Friday, March 28, 2008

Naturally, I'm a Skeptic

While I was in Florida, my mom tried her best to get me to drink Apple Cider Vinegar, along with a half-dozen other natural cures and preventative herbal remedies.

She has been promoting this cause for a long time now. Usually I just remind her of my skepticism, even if I don't really have a good reason for it. In the end, I usually end up saying "Uh-huh. Ok. Sure." to placate her, although I never actually try any of the numerous cockamamie concoctions that she recommends.

This last time though, after she persuaded me to read a chapter of a book that she was trying to use to convince me, I was finally able to pinpoint why I am so skeptical, and also what it would take to overcome my innate pessimism.

In the book, as in most of what I have read about natural and herbal remedies, there were plenty of explanations given for why oak root should be used to bolster the health of your skin, liver, pancreas, etc. Or how snake oil prevents cancer, cures aids, and gives you a larger erection. But none of the reasons in that book, none of them referenced an actual study or used any conclusive data. They were all vague and unspecific.

Examples of statements are "It has been shown that..." or "Many European countries use this for...". Another popular theme seemed to be the usage of various herbs by American Indians. There were even statements bragging that particular remedies were used decades or even centuries ago, as if that is a good thing. Weren't leeches used as a remedy back then too? Oh, and how we should all long for the days of medicine before antibiotics, penicillin, anesthetics, and all of that newfangled poppycock.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely against seeking alternative medicine, and I don't entirely discount the argument that the pharmaceutical companies are trying to peddle their chemicals and make more profit by convincing people that they need them. But at least prescription drugs have to go through the FDA first, and I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that there are plenty of doctors and scientists who have already either confirmed or criticized their claims of curing.

All I'm saying is this: Everyone is trying to make a buck and sell their products, which includes natural remedies. To convince me that something is worth paying for and risking my health by ingesting it, show me some conclusive proof. A properly performed scientific study (with a control group, a convincing number of subjects, placebos, randomization, etc) would be a good start. If it was performed by a reputable school or organization, then that would be even better.

I don't think that's unreasonable to expect, especially considering it's not only my hard earned dollars that are at risk, but also my health.

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