“Free spirits” (Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo)

FAIR

Each year, the Quad Cities Psychic and Paranormal Expo rolls into town. Another tradition is me having 86 cents in my expendable income account. That has kept me from paying for any paranormal products or psychic services, but I have some magic of my own and always come away from these events having gotten something for nothing.  

My first stop this year was at an essential oils table, where I was assured the merchandise was “100 percent certified pure therapeutic grade, with nothing synthetic.” When it comes to the only oil I ever buy, motor, synthetic is a good thing, so I’m curious what this is all about.

I asked the two women what they could tell me about the oils and they inquired if I had any aches or pains. Indeed, my head was hurting so they referred to their chart that recommended peppermint. Later, I checked other essential oil businesses and websites for their headache cures and among those listed were lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, spearmint, roman chamomile, magnesium, turmeric, frankincense, wintergreen, birch, jasmine, sage, marjoram, bergamot, ginger, and basil. By the time I tracked all those down it would be way past the four hours my headaches normally last and it would be gone anyway.   

As to these ladies’ recommendation, per their instruction, I put a couple of drops on my fingertip and lathered up my forehead and the back of my neck. This caused a pronounced burning sensation, meaning the pains on the inside of my head were now matched by ones on the outside, so I at least had symmetry going for me.

Brushing off the unpleasantness, I asked if the oil had healing properties. Assured this was the case, I asked if they knew the science behind it.

“There’s lot and lots of science. Our company is all about science.”  What they lacked in specifics, they made up for in enthusiasm and assurance, so I continued.

“If there’s an active ingredient in it, is there a chance you could use too much of it?”

“Other companies, yes, but not ours. This is 100 percent pure.”

“But if it has healing properties, I would think there would be a danger of overdose. If you take a bottle of Excedrin, you’d be dead.”

“But that’s not all-natural.”

“Natural could still do you in. Hemlock is natural, too. So with the peppermint oil, is there a way to determine the proper dose?”

There is a look I get from psychic and paranormal fair merchants when I start lobbing anything beyond remedial inquiries at them. They are used to being asked, “What can craniosacral therapy do for me,” not, “Can you explain the mechanism behind craniosacral therapy?” Questions about the science are answered with “lots and lots” as opposed to providing examples of peer-reviewed articles and double blind studies.

I got that look, which they then turned on each other. They traded stammers before one of them offered that I should start with a drop or two and work up to what works for me. Of course, if no amount worked, I would keep going until I overdosed, which is what I was trying to avoid.

I was about to make this point when one of them changed the subject by offering me oil-infused chocolate chip cookies. I can’t ask probing questions if I’m chewing on confectionaries. To wash it down, they handed me water with lemon oil added.

“What does this do for you?”

“It helps with dehydration.”

Water helps with dehydration. Really glad I’m not paying for this information.

Glancing at the comparison chart that recommends oils in lieu of over the counter medication, I asked, “So for body aches, instead of Tylenol, I should take chamomile?”

“That’s right.”

“Why not just take Tylenol?”

“Because ours is pure.”

Oh, that’s right, you told me that. I need to look and see what oil helps with memory.

I then made my way to another table, where I asked a middle-age woman bespectacled woman with shoulder-length blond hair what she was offering.

“Readings, Reiki, and energy clearing.”

“What’s a Reiki healing?”

In a dreamy voice she intones, “Oh it’s wonderful. I love it. It holistically heals you from the inside. A week ago I got arthritis real bad and had Reiki done and I haven’t had it since.” There have been about 10 million such anecdotes in Reiki’s favor, none of them accompanied with an explanation for the mechanism behind it.  An eternal optimist, I hoped to be the first to track this down.

 “How does it work?”

“It’s spiritual. It’s the universe. It’s the angels. It’s the spirit guides and all the energy they use to heal you.”

“What type of energy does it use?”

“Well, we’re all made of energy. The Earth is made of energy, you, me, all living creatures, that type of energy.”

So someone would take my energy then give it back to me. Again, glad I’m not paying for these services.

Turning the subject to another of her offerings, I asked, “What’s energy clearing?”

“That clears away the energy we pick up from other people as you’re walking around or you’re living with them.”

“But that kind of contradicts the Reiki healing. Wouldn’t the energy clearing cancel out the Reiki energy you received?”

“No, it’s not connected. The energy that’s been cleared is low level. Depression, for instance, does not have a high vibration. The session helps to clear the clutter that builds up from negative thoughts and actions,” she told me. “Have you ever been talking to someone that just makes you sad for what the world has come to?”

Boy, she nailed that one. Why isn’t she manning the mindreading booth?

Moving on, I found a merchant who focused on a haunted house south of Buffalo, N.Y. He owns the house, he told me.

