Many people believe that integrative and functional medicine are woo-woo and not science-based. But the reality is that there is ample evidence of the efficacy of less toxic interventions. The question we really have to ask is: “How objective are peer-reviewed articles, published in medical journals overall?”
One study found that it depends on who the peers are. In a randomized, controlled, double-blind study, a group of nearly four hundred expert peer reviewers reviewed an obesity paper. Fifty-percent of the experts reviewed a paper in which the drug “hydroxycitrate” was named as the active ingredient, while an otherwise identical paper reviewed by the other half of the peer review group listed the active ingredient as the homeopathic remedy, sulfur.
The measures and outcomes were otherwise the same. Nevertheless, the medical peer reviewers were three times as likely to approve the quality of the study, and okay it for publication when the supposedly active ingredient was a drug rather than a homeopathic remedy.
This shows invisible reviewer bias at the core of the peer review process, arising from allegiance to a given scientific brand or philosophy. Reviewers promote one health brand, and blocks findings of another even when all the presented scientific data support the same study conclusions. When instead of offering objectivity, the conventional brand acts as a gatekeeper, it excludes relevant research (and lower cost treatments) even when scientific criteria are sound. But why is this surprising?
Because we’ve been taught to respect any phenomenon proven by a study even when it supersedes what experience or common sense might reveal. With all of their trust invested in the methods and claims of medical science, people both fail to look out to the context we create for health and disease. At the same time, they devalue the basic, subtle, and individual instincts, observations, perceptions, and experience that mankind has relied on for guidance throughout human history. Further when certain scientists offer theories or research beyond the narrow territory of what can be “proven” by current scientific research protocols, some people resist the intrusion of clinical experience, data, or theory.
“It’s anecdotal,” people will say as if anything outside of a study loses all relevance. It’s ironic that empirical observation—human reports and observations, the very basis of any form of scientific inquiry, is denigrated, rather than seen as the basis for further investigation. Data itself should never be regarded as a threat to the scientific method— though some data may casts doubt upon condoned practices.
In drawing attention to medical science’s promise of certain proof, I don’t mean to suggest sweeping away all data or invalidating all science. But it’s revelatory to notice how the language of proof is used to persuade and even to manipulate belief in a health product or brand. Proof is also invoked to make claims of safety for industrial processes and products that may not be safe.
Nowadays, scientists themselves concede that proof is far less certain than frequently asserted. That’s why learning to differentiate between proof claims and marketing can help people evaluate the effectiveness of the various health brands— as well as the safety of anything from BPA to fracking chemicals.
That evaluation of the research that underscores how we treat health concerns is long overdue. Why? because according to a well-regarded international study, the U.S. lags behind nearly all other developed nations, ranking at 37 for all indicators of health status—after Costa Rica. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “in 2006, the United States was number 1 in terms of health care spending per capita but ranked 39th for infant mortality, 43rd for adult female mortality, 42nd for adult male mortality, and 36th for life expectancy.” Moreover, “comparisons (with other nations) also reveal that the United States is falling farther behind each year.”
By positioning health care within its overarching economic context, we will be better able to identify ways that the profit motive in medicine interferes with health. It does it in two distinct ways: First, it markets medical quick fixes, like drugs to address health problems initiated by a negative health climate. Second, it neglects to address the causes of disease.
There is much evidence that reveals how in a climate of corporate interest, professions of medical objectivity often fall short, resulting in negative health impacts. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand about this.