Medical research can be as much about understanding old wisdom as finding new ideas
The medical advances of the last 150 years have been nothing short of spectacular and the current rapidity with which even greater leaps are being taken in our understanding of the way our bodies work is mind boggling. But shouldn't we also leave some room for ancient knowledge to be rediscovered?
There’s a constant and bitter struggle that’s been going on for decades or more within the medical community.
It’s all about legitimacy.
Like all human endeavours medicine, although very much a science, encompasses a range of opinions and philosophies which influence practitioners to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual.
As with all belief systems this can range from the very orthodox to the downright outlandish.
At one end you might place those GP’s and doctors who never veer from the received wisdom of the day and adhere rigidly to officially sanctioned and generally accepted guidelines only.
Clearly there is nothing wrong with this approach.
In fact, where matters of health are concerned, I think most of us would prefer a cautiously conservative, highly trained and well-informed professional at the other end of the stethoscope.
But if medicine never questioned itself or pushed the barriers of current orthodoxy to look beyond common practice we would still be bleeding ourselves to get rid of malevolent humours and burning sage to ward off evil spirits.
At the other extreme are quacks and charlatans who peddle snake oil and fairy dust making all sorts of promises for which they have little or no empirical evidence whatsoever.
Most of us actually draw our line somewhere in between.
It’s not enough to say that this is a matter of common sense.
I know plenty of otherwise perfectly sensible and certainly very intelligent individuals who believe in the healing powers of certain crystals and the importance of the points of chakra to the body’s health.
Mostly it will come down to personal experience and understanding.
For example, having tried both, I will have no truck with chiropractors but have every faith in osteopathy.
For me the former was an attempt to relieve me of cash while the latter successfully relieved me of a back pain I had suffered for years.
I’m sure others would take a different, maybe even the opposite, view based on their own experience.
What I know for sure is that my GP dismisses both with equal scorn even though he knows that many general practitioners are now referring patients to and even sharing practice space with osteopaths.
I’m told that some insurance companies will even include the treatment within their health policies.
So it’s important to keep an open mind and draw your own conclusions by doing a bit of research (all hail the google) and finding out where other people’s experiences might match your own.
It’s a process that isn’t helped by the dominance of orthodoxy within the medical profession, or the eagerness of the press to sensationalise and vulgarise the results of research.
In the past few days a Swedish research team published the results of their research into the effect of calcium supplements on older women.
The practice of taking calcium is hardly on the fringes of modern medical practice but it does fall into the same general category of looking to natural solutions rather than pharmaceuticals.
In the course of their research the Gothenburg team did find that, under certain circumstances, there appeared to be an increased risk of dementia.
On the basis of this some sections of the media gleefully wrote headlines that, without further explanation, would make anyone think twice before taking calcium.
The truth is a little different.
While one set of researchers was seeking to recalibrate accepted medical practice, another was attempting to define a potential cultural shift in the UK’s attitudes to alcohol.
Binge drinking and alcohol abuse among teenagers and young adults has become an epidemic within the UK.
Ask any police officer, ambulance worker or A&E staff member what causes them the most problems on any given night of the week and you will get the same answer; drunks.
On some weekends our city centres look like warzones.
So it’s interesting to see whether this is feeding back into the way we introduce the next generation to the pleasures and the dangers of alcohol.
A survey commissioned by Churchill insurance asked over a thousand parents whether they allowed their children (specifically those aged under 14) to drink alcohol at home.
The results may well surprise you.
In the space between orthodoxy and the unorthodox it is tempting to think that anything at the wilder end of the scale tends to be new and novel.
So far as health and medicine is concerned nothing could be further from the truth.
Natural medicine most often relies on centuries of human experience and the knowledge accumulated by generations of healers and carers who have turned to natural remedies because they work.
By the same token common practice does not always mean good choices.
Take our modern cleaning materials, for example.
In the main they’ve been refined and designed for speed and ease of use rather than efficiency or wellbeing.
Nearly all our contemporary main brand washing liquids and powders contain detergents and chemicals that are notorious irritants, particularly to those with allergies or sensitive skin.
Some of the harshest are those labelled ‘biological’ or even ‘antibacterial’.
Many experts believe that the use of these chemically active materials is one of the main causes behind the huge increase in the number of eczema and allergy patients witnessed in recent years.
In fact, one of the first things a GP will recommend when presented with unexplained skin rashes or irritations is to change soap and washing powder.
There is a natural and much gentler alternative which had been used for centuries.
The husk of the Sapindus Mukorossi (known as the Soapnut) contains a high level of saponin, a natural soap and anti-bacterial.
It grows in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal where it's been used to clean clothes since before anyone can remember.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go to a river to use it, simply put some husks in a bag and place them in a washing machine to clean your fabrics without leaving any trace of chemicals or irritants.
It may sound unorthodox, but anyone in the family with eczema, allergies or sensitive skin will love you for it.
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