Myth, magic, religion and Complementary Alternative Medicine

Myth, magic, religion and Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) how inescapably entwined.

CAM is by and large, derived from ancient and often far-eastern practices. Included under it's banner it comes in multifarous forms such as naturopathy, chiropractic, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani, Ayurveda, faith or spiritual healers, urotherapy, oxygen therapy, Polarity Therapy, Reiki, Gerson Therapy, holistic medicine, hydrogen peroxide, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, homeopathy, acupuncture, diet-based therapies and so on and on and on.

It is a billion dollar industry which is flourishing. And as per religion lo and behold there is a lack evidence-based assessment. The 'safety and efficacy is either not available or has not been performed for many of these practices' from

Dan's discussion posted on July 3, 2009 on TA site relates to this "Parents in faith-healing case never considered calling a doctor."

The following quote is an example of how CAM is hoodwinking us and sapping money out of the system.

The following quote is from

“Spiritual healers” using up scarce NHS resources

The University College London Hospital is to spend £80,000 on testing whether “spiritual healers” can have an effect on cancer.

“Healers” – who wave their hands over the patient and claim to transmit some kind of undefined ‘energy’ – want to find out whether their efforts increase the number of white blood cells in cancer sufferers.

Astonishingly, UCLH has a dedicated team of 10 “healers”, who cost the hospital around £80,000 a year to maintain. They are the idea of department manager Angela Buxton who first became interested in “spiritual healing” after the death of her seven-year-old son from leukaemia. She told the local paper: “Science has not caught up with how it works. Anecdotal evidence shows it works but we need hard evidence.”

The trial will need 50 volunteers who have had chemotherapy. “We want to know if the white blood cells are increasing after we give the patient healing,” Mrs Buxton said.

Dr Michael Irwin, co-ordinator of the Secular Medical Forum commented: “What a ridiculous way to waste £80,000. Surely the ten ‘helpers’ at UCLH could be financed by those, outside the hospital, who believe in this hocus-pocus? £80,000 could pay the salaries of four nurses for a year - a much better use of anyone's precious resources.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society said: “This ‘healers’ project is self-indulgent claptrap. There are many scientifically-proven cancer treatments available that health authorities cannot afford to prescribe. This rubbishy pseudo-science should be kicked out of the hospital immediately.”

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What caught me here was the fact that chiropractors were grouped in.
Oddly enough, I was going to start a discussion on them anyway, but this seems pretty fitting.

Are these guys quacks or what? My normal doctor sent me to one for like a year. I have serious shoulder problems from multiple dislocations, broke by C4, L2 and tailbone (all at separate times) and have a rib that constantly displaces itself.

My experience was pretty clinical. I'd come in, change into a hospital gown thingie with a tie back, lay face down and they'd ultrasound the areas where scar tissue had built up. Apparently ultrasound breaks up scar tissue (1?). After that, I'd get little electrodes put on certain muscle groups and lay there while they shocked the hell out of them, causing contractions.(2?) This would go on for a while, then I'd get my muscles stripped, which was basically like a sadists version of a massage. Some massive hulk would apply a painful amount of pressure and sweep over my muscle groups in the same direction over and over again to get the muscle fibers all going the way they are supposed to. (3?)After that, the doctor would come in and do 'adjustments'(4?) such as the normal neck popping and stuff. It was pretty scary but felt quite good. The rib hurt to pop, but after it would feel really, really good for a few days, and it was easier for me to keep proper posture.
I was X-rayed the first time I went in and the doctor could at least read an X-ray. He was able to point out the various places I'd broke.
One of the things I found questionable was that they claimed that chiropractics can help with allergies. Knowing a bit about biology and a lot about allergies, I don't quite see how this is possible. I do, however always have headaches on the same side that the shoulder injury and rib displacement is on, and it is the side that has the worst congestion, hands down.. Coincidence? Placebo?
Oh yeah.. My aunt is majorly into holistic healing and dead against chiropractors. She believes that a trained masseuse will relax all the bound up muscles to the point that the bones will naturally shift into place without force. Forcing them to do so causes soft tissue damage and that will eventually push the bones back out of alignment. even some holistic/natural healers don't like chiropractors....not sure if that's relevant or not.
Yes, chiropractors are quacks, and rarely will a chiropractor actually be an MD. Chiropractic is based on the idea that our body is perfectly capable of healing itself (100% - even things like organ or nerve damage) as long as we keep the "vital flow" of "innate intelligence" unblocked - which means keeping the spine "in alignment".

