Sunday, August 2, 2015

Wild West Adventures

This weekend is Summer Festival and Territorial Law and Order Days at El Rancho de las Golondrinas.   One of the problems with volunteering, especially in the dye shed,  is that I'm often unable to see the events. Yesterday we did have an "arrest" down in front of the school house, and later, when I walked up to the top of the ranch to pick up some things in the volunteer casita, I did get to see a few more of the characters portraying the events of the Lincoln County War, but didn't get to see any of the actual skits.

Here are some of the photos from what little I saw:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Holistic Medicine and Newspeak

I live in Santa Fe, which is, I believe at times, the center of woo.  We have a huge population here for whom anecdotal stories about pseudoscience are much more compelling than peer reviewed research, which they see as suspect.  What's missing in all this is basic critical thinking skills,  which is the foundation of science, as opposed to reasoning from personal experience (which can be misinterpreted) and from what amounts to medical gossip and self interested promotion.

While many people lambast "big pharma", they fail to see that they've been sold a bill of goods (and, in many cases worthless goods at that) from the holistic health industry.

Now that's not to say that what you ingest and how you live your life isn't going to influence your health... it is, but most holistic treatments don't work, not because the herbs (or whatever) don't have benefits, but that the medicinal benefits of those herbs are below therapeutic levels. (we'll get back to that in a minute)

What bothers me is the "fad" nature of a lot of these natural "remedies".   I remember, when I was looking to lose weight, the different "best" methods of supplementing my diet for a healthier weight.  Each individual "best" in it's turn, saw a huge jump in price... and was touted by women's magazines as THE way to lose weight.  First it was HGC, then it was CLA, then Saffron, and Raspberry Ketones.  Somewhere along the line we seem to forget all these previous supplements existed, and go to THE ONE that is front and center in the media on that day.  And in the over the counter doses, none of them did a whole heck of a lot in the general population, although there were some groups of people (most of whom were doing other things as well) who saw a benefit and credited whatever they were taking at the time.

Science is often used to support the use of these supplements, mostly because when we see a compound in a natural substance that works, the holistic medicine industry starts pushing the natural form of that substance, without noting that in that form, the compound which gives the benefit isn't available in the large quantity used in the study.  Generally, to get those levels of benefit, you end up refining and using a larger density of the isolated compound.

So to get the therapeutic value of willow bark in a manageable volume, you have to refine it and isolate the acetylsalicylic acid.  Then you stop calling it willow bark powder and start calling it "aspirin", and it goes from being a holistic (read: healthy) medicine to a product of big pharma, unnatural and damaging.

The newspeak comes in now because when you look back at the history of anti-inflammatory and pain reducing medicines, you'll see articles from holistic medical sites touting that willow bark is "almost just like aspirin"  or "aspirin-like"... as if it's an alternative, or a recent discovery, not what made aspirin, aspirin in the first place.

And the kicker in all this is that the REASON people don't want to take aspirin is the side effects (hard on the stomach, thins blood) and yet in therapeutic dosages, willow bark (because it's the same thing) will have the SAME SIDE EFFECTS.

So time and time again, while we see small benefits to certain herbs and "natural" changes in our diets, we need to realize that long term minimal gains are not adequate for treatment of serious conditions.

The anti-science movement in medicine has made holistic medicine a lucrative business, it's a for-profit business, which is one of the arguments against "big pharma".  And it seems like a whole lot of it just involves bad science and misdirection.

Now we all know that a diet high in certain healthy fats is good for you... the Mediterranean diet is an example of this, where there's a lot of olive oil (which we got rid of back 50+ years ago to get rid of fats)  and fish.  As a matter of fact, fish is something that's often touted as being something really healthy, and should be eaten more often, with less ingestion of beef, pork and chicken.

And a subset of the same people who know how healthy fish are stating how unhealthy vaccines are, because they contain trace amounts of mercury.  

Let that sink in a little, because the BIGGEST risk of mercury isn't in vaccines, it's in fish.

The idea of holistic medicine being "natural" and "superior" isn't because it's either, but it's part of a wider anti-science movement, a distrust of rational thinking and critical evaluation.  It's a huge part of anti-intellectualism, and in many cases isn't any more rational or supported than the belief that rhino horn can give you bigger, harder erections or that powdered tiger penis can increase your fertility and libido.  Both, by the way, supported by tradition and anecdotal evidence.

Now there is absolutely no doubt that many of today's medications have horrific side effects, and some just don't work as well as they were expected to, or only work in some populations.  It's also true that at times, especially with some meds, you end up taking medicines for the illness, then medicines for the side effects of the medicine for the illness, and then even medicines for the side effects of that.  And it would be WONDERFUL if medications came without side effects, but at this point, a lot of them don't.

