Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)
Natural Hygiene is a misguided, prescientific notion that nature provides everything to heal anyone of anything.
by Brian Dunning
February 19, 2007
Also available in Russian
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
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
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.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Natural Hygiene: Health Without Medicine (or Wisdom)." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
19 Feb 2007. Web.
25 May 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4028>
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.
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