Monday, January 4, 2016

As A Natural Health Advocate, I Won't Cry Wolfe, Either

There's a post I've been seeing around a bit from Forbes entitled "A New Year's Resolution For Science Advocates: Don't Cry Wolfe."  I'm a long-time user several types of naturopathic and magickal healthcare in addition to actively seeking others to experiment with.  I am sympathetic toward skeptics, and am perfectly fine with the idea that any of the naturopathic medicines and treatments I give myself only work by placebo, if that is the case.  And it absolutely grates on me when people share stuff from David "Avocado" Wolfe.

Interestingly, I have more of a history with Avocado than many others in my life--including those who post his stuff--because in the early 2000s I was a huge fan of the reality TV series "Mad Mad House," which he co-starred in as one of the people with alternative lifestyles ("alts") the normies were learning from.  He was actually one of my favorite alts.  I still use some of the hippie dippie phrases he used on that show in my daily life without really thinking about where they came from.  After the show was canceled, I didn't hear much about Avocado at all unless I actively looked him up.  Not until his Facebook page blew up.

And, well... I'm disappointed even if I shouldn't be surprised.

It's not for the reasons in that Forbes article, although there are a few parallels.  Calling conventional cancer and other lifesaving treatments a scam is deplorable; it's not just an annoyance, it's downright murder.  As a member of the queer community, learning about my own history inevitably includes learning about the early HIV/AIDS movement, which in turn includes the acknowledgement that somewhere along the line factions of ACT UP and other advocacy groups started pushing dangerous ideas about AIDS being caused by HIV medication rather than HIV.  This perspective has killed hundreds of people, queer and straight alike.  I have tolerance for people who choose to use aromatherapy for a headache without an over the counter painkiller or who use nutrition to try getting off their blood pressure medication or even those who have made a complicated and difficult personal choice about their own cancer, HIV, diabetes, or some other life-threatening condition.  I have zero tolerance for people who use lies to try to discourage other people from getting treatments that literally keep them alive.

But that's a different story, oddly enough.  Even if I were still an antivaxxer (as I was in the past) and a cancer and AIDS conspiracy theorist, I still would advocate avoiding Avocado--and many other natural health superstars--and that's what I'm going to talk about today.  People focus so much on the scientific skepticism aspect of this situation that they forget people like this are terrible for the natural health community, too.

If you read why I came back to natural health after a few years of using conventional medicine for everything, you know that one of the reasons was this: Conventional medicine is not considered a human right in the United States.  We don't get healthcare included in taxes like in other developed nations, we have to buy exorbitantly priced health insurance that may or may not cover everything we need and foot the remainder of that bill on our own.  For me, making an herbal syrup or taking nutrition into my own hands or using herbal teas instead of pharmaceuticals is a line of defense between doing nothing and going into even more staggering medical debt.  Things are slightly better under Obamacare, but it's far from the free healthcare the people of this country really need.

Second only to the monstrous side effects of my particular medications (compared to their benefits), this is what drove me to natural healthcare... these therapies are, as many have put it, "the medicine of the people."  They're accessible.  They're inexpensive.  Often you can make them yourself.  With some of them you can even pick them yourself.  And while not all of them have scientific evidence of their efficacy (several do!), it's better for both your physical and emotional health than just doing nothing if you do not have access to a medical doctor.

A lot has been written by skeptics on the idea that home remedies are somehow worse than nothing.  I strongly do not believe that this is the case... but I do believe that too much of the finger-pointing with regard to people going to extreme lengths to avoid conventional medicine ignores just how much of it is driven by either lack of medical access or--in such cases where access is available--lack of respect from medical practitioners.  Transgender people often have every little ailment blamed on our hormone therapy.  Fat people wind up with ailments left untreated, being merely told to lose weight instead.  Black people and black women in particular are given fewer painkillers because doctors just assume they feel less pain.  It's no wonder marginalized groups have a hard time going to the doctor.

Natural treatments are a way to deal with health problems while bypassing this extreme oppression.  At least, that's the case when they are actually accessible.

People like Wolfe and some other natural health superstars (Joseph Mercola is another big one, Dr. Oz to a lesser but still dangerous extent) are not pushing accessible medicine, whether effective or not.  They're preaching an irrational degree of distrust in conventional healthcare in order to sell things at ridiculous prices.  And the formula is really simple and really sinister.

First, you create doubt.  Sometimes you mine from legitimate doubt... things like conventional wisdom on diet (this is driven too much by agricultural and political interests, albeit probably not as much as people who push extreme diets would like you to think).  Sometimes you create a doubt where one has absolutely no reason to exist... like claiming HIV medications cause AIDS or you can cure cancer with a strict paleo diet or vaccines cause autism.  Add something that makes people feel like they're in on a secret, like "your doctor doesn't want you to know this because they make money from pharmaceutical companies."

When people are freaking out over this stuff, whether it's bullshit or not, present an alternative.  Switching to natural salt, for instance, or juicing, or contacting the earth, or Omega-3 supplements.

Notice that all of these are reasonably accessible.  Diet may be a difficult one in a food desert where the only food available is packaged convenience food, but barring circumstances such as these, going vegan or paleo or fruitarian or something isn't particularly difficult.  You can get a juicer or a dehydrator from most thrift stores at a very cheap price (I got one for $8.00 once).  Fish oil is mainstream, as are many varieties of natural salt.  And for contacting the earth/grounding/earthing?  You can go outside.  If it's warm out you can even sleep outside sometimes!

But you need to make exorbitant money, right?  So tell people these inexpensive solutions are inadequate... even worse than what you were doing before.  Fish oil?!  Ha!  You need to take the more-expensive krill oil instead!  And not only do you need to take krill oil, you need to take the one specific brand I sell in my store, because all other krill oil contains unspecified toxins of some sort.  And you can't just take regular old sea salt, or even the Himalayan pink salt that is now everywhere, nope.  You need this one specific brand of Himalayan crystal salt, and you need to use it in everything.  Use it in bath salts.  Drink saline solution with it.  Inhale it.  Irrigate your sinuses with it.  These are jobs that could not possibly be done with any other type of salt.  I'm sure these Himalayan crystal salt people won't be satisfied until we're salting our fucking roads with it.

This is why natural health has a reputation for being such a racket.  The natural health industry has taken techniques and ideas that should be accessible to everyone and made them subject to the same capitalist fuckery* that makes conventional medicine such a mess.

The author of the original article probably would not very much like me or the things that I believe in. But on one major point we would almost certainly agree... the natural health superstars you see on the Internet, especially in those insufferable Facebook posts, are taking advantage of people using a mentality that actively kills people.

As a side note, it's important to mention that there are reasons why natural health food products are more expensive.  Lack of demand means that to stay in business each product much make more money.  In addition, mainstream products are loaded with fillers, things that aren't dangerous but do not confer any nutritional or health benefit.  When I talk about the exorbitant price of natural healthcare, it's not necessarily a condemnation of current companies that require high-prices just to survive, and in fact I'm aware of some companies that will even teach you how to make their products for cheaper.  Not everybody has the ability to make their own, and for those people these products are valuable, and people who make them deserve to eat.  Capitalism sucks, but we unfortunately live under it for now.