Do We Need to Cure Modern Medicine to Cure Humanity? The provocations to discuss this controversial subject are many. These provocations have come from both sides – the staunch supporters of modern medicines and on the other side from the conspiracy theorists who blame modern medicine system for the every ill. The immediate provocation which comes to mind is the recent abusive diatribe of IMA (Indian Medical Association) against alternative medicine when the latter was allowed by the Indian health ministry against Covid 19. The second is a series of videos by Dr Biswaroop Bandopadhyay claiming that a fruit diet ‘invented’ by him can cure a dozen diseases. Of course, there are many videos on the web already by Dr B M Hegde telling how unethical and exploitative the practitioners of allopathy are. There also are many conspiracy theories floating during the present pandemic – particularly that the RNA vaccines are extremely harmful and can even alter human genes.
How healthy are we as compared to our forefathers?
Let’s look at the facts relating to human health, one by one. Let’s start with the global health scenario now as compared to a decade and a century back.
World Health Statistics 2020 issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) is the latest and most comprehensive document on global health. It gives major indicators of health for a decade. It says that over a decade, global levels of life expectancy have increased, child and mother mortality rates have fallen, and incidences of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV have come down. But there is a wide disparity among regions, nations and societies within a nation.
One fatal disease (smallpox) has been totally eradicated from the planet. Many others (e.g. polio, malaria, measles and rubella) have been contained to small pockets and are likely to be eradicated soon. Vaccination is supposed to have contributed a lot to checking many of these infectious diseases.
Among the four major non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases), there is a trend of their decline but the progress achieved at the beginning of the century has slowed down.
Taking comfort in that the ‘disease burden’ on society has been reduced considerably over the last many decades for which it has been collecting data, the world body argues that deaths and diseases would have been reduced considerably but for the poor health delivery systems in developing and poor nations.
In its 2019 Global Health Estimates, WHO admits that though life expectancy has increased by a good margin between 2000 and 2019, the healthy life expectancy or the years of healthy life has not been able to keep pace. That means, people are living a longer life but not all the added years are healthy years.
The overall ‘disease load’ on the human population continues to remain what it was several decades ago despite better health facilities, reduced poverty and improved nutrition, and enormous advances in the field of medicine. Poverty, administrative corruption, faulty lifestyles, contamination of food, air and habitats, armed conflicts, etc have not allowed humanity to become healthier. Economic disparities at societal and national levels have made the situation worse. Ironically, higher longevity itself is a big factor for higher prevalence of diseases.
The direction set by new technology coupled with rising consumerism is bound to create diseases not known to humanity earlier. New types of technology (e.g. widespread use of new electro-magnetic frequencies, use of gadgets throughout the day, electric-wired living spaces), new habitats (e.g. very high-rise buildings, space tourism), new materials (e.g. widespread use of petrochemicals and synthetic materials as food additives, packaging material, clothing and living spaces) and possibility of unethical genetic manipulation and biological warfare, etc pose new threats to human health. The present Covid 19 pandemic has shown that massive and fast movement of people and goods across continents have the potential to spread infectious diseases and create pandemics.
Too good to heal?
The mainstream system of medicine – modern medicine – has seen enormous advancements in the last 5-6 decades. Thanks to fast growth in computer technologies in all spheres, the medical field is growing even faster in recent years. Imaging of body parts deep inside the skin in 3D and video formats has become commonplace. Discovery of new ‘molecules’ has quickened. Organelles, body fluids and tissues are being created in the lab using, among others, 3D printing. Medical technology is leapfrogging into new realms using artificial intelligence and robotics, augmented and virtual reality, remote communication and control, molecular level assays, and other inventions. Sophisticated surgeries of the most critical organs are done with utmost precision.
Modern medicine is the most scientific stream of medicine. Its workflow is logical and scientific: the diagnostics has become very precise – going to organ, tissue and even molecular levels; prescriptions follow standard protocols that have the least chance of error; surgeries are done with least damage and pain. However, it is not be available to the majority of the human population, but it is what modern medicine can achieve and is serving those who can afford it.
In some model hospitals, internal systems are put under constant scrutiny for improvement, best practices are dynamically updated and improved upon. They ensure that the protocols and checklists are implemented in spirit. Professionals are regularly trained and re-skilled. Patients get a healthful environment, emotional support, friendly care, and continued post-treatment backup.
Production of medicines is very scientific. All kinds of new treatments go through a series of clinical trials (including large-scale human trials), detailed pharmacological checks, and scientific scrutiny before a treatment is approved for use.
