How to get fooled into believing in alternative medicine

I recently posted a series of memes on my Facebook page. They’re united by the theme: Conventional Medicine Wins!

For example:

Why isn’t this woman’s experience proof that alternative medicine works?

No one calling 911 begs for a chiropractor of a homeopath.

No one treats a venous snake bite with essential oils.

Alternative medicine cannot cure fractured bones.

In an effort to dispute my claims, a woman posted her fabulous experience with alternative health. It’s a classic example of how the unsuspecting come to believe in quackery.

She wrote:

I was diagnosed with several auto immune diseases at age 11. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The medication they gave me methotrexate and plaquinel had bad side effects and lowered my immune system so every time somebody sneezed I was sick for a week it was terrible.

My good friend’s mother runs in alternative Health care Center – center for natural healing. I can tell you that I was able to slowly get off almost 9 medication and I ate very healthy- I juiced, as well as others things. Never in my life had I been pain and medication free. It helped me tremendously and my blood work showed that!

That’s proof, right? Not really.

Why isn’t this woman’s experience proof that alternative medicine can successfully treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?

Because nearly 60% of those who suffer JRA will eventually go into remission.

According to the paper Disease progression into adulthood and predictors of long-term active disease in juvenile idiopathic arthritis:

At 30-year follow-up, 59% of the patients were in clinical remission off medication, 7% were in remission on medication and 34% had active disease. 70% of the patients were in the same category of disease activity at 15 and 30 years…

Indeed the goal of JRA treatment — the same treatment the commentor found so unpleasant — isn’t merely to treat symptoms. The goal is to achieve remission. Ironically, the methotrexate and plaquinel, the treatments she thought were unnecessary and unnecessarily toxic, were almost certainly the reason she achieved remission. The alternative medicine “treatments” made no difference at all.

I share this story not to make fun of the commentor. She didn’t know about the natural history of JRA. Therefore she was easy prey for those who sell snake oil.

There is another lesson here. Like most people who are gullible enough to be persuaded by alternative remedies, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. It’s not difficult to find out the natural history of JRA and the high rate of remission with treatment. A simple Google search will bring it up.

Why didn’t the commentor ever check? Probably because she thought that her personal experience was enough; it never occurred to her that she needed to know the actual science. And because she didn’t know, she was vulnerable to those who would take her money and offer nonsense in return.