The Debate Against Dr. Oz

I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Oz. I don’t wish him harm or feel he’s doing more harm than good. He’s bringing information to people that may not be exposed to these health options otherwise. Still, hearing clients and friends talk about what they’ve learned from the Dr. Oz show usually makes me cringe.  I’m not a fan, mostly because what I think I’m hearing, when others tell me what they’ve heard, is more compartmentalising from an allopathic perspective.  As in, take this Super Thing and it will solve your Sucky Problem. I don’t argue that Dr. Oz is a bad doctor. And I’m not in the camp calling for his dismissal, it just makes me nuts that many of his suggestions seem watered down, commercialized versions of a complex (but very accessible) system of checks and balances.

Here’s a quick tangent: we recognize a couple hundred chemicals in the plants we currently study. There are potentially hundreds (conservatively speaking) of other chemical components that we don’t even see yet, let alone understand. We do not understand how all these chemical messengers work together and we only understand pieces of what they do individually. We have a tendency to get excited about those pieces that we think we understand, and credit those parts with the healing properties of the whole plant (or, whatever treatment or modality we’re wanting to put out into the world.)

In holistic approaches to health and healing, it’s not usually a part, alone, that does the work – it’s the whole of a thing, often, in combination with other things (including the body it’s working on).

Mainstream medicine is used to firing a pharmaceutical, or other treatment at a problem, and, understand, I’m glad we have these tools, because sometimes, this is exactly what we need.

I’m okay saying it: mainstream medicine is not bad. It’s wonderful in fact.

The thing is, holistic medicine doesn’t play by the same rules and mainstream medicine keeps trying to make judgements on the value of holistic approaches by expecting holism to fit into a reductionist viewpoint.

I was reminded of this annoying attitude recently, while listening to an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. The interviewee was Michael Spector, who also, is not, a Dr. Oz fan. Mr. Spector seemed to raise reasonable arguments against Dr. Oz, (for example, a physician should not advocate for treatments that may be harmful to trusting patients) except, his reason, for his reasoning, is the problem (as I see it) with mainstream medicine discussing and critiquing holistic medicine.

Mainstream medicine wants holistic medicine to fit into the neat package of peer reviewed research studies and some holistic treatments can. Many treatments don’t fit into that very small box, however, and it makes allopathically trained minds crazy and convinced that holistic approaches are valueless.

Mr. Spector was fired up about the ‘quackery’ (which I hear as code for “stuff I don’t get”) in Dr. Oz’s presentations and of all the potentially questionable treatments that Dr. Oz is known for featuring on his show, Mr. Spector chose to isolate and ridicule Reiki. For the readers who don’t know this word there are several ways to try to explain reiki (and, in the end, it really needs to be experienced in some way, to get it) but here’s a simple explanation that I’ve appreciated over the years: it’s a form of relaxation and meditation that comes from Japanese tradition.

So, I found myself cursing the car radio when I heard the interview and I have included part of the transcript so I that I would not misquote anyone:

SPECTER: I think it’s important to say that his (Dr. Oz) history as a heart surgeon is one of excellence, and that there’s no reason to believe that he sacrifices in the operating theater for his magical beliefs. But I do think there is history of him encouraging patients to embrace magical thinking, like Reiki and all this sort of mystical energy field therapy to make you feel better. And there is no data that exists on this planet that suggests that that’s useful.

I bet you can guess that the italicized section is what made my head explode. Plus, I especially liked the magical thinking and mystical energy field therapy labels. And, I love sweeping statements. I use them myself, catch them sometimes, and usually feel like an ass.

No data that exists on this planet? Not, quite accurate, although, I can’t promise it’s data that fits his expectations. The data does exist in formal studies that have been going on for years. So, let’s begin here. On this planet…

{If you couldn’t care less about research abtracts then skip the next few inches of the page…}

This study is called: Changes in the isoprenoid pathway with transcendental meditation and Reiki healing practices in seizure disorder. The study found that “Reiki-like healing practices in refractory epilepsy results in a reduction in seizure frequency. Reiki-like healing practices produce membrane stabilization and stimulation of membrane Na+-K+ ATPase activity by quantal perception of low levels of EMF.”

