Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Ancient wisdom?

One of the strategies used by CAM practitioners in peddling their useless wares to gullible morons is their appeal to the wisdom of the ancients. The idea that, because something has been around a long time that gives it legitimacy. The implication is that modern medicine, or allopathy as they call it, is some sort of upstart that popped up fully formed last week. 

But even with their reverence of old knowledge they cherry pick. Modern medicine itself has evolved, in fits and starts over thousands of years to be where it is today and some of the greatest advances were made a long time ago.
This man’s full name was Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, but he called himself Paracelsus. He is considered the father of the modern medical method, based on observation, examination and diagnosis. And almost 500 years ago he made a statement that to this day is one of the fundamental principles of pharmacotherapy; “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” He was describing the phenomenon of dose response. The concept that toxic substances can be diluted to a level at which they are harmless, while non toxic substances can be harmful if you take enough.

Wilful ignorance of this basic principle is the hallmark of two of the worst forms of CAM lunacy, homeopathy and anti vaxers, both of whom cling to the idea that substances, whether duck intestines or mercury, can retain or increase their potency even when diluted out of existence. Perhaps they should be told that Paracelcus predates Haahnemann by some 300 years.

Yet other quackery promotes the related view that non toxic and essential substances can be beneficial if taken in ultra large doses. Billions of pounds are spent on pointless and unnecessary vitamin supplements, despite the fact that some vitamins are decidedly toxic in excess. Hyperbaric oxygen is another fad ignoring the fact that 200KPa of O2 in a sealed chamber is a distinctly unhealthy environment, even if you don’t generate a spark from your nylon knickers.

Even pure water can kill if taken to excess as the organisers of this ill informed radio competition found out. And even if you don’t die of drinking too much of it, in the words of Dara O’Briain, “You can always fuck’n drown”

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