The internet is a dangerous place. Unless you’re careful about what you search for, what websites you visit, and what links you click on, you may quickly find yourself surrounded by quackery on all sides. The risk of this happening is particularly high if you surf into health/fitness-related sections of the internet, which are notorious for being especially rich in non-scientific information, broscience, and unsubstantiated claims and practices. The fact that quackery is so prevalent online, as well as in our society in general, is problematic for a number of reasons, one of which is that a lot of people are misled into using money, time, and resources on health and medical-related things that not only are unlikely to work, but that may cause them harm.
To an untrained eye, quackery isn’t always easy to spot
It can be difficult for the average internet-surfing Joe to spot what’s quackery and what’s not, seeing as he doesn’t know much about how science works or how the human body is put together and functions. Something that a skilled health professional or scientist clearly recognizes as quackery may to the average Joe appear to be credible, high-quality stuff. He may end up take a liking to it, embrace it, and somehow incorporate it into his life, although he probably has little to no idea what it is he’s actually doing (My impression is that most people who go on a detox don’t know what toxins they are actually trying to get rid off).
I know how easy it is to get fooled into thinking that X detox protocol, supplement, or cleanse will do wonders for one’s body. This is something I learned in the past, at a time when I knew much less about health and medicine than I know now, as I was actively surfing the internet, looking for ways to improve my health and fitness.
Combine the fact that most people are not clearly able to distinguish what’s quackery from what’s not with the fact that the internet has given everyone – irrespective of credentials and experience – an opportunity to become a “health expert”, and one can quickly understand why quackery is so prevalent these days.
Many self-proclaimed health experts, some of whom operate out of the internet, have little to no formal education and/or don’t possess basic knowledge about statistics, biology, chemistry, or other basic sciences. Some of these individuals don’t abide by the “rules of science” and create and share questionable advice and methods with their followers. Moreover, perhaps even more concerning, some people classify anything that they don’t like as quackery, pretty much regardless of what the science actually shows. This causes confusion among the public and hinders some scientifically sound concepts and ideas from gaining mainstream acceptance.
I don’t claim to have all the answers or that I have a good understanding of how every medical treatment known to man works (or doesn’t work); however, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that it’s very difficult to safely navigate through the world of medicine if one doesn’t know anything about statistics and biology and isn’t accompanied by an evolutionary guide.
It’s highly problematic that quackery, which I define as information, practices, methods, and the like that are non-scientific in nature, has no biological/evolutionary or physiological merit, and is unlikely to do much good, is omnipresent in our world. Not just because quackery steals attention away from – and sometimes even overshadows – real, scientifically sound information and medical practices, but also because many forms of quackery have the potential to cause us harm…
Quackery is not benign
Grandmothers who frequently share old wives’ tales and sprout off about foods, drinks, and herbal teas that will cure this and that may be loony, but they tend to be fairly harmless. Other forms of quackery, however, are not as innocuous. For example, colon cleanses, shake diets, juice cures, and medical treatments that involve “detoxifying” the body with the use of a myriad of different herbs and supplements can cause a lot of harm. Among other things, they alter the gut microbiota and may cause chronic inflammation.
The main problem with these types of treatments is that they have little to no evolutionary or scientific merit. The human body is a product of evolution. It’s a biological system that has its own ways of regulating and detoxifying itself. These mechanisms and apparatus are not foolproof; however, they don’t just magically cease to function. Unlike what therapists who conduct colon cleanses claim, your colon isn’t filled with foreign objects or pollutants that your body hasn’t been able to get rid of. It may certainly be that it harbors a dysbiotic microbial community, but “cleaning” it via the conduction of a colon cleanse certainly won’t fix that.
That brings us over to the key point I want to get across with today’s article: If something is found to be wrong with a body, simply targeting and treating the symptoms or markers of the problem won’t get one very far. One has to look into and address the reasons as to why the problem occurred in the first place. It’s not always simple or straight-forward to locate these reasons; however, it’s usually possible to make some headway if one digs into the science on the matter at hand.
For example, if you feel constipated and/or your gut isn’t working as well as you’d liked, doing multiple colon cleanses or using supplements that are intended to “detoxify” the body and gut is unlikely to do you much good. To make some real headway towards getting better, you have to find out why you became constipated in the first place. Chances are your microbiome and diet lie at the root of the issue.
Similar principles apply to other issues. I’m very skeptical of unsubstantiated treatments for so-called adrenal fatigue, medical therapies that involve the removal of heavy metals from the body via the use of a myriad of dietary supplements, and so forth.
The evolutionary mismatch model is arguably the most powerful tool the modern health professional has at his disposal
I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of contemporary humans are chronically inflamed and sick and have abnormally high or low levels of various hormones, toxins, and other substances circulating in their bodies; however, I very much question the idea that in order to solve those issues, people have to perform tests for this and that – food intolerance, circulating levels of heavy metals, adrenal function, etc. – and proceed to go on a very special diet and use a variety of supplements, medical herbs, and so forth to correct the issues that were detected on the tests.
I prefer to stick with scientifically sound medical practices. If something doesn’t make sense from a scientific or evolutionary/biological perspective, I shy away from it. Call me naïve, but I think that many of the health issues that plague the modern man are best addressed with a species-appropriate diet, coupled with microbiome restoration. Obviously, not every health problem known to man can be cured or attenuated via species-appropriate nutrition and microbiome restoration; however, many undoubtedly can.
The only logical conclusion that I can come to is that evolutionary mismatches are the fundamental cause of most of the derangements and abnormalities of the biology of the modern man. Instead of operating under the belief that each and every one of us is a snowflake that requires a unique, special diet and supplement program to be or become healthy, I prefer to let the evolutionary mismatch model guide me in my work.
This is not to say that I don’t think different people have different needs and goals, health and fitness wise, or that no medical tests have merit. All I’m saying is that I think it’s important to remember that all organisms, including us humans, conform to the rules of nature. There is a reason why our bodies are put together and function the way they do, a reason for why we get sick, and a reason why humans who are exposed to different types of environmental stimuli differ with respects to their phenotypic expression. By looking into what these reasons are, we can make some headway towards creating a model that allows us to effectively address various types of health problems.
It’s important to remember that the human body has little to no evolutionary experience with all of the dietary supplements, medicinal herbs, powders, and detox pills that can be found in modern health food stores. This doesn’t mean that nobody can benefit from using any of those products; however, it should cause us to think twice before we incorporate them into our nutritional regimen. We evolved eating real food. There’s no reason to think that we’ve suddenly developed completely new nutritional requirements.
The internet is overflowing with quackery. When you are presented with new information, you should always ask yourself whether the information is scientifically and evolutionarily sound. If it isn’t, you’d probably be wise to discard it. This is particularly true if the information in question has to do with non-scientific, potentially harmful medical or nutritional therapies, such as colon hydrotherapy, detoxification programs, juice cures, shake diets, and the like.
The human body is a complex system that has its own ways of regulating its levels of fluids, toxins, nutrients, and so forth. If the levels of any of these compounds are abnormally high or low on a chronic basis, that indicates that something is hindering the regulatory machineries from restoring homeostasis. Simply trying to eliminate the compound in question via the ingestion of supplements, herbs, or the like is unlikely to be a long-term, permanent fix for the problem. Rather, it’s probably more fruitful to address the underlying issues that caused the problem to develop in the first place. Chances are these issues have to do with the microbiome and evolutionary mismatches.
The bottom line: Reason and science should be valued over superstition and charlatanry.