Alternative Medicine? By Dr. David Hepburn

On a recent sojourn, my old clunker of a car seized up just outside Costco, likely after inhaling excessive toxic fumes of Polish sausage.  As it wheezed into recovery, our Hepburn herd marched into the big box store in search of mega stuff. With my wife off in search of 95 gallon jars of assorted condiments and my kids busy sampling the oyster ice cream, I moseyed on over to the Costco “books” area intent on finding Pseudohypoparathyroidsim For Dummies.  Instead, to my chagrin, I came across book after book with titles like Revitalize Your Lymph with Rutabaga by “Dr.” Pearl Diamond, and The Alternative Medicine Guide to a Really Really Really Healthy Gallbladder by Autumn Moonglow Johnson-Johnson.

Books seemed to glare at me from all directions, slap me across the face and demand that I Awaken Your Spleen Through Foot Massage, or cleanse my hidden immune system on Nature’s All Natural Naturopathic National Gnat Diet. Virtually nothing by a real doctor. By that I mean the guy who went thru 31 years of post secondary edukayshun studying sciense, disease and nurse behaviour. Flipping through Herbs Herbal Remedies I came across an excerpt of how Larry’s psoriasis cleared right up after an infusion of salamander saliva and ocelot tears, while on his vacation in the Dead Sea, during an El Nino. Subsequently, Herb now recommends salamanders for your ailing serum purple psoriasis cells. What does conventional mainstream medicine think of these alternative claims? I, for one, am somewhat appreciative of alternative medicine’s efforts to search for more effective ways to improve health. But, in this day and age when “evidence-based-medicine” is the battle cry, we need more than Larry’s anecdotes.

Imagen 1

I need to know there is some scientific credibility before I venture onto a 13 week diet of dragonfly knees and petunia nectar just to revitalize my inner magnetic force field. Let’s evaluate the evidence that a certain product really helps and a certain procedure really proceeds. You should be informed, and in some cases concerned, about some far out “alternatives” that may be harmful, useless and expensive, just as in conventional medicine. Does the “if it’s natural it’s safe” logic work? No ma’am.

Prancing naked through a mosquito infested poison oak swamp in Zanzibar, feeding on wild mushrooms feels quite “natural” but … King Cobra venom may help a pimple problem but unless there is an emergency, such as before the grad dance, I would avoid the snake oil. Drinking grapefruit juice can actually cause pregnancy if you’re on the birth control pill (sex also required). Personally, I don’t have a major problem with someone under my care adding extract of beaver hair as an adjunct to medical treatment, as long as it is proven safe and doesn’t really financially exploit the victim… er patient. My major concern, however, is the temptation of self diagnosis.

Before embarking on some Sabu flowerpecker therapy for what you think is diabetes, consult a doc. Playing doctor can be dangerous, I know, I often play one. Any studies done on this stuff? Yes, and based on a recent review in a leading journal I list below some of the more popular products along with a detailed scientific discussion as to whether they were felt to be effective based on current data:

Ginseng- nope                        Saw palmetto-yup

Milk thistle- mebbe               Ginkgo-mebbe
Echinacea-nope                     Bee pollen- nope
Feverfew-OK                           St John’s wort-OK
Kelp-nope                                Royal jelly-nope

Cannabis-absolutely              Spirulina-nope

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Discouraged after “leafing” through the medical advice from those whose entire medical training consists of a weekend flipping between ER and M*A*S*H (and watching the Golf Channel on Wednesdays), I took my pounding headache and made straight to the Black Forest Cake sample line. Our trip to Costco over, the kids stuffed on marinated albatross wings, we tumbled into the car, me whining about my headache. “It’s OK, dear” consoles my wife, packing away the two quart jugs of flea pheromones. “Take off your left shoe and I’ll rub your 4th toe, just above the knuckle.”

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Fun Health by Dr. David Hepburn

“In the beginning it was fun. In the end, it was all for fun.                                                                      And in between is where it tickles most.”

Dr. David Hepburn:

-You’re not like other doctors, are you?

-Why not? (No doubt another commentary about my endearing sense of mirth.)

-Well doctors are for the most part intelligent and dignified.

-I see.

-And you don’t usually see doctors act like buffoons…

-Well, maybe what…

-And they usually have their fly done up.

-Oooops and most doctors have a stethoscope around their neck, not a rubber duck necklace. They don’t put on examining gloves that stretch to their shoulders and they don’t go around wearing a ridiculous fake clown nose.

-Umm. This isn’t fake.

-And real doctors would call their mother regularly.

-Sorry Mom.

As doctors, we are expected to put forth an air of decorum, an aura of solemnity, possess a reverence for the painful human condition and never pass gas. Apparently,… I missed that lecture.

Keep Smiling - Dr. David Hepburn
Keep Smiling – Dr. David Hepburn

Our dog, Leo, will suddenly go berserk every so often. He just up and races around the house as if he’s been lapping Red Bull out of the toilet for hours. He flies up the hallway, vaults on to the bed, thrashes a pillow, grabs my underwear, sometimes even when I’m not wearing it. All of this with a huge grin on his doggy puss. We have no idea why, but when this spontaneous spaz out hits him, get out of the way. Scientists who deal with the Leos of the world have come to the realization that sometimes whales breech, dolphins leap, elephants frolic, sharks grab a tourist’s leg etc…all just for the fun of it.