What is innate intelligence? Well, it's a magical healing lifeforce that comes into your body, through your head, straight from God. No, I'm not kidding - that's exactly what they say it is.

Of course, there's no evidence that it exists, which means there's no way to detect it, which means you often get different treatments/diagnoses from different chiropractors. So they've attempted to change their tune a bit. Nowadays they'll say that, to keep your body in peak condition, you have to make sure that your nerve signals aren't being blocked or inhibited by something called a "subluxation".

Here's the real medical definition of a subluxation: "Partial displacement of a joint or organ."
Here's the chiropractic definition of a subluxation: "A misalignment or malfunction of the spine that is less than a total dislocation, which affects the nervous system and its ability to correctly control or monitor the organs and tissues of the body."

So it almost makes sense: if your nervous system isn't getting its signals through, your organs could suffer. Except that the nervous system works in binary - either the signal gets through, or there's no signal at all. If a nerve were really being 'blocked' by a spinal misalignment, you'd have much more serious problems than pain. You wouldn't have pain at all, since that part of your body would be numb or paralyzed.

So as it stands:

1. Traditionally, it's a God-based magical healing practice.
2. Today, it's a practice based on a total lie about how nerves operate.

There are some benefits you can gain from chiropractic - namely, reduction of lower back or muscle pain. But if you actually get this sort of treatment from a chiropractor, what you're getting is technically illegal, unlicensed physical therapy, which you could get from an actual certified and trained physical therapist without the huge potential for malpractice.

If you get a chance, read through the literature that a chiropractor gives out. I'm 100% sure that at some point it'll talk about innate intelligence, vital flow, vital energy, or other such things. Here's an excerpt from a pamphlet I got at a recent health fair at work:

What is Chiropractic Care? Chiropractic is a natural method of healthcare that treats the causes of physical problems rather than just the symptoms. Chiropractic is based on a simple but powerful premise: With a normally functioning spine, nerves, and joints, and a healthy lifestyle, your body is better able to heal itself. That's because the spinal cord, which is protected by the spine, is the main pathway of your nervous system. It controls movement, feeling, and function throughout your body.

None of these claims have ever been substantiated by testing or evidence. Also, notice the use of the 'natural' buzzword, as an attempt to draw in the CAM crowd.

A good way to know if a treatment is quackery is to see how many problems it claims to be able to solve. Check out this image from Snopes:

95% of all human ailments seems a bit steep to me.
The guy I went to was an M.D (or at least had certifications saying as much) and I was referred to him by another M.D
He prescribed me muscle relaxants, so I assume he was indeed a doctor. I don't remember any talk of energy flow or the like, but he did talk about my spine being out of alignment and that joints would build up waste if they weren't cracked and stretched and such. One of the treatments some people had (but I didn't) was called traction. This is basically where they do X-rays and take measurements and see if your alignment is mal-adjusted from muscle tension, injury or improper growth. They'd put you on this mat and then place enforced blocks in various positions along your hips, side and ribs that basically forced you straight. The mat could be inclined or reclined in various positions to help, too. I heard it was really, really uncomfortable at first, but after a few times it didn't bother you anymore.
I mean, there were no incense burnings or crystal therapy or anything. Everything I experienced seemed pretty legit.
Maybe I just got one of the rare ones.
Hell, maybe there really was a ouji board in the back room and he just told me what he thought I'd buy.
Joints definitely don't build up "waste"; the liver and kidneys have had several million years of evolution to work up toward cleaning out waste and toxins, and they do it pretty well. I'd be interested to see how they think waste gets into your joints, though... All cracking your joints does is release gas buildup from within the joint.

