MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) regularly claim with great pride that they treat the ROOT CAUSES of disease. The claim has at least 4 effects:

  1. It distracts from the true causes of disease which are often multifactorial.
  2. It attracts customers to SCAM.
  3. It implies that conventional medicine is at best symptomatic and thus far inferior to SCAM.
  4. It encourages the patients of SCAM practitioners to turn their backs on mainstream healthcare.

The notion that SCAM practitioners treat the root causes is based on the practitioners’ understanding of etiology:

  • If a traditional acupuncturist, for instance, becomes convinced that all disease is the expression of an imbalance of life-forces, and that needling acupuncture points will re-balance these forces thus restoring health, he must automatically assume that he is treating the root causes of any condition.
  • If a chiropractor believes that all diseases are due to ‘subluxations’ of the spine, it must seem logical to him that spinal ‘adjustment’ is synonymous with treating the root cause of whatever complaint his patient is suffering from.
  • If a Bowen therapist is convinced that “the Bowen Technique aims to balance the whole person, not just the symptoms“, he is bound to be equally sure that the root cause of “practically any problem can potentially be addressed” by this intervention.
  • If a homeopath is convinced that all illness stems from a weakness of the ‘vital force’ and that only homeopathic remedies can revitalize it, they are likely to believe that their remedies tackle the root cause of all diseases.
  • Etc., etc.

So, are SCAM practitioners correct when they claim to treat the root causes of disease?

When a root cause has been eliminated, the disease has been eliminated by its root. Treating a root cause, therefore, means that the disease is permanently cured. The above question can therefore be re-phrased as follows:

Is there any SCAM that cures any disease permanently?

I think the answer is NO. (At least, I know none. I would, however, be most grateful if someone could name one together with the evidence)

Even demonstrably effective forms of SCAM are effective only in terms of alleviating the symptoms. The one with the best evidence is probably St John’s wort. It works fine for mild to moderate depression. Yet, it does not cure depression: if we discontinue the treatment, the depression is likely to return.

And what about conventional medicine? Does it offer any permanent cures?

I have been searching and have to admit that I cannot find many either. Here is my list so far of diseases that are potentially curable (meaning they are unlikely to come back once the treatment has stopped and excluding disease prevention) with conventional medicine – and again, I would be really grateful if readers could add to my preliminary list:

  • Acute emergencies, like anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest, etc.
  • Bacterial infections (well most of them)
  • Cancer (some), like Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Malnutrition like beriberi of iron-deficiency anemia
  • Phobias (some)
  • Fungal infections (some)
  • Poisonings (some)
  • Many surgical indications such as appendicitis, gall stones, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.

Not a long list, I admit (but better than nothing!) – so, please help me to prolong it by adding diseases that I did not mention.

THANKS

 

17 Responses to Treating the ROOT CAUSES of disease? The wishful thinking of SCAM practitioners and their advocates

  • Treating the “root” of a disease is a very catchy phrase, but completely misleading. There is a HUGE difference between the root cause of a disease and the driver of a disease. In many diseases, especially chronic diseases, the root cause triggers the driver which turns into a paracrine loop. That means, treating the “root” will achieve exactly nothing. Example: Lung cancer. Root cause in many cases: Damaging the lung epithelium by smoking. Drivers: The hallmarks of cancer. Once lung cancer is initiated, removing the root achieves exactly nothing.

    Additionally, there is no “alternative medicine”. The field of medicine is by definition the sum of treatments that work. That leaves the treatments that do not work to alternative medicine.

  • Most advocates of SCAM seem to have no idea at all of what real healthcare involves, or how doctors spend their time. Nor indeed do they appreciate how much of what we do is preventative. They also have little understanding of the complexities of the human body or biology in general. Their explanations are theories, however elaborate, are at their core very simplistic as well as not founded in reality.

    If it is any use to you, there are a number of mnemonics (known collectively as surgical sieves) to use as an aide memoire when making a diagnosis:

    VITAMIN CDEF

    V: vascular
    I: infective
    T: traumatic
    A: autoimmune
    M: metabolic
    I: iatrogenic
    N: neoplastic
    C: congenital
    D: degenerative
    E: endocrine
    F: functional

    This particular one leaves out genetic, inflammatory and idiopathic, though most genetic conditions act through one of the others. It is also useful to consider whether something is congenital or acquired (congenital means present at birth, not genetic – a beard is acquired).

