Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)
Can Natural Hygiene really lead to a longer life?
by Brian Dunning
February 19, 2007
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By Brian Dunning, Skeptoid Podcast
Episode 28, February 19, 2007
Today we're going to flush our entire medicine cabinet down the toilet and try "natural hygiene," the practice of improving our health by avoiding medical care.
The hypotheses behind natural hygiene suggest that modern medicine and vaccinations are harmful to the body, and that viruses, bacteria, and germs are not harmful. Basically, take everything that modern science has taught us about the human body, turn it upside down and backwards, and there is your natural hygiene. However they do recognize one fact of biology, and that's that the human body has the power to heal itself. But they don't really understand what this means: They believe that the only way a human body can be healed is on its own, without medical care. For example, if you have an infected wound, natural hygiene suggests that a shot of penicillin will actually make things worse. In fact, such wound care as this can sometimes be the only thing that will save your life. Many practitioners do bend their own rules in cases of trauma or emergency care, ackowledging that medical care is actually helpful in an emergency. It's the rest of time, normal wellness or treatment of chronic illness or disease, where they believe medical care is counterproductive.
The human body does have amazing recuperative powers. Its immune system is powerful and sophisticated. Every day, someone's immune system manages to overcome some disease that's usually fatal. And it's these relatively few lucky victories that always get all the attention. When a person who doesn't understand medicine reads in the National Enquirer that someone overcame cancer while trying natural hygiene, it's natural to assume a causal relationship. In fact, as we know from medical history, more people who treat their cancer will survive than those who don't. It's the exceptions that make the headlines, and comprise the bulk of the anecdotal evidence supporting natural hygiene.
When a practitioner of natural hygiene cuts his finger and sees it heal, he attributes this to his natural hygiene lifestyle. Really this is just the body's normal process. If he'd put on some Neosporin and a band-aid, it probably would have healed quicker and with less risk of infection.
Prior to 100 years ago, you were actually better off not going to the doctor if you became ill. The doctor was likely to bleed you, or induce vomiting, in order to balance your humors. Illness was thought to be caused by an imbalance in the four basic humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Needless to say, this level of treatment didn't get you very far. You were just as likely to die from infection caused by the bloodletting incisions.
Since then, with the advent of modern medicine and a century of its development, we've doubled the average life expectancy in the Western world from under 40 to almost 80. Most of this gain in average life expectancy has come from reductions of infant mortality and early childhood illnesses. Generally, if you can survive early childhood, you have a good chance of reaching middle age or even older.
Modern-day non-civilized native tribes, who lack access to modern medicine and are the only groups currently practicing natural hygiene in large numbers, have an average life expectancy of just 34 years at birth. But this doesn't mean that everyone drops dead at 35, like some jungle version of Logan's Run. Those lucky enough to survive into their teen years have an average life expectancy of almost 60. What this means is that natural hygiene practitioners are at greatest risk of death during infancy and early childhood. Without innoculations and infant care, many children die and bring down the whole average.
Modern Western practitioners of natural hygiene are people who make the choice sometime during healthy adulthood. This means that they have generally already received their innoculations at an early age, and it obviously means that they already survived infancy and early childhood. So, doing nothing else, and having already been brought into adulthood through modern medical care, their human genes already provide them quite a long lifespan. In fact, since infant mortality brings down the whole average for everyone, an adult's life expectancy is already higher than the average life expectancy. This simple mathematical curiosity accounts for the fact that natural hygiene practitioners can generally claim to live longer than average. However, if they were required to place their bets just before childbirth instead of 20 years later, their average would be no higher than the general population, and probably less since they will not accept treatment for later stage illnesses like heart disease and cancer.
Natural hygiene practitioners do follow some very good health practices. They generally don't smoke or drink alcohol excessively, and they often follow a healthy low-calorie diet. These are all great practices, but they can be followed by anyone. You don't need to add the weird element of shunning healthcare to enjoy the benefits of these simple healthy choices.
Do you or someone you know practice natural hygiene? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Please come to Skeptoid.com and post your experience in the forum.
© 2007 Skeptoid Media
References & Further Reading
Barrett, S. "A Critical Look at Natural Hygiene." Quackwatch. Stephen Barrett, M.D., 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 15 Jan. 2007. <http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/natural_hygiene.html>
Ernst, E., Singh, S. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. New York: Bantam Press, 2008.
INHS. "Natural Hygiene History." International Natural Hygiene Society. International Natural Hygiene Society, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2010. <http://naturalhygienesociety.org/>
Lewis, James R. The encyclopedia of cults, sects, and new religions. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998. 405.
Shermer, Michael. "Cures and cons: Natural scams 'he' doesn't want you to know about." Scientific American Magazine. 1 Mar. 2006, Volume 294, Number 3: 25.
Shils, M., Shike, M., Ross, A., Caballero, B., Cousins, R. Modern nutrition in health and disease, 10th Edition. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), 2005. 1803-1804.
Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 19 Feb 2007. Web. 30 Aug 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4028>