When discussing the absurdity of religious disagreements, peacemakers often make the point that all religions believe in one underlying Truth or Deity, that all religions are guided by the idea that we should be excellent to each other. I don't believe this, but it serves as a useful analogy.
In medicine, those trying to bring together science-based practitioners and alternative practitioners (or more honestly, alternative docs trying to justify their practices) often argue that we are simply using different words for the same concepts, that one person's chi is another one's "life force", "energy", or some such thing.
In religious arguments, no one can be proven wrong about who's god is the real one, but it can be pretty well determined whether or not religions "believe in" the same underlying principles. One question deals with the unanswerable, the other with written texts and observable practices---in other words, data. The same is true for medicine.
The idea that there is some sort of animating force travelling through channels or meridians in the body is an old one. Sometimes the language is explicitly mystical, and sometimes it is couched in science-y words. Chiropractors speak of "subluxations" blocking the flow of something-or-other and causing disease. Whether such a phenomenon exists (it doesn't) is easily discovered.
Lay people very often buy in to vitalist ideas about human health. It goes well with our propensity to believe in mind-body dualism, with religious ideas of soul. People like to believe things, like to find patterns to organize their world based on their own observations, even if these observations are based on false premises. This is why we have professionals. We don't let anyone design a bridge, but someone who understands the physics involved. And we shouldn't let people practice medicine if they have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the body works.
All this is in support of the premise that Dr. Oz is no longer a real doctor, but more of a mystic. Currently his website is hosting a series on "Fighting Fat with Ayurveda". Ayurveda is a form of pre-scientific medicine from the Indian subcontinent. It is based on thousands of years of tradition, but has been largely abandoned by those who can afford real medicine. It shares with other traditional systems vitalist ideas of unmeasurable life-forces.
As I read the first part of the series I am struck by two patterns. First, it shows a supposedly real doctor (Oz) implicitly supporting disproved ideas about health and failing to give the real data. Just as disturbing is the "carnival barker" tone of the series:
Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing some of the most powerful ayurvedic secrets for removing amafrom your body and helping you achieve your weight loss resolution.
This idea that there is some secret out there for fat people, diabetics, people with cancer, or whomever, a secret so powerful yet simple, is patently absurd, yet alluring. But what follows could have been lifted from any internet quack site. It is a list of symptoms that supposedly tells you if you have excessive "toxins" in your body. The whole idea of "toxins" being the cause of disease is also old, and also not based on reality. It's not that toxic substances aren't important, it's that the word is not used the same by real doctors and quacks.
But the language! Vey's mir, it could have been lifted from any Morgellons, chronic Lyme disease, or other fake disease websites.
The first step is to determine if you have an excessive amount of toxins in your body. If you answer “yes” to the majority of the statements below, you have an excessive accumulation of ama:
1. I tend to feel obstruction/blockages in my body—constipation, congestion/heaviness in the head area, blocked nose, or a general feeling of non-clarity.
2. When I wake up in the morning, I do not feel clear; it takes me quite some time to feel really awake.
3. I tend to feel tired or exhausted mentally and physically.
4. I get common colds or similar ailments several times a year.
5. I tend to feel heaviness in the body.
6. I tend to feel that something is not functioning properly in the body – breathing, digestion, elimination or other.
7. I tend to feel lazy (i.e., the capacity to work is there, but there is no inclination).
8. I often suffer from indigestion.
9. I tend to spit repeatedly or have a bad taste in my mouth.
10. Often, I have no taste for food and no real appetite.
11. My tongue is often coated with a thick film, especially in the morning.
Everyone has some or many of these complaints at one time or another, and many of these are normal. Most people get several colds a year. Most people get indigestion. These vague statements are usually designed, in my opinion, to show how "common" an imaginary problem is by making all readers victims of this excess of ama. And on many websites, such lists, in my opinion, are simply used to draw in pigeons for the fleecing.
Believers in alternative medicine and real doctors are most certainly not talking about the same concepts using different words. We physicians are talking about real, measurable, testable concepts; things that can be seen, touched, altered. They are talking about imaginary energies and toxins that cannot be demonstrated to even exist, much less be manipulated to improve health.
There is a long history of real medicine, flaws and all, saving lives and improving health. All the rest is based on dreams and greed.