Don’t get me wrong – I can enjoy a kale mango turmeric smoothie as much as the next guy. But I’m no hipster when it comes to alternative medicine. The real name for it should be “unstudied medicine”, and the reason it is not studied comes down to dollars and cents:
No one makes enough money from apple cider vinegar (melts away extra pounds! cures heartburn!) or whatever else to fund a solid, scientific study.
Even so, some studies do get conducted. A recent study looked at whether fish oil with or without aspirin helps kidney dialysis patients. (It doesn’t.)
This is not a conspiracy to keep effective medicines or treatments away from us. It’s simply the way things are, with our current state of technology. When we advance to new technologies, we might be able to study a lot more.
Imagine an app for a study of Venus blueberry extract as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. The app would assess you, determine whether you qualify, and enroll you instantly. Your phone weighs how much Venus blueberry extract you are taking, and accepts data about your symptoms. It generates a list of lab tests that you need; it sends an order to your doctor’s office, who automatically forwards it to the laboratory. Yes, even this ultra-automated study would need researchers, statisticians, and technicians but it could enroll a lot more people at a lower cost.
This is sounding a lot like the Jetsons (I always wanted the flying car that folds up into a briefcase!).
Having a lot more people involved in any study makes the results more reliable, and more “real world”. Indeed, drug makers cannot conduct a study that will include all of the types of patients who will ultimately use the drug. First, it would be impossible since the maker cannot anticipate how doctors will prescribe the drug, or whether they will pick the ideal patient to take it. (Note: only ideal patients are included in the pre-market studies, to maximize the chance for positive results.)
Second, the drug maker’s study to get the drug approved is as small as they can make it, while still meeting the FDA’s requirements. This is because of the great expense of these studies – which expense might possibly go down when we reach the Jetsons era.
Until we find a way to study these things, let’s call them by their real names. Let’s view the unstudied treatments as opportunities. On the other hand, let’s not view them as cures hidden by doctors who want to keep us sick. If you believe that about your own doctor, please go get a new one.
In the meantime, I’ll go walk Astro and give my robot maid instructions for dinner. And where did my briefcase go?