Rethink Health - August-September 2010

News through the GoodHealthKeeping lens

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What Career?

I was approached this month by a young man with a dilemma about vaccines for acceptance into medical school. I thought he was asking the wrong question, but it set me wondering how I would answer the right one.

The reason for a sensible, forward-thinking individual to enter the medical system as it now stands, is the very wide powers that are conveyed in this country by a license to practice medicine. I was free, throughout most of my career, to advise each individual patient as we saw fit, and deploy a wide range of treatment methods for their benefit. That included helping mothers to give birth at home or in familiar cottage hospital surroundings.

In principle, the emerging system of revalidation should not alter these privileges, but in practice they will stifle innovation. Since medicine has clearly not got everything right, such built-in conservatism is not for the best.

What I did was to study anthroposophical medicine and naturopathy, as originated by Rudolph Steiner and Max Bircher-Benner respectively. I wish I had done the full-time 3-year postgraduate course at the Goetheanum in Dornach, conveniently close to the Zurich clinic of Bircher-Benner. But I was able to employ a useful range of their methods, which reduced my personal medicines prescribing by over 50%. The authorities didn't notice!

Another very powerful tool is homoeopathy. The distain with which medicine treats it is shameful. Two gold-standard systematic reviews have each demonstrated a significant net benefit from homoeopathic treatment, yet the myth persists that it has no scientific basis. The problem is that "mods" expect a material explanation for everything. Homoeopathy, anthroposophy and for that matter acupuncture, owe their power to influence over energy distribution and formative patterns, not substances. Physicists could enlighten physicians, but they don't have a language in common.

To qualify in all these disciplines would take most of one's career, unfortunately. It's more practical to train directly as an osteopath, Chinese practitioner, homoeopath, herbalist or nutritionist. Osteopathy can be combined with naturopathy. Graduates of many of these schools - particularly osteopathy and Chinese medicine - have trained as long as doctors and have more useful skills, but their social standing is not yet the same. Nevertheless, holistic practitioners enjoy respect and can make a decent living. What is more, they sleep sweetly at night.


Superbugs

Before long you will be familiar with a new acronym - NDM1. It stands for New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase-1, an enzyme (or machine tool) owned by a variety of bacteria which enables them to resist carbapenem antibiotics - up to now, the most trusted. (Pay attention - I'll be asking questions later.)

The gene for producing this enzyme jumps easily from one germ to another, so we may assume that a widening range will prove resistant to antibiotic attack over the next few years.

This should not really be a surprise. Bacteria multiply very fast, so have many more opportunities to adapt than we do. The entire history of antibiotics has been the same.

Nobody is claiming that germs able to resist prescribed treatment are necessarily more dangerous in themselves - remember the fresh-eating streptoccus? Nor are they even as dangerous as normally harmless germs that get in the wrong place (e.g. bacterial meningitis): no healthy person would have let the germ  get there in the first place. And because most of our protection comes from general immunity, not antibiotics, we will all gradually encounter these new germs and become immune. 

So, what about your general immunity? It is the foremost property and proof of general health, that asserts your right to exist in mutual self-respect alongside all other beings. It keeps others at bay. Usually, those others are kept outside your body altogether but a great many are permitted to live in the passages of your body - which technically are part of the outside, just like a fjord is part of the sea. The healthy condition of your inside linings is largely reliant on these layers of harmless, resident germs.

Let doctors worry about superbugs, because they don't yet know how they are going to deal with them. You only have to sustain your general health, which in turn sustains a groundswell of innate immunity. Health, remember, is far more infectious than any germ could ever be.

Hot Chilli Hearts

Hot peppers have an ancient reputation for curing angina by encouraging blood vessels around the heart to open up. I have seldom recommended them because they can cause indigestion, and I know a more reliable method for doing the same thing.

Now, however, comes experimental and epidemiological evidence from China (it should be Chile!) that hot peppers reduce blood pressure, at least. 

The race is on to conduct human trials and turn the principal active ingredient into pills. This won't help the Chinese and Hungarians, who already eat plenty of peppers. But it may be that, if you have an unaccountable liking for chillies, you're doing yourself good. 

Summer Holiday

We've been a bit busy with family events this summer and have rolled two months' news into one edition. Whether or not you've been away, I hope you are bronzed and refreshed by our very decent summer.