Monday, November 19, 2007

Salt and Soda

More than 10 years ago, back in what seems like another life, a spiritual guru of sorts recommended to me that I take hot baths in a pound of sea salt and a pound of baking soda to cleanse my aura. I did this regularly and then occasionally for many years and when I did so, I found that these baths made me feel really, really relaxed, to the point that I would often fall right asleep afterwards and always wake up quite refreshed. The other day I was reading an article about homeopathy which talks about whether or not there is any science to support that homeopathy actually works. The article got me thinking about how many of the "remedies" I have tried over the years have actually worked and how many might, alternatively, have been cases of placebo effect. Is there reason to believe that taking a bath in such a large volume of salt and soda would have more of a healing effect on my body than just, say, taking a hot bath? And, is the fact that I knew I was trying to "cleanse my aura" and knew I would be allowing myself to take a nap after the bath most of the reason I found it so refreshing? (Or is there a valid chemical reason for this? I notice that salt baths of varying kinds are popular health store items.) Just thinking about how relaxed I felt after those baths makes me want to go buy some sea salt and baking soda so I can try it tonight... Ah...

I've had an interesting journey in terms of my experiences with western vs. alternative medicine. When I was in high school, my Mom got very interested in alternative therapies and as a result I was exposed to some things I most likely wouldn't have known about had I been another "regular" kid in my town. Yoga classes, massage, nutritional therapy, "touch for health", homeopathy, Bach flower remedies, and chiropractic were among the things I got to try out. These experiences were fun and interesting and opened my mind to different cultures and alternative medical traditions. My interactions with many of these practioners also often led me to a great distrust for western medicine and a hyperfocus on all that it lacks. After college (what seems a lifetime ago), I became a student of alternative medicine for a year. The school I went to taught a mix of a therapy akin to Reiki and required a great deal of deep personal process work of its students. Interestingly, the head of the program didn't discount western medicine entirely at all, but rather was very interested in her system of healing as a complementary therapy -- which made me think a lot about all the components that need to come together to make a whole/healthy person. I still believe there are many things which are often lacking in western traditional medicine -- like just warm, personal attention and a look at the whole picture as opposed to just the place where symptoms are most acute. But, I catch myself at times having to re-think why I might think an alternative therapy would be more effective than a traditional one. Is it because the idea of it gives me a warm fuzzy of some sort? Or, is it because it actually works? Or, is it partly just some residual fear of western medicine?

5 comments:

Joshua Nemith said...

Hey Pam!

Great post. I'd keep in mind that there's an awful lot of hucksterism in "alternative" medicine and to be careful especially of chiropractors and others who do not really need to acquire an adequate training in medical science to achieve status in their fields. (My mother worked for 18 years in a chiropractor's office...yeah, some really silly stuff can come out of their mouths...and hands.) Skepticism is of paramount importance in this field.

Western medicine has its faults, but I have at least two family members whose lives have been recently saved by it rather than through any kind of homeopathic or alternative remedies. Without getting into two much personal detail, suicide has been avoided in one situation through medication and psychiatric treatment. Another situation involved heart disease and angioplasty. These people might not be around without the established treatments that medical science has provided. Of course there is always room for improvement and much ignorance to be overcome, which I can't always say is an attitude many "alternative" practitioners cultivate (though I do recognize that you mention your program director in your post who seems reasonable when it comes to western medical practice).

Certainly we often focus too much on treatment/cures rather than prevention in the west and that needs to be addressed (I would venture that properly socialized universal health care programs would aid this direction in the US by removing the profit incentive from expensive treatment programs and pharmaceuticals).

The placebo effect has been proven to be especially powerful in many situations, and in many cases entirely compatible with homeopathic clinical results. Which is one reason why so many hucksters can get away with making fast bucks off of bulls**t.

Some online sources I find useful:

Quackwatch

What is Pseudoscience?

Chiropractic: A Skeptical View

I hope I don't come off too preachy or dismissive, but I have quite a few family members and friends who work (or have worked) in the medical field. It is mainly through them I know there is reason for treading carefully in questionable "alternative" therapies and treatments.

Suze said...

I think it's telling that our own clinic in Madison, which is a pretty straightforward medical clinic, now has complementary medicine, which includes reiki, massage, chiropractics and some other things I can't remember.

I have a good friend in med school who is interested in integrative medicine. It's basically just a more holistic approach to health, looking at factors like diet and stress to help someone deal with a problem instead of just throwing drugs at it.

I agree with Joshua that you have to be skeptical--about everything, though!

Pamela said...

Does anybody know anything about the salt/soda question?

Suze said...

Well, I know soda baths are recommended for treating itchy skin conditions like eczema and minor rashes. At least, I think so. I may try giving my feet a soda bath tonight...I'll let you know how it goes!

Jake said...

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about the salt/soda bath question...

But on the general topic, all I can say is that while I agree that a healthy skepticism is vital, we mustn't let that become the thing we focus on to the detriment of human experience and truth. For my part, I've experienced and seen too many things that western medicine/science simply doesn't explain (and I'm not talking placebo effect, since I wasn't out looking for anything). But some of the non-traditional models at least recognize what I've seen and felt.

Having spoken with western health professionals and read a lot about the industry, I can tell you that the percentage of snake oil is only marginally lower than among the homeopathic community. And remember, too, that the placebo effect works both ways: if the people conducting a controlled study expect to see a certain set of results, they usually will, especially when the margins are at the limit of the statistical range. What's interesting is the outliers, those data points that are habitually discarded because they don't fit into the curve. Odds are good that the outliers are insignificant, but odds are about even that they're not.