As for the traction thing... that's definitely a bit of woo. The only way it could have any real lasting effect is if you did it for several hours at a time on a regular basis. A temporary adjustment to the spine and joints doesn't last very long.

Something to keep in mind is that even if the treatment actually does fix spinal alignment or joint flexibility, there's still the underlying claim that there's a magical life force energy flowing through the spine and the joints, and that a blockage in the flow is the cause of disease and pain. Once you get beyond the most basic physiological claims, it's all quackery.
Well, the traction was for several hours at a time, three or four times a week (my boyfriend had it done due to a curvature problem.)
I dunno how many weeks or years or whatever did it, though, so no help there.

I'm not arguing with you. I'm just telling you my experience. I wasn't told about any magical life force or anything.... I went in with a lot of upper back, neck head and shoulder pain and that's what they did.
I never finished my treatment because I moved, so I can't say if it really helped or not. All i can say as it hurt at the time (some of it) and I did feel better immediately after. WHY I felt better can be easily scrutinized. I make no claims there.
Full disclosure, I am a chiropractor. I am an atheist. I am skeptical...and I'm not even sure where to start on this.

Your loose understanding of chiropractic and your weak attacks remind me of a fundie attacking evolution. I would suggest you do more research. Actually go look at the evidence out there supporting chiropractic. and are places to start.

Even you know and admit that people can realize benefits from chiropractic, then you go on to attack it as total quackary? Strange. Do we need more research? Yes. But there is a lot out there, and more is being done.

Making such broad sweeping statement about what chiropractors believe as if we all have the same philosophy is ridiculous. In any medical community you will find a wide range of philosophies. Are there some pretty weird philosophies out there in chiropractorland, sure are. But the vast majority don't think they're curing 95% of human ailments. That is very steep, indeed. D.C.'s that make these claims (there's one in my area) are generally ostracized, criticized, and generally unliked by other chiropractors because we know it gives us all a bad name.

Saying that you will get different diagnoses from different chiropractors....well. That's why it's such a good idea to get a second opinion. My sister-in-law just went through a series of tests with multiple m.d.'s and got multiple diagnoses. It doesn't mean the entire medical profession is made of means diagnosing is difficult and there is some art to it.

To attack the origins of chiropractic, then condemn it for changing its explanations as it learns from scientific studies is the same argument fundies use to attack science. It's a pretty lame argument. Medical doctors spent thousands of years blood-letting and chasing demons out. That's pretty cracked up. But they've learned and changed. So has chiropractic.

Innate intelligence is a buzz word. It's not magical, it's not from god. True it started out as being defined as "from god," but not anymore (unless you're talking to a fundie chiropractor). Never in my education was god mentioned. Never. Our bodies heal themselves. That's pretty well proven, unless you know something I don't. Do you still have skinned knees from when you were a kid? Have you ever heard of an M.D. unwilling to provide certain types of care (abortion, the pill, contraception, etc.) due to religious beliefs? That doesn't mean all of medicine is quackery, it means that doctor has been twisted by religion. It happens in all professions.

True, most chiropractors aren't M.D.s. Because we're D.C.s. Our education is very similar to Medical school for the first 6 semesters or so. I had classmates who were M.D.'s and were surprised when they found the education equal. I had chiropractor friends go to medical school after graduation and were pleasantly surprised to find it easy because it was all review. Did you know that most physical therapists, dentists, and janitors aren't M.D.s? That doesn't mean they aren't to be trusted, or that they don't know what they're doing. It means they're a different profession.

Chiropractic is illegal physical therapy? That's just plain wrong. I have a license that I earned from the state through rigorous training and testing. If a physical therapist adjusts you, what your technically getting is illegal chiropractic treatment because they are not qualified to manipulate joints. At least in most U.S. states. You have it exactly backwards.

You know what... I've had this argument before. I'm tired of it. I know I haven't addressed all of your assertions. Please don't take that to mean that I don't disagree with them or that they are legitamate.

