Natural Medicine – Is the community ableist?

Just watched this video, and while it is just over a year old, I want to talk about this topic.

The video doesn’t so much as talk about the fact that the natural medicine itself is ableist, despite the fact that is the title of the video.

What it is talking about is how people who are supporting natural medicine, and providing information about it, can and often are very ableist.  I want to talk about a few of the points that she has made in the video, and likely expand on them.

An important thing to remember, that neither of us are talking about natural medicines, but rather the mindset of people who promote them.  This is something that I often want to find ways to talk about.  This short video (just over 2 minutes long) does a good job of it.

In fact, already I’m probably at more than half the length of the video, in terms of people being able to read what I’ve written.  So the points:

  • Natural Medicine vs Natural Medicine Mindset
  • Natural Medicines
    • Some are helpful
    • Many find that they don’t do enough for them.
  • Natural Medicine Mindset
    • Attitude that natural medicines can cure disabilities
    • Insistence that pharmaceuticals are bad
  • Natural Medicines vs Pharmaceuticals
    • Hardly anyone is happy taking pharmaceuticals
    • Medical industry is highly questionable

My own points that I hope to address:

  • Issues around mental wellbeing and natural medicine
    • Dichotomy between natural medicine and pharmaceuticals
    • Biomedical approach in both approaches
    • Opposition to other by proponents of both systems
    • Lack of middle ground in most debates

OK, let me look at these…

Natural Medicine vs Natural Medicine Mindset

This I want to make a big point here, we are not really speaking of the use of natural medicines.  I like many people I talk with on a regular basis, use and support the use of natural medicine.  I really like to use natural medicines, in fact, I really would rather use natural medicines over any pharmaceuticals.

My preferred treatment for anything is food that I’m eating on a day-to-day basis.  That is my “regular meals”.  This almost never ends up being enough for me, but when I try to keep that in mind, I can at least try to have that be a helpful part of my self-care.

This is something that I have to speak a little bit to in terms of actually the degree of both the financial impact, and also the ability to manage the ability to prepare food.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I want to speak to the fact that diet sometimes can’t be what works for certain people.  I know at times I have not been able to afford the kind of diet both in terms of energy required on my part, and the expense (especially when low on energy) for food.  In fact, I could never be in market housing and have any money left after rent and utilities to buy a decent diet at this time.

While natural medicines can be very helpful for a number of people (and probably can be helpful for most people, though they can be unaffordable for many people), what often is not helpful, is the mindset that many people who promote natural medicines have towards, well pretty much anyone who they come into contact with around health issues.

This mindset is often a matter of “natural medicine can cure everything.”  This is a reasonable idea to hold on to, when you are speaking of people who you consider to be “the worried well” (a phrase I consider to itself be rather ableist in the sense that it almost always, if not always refers to people other than the person who is making the statement about “worried well” and it is an assumption those people “are just worried, there’s nothing really wrong with them.”) as it means that if you remove the worry the wellness will show through.

Natural medicine can be extremely helpful in removing worry for people.  It gives them something they see as doing for their health, and even if it’s not actually doing anything beyond placebo effect (which is real, and valid) it can be hugely helpful for those who don’t have problems of a physical nature.

The problem that exists with the natural medicine mindset, is that too often it’s one of “if you just did this, you’d be all better,” and a lot of times with little idea what the person has tried, or often little idea of what is going on with the person.  So most of the criticism is around the mindset, not around the use of natural medicines.

This can also apply to those who are promoting pharmaceutical solutions, especially around mental health conditions.

Natural Medicines

Natural medicines, I’m not sure how broadly or narrowly I want to define this.  It comes everywhere from the food that you eat, the fluids you drink and everything on that level, all the way up to some pretty highly refined products promoted as “natural” which are very refined, and in some cases well into the pharmaceutical level of product, but due to the natural origin, are not patentable, thus are not marketed as pharmaceuticals.

So, I’m mostly talking more on the “food” end of things, than the very refined end of things.  Though a lot of what I use is quite refined, though less so when it comes to herbals and such, and more in the case of vitamins and minerals.

Some are helpful

Most people will find some natural medicines to be quite helpful to them.  I think that is an important thing to remember, is that a lot of this is actually helpful, and for many people can provide a good adjunct treatment to pharmaceuticals that they use.

Many find that they don’t do enough for them

People who have disabilities (ongoing health conditions which interfere with day-to-day living) find that natural medicines can be quite helpful but often are not enough.  So they have to use other forms of therapy such pharmaceuticals.

Natural medicine can be expensive in time and money

Many natural medicines are either expensive in terms of monetary cost (especially for people who have coverage for pharmaceuticals) or the time involved in the production or use of the natural remedy.  I personally will make my own cough syrup, because it works well for me, and I’m currently managing the financial cost, as well as the time involved.  At other times I have ended up using pharmaceuticals that have been covered because I haven’t managed to find something that works for me that I’m able to afford in time and/or money.

Natural Medicine Mindset

Specifically this is the attitude that natural medicine can cure anything, or at the very least treat anything.

This has been interesting to me in the sense I see people who have this attitude speak to taking massive doses of vitamins and minerals as curing some condition, while at the same time speaking that pharmaceuticals are incapable of producing the same cure.

I’m not really wanting to go too deeply into that, but to me the taking regular medicine whether pharmaceutical or natural is pretty much the same thing.

Attitude that natural medicines can cure disabilities

There is an attitude that natural medicine can cure disabilities in ways that pharmaceuticals can not accomplish.  This is something that while I agree that natural medicines can cause significant improvements for many people, I am firmly of the belief that there is no good evidence that there are any genuine cures through natural medicine, though often some evidence of good treatments being available.