This study is called:

The effects of Reiki therapy on pain and anxiety in patients attending a day oncology and infusion services unit. This study found that “In the subgroup of 22 patients who underwent the full cycle of 4 treatments, the mean VAS anxiety score decreased from 6.77 to 2.28 (P <.000001) and the mean VAS pain score from 4.4 to 2.32 (P = .091). Overall, the sessions were felt helpful in improving well-being, relaxation, pain relief, sleep quality and reducing anxiety.”

This study is called:

A randomised controlled single-blind trial of the efficacy of reiki at benefitting mood and well-being.

This study found that “The participants with high anxiety and/or depression  who received Reiki showed a progressive improvement in overall mood, which was significantly better at five-week follow-up, while no change was seen in the controls. While the Reiki group did not demonstrate the comparatively greater reduction in symptoms of illness seen in our earlier study, the findings of both studies suggest that Reiki may benefit mood.”

And to be fair, here’s a study that finds reiki to be of no value:

Reiki for the treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.

“Neither Reiki nor touch improved the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Energy medicine modalities such as Reiki should be rigorously studied before being recommended to patients with chronic pain symptoms.” Now, here’s something to keep in mind about chronic pain sufferers and reiki/hands off energy treatments – people in long term pain often have trouble sleeping and that sleep deprivation triggers it’s own cycle of pain and stress in the body. Reiki and other hands off treatments often put people to restful sleep or into theta state when offered by a good practitioner. That alone is worth the session for many sufferers. This idea that reiki/energy medicine should be rigorously studied before being offered to people who already benefit from it is an example of the allopathic perspective completely missing important aspects of energy medicine.

There are pages and pages of research studies covering reiki and healing touch and other energy therapies. Some show positive results. Some show negative results. Some remain neutral.

That particular research resource cited above is the National Institute of Health and is a trusted data base of research studies covering an enormous range of health inquiries. It’s right there for everyone to explore.

Energy medicine does not conform to the box of Cartesian thinking. And medicine, mainstream, still lives in that box. It’s amazing to me, in MY limited thinking that we have the tools to study energetics at all in a laboratory setting. It’s a freaking miracle that we can “see” and record the unseen. But, there is still so much we don’t have the technology to see. And, our ‘inner technology’ also has to catch up before we begin to regularly see what’s happening in the subtle fields of frequency that surround us.

Holistic medicine and in this case, specifically, energy medicine, is very comfortable with variables and allopathic medicine (and the insurance industry that seems to control much of our medicine today) is really only comfortable when controls are in place and events can be counted on to show up exactly as before. This is okay. This model works well (not necessarily the insurance model) for medicine practiced in hospitals and among physicians who deal with emergency and other acute crisis situations. When we are looking for ways to address chronic health conditions and maintain and enhance our health, variables become incredibly useful and effective. Holistic approaches that can tolerate the unknown and respond intelligently, are very effective in these situations.

Dr. Oz’s shortcoming, in my opinion, is in presenting these “alternative” options through a mainstream lens, rather than expanding the healing conversation, by educating the public (and his colleagues) about a broader paradigm in which these treatments tend to operate. On the other hand, he may have been offering a bigger picture all along, quietly, behind the scenes – I don’t know.

My hope for you is that you do some reading and exploring of the holistic model yourself. Mainstream medicine knows a lot. They don’t understand everything though and when it comes to energy medicine and other very subtle therapies, our current medical model is very much behind the times. And, that’s okay, the focus has been elsewhere and that model does what it does incredibly well.

However, mainstream medicine is not an authority on holistic medicine and it’s important that we understand this as these debates become more common.


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