When it comes to medicine, there’s nothing more encouraging than wholesome, reliable data and high treatment success rates. One would assume that any reasonable person would choose a method proven to work over one that has no evidence of its effectiveness. However, this is oddly not always the case. Considering the imaginative potential of the human mind along with our propensity for wishful thinking, a variety of forms of pseudomedicine have made their way into the public’s idea of healthcare… Something current physicians don’t really want to hear!
While everyone is entitled to their opinions, this says nothing about whether or not those opinions have reasons to be believed — i.e., opinions can be factually incorrect. So why take the chance with your health?
Examining 3 Types of Pseudomedicine
People believing in pseudoscience is a reality that has always stuck a thumb in the eye of modern medicine. Yet, despite our ability to learn about the world and scientific discoveries more easily than ever, certain health care practices persist without much evidence to support them at all.
Homeopathy is one of the most commonly recognized forms of pseudomedicine. Homeopathy is a type of alternative medicine invented in the late 18th century by German physician Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann. The principles of homeopathy are based on Hahnemann’s ideas of the “Principle of Similars” and the concept of “like cures like.” Essentially, he thought that if large doses of a substance are creating certain symptoms, that smaller, more diluted solutions of the substance will cause the body to remove these toxins and provide a cure.
Although it might sound like the way vaccinations work to a layman, the real difference is that vaccines require incredible amounts of testing to prove efficacy and safety. Vaccines also involve large numbers of molecules and infectious agents, all with a proven mechanism of action — something that cannot be said about homeopathy.
Considering that this pseudoscience predates germ theory, it’s probably best to put homeopathy behind us.
2. Crystal Medicine
Despite an upsurge in popularity in recent years, crystal medicine remains one of the most ubiquitous and unsubstantiated types of pseudomedicine out there today. Although many of the philosophical ideas of this practice have their roots in ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, and Buddhist cultures, there is no evidence of the incredible claims that practitioners of crystal medicine report.
Incorporating the Hindu or Buddhist concepts of chakras — energy vortices found throughout the body — different types of crystals are said to realign and “tune” these areas in order to provide internal organs with relief from illness and increased their vitality or function. Although it would be absolutely wonderful if placing rocks on our bodies could have noticeable health benefits, there’s no reason to believe this is the case. A study by the University of London previous asked 80 participants to meditate for five minutes while holding either a real quartz crystal or a fake crystal they believed was real. The report found that those who previously believed in the power of crystal medicine were twice as likely as non-believers to report feelings from the crystal, regardless of its authenticity.
Another popular pseudomedicine making its way into both mainstream and new age ideas of healthcare is something called Reiki. Similar to the traditional Chinese concept of qi (pronounced “chee”), Reiki is supposedly a form of energetic healing whereby practitioners harness a universal life-force that can be directed toward various ailments of the physical body. Although there are many claims that Reiki is a long and venerable tradition, a Japanese Buddhist named Mikao Usui actually invented it in 1922.
Essentially, practitioners will place their hands above, near, or directly on an affected area they wish to treat. A universal energy is then said to flow through the practitioner to the receiver, directing itself to alleviate dysfunction on a physical and emotional level. This is a technique sometimes called palm healing or hands-on healing, with each level of ability requiring additional classes and instruction during paid Reiki courses.
Reports from The American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK, and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health all state that Reiki should not be a replacement for conventional treatment. This is mainly because there is no empirical evidence of humans being able to manipulate a source of universal energy using only their hands and thoughts. Many reports actually suggest the exact opposite. That said, many people can experience benefits based on their perception of some form of healing supposedly taking place.
What Could Be Happening…
It’s important to note that the placebo effect is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. The placebo effect likely explains the positive benefits people report from participating in these pseudomedicine practices. While the above-mentioned ideas are not necessarily going to be directly harmful, avoiding medical attention in preference of crystal healing or Reiki can cause real damage to one’s health.
Even though it seems a little counter-intuitive, the placebo effect can actually have positive benefits for one’s health — even if it is utilized knowingly! Regardless, modern medicine has its foundations deeply rooted in hard, factual evidence, which is something we can’t as easily think our way out of.