“Do you live in it?”

“No.”

“Does anyone live in it? Besides the ghosts, I mean?”

“No, I’m fixing it up.” He’s probably using sub-contractors for the various tasks, like remodeling, wiring, and ghostbusting.

He further explained, “I’ve researched the spirts in this house and its history. There was a failed exorcism there, another guy died there. Some people left after two months. Another family got out quickly and left all their stuff behind. People have tried to live there but it’s hard.”

I tried living in upstate New York for a while, I know what you mean.

“How do you research it?”

“There’s lots of scientific ways of researching it. Then there’s the personal, the feelings you get when you’re there.” So he bases it on science and feeling, and I have a feeling he’s exaggerating the science part.

This fellow was giving a free (there’s that key word again) presentation about this, so I followed him into the speaking room. Wonder if all this makes me a paranormal investigator investigator.

Once there, he enthralled audience members (well, with one exception), telling tales about these spooky surroundings. He assured us, “There’s definitely a dark entity there.” I imagine that’s called nightfall.

His talk contained the phrases, “something’s holding the spirit there,” “there’s a portal in that room that can’t be closed,” and “spirits are crossing a threshold.” There was talk about “an Indian chief” and “a woman in white at the pond,” both of whom he reported capturing on film. He also related a story about how a K2 meter stayed lit when he attempted to contact a former resident. “There was no explanation for it,” he said.

That’s because he didn’t ask me. The K2’s purpose is not to enable the dead to communicate via beeps and flashing lights as you walk up creaking stairs. Its function is to detect electromagnetic radiation and indicate the radiation’s strength and direction. There is there is no evidence deceased homeowners have the ability to leave this radiation behind.

When I asked if the K2 meters he were designed to chase ghosts, he said no but added, “When your body dies, energy can’t be created or destroyed. There’s still that energy somewhere. If you ask a question and it flickers, perhaps it’s paranormal.” And perhaps it’s from the cell phones, video cameras, and computers you brought in.

Other audience members asked questions like, “Are you worried about driving off the friendly ghosts and leaving only behind the evil entities,” and “If the house burned down, would the spirits go back out the portal?” Meanwhile, I got in a second question, about why ghosts in his photos would still be wearing clothes. He answered that they did that somehow, some way, so that people in the present could recognize them. By this point, I realized the peppermint oil wasn’t helping any and my headache had gotten worse.

 

 

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“Organ recital” (Electrodermal screening)

skin

Reinhold Voll was a physician and acupuncturist, an unusual mix of genuine and counterfeit medicines.  In the 1950s, the doctor embraced his Mr. Hyde persona and created a device that purportedly utilized skin resistance as a means to determine the health of internal organs.

His machine and those like it have undergone various alterations, keeping up with technology so that the testing is now mostly done by computer. But despite this seeming evolution, the mechanism remains as implausible as it did when Voll introduced his device 60 years ago. Nor is there any more reason to believe in the existence of meridians, which play a central role in Voll’s invention.  

Clients hooked up to these galvanometric machines are given a quick and thorough reading about their supposed state of health. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch gave it a go and documented his experiences in an article for the Skeptical Inquirer.  

These electrodermal screening devices are said to measure skin resistance to the  passage of low-level electrical currents. A probe touches a specific point on the patient’s skin, prompting the machine to produce a readout from zero to 100.  Voll explained that readings from 45 to 55 were normal, or “balanced” in alt-med lingo. Readings above 55 indicated inflammation of the organ associated with the meridian being measured, while readings below 45 suggested “organ stagnation and degeneration.” Homeopathic products were then given to the patient until he or she was said to be balanced. But as Barrett learned, the same skin location can produce wildly varying numbers within the same session. Also, there is no known mechanism that would enable the machine to do what its inventor claimed. Therefore, the seeming balance restorations were really just the machine giving inconsistent, meaningless information.

With modern incarnations, the client holds a metal bar in one hand while the operator applies a probe to a supposed meridian on the client’s free hand. As the SkepDoc Harriett Hall noted, it is supremely convenient for testing purposes that all meridian points are on the hands or feet.

Meanwhile, Barrett, described his experience with the device thusly: “During the testing, I noticed that the harder the probe was pressed against my skin, the higher the reading on the computer screen, which is not surprising because pressure reduces electrical resistance and makes the current flow better from the probe to the skin. Also, glass does not conduct electricity, so even if the products emitted electric signals, they could not escape from the vial.”

Additionally, there were huge signs of fraud during Barrett’s session. He noted that even though his gallbladder has been removed, the machine still gave a readout indicating this organ was “out of range,” though that was later upgraded to within range in a subsequent test that day, then downgraded again.    

