Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alternative Medicine: What Is It?

What is alternative medicine? It is a phrase that has been tossed around more and more in the media, the bookstores, and increasingly, the doctor's office, but how often does anyone say what alternative medicine is?

Theoretically, alternative medicine is any form of medicine that does not fit with in the scientific framework of western medicine. Once a form of medicine has been proven scientifically effective, and a theory has been determined to explain in the language of western medicine why it is effective, it should no longer be considered alternative

Unfortunately, after the theory comes the politics. In reality, in the United States, alternative medicine is any form of medicine that has not been accepted as scientifically valid by the American Medical Association and the United States Government. In other countries different official bodies will determine what is and is not alternative medicine. In the United States, massage is alternative medicine. In Canada massage is conventional medicine, and as such, highly regulated.

Would you believe that according the US government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vitamins are a complementary or alternative medicine (depending on how they are used) that have not yet been proven to have any greater effect on the human body then a placebo? Personally, I'd like to know if they would like to be treated for scurvy with a placebo. I'll stick with vitamin C. There are theoretical uses for vitamins that have not yet been fully proven, but that does not make the proven effects any less scientifically valid.

At the same time, just because someone claims what they offer is medicine does not make it true. Herbal supplements are not regulated, and may not fully disclose their ingredients. They certainly will not tell you about any dangerous interaction with your heart medication!

Of course, you can ask an expert, but keep in mind that there are many kinds of alternative medicine, an acupuncturist is not necessarily trained in herbs, and your primary care physician probably won't be trained in any of them.

If you are interested in using alternative medicine, either for a specific problem, or simply improve your overall health, it's probably best to first research what kinds of alternative medicine you are interested in, and speak with you doctor about whether or not she will be willing to work with an alternative medicine practitioner. Then find a practitioner who has had training in that specific area of alternative medicine. Most forms of alternative medicine are not licensed in the United States, so ask where they went to school, and how long they have been practicing. Then they can work with your doctor to make sure you get the care you need, without any unexpected side effects.

Some forms of alternative medicine that might be worth looking into are:

Oriental medicine: Oriental medicine is the only form of alternative medicine that is truly comparably to western medicine as a complete system of medicine. Oriental medicine is based on several theories developed thourands of years ago and first elaborated on in the Yellow Emperor's Classic, between three and five thousand years ago. Oriental medicine includes the practices of massage, acupuncture, herbal therapy, qi gong, and several others. Tradition Chinese Medicine is a variant of oriental medicine specific to China. It is the only variant of oriental medicine the can be found with relative ease in the United States. In many parts of Asia, oriental medicine is still considered the standard of medical care and western medicine is 'alternative.'

Herbal therapy: Herbal therapy is probably the most common form of alternative medicine found in the United States, and quite possibly one of the riskiest. While most of the conventional medicines doctors prescribe today were derived from herbs, the herbal supplements commonly on sale have no common dosages, mat contain fillers, and will rarely warn of side effects. While herbs can be used to treat everything that medication can, and possibly quite a bit more, make sure you speak with a trained herbalist before taking any. They can tell you what dosage is safe, what suppliers are worth using, and any potential side effects.

Homeopathy: Homeopathy was developed in the 1800's by two doctors who noticed that quinine, the only medicine capable of treated malaria, caused symptoms of malaria in healthy people who were given it. They theorized that like would cure like, so caffeine which normally causes wakefulness, would be used to help someone who was not sleeping through the night, sleep better. Homeopathy is probably the only alternative medicine that is safe to try without speaking with an expert, because the active substance is so dilute that it is not possible to over dose, or incur side effects on the amounts in the local health food store, never mind the few bottles you would keep in your home. At the same time, it is still best to consult a homeopath to be sure that what your taking will work for what you need.

Massage: Massage is the use of hands or tools to manipulate the muscles and tendons. The two most common uses of massage are to ease aches and pains, and for stress relief. While there are many conditions that massage will obviously not help with (diabetes, for instance), there are many that it is surprisingly effective on, such as eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, almost any muscular injury can be treated with massage to prevent scar build up, speed healing, and increase a restricted range of motion. There are many different forms of massage therapy, including Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Pre-Natal Massage, Shiatsu, Thai Massage, Lomi Lomi, Medical Massage, Chair Massage, Aromatherapy Massage and Hot Stone Massage. If you go to a massage therapist for a medical condition, make sure they are trained in Medical Massage. Some states have licensing programs for massage therapists now, as do most European countries. If you live in an area that has licensing, make sure the therapist you go to is licensed.

