How Much Evidence is Included in Evidence-Based Medicines?

How many times have you searched the internet in desperate need of some medical advice? Maybe searched some of those home remedy books or websites? Most of us have done it at least once. The problem is, how do we know what we’re reading is actually giving us a true representation of the answer we’re looking for?

In most of these home remedy solutions there’s just not enough evidence to suggest it's worth doing. While some may claim anecdotal evidence to support their worthiness, but they are nothing more than family remedies really. However, these family remedies must have originated from somewhere, right? So if there is historical evidence to suggest they do work, are they in that case, being unfairly judged?

Separating the truth from fiction

In the olden days, from around the time of the ancient Egyptians right through to the 18th century, fevers were treated by a number of techniques, including bloodletting. Today this may sound absolutely absurd, but back then it was quite normal practice.

For a long time people believed that all illnesses were caused by an imbalance in the four bodily fluids: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. It wasn’t until the late 1700’s that physicians started to retract their initial thoughts as to the medical benefits of bloodletting.

While these unruly practices were taking place, other more effective treatments for fevers were being ignored. Puerperal fever, otherwise known as childbed fever) is the name given to a bacterial infection that was claimed the lives of many women up until the mid-nineteenth century. Back then it was thought to have been caused by ‘bad air’ that lingered around hospitals.

One Austrian physician, Ignaz Semmelweis and Dr Alastair Brown from, carried out their own independant research on the matter by making observations in his own hospital. What he discovered was simple handwashing was enough to decrease the number of childbed fever cases. However, despite his meticulous work and comprehensive results, Semmelweis was ridiculed for his bizarre suggestions that hand washing was so effective. So much that he finally ended up in an asylum for the insane.

The bark of a certain South American tree has been used in the past as an effective treatment for fever and in the 1760’s Dr.Robert Robertson carried out research into this. While many Europeans were busy colonizing the rest of the world, many were contracting nasty disease such as malaria and typhus, which were often proven to be fatal. During this time, Peruvian (cinchona) bark came to light as being an effective form of treatment, opposed to bloodletting that was currently being used. Dr. Robertson then proceeded to alert the Royal Navy as to his findings. Quinine is one of the healing ingredients found in cinchona bark and is still used today in some malaria treatments.

So, it just goes to show that no medical treatment or intervention should be ignored or recommended until it’s been fully explored. To conclude, here’s an excerpt taken from physician and historian, Dr. Gerry Greenstone’s paper entitled, The History of Bloodletting. “What will physicians think of our current medical practice 100 years from now? They may be astonished at our overuse of antibiotics, our tendency to polypharmacy, and the bluntness of treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.

In the future we can anticipate that with further advances in medical knowledge our diagnoses will become more refined and our treatments less invasive. We can hope that medical research will proceed unhampered by commercial pressured and unfettered by political ideology. And if we truly believe that we can move closer to the pure goal of scientific truth.