Some versions of the machines even give food recommendations, though these are also terribly inconsistent. In many instnaces, some foods are listed as both ones to avoid and enthusiastically consume. This is similar to some edibles ending up on both superfood and supervillain food lists, though this is worse since the same source is recommending both eating and eschewing them. Such completely contradictory and inconsistent results show the device is incapable of measuring what it claims.

According to Barrett, to demonstrate that a device can detect organ pathology, it is necessary to conduct double blind controlled studies of people who have the condition and people who do not. Extrapolating this, demonstrating that administering a product or procedure can mitigate an illness or conditions requires studying whether people who are treated do better than those in the control group.

But with Voll’s device, screeners can offer no explanation how it determines organ health by means of a never-explained concept called meridians. There is no justification for how, say, the tip of the right index finger would tell if someone was at danger for cirrhosis. Nor is there any evidence that skin resistance is related to organ health or what people should eat. It’s no wonder Hall compared the galvanometer to a Magic 8-ball for its randomness and lack of medical genuineness. Indeed, all these machines can do is generate a small electrical current, a stimulus that is incapable of providing information on organ health, which would explain why the readings for the same client during the same session were so inconsistent.

 Still, the field has its defenders. Hans Larsen at yourhealthbase.com touts the galvanometer as being able to provide “an in-depth health assessment and treat many problems right on the spot with electrical impulses. ”

He chastises “conventional Western medicine” for looking for “structural defects” that may lead to surgery or drugs.  He then asks,” Why don’t we focus on modifying our thoughts and other subtle energies in order to heal ourselves?”

I don’t know what subtle energies Larsen is referring to, so I cannot attempt to procure them. But I can control what I’m thinking, and I conclude that Larsen’s recommendation of treating diseases with thoughts and undefined energies instead of doctors and medicine is a poor one.

“Adrenaline junk” (Adrenal fatigue)

BROKENAX

Adrenal fatigue is an alternative medicine notion that adrenal glands can be exhausted and left with the inability to produce enough hormones. This, in turn, is blamed for a slew of generic symptoms, most of which apply disproportionately to persons under long-term mental or physical duress.

There is no scientific evidence supporting the concept of adrenal fatigue and it is not recognized by any medical organizations. That means zero in the naturopathic world, where blood and saliva draws are regularly used to ostensibly diagnose any number of conditions. There is no explanation for how these draws would demonstrate the presence of these conditions, nor do they offer support for the notion that the conditions even exist.

Still, there are many believers, including ones on a website that challenges supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the syllable department, natruropathicwomenswellness.com. Writing about adrenal fatigue, the site’s authors proclaim, “Saliva testing is used to diagnose candida, parasites, and fungal, bacterial, and viral infections in the system.” It might do this, but there is no correlation between those items and adrenal fatigue’s supposed symptoms, nor does it demonstrate the reality of the condition.

Dr. Todd Nipplodt of the Mayo Clinic said, “Consistent levels of chronic stress have no effect whatsoever on the adrenals and the only true endocrine disorders are those caused by other diseases and by direct damage to the adrenal glands.”

Pharmacist Scott Gavura, writing for Science Based Medicine, noted that a society of 14,000 endocrinologists stated that, “Adrenal fatigue is not a real medical condition. There are no scientific facts to support the theory that long term mental, emotional, or physical stress drains the adrenal glands and causes many common symptoms.” I performed a PubMed search and it produced just one hit for “adrenal fatigue,” and that was for a systemic review which concluded there is no such animal.

To counter these medical findings and consistent data, we need us a good old-fashioned anecdote. Perhaps Dr. Axe can oblige. “To that, all I can say is adrenal fatigue is something I’ve seen personally.” What he has never seen personally is a medical degree with his name on it. Despite his preferred prefix, Axe is not a doctor, but instead has “degrees” in chiropractic and naturopathy.

Axe states that adrenal fatigue can be fixed with regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a diet that emphasizes fish, turkey, and fruit, and which eschews caffeine and sweets. Oh, and buy his vitamins. Other than the last one, these are solid health tips, but it also speaks to adrenal fatigue being a nonentity. Following these pieces of advice would do nothing for legitimate conditions like arthritis, lupus, or carpal tunnel syndrome. The fact that adrenal fatigue can be “cured” with a treadmill, bananas, and a down comforter shows it’s not a disease.

The lesser danger is throwing away money on sham treatments, while the greater concern is not being treated for a genuine medical issue. This could include Addison’s disease, whose symptoms include the glands producing insufficient cortisol.

According to Gavura, adrenal glands “sit on the kidneys and produce several hormones, including the stress hormones associated with the fight or flight response. According to the theory of adrenal fatigue, when people are faced with long-term stress, their adrenal glands cannot keep up with the body’s need for these hormones.”