How Should Alternative Medicine Be Defined

There is still no strict definition on what alternative medicine really is. But presently, it borders on the broadness of description covered by what we know of as conventional or orthodox medicine. However, to define alternative medicine as we believe it to be, it may be a knowledge that is considered as unaccepted, untested and unscientific. All these were true if we are to look some years back. But since alternative medicine has been studied in the later years, employed by numberless institutions (such as spas and the likes) and accepted by many as cure to their ailments (even those that may be resolved through conventional medicine), this definition for alternative medicine may already be considered as obsolete.
On other terms, alternative medicines are practices that may be considered false that sometime go to the extent of quackery. However, this definition is much abused by several authorities that have their own systems of beliefs and other things to support to. Still others would define it as practices that may not be tested, refuse to undergo tests and may continuously fail tests. On other peoples' view, this may be too unfair for those practicing the knowledge that comprise alternative medicine and too sweeping a statement since many have gained healing by means of alternative medicine.
This debate on the authenticity of alternative medicine is further made complicated by the number of practices that are labeled as alternative medicine, which has some truths in them. In actuality, alternative medicine covers procedures involving metaphysical principles, spiritual and religious underpinnings, new sets of healing approaches and non-European medicine practices. These are enough reasons why alternative medicine is much harder to accept in the West rather than in the East where most these practices originated. In addition to these, many proponents of alternative medicine contradict and many individual belief systems may reject others.

Furthermore, critics of alternative medicine may further define it as therapy, treatment and diagnosis that may be performed legally by unlicensed practitioners. Yet, a number of doctors and physicians find good uses of alternative medicine when combined with the conventional medicine when they are trying to hit the balance.
But there are more logical and unbiased definitions that are accepted by most. Many of which deal only on the safety and affectivity of the alternative medicine without the protection on economic interests, political views and turf protection. One such definition is that alternative medicine is a field of healing, therapy and diagnosis that are not based on controlled studies.

There are however some therapies that were once covered by alternative medicine that are now accepted within the medical community since they passed approval over their affectivity. On the opposite, there were medical practices that are now disregarded within the medical circles since there are no profound evidences that prove their efficiency in healing.

In reality, the term alternative medicine is quite misleading. Both critics and advocates of the said practices support this view. Some support the idea that Western medical practices are the alternative medicines since they were preceded by ancient practices, which is somewhat true. Others would claim that the term "alternative medicine" was only devised by advocates of conventional medicine to discredit the natural methods of healing.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Racism still exists in America? White people, come get this man.

Yes. I did not think I would have to ask that question but as I continue to study and have conversations with people I find plenty who think racism has disappeared into the night. The prevailing ignorance is centered amongst a number of factors, but I want to focus specifically on one; the election of Barack Obama in 2008. In my interactions with a lot of White people, and experiences imparted to me by a number of Black and White colleagues, the notion of “we have overcome” pops up. What I mean by that is that the election of ONE Black man to the highest political office in this country (and perhaps the world, depending on whom you ask), has brought us out of racism. We finally slayed the beast known as racism and everything is okay. Now we can hold hands, talk about how much we all love Martin Luther King, and maybe play a little Gladys Knight in the background. Sounds silly doesn’t it? The era of post-racial America has emerged (read sarcastically) but the endeavor is wholly short-sighted. The goal should be a post-racist America but I doubt it will ever be achieved.  

The following is brought to you by the letter R. Think Sesame Street.

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, an older, early 50s, White male came in and sat next to me. The television in the waiting area was tuned in to Fox News and this particular gentleman became very chatty. The usual chit chat about what you do professionally, how long you’ve been in Atlanta, etc, are formalities but what has increased is the need to tell me what you think of Obama. The gentleman continues with “I don’t mean this to sound racist, but I don’t like Obama”. “It’s not a Black thing, but I feel like he doesn’t understand my country.” First, do you KNOW the man to say that? Has Obama come to your home and slapped you across the face? Second, YOUR COUNTRY?? Third, what’s up with the qualifiers? Maybe he thought I would beat his ass. I responded with a simple question, “Why?” The man claimed that Obama does not share the correct vision for America. He said Obama does not understand America is built upon individual liberty and ingenuity. The man is correct with respect to ingenuity. America was very clever in enforcing and legislating chattel slavery, specifically with the slave codes of 1793 as one example, to the continued disfranchisement of Black people in the North and South, and even to the segregation of military forces which inspired numerous calls to action by Black leaders in 1940 with regards to treatment, placement in posts, benefits, etc. The individual liberty belief is laughable, historically inaccurate, and flat out bullshit but conservative (and I mean that in the worst way you can imagine) White male historians, and those who wish to present historic fiction, love to push the individual liberty myth. The man went on to opine that he knows a number of Black people, whom he calls friends, who know the REAL truth about America and share his passion for this country. I nodded and thought to myself “this man represents a large number of Americans, and we are fucked.” I did not have time to knock down every single one of his statements but I did leave him with one question; how can you talk about this country being built on individual liberty when slavery was codified into law which dictated public policy?


