues with natural remedies, I will never again discount the importance of highly competent and caring doctors in emergency situations.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your balanced, common-sense approach to modern medicine.

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  7. Thank you! Very well said. I’m right there with you!

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  8. I wholeheartedly agree! I am a big fan of medicine and competent doctors in an emergency situation, but I cannot just take whatever drugs are around just because they are there in almost every non life threatening circumstance I am usually looked at as crazy because I find an herbal remedy instead. But here is the big problem I have. . . Not one of these people even questions what’s in their cereal let alone what’s in their drugs. . I research everything I put into my kids bodies to the point where I am positive they are getting the very best treatment and the majority of the time it is herbal medicine. . . But the point is I am truly informed, I have done the research, people who have not done the research can look at me however they want. At the end of the day my kids will get the best treatment because I am knowledge and informed

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  9. I live in Canada, so our health care systems are different. Nonetheless, our system is broken as well, for different reasons. I’m an RN and I believe there is a place for Western medicine, but like other commenters have made…it has been way overused! What is lacking today is the confidence to use alternative medicines. Once upon a time, doctors ‘prescribed’ the alternative medicines because that is what they knew. There was a reason Western medicine developped ~ it was saving lives and improving upon the current health of the citizens. Now, I think with more awareness and information out there, we can start utilizing alternatives and complementaries more, with less reliance on the western medical influences. That is a shift that will take many many years! Mostly because the knowledge of our ancestors is lost 🙁

    And as to finding unbiases research…good luck! Any research study is designed to find the results it wants, regardless of who is conducting the study. What is published is the ‘polished’ version of their data. They rarely include the data they’ve ‘discarded’ because ‘it didn’t fit’! That is true for a new drug trial, or even GMO studies. There is a vested interest (usually financial) in verifying or discrediting the hypothesis in the study. That’s why it is essential to research from a variety of sources and backgrounds, both ‘for and against’ the topic being studied.

    However, even when we do our own research on specific topics, we approach it with our own bias and belief system (which is natural). For example, if I’m researching evidence that cloth diapers are better than disposables and I already believe they are, human nature will discount what is against our belief system. So it is important when we do our own research that we’re aware of our own biases. That’s something that I find very hard for me to do personally! I need to take the info that is ‘against’ my belief system, or different than what I was expecting to find, and digest it and really reflect upon my findings. That is where I feel real learning comes from.

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  10. I wholeheartedly agree, The state of medicine in this country needs some serious review. While I am thrilled to have competent doctors and western medicine, I always question everything. Why would medicine be any different?
    Western medicine is great in life threatening circumstances. It’s great when there are things like malaria and cholera that just don’t die fast enough with herbal treatment. But in many cases, as with a lot of things, it’s a system that has been abused. People are facing much worse health problems due largely to the drugs we take on a regular basis. Especially OTC medicine.
    While these same people look at me like I’m crazy and uninformed. I am researching all of these facts, dutifully charting everything that goes in or on my children or myself and husband. I want to be sure that what they ingest is not going to cause problems for them later on. Even though I can never guarantee them no ill effects will ever strike them. I can do the research myself and be completely informed about their health. I can treat their ailments better with knowledge than any random drug will. Often times the drugs are given for things they don’t even do anything for! In many cases people will prescribe something to take care of the symptoms and not to cure the underlying problem. If I can research and know what the problems and solutions are and I find that I can treat something better holistically than they can with western medicine why is it so wrong that I treat it my way? On the other token I will not throw out the use of drugs just because they are drugs, but I will have the research and backing to know exactly how it works exactly what’s in it and that it will treat the problem better. How many of those scoffers can say the same for the things they use regularly? For that matter how many of them know that the Cheerios they are handing their toddler contain Neurotoxic Chemicals used in paint thinners and pesticides? I think people need to evaluate their own level of knowledge before they assume someone who has done the research and meticulous fact checking to know what they are doing is best. And if they find in their own research something better than hooray for them, but that doesn’t change my research and what I feel is safe for my family.
    So at the end of the day, my kids will have nothing on them, in them, or around them, that I have not (or in some cases will not) researched and determined to be safe for them. It’s what’s best for my family.