But there's also no doubt if you took the "natural alternatives" in the same dosage, you'd have the same side effects (or other side effects) if the "remedy" worked at all.

The problem is while science examines and isolates the therapeutic compound, regulates the dose, and informs the public of the potential side effects, the holistic health industry isn't regulated, you don't know what concentration of therapeutic compound you're getting, and they very seldom let you know of any side effects of the product even if they approach therapeutic dosages.  And the number of things that really just don't work is staggering, as we have one fad after another.

And the love of these "fads" dies hard.  I recently had a vet suggest that I might want to give my dog glucosamine.  He was upfront about stating that while we used to think it was beneficial to humans for joint issues, the science just didn't support it... but also said that there hadn't been further research on dogs.  In the long run, it pretty much turns out that he wanted to give me the option of feeling that I was doing something for my dog, even though it didn't work, and was a total waste of my money.   But there are people out there who took glucosamine themselves, and may be continuing to give it to their pets, with the idea in mind that maybe it'll help.

And that's what a lot of this boils down to: the psychology of belief.  The idea that we will imagine these small changes if we believe hard enough... a placebo effect... and if we don't see the changes we want, we'll put it down to misdiagnosis (because it's easier to believe that science and doctors are wrong than nature and tradition) or "something weird or wrong" with the individual.

One of the most extensive sources for information on a lot of this is Quackwatch, although some sections are rather outdated (in part because updates aren't needed), it does cover a pretty wide range of questionable health topics, explains the scientific process, and evaluates the claims of a number of products, treatments and theories. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

When it's not as funny as it should be.

Friends are all laughing over a post titled "How to Get Rid of Clutter and Live Abundantly", which contains some great lines like:
  • Possessions are 100% fatal. Turtles don’t keep anything they can’t use, and they helped Charles Darwin discover the Gal├ípagos Islands. Throw away all of your grandmother’s jewelry. Now she can sleep in peace.
  • There is no need for a bed in the truly de-cluttered life. You should hover gently several inches above the floor in perfect harmony with your surroundings during your yearly nap, like a seahorse.
  • The only furniture you need is a single smooth stone that reminds you of your mother.
And honestly, I can see where some of that can be funny, especially if those thing have some great attachment to you... I mean, especially if you have a bed or your grandmother's jewelry.

Tonight, however, I am finding that I am not hovering gently several inches above the floor in perfect harmony with anything... nor do I currently have a bed in my decluttered life.  And when I DO have a bed, I won't have a couch.

I learned a long time ago not to value things.  I learned that if you couldn't carry it out with you during a hurricane evacuation, or pack it into three suitcases because your van broke down just before the move, that you darn well better be prepared to leave it behind.

And today I watched two strangers carry my bed out the front door and load it on their truck, leaving me with enough cash to buy groceries, fill my tank, and buy a smaller bed frame (but not the mattress) which I'll be able to carry out to the uHaul myself, and carry from the uHaul to whatever my next destination will be.

And when I leave, I expect to leave with that twin bed, one chair, one end table, possibly my kitchen/work table, and possibly a small shelf, as well as about half my kitchen wares, most of my clothing (which will easily fit in one suitcase), one box of Christmas decorations, a smattering of art supplies, my dog, and my cat.

I know the difference between what I WANT and what I NEED and what will be a good gamble or trade off.  I WANT my remaining Christmas decorations (I've already cut them to 1/3 the original amount) I NEED to be in safe, secure housing in a city where I can get medical care.   A good GAMBLE or TRADE OFF comes in my art supplies, which I hope will continue to earn me a little extra money, so that I'll be able to replace some of the things I've had to sacrifice for the move.

and while I see the humor in having no more than 7 lentils and a single smooth stone that reminds me of my mother, I can't see needing any of those things more than needing basic foodstuffs and medical care.

Now I know where this article is coming from, because I used to collect ruby jewelry, and my next door neighbor collected Wedgwood China. And if you asked us in those days what it was like to live in abundance, the words "zen" or "metaphysical" would never figure into the conversation.  So while this article pokes fun at the minimalist movement, which has evolved over time to include some metaphysical elements,  it's really only funny if you have the luxury of deciding whether or not to live a minimalist lifestyle.

So if you HAVE food in your refrigerator, a line like "In the future, when you are hungry, eat your memories. The only thing that belongs in your refrigerator is mindfulness." is hilarious.  When your fridge is frequently empty, it's less so.