Recently, an Arkansas representative made some racist ass comments about Black people being better off because of slavery. Benevolent slavery if you will. John Sununu, a senior advisor to the Romney campaign, suggested that Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was done solely because Obama is Black. If that’s true, Powell should have endorsed only half of Obama but let’s not be too technical. Such commentary is meant to undervalue Powell as a man and to render his remarks as complete hogwash. The move is part of a concerted effort which has historical antecedents that aims to devalue Black life. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that some racist ass White dude says some foolish and racist shit about slavery or about Black people. The historical record reflects such attitudes in newspapers, law, public policy, misuse and abuse of science/medicine, literacy tests, etc. If you are shocked by the seemingly upfront and boisterous attitudd by these racist people, I suggest you do some research. Go on over to the Auburn Avenue Research Library here in Atlanta, and you will see exactly what I am talking about. It’s not new and the only thing that has changed is the cast of characters and the technology that is used to present the beliefs. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hell Naw to Alternative Medicine

The following is a reply to a discussion group after a talk about health disparities and alternative/holistic medicines and therapies. 

The alternative medicine talk at the end of class made me want to jump out of my skin. Yes, there are alternative remedies and therapies for ailments which plague us. In the face of crises it is very common to reach for the simplest method to deal with a disease. Economic instability, governmental policy, the lack of access to viable and proven treatments etc all plays a role when an alternative remedy is suggested. Suffering is a part of the human experience and alternative therapies are meant as a response to that suffering. The question is do they really work? Is there a body of evidence which suggests the alternative therapies in question, no matter what they are, mitigate or eliminate the suffering of the individual or group? Many who have tried holistic/alternative remedies report positive results. They report feeling better as a result of those therapies. Upon further review of their medical history, it is often discovered that they have tried proven methods concurrently and/or consecutively with unproven methods. They may not report that aspect, not out of deception, but due to confirmation bias or just misreporting the events.  We have to be very careful to not mistake correlation for causation. Plenty of folks have claimed the ailment they possess just magically stopped. Diseases have life cycles as they are living organisms. We may not always determine why a disease may have stopped mutating but that in no way lends any credibility to any holistic/alternative methods. The person really wants the alternative therapies to be the cause of improving their condition. Wanting the methods to work is much different than showing that the methods have actually worked, and that those are methods useful in explaining the disease, and how it may function in patients in the future.

I understand the mistrust directed at the pharmaceutical, medical, government, and scientific communities. A lot of people have misused powerful positions to promote nonsense, quackery, racism, sexism, patriarchy, and outright bullshit. The Tuskegee Experiment was mentioned in class. Yes, it was a terrible event perpetrated by unscrupulous persons in the medical field and the government. The aftermath of that event brought about the creation of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research which was the first public national body to shape bioethics policy in the United States. On the heels of a tragedy, it took the actions of good people who were willing to demand change, and get it done to prevent such an event from happening again. It is a call to action to be watchdogs and take the message to the global arena.

I can empathize with the frustration a person may feel when dealing with an illness, and seeing a doctor and little to no improvement is achieved over a significant amount of time. But that does not mean we ought to promote alternative methods in lieu of frustration and lack of resources. It means we have to have a serious dialogue and plan of action about how we live, how we allocate resources, talk to medical communities, and learn about diseases. We have to talk to each other and teach one another about our health and the systems which support it. I am advocating for a social transformation instead of alternative remedies. I concede the view may be utopian but I think it’s far better than dealing with homeopathy, chakras, reflexology, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Ouija boards, and every other form of chicanery which makes a ton of claims but when asked for evidence they fail to produce results. It’s not just a disagreement. It’s about the lack of evidence for the claims presented and quite often ignoring evidence which disconfirms the alternative method and promoting therapies which fall outside of the consensus. Not only is that wrong, it is also dangerous. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I no longer say the N word; Musings from a Black Atheist

I struggled with this blog post for a few weeks. I was not sure how I wanted to articulate my thoughts, and feelings about such a destructive word. I know context matters, but in the case of that word, no context can excuse the usage of it. I am disheartened every time I see a Black person use the word, and create all kinds of justifications to excuse current and future usage. When White people use the N word, some Black folks defend White folks and say “it’s just a word”. No it’s not. Recent history tells us just how deep the N word has permeated our society. I cannot walk down the street, go to the grocery store, or walk into an elementary school lunchroom, and not hear the N word. I think it is time for a major change.