Chiropractor and naturopath James Wilson, who made up this idea, said symptoms include being tired, having trouble getting out of bed, body aches, moodiness, needing extra sweets or salts to get going, overreliance on caffeine, muscles feeling weaker than they should for the person’s output, and feeling continually stressed.

These common complaints are found in many diseases, disorders, and afflictions and are also routine parts of a hurried lifestyle. The symptoms are widespread enough that Dr. John Tinterra, who specialized in low adrenal function, estimated that approximately two-thirds or all people experience them occasionally.

Fabricated diseases usually have this vague-symptoms hallmark. The patient may be experiencing a real issue, but whereas a genuine doctor might run a proven test to see what the illness is, their alt-med counterparts default to whatever diagnosis they favor. This can include chi needing fixed, experiencing low energy fields, being plagued with wifi rot, or having chronic lyme disease, leaky gut syndrome, or adrenal fatigue. And the “treatment,” will, again, usually be whatever the naturopath most likes, be it herbs, homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture, applied kinesiology, or being wrapped in a shaman’s blanket.

“Remember the data” (Anecdotes vs. evidence)

ONE MAN

While “Don’t knock it until you try it” is the cliché, skeptic leader Brian Dunning thinks a better suggestion is, “Don’t try it until you knock it.” He was being somewhat sarcastic, as no opinion should be formed until all available evidence is considered. But his point was that personal experiences are inferior to data.

When it comes to favoring personal experience, this mistake is most frequently committed with regard to alternative medicine therapies and products. People often trust their perceptions more than any other source. But clinical test results provide a much better assessment of efficiency than someone’s word that it worked.

Our senses are prone to error and not everyone’s are as pronounced as the next person’s. Further, we all carry preconceived notions, biases, and expectations. Then there are mood swings, good days, bad days, and medium days. Hence, the assessment of a person grabbed off the street will be filtered through his or her prejudices, biases, preconceptions, preferences, and forgetfulness. It is impractical that their anecdote will be proof that the product or procedure will work (or fail) for everyone.

That’s why scientists use controlled, randomized trials. These will overcome the biases and other weaknesses addressed in the previous paragraph. As Dunning explained, “If you want to know whether listening to a binaural beat will make you fall asleep, a science fan knows not to try it to find out. She knows her sleepiness varies throughout every day and she knows that the expectation that it’s supposed to make her sleepy skews her perception. Instead, she looks at properly controlled testing that’s been done. Those subjects didn’t know what they were listening to, they didn’t know what it was supposed to do to them, and some of them unknowingly listened to a placebo recording. She knows the difference between real, statistically-sound data and one person’s anecdotal experience.”

Trying an untested product compromises a person’s ability to objectively analyze testing data about that product. This is also true in areas beyond alternative medicine. It can come into play while reading a horoscope, seeing an alleged ghost, or attending a psychic seminar. A cousin of mine did the latter and afterward, she excitedly posted there was “NO WAY” the psychic have known what she did, save an esoteric ability.

This is known as subjective validation, where an experience being personally impactful is considered evidence that the phenomenon is authentic. But with psychics, there are issues regarding cold reading, selective memory by audience members, and the lack of confirmatory testing. In my cousin’s case, the experience resonated with her because she had an intense experience, but that is not controlled data. A test could be designed, and in fact have been carried out, and no medium has ever consistently performed better than chance.

Still, persons will insist they know something works because it did for them. But this is not necessarily what happened. During the 2016 Olympics, athletes tried cupping and elastic kinesio tape, two alternative therapies completely lacking in evidence and with no plausible working mechanism behind them. Desperate for the extra edge against fellow world-class athletes, Olympians tried them and their personal experiences convinced them it worked. Yet these swimmers, runners, and gymnasts also had access to personal trainers, excellent nutrition, regimented rest periods, massage, icing, and other attentiveness that guaranteed they would perform at their peak. Giving the credit for victory to cupping wins the post hoc reasoning Gold Medal. Michael Phelps, after all, had collected plenty of first place finishes before he started overheating, misshaping, and discoloring his back. There’s also the issue of those who tried these techniques and came in 17th.  

Now we will examine another instance in which personal experience is treated as preferable to tested evidence. An Answers in Genesis chestnut is “Were you there,” which they genuinely consider a solid retort to proof about the age of the universe, Earth’s earliest days, and the development of homo sapiens. This is a vacuous, absurd reply. No one questions if Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence by asking historians if they were there when he dipped his quill into ink.

