In August 2010 the New York Times ran a front page story entitled ‘Years later, No Magic Bullet Against Alzheimer’s Disease’. Of course they meant that there is no magic drug or surgical approach that makes a real difference. The same statement could be applied to most chronic disease today. Chronic disease remains chronic with drugs. They may work symptomatically but that is not exactly a cure. Not much has changed since 2010 and while conventional medicine still seeks a drug answer, Integrative doctors are marching ahead and already getting much better results using integrative and natural approaches. My sense is that doctors going on their experience and being open minded tend to be years ahead of their colleagues who toe the line and wait for conventional science to give them direction and answers.
Most conventional specialists will also claim that nutritional supplements, dietary factors, herbal preparations cannot cure chronic disease or at least there is no scientific evidence for this. These statements always puzzle me. It is not as if doctors don’t know that a deficiency of a single vitamin for example can lead to serious disease and pathology.
Read any description of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), Beri Beri (B1 deficiency), folic acid deficiency causing neural tube defects and increasing levels of homocysteine, B12 deficiency effecting blood formation, vitamin D deficiency affected gene expression, Niacin deficiency causing dermatitis, diarrhea and dementia and so on. These are the well known serious deficiencies of single vitamins. Yet long before these overt symptoms appear, the physiology of the body is already under stress. When a whole range of nutrients are deficient – as in the majority of people today – then it seems to me that it is clear that this enormous stress in the body will cause a range of problems manifesting eventually as a ‘disease’.
The fact that the disease has names like Alzheimer’s, cancer, multiple sclerosis, inflammation or autoimmune disease, should not distract us from the possibility that most chronic disease has in the beginning also a mixed nutrient deficiency aspect to its causation.
Doctors need to wake up from infatuation with treating disease
Science cannot handle this kind of complexity, so scientists just tend to ignore the problem and deal with the disease using drugs rather than finding ways to check what is deficient in the body and correcting this. No laboratory in SA to my knowledge can check the full range of vitamins and minerals, including the intracellular levels, the amino acid profiles, the different fractions of lipids, etc. and give the doctor an intelligent report on a possible diagnosis. Doctors today really need to wake up from their infatuation with treating diseases and work towards maximizing health.
It is true that Integrative doctors are often functioning in the grey zone i.e. outside strict EBM (evindence based medicine) which relies on recognized science and tends to diminish the value of experience. As Professor George Ellis writes in his essay ‘The Myth of a Purely Rational life”….. ”It is my contention that this view of a purely rational way of existence is a deeply flawed view of how we can conduct both our personal and social life. It is not possible to reason things out and make decisions purely on a rational basis. The true situation is much richer than that.”
It seems that even a quantum physicist like Prof Ellis recognizes the value of imagination, intuition, emotions and feeling and the role of experience. Insisting that EBM in its most narrow sense is enough to understand health and disease is clearly scientism and not good science. The unknown and the known, the measurable and the immeasurable, the light and the dark, the art and the science are unavoidably enfolded into each other and contribute to the rich unfolding and emergence of the creative potential that we all actually experience.
Inspiration and intuition steps out of the silence
I have been asked to give a presentation at a Conference on ‘Critical Thinking’. My argument is that there cannot be critical thinking without the recognition that any good and critical thinking is dependent on ‘non thinking’. It is when I recognize the limitation of thinking and can step back as it were into the non thinking domain and allow myself to be soaked into the silence of that space that inspiration and intuition can then step forward and direct the thinking in a creative way. This process is akin to what is referred to, as ‘emergence’ i.e. when something new arises from the basic building blocks that one would not have expected.
Emergence is seen in the way an artist looking at a blank canvas suddenly steps forward and with a flourish makes their first strokes on the canvas, it is the way intuition arises and it is the way that a mixture becomes a compound with properties that were never envisaged from the basic building blocks.
From the known we sink into the unknown, from the light into the dark to emerge again with new ideas. So the light is actually the old and in the dark or unknown is the quantum potential waiting to feed us with new information.
Objective facts only give us averages and intervals
“The real world is complex, plurivocal, richly textured with the potential for multiple significance. It has many meanings that require a plurality of ways of understanding. These meanings cannot be reduced to that of the physical sciences.”
Professor Jacques Kriel.
And Professor Steve Reid in his inaugural address at the University of Cape Town in August 2011 had this to say:
Even the best evidence-based studies based on randomized controlled trials – the objective facts as we know them – can only give us averages and confidence intervals. They cannot predict how a particular drug or procedure will affect this particular patient at this particular time in this particular situation, which is always unique. And this is where we have no option but to rely on the subjective, the so called “art” of medicine, because the protocols and guidelines and evidence from the journals and textbooks can only take us so far but no further, and the rest is up to our clinical judgment.
Life will always remain a great mystery. Trying to reduce it to bite size pieces, while interesting enough, will keep leaving out the greatest mystery that surrounds us all.
By Dr. Bernard Brom – chairman of the SA Society of Integrative Medicine
Find an integrative medical doctor here: www.integrativemedicine.co.za