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Amy M. FitzPatrick, MS, L.Ac.

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Science Isn't Magic (It's Better!), Doctors Aren't Omniscient (They're Human!)

Posted: 10/02/2012 3:47 pm

"You Live in Your Body, Not Your Doctor -- Part II"

The only thing more impressive than how much we know about biology -- both in scale and content -- is how much we don't know. Yet, a pervasive thought exists that might have been borne out of the vaguely all-knowing feeling that Google gives us. The world thinks that science knows how the body works -- entirely.

This gives me a chance to use my favorite neuroscience quote; "Our understanding of something as simple and straightforward as, say, looking at a tree, is not even clear," said Dr. Eric Nestler, chairman of neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School.

Looking. At. A Tree.

The next giant medical discovery you read about, please remember that we do not know what it means for you to look outside and comprehend a tree.

Now, I am no naysayer of Western medicine, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more respect for science. In my research as a medical writer I am constantly amazed by the leaps in modern science and medicine. Heck, I am still in awe of antibiotics; those things are great! (When used appropriately, obviously, as inappropriate usage is surely going to hasten the next plague.)

But this amazement is also held in check by a pretty thorough understanding how much -- or how little -- we know about medicine, drugs and biology. I have often had to write "the mechanism of action of this drug is unknown." Even when the topic I was writing about was the mechanism of action.

We have some very good guesses at how some things work. And we solidly know how some other things work. This turns out to be enough to create some extremely effective interventions against many wicked diseases. But there are still several Grand Canyon-sized gaping holes in our knowledge of biology and medicine.

Why is this critical to how we think about health care?

Because, as I had written in a previous entry, we have handed over our health to physicians and to medicine in a blind act of trust that they can (and indeed that they should) figure it all out for us.

In doing this, we've removed a huge source of data about our own health. Namely -- us.

Yes, trust your doctor. (Well, first research this person thoroughly... then do the trusting.) Yes, medical advances are amazing. And yes, we should do everything in our power to ensure that science research is ongoing because eventually -- even in uphill battles like HIV vaccines -- science can prevail.

But... No, we should not treat medicine like it is magical, infallible, or all-knowing. (Really, only Google Maps is all-knowing -- and seriously, what is that?!) Scientific inquiry is arguably the best thing going, but it is still discovering new and exciting details about you.

It is not science's fault. A human body is outrageously complex. And there are presently about 7 billion human bodies going on about life on this planet -- each one a tiny bit different from the others. Sometimes that difference doesn't matter much at all, and other times it matters a great deal. Think anaphylactic shock from something as innocuous seeming as penicillin, for example. Most of us can take penicillin... But others have a life-threatening allergic reaction to this potentially lifesaving antibiotic.

On the whole, we do have a good deal of biology in common with each other -- even with many animals. But individual variance among we 7 billion is, well, significant.

This variation may mean a drug doesn't work for you at all, or is the best thing for you, or causes an allergic reaction. This is part of the reason why it's so critical to get back in touch with your body. To know your individual variations. Get to a point where you can hear your body talking to you, so that you trust yourself about yourself.

There's another rather huge payoff, too. Stress reduction. According to stress physiologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, having a sense of control and ability to predict an outcome reduces your stress response. Over the long term, this may reduce your chances of suffering from a stress-related illness.

You get that sense of control over your body by understanding your body. You are a valuable, significant source of data whocontributes to medical knowledge -- not just someone who is affected by it.

Do this and you can make your doctor a partner in your health care -- not your guru. It just may improve your health care, and is bound to improve your health.

For more by Amy M. FitzPatrick, MS, L.Ac., click here.

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