There is oversight of medical developments and practises at local, national and international levels. All research is subject to peer-review and critical analysis. Medicine production units are approved only when they meet high levels of quality standard. Medicines are taken back when major adverse effects on human health are noticed later on.
Scientific community itself takes up the watchdog role. You can find many critical studies on deficiencies in the practice, quality and safety standards of hospitals etc. Governments are known to act upon them and address issues.
We all are partners in the health system and have lived it all our lives. So, let’s discuss how this most scientific system deals with common diseases. Allow me the liberty to take two commonplace examples at some length.
Examining the Modern System
Runny nose among small kids is a minor ailment that is almost universal. It occurs mostly because the body of small kids has not yet adjusted to the allergens and infectious objects in the air. There could be other causes such as the child hurting her nose, a reaction to certain food or strong odour, or a congenital deformity of the nasal canal.
The root cause is known through observation and diagnostic procedures. Common allergens and infections have been studied thoroughly, and specific medicines have been developed for specific causes. In an ideal world, a child with runny nose would be cured and become fit after undergoing a few days’ treatment through the modern system of medicine.
If you take the suffering child to a speciality hospital, it is likely that the child will be put through one or two tests and more than one medicine. This [excessive] treatment usually results in drying of the inner lining of the respiratory canal, decline in resistance to dust and allergens, recurrence of symptoms with minor changes in air quality or weather, changes in behaviour or sleep patterns, and so on. Her childhood resilience is usually able to tackle them, but in many cases it can’t. In such cases, as she is unable to describe her new-found discomfort and pain, she falls victim to another round of medication.
The second example, gastric ulcers. They are slightly more serious than a kid’s runny nose, but are also quite common. It is no brainer that gastric ulcer, or the wound in the stomach lining, is the result of attack on the stomach lining by the acid and digestive enzymes secreted by the stomach itself though the primary cause may be something else.
So, the treatment for gastric ulcer involves one or a combination of these:
- Removing infection if the ulcer is caused by that, with the help of antibiotics etc.
- Removing any physical object that might be stuck in the stomach.
- Reducing the secretion of acid by blocking the process of acid formation at one or the other stage. Thus the treatment takes care of this factor at molecular level.
- Diluting or neutralizing the acid by antacids or ameliorants.
- Reducing secretion or potency of other gastric juices.
- Controlling the emotional causes (mostly stress) behind excessive gastric activity.
- Lubricating the stomach lining by mucosal protective agents so that raw food and chemicals do not hurt the open wound.
- Soothing the lining [to reduce pain].
- Muting pain by use of painkillers.
I am not competing here with medicos on the causes and lines of treatment, but trying to show that everything is so ‘scientific’ and straight-forward, and that modern medicine is not just based on symptoms but goes deep into the root cause of the problem.
The irony is that this is a rather simple type of ulcer, happening at the beginning of the alimentary canal (not very deep seated), in a rather sturdy organ, and easy to diagnose and yet modern medicine does not cure it permanently in most patients, and the treatment leads to many side-effects.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a group of medicines commonly given to reduce acid formation in the stomach. Though these are said to be among the safest drugs for treatment of acidity, their list of potential side-effects is not too short: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, diarrhoea or constipation, and headache. Rashes and swellings are also seen in some users. Its long use is also found to increase risk to the circulatory system and heart, kidneys and even auto-immune system. Magnesium, vitamin B12 and iron deficiency, osteoporosis and bone fractures, and impairment of brain functions including memory loss are among many health issues associated with the use of this drug. Stopping the medicine is known to cause ‘rebound symptoms’. This line of treatment – forcing the stomach to produce less acid – can lead to many digestive malfunctions, and increases the chance of many types of gut infections.
Please note that PPIs are among the most widely used drugs not only for gastric ulcers but all types of diseases caused by hyper-acidity in the stomach. Tonnes of this drug are consumed every month by people without knowledge or concern for hundreds of other ailments they invite.
Please also note that this drug is given to a gastric ulcer patient in combination with others. Among them, some impair the functioning of the stomach, resulting in turn in many diseases of the rest of the digestive system, circulatory system (heart and blood vessels), kidneys, etc and nutrient deficiencies.
More serious diseases such as cancer are better examples but a dissection of how they are treated would be an overkill for the purpose of this article.
This ‘science’ of treatment has made the medical practice mechanical, and the trend is towards a more mechanical approach. The effort towards healing or curing has degenerated sequentially into treating the disease [and repairing the defective part]. It is therefore not surprising that the ‘Super Speciality’ hospitals are enormously more mechanical in their approach than the lowly general hospitals.
