Chemophobia and “alternative medicine”

Today I’m sharing a post by Michelle Francl titled, ‘Curing chemophobia: Don’t buy the alternative medicine in “The Boy With a Thorn in His Joints.”’

It’s a response to an opinion article in the New York Times Magazine about choosing alternative medicines and therapies over Western ones (read the original article here). Francl responds to this article very strongly but intelligently. She argues that the author of the New York Times Magazine article, along with many other people, suffer from what she calls “chemophobia”, which is the fear of anything deemed to be a “chemical” (which, by the way, is everything). She points out very astutely that many alternative medicines and treatments, although they may have more “natural” sounding names than Western drugs, are still just that: drugs. They are made up of chemicals that alter the way your brain and body act. Many of them have potent healing powers, but just like many Western drugs, many of them have unwanted and sometimes harmful side effects. In fact, as Francl points out, many alternative medicines have not had any regulation or rigorous scientific testing in clinical trials, meaning that we often don’t know if there are harmful effects, or how bad they might be.

Photo: © Grafvision | Stock Free Images

Photo: © Grafvision | Stock Free Images

I understand that when it comes to health, and particularly to your own child’s health, people can get very sensitive and even desperate. I understand that you are willing to try anything to save someone’s life. What I do not understand is why someone would blindly accept that something works as a miracle cure, with no evidence other than a few anecdotes, while at the same time completely rejecting something that has mountains of evidence contributed by people and scientists all over the world. I don’t understand why people choose to use unproven methods, just because they are “alternative”, in place of Western medicine. I can understand using some of these in combination with Western medicine, but I still think people need to be careful about ingesting random substances that have not been thoroughly tested, simply because they’ve decided in their head that the name is more natural sounding than a Western medicine.

This is reminiscent of the posts I sometimes see in my various social media feeds that claim that the cure for something is already known, but the government / dodgy scientists /  pharmaceutical companies / some other conspiracy theory is hiding it from us. I think the last one I saw was some alternative therapy that cured cancer. Why would we do that (hide a miracle cure)? Why would we deny treatment to so many people around the world? Even if we were all evil, why wouldn’t some company take the opportunity to patent it and then make a metric buttload of cash out of it? It just doesn’t make sense. Scientists and policy makers, just like normal people, want there to be answers to so many of the problems we face today in terms of medicine and health. Maybe some of us even suffer from those diseases or know people that suffer from them. Maybe we just want to make a ton of money. Either way, we wouldn’t hide results like that. I used to argue till my fingers turned blue on social media when I saw stuff like that, but after a too many responses like, “The reason there is so much disease in the world is because we are focusing too much on it”, I gave up.


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