This supposed “gotcha” question reveals Young Earth Creationist’s substantial ignorance about how science works. As Dunning explained, “Scientific conclusions are never based simply on personal reports, but upon direct measurements of testable evidence. Nobody’s been to the Sun, either, but we know a great deal about it because we can directly measure and analyze the various types of radiation it puts out.”

Likewise, chemists can’t see quarks and astronomers can’t see dark matter, but these entities can be measured and their attributes analyzed. The answer to a time-honored riddle is that a tree falling in forest does indeed emit soundwaves whether anyone is there to perceive them. Likewise, Earth formed, heated, and cooled regardless of whether this was being witnessed. Researchers understand the science behind the various dating methods that are used to determine this. In the same way that DNA is preferable to a witness at trial, radiometric dating, carbon 14 dating, and the speed of light are more important than the fact that no one from Earth’s earliest days is alive to recall it.

From those that deny something has happened, we move to those who assert that something has happened despite lacking concrete evidence for this claim. Specifically, some persons will wonder what’s the harm in using a product or technique if it makes a person feel better.

The harm can come in such forms as using Therapeutic Touch instead of antibiotics. Such methods not only waste time and money, but the patient may bypass legitimate medicine that would work. And in certain cases, such as with colloidal silver, black salve, and some essential oils, active ingredients are being ingested and overuse can be dangerous.

Another way in which personal experiences are trusted over clinical evidence is to claim, “I know what I saw.” Yet senses are prone errors, deficiencies, and bias. A popular video asks viewers to count the number of times a basketball is passed between a group of persons. When most respondents are asked to give that number, they usually give the correct response. But they also fumble when asked the follow up question, “What walked through the group while the ball was being passed?” It was a man in a gorilla suit ambling by, yet most viewers missed it because they were so consumed with keeping track of the number of tosses.

“Our memories change dramatically over time and were incomplete to begin with,” Dunning wrote. “And who knows how good was the data that your brain had to work with was to begin with? Lighting conditions can come into play, as can movement, distractions, backgrounds, and expectations of what should be seen. Possible misidentifications and perceptual errors all had a part in building your brain’s experience.”

That’s why Bigfoot sightings are not considered to be “case closed” proof of the beast’s existence. Anthropologists would need to look at testable evidence, which in the case of Sasquatch, is utterly lacking.

Out of frustration, aficionados of alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, cryptozoological critters, and a Young Earth, and will sometimes label scientists and skeptics “closed-minded.” But closed-mindedness includes refusing to change ideas no matter how much contrary evidence one is presented with. Since phone calls from 9/11 hijack victims described Islamic terrorists, Truthers concocted an evidence-free ad hoc assertion that those victims and the family members they telephoned were in on the government’s plot.

Meanwhile, being open-minded means changing your position when you discover you’ve been mistaken. I balked when I first heard that race was a social construct instead of a biological one. Using some of the reasoning addressed earlier, “I knew what I saw,” and clearly race had to be biological since I could see the difference between someone from Canada and someone from Nigeria. But as I learned about alleles, gene frequency, migratory routes, blood types, and the Human Genome Project, I changed my mind.

There are mounds of evidence that disprove such notions as chemtrails, chiropractic, a Flat Earth, vaccine shedding being the cause of disease, and the first man being spoken into sudden existence 5,000 years ago. Yet hardcore adherents to these ideas consider the skeptic or scientist to be the closed-minded one.

People who assert this think of science as an unbending set of dictates from dour men in crisp lab coats or arrogant academics perched in ivory towers. However, science is a process that continually adapts, refines, improves, adds to, subtracts from, and alters data, according to where the evidence leads. And that refinement is subject to still further peer review, examination, and testing. That is why scientifically controlled data on the ability of a eucalyptus rub to cure rheumatism will always be preferable to what Aunt Tillie says.

“No touch hogwash” (Johrei)

M MOUSE

Johrei is described by proponents as a healing attained through manipulation of a mystical energy field. Practitioners move their hands around the client without touching them, with a goal, according to the Johrei Institute, of “using of universal life energy to foster positive changes to the physical and spiritual body and to dispel negative energy.”

These descriptors do little to differentiate Johrei from Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Qi Gong, and other practices that purport to access an unspecified type by energy by an undefined means for generic health benefits.

Where Johrei somewhat distinguishes itself is that its sessions are about more than purported healing. Johrei advertises itself as a belief system that incorporates art appreciation, flower arranging, and organic gardening. Adherents view these activities as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment, satisfy a deity, and eventually access an Earthly utopia.

The Johrei Fellowship says it does not diagnose or treat illness, yet the Johrei Institute, which is run by the fellowship, proclaims the practice to be “non-invasive energy healing.” It also calls attention to Johrei’s “universal vibration,” which it redundantly notes is “available to all.”