Here's a link to the other discussion I had on TA. Go take a look at that as I've laid out some of my arguments there. Some of it is off topic, but I suspect you will head in that direction eventually. I'm not the smartest guy, or the best at arguing, but it's a start.
Your suggestion that I go out and look at evidence that supports chiropractic is pretty funny; especially since you compared me to a fundie. The reason I haven't seen much of it is that most of the evidence does not support it. Telling me to look for evidence that supports your position, rather than to review all of the evidence and make my decisions from that, is precisely what a fundamentalist does. Pointing me to a website that supports your position and doesn't mention the majority of the research is just dishonest.

Chiropractic has not learned from scientific study. There is no mechanism by which chiropractic could work, and beyond the simple physical therapy treatments - which, as I said, are illegal for chiropractors to perform if they're not licensed as a physical therapist - no offered mechanism has survived testing. There is simply no way any of the claims beyond simple spinal straightening could be valid. They totally violate our understanding of human physiology and neurology.

It's funny that you'd first make an argument that dentists and janitors aren't MDs, but they're still experts in their field, then go on to say that you have "a license" that you gained through rigorous training. I'd be willing to bet it's not a license as a physical therapist, which is required to legally practice physical therapy! Your claim about physical therapists not being legally able to manipulate joints is patently false, as well. It's called orthopedics.

You're definitely not going to convince me that a D.C. is anything like an M.D. You can get a D.C. from a website, through the mail, or from an alternative medicine/newage/crystal healing college. There are no standards for the degree whatsoever; the only requirement to perform chiropractic is to have a degree, regardless of where it comes from.

If you don't believe it's energy medicine, fine. But you're not doing chiropractic, then. Chiropractic began as energy medicine and just changed its terminology to sound more modern. Our bodies have a very limited ability to heal themselves. To suggest that organ failure or disease can be caused or healed based on adjustments to the spine is nothing more than to apply reflexology to the spine. Tell me, how many classes on anatomy did you have to take to get your D.C.? How many on neurology or physiology?

There is no evidence whatsoever that spinal adjustments have any effect on anything but the spine and spinal cord.

Consider the fact that chiropractic teaches that children can be adjusted in the same way as adults - even though their bones are still flexible and in many cases not fused into their final forms. A basic understanding of anatomy makes the entire practice of chiropractic on children invalid.

I know you're probably not going to take this to heart. But I have investigated all the evidence. It just doesn't pan out in support of chiropractic as a valid modality for general-purpose health care.

Every chiropractic pamphlet I've seen talks about solving the root cause of the problem, rather than just curing the symptoms. But everyone I know who goes to chiropractors does so for recurring back pain. If chiropractic really got to the root of problems, why is the pain recurring?

On the page you linked to, you mentioned that you know chiropractic can solve problems like colic or prolonged crying because you've seen it happen. Anecdotes are not evidence. Have there been any good double-blind, controlled trials to test whether these claims are true? How do you know the colic and crying wouldn't have just gone away without your treatment?

Your claim about ear infections is especially telling. Adjusting the spine will not do anything whatsoever to affect the immune system in the ear, let alone in the spine itself. There is no mechanism for this. It's magic, pure and simple. Again, how do you know that the problems weren't just naturally going away? With antibiotics, we actually know precisely why they work. We know both correlation and causation. With your approach, all you have is correlation. It's just as valid to say that the child stopped wearing wool, then the ear infections went away, so it was the wool repressing the immune system. One big post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

I don't think you're being nearly skeptical enough. Oh... and by the way... just calling yourself skeptical doesn't give you 'cred' as a skeptic. You're not turning a very skeptical eye on the thing you promote. That's just like a theist...
I noticed you got really mad when I disagreed with you. Did you see the other conversation with Cubik's Rube and how respectful it stayed? You could learn something from that. It's how most people talk to each other here on TA. This is my safe haven where I can express myself openly and NOT be attacked. I'd appreciate it if you can respect that.

But, if that's how you want it...

You are patently wrong on almost all points. I'll just pick a couple, because well, I think it is a great example for you and everyone else reading just how mislead you are about this topic.

"You're definitely not going to convince me that a D.C. is anything like an M.D. You can get a D.C. from a website, through the mail, or from an alternative medicine/newage/crystal healing college. There are no standards for the degree whatsoever; the only requirement to perform chiropractic is to have a degree, regardless of where it comes from."