The trend of rising legal cases against practitioners and the need to follow the norms prescribed by insurance companies have added significantly to the mechanical way of treatment, because even if a doctor feels that a medicine or procedure is not unnecessary or the patient’s body is strong enough to heal itself, he goes for the rule-book prescription – one that is the safest from a legal or commercial point of view.
I have not come across much data on how much ‘health’ is lost because of administration of drugs and surgeries that were not required in the first place. Yet, there are scores of studies that point to a staggering health loss due to ‘scientific’ diagnosis and treatment (exposure to radiation, loss of intestinal useful microbes), wrong medication (excessive medication and overdose, ignoring counter-indications, drug-drug interactions, unwanted surgeries), and medical errors even in top hospitals in the US – the country spending the most on healthcare.
In one study, it has been found that about 250,000 patients die every year in the US due to medical errors or negligence, and this is the third leading cause of death. Studies in the US have also found that the risk of drug-drug interactions has been increasing over the years.
Molecules developed in recent years are mostly man-made and therefore have an intrinsic potential to disturb natural biochemical and neurochemical processes. Surgeries also can lead to complications as the body has to deal with a new reality unknown to it before. No wonder, the ‘science’ of modern medicine creates many diseases as the byproducts of treatment.
The votaries of the notion that only ‘evidence-based’ medicine has a right to exist and all else is quackery keep themselves closed to fresh wind of knowledge. They also forget that numerous wrong inferences have been drawn (many later corrected), many extremely harmful drugs were fed to millions before they were withdrawn, faulty levels of many health parameters had to be revised after they were used on millions. The blood of millions who have suffered because of these and other such faults is on the hands of modern medicine.
The raw ‘evidence’ that the medicine system created and spread, often in cahoots with the pharma business (e.g. many ailments occur due to vitamin deficiencies, antibiotics kill bacteria, babies need to be fed with special food rather than mother’s milk) have resulted in prescription and over-the-counter sale of drugs and food supplements much beyond requirement. Thanks to overuse of antibiotics, pathogens have attained resistance against many antibiotics and become more virulent. A generation of mothers have avoided breast-feeding their kids and fed them with baby foods.
On the other hand, the modern medical system debunked many traditionally known healthy practices only because they were not ‘evidence based’. It is another matter that some of them have been adopted later on or adopted with modification when fresh ‘evidence’ was found in their favour (e.g. traditional oils and ghee are not as big culprits as they were made out to be, all cholesterol is not bad, yogasans/ pranayamas/ mudras do affect biological processes beyond the physical moment they produce).
Physician, heal thyself!
The intent of practitioners of modern medicine reduces its goodness potential more than anything else.
There used to be a saying among doctors, which has of late disappeared from the vocabulary, “I treat, He cures.” Irrespective of whether the doctor believed in God or not, this expression gave him the humility to try his best so that the patient is cured.
The humility that is so much required for trying to cure the sufferer has given way to arrogance bred by [too much] knowledge about the craft of treating the patient. So, the patient is taken as a biological organ-system, which needs to be repaired. The conveyor-belt comes into operation to repair the machine called human body: diagnosis with sophisticated equipment and intrusive chemicals > administration of concentrated molecules directly into the body > removal or repair of defective body parts if required > more molecules for treating new defects that arise + more molecules for managing pain and stress to the body.
There is tons of anecdotal evidence of how doctors have been forcing patients with arterial blockage to go for surgeries. The logic given to the patient in this mechanical system is that there is a serious risk, that the risk would go up if a surgery is delayed, that you (the patient) are lucky that you have been diagnosed at this time and any delay would have proved fatal, that I (the doctor) will not be responsible if anything happens, that you (the patient) will not get insurance benefits if you ignore the risk… (Specialists who are not supposed to be too greedy are also seen giving this logic, because in their ‘science’ there is no scope for error in what is supposed to be the standard line of treatment.) It is also common knowledge that millions of child-births take place through caesarean operations, and most of them are totally avoidable.
It is undeniable that the modern (stress intended) system of medicine generates sickness of a kind and extent not seen when humans depended on systems of healing that emerged organically and were less invasive and more humanistic. Take a survey of a middle-income and rich sections of the society and it is likely that each person who ever had a disease and was then treated for it (especially a chronic disease) eats fistful of medicines or has to regularly take injection or suffers from a number of diseases that he did not have before the treatment.
COVID 19 has killed or made a serious impact on more people in communities with better modern medical facilities. I have no data to draw a definite correlation between the two but it is apparent that many people died due to faulty but logical-looking (and perhaps excessive) treatment.
