Alternative Medicine: Snake Oil or Elixir of Life?

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Questions like these have been flying back and forth like gunfire across the trenches for decades.

There was a brief ceasefire in the early 1990s, when boomers like us saw headlines like ‘New Age Rage’, and magazine articles predicting that the age of complementary medicine was dawning at last.

Sadly, the orthodox medicos soon returned to their familiar trenches, and to hurling insults at the other side.

What you need is a good diet. If you’re taking vitamins, you’re pissing the money down the toilet for no benefit.’

Associate Professor Ken Harvey, Monash University

That’s been orthodox medicine’s mantra for decades: ‘You’ll get all the vitamins and minerals you need through a balanced diet.’

‘What you need is a good diet,’ Associate Professor Ken Harvey from Monash University told the ABC’s Four Corners program. He added that, if you’re taking vitamins, ‘you’re pissing the money down the toilet for no benefit.’

SAD – The Standard American Diet

Let’s bury that old chestnut about diet up front.

These days, the fruit, vegies and grains we buy have been stripped of essential nutrients by broad acre farming and long-term cold storage. The meat, chicken and even the seafood we buy have been adulterated with antibiotics and hormones. In any case, the Standard American Diet is doing Americans anything but good. That’s because the official stance hasn’t kept pace with the science, and public health authorities aren’t prepared to admit it. So our ‘good diet’ is neither balanced nor full of nutritious foods.

The Standard American Diet with the fat base of starches

You see, without knowing it, over decades, we’ve let Big Food poison our food chain.

Chicken and pigs grow up in overcrowded cages and are fed dubious diets, as does the salmon we’re encouraged to eat more of. Read about Tasmania’s toxic secret but be warned: you may be turned off salmon for good. We were.

The awful truth is that farmed salmon, promoted as healthy and produced in pristine Tasmanian waters is anything but; the fish are fed a foul cocktail of battery hen leftovers like beak, feet and feathers, and kept in floating pens so crowded that the seafloor below is denuded of vegetation.

In addition, the diets our experts recommended have spawned a tsunami of obesity, made millions of people sick with heart disease, and are turning more millions of people into diabetics. Yet no one has or is likely to go to jail.

Food as Medicine

In the 1990s, the Lyon Diet Heart Study did an interesting experiment: they put 2 groups of 300 people (each had already suffered a heart attack) on 2 different diets – one on the American Heart Association (AHA) diet, the other on a Mediterranean Diet. Over the next 4 years, there were almost 3 times as many deaths in the AHA diet group as in the Mediterranean diet group.

The diet recommended by our health experts Down Under has long been a mirror of the AHA diet. Do we need any more proof that the diets recommended by our health agencies are making us sick? Is that why 7 out of 10 Aussies take supplements and visit alternative practitioners? It’s not because they believe in faith healers, it’s because they’ve lost faith in a system that has let them down.

Those healthy Tassie salmon pens

These days, it’s the diseases of civilization that kill most of us – chronic conditions caused by dud diets and lazy lifestyles – and we boomers are the most affected. The drugs doctors prescribe are of little use in this context, and come with a host of adverse effects. Many of us have looked for better alternatives, and found them.

Doctors do their best to help us, but get no training in anatomy, exercise or nutrition, let alone mindfulness, relaxation techniques or modalities such as yoga.

That’s why there are so many and varied practitioners trying to fill the healthcare gap. So why does medicine not work with alternative practitioners, instead of treating them like Christians in the Roman Empire.

Crackdown or Crack-up?

The US FDA has a long record of persecuting alternative practitioners and closing down makers of supplements on spurious grounds. Chiropractors have occupied the top of their hit list for decades, followed by alternative cancer clinics and Chinese herbalists. New legislation has put an end to these witch hunts at last.

Across the world we’ve seen enlightened physicians combine orthodox and complementary therapies to good effect, but the MBA (Medical Board of Australia) doesn’t like the idea. A recent headline on ABC news read ‘Complementary medicine crackdown by Medical Board has doctors fearing natural therapies ban.’

You really have to wonder how this issue worked its way onto the To-Do list of the MBA. There have been no deaths attributed to alternative treatments Down Under in many years, and a mere handful of cases of harm done by them.

Potentially a doctor like myself…who integrates knowledge of nutrition and biochemistry and gastrointestinal health, could be told … you are not allowed to recommend vitamins or minerals to your patients.’

