A letter in our local free newspaper caught my eye tonight. Along with the rather outrageous statement that medical pharmaceuticals are 'just toxic pills and potions' pushed as medicines by marketing types (sorry, what? Does this person really think that drug companies & doctors are out to poison people?), there were some other interesting claims that I just couldn't resist...
Hmm, where to start? For example, the writer claimed that Doctors don't even know airborne viruses can be killed simply by burning essential oils - those who worked in perfume factories survived the plagues that killed millions.
Well, contrary to what the letter-writer thinks (in company with many others, judging by some of the on-line material I've seen), doctors and pharmaceutical companies really are interested in curing people when they can, & alleviating suffering if they can't. It seems a little strange , if burning essential oils really does do the trick with viruses, that there isn't an active research program underway to harness this. And when I did a search of the literature, I found that this is indeed happening - that medical researchers are looking into the value of essential oils as anti-virals. In some cases some oils have quite pronounced anti-viral effects in vitro, but the hows & whys have yet to be sorted out. So there isn't really some major conspiracy by doctors & pharmaceutical companies to hide lifesaving treatment - they're doing the work needed to find out what works, & why. (But I suppose, since they aren't actually burning the oils, that this doesn't really count.)
(The bit about the perfume factories is simply a red herring - what plagues, when, & where? And where are the data?)
Or how's this? Doctors are living in the dark ages, they still can't cure infections, their poisonous antibiotics working less as superbugs thrive. Doctors can't cure infections, huh? What about the Nobel-winning success story involving Helicobacter pylori? Routine treatment of urinary tract infections, glue ear, athlete's foot, strep throat, syphilis... A lot of people would be very sick, or very dead, in the absence of antibiotics. Yes, we do have a problem with the evolution of multiple-drug-resistant 'superbugs', due to the misuse of antibiotics. And doctors were among the first to recognise this - & also to work towards minimising further risks by changing prescription practices & improving patient education. And yes, antibiotics can be toxic - in the wrong doses. Dose is important. (Equally, natural remedies can be toxic in the wrong quantities - borage, tansy, foxglove & belladonna spring to mind.)
And there have been no deaths by natural remedies in New Zealand. If we take one 'natural remedy', homeopathy, as an example, this is hardly surprising. After all, homeopathic 'remedies' are essentially water (or sugar pills); you need to drink quite a lot of water to get to the point where it's harmful. And anyway - how do we know there have been no deaths? How can we verify that claim? Where are the data to support it? Randomised double-blinded controlled data would be good - both for the 'no deaths' claim and for evidence of cures.
But the statement that nearly had me spraying green tea over the paper was the characterisation of sodium chlorite as 'stabilised liquid oxygen' (used, says the letter-writer, in combination with echinacea & vitamin C, to cure 'any type of infection'). R-i-i-ght.
Oxygen is usually a gas. Like other common gases, if you want to get it into the liquid phase, you have to chill & compress it. And in that state, it comes in pressurised cylinders & it's cold indeed - the boiling point of liquid oxygen (above which it becomes gaseous again) is -183 degrees Celsius. Sodium chlorite is a strong oxidising agent, most commonly used to generate chlorine dioxide for bleaching paper. One thing it's not, is liquid oxygen. (Rather surprisingly, given the regard the letter writer has for it as part of a 'natural' treatment for all that ails you, the process used to generate sodium chlorite is a long long way from 'natural'...)