Every doctor envisages himself as engaged in an unholy war against the tyrannical, all-engulfing enemy, the Sauron of modern disease.
Consequently, his tools are informed with the imagery of the battlefield, the mindset of the siege. The hero must win by travelling to the end of the universe, going to the most extreme lengths. The more heroic the treatment, the greater the likelihood of success.
You sort out a bad heart by ripping someone’s chest open and fashioning new plumbing. You stop high blood pressure with the strongest medicine at your command. You sort out menopause by taking over a woman’s hormonal system. If one drug fails to work, you marshall up the troops: two, three or four more drugs – whatever it takes to vanquish your foe.
In the medical model, the body is an overrun army that has to be defended at all costs. It is a system that naturally tends to chaos and disarray. Medicine never allows for the possibility of magic, of self-repair: that someone, with no visible means of weaponry, can still manage to beat the odds.
The problem is that the science shows otherwise. All the studies of heart surgery and treatment of mild heart attack confirm that less is more: indeed, the less doctors do, the better.
Not only does any one drug for hypertension not work in more than half of cases, but two drugs simply multiply the side-effects.
The most astonishing aspect of our cover story (see pp 1-4) does not concern the side-effects or overuse of the world’s most popular operation. Nor is it the fact that twice as many people die after this tried-and-tested surgery as those who eschew the knife and elect to sort out their triple-artery blockage with drugs.
It is the revelation that, when left to its own devices, a heart which has blockages of the main vessels somehow has the exquisite intelligence to know that it isn’t getting enough oxygen and will embark on its own cure. In three-quarters of cases, the heart will engineer the growth of new blood vessels to form its own, natural, bypass operation. Within three to six months, those patients who do absolutely nothing at all will experience a relief of chest pain.
The same holds true for ME. Medicine persists in its wrongful belief that this neurological disease is simply in the sufferer’s head – the latest UK study of 178 people concluded that most people who claim to have chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME, simply have psychological problems (Br J Gen Pract, 2003; 53: 441-5). In addition, to the consternation of ME patients, the World Health Organization has recently reclassified ME as a ‘mental disorder’.
And so the favoured cure is a combination of psychological therapy and hard (graded) exercise, even though four surveys have shown that both therapies usually make matters worse.
Indeed, one of the best treatments of all was simply rest. Some 89 per cent of survey respondents got better just by taking to their beds! No matter how grossly damaged or how utterly mistreated, the body, given half a chance, can sort itself out.
too many instances, the get-in-there-early mentality of medicine interrupts this natural tendency to order and repair.
Clearly, giving the body half a chance means taking away all the things we eat and breathe and do that make us ill. But most of all, it may mean just getting out of the way of the magic.