    Stephie N
    SimplyBEEcause.blogspot.com

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  11. I do agree with much of your view, but would also note that , even with medical info/encouragement of MD, many people are not willing to change their habits, dietary or otherwise, to benefit their health. See a lot of this in my profession (physical therapy, homecare).

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  12. Hi Tammy,
    You wrote, “On every controversial post I write, which always include several links back to the original sources, I’ll have someone completely fail to click on any of the links and then claim I have no sources and no evidence.”

    I, too , find this very frustrating, but in fact, I see it happening more and more from people who call themselves “alternative” or “progressive” without really doing their own research. You obviously have, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read some “study” that has been reposted over and over, only to link back to the original source and find out that the study had no real scientific basis. At all. So IT goes both ways.

    This is a subject that hits home hard for me. I made a documentary several years ago called “This Child of Mine” (http://familieswithhivmovie.blogspot.com) about parents who refused medical treatments for HIV+ children because of their fear about side effects. As a parent I am a strong proponent of making one’s own medical choices for oneself and for one’s children , which is why I made the film. These cases went to court, they were publicized nationally. Sometimes the parents prevailed, sometimes they didn’t. Now, 15 years later, most of those children from my film have died as well as several of the parents. It was , and continues to be , a source of conflict to me, a person who publicly championed their cause. These parents asked reasonable questions, did their research, questioned doctors – and in the end paid the worst price imaginable.

    Does this mean that medication is always good , western medicine and research trumps all , and homeopathy is quackery? Of course not. But I think often, now more than ever, people choose to align themselves with one side or the other, read and repost flashy FB posts (ala Natural News which is as flawed and sensational as it gets, and with an enormous readership), and make really important medical decisions based on that type of “research” without doing their homework. This is dangerous, and with convenience of social network sites, more prevalent than ever.

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  13. Brilliantly, tastefully, and tactfully written! A great article for anyone who questions my use of alternative medicine 🙂
    Thanks!

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  14. Kate, I know you and I have talked about this before, but I wanted to share this story for the benefit of your readers (even if I am a bit late because I’m catching up post-vacation!).

    My father, for all of his life, has had restless leg syndrome. He kicks like a whale at night, and he has always had the urge to pull off his toenails. He’d been to doctors and given up because they couldn’t fix his symptoms – restless leg is generally considered uncurable and no one could figure out the tearing off his toenails because it felt better than what was going on in his feet.

    I thought he was just weird, until I started taking a medication (I tested positive on a skin test for TB and, because of the industry I work in, I had very little say in the matter…yay…) that had, as a side effect, “tingling in the extremities.” Once I started having that particular side effect, it was like I had bugs crawling under my skin on my feet. I couldn’t stand it – I’d stomp my feet all the time because I was trying to kill the non-existent bugs. Not pleasant in the least. I went back to my doctor, who prescribed vitamin B6 (the chemical kind, as he is a doctor…) and the feeling went away in days. Apparently the medication I was on binds with B6 in the digestive system, and what I was feeling was the effect of a B6 deficiency. I was ecstatic that it worked, and told my father about it. He asked about what it had felt like and, when I described the bugs under my skin, almost jumped off of his chair (we were Skyping) and went and bought himself some B6.

    Lo and behold, my father VERY rarely touches his feet anymore (only out of habit, according to both him and my mother). Healed just by adding another vitamin to his daily regimen. Now why exactly did it take 20+ years and his daughter being prescribed a medication to fix his problem? No holistic view on the body, in my opinion.

    I don’t know if anyone is going to read this comment because of how late it is (3 week vacations abroad with no internet most of the time means I didn’t exactly get to check my reader) but just in case…there you go. Enjoy!

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  15. So many times you write what you think is a controversial post and wait for the slew of angry comments… but perhaps you might change your perspective – it’s not a controversial post – it’s clearly articulating what people like me have stopped saying, because we aren’t as articulate as you! Thank you for providing a well-written, cited, non-emotional description of exactly how *I* feel about modern medicine.

