South Africa


Professor Van Gelder, medicine can never be an exact science

Having thoroughly berated me, Professor A L van Gelder closes an open letter by asking if my “wellness” clinic helps healthy and wealthy people remain well, or whether my “holistic” practice only focuses on a small group of self-limiting diseases. This would be luxurious indeed but is very far from the truth.

My integrative health practice primarily attracts people with chronic, often complex illnesses, who have done the medical rounds without noticeable improvements to their health. Many have lost confidence in doctors, their medical aids depleted and their finances strained. How many times have I heard: “you are my last resort” and “doctors don’t listen; they don’t explain”?

I hasten to say that I believe there are many truly caring and well-meaning doctors out there who often face the dilemma of a patient who expects a quick fix and is reluctant to implement much needed lifestyle changes. Seemingly without much further thought, more prescriptions follow.

I stated that randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trials have a role to play in the development of drugs, and so do these drugs themselves, especially in emergency medicine and to relieve suffering. The majority of chronic disorders tend to elicit the use of multiple drugs. How does the “gold standard” of drug testing apply to poly-pharmacy, with two, three, four or more different drugs being used simultaneously? As mentioned before, I suggest evaluating an integrated approach to chronic conditions.

Anything natural, be it nutrition or remedies, will normally be less effective than drugs in terms of symptom reduction: the body seems to respond stronger to chemicals. In the short term, this is not such a problem, but with prolonged use, complications tend to set in, rendering drugs far less desirable. A very common problem in my work is the detrimental effects of previous (over) medication.

People hardly give any thought to the body’s natural healing capability, which is the focus of functional medicine. Some may say that a natural, pro-health approach takes long to deliver results, but I am often astonished at the body’s healing ability and how fast that can produce results. Much depends on the doctor-patient partnership and here too there are many variables. Chronic disease is not a randomly dealt bad-luck card from the deck: it is an integral part of our journey through life. One needs to respect this process instead of bulldozing it with chemicals. Incorporating these principles in my work has led to many improvements in the lives of others and my own.

You state that the undergraduate training I received included seeing “the individual as a whole and complete person”. I do not recall receiving any tutoring in nutrition, but then many things will have changed since the early ‘80s. I am very grateful for the training I received at the University of Pretoria, which proved a tremendous platform for my decade in hospital practice. Indeed, the more acutely serious the disorder, the more conventional medicine has a role to play. It is with conditions where the body cannot self-correct that conventional medicine is truly great, and has made spectacular progress.

When I eventually moved into the private sector I got very frustrated with the pills-for-symptoms approach. Things had happened in my own life which forced me to seek answers elsewhere. I later discovered that many other medical doctors also had compelling experiences prior to embarking on similar journeys.

I came into contact with functional medicine, pioneered by Drs Jeff Bland, Mark Hyman and many others, which offers clear, effective training in alternatives to drug-based medicine. As with all good medicine it starts with taking a proper history and often medical tests are involved. Usually one can find relevant starting points to navigate the multi-causality aspect. An important first step is almost invariably to correct the gut, which is considered the gateway to health, and to motivate for lifestyle adjustments. Hippocrates is often quoted: “Let food be thy medicine.” Functional medicine is now bringing this to fruition.

Symptoms appear when the body signals that it is stressed and busy with recovery work.

Headaches may be caused by a brain tumour, hypertension, a magnesium deficiency, etc., but not by an aspirin deficiency – even though the drug may bring relief. So, drugs do not deal with the underlying problems. As I stated previously, they may be needed in serious conditions like the ones you mentioned: it is obvious that an antibiotic will be indicated with pneumonia, and of course insulin is absolutely imperative with diabetes, as I am certain you refer to type 1 and not 2. Essential as it is, insulin does not restore the immune imbalance and the pancreas’s response to it, nor do antibiotics restore the underlying weakness which allowed the infection to express itself.

You insist I give my take on homeopathy. I have already made it clear that I am not going to make a case for homeopathy. I have never been drawn to it, neither have I any experience with it. However, many of my patients have had homeopathic treatments elsewhere and claim meaningful improvements without any negative side-effects. In this context you ask whether I “believe the curative properties of a substance are separate ‘things’ to the substance itself”. It is an interesting question and my answer is no: I would rather use supplements than their “energetic equivalents”. Yet one cannot underestimate the placebo effect and the healing power of belief.

