There’s good advice, questionable advice and downright bad advice. If you’ve ever suffered from illness, both acute or chronic, then you’ve no doubt been told of all the wonderful remedies, old wives tales, magic potions and expensive supplements that can rid you of your problems. I was one of those people who wanted to believe that taking the right blend of exotic herbs would cure my Crohn’s disease, so I completely empathize with people who are in the same position. Believe me, I went through a phase where I was completely against taking conventional drugs and even stubbornly suffered for years without taking any pain medication – even in times where I really should have been hospitalized. When we’re desperate to get better, we do all kinds of things that would normally be considered crazy under any other circumstance. Often times, we do this against the advice of our doctors, and sometimes those decisions cost us dearly.
Note: This post isn’t intended to debunk any specific alternative treatment. But if you’re interested in looking at each one on their own merits, the Skeptics Dictionary has a great section on alternative medicine
For me, I experimented with a lot of different “cures”: gluten-free diet, low-FODMAP diet, elimination diets, raw food diet, eating only organic food, colloidal silver, probiotics, prebiotics, vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, tinctures, homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, guided imagery, foods in balance with my “energy”, dream analysis, chiropractic adjustments, fasting, meditation, coconut oil, aloe vera juice, apple cider vinegar, a multitude of different fibers, cleanses and more. I was even told about tree bark cures, drinking urine (yes, I spoke with someone who claimed that was his cure), prayer (to many different gods), coffee enemas, blood irradiation, crystals, magnets – I mean everything short of unicorn urine, and I was even expecting someone to come up with that! Unfortunately (and to no ones surprise), I didn’t get better, let alone “cured”!
“But what’s the harm in trying?”
There may not be anything harmful with taking a homeopathic remedy (it’s just plain water and has no medicinal properties [SOURCE]), but what if taking it means you are delaying real treatment? What if you hold out on your doctors recommendations to start a new medication so you can see if a grapefruit cleanse will cure you? I might still have my colon had I started on aggressive treatment for Crohn’s disease sooner, instead of mucking around with these miracle “cures”. I might have saved years of lost time and productivity. Saved thousands of dollars on wasted supplements and magic potions. I could have spared a lot of miserable days and sleepless nights. The way I see it, there’s a lot of harm in trying these “cures”.
“But I was really cured!”
Or maybe you got lucky and are in remission. It’s fairly common for people to go into remission without any specific treatment or change to their lifestyle. In many double-blind drug trials, where researchers are comparing a drug to placebo, there is usually a percentage of people in the placebo group who go into remission. That’s not magic, that’s just something that happens. The difference, however, is when a placebo group (control group) is compared to the therapy group, remission rates are usually statistically different; In all approved drugs you will see a marked difference in remission rates. Just to illustrate this using real data (edited for clarity) from a popular IBD drug, Humira (adalimumab):
The remission rates at week 4 (primary endpoint) in the adalimumab 40/20 mg, 80/40 mg, and 160/80 mg groups were 18%, 24%, and 36%, respectively, and 12% in the placebo group. [SOURCE]
12% remission in the placebo group? That’s enough to make any alternative therapy look reasonably successful, but it pales in comparison to the 36% remission rate achieved on the drug.
How about if you test these magic therapies? They tend to be about the same as placebo, which means they don’t do anything more than simply doing nothing. So while a lifestyle change may have benefited someone, there’s really no evidence to suggest that a crystal pendant around their neck is what cured their IBD.
Talk to your doctor or specialist about any alternative treatments you may be thinking of starting. You might get their support, especially when those treatments involve making positive lifestyle changes that have been thoroughly researched and shown to be beneficial. But don’t feel discouraged if they’re flat out against the idea. Hear them out, it might just save your ass! (quite literally)
If someone tells you about a miracle “cure”, ask them for supporting evidence, then talk to a medical professional about it. An anecdote holds very little weight in the scientific community, so use caution when you only have stories to go by.
An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.
— Marcello Truzzi
So before you order that Extra-strength Unicorn Urine for $39.99, make sure that you’ve at least spoken with your doctor, specialist, pharmacist or other medical professional.