Ack! ChopraWoo!

Usually Deepak Chopra’s nonsensical writings at the Huffington post about mind-body healing are so vague and bland I don’t bother addressing them. The mind controls the body, the mind is powerful, blah blah blah, who cares right? Well, today Chopra pulled back the curtain and we see the crank within. It’s a reminder that behind the facade of all the touchy-feely nonsense of the alties is a campaign against science and legitimate medical practice. We start with the standard quack appeal to the individual, which sounds nice, but in practice basically means they have no consistent method to apply their nonsense.

The great promise of mind-body medicine will never be fulfilled as long as the treatments are unpredictable. This has been a major stumbling block in the West, ever since the original excitement over acupuncture in the Seventies and Ayurveda in the Eighties. Patients who have been helped sing the praises of alternative medicine while official clinical trials don’t satisfy the skeptics. In the East it is more easily accepted that each patient is unique, and therefore one cannot expect that the same therapy will lead to the same results in everybody.

You know, I simply don’t believe the alties when they tell us that they treat each patient differently. Whenever I see their writings they are always recommending specific treatments for specific diseases. Where is all this tailored treatment they talk about? And further, what is their method for determining which individuals need which treatment? Reading auras? They should just admit they’re full of it right here.

But then Chopra shows the real objective of altie medicine quacks – the undermining of evidence-based medicine and with standard denialist tactics no less.

In practice there is no such thing as complete reliability, however, and one must consider how many patients die on the operating table or suffer extreme side effects from drugs.

This is the classic altie attack on medical science. Our treatments work. They are efficacious. They have physiological effects on the body. Part of the problem with this is that also tends to make them dangerous as they have side-effects, and some drugs have a narrow therapeutic window. But the goal here is to suggest that we just throw drugs at people willy-nilly, with no concern for morbidity and mortality of our treatments. Contrary to the quack assertions though, Western medicine obsessively monitors the efficacy of treatments for net benefit. Whereas the selection pressure on altie meds selects for drugs that do nothing, the pressure on evidence-based medicine is to show continual and measurable improvements in people’s quantity and quality of life. The reason people routinely live well into their 80s these days isn’t because of widespread use of homeopathy. It’s because of the enormous success of evidence-based medicine and public health interventions.

Chopra’s next mistake? An idiotic generalization followed by a healthy-dose of fearmongering.

There is also the problem that drugs become less effective over time — the phenomenon known as tachyphylaxis — and that “super germs” develop in hospitals, causing a serious rise in illness and death caused by the treatment — a phenomenon known as iatrogenic disease.

Umm no. Some drugs show tachyphylaxis, but not all drugs, and doctors know about this. As a result we dose the drugs carefully – like with nitroglycerin – or titrate up doses to reach therapeutic levels. This guy is supposedly a MD and he doesn’t even understand the definition of this word and the relevant pharmacology. It’s actually pretty sad.

Multiple-resistant strains are a problem, there is no question about that, but one has to remember that most stays in a hospital aren’t going to lead to a superbug infections. First, you usually have to be incredibly sick before you’re at risk, usually your immune system has to be substantially weakened, and hospitals monitor and attack these infections when they do occur. Further, I think it is an error to classify infection with multiple-resistant strains as “iatrogenic” which would technically mean caused by medical treatment.

That’s one reason, among many, why mind-body medicine poses a brighter future than the proponents of standard drugs and surgery are willing to concede. (The fact that the average American over 70 takes seven prescription drugs a day must make anyone pause.) The public already trusts alternative medicine far more than the official voices who warn against it year after year. One reads of the dire effects of vitamin A poisoning, for example, when in reality the number of megavitamin overdoes in this country is minuscule compared to the thousands of people who get sick and die from hospital infections. It’s like condemning nutmeg as a hallucinogen while and ignoring the crash of five jumbo jets.

A brighter future? By what measure? This reminds me of the cdesign proponentsists constant promises of forthcoming research into ID. Show us some data or you’re just being a quack.

The last half is again just an example of the selection pressure for ineffective treatments for altie medicine. You probably can trust most quack remedies to do nothing, and therefore be pretty safe. And lots of people each year do die in hospitals, therefore hospitals must be dangerous killers of the innocent! Or, maybe, lots of people die in hospitals because that’s where the sick people are, and you know what? No one lives forever. Eventually, something gets you.

Chopra makes it sound like a 20-year-old who goes into the ER to get stitches is going to die of MRSA. What this ignores is that hospitals are responsible for taking care of people who are actually really sick, often very old, and frequently near death. In other words, hospitals take care of patients that no altie practitioners in their right mind would touch with a ten-foot pole, you know, those with real sickness. If you actually look carefully at the reports that the quacks cite to show how dangerous hospitals are, it’s really a reflection of just how incredibly sick and likely to die the patients were in the first place. What is one of the biggest iatrogenic killers for instance? Decubitus ulcers. In other words, bed sores that don’t heal. Very sad, and completely preventable, these usually result from inadequate nursing home care or staff monitoring of patients (rare in good hospitals). But they’re also a sign of a patient who can’t even move under their own power. I’d like to see how altie practitioners can do better than evidence-based types with patients who can’t even move. If they have a crystal that works better than regular turning of a patient, I’d like to see it.

Chopra’s final appeal is again to this individualized medicine, which they can never seem to describe better than “people are different”. It’s also a straw-man against medicine. Doctors do take into consideration individual patients. We take a family history, a personal history. We assess an individuals risk. We’re not robots who measure a couple variables that chuck drugs at you. We tailor drugs to individuals far more than the alties will ever give us credit for.

I’ve come to feel that the argument will never be settled until we accept a fact of nature: everyone has a unique response to disease. No single treatment can be expected to cure or prevent illness with complete reliability, and even if Western medicine is right to claim that a drug like penicillin works more often than any alternative, Eastern medicine can point to drug intolerance, side effects, and expense as considerable drawbacks. (Not to mention the exponential risks that often mount when pharmaceuticals are mixed with one another, or with alcohol consumption.) Therefore, each of us needs to consider our own bodies, our own life history, and our own susceptibility. Mainstream medicine constantly tries to sell its one-size-fits-all position, and it shouldn’t.

See what I mean? This guy supposedly has an MD right? I don’t know what quack foreign medical school trained him, but in the United States they teach you to take a god damn patient history, and how drugs interact with each other. “Eastern medicine”, since it does nothing, has no concern about drug interactions. Nothing + nothing still equals nothing. Until one of these alties writes down a consistent explanation for how they detect “individual illness” better than us, and then prove the predictive power of this skill, I think we’re safe with the current explanation that these people are just full of shit.