I have a huge respect for my patients as many have done their own research and come armed with incisive questions. Those who have been ill for a long time are not easily taken up with woo-woo healing practices. Millions of people globally have watched the Ty Bollinger series The Truth about Cancer and The Truth about Vaccines. There are also many online summits on various health topics from the holistic perspective. In our digital world information is freely available to everyone and medicine increasingly lies in the common domain.

Next, let’s briefly look at the science that I mentioned.

I unreservedly concede your point on Quantum Physics, as indeed it seems previous findings of the observer effect have largely been reviewed by more recent research. My reason for referring to Quantum Mechanics is that it is so very different from Newtonian physics, showing that energy does not always behave in the way we think, especially at the subatomic level. As such, it is a game changer in how we view the world. I wish to thank you for the correction, with my apologies.

You say that the neurotransmitter that moves the leg has its origin in the neurotransmitters that lead to the thought to move the leg. If thoughts are “an emergent property of the actions of neurotransmitters”, can they also be a measure of what is actually being thought? If my thoughts are created by neurotransmitters, then where does choice come in? I like to believe that apart from spontaneous thoughts and actions, we are also capable of consciously choosing our thoughts, otherwise there would be no free will, and life would lose its meaning.

With regard to nutritional measures altering gene expression, I was referring, among others, to the experiments done by Dr Randy Jirtle in 2003 with the well-known Agouti gene in certain mice, causing them to be fat, yellow and sickly. Maternal supplementation with methyl-donors, like some of the B vitamins, which methylated the relevant DNA sites, produced genetically identical offspring free from fat, yellow sickliness. To me that’s quite stunning and why I said: yes, food can do that. But the actual point I made was about microRNA regulators of gene expression disappearing in the third generation when the epigenetic expression is still there, which to me is not so straightforward. An example is the studies on stressed mice at the Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich, in 2014.

The experiment with the vacuum, within which DNA influenced the configuration of photons, which continued after removal of the DNA, was done in the early 1990s by two Russian scientists, Vladimir Poponin and Peter Gariaev. It is known as the “DNA Phantom Effect”.

The other experiments with reactions of DNA to changes in emotional state, both inside the body and simultaneously in tissue samples away from the body, were done by US army researchers and reported on by Gregg Braden in The Divine Matrix: The experiments that changed everything. Braden is widely published, exploring the interface of science and spirituality. With this paradigm he most probably loses most regular scientists. Sure, I should have looked further rather than trust a source I did not verify.

It is because of Ivo Vegter’s comments that I mentioned Emoto. If he was also pseudo then he must have been very clever at that, appearing in movies and having lectured all over the world. One can’t be too careful with fake news, not so, Prof? As to water memory, which Vegter proclaims to be a ludicrous idea, examples can be found in the work of German scientist, Professor Bernd Kröplin at the Aerospace Institute in Stuttgart. For example, water drops from the same source, exposed to different people show up differently under the microscope but consistently with each person. I find this quite stunning.

In conclusion, there is much debate in scientific circles: well-known is Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006). Fellow British biologist, Rupert Sheldrake published The Science Delusion (2012). Both men are well respected scientists with many peer reviewed scientific papers and books to their credit. Both have also been intensely criticised, yet I find myself drawn to Sheldrake’s views on the morphic field and his plea for greater open-mindedness in science rather than a rejecting of ideas based on “assumptions that have hardened into dogmas”.

I am convinced that there is more to life and medicine than can be explained by science. Powerful experiences and their corresponding emotions have profound effects on our lives and on our bodies. Like Sheldrake I am convinced of connecting energy fields within the human system and beyond. Acknowledging the “soft” side of medicine, I have found that so many patients have a great need for soul in medicine. They feel alienated being seen as cases or numbers.

As stated before, it is my opinion that outside the serious situation, the body, as a natural entity, responds better to natural treatment modalities than to chemical drugs. This is what functional/ integrative medicine has been exploring. “Integrative” means the consideration of many different treatment modalities including allopathic medicine.

The nature of human beings is such that I don’t think medicine can ever be an exact science but rather one that tries to be scientifically sure about as many things as possible. It is emergent, situational and linked to the awareness of patients, doctors and the paradigm of research and training institutions. DM


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