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:
- It distracts from the true causes of disease which are often multifactorial.
- It attracts customers to SCAM.
- It implies that conventional medicine is at best symptomatic and thus far inferior to SCAM.
- 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.