In the mid-1800’s, women in maternity wards were dying at a high rate of puerperal fever, also known as childbed fever. A physician named Ignaz Semmelweis, while working at a hospital in Vienna, Austria, noticed that women in the maternity ward that was staffed by male physicians died at a rate three times that of the ward staffed by female midwives.
Between deliveries, the male physicians would perform autopsies on cadavers. It turned out that they were transmitting germs from these cadavers to the women, causing the infections that were killing them. Semmelweis discovered that the problem could be dramatically reduced if the doctors disinfected their hands before returning to the maternity ward. He was unable to explain why it helped, but in 1847, he proposed that doctors start washing their hands. According to Wikipedia, “Despite various publications of results where hand washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time, and his ideas were rejected by the medical community.” It wasn’t until almost two decades later that his theory was proven correct, and new practices where implemented with great success.
Another doctor, Dr. Barry Marshall, had proposed that bacteria (Heliobacter pylori) was the cause of stomach ulcers in the early 1980’s. The medical community had accepted stomach ulcers as being caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid in the stomach. The data that Marshall had been trying to get published was rejected, and the data that was accepted was delayed. He and his colleague were criticized and told that they were wasting their time, despite the fact that they had been successfully treating patients for years with a simple and inexpensive antibiotic.
In 1984, having difficulty reproducing his results in lab animals, Marshall used himself to prove his theory by drinking the bacteria. He got the ulcers and successfully treated himself with the antibiotics. Finally, in 1994, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognized Marshall’s findings and released a statement saying that “the key to treatment of duodenal and gastric ulcer was detection and eradication of Helicobacter pylori.” He was ultimately given a Nobel prize for his work in 2005.
I share these two stories to make a huge point. What we think we know now in medicine is often very, very wrong. And things that those in the medical community roll their eyes at, brush off as alternative, non-scientific, and/or preposterous may very well be the next things that the medical community accepts as proven science.
Many, many of the medical pioneers that made incredible breakthroughs were initially dismissed as quacks, unscientific, and even dangerous. Even while using their treatments, or applying their theories and getting positive results, those in the medical and scientific communities often turn their heads and ignore the findings if it goes against the currently accepted beliefs and practices. Once medicine accepts something as true, they dig in, open the gates, and sprint down that path. This is very hard to stop, even when new science clearly contradicts the science that got them on that path.
The saddest part is that patients suffer. Consider how many people suffered needlessly with stomach pain because the medical community clung to an outdated and incorrect theory and failed to take Marshall seriously. And think about how many women’s lives were lost due to infection during childbirth because Semmelweis was not only ignored, but ostracized by his fellow physicians, ultimately driving him into an asylum.
Our current medical model is failing miserably, yet they continue pushing down the same path with their heads high, full of arrogance, and as confident as ever. There is a better way. If you are not satisfied with the quality of health in your family, or have been struggling with the same condition for a while with your current doctor, wouldn’t it make sense to start asking different questions, seeking alternative forms of therapy, and finding a better path?