    • yours in more inclusive but in general the DAMNIT anacronym works well too….

      Degenerative
      Autoimmune
      Metabolic
      Neoplastic
      Infectious/Idiopathic
      Traumatic

    • Most advocates of SCAM seem to have no idea at all of what real healthcare involves, or how doctors spend their time. Nor indeed do they appreciate how much of what we do is preventative. They also have little understanding of the complexities of the human body or biology in general. Their explanations are theories [sic], however elaborate, are at their core very simplistic as well as not founded in reality.

      Of course. SCAM is a culture where knowledge is a thing to be priced and hoarded, not tested and discarded, and admitting to one’s own ignorance or error is a massive weakness. They drag the vast complexity of our universe down to their own childishly simplistic level of understanding, then congratulate themselves on how they know way more than us “sheeple”. Draw a graph with “paranoid↔curious” on one axis and “narcissistic↔empathic” on the other, and I’ll happily wager on which quadrant most SCAM Believers land.

      And they make absolutely fabulous marks, of course. As the many shameless psychopaths running Big Scamma attest.

    • “Nor indeed do they appreciate how much of what we do is preventative.”

      Ah prevention. Means almost anything and yet it means almost nothing.

  • Even in the veterinary world, scammers sell eye drops to cure cataracts. As far as I know , after consulting with ophthalmologic surgeons both human and veterinary, there is no medication that can reverse a cataract. That does not stop the promotion and sale by charlatans of products claiming to do so. At this time mature cataracts can only be “cured” (vision restored, via phacoemulsification) by surgical intervention.

  • I believe there has been some progress and possibly a few people cured of haemophilia by CRISPR – can’t get more root cause than gene editing!

  • CONmed (the Conventional Con of medicine) is based on mechanistic principles, so all disease must be assumed be caused on those levels. No other cause can be accepted. So no other form of treatment, not based on the mechanistic paradigm, can be accepted as valid. So the evidence for the success of these therapies cant be accepted. Very simple. Write the meta-analysis to exclude any positive evidence.

    As Edzard points out CONmed has a dreadful 200+/- year history of failure treating chronic disease. Its very instructive to read through the Merck Manual. For almost every disease it willl say in effect: “not sure of the cause, but take steroids, antibiotics or anti-inflammatories to manage it.” Perhaps its time to actually consider some other approaches, some other paradigms. But the So-called Skeptics are not willing to allow any evidence that runs counter to their cherished mechanistic paradigm. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Of course CON-med thrives on endlessly treating “incurable” chronic disease (with a monopoly in the USA and other countries). Criminally insane.

    • “CONmed (the Conventional Con of medicine) is based on mechanistic principles, so all disease must be assumed be caused on those levels.”
      Have you heard of pharmacology or psychiatry?

      • Thats true. CONmed also has this conception that disease is localized in the body. The mental diseases are mostly unrelated to physical diseases and vice versa. A skin disease is unrelated to the diabetes, is unrelated to the depression, etc. Here is a different doctor and a different drug for each separate disease. The exception is when they have a physical disease that they cant manage, then they might call in the fiction of “psychosomatic” disease to get them of the hook. Tell the patient, in effect, you are crazy and deal with it.

        The crazy idea that all these separate localized diseases are unrelated is another reason CONmed has not progressed. Only in the last couple decades are some brave CONmed doctors breaking out of this straitjacket and considering that it all might be connected and localized treatments are never going to cure the whole person; they will never address the root cause of disease except in limited, usually acute diseases, where CONmed does have some answers.

        All diseases act on the entire body; they all have mental, physical and emotional components. A root cause cure must address all the components at once.

        • you do talk a lot of tosh on a good day!

        • Roger,

          CONmed also has this conception that disease is localized in the body. The mental diseases are mostly unrelated to physical diseases and vice versa. A skin disease is unrelated to the diabetes, is unrelated to the depression, etc. Here is a different doctor and a different drug for each separate disease.

          You are making this stuff up. You clearly have no idea at all about how conventional healthcare operates.

          Even your examples are poorly chosen. Most diseases are not localised. Many physical illnesses have psychiatric manifestations. Diabetes is involved in a great many skin diseases.

          And most people are registered with a family doctor or GP whose job it is to have an overview of their health.

  • I would certainly add Hepatitis C to the list of curable diseases.

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