Alternative Health Propaganda – Selling Reductionism
What makes us sick?
At first glance health is simple. If you give the body what it needs (clean air, water, good food, stress from environment) and avoid toxicity (physical toxins, microbes, emotional stress) then people should be healthy.
As simple as that sounds, each of those factors listed above can get very complicated. It's simple to tell people to avoid toxins - it's complicated to actually do that when you consider all the toxins we're exposed to (air pollution, poor quality water, EMF's, GMO food, fire retardants, dental fillings, etc...).
When I have a new client with a complicated case my job is to sort through everything and figure out what has gone wrong, and help the body deal with that stress. At the end it's usually going to be about either giving the body good nutrition or helping the body cope with toxins.
It's easy to get list in all the little details, but from broad perspective it is very simple.
So in a sense simplicity should be encouraged in the field of health.
However, there is another type of simplicity that I am not in favor of. This is the "Everyone Has This Problem" type of simplicity.
For example you may here that:
- All thyroid and female hormone related conditions are cause by iodine deficiency.
- Chronic fatigue is caused by candida.
- Your problem has to be low thyroid hormone, or low cortisol, or low testosterone.
- Everyone needs to take lots of fish oil, vitamin D, or probiotics.
- Some special supplement will cure some disease - for everyone who has it.
- Everyone needs to follow some special diet. It's not hard to find numerous special diets that contradict each other - nonetheless we are all told each is the perfect diet for everyone.
Simple, reductionistic mechanisms are often repeated in order to convince people.
So for example millions of dollars worth of echinacea is sold each year based upon research that it increases number of white blood cells - even though this is not the traditional use of echinacea and that herbs typically don't work through such simple mechanisms.
It seems all someone needs is a short biochemistry diagram to sell just about any supplement.
So we have:
- 5-htp or st. johns wort to boost serotonin
- Red clover to work according to its estrogenic activity
- Red rice yeast to lower cholesterol
- Saw palmetto to block DHT
- Curcumin to block inflammatory cytokines
I can go on. There is a lot of this kind of information out there about many supplements. And yes, all these supplements can work and they do have their place when used correctly. I'm not against using any of the above supplements.
However, this sort of thinking leads to two ideas:
We not only have the whole body figured out, but can effectively treat it by directly manipulating levels of body chemicals with supplements. Essentially, we from the outside, with our little biochemical charts know more about what the body should do, then our body's own self regulating intelligence.
We can supplement our way to health by taking fistful of pills for every problem.
The problem with this can be seen in a scenario like this:
A women has bad PMS and is depressed. Some online research leads to the following protocol:
- 5-htp and st. johns wort to raise serotonin
- Vitamin B6 for serotonin and PMS
- DIM to lower high estrogen
- Chaste tree to regulate LH and FSH
I know this may sound shocking to some, and others may want to condemn me for being some sort of natural health traitor, but...
This plan does nothing to treat the real cause of her problems!
First of all, there is no reason to believe depression is caused by a deficiency in serotonin. There are certainly no commonly run labs tests to verify this. Regardless, even if there was, and it was a proven fact this woman's serotonin was low, I would still say the protocol isn't treating the real cause of her depressed feeling.
- Is serotonin low because of emotional stress (maybe she lost her job, or has family problems, or was abused)?
- Is serotonin low because of poor nutrition?
- Is serotonin low because of some chronic infection?
- Is serotonin low because of some other problem?
Artificially raising serotonin with a drug or supplement would be at best,a band-aid. Yes, supplements are much safer than psychiatric drugs, but it's still trying to for some biochemistry on the body from the outside instead of fixing the problem.
And the same can be said about elevated estrogen.
Usually high estrogen is associated with toxicity - the female body will attempt to move toxins out through an auxiliary route, or store toxins away (in female reproductive system, breasts). There are some key nutrients that may be needed as well. It's not wrong to use vitamin B6 if needed (at times I use B6 with my clients), the point is that therapies should be directed at the helping the body heal.
Usually, supplement plans focused on this are smaller, more effective, cheaper and work to truly improve health, when compared to large kitchen sink plans that has a different supplement for every symptom.