As to Johrei’s efficiency, the fellowship states, “In most cases, the effects of Johrei become enhanced with repeated practice over several weeks. But each individual is unique depending on existing circumstances.” In other words, keep using our stuff until it works.

The institute describes itself as having been “established to prove the effectiveness of Johrei through scientific medical research.” It begins with the assumption that it works, then seeks confirming evidence, as opposed to following where the evidence leads.

All researchers on the Institute’s website are staff members at the University of Arizona. In its search for this Fantasia energy, the university has received $2 million of taxpayer money via the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Here’s what you’re paying for. Researchers at U of A are looking into the feasibility that, per the Johrei Fellowship, “Illness is the manifestation of the universal principle that whenever an accumulation of negativity occurs, a cleansing action takes place. Physical purification is a sign that our life force energy is working properly. Colds, coughs, and fevers cleanse our bodies to eliminate accumulated toxins and are nature’s way of restoring rhythmic balance.”

A likeminded confused ramble is provided by their compatriots at the Johrei Institute: “Johrei is a manifestation of divine energy that can be transmitted through one individual to another for spiritual healing. As the spiritual body is cleansed, the mind and body are also uplifted, healed and attuned to spiritual truth.”

Nothing in there about statistically significant results, falsifiability, testability, repeatable experiments, or randomized sample groups. As such, it’s little wonder that Science-Based Medicine’s Jesse Luke found only 19 results when he typed Johrei into a PubMed search. By way of comparison, another form of healing, chemotherapy, yields 3 million entries. As to Johrei’s PubMed literature, the practice was the focus of such titles as “Johnrei Effects on Water: A Pilot Study by Counting Drops,” “Effect of spiritual healing on growth of bacteria cultures,” and “Johrei enhances the growth of sucrose crystals.”

Luke reviewed the studies and provided this analysis of Johrei: “There is no credible mechanism with which it could interact with a human body to exert effects, no reason to suspect its claims of divine providence are possible, nor that other components such as flower arranging could lead us to an earthly utopia.” That’s good enough for me, but if wanting more specifics on Luke’s take, those are available here, beginning with paragraph 13: http://tiny.cc/4teomy

Johrei is one of the least original alternative medicines forms, heavily copying Reiki. It was made up just a few years after Reiki, also in Japan, and involved a vague energy which a practitioner transferred to the client by hand gestures. Also like Reiki, the creator of Johrei (Mokichi Okado) asserted he had received this healing power through mountaintop enlightenment. Another similarity Johrei has to Reiki, as well as every other alternative medicine procedure, is a complete lack of cures it has bestowed on the world.

Of his search for such cures, Okado said, “A permanent solution for disease is not possible by treating only the body and neglecting the spirit.” I for one am glad that approach was not adopted by Edward Jenner or Jonas Salk.

“Chronic tonic” (Alternative medicine dangers for the chronically ill)

ALT MED PIC

When I began this blog, I envisioned profiling those who hunt ghosts, imaginary animals, and aliens, as well as addressing the likes of geocentrists. While all this has happened, I surprisingly found that my most frequent topic was alternative medicine.

One reason is because there are so many forms of it and they just keep coming. We seldom hear of new crypto critters to chase; ghosts are usually haunting the 17th Century castle in which they dwelt; aliens seem to have deemed return trips too risky since Roswell; and a couple of thorough posts on geocentrists suffice since they are not exactly churning out a redwood’s worth of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals that need to be perused and refuted.

But alt-med has always flourished because people get sick and people have to see their loved ones suffer. They want to feel that they are doing something about it and are making a difference so they are vulnerable to being preyed upon.

This can afflict persons of all classifications. Those with little formal education and money can embrace a witch doctor or voodoo, while the affluent are all about Goop and detox cleanses.

Consider two persons, 50 percent of whom are still on Facebook Friends list. One has little understanding of science and is something of a dullard in general. He embraces Yongevity scams, the naturalistic fallacy, and seems to be a nascent anti-vaxxer. The other works as a medical doctor.

With the first guy, I tried patiently to explain chemistry, biology, and medicine to him, only to have him unfriend me before upgrading this to a block. By then he had grown paranoid and may have considered me part of a Big Pharma plot whose oxymoronic goal was to fatally poison a populace it would use to further enrich its coffers. At the other end of the medical knowledge spectrum was the physician. But even she wrote that a lingering illness had reduced her to seeking out essential oils. She admitted feeling a tad silly about this and noted this wasn’t something she had been taught in medical school. About a half dozen enthusiastic oil users encouraged her to go for it, each of them recommending a different oil for her condition.

