Friday, May 27, 2011

Mao's Barefoot Doctors and How Alternative Medicine Spread Into the Western World

Today we're going to take a look at how Chinese alternative medicine spread into the Western world. Promoters of alternative medicine claim that this ancient wisdom was (and is) in common use throughout China, and the Western world is becoming aware of its value. Skeptics of this position point out that alternative medicine was only used in Chinese rural areas where conventional treatments were not available, and it became popular because it was inexpensive, not because it was effective. The actual history brings some interesting perspective onto both of these points of view.

A little bit true and a little bit false. Both sides.

The whole scoop from the Skeptoid podcast. You can read or listen.


  1. When I want antiquity I read the Bible, when I want the merely old I celebrate Tennyson, but with a physician I want him or her to wear shoes and wash the hands and live in this century.

  2. Tante Léonie5/27/11, 2:20 PM

    Hi Mack:

    Speaking of handwashing -- doctors didn't always think it was necessary.

    Do you know the story about Ignaz Semmelweis, and how the established medical community of his day refused to believe him?

    Germ theory hadn't been developed yet, so Semmeleweis didn't have an explanation of his theories at the time. Even his spectacular success in eliminating child bed fever from his wards wasn't enough to convince his fellow doctors.

    Medicine and doctors are very reluctant to upset the status quo.
    True then, true now.

    This isn't a slam at you, by the way! I'm just sayin' that alternative medicine never gets respected in a timely fashion.
    God only knows what else modern medicine rejects and scorns that could be life-saving to millions.

    Disclaimer: I was a nurse for 20 years and have mostly gone over to the Dark Side, although I will take a Maxalt for those want-to-blow-my-brains-out migraines (even though I know a side effect could be a stroke or cardiac arrest).

  3. I am skeptical of alternative medicine, but I will say that I have gone two weeks without a migraine, which is very very rare for me. Coincidentally, I have been trying acupuncture and yoga (not at the same time, although who knows maybe that's not such a crazy idea) to prevent the migraines, as lamictal, depakote, lyrica, topamax, and beta blockers have done nothing for me but make my hair fall out. And gain weight.

    My feeling is if it works, I will take it.

  4. I'm a true believer in regular medicine. The point behind alternative meds as per the Chinese history in the post was that it was alternative for those who couldn't get modern medical supplies.

    That said, I believe that everyone can choose their own way and I'm not gonna say they're wrong if it works for them.

    As The Nutrition Diva says, as long as you know the risks of unpasteurized milk (which are considerable) then you should be allowed to live your life taking the risks you want ... and that's how I feel about choices of medical care.

    Not gonna argue. Just sayin' my choice.

  5. That said, I think anyone who thinks homeopathy will really do something is nuts.

    As far as unpasteurized milk, I would be reluctant to drink it if I didn't know the source, but my mom grew up on a dairy farm and drank unpasteurized milk her entire childhood. I drank it when I was visiting my grandparents. We are all alive to tell the tale. Well, not the grandparents, but they died of being old, not of unpasteurized milk.

  6. Tante Léonie5/28/11, 10:10 AM

    Well, call me crazy then, because I *know* that homeopathy works! :)

    I'm not going to say anything more about it, though. In my experience, it's like trying to have a conversation with an atheist. You either believe in God, or you don't. I'm not the proselytizing type.

    (I'm also one of those raw milk drinkers, too -- I'm sure you won't be shocked to learn!) :)

  7. Dear Tante Leonie,

    I worked my way through school as an LVN, having done some time in Viet-Nam as a Corpsman. Wash your hands. Get plenty of fresh air. Eat a healthy diet, including the occasional bits of dead animals (sophomores will do). Avoid explosions. For medical care visit an M.D. or a N.P. who actually went to school, not some guru or swami with dirty toenails promoting all-natural hamster-oil or some such. Folk remedys kill people.

  8. Mack said, "Fold remedys (sic) kill people."
    So do modern remedies fully researched and approved by the FDA (at least until they are recalled). I say pick your poison and hope for the best; whether modern or alternative. I use both, but I do my own research even when it is recommended by an MD.

  9. Oops!!! That should have read "Folk" not Fold. That'll teach me not to proof read. Ugh!

  10. Dear Cindy,

    Well, maybe, but no guitars, okay?

    I'll see your fold and raise ya some remedys! :)

    Life is good.

  11. Dear Mack -

    LOL! Have a great weekend!