    Like many people here, I have had a few run-ins with modern medicine that resulted in my being here today – and I’ve had my fair share of run-ins that make me lucky to still be alive! As my former acupuncturist said – “No one can beat western medicine for trauma, surgery, and heavy-hitting drugs, but for everything else – our ancestors have them beat.”

    Thank you for maintaining your blog so well! It is greatly appreciated!

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  16. Thank you for your research and point of view. I enjoy your posts and agree with most of them and love learning about those that I dont know about! After reading this, I want to read more of what you know as I agree in what you said about modern medicine and I didnt know all the history. Some things it feels like were moving forward and others its like we are going sideways and forgetting about all the good things that worked before. Over that last year I have removed chemicals of all kinds from our home. Medicines were my start but had a hard time finding natural alternatives for somethings but have trusted more in essential oils and love them. The more I learn the more I love. I cant get over all the chemicals in cleaning products, foods, medicines, etc that either aren’t tested or are tested and considered safe! I cant believe that big business would prefer to put people at risk to increase their bottom line. We are all part of the same humanity.
    Keep all the good info coming!!!

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  17. Kate,
    I like your article very much and I appreciate the respectful way you went about explaining your feelings and beliefs. I’ve experienced both sides. Western medicine offered me little to nothing in the way of figuring out what my health issues were and how to fix them. The doctor bills & unnecessary surgeries I’ve had over the years is ridiculous, and could’ve been avoided had I known then what I know now. On the other hand- real, whole foods and embracing a more natural lifestyle has been life-changing. My family hasn’t been to a doctor for an RX in almost 10 years now. It’s such a great feeling.

    Be encouraged. You are doing such a great job. Thanks so much for your willingness to share with others.

    Angela

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  18. Thought I’d share: According to this 2000 study (and if anyone has any evidence of improvement since then, please let me know!), the THIRD leading cause of death in the United States is our Healthcare System. http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-primary-care-policy-center/Publications_PDFs/A154.pdf An excerpt:
    • 12 000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery
    • 7000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals
    • 20 000 deaths/year from other errors in hospital • 80 000 deaths/year from nosocomial infections in
    hospitals
    • 106 000 deaths/year from nonerror, adverse effects
    of medications
    These total to 225 000 deaths per year from iatrogenic
    causes.

    So basically–225,000 deaths PER YEAR caused by doctors! Have the so-called “vaccine-preventable diseases” EVER caused 225,000 deaths per year? Now, disclaimer: I’m also aware that modern medicine has saved many lives, and I’m very thankful for doctors’ expertise in dealing with stitches, broken bones, and dislocated joints in my own family, for example. But. Seriously. Who are they to tell us how to achieve health and well being? Instead of the aggressive vaccine campaigns the health *experts* are promoting, why aren’t they rather educating us (teaching compliance with healthy habits, for example) about what *really* is likely to kill us–in the real world–in the present–in this country: Hospitals!?!

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  19. Great read-exactly how I feel except I’ve never been able to put into words-love the education piece I loving leaning something new and sources!! Very helpful!!

    Thank you!!!

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  20. Another great post!

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  21. Respectfully, the problem with the argument presented is that it is a non sequitur – there is a disconnection between the premise (modern pharmaceutical-based medicine is “bad”) and the conclusion (homeopathic alternatives are “good” or “better” or indeed more “holistic” – after all it’s still popping a pill for an ailment, except this time there’s no evidence the pill works). The basic argument may be true (I don’t doubt that big pharma is frequently corrupt or misleading), but the conclusion that an alternative is better, simply does not logically follow. Homeopathy has been unequivocally proved to be no better than placebo for curing anything. A healthy, balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat and sugar is important for long-term health and well-being (not to mention exercise but homeopathists can’t sell pills for exercise), but this fact is not disputed by any medical professional, nor by underlying scientific evidence. Painting it as modern medicine=taking pills in isolation of other factors involved in long-term health vs. holistic medicine=thinking about diet and nutrients and self-healing, is overly simplistic and indeed misleading.

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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