Natural medicine and science

In the world of medicine, there seems to be a major push lately toward evidence-based medicine.   While scientific evidence is useful, medicine based on tradition and experience can be equally valuable, and equally scientific.  

One of the fallacies promoted by the conventional medical establishment is that there is no scientific basis for the use of natural therapies. On the contrary, I argue that good medicine is based on physiology, anatomy and biochemistry, all of which are scientific. 

 Dr. Michael Murray ND, states, “there has been a literal explosion of information in the scientific literature supporting the use of natural medicine.” 

Not all make it to Pub Med, but they are out there.   

Much of conventional medicine is founded in natural medicine. Many drugs are purified or synthetic versions of what was found to be effective in herbal medicine. Because both allopathic and naturopathic medicine have something to offer, synthesis is appropriate. 

The trend to embrace natural medicine is becoming less of a fad and more of a logical choice in addressing overall health. More and more, naturopathic physicians are becoming as mainstay as medical doctors, and dentists.

The move toward evidence-based medicine has its benefits and its flaws.  

While the scientific method provides a framework to further understand what we observe, it sometimes represents an artificial event that does not apply to real life.

Scientific method has three parts: 1) a hypothesis (a belief to be tested), 2) a control (an untreated group), and 3) a treatment group. Comparing the two groups leads to a conclusion.  Most scientific literature falls into this category.    

Lately, there has been a push for double-blind-placebo-control trials, similar to the above, with two additional conditions.  

Double-blind means that the patient and the practitioner are unaware of who receives the treatment. The placebo is considered an inert treatment that produces no effect on the patient.  Some scientific medicine resides here, but conclusions may be drawn from many pieces of information.  

Beware biases. Many science papers inadvertently carry biases that skew the conclusions or even the design of the study. Some of the problems with these experimental designs include the difficulty in controlling variables, finding a true placebo, and replicating results properly.  

In the field of nutritional science, it is especially difficult to test only one variable.  People have multiple nutritional needs. This makes for a complex interpretation of results.  

When it comes to placebos, many do not qualify.  Testing against a placebo means comparing a test group to a group where it is as if you did nothing. 

Saline or water usually makes a good placebo.  However, I have read papers where the placebo was red jello, or squalene adjuvant (found in vaccines). These do not count!   

Many good therapies are unfortunately dismissed due to inaccuracies in the retest. For example, assessment of 3-10g oral dosing of vitamin C was foolishly expected to replicate results from 50-100g of intravenous vitamin C. Dose and route of administration does make a difference! 

An oranges to oranges comparison is important.  

Humans are curious.  Science helps with some answers.  

It is my belief that any experiment is useful, to a point. The interpretation of scientific results, however, requires an objective and unbiased view. 

Natural medicine has a wealth of therapeutic application awaiting further scientific investigation for those looking for reassurance in what works.       




Dr. Tara Macart owns Opti-Balance Naturopathic Medicine in Qualicum Beach with her husband Jonathan.


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