Alternative and orthodox medicine and the “ odd ” principle

Alternative and orthodox medicine and the “ odd ” principle

Louis Z.G. Touyz , BDS MSC(Dent) MDent (Perio&OralMed)
Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, .

The Editor

Current Oncology

November 1, 2011


Although orthodox medicine trains general medical practitioners to comprehensively treat the whole patient and to refer to specialists only when patients present ailments exceeding the knowledge and skills of the practitioner, specialists continually face challenges in ensuring that their specialty careers are mutually interdependent and intertwined with total patient care. Moreover, consumer-led demands for alternative therapies allow many people to seek care from a wide variety of traditions, each of which has its own anecdotal claims of success. These alternative traditions include acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, chiropractic, laying-on of healing hands, herbalism, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, hypnosis, massage, naturopathy, osteopathy, radiesthesia, reflexology, shiatsu, and yoga, among many other unconventional approaches 1. Frequently, those traditions fail to recognize early changes that herald neoplastic alterations.


Many people have lost faith in orthodox medicine and turn to alternative medicine for therapy. Too many patients are presenting to orthodox medicine too late for effective therapy because they have attended alternative medicine clinics. This situation applies particularly to early recognition of neoplastic change or late-stage carcinoma. Although some successful reports have been published of alternative medicine in non-orthodox disciplines, including oncology, serious comment on these claims of cure is warranted.


Most ailments presenting for orthodox medicine (more than 80%) are either self-limiting or self-curing. Common colds from viruses are an example. Also, the placebo effect is very potent when faith in “belief-of-cure” is high. Neurobiology proves that the central release of endorphins increases tolerance to pain and transition to conditioned reflex control of discomforting symptoms. When alternative medicine is successful, it is vacuous to deny or to argue against obvious success. But objective repetition is essential for acceptance, and once so established, the procedure is no longer deemed alternative. Research results derived from double-blind controlled crossover clinical trials with subjects randomized between treatment and placebo regimes, and with neither the patient nor the doctor knowing the assigned category, would go a long way to verifying alternative therapy claims. Only after results are assessed and subjected to vigorous statistical analysis can valid conclusions be drawn with regard to significant success.

The Truth

Successful training of health care workers demands recognition of variations within ranges of what is healthy, sustainable, durable, and acceptable. Good discrimination must be taught, recognized, and learned by all neophyte practitioners. In a word, what is “normal”? The pathologic then becomes recognizable. The inability to recognize other, demonstrable differences—the “ odd principle”—is, at source, of tremendous importance to all medical practices, both orthodox and alternative. Early diagnosis, confirmed by biopsy or special investigation, maximizes subsequent therapy. Procrastination, lack of knowledge, and deficiency of diagnostic skills by medicine practitioners of whatever stripe, all contribute to unchecked oncologic progress, with delayed definitive diagnosis and a resultant reduction in optimal outcomes from orthodox therapy. Early excision of a lesion without spread is far preferable to treatment of a florid lesion and secondary metastasis 2.


Unqualified personnel faking adequate training frequently overlook, ignore, or fail to recognize red flags that dictate the necessity for further investigation or referral. “Ignorance is bliss” is a paradigm for the well-intentioned but ignorant, and the afflicted pay too high a price for mistakes of omission and for failures of recognition and of treatment. They see what they look for, and they recognize only what they know. Therefore, applying the odd principle ... that’s not so odd.


The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.


1.  Saks M. The contemporary Western alternatives to Western medicine. In: Porter R, ed. Medicine: A History of Healing. Ancient Traditions to Modern Practices. Ch. 8. East meets West. The body in balance. Homeopathy. New York, NY: Marlow and Co.; 1997: 204–8.

2.  Abrams DI, Weil AT, eds. Integrative Oncology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2009: passim.

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Current Oncology , VOLUME 19 , NUMBER 2 , 2012

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