Does “medicine on the move” make you a little “mevulbal”?

Breaking news in the UK. “Salt is good for you!” That’s according to the headline of an article in the Daily Mail, which begins:

For years, doctors have been telling us that too much salt is bad for us. Until now…

Has the salt lost its savour?!

The article goes on to explain the health merits of salt intake. On the other hand, put “salt” into the search engine on the Mail’s own health pages, and you will quickly find research results boasting the opposite view. Which might be why the article suggests that “The research has left nutritionists scratching their heads”!

Head-scratching is not unknown when it comes to comparing the results of different medical research papers studying the same condition.  The phrase that came to my mind on reading an interesting Op-Ed called Medicine on the Move in the New York Times was “you are making me mevulbal!” – the latter meaning “confused or bewildered” in Yiddish.

I learned that phrase from my mum when my brother and I were making her feel that way on a regular basis in our formative years! That was how she expressed her tender exasperation in the language of her Jewish upbringing.

I don’t know whether that was the reaction author Gail Collins was trying to elicit, but her opinion piece perfectly captures that sense of feeling a little bit dizzy because of the things going on around you – in this case a “scientific method” that yields self-contradicting results. My mum would certainly have been able to identify with the article’s sense of feeling kind of disoriented at having to navigate through a changing landscape of medical research conclusions on an identical topic.

In my mum’s case this was for the most part dealing with whichever new healthcare study the newspapers deemed interesting enough to feature – which seemed (and seems) to be quite a lot of them! For instance, I recall her deep disappointment after more than a decade of giving up butter for margarine only to read that new research had reversed that conclusion, and that it was actually butter that was the healthier of the two.

The issues Gail Collins comments on are more serious. She writes:

We got word this week that estrogen therapy, which was bad, is good again. Possibly. In some cases.

This was not quite as confusing as the news last year that calcium  supplements, which used to be very good, are now possibly bad. Although maybe not. And the jury’s still out.

“Confused? You will be!”, as they (almost) used to say on the spoof sitcom,Soap. The article goes on to detail reversals and the reversal of reversals which perhaps suggest that while “the scientific method” is indeed methodical it is not consistently conclusive when it comes to healthcare.

That’s not to say it is a bad idea to “propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses…to predict future results” (Wiki definition of “the scientific method”). It’s a good idea. I wouldn’t have all the technology I love (a little too much?!) if the scientific method hadn’t been used to develop the gadgets and their component parts.

When it comes to medicine, though, it might be worth asking:

  1. To what degree is the scientific model based on an underlying expectancy that one human body will behave like another human body independent of the thoughts of different individuals with similar physical needs?
  2. Should the question of causation and cure be considered more carefully in reference to the wide array of mental factors in any given case – the patient’s, the physician’s, concerned relatives, what’s considered common knowledge”,etc?
  3. Could clinical trials and surveys do better by considering the effects on patients of some of the tens of thousands of thoughts which research says everyone – including patients and those involved in their treatment and care – entertain each day…particularly their spiritual expectations?

Those who have found a systematic knowledge and understanding of God to be a force for good in their lives would say if you want a more consistently consistent theory of care and cure mentality is a key factor to consider.

They might also point to many evidences of healing – albeit it recorded as personal testimonies, rather than proved under laboratory conditions – which indicate that a practical spirituality is a timeless aid in times of need. And knowing that can stop you from going a little “meshuga” (crazy!).

If medicine is “on the move” perhaps this is a direction in which the public might find it helpful to have it moving a little more rapidly.

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