What is allopathic medicine, and why do some people throw that term around so insultingly?
Wikipedia reports that German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) invented the term “allopathy”. He conjoined allos “opposite” and pathos “suffering” to refer to harsh medical practices of his era, which included bleeding, purging, vomiting, and the administration of highly toxic drugs.
At this time, physicians following the Hippocratic tradition attempted to balance the “humors” by treating symptoms with “opposites.” For instance, fever (hot) was believed due to excess blood because patients were flushed; therefore, balance was sought by bloodletting in order to “cool” the patient.
Wikipedia reports Hahnemann is considered the “father of homoeopathy”, and based on his doctrine of like cures like. He claimed, “A substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure similar symptoms in sick people.”
However over the past 200 years, homeopathy has never been shown to work. As Wikipedia writes, “Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to the scientific method. A field, practice, or body of knowledge can reasonably be called pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.”
Further, as Quora.com elaborates, “Homeopathy is based on notions which make no sense, proposes no credible method of action and has never been shown to do anything more than act as a placebo.” Dr. Liang-Hai Sie, retired general internist and former intensive care physician notes, “Placebo effect can be as high as 60%, and many illnesses have a natural history where symptoms spontaneously abate after some time has passed, with or without homeopathic treatment.”
The World Health Organization warns against using homeopathy to treat severe diseases such as HIV and malaria. Although homeopathy is popular in India and some European countries such as France and Italy, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the United Kingdom’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and the Swiss Federal Health Office all have concluded that homeopathy is ineffective and recommends against funding any further research.
As of this year, the Russian Academy of Sciences issued a memorandum that declared “homeopathy has no scientific basis,” and said that attempts to verify success of homeopathy treatment have failed for over 200 years. In the United States, there is no license offered to professionals to practice homeopathy, with the exception of the three states, Arizona, Nevada and Connecticut: they will license MDs and DOs (Osteopathic physicians) to practice homeopathy.
According to Wikipedia, it was not until the 19th century that the germ theory of disease led to cures for many infectious diseases. During WW I, military doctors advanced the methods of trauma treatment and surgery. In the 19th century, public health measures were developed especially as the rapid growth of cities required systematic sanitary measures. “The mid-20th century was characterized by new biological treatments, such as antibiotics. These advancements, along with developments in chemistry, genetics, and lab technology (such as the x-ray) led to modern medicine…the 21st century is characterized by highly advanced research involving numerous fields of science.”
Misuse and Abuse
Today, some medical schools and organizations, to define “modern” or “conventional” medicine, use the term “allopathy” in a neutral way, to distinguish doctors of medicine from others such as naturopathic and chiropractic doctors. However, certain people toss the word “allopathic” out like it was a curse or an insult. More than once a reader has commented that “all allopathic medicine is profit-driven.” Don’t homeopathic, naturopathic, chiropractic, and other non-medical practitioners ask for and receive payment for their experience, education, and services? Are the supplements, treatments, and salves provided for free?
Another reader commented, “For thousands of years mankind avoided modern day diseases without drugs, surgery, and modern modalities of medics, chiefly by fresh whole foods, exercise (hard work and walking), fresh air, adequate sleep, and peace with his fellowman and Maker.”
Well, gee. That’s wishful thinking, but certainly naïve. Not that lifestyle isn’t critical to good health. But those little viruses have a way of sneaking up on you.
In 17th century England life expectancy was only about 35 years, and infant and child mortality was high. In Colonial Virginia, 40% died before reaching adulthood.
But, people ate “naturally”, worked hard, got plenty of fresh air, and in the U.S., the Pilgrims surely slept well, knowing that at last they could practice their religion without persecution.
Since 1900, the global average life expectancy has more than doubled and is now approaching 70 years. As reported by Our World in Data, “No country in the world has a lower life expectancy than those countries with the highest life expectancy in 1800.”
Today the Japanese rank number highest in life expectancy, male and female combined average 83.7 years. The U.S is ranked 31st at 79.3 years, and Ecuador is tied with Jamaica for 51st spot, at 76.2 years. We’ve come a long way.
Modern medicine has increased human lifespans. According to the National Institute on Aging, “The dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century ranks as one of society’s greatest achievements. The victories against infectious and parasitic diseases are a triumph for public health projects of the 20th century, which immunized millions of people against smallpox, polio, and major childhood killers like measles.”
The NIA also notes that although developed countries continue to experience steady increases in lifespan, life expectancy has fallen in parts of Africa, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and Ebola, and the lack of effective vaccines.
But in East Asia, life expectancy has almost doubled, from 45 years in 1950 to more than 74 years today, greatly aided by immunization against smallpox, polio, and major childhood killers like measles.
And it’s not just vaccines that have led to this phenomenon. Better living standards, especially more nutritious diets and cleaner drinking water, also had a positive impact, preventing serious infections and childhood death.
Knowledge about the health effects of smoking, innovations in medical procedures and new pharmaceuticals have had a major effect, particularly on reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease.
Pseudoscience Threatens Progress
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports each and ever year how vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequality worldwide.
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But they report, “Paradoxically, a vociferous antivaccine lobby thrives today in spite of the undeniable success of vaccination programmes against formerly fearsome diseases that are now rare in developed countries.”
Today, vaccines have an excellent safety record and most “vaccine scares” have been debunked. Misguided safety concerns in some countries have led to a fall in vaccination coverage, causing the re-emergence of mumps and measles, most recently in Texas. Read more here.
As Keith Veronese, PhD chemist writes, “The same vaccines that allowed civilization to flourish in the twentieth century have become a political hot button in the twenty-first. What changed? It’s possible that a whole generation grew up without witnessing firsthand the horrors of deadly contagious disease on children, and so they never understood the value of vaccination.”
Next week I’ll continue in this thread with my column about how non-communicable diseases are the biggest threat to mankind, and how in the U.S. and other westernized countries including Ecuador, we may be losing life expectancy instead of gaining.
io9.gizmodo.com. How Vaccines Saved the World. http://io9.gizmodo.com/5840419/how-vaccines-saved-the-world
National Center for Homeopathy. Practicing Homeopathy. http://www.homeopathycenter.org/practicing-homeopathy
Our World in Data. Life Expectancy. https://ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy/#rising-life-expectancy-around-the-world
The Independent. Russia Academy of Sciences says homeopathy is dangerous “pseudoscience’ that does not work. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-academy-of-sciences-homeopathy-treaments-pseudoscience-does-not-work-par-magic-a7566406.html
WHO.org. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequality worldwide. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/86/2/07-040089/en/
WHO.org. Six common misconceptions about immunization. http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/detection/immunization_misconceptions/en/index2.html
Wikipedia.com. Homeopathy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy
Wikipedia.com. Life expectancy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy
Wikipedia.com. Medieval Medicine of Western Europe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_medicine_of_Western_Europe