Mainstream Medicine Smitten by Hocus-Pocus

Mainstream medicine is partly to blame for the ‘treatments’ Goop promotes By Arthur Caplan and Timothy Caulfield – August 2, 2017

It is easy to mock the ridiculous and potentially harmful health advice and product lines promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow and her team at Goop.

Sleeping near healing crystals, lugging around jade eggs in the vagina, swilling moon juice, undergoing raw goat milk cleanses, dabbing on sex dust, and snapping photos of your aura are just some of the ridiculous treatments and remedies offered at high prices to those looking for health ideas from a movie star.

How does this company and other equally daffy outfits pull off these highly lucrative health scams?

Mainstream medicine is partly to blame.  

Some of the most prestigious hospitals and clinics in North America offer many of the same kinds of “treatments” that Goop promotes. 

And some of the practitioners who advise the company, those Goop calls “the best doctors and experts in the field for advice and solutions,” work at these same institutions.

Why is this?

And isn’t it time for all of mainstream health care to condemn rather than tolerate doctors who are advising the Goop-like companies of the world that are growing rich by peddling a potent mix of glamor, hipness, and mumbo jumbo.

the twisted logic that “ancient therapy” means “effective therapy” can be found on both — to justify cupping5, essential oils6, and jade vagina eggs — and, incredibly, on many academic and university websites pushing alternative practices.

Today, all medical education from medical school through continuing professional education preaches the value of evidence-based medicine, with one exception.

Up in medicine’s attic, the crazy uncle of medical practice, alternative and complementary medicine, is allowed to offer aromatherapy, crystals, herbal remedies, homeopathy, reiki, detoxification, and other nostrums and elixirs at many of the finest hospitals and clinics in North America.

Neither evidence nor scientific plausibility are required.

Custom, cultural beliefs, and fairy dust are deemed sufficient to entice patients willing to pay for the equivalent of bleeding.

Think we are kidding? In fact, many universities and academic health centers throughout North America have provided either explicit or implicit support for everything from spoon bending to homeopathy to reiki.

Worse, some of these institutions also endorse the supernatural underpinnings of these “therapies.”

The Cleveland Clinic, to cite just one example, suggests that energy therapies like reiki work by “promoting balance and flow in the body’s electromagnetic and subtle energies.”

Ridiculous? Yes. But not very different from the much-mocked language that Goop and Gwyneth use to market wearable stickers that target our bodies’ energy imbalances, because, as the Goop website explains, “human bodies operate at an ideal energetic frequency.”

A team of researchers recently published a wonderful study outlining how primary school children in Uganda could be taught critical thinking skills in the context of health claims. 

Teaching a few basic concepts — that testimonials are not evidence and that ancient and/or popular does not mean a therapy is effective — had a significant impact on how the children assessed claims about health remedies. Perhaps Gwyneth and a few of the leaders of our best academic health institutions should take the same course.

Arthur L. Caplan heads the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine.
Timothy Caulfield is the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta and author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?”

9 thoughts on “Mainstream Medicine Smitten by Hocus-Pocus

  1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

    Too bad Art Caplan doesn’t bother to check which CAM treatments have merit according to modem standards (aromatherapy, for one!) and which don’t….and before y’all laugh much more about vagina eggs, do a few sets of Kegel exercises with one.


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I believe in and have used alternative medicine, but it’s not in the same category as standard western medicine, so I believe comparisons don’t make sense.

      Alt-med works more subtly with the body’s normal mechanisms while western medicine tries to control and push the body around. I also notice that alt-med is very hit-and-miss: some things work amazingly well for a person, but others not at all.

      It seems completely individual-centric and can’t be easily standardized to work for a whole population, so I don’t believe the statistical computations of scientific studies are necessarily appropriate for this different approach to healing. I think much of alt-med works on different principles than western med, but science hasn’t caught on to this alternate mode of effectiveness yet.

      There’s much we don’t know and I believe alt-med is still in the realm of the unknown – just like the phenomenon of how my mom’s dog (who I’m very close to) suddenly becoming animated and starts pestering her just at the time that my brother picks me up at the San Diego airport when I fly down to visit.

      I keep forgetting to call my mom when I arrive at the airport and only call after we’ve already driven to her complex. Then I hear about how the dog became unusually animated 20-30 minutes previously when my brother and I had started heading her way from the airport.

      Our current scientific knowledge cannot explain that, even though it’s very real and even reproducible. But because it depends on the nature and strength of the unscientific connection between an individual person and individual dog, it would be darn near impossible to design a scientific study to prove it.


      1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

        That’s amazing, about your mom’s dog! While it’s true that many non-Western healing modalities work via assumptions that are foreign to the empirical Western model that only became popular after 1910 (after the Flexner Report lauded the “Johns Hopkins Model”), there is also lots of science that doesn’t seem to be as widely disseminated in this generation as it has been previously. For instance, the mechanism of action of acupuncture has been demonstrated in electromagnetic conduction studies–on cadavers. This was a helpful step. We know that acupuncture works on animals, which we generally assume are not subject to the placebo response. Mapping the electromagnetic conduction properties of acupuncture points and channels gave Western docs something to think about, for maybe thirty seconds.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Zyp Czyk Post author

          I didn’t know acupuncture had been scientifically validated!

          That makes me wonder even more how I could possibly have had zero effects from 2 months of twice-weekly sessions of electro acupuncture plus daily doses of a “herbal” mix (with whole dried earthworms) from which I had to make tea.

          Even if it didn’t help my pain, I don’t understand why such an unusual therapy didn’t affect any part of my body or mind at all. That in itself seems very mysterious since I tend to have extreme and quick responses to even the smallest doses of pharmaceuticals and my body reacts strongly the very next day to any new form of physical activity.


          1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

            Acupuncture is very highly operator dependent. In other words, sometimes practitioners lack the necessary skill, or make the wrong diagnosis, or are trying to treat one thing when they need to be treating another. Sometimes the practitioner and the patient are mismatched. Also, it can take up to 20 sessions with TCM acupuncture to begin seeing results–something that Westerners can’t bear. I don’t do TCM acupuncture. TCM tries to squish Oriental medicine into a Western box, where it’s “standardized,” which means it doesn’t work for non-standard people! You would need a non-standard acupuncturist, I bet.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily Raven

    The main problem is dumbing it down. Take yoga for instance. A big part they’re forgetting is in order to do all that unbelievable body systems control stuff your mind AND body must be in tip top shape. Eastern and pagan systems almost always state this before you undertake a therapy/experiment. The healthy body part has been conveniently left out by people that peddle what basically ammounts to prayer now. I hate to say it but most of what comes out of this country from training here is basically indoctrinated that “it works because if you say otherwise you’re a naysayer” and a whole lot of the finer details are left out. It’s like turning a high level philosophy college class into a couple week long show up twice a week positive thinking class.

    Another huge problem is claims that things cure nonspecific stuff such as “chronic pain” that rarely appear by themselves. Both Western and what serves as eastern medicine in this country have conveniently forgotten that as well.

    I bash alt medicine. Alot. Yet I’ve studied numerous spiritual practices. It’s because I know the actuality and the how of what’s supposed to be going on better than the practitioners I’ve med and can smell the watered down crap a mile away. If you’re fortunate enough to find someone trained from the old country, go for it if that’s what you fancy, but be wary if they claim anything is 100% safe, because even accupuncture and yoga of course are not.


  3. Pingback: Cleveland Clinic’s Abhorrent Tx of Pain Patients | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

  4. Pingback: Alt Med – Risks of Untested and Unregulated Remedies | EDS and Chronic Pain News & Info

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