Smell yourself better

To whom, in the unfortunate event of you developing a serious illness, would you turn first? My guess is you’d go to your doctor on the logical grounds that she or he deals on the basis of clinically proven remedies and treatments. If your illness was more serious and you needed hospital treatment, the odds are you’d follow medical advice. What you would not do at this stage, I suspect, is seek so-called holistic and so called alternative therapies.

Billy Connolly illustrated the issue far better than I ever could in his sketch about aromatherapy, when he described the fictional efforts of an aromatherapist to ‘treat’ victims of a road traffic accident, by rubbing tea tree oil on the stump of a victim’s leg. This sort of thing is usually left to skilled paramedics and then medical professionals. Yet why do so many of us seek out what are to all intents and purposes quack therapies?

I offer you the considered view of the American Medical Association: “There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.” It’s very obvious when you think about it but people still seem to want more. Or rather less.

There is no evidence that ‘treatments’ like Reiki, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy and all manner of quackery have any medical properties at all. It’s not a form of medicine: it’s a method of making money.

It would be nice if you could ‘smell yourself better’, as Connolly described Aromatherapy in the aforementioned sketch, but you can’t. People say that these alternative treatments have made them feel better, but who’s to say they wouldn’t have got better anyway?

Even more conventional ‘treatments’ like Chiropractic have little basis for cure. I had it once when my back completely seized up and it seemed to cure it. An actual back specialist later told me that it was most unlikely that it had worked and far more likely that my back had got better on its own accord.

I’ve always believed it better to believe only in what’s true. People claim all kinds of powers and indeed many practitioners believe they possess unique powers, and I am sure some believe they really have them too, to which I respond with this: if you really do possess these powers, have them tested in scientific conditions and seek to share them with the medical profession. You might save lives! Of course, no one ever does because they know precisely what would happen! The great James Randi has, for decades, offered a million dollars to anyone who could prove, again under scientific conditions, that they had psychic powers. Easy money, isn’t it? Yet not a single person has taken him on the challenge. Any idea why that might be?

My advice, for what it is worth, is that the American Medical Association is right: if there is no scientific evidence for a so called treatment or medicine, it doesn’t work. It might be increasingly hard to get a GP appointment but it beats the alternative. Or rather, lack of alternative.