Speaking of Feminist Woo

via  Bitch Magazine, which reviews Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology

In addition to promoting dubious “natural remedies” (e.g. douching with herbs to treat STIs), the review makes several erroneous statements.  For example:

“Herbs predate history; women have been using herbs to treat cramps and bring on their menses for a long time. It’s no secret that natural medicine has been swept under the rug because of the pharmaceutical industry (Read a bit about the suppression of natural remedies in the US here). While medical advancements have certainly provided more access to birth control and hormone therapy than ever before, I have a hard time believing the multi-billion dollar industry that creates these hormonal drugs is super concerned about women’s health. While we have access to these drugs, we do not have control over what goes into them, and pharmaceutical companies are not required to tell us.”

First off, it’s not true that drug companies are not required to tell us what’s in their products — they not only have list active and inactive ingredients, they have to include a patient package insert that lists all the possible side effects and contraindications. Can the same be said of natural remedies? Not likely — they aren’t subject to FDA law because they’re considered dietary supplements, not drugs.

If proponents of alternative medicine want to gain legitimacy, they should apply to the RFPs from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and find solid scientific evidence to back up their claims.

The link to  natural remedies above describes naturopaths from the 19th century who treated tuberculosis using water therapy and herbs.  Well, since I know something about the history of medicine, these folks did not “cure” TB — they simply sent the illness into remission.  Today we have antibiotics that, when used appropriately, can cure most cases of TB.  The reason we have multiple antibiotic resistant strains are that patients don’t always follow the full course of treatment (which takes up to a year of daily pills) and/or have HIV AIDs.

As a historian of medicine and public health, I know all too well what used to happen in the “good old days” before antibiotics. Part of the reason the death rate was so high during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic was that many died not from flu per se but from secondary infections such as pneumonia. Millions more died from tuberculosis and syphilis.

Yes, some people are allergic to some antibiotics — for example, I’m allergic to amoxicyllin, but I can take other antibiotics.

Everyone knocks FDA but they aren’t in the pocket of Big Pharma — in fact, the agency is quite rigorous (e.g. the recent rejection of the so-called “pink Viagra“).  As I said earlier, there is no regulatory oversight over natural remedies to ensure they are both safe and effective.

Vague phrases like “herbs predate history” are annoying to those of us who actually look at the primary sources written by and for women instead of making shit up speculating about what women did in the past without any solid evidence to back it up.  For an excellent analysis of the medieval European period, see Monica Green’s book Making Women’s Medicine Masculine and Katherine Park’s Welch award winning Secrets of Women.  For examples from early America, see Laural Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer prize winning book A Midwife’s Tale, and Susan E. Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, & Family Limitation in America.

As to the advice in Hot Pantz — don’t try this at home, or if you do, caveat emptor!

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