That right there shows the stuff doesn’t work. With a headache, someone might suggest Excedrin, but you won’t have a second person recommend cough syrup and a third poster mention their success with adhesive bandages. I toyed with the idea of sending per a PM, but decided against it. Again, she was a medical doctor and it would be superfluous if not presumptuous for me to send a missive containing phrases like double-blind studies, Germ Theory, and the plural of anecdote not being data. I’m sure she knows all of that but her condition had gotten so rough that she was desperate. That’s when many persons try an unorthodox approach, and combined with the fluctuating nature of many illnesses and pains, can cause someone to give a product undeserved credit.

That is among the reasons alternative medicine approaches will sometimes seem to work. But when they fail, the blame often falls not on the product or the practice, but on the patient. That was the focus of a post by blogger Emily Coday, who details her travails as a sufferer of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). In one poignant post, she detailed how alternative medicine harms those with chronic conditions.

She wrote that she had been advised to seek relief through prayer, biofeedback, grounding, crystals, supplements, and more, but nothing worked and she was always made to feel guilty for this. “When it was biofeedback, I wasn’t trying hard enough or practicing enough. When it was acupuncture, I wasn’t trying to relax hard enough. With supplements, I just hadn’t waited long enough for the benefits, no matter how long I waited.”

She needed only to take longer, deeper breaths, hold her visual imagery longer, or be more flexible when being attended do by the applied kinesiologist. Yet no one blames the cancer patient when chemotherapy fails.

Another problem is the danger alt-med products can pose. Anti-medicine types will gleefully list all the side effects slapped on an OTC or prescription bottle. However, these lists must include anything that could befall any user, even once. Six billion people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and medical conditions must be considered. An active ingredient, by definition, is going to have some impact on the body. The idea is to match a patient with the right product so that the change the active ingredient is causing will be positive. There are varying amounts of risk involved, and that amount, combined with the seriousness of the condition, direct the doctor and patient to the best treatment plan. In most cases, the risk is minuscule, but it is accounted for and there is no Big Pharma conspiracy to keep it quiet.

The irony is that the same persons who list the possible side effects of a drug, along with a lengthy string of its polysyllabic ingredients that are supposed to prove the product is hazardous, will hastily indulge in bark, branches, clovers, leaves, stems, or roots that have been subject to no testing. Nor do these people have any idea what active ingredients the plant might contain or in what amount. You could hand them what you describe as “a natural flowering plant from western Asia,” and they would gladly ingest hemlock. They will condemn the profits made by Big Pharma, as if the proprietors at Natural News, Green Med Info, and mercola.com are giving away their “treatments.”

Except in extreme cases where a moribund patient may wish to try an experimental treatment, persons should only use what has been proven effective in repeated double blind studies. For one thing, doing otherwise will be a waste of valuable time and money. Second, pumping unknown products into one’s self could be dangerous. With traditional medicine, the treatment’s benefits must outweigh the risks before it can be sold. By contrast, alt-med “supplements” are not screened and those with pre-existing conditions are often the most vulnerable to their affects.

For example, Coday pointed out that aspirin comes from willow bark. There are potential dangers from both this natural product and aspirin. But aspirin has been tested, the active ingredient has been isolated and extracted, a safe dosage has been doled out in capsule form, and explicit instructions tell how to properly take it. Meanwhile, users are on their own to guess the right amount if using the active ingredient in willow bark form. One could overdose on either aspirin or willow bark, but doing so with the latter would be much easier since the user wouldn’t know where to stop or how much would be enough to make them feel better. And a pre-existing chronic condition can make this all the worse.

Another way alternative medicine harms the chronically ill is cost. Beyond what they’ve spent and the debt they’ve incurred, the perennially ill continue to look for any treatment that seems to offer hope. This leads them to a naturopath or chiropractor who will try method after method, each offering the same false promise. Eventually an approach might seem to work if the illness fluctuates, but if the condition is chronic like POTS, the end is always disappointment and more hurt.

Coday also notes the drastic difference between an alt-med peddler and someone who finishes four years of traditional college followed by four years of med school and 90-hour weeks in a residency to earn the title “MD.” She wrote, “The human body is infinitely complex and so many things can go wrong. Doctors and pharmacists spend a large chunk of their lives in school learning how to treat patients better and minimize risks.” By contrast, if you say you’re a naturopath, you are. There is no need for any knowledge, specialized or otherwise.

David Katz of the Yale medical school gloats that by entertaining an unending string of conjured and concocted alternative treatments, he has an inexhaustible number of avenues to pursue. Katz’s glowing description to the contrary, this is not a good thing. Quartz crystals, magic wands, and energy-infused vitamin water have no place in an Ivy League medical school, nor any other locale dedicated to health.

