Everybody has an opinion on complementary and alternative medicine (NHBPM 20)

I am all for complementary and alternative approaches to treating and healing disease (and dis-ease). I think of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or therapies as anything your doctor can’t write  you a prescription for or your insurance company won’t cover (but probably should). Even mainstream lifestyle factors, like diet and exercise, fall under the woo-woo umbrella, as do interventions like acupuncture, meditation, and journaling.

We have little to lose by trying more diverse treatments. Chakra cleansing? Maybe not…but maybe. It’s worth looking into. I certainly don’t expect all of the possibilities to work like magic for everyone, any more than I expect Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve to be totally interchangeable.

At the very least, we could finally start to learn which new therapies might actually work, and which might not.

I was born skeptical. I don’t take anything at face value, and I’m suspicious of everyone’s motives, and yes, that includes my own. I’m agnostic about life, not just religion; nobody has all the answers. How could they? We don’t even know all the questions. Caveat emptor, etc etc.

I’m suspicious of the paternalism and empirical prejudice of the western model of medicine, which assumes traditional, natural remedies are dangerous or useless until proven otherwise. But if nobody is willing or able to do the research to create a body of evidence, we can’t expect to learn more about safety and efficacy, or danger and uselessness.

But just because there’s a body of evidence and FDA approval for treatments doesn’t mean they’re safe, especially when they can be prescribed off-label or combined in ways they shouldn’t be combined. Last year, the CDC found a fourfold increase in deaths from prescription narcotics over the past decade — the equivalent of a death every 19 minutes. Even OTC meds like aspirin and other NSAIDs sicken and kill thousands of people a year.

Here are some of the leading MS treatments and some of their potential  or certain side effects. I’m not even going to mention the pain, fatigue, diarrhea/constipation, rashes, or severe allergic reactions that could coincide with the use of these, and just about any other, medication.

  • Tysabri (natalizumab) — weakened immune system, infections, liver failure, and “a rare brain infection (PML) that usually causes death or severe disability.”
  • Avonex (interferon beta 1-a) — “flu-like symptoms” [my translation: 2 days of fever, chills, crippling fatigue, bone pain, and abject misery], heart failure, liver failure, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, “decreased peripheral blood counts in all cell lines, including rare pancytopenia and thrombocytopenia,” seizures.
  • intravenous corticosteroids (used to treat acute relapses, but some people do them every month) — weight gain and swelling in the face, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, osteoporosis, cataracts, bleeding in the stomach and intestines, lowered resistance to infection, death of bone tissue caused by a restricted blood supply to the bones (usually the shoulders and/or hips), psychosis.

With friends like these…

I’m wary of the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry that hasn’t developed a cure for any illness since…what, polio in the 1950s? And even that was a vaccine, not a true cure. Have we cured anything since antibiotics were developed?

They’re all too willing to sell me “treatments” to “manage” my disease,  as long as an insurance company or the government cosigns for the cost. My last MS medicine — a daily pill to manage the disease by maybe preventing relapses and maybe slowing down the accumulation of disability — had a retail price tag of $48,000 a year. That’s $131.50 a day for something that could neither cure my disease nor save my life.

The manufacturer of that little pill, Novartis, graciously/suspiciously covered my monthly $50 copay, making my out-of -pocket costs $0. But that left my insurance company spending some confidentially-negotiated amount between $0 and $48,000 — and probably closer to the astronomical end of that spectrum.

The word “unsustainable” comes to mind. Why not diversify before we’re forced to?

But before I sound completely like a raving woo-woo devotee, know that my distrust isn’t reserved exclusively for nameless, faceless corporations with shareholders and bottom lines. I don’t entirely trust people who can trace the root of all their problems to artificial sweeteners  dental fillings, or heavy metal intoxication. I’m equally skeptical of people who swear all their problems have been solved by this week’s snake oil, chinese herbs, beesting therapy, a raw diet, or giving away belongings.

But you know what? I’m glad they were willing to try something different. They get the spirit of what I’ve talking about, if not the letter.

Do you think CAM can work alongside allopathic medicine?

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