The lack of evidence isn’t so much a criticism of natural medicine as a whole, but rather a criticism of those who claim that the evidence exists, and that it is strong, but suppressed.  The lack of evidence often also exists in “evidence based medicine” in the sense that a lot of the research is limited, and sometimes stuff claimed to have “strong evidence base” is based on at best poor evidence for efficacy, and hardly any research done on “negative effects”.

Insistence that pharmaceuticals are bad

With a lot of people promoting natural medicine, there is an attitude that pharmaceuticals are bad, and that using pharmaceuticals is a problem.  There are even cases where people have refused treatment that would have greatly improved their quality of life, and in some cases, would have likely also increased their lifetime.

Yet, the natural medicine mindset would say that those people were doing the right thing by refusing “conventional” treatment.  Yet I don’t understand how they justify that claim, when people are having a demonstrably worse, and/or shorter life because of not seeking “conventional” treatment.

Natural Medicines vs Pharmaceuticals

This is something that I’d like to point out that I don’t see that this is really a “one versus the other” as in that they are different things.  But more they are different approaches to what hopefully is similar end goals.

To me, I think that for the most part there is a lot less difference between natural medicine, and pharmaceuticals than similarities.  Essentially I think that they are the same thing, though with slightly (or in some cases radically) different approaches.  The aims are largely the same.  The approaches are different.  And often the approaches aren’t all that different even.

Hardly anyone is happy taking pharmaceuticals

Most people are not happy taking pharmaceuticals.

I don’t like taking any of the pharmaceuticals I take.  Though I also don’t really like taking the “nutraceuticals” (natural medicine) that I take either.

The argument that people are taking pharmaceuticals because they are “too lazy” or “brainwashed” or many other claims of the natural health sector, is very misguided for a number of reasons, but the fact that they think that they want to take the pharmaceuticals, and wouldn’t take natural medicines if they just knew better or put more effort in is hugely ableist.

The fact that long-term use of pharmaceuticals (even on an as needed basis) is rarely something that a person with disabilities actually likes, is often missed by those who criticise said use.

Medical industry is highly questionable

No one seems to think that the medical industry is really working for people, but rather more that they are focused on profits, and maximizing those profits.

There are a lot of problems, even people who are involved with the medical industry have serious questions about a number of basic assumptions within the medical community.

The natural medicine industry isn’t a whole lot different from my perspective.  Again, I’m speaking of not the natural medicines themself, but the industry and/or attitude around that.

Issues around mental wellbeing and natural medicine

This is something that isn’t at all in the video, but this is something that especially with the topic of this site that I want to make a special mention of.

Mental wellbeing should not be thought as separate of from physical wellbeing, and in some cultures it really isn’t seen exactly as different (though I am not entirely sure that is true, as I have heard that they often are more dismissive of the mental wellbeing, rather than merging them).

Some groups of people like the use of natural medicine as an alternative to pharmaceuticals, or even more broadly the “mental health industry”.

Dichotomy between natural medicine and pharmaceuticals

This is something that bothers me greatly that there are people who are very heavy on either side of this argument, even to the extent of statements such as “Emotional instability is a symptom of a chemical imbalance as expressed by mood swings, mania, or depression, and is highly respondant (sic) to medication.”source

This is something that I feel is problematic with both the natural medicine supporters, and the pharmaceutical supporters.  Both of them have a strong tendency to believe that their way, is the only way.  Both will make statements which exclude alternative ways of handling things, especially when it comes to mental health issues.

Biomedical approach in both approaches

Both approaches have a strong sense that this is all about “chemical imbalances” which have never been demonstrated, and a claim that these actually “fix” some physical problem.

There is no evidence for this being valid, and it is practically impossible to test.  It doesn’t mean that it is “wrong” or that it is an invalid interpretation, but due to the fact that the closest we can come with either of these approaches is the claim that “these increase this chemical” or “these decrease that chemical” or whatever, and even these claims are potentially problematic, as that action may be either more broad or more narrow than it is believed, and there is little understanding as to other potential effects that may be going on.

Both approaches tend to use very similar arguments about how they work, and oddly, very similar arguments about why the other one is not the right approach.

Opposition to other by proponents of both systems

Both sides here will argue that the other side is flat-out wrong, and it is very difficult to find people who look at both what is right, and what is wrong with both sides.  This is an old “us versus them” type situation, and it rarely leads to actual understanding on either side.

The presentation of good arguments by either side, often is viewed as “fake news” (to use a relatively new term) or some other way of “false reporting” and even when the person is simply pointing out that the dichotomy is dangerous, they can be seen as attacking and harmful.

I have literally had people criticise me because I have said “please don’t create artificial division here,” and literally been called a Nazi because of stating things like that (no I am not exaggerating).  Simply stating that things are not black and white, and that looking at them in that way is dangerous has lead to calls of my being a Nazi, and an extremist.

Not specifically around these issues, but similar arguments have occurred, and the issues involved were mental health related.

Lack of middle ground in most debates

This is something which I see that we have become increasingly polarized in our discussion of practically everything.  Any and every criticism that a person may make about what is the better way to be, and whether or not the other person is actually making a valid argument, is considered to be blatantly false, and uninformed.

“If you watched the video you could just see how wrong you are.”  This of course is the argument of the person who either is being criticized, or is supporting the person who is being criticized.  They know that all it would take is to “watch the video,” or whatever, and they rarely, if ever actually look at any of the arguments which are presented to say “are you sure you are correct?”

My feeling is that too often the argument is often about one extreme vs another extreme, and my feeling is that almost always the answer not one extreme or another, but somewhere between the two different extremes.

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