Science Mom: ‘Natural’ Is Not A Synonym For ‘Better’

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More than just a buzzword to flog product, the word ‘natural’ can actually be dangerous. There’s a long list of websites, books, and ‘naturopaths’ (like doctors, but without all that pesky training and residency and certification business) who, instead of trying to sell you groceries under the masthead of naturalness, are trying to sell you health instead. And people are buying it.

At best, natural cures like homeopathy, magnetic bracelets, and herbal supplements are a waste of money and time. At worst, they can be actively dangerous. Pharmaceutical ads on TV telling you to ask your doctor if the newest anti-depressant/beta blocker/erectile dysfunction medication are annoying, but at least they come with lists of side effects.

Natural cures and treatments are presented as healthier and safer than the normal option, when that is often the opposite of the truth:  For one thing, this type of supplement/medication/pretend-pill isn’t regulated by the FDA in the same way that other (a.k.a. “real”) medications are, which means you don’t really know what you’re getting nor how it’s going to affect you. Plus, natural remedies can even interfere with an actual drug you’re taking, from heart medications to antidepressants to, ahem, birth control pills. Nothing says ‘natural’ like a surprise round of natural family planning.

The other all-natural elephant in the room, of course, is that treatments like this don’t actually work. Oops! If you take honey therapy to treat your allergies like “Doctor” Mercola recommends, instead of getting allergy shots, your spring allergies aren’t going anywhere (although on the bright side, you get a spoonful of honey instead of a jab in the arm). The best thing you can say about natural cures is that you might ride a little placebo wave to some minor health benefits. You know what else has minor (and major) health benefits? Actually treating your illness.

Naturopathic quackery kills people who earnestly believe that a healthy diet is a better option for a cancer cure than surgery or medication. Natural herbal remedies can give you all-natural kidney failure. And those super-duper plant-based treatments for arthritis and pain relief can even straight-up give you cancer. But at least they’re natural, so they still must be better than the conventional alternatives!

There’s nothing wrong with making some ‘natural’-oriented choices. Grow your own food if you’re so inclined, shop at the organic stalls at the farmers market if that floats your produce boat, make your own cleaning solution with vinegar if that’s what you prefer. (That last one is almost certainly better than swabbing down your house with antibacterial cleaning products anyway.) But when it comes to the grocery store, don’t break the bank in an effort to uphold the naturalistic fallacy. And when it comes to your health, trust in science. That way, maybe we can finally let all these unregulated, unwarranted, unhelpful remedies die a natural death.

(Image: itVega/Shutterstock)

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