If I told you that taking a chamomile teabag and adding it to your bath would help to draw toxins out of your body and muscles to improve your overall health, would you believe me? What if I said it really authoritatively? What if I said my uncle tried it and it cured him of a sore back? Would you believe me then? Should you?
That’s entirely up to you, of course. My answer, however, would be HELL NO. Because I’ve presented you with no evidence to support what I’m saying. The idea that something in your bathwater can detoxify your body or organs makes no real sense. The body has it’s own ways of removing toxins– primarily via the kidneys and liver.
Nothing I add to the bath is likely to make it’s way through the body to the kidneys or liver to aid this process. Reinforcing an idea with an anecdote still isn’t evidence. Maybe my uncle felt better after soaking in a hot bath- perhaps it had nothing to do with the teabag. Perhaps he’d taken 2 ibuprofen tablets before the bath and hadn’t mentioned it. Maybe his pain was minor and went away on it’s own- in other words, there is nothing to say that the teabag in the bath had anything to do with his back pain relief.
This is why evidence is important. It saves us from relying on anecdotes or blind faith when it comes to medical and health decisions. Lately, even mentioning the word evidence can see you treated with remarkable contempt.
The “Evidence Police”.
This is what people like me are, apparently. Asking for evidence is, in itself, somehow evidence of being closed-minded or mean. I’ve seen this a few times now, primarily from people promoting “alternative” treatments. Person #1 makes a claim, like the teabags removing toxins from the body. Person #2 asks how that works exactly, or shares information that says otherwise so that anyone (including Person #1) listening or reading might think twice before accepting the first claim as fact. Person #1 will generally react defensively, condescendingly or derisively. Terms like evidence policing are used. Science is mentioned only in quotation marks (commonly called scare quotes) and the tone is clear; people who ask for proof or offer information are only there to cause trouble because questioning things is RUDE. People who disagree do so because they just aren’t open minded enough.
The irony is strong in this lot. My mind is apparently “closed” because I want more information than someone’s friend’s cousin having great success treating their migraine with flower essences. I want to see studies with large groups involved showing how overwhelmingly effective it is for the majority of people who suffer migraines. I am not willing to simply believe a blogger with little to no qualifications when what they are telling me doesn’t add up. Despite the scorn I’ve copped from people like that, that isn’t evidence of a closed mind. I think it’s actually the opposite. Anecdotes have their place, but they aren’t the same as evidence. They can contribute to a bigger picture. They are part of the reason I visited a chiropractor around three years ago. I had read that there was some evidence for chiropractic treatment of lower back pain and the experiences of some friends convinced me to give it a go. To cut a long story short, it didn’t help me and wasn’t a therapy I liked. I returned to a physio because the problems I have require targeted therapy, stretches and other treatments they provide. But I did take on board the available evidence and give it a go.
Alternative Therapies and I.
Whenever I question this kind of stuff, I’m told that I don’t understand it because I’ve never tried it, that I am not “open” to it, that my need for evidence is getting in the way of accepting that things can “just work” without us knowing how. This is where my eye-rolling comes in.
They’d probably be shocked to know that I once studied aromatherapy for use with dementia patients, for example. I wouldn’t replace anyone’s medications with essential oils but it sure is a pleasant thing in an aged care setting. Smells nice, can be used safely in gentle hand and foot massage and is generally well received. It has a place a complimentary therapy. However, I’m not skeptical for no reason. When I was a kid, I had a long, unexplained cough. In desperation after the conventional treatments didn’t seem to work, Mum took me to an alternative practitioner who showed her a squiggle in my eye (the pseudoscience of iridology) which she said indicated some sort of blockage. I was given a large and lengthy course of naturopathic minerals and a nice massage. I did eventually get better- but was it because of the minerals, or was the illness, months later, finally running it’s course? I don’t know. I know when we returned for other ailments, it didn’t work- there’s my anecdote on naturopathy. Years later, I encountered homeopathy- what I like to call ‘magic water’. I saw homeopathic remedies have zero effect on pain and fever, and I started reading up on these “alternative” therapies not backed by evidence. I’ve been told that a lack of evidence means a lack of studies, not that something doesn’t work. Maybe that’s true- but it’s not the case for homeopathy, with some 1800 studies disproving it. I’ve also tried chiropractic (as mentioned previously), Bach flower remedies and even reiki. I experienced no positive outcomes from these things, personally, which makes sense to me as none of them has a strong evidence base.
What We Used To Know.
Quoting things that doctors from 20, 30, 50 or 100+ years ago believed were true as evidence that doctors and health authorities now are untrustworthy is a common, yet illogical, argument. Yes, people have had incorrect theories in the past. This is how science works at it’s most basic- we (as in, humans) question things, we look for proof, we try to understand how things work- and as we learn more, our position changes. Years ago, humans thought that the earth was flat. Now, we know better, thanks to the evidence from travelers, astronauts and scientists. We have learned enough to know our previously held theories were wrong and changed accordingly. The evidence we have now of “alternative” remedies that do not work is unlikely to change. Homeopathy, for example, is water shaken and tapped in a certain way, with things added at a dilution that means they are no longer detectable. This is why it doesn’t work and there is a mountain of evidence to confirm that- so unless homeopathy changes significantly, this evidence will still be relevant in the future.
The Case for Evidence.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be sure something has been shown to work before laying your money down or putting your health on the line. The thing is, non-evidence based treatments might be as benign and harmless as chucking a herbal teabag in your bath in the mistaken belief that it will “detox” you, or they can be downright dangerous. For example, there is a quack called Kerry Riviera who has a book and a group of devout followers using bleach enemas to “cure” their autistic kids- with no evidence that such a torturous thing works. There are people using homeopathic alternatives to vaccines (which obviously do not work, leaving children and others at risk). There are cases of people relying on alternative treatments dying, like Jessica Ainscough, Jess’s mother Sharyn and Penelope Dingle just to name a few. There are cases of children dying because their parents used alternative remedies. People have a mistaken belief that “alternative” remedies are somehow natural and therefore safe– and this is just not the case.
In short, wanting to see evidence or questioning someone’s assertions doesn’t make you a terrible, closed-minded person- it means just you’re fucking sensible. You could do a lot worse than sensible.