Still talking of COVID 19, professional associations of allopathic doctors have vehemently battered the practitioners and promoters of alternative medicine systems that came forward with immunity boosting and such other interventions known to the society throughout ages. This, when the ‘evidence based’ treatments have not been of much help despite billions of dollars being pumped into the health system. Now mass vaccination seems to be the only hope for getting rid of the disease. Being a form of external biological object, these vaccines are likely to produce myriad side effects and thus suddenly add a huge burden of sickness on the society.
Votaries of ‘only allopathy is science’ logic are not open even to ‘integrative medicine’ in which allopathy is the primary therapy but other [proven, but not evidence based] therapies are also given a supportive role.
Too much arrogant and exclusivist approach does modern medicine no good. But because theorists are trained to think in their own silos and practitioners are trained to follow only what is taught to them, it becomes difficult for them to accept anything other than their own notions about right and wrong.
I think, modern medicine would have delivered much better had the authorities, management and practitioners been encouraged to observe and discuss the possible ‘wrongs’ in the system. There is a good amount of research that shows that even the top-rung hospitals in the most advanced nations tend to ignore the standards of ethics, quality and safety. There is too much vested interest in keeping the status quo, so there is no strong will to reform the system. A lot of distrust in modern medicine arises due to this.
It is not that practitioners of other systems of medicine are above the allopathic doctors in ethical terms. Nor is this discussion an effort to say that alternative systems of medicine are better in terms of research and self-scrutiny. Just that allopathy is the mainstream system of medicine and has more powerful tools, its practitioners have more opportunities and power to exploit and must therefore put themselves to much higher levels of internal and public scrutiny.
If the practitioners of modern medicine see millions of people looking towards alternative therapies as better, they themselves are to blame. People are not concerned about the ‘evidence’ behind a therapy but how much believable it is.
Helplessness and distrust feeds disinformation
Leaving aside general public and the practitioners of alternative systems of medicines, many allopathic doctors have been vocal about the shortcomings of allopathy – inherent and due to faulty practice. Part of it is definitely true, but a distrust in the system has the potential to fuel more distrust, even conspiracy theories.
Let me introduce veteran cardiologist Dr B. M. Hegde here for those who have not heard of him. After successfully practising the mainstream medical system, Dr Hegde is now of the view that the system has become highly exploitative and the way it is practiced, ends up doing more harm than good. He and many others have publicly shared numerous instances of deliberate or unintentional harm caused by the present system of medicine. Beyond a point, he is prone to exaggeration and use of extraneous matters to prove his propositions.
I do not buy many of the arguments given by self-styled anti-allopathy experts because in trying to prove their point, most of them exaggerate and use half-truths and fallacies. Most of their ‘exposes’ are full of intentional abuse and misuse of their own knowledge of allopathy.
Take the example of anti-vaxxers – those who are against vaccination. They, including qualified doctors, feel that vaccines are useless, even harmful. They believe that many diseases that were earlier rare and are now common, like autism, can be attributed to mass vaccination. They have come out with proof of harm caused to public health by unnecessary vaccination. The distrust in vaccination is so high that in a survey conducted in the US some months back, as many as 29% said they will avoid a shot against Covid 19. (It is learnt that following a sustained campaign for vaccination, the number has come down to 15% or so.)
In India, there is a popular saying that life becomes worse when you visit a police station, court or hospital (the three places you would ideally look up to, for your safety, justice and health). Is this not a sad comment not only on the working of these systems but also the systems themselves?
Can we agree to some pointers?
The arguments are likely to keep moving in a circle, so let us try to conclude the discussion. Can we agree to the following?
- In terms of science and advancement, the modern system of medicine, called allopathy, is the best available system.
- Becoming too much dependent on science and technology makes modern medicine too mechanical.
- Taking a suffering patient as a machine that needs to be repaired can at best treat the patient of his sickness, but not cure or heal him.
- The trend is towards excessive use of medicines and technology, which leads to avoidable consequences.
- Those who decide how allopathy should be practiced, and actual practitioners, are becoming slaves to their arrogance and ignorance by closing their doors to traditional wisdom contained in alternative systems of medicine.
- An integrative approach to human health is perhaps better than each branch working in its silo.
- Not only allopathy but other systems of medicine need to cleanse themselves of unethical practices. Allopathic practices are prone to become more perverse because allopathy has better knowledge-base and tools.
*About the author: This article has been contributed by Manoj Pandey. He does not like to call himself a rationalist but insists on scrutiny of apparent myths as well as what are supposed to be immutable scientific facts. Please don’t take the views of the author as the views of Raag Delhi.