I went to 5 year program. It consisted of 10 semesters, 15 weeks each, with between 22-28 credits each. I went to an accredited college, of which I believe there are 16 in the nation. You can look them up to see the course requirements and I think you'll find them quite rigorous. For instance, I spent about 8 hours in a cadaver lab for 3 semesters.

Here's a link to the chiropractic college accrediting agency:

Here's a summary of one chiropractic college's curriculum...mine was very similar:

Summary of Course Hours for Doctor of Chiropractic

* Anatomy 585 hours
* Biochemistry 75 hours
* Physiopathology 345 hours
* Microbiology and Public Health 120 hours
* Diagnosis 525 hours
* Diagnostic Imaging 270 hours
* Clinical Laboratory 75 hours
* Associated Studies 165 hours
* Chiropractic Philosophy 135 hours
* Chiropractic Technique 615 hours
* Ancillary Therapeutic Procedures 90 hours
* Clinical Practice Issues 75 hours
* Clinical Experience and Outpatient Services 1,320 hours
* Total Core hours 4,380 hours
* Elective Courses 225 hours

As to my scope of practice, note that I am indeed legally allowed practice certain parts of physical therapy. I never claimed I could practice physical therapy without a license (or if I did, I certainly didn't mean to).

As to P.T.'s manipulating joints, I know that in some states it is allowed. I also know that in Wisconsin, it is not. There was a rather large legal battle where p.t.'s were trying to get it added to their scope, but it did not. I don't know where you are, but my understanding is that in most states they can manipulate joints, but not to the point of cavitation. Perhaps it is not most states, but it is my understanding that it is.

I referred you to websites that cite actual research. You claim to have done research...can you tell me where those studies can be found? There are plenty of anti-chiropractic websites out there, but I'd like actual studies with actual chiropractors doing actual adjustments.

Now can you see just how wrong you were about my education and scope of practice? Are you willing to admit it? What education do you have that you think you have more knowledge of chiropractic than me? Can we bring this down to a respectful level and talk like nice people? Please?
This following quote is taken from the NECK911USA website
"Q. My chiropractor told me that he has the same education as a medical doctor, is this accurate?
A. This is not true. No matter how many years a chiropractor studies for his degree, it cannot be compared to a medical education. First of all, admission requirements to chiropractic colleges pale in comparison to those of medical schools, so in general the students are starting out at a completely different level. Secondly, while many of the chiropractic courses have similar titles to those taught in medical schools, they don’t necessarily have the same content. For example, physiology may be taught in a chiropractic school, but it is taught from a “chiropractic viewpoint”. Additionally the lack of exposure to a diverse patient population in an actual hospital setting makes it extremely difficult for a chiropractic student to gain any valuable experience in the evaluation and management of real patients. Medical students learn to take care of sick patients in VA and University hospitals where they become directly involved in the hands on management of these patients under the supervision of resident physicians and faculty members. Chiropractic students “practice” spinal “adjustments” on “patients” in campus clinics. Many of these “patients” are recruited for this purpose by the student and it is not uncommon for them to consist of friends and family members, suffering from no ailments, who are merely helping the student to meet their quota of “adjustments”. Lastly medical graduates usually undergo an additional four or five years of post-graduate hospital based residency training before beginning practice. Almost all chiropractic graduates begin practice immediately; post graduate education generally takes the form of “weekend seminars”."
Using neck911 for a resource is like referencing Ray Comfort in an argument about evolution. It is one of the leading websites with misinformation and scare tactics.
Here is the "Mission Statement" from the "leading website with misinformation and scare tactics" (my underlining).

"Neck911USA is a volunteer group of individuals who provide consultations on complications due to neck manipulation. Although most cases are due to chiropractic manipulation, Neck911USA is equally concerned about cases that arise from physical therapists or medical doctors."

the link is

Note they say that "most cases are due to chiropractic manipulation", but other therapies are listed.

I can't see how they are picking on chiropractic, it looks fair to me. Sounds like there's a problem there with manipulation.

Check out the "Victims page"


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