THE MYTH ABOUT MYTHS
“Look, doctors…” – I have to admit I like it when the conversation starts like this. First, because they recognize that there is a relationship of trust between us, such that they do not mind exposing their doubts knowing that they will be clarified to the best of my ability; and secondly, because it is from these turn of phrases that much of the quality raw material to write anything comes from. “So it’s true that statins are bad? / That I can treat lice with vinegar? / That can I use porridge for chicken pox? / That product X is full of chemicals that do harm?”
Here are the answers to most of these questions, organized according to the frequency of use and importance of the subject:
Given the astounding amount of information that seems to have organized an Olympic competition to be worthy of our attention, it is complicated for any individual to have the notion of what is true, what is false, what is opinion and what are reliable information sources.
It is therefore understandable that the said individual, let us call him Zé, must be guided in some way, and as such, will consult those whose profession includes “treating Zé’s health.”
What Zé forgets, however, is that these same professionals may not have the answers that Zé wants to hear. And they may not even have beautiful and accurate answers.
Lord Zé, I tell you now and it’s to memorize: Science is not perfect. But it’s very good.
This means that if you want certain answers, uncontested and universal truths about the best way to care for your particular body, then TOUGH LUCK, because the maximum that Medicine can offer you is an approximate, pondered and contingent response.
And yet, this approximate response has already allowed us to reach this point! So put faith in it as much as you want, but do not expect it to obey all the criteria that it wants to impose.
Let’s stop with the philosophies.
I will try to present Mr. Zé with some thoughts that everyone should have about anything that is health related (and, in fact, about much else, but let’s focus on this):
- What distinguishes the cure from the poison is the dose. – This was more or less said by a sensible type called Paracelsus in the 16th century. It is not an universal law. There are some rare compounds that are most dangerous at low portions, and there is always the possibility of something at a low portion becoming toxic upon reaching a certain level if it accumulates in the body.
- Everything is Chemistry. For God’s sake, do not come to me with “it’s full of chemicals.” Of course it is. Everything is. Mr. Zé’s body (up to his extensive belly) is constantly changing chemical batteries, molecules exchanging atoms with each other, making and breaking the more complex connections at an amazing rate. And if it was not, then he would not be alive. It is true that there are chemical compounds that are dangerous even at lower quantities, but most of these are treated in the “human chemical machine” in various forms (notably through the liver, kidneys, lungs, etc.). And if you find it difficult to remember that everything is chemistry, remember that arsenic, or hemlock, or another hundred poisons, are all also “natural” matter.
- Testimonies do not validate treatments. This is harder to accept, I know. But now imagine the following: his Maria had a severe pain in the abdomen and decided to take an ibuprofen. Next time, Mr. Zé has a bellyache and what does he decide to take? Why, the blessed Ibuprofen that was so good to his Maria. He did well, right? Wrong. Mrs. Maria had a “lady’s” pain, and Mr. Zé had flatulence that needed freeing. Of course, ibuprofen was good to Mrs. Maria, but to Mr. Zé did absolutely nothing. And this is regardless of whether or not his pains disappeared, because that effect would never be caused by the fact that he took the medicine.
But then what am I supposed to do?!
First of all, let me know. And this is a lot harder than it looks, because you cannot trust everyone who has an opinion about something. The internet is great, but finding the information that is reliable is not the simplest thing. Apply the 3 principles to everything you read, and still a…
4. Accept everything only partially. Even if it makes sense, do not dive headlong into a “miracle” cure or treatment that was recommended to you (by a friend, family, or on the internet).
PLEASE HAVE YOUR QUESTIONS CLARIFIED BY A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. It may not give you the answer you want to hear. But it will, if he works within the ethical principles that govern his profession, to provide you with the answer that is in fact best for yourself.
Let us then answer the questions at the beginning of the text:
ARE STATINS HARMFUL? Statins are one of the best weapons we have against the reduction of mortality from cardiovascular causes. They reduce the levels of cholesterol that our own body tends to produce in excess (usually for genetic or behavioral reasons). Despite this, they have some side effects (such as muscle pain, which are the most common), and there is some evidence that they may have other long-term effects. LIKE ALL MEDICINES, a case-by-case risk / benefit analysis has to be done. If the person’s cardiovascular risk is very high, then it makes sense to try to reduce that risk to the maximum. If it is not, then it may or may not make sense, depending on the situation. In my opinion, what ALWAYS makes sense is to ask about the situation. Sometimes a statin is no longer needed when the risk decreases. Sometimes, it becomes necessary again. But just as I do not feel qualified to say WHEN, the person is not, either. Talk to your doctor.
CAN I TREAT LICE WITH VINEGAR? I had some difficulty in investigating this subject, however here I am passing on the information that seemed more solid to me. Putting vinegar in your hair has 2 possible effects: you can take off some of the nits by dissolving the “glue” with which they attach to the hair, and can (even if you have not found any data about it) chasing away some lice due to the intense smell. Compared to silicone oils (cyclomethicone, dimethicone etc.) this has a very weak effect and with many more drawbacks and possible side effects. Compared with insecticides (permethrin) you may have less chance of side effects but still do not compare effectively, and, personally, I would not wash the head of a very young baby with vinegar (which does not have good quality control). Don’t you like the result of the usual treatments? Try to follow the instructions exactly, repeat the treatment weekly, and especially warn the child who cannot walk head-on with colleagues just because they are all around the same mobile phone. If you are still not producing results, try the vinegar if you want. In principle, you will not have much of a problem as long as you do not do use it very often.
CAN I USE OAT APOSTLES FOR CHICKEN POX? You can. Again, there are lotions and creams that are much more effective and comfortable to apply, but there is some evidence that oats in a kind of bath can give some soothing effect to itchy skin. Make no mistake, though: this is just to relieve the itch. It will not cure or even reduce the duration of the disease. Also, if you do have this oatmeal bath, be sure to wipe the skin well because the oatmeal on a pimple can create a good focus for an infection (e.g. bacterial).
Personally, I would stick to calamine lotions (zinc oxide and iron), sometimes associated with another antipruritic, as a topical antihistamine in the most itchy areas.
That product X is full of chemicals – Yes. We have already seen that. But I will reiterate: chemistry is the source of life. And if there is one thing the pharmacy chemicals have and others do not have is the risk / benefit assessment: each drug has scientific evidence to prove that the benefits outweigh the risks in their recommended use. This may sound like little, but believe me that’s what makes the WHOLE DIFFERENCE.
If in doubt ask your pharmacist 😉