In order to change the culture, we must destroy everything with the N word on it. We need to get federal and state funding for programs to situate chronic users and consumers of the N word back into civil society. I would have loved to see President Obama and Mitt Romney talk about this pressing issue. I present this to you because I love my country and my fellow human beings. I want their mental health and physical health to be as sound as possible. Some folks need to be protected from themselves. I thought long and hard about this, plus I did the research. The N word is crushing our economy, our shared humanity, and our sense of self. I propose a federal law to outlaw the N word and harsh punishments ought handed out to states and cities who create safe havens for N word users.

I no longer say the N word. I find the word to be a tool of dehumanization. When uttering the word, I reveal a dark part of my character, and I become uncivil as do all others who use the word. Today is the last day I use the N word. Nutella will be banned from my vocabulary, my twitter feed, and my home. I hope you join me, and do the same. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Creationism and the Fraud of the 2 sides mantra.

Check out a real scientist and 2 "creation scientists". Notice how the other 2 do their best to try to poke holes in evolution. The only people who say evolution is unproven or lacking proof/missing links are people who are not in the field, do not understand the explanations/evidence, argue from ignorance/fraudulent appeals among other things. Instead of trying to knockdown evolution, develop a model which co-insides with the evidence to explain observable phenomena and stop trying to make the evidence fit with a personally satisfying conclusion. The other 2 do have Ph.D's and you may want to give them instant credibility because of that, but check out their explanations within the field of evolutionary biology with respect to the people and evidence within that field. Beware of quote mining by the the first guy in the second video. If you forget to ask critical questions, you may begin to worship.

Alternative Narratives: A Quick Breakdown of Conspiratorial Nuttery.

Please check out the article above and the article at the end of this post. I am addressing the 5 sections in the first piece. 

Check out the "us" vs "them" pitch line very early on, the supposed mockery (much of it is deserved) but this person/group is suggesting mockery is all that they and their fellow compatriots receive (untrue), and the appeal that they have already won but have failed to present a compelling case with solid reasons and evidence. 

1. Note the beginning of the narrative with respect to the 3 dimensions listed. 

A. The cosmic dimension, which the author just puts out there like you and I should know what the fuck he is talking about, is not evidence against the "official" story. It operates solely as her/his opinion about why a lot of people are unwilling to adopt the alternate explanation of the events of 9/11 by the truthers.  

B. Social; No evidence is presented towards debunking the official story. Instead the author claims the skeptics of the 9/11 truth movement do not want to be associated with the conspiracy theorists because they do not want to look crazy. It's a damn good concern in my view, but perhaps they do not want to be associated with people who make a ton of claims regarding a catastrophic event but fail to produce evidence for such claims. That's not mockery. It's making sure you do not uncritically accept any explanation for events or phenomena without solid reasons/evidence presented to you. 

C. Death; the narrative is extremely funny to me. Surely the people who put out the official story could find out what this person is posting and come get him and put him to death for exposing them, right? It's particularly stupid for the author to post it but the person gets to act like a hero for doing what other people are afraid to do. No evidence against the official story is presented there either. 

2. Ignorance; Seen any evidence against the official explanation? I have yet to see it. Other than claiming some ominous blackout of the REAL evidence (which itself is a knowledge claim for which he/she needs to produce evidence to warrant acceptance), the author is just bitching. There is also talk of laziness due to the rejection of whatever version of 9/11 truther nonsense he/she accepts. In other words you need to disprove whatever she/he believes and their explanation stands until knocked down. This person has assumed the truth of their conclusion already. If you do not accept their hypothesis, you are ignorant. They need to produce evidence. See the theme? 

3. False Superiority/Knowledge; this part begins with an outright falsehood. Simply because we do not accept what you say because you said it does not mean we are hostile in any way to new information/knowledge. The author makes a comment about the article not judging you. I do not think the person realizes the whole post is just that. It's a judgment against those people who do not accept their hypothesis. Even if it were the case that I or anyone else were hostile to new information or knowledge, that alone is not proof of some grand cover-up by the United States government. The part about accepting new views is self-serving. The author is only open-minded to the extent of which she/he will accept new info/knowledge as long as it supports the desired conclusion. 

4. Brainwashing; In other words since I have yet to get produce a damn thing for what I think happened, there is a systematic campaign to dumb down the masses and cover up the real truth. In order for you to cleanse yourself, you need to step away from what the big evil powers that be are putting in front of you and accept my hypothesis instead. Yea. Okay. 

5. Cover up; I knew this one was coming down the line. Everybody is in on the whole thing including entire governments, media outlets, academia, and even your damn cat or dog. People like to talk. Someone would have snitched by now but if they had the conspiracy theorist would still claim victory. He/She would say "ah ha! I told you". If no one says anything "they are paid to keep quiet and we will never know the truth".

Check out the book plug at the end of the article. Just damn.