A Christian Physician's Stream of Consciousness on Pop Culture Naturopathy

The first time I tried essential oil therapy, I woke up with sleep paralysis. This had never happened to me before,  and has not happened since. However,  I would never base my opinion on a single negative experience -- even mine (n=1). My main hesitations towards amber beads and essential oils are scientific, philosophical, and theological.   

First, there are few prospective, human trials on the effectiveness of essential oils for treating specific maladies.  Most of the human studies I read are small or methodologically flawed. One challenge in human trials of oils is the inability to blind people to receiving or not receiving an oil (unless it is ingested), since the oils have obvious odors. Since placebo effect is known to be as high as 30%, inability to have a comparable comparison group presents a serious problem to interpretation of effectiveness. Additionally, most studies I found do not describe clear chemical mechanisms (beyond "anti-inflammatory" or "anti-bacterial") of action for individual oils. All physiologically active substances marketed for medicinal purposes should have biologically reasonable means of action (i.e. which chemical substance, via which delivery route, affecting which targets). 

Second, I have heard many proponents of essential oils rail against the injustice of western medicine as a money-making business. Surprisingly, these same individuals often make a profit from selling natural products. This seems hypocritical. Furthermore,  investing substantial amounts of money and time in non- proven methods (or any unnecessary practice) is not wise stewardship. Children are DYING around the world,  and instead of raising money to feed them we are buying things that are children likely do not truly need.  Instead of getting together to pray for the persecuted church, we are hosting parties to sell natural products, or jewelry, or candles. This should not be.

Third, many essential oil practitioners oppose the use of western medicines and refer to themselves as 'Dr. Mom'. Having invested the majority of my life in the study of medicine and public health, I find this distrust of physicians and the health care system, as well as reduction of the title 'doctor' to knowledge acquired at weekend seminars rather perplexing and somewhat insulting. 

Finally,  many Christians have jumped on the natural medicine bandwagon,  rejecting known lifesaving treatments (primarily, vaccines) for their children. My husband and I have both seen cases of severe disability and death in unvaccinated children. We have never seen anyone who suffered long term harm from vaccination. Rejecting a free, evidence based practice in favour of a relatively expensive,  unproven system of medicinal therapy is, at best, poor stewardship. As a parent,  reasonable skepticism is both reasonable and admirable. But continued distrust after provision of sound evidence of the overall benefit and minimal risk of a treatment is unwise. Distrust of authority is not a Biblical virtue. In fact,  God often puts leadership (governmental, tax funded) in place to care for us (Romans 13).    

However, if there are no known harms (I have not found any in the literature), and I don't have to invest financially in the treatment (a sweet friend gave me a bottle), then it may not be unreasonable to at least try them for teething. I do appreciate the positive, individual testimonials I have heard and will continue investigating natural medical interventions from an evidence based standpoint. 

:::: Follow Up Thoughts (Response to Whether Having Jewelry Parties Makes Someone a Bad Christian) :::

Most of us are "bad" Christians -- meaning, we often don't follow Christ as well as we could or should. I know I don't always (or even usually) get it right -- and this is precisely why I am a Christian. I need Christ. I need His sacrifice. He needs to change me. With that view in mind, I think we should examine ourselves to determine whether we are operating out of Kingdom priorities, or fear/selfishness. In the areas we are weak, Christ is working to transform us (II Corinthians 13:4-7). Do I think having a jewelry party, in itself, is bad? Not necessarily, though there are unarguably better ways we, as believers, could spend our time/money/affections.

Do physicians deserve respect for studying for a decade or longer in order to best advise people on their health? Perhaps not. Most of us try to remain well-versed in the literature on what are the best, most cost effective, most evidence based means of managing medical conditions but we are not all-knowing or perfect. We cannot insist that people follow our advice and indeed, we should not. Being an informed patient does not equate to blind trust, but neither does it translate to a rejection of medical knowledge by practitioners. However, I think all of this is beside the point.

Do we trust every authority? No. We trust God, who tells us to submit to authority -- even secular authority (I Peter 2:11-17, Romans 13:1-7). Any decision I make: from how I spend my money, to my time, to how I treat my children, should be handled with prayer, through the lens of Scripture. And I must always be ready for God to change me (priorities, practices, and parties) -- because I am not the authority. He is.


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