Sometimes having fun is just for the sake of having fun and not for any hidden health benefits. But how does playfulness, indulging in frivolity and enjoying pure unadulterated fun, benefit our health?

I can’t stress all the problems associated with stress. It stresses me out just to think about them. Stress has long been shown to boost disease risk and hasten aging. When you’re stressed, your immune system weakens, increasing your chances of getting sick. To protect your body from disease, de-stressing is a must.

Simply put… fun reduces stress. Those whose lives are bathed in fun have lower blood pressure and lower levels of the health-damaging stress hormone cortisol. Fun mitigates worry and removes some of the tremendous burden that worry puts on the heart. Laughter relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, the exact opposite of what your blood vessels do when you are stressed.

Those less stressed sleep better, have lower BMI’s and keep their fly up. As Patch Adams put it, “Fun is one of the greatest antidotes to human pain and suffering.”  It is also an antidote to loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and depression.

Play is actually a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. People who play more not only think faster but also have better memories. Fun-loving people are more optimistic and studies show that optimistic people live a whopping 7.5 years longer on average.

It’s hard to be depressed, pessimistic and go all cortisolly when your life is one gigantic play date. Playing together for the fun of it brings joy, vitality, and resilience to all relationships. Yet many of us stop playing.

Friends having fun- Dr. David Hepburn
Friends having fun- Dr. David Hepburn

We exchange play for work and responsibilities. When we do have some leisure time, we’re more likely to zone out in front of a TV or computer screen, than to engage in actual creative, brain-stimulating play. But play isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.  So ease up, cut up and play up. I’m dead serious.

Erectile Diss-function by Dr. Dave Hepburn

I am not a big curling fan. Not that I don’t like it, I just don’t spend many hours in front of the Toshiba hanging on every “Hurry hard!” But when the Olympics come and Canada is curling, get out of my way. “Sorry Bloggins but we’ll resume those cardiac compressions after this end because we are all tied up with Slovenia.” Yes, every four years I become a hog line hog.

I have also been a Maple Leafs fan forever even though I don’t live in Toronto, never have, don’t want to, dislike the town. But my dad used to sit me on his knee when he wasn’t bending me over it, and we would cheer on Norm Ullman, Dave Keon and Red Kelly. He would yell things like “Shoot it Armstrong!” or “Get up Bower” or “Get off my knee David, you’re 17 years old!”

Toronto, Maple Leafs - Dr. David Hepburn
Toronto, Maple Leafs – Dr. David Hepburn

There are plenty of us jingoistic curling fans and plenty of us wallowing in Leaf Nation. Believe it or not this is actually good for our health. Scientists have shown that fans who feel personally invested in a team or, better yet, who attend games and cheer along with like-minded fans, reap the mental health benefits that come from a feeling of social connectedness. This phenomena is known as “reflected glory.” In the case of the Leafs this phenomena is known amongst scientists as “friggin’ misery loves company.”

Sharing a common allegiance with others, be it the Cubs, Conservatives or Catholics, bonds people together in a special way. We can relate to others who share fanship or churchship and feel a camaraderie with these fellow hooligans. Friends pick a bar or a chapel to meet up in, have a beer and celebrate friendships made because of the sport or doctrine itself.

And being a fanatic fan feels even better when the team wins. Now we’re really reveling in reflected glory. Whether your Canucks lay a licking on the Coyotes or your Methodists lay a licking on the Moonies, your reward system is flooded.

The ‘basking in reflected glory’ notion states that people can elevate their self-esteem in the eyes of themselves and others by their association with successful others. Because the team’s success reflects positively on its fans, sports fans feel better about themselves when their team does well.

In one study ardent fans of Indiana University’s basketball team were shown pictures of attractive members of the opposite sex and asked them to rate their ability to get a date with them. After their team won, both men and women who were devoted fans, even if they looked like Larry Bird, were more optimistic about their likelihood of scoring a date. They also had a higher opinion of their ability to do well at tasks such as throwing darts, shooting free throws, solving word games and even rolling dice.

Another study found testosterone levels in men rise after a victory and fall after a defeat. Researchers took saliva samples from Italian and Brazilian fans in sports bars before and after the two teams played one another in the 1994 World Cup. After the Brazilians won, the testosterone levels of their fans rose more than 20 percent, while the Italian fans’ levels dropped more than 20 percent and their mustaches thinned right out. Same was true of the men. Fans have a strong sense of personal investment in teams they’re following. Sometimes that investment is rewarded and other times it acts like my stock portfolio.

Soccer Fans- Dr. David Hepburn
Fans in a soccer match – Dr. David Hepburn

After a big loss, don’t approach your man looking for a little lovin’ as not only may his libido drop but so too can his manhood. Defeat may lead to ED. (If he yells “Hurry hard!” only every four years, please have him see a doctor.) Though reflected glory explains why the stands are full for winning teams, it doesn’t explain diehard fanship, or people who stick by their team even after lengthy losing streaks aka “The Leaf Experience.” Fans take a pride in their loyalty, and see suffering through failure as a badge of honor. Doing so makes the euphoria of a win even more dopamine rewarding. For many fans, whether it is of the Penguins or the Presbyterians, being a fan is also part of a family’s identity, a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Your great great grandparents may in fact choose your church, foster your fandom and even brainwash your ballot.

So root root root for the home team and flood flood flood your synapses with dopamine, your blood stream with testosterone and your skin with goosebumps. Live and relive those reflected glory days, even if it was a half century ago… Leaf Nation.