Dr Nadine Perlen, Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine

Quality in Australian Health Care

On the other hand, the 1995 Quality in Australian Health Care Study found that preventable medical errors accounted for around 18,000 deaths and 50,000 cases of permanent disability every year. (More in this segment of ABC Word Today.) Most of the media were asleep at the wheel as usual, and the shocking results of the study made few headlines. The exception was ABC World Today.

When the issue surfaced again in 2011, Monash University professor Jeff Richardson told the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘the issue of adverse events in the Australian health system should dominate all others, but it would be closer to the truth to describe it as Australia’s best kept secret.’

‘…the issue of adverse events in the Australian health system should dominate all others, but it would be closer to the truth to describe it as Australia’s best kept secret.’

Prof. Jeff Richardson, Monash University

Yes, 1995 was the first and last time this survey was run. Since it caused a lot of red faces in our health and medical circles, there has clearly been no desire to confront more pain of that kind. What is incomprehensible is that the MBA wants to impose more regulation on alternative medicines, instead of confronting the elephants running amok in its own house.

The USA has been more open. Over there, 128,000 deaths a year are attributed to correctly prescribed drugs, while estimates for deaths caused by medical errors range from 250,000 to 440,000 per annum. The low estimate of 250,000 deaths a year comes from a recent Johns Hopkins University analysis. Even using this lower figure, medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA after heart disease and cancer.


The opioid crisis in the US has cost 400,000 lives these last 20 years. Yes, 20,000 deaths every year. Where were the regulators? Why did they and the majority of doctors buy the drug company’s claims that oxycontin was not addictive? Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.

Most people who took these drugs for long periods became addicted, and many of them switched to heroin since it was a lot cheaper than oxycontin.

...more people now die in Australia from accidental drug overdoses than in road accidents, and prescription painkillers now cause two and a half times more deaths than illicit drugs.’

Australian & New Zealand College of Anaesthetists

As drug maker Purdue Pharma faced class actions suits in every state of the USA, our TGA reversed the over-the-counter status of pain killers containing codeine such as Nurofen, and made them prescription only.

Estimates suggest that 1 in 5 Australians now live with chronic pain. The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists tells us that ‘more people now die in Australia from accidental drug overdoses than in road accidents, and prescription painkillers now cause two and a half times more deaths than illicit drugs.’

Sleeping Pills are taken by many more people than opioids; 6 to 10% of Americans are said to be regular consumers. A recent study found that sleeping pills increased the risk of premature death by close to 400%, and the risk of cancer by 35%. The leaders of this recent study estimated that sleeping pills may be responsible for 320,000 to 507,000 deaths in one year.

The point I’m making here is simple: just because an area is tightly regulated and run by well-trained professionals, doesn’t mean it’s safe. And despite the gold standard trials run with prescription drugs before they gain approval from our regulators, they still kill large numbers of people.

The researchers discovered that…about 9.5 percent of all deaths stemmed from medical error.’

Dr. Martin Makary, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

That’s why experienced physicians refuse to prescribe drugs that have been in circulation for less than 5 years. That’s how long it takes for the most serious adverse effects to bubble to the surface. As boomers, it’s worth asking a few questions before we trustingly accept the script.

Alternative Medicine – Unregulated Chaos?

Yes it is, in large part because mainstream medicine opposes its regulation since that might give alternatives legitimacy, while the status quo supports the claim that there’s no proof of efficacy for supplements.

When you read our insights into drug fraud and the multi-billion dollar fines imposed on drug makers for criminal activity, you cannot help but wonder about the competence of our regulators.

When you discover that at least a quarter of a million Americans lose their lives to the adverse effects of correctly prescribed drugs, you’ll wonder some more. ‘Iatrogenic disease’, the name for death as a result of medical treatment, is now the third leading cause of death in the USA. This short video has more detail.

Some on the orthodox side will point to the deadly effects of certain supplements, but struggle to come up with even a handful of documented cases. That doesn’t mean supplements should be thrown around like confetti at a wedding, but it does means supplements are a whole lot less likely to do us boomers harm than many drugs.

Find out more about food as medicine and how to achieve your ideal, healthy weight in our eBook: MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way. Hint: It’s the perfect diet for boomers like us, because it’s no diet at all.

Lose Weight


Discover The Muscles & Marbles Mediterranean Anti-diet

Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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