Such treatments gives patients false hope and Coday compared trying unproven, unworkable treatments to being in the bargaining stage of grief.  “False hope hurts,” she wrote. “I was crushed by putting 50 plus hours into biofeedback that claimed to cure my POTS and getting so little out of it no matter how hard I tried.”

Such an experience can cause some patients to double down and try harder, sinking further into debt and desperation, as they don’t want it to all be a waste of time and money. Coday broke from the cycle, but many persons with chronic conditions are unable to do so.

Despite the lack of evidence of alternative medicine efficacy, those promoting these treatments make the grandest claims. Coday related her experience with this: “All the medications from true doctors only claimed to possibly manage the symptoms. However, alternative medicine practitioners claimed that they could cure my incurable illness or make all the symptoms disappear.”

This is because alternative medicine techniques and promise do not change based on the evidence of what works. Reiki has been around for 95 years and a session today would be identical to one received the day the Stock Market crashed. That would be fine if it worked, but there is yet to be a clinical trial under controlled conditions that suggest this is the case.

“Cutting out gluten, doing biofeedback nonstop, becoming vegan, yoga, walking, crystals, needles, etc. is not going to make an incurable illness curable,” Coday wrote. “Getting suggestions that indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of my incurable condition is frustrating and disheartening.”

Another problem afflicting the chronically ill is support groups. While laudable in intent, they can exacerbate the situation, as they are filled with anecdotes, wildly speculative treatments, and the dreaded exhortation that the patient put more into fixing what’s wrong with them.

All this illustrates why alternative medicine has been the surprise winner as my most frequent topic. Persons who spend time chasing alien crafts, Bigfoot, and poltergeists mostly harm only themselves and maybe make our society a little dumber. By contrast, alt-med charlatans hurt others and that damage can be significant.

 

“Gut filling” (Probiotics)

PROBI

Probiotics are live microorganisms that might be beneficial in certain instances when consumed. Proponents believe the bacteria can help maintain good health and treat various ailments. Probiotics are available in many forms, including pills, juice, sausage, cookies, and even cosmetics.

However, the science shows that while probiotics may hold some promise and seem to be effective for certain conditions, the health claims have largely been exaggerated. Since producers market them as supplements, attribute only vague health claims to them, and never state they can treat or cure disease, the FDA has no authority over them.

Probiotic love is the reverse of gluten hysteria. Because celiac sufferers should avoid gluten, the idea got out there that we should all do the same. Conversely, probiotics’ limited ability has been touted as a cure-all for the masses. This is a microcosm of an anti-science sentiment that will dismiss the success of antibiotics, vaccines, statins, and GMOs, while giving false credit to Reiki, wheatgrass juice, colloidal silver, and organic produce.

Concerning microbe-based treatments, the majority of studies have failed to reveal any benefit for healthy individuals. The bacteria seems to help only those suffering from specific intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, acute diarrhea, peptic ulcers, and necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a bowel disease that afflicts premature babies. These are welcome results, but microbiologists caution that a promising study on a single strain of a particular species of bacteria should not be taken as proof that all probiotics work for all conditions in all people. Like most medicine, a probiotic treatment plan should be tailored for individual needs.

That’s not what is happening with most probiotic products on the market. In an article for Scientific American, Ferris Jabr wrote that manufacturers often select bacterial strains they know will grow in large numbers as opposed to choosing ones that have known health benefits or that have adapted to the human gastrointestinal system.

Even when probiotic bacteria survive and propagate in the stomach or intestines, there are probably too few of them to affect significant change. Per the SA article, humans’ gastrointestinal tracts contain upwards of 20 trillion bacteria, compared to the relatively paltry 100 million contained in a typical serving of probiotic grape nuts. The article further cited a review of 34 trials that studied whether probiotic supplements changed bacteria diversity in fecal samples. Kudos to the researchers on that project for taking one for Team Science. Only one of the trials revealed a noticeable change and there was no indication this alteration was beneficial.

Scientists have yet to completely understand microbiome function and the impact of probiotics on it. They don’t know how microorganisms in our gut give rise to or affect unpleasant conditions. Nor do they have a proven method for treating unhealthy gastrointestinal tracts. Katherine Hobson, writing for 538, also noted, “We still don’t even know what an ideal gut bacterial mix would look like, if there is such a thing.”

Even with health issues for which probiotics show promise, researchers are still trying to ascertain which ones are best for each condition, which dosage to administer, how long to take them, and which population would benefit. There’s no evidence that healthy persons will gain from taking a daily probiotic supplement. For those persons, the best way to maintain gastrointestinal wellness is through regular consumption of fiber, fruit, and vegetables. That’s all you need, plus you will save money by bypassing the supplement, unless your fruits and veggies are organic.