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Yesterday I read an article written by someone who used to be a believer in naturopathic medicine.  She describes how much money she wasted on things that don’t work, how much extra she had to pay for minor problems that would have been easily resolved with traditional medicine had she only sought help sooner, instead of trying to fix it with ineffective alternative treatment methods, and also how much potential danger she put herself in unnecessarily.

There is a website, called What’s The Harm?, which tracks cases of medical misfortune that have been reported due to a patient or their family falsely believing that natural home remedies (among other faith-based fallacies) were gentler than, and just as effective as conventional medicine. Some stories are truly tragic, like Ling “Carrie” Wang, a PhD student who took a traditional Chinese herbal remedy called Jin Bu Huan for her upset stomach and skin rash. She fell into a coma and died. An inquest determined her cause of death to be liver failure, caused by the remedy. Or Jacqueline Alderslade, a 55 year old woman with asthma, who was advised by a homeopath to give up her asthma medication in favor of homeopathic products. Shortly after, she died of an asthma attack.  Or 17 month old Lorie Atikian whose parents were concerned about modern day food additives, and were advised to give her an organic vegetarian diet.  She was also treated with homeopathic and herbal remedies, and an energy machine. When she died of malnutrition and pneumonia, her parents were convicted of neglect.

And although the ticker at the top of the page that counts the number of deaths and damages from people’s failure to think critically runs unacceptably high, most people see these stories as extreme cases, not reflective of all believers. That’s why I was so intrigued and touched by Cherry Teresa’s confessions. Not only is she really brave for her honesty, I think it’s praiseworthy of her to admit she wasn’t always a critical thinker, like she advocates for now. Her story, to me, is more reflective of the typical health nut. Someone who wanted to be healthy, but was overwhelmed at the amount of information and advice she and others were being bombarded with on a daily basis.

Buzzwords like “organic,” “natural,” “detox,” and “chemical-free” sound nice, but are completely misinformative. People passionately want to live in this quaint little utopia, where if we just put in some extra effort, we can stave off disease, and live in harmony with the universe. I grew up in a town where living as one with nature was pretty much the only way to go. It wasn’t even just the locally-grown organic gluten-free vegan diet snobs, or the supplement fundamentalists. We had Shamans, and Yogis, and Qi Gong Masters, and Reiki Healers too. Even our veterinary practices were holistic. I also went on to get my Bachelor’s degree in a “green” field. So although, I never got into it as deeply as some of those who surrounded me (because, frankly, if I did I’d be another tick in the “dead” column on WhatstheHarm.net- that and I dislike health food), I do empathize with those who really feel like they’ve found their place in the world of “Alternative” Medicine.

Like many young people, I used to espouse my position confidently on all matters of natural living. I’d become angry and threatened by people who tried to point out the flaws in my argument; especially, if I couldn’t answer a seemingly logical question on the topic.  Looking back, I really only became a critical thinker less than a decade ago, after I had graduated college. It can be very disillusioning when you realize how much bullshit you’ve fallen for, or shrugged off as being no big deal.

So that’s why I’m especially impressed with and inspired by the article by Cherry Teresa. It’s so indicative of the cognitive disconnect that goes along with natural health, and the less severe, but very real harm that can come from treating with alternative medicines. Just about anyone could be fooled by dubious claims. Critical thinking is a skill that is learned and honed; it’s not inherent.

Her transformation into a science advocate is something I can really relate to. No longer am I a middle-of-the-road shruggie who believes a complementary mix between “Eastern” and “Western” styles of medicine is ideal. All I care about is the evidence. There’s no such thing as alternative medicine, because if it worked, it would no longer be alternative.

You can read (and I highly recommend you do) the original article here: How Alternative Medicine Harmed Me