Life Positive peddles nonsense
'Alternative Medicine' and Placebo Effect
One killed in stampede for fish medicine
Hyderabad, June 9, 2012)
Amid utter chaos and confusion that marked the distribution of the famous ‘fish prasadam' in the city, one person was killed in a stampede while some others suffered injuries in Kattedan, here on Friday.
Thousands of people suffering from asthma jostled with one another at the gates of the sports complex on the city outskirts, where the ‘prasadam' was to be administered by Bathina Harinath Goud's family members. The belief is that the ‘prasadam' would cure them of the respiratory disorder. The yellow dough-like medicine, ingredients of which are kept a secret, is rolled into a small ball, put in the mouth of a live ‘murrel' fingerling and pushed down the throats of the patient.
(The Hindu, June 9, 2010)
Desperately hoping for a cure for their chronic asthma, thousands of patients and their relatives throng at this annual event where a family hailing from the twin-city of Hyderabad makes these credulous patients swallow "fish prasadam" - live murrel fingerlings dipped in what the organizers call ‘herbal medicine’.
Earlier, they used to call their offering ‘fish medicine’. In 2005, however, with the Andhra Pradesh High Court, acting on a petition filed by the rationalist group Jana Vigyan Vedike, directing the organizers of the spurious treatment not to use the word ‘medicine’, they started calling it ‘fish prasadam’. But this change in nomenclature does not seem to have the desired effect. With the open complicity of various government departments (the State Fisheries Department, for instance, “arranged for 80,000 ‘murrel' fish” for the event this year) the crowd continues to swell every passing year.
The Baithini Goud family that administers this 'treatment' claims that some saint had handed over to their ancestors, in 1845, a secret formula of medicine as a cure for asthma.1. It is not clarified who the saint was, why the saint had selected this family to administer it, or why the ‘medical formula’ should remain a secret. Or why the medium for administering the ‘herbal medicine’ should be a fish. But the last point perhaps is understandable because the family administering this ‘secret cure’ belongs to the Goud caste, for whom eating fish is not a taboo. What is interesting however is that with the popularity of their medicine picking up, attracting patients belonging to the ‘twice-born’ castes too for whom fish is forbidden food, the treatment evolved! Now the murrel fish is no more a necessity – jaggery is equally fine, though the trade mark remains the murrel fish! Who can now say that providers of miracle cures and alternative medicines do not experiment!
Life Positive peddles nonsense
This miracle treatment has a strange course – it has to be taken once every year for three consecutive years for the patient to be cured of the disease for ever! The medicines should not be administered on any day of the year, mind you – it should be on the ‘auspicious day’ of "Mrigishira Karthi", which is fixed each year by none other than astrologers.2 During these three years, following the ritual of swallowing live fish, the patient has to follow ‘a strict diet for 45 days’. “Once the patient has swallowed the live fish, three doses of extra medicine is provided, to be taken on three successive auspicious days - Arudra Karthi, Punarvasu Karthi and Pushyami Karthi, which fall every 15 days in a regulated span of 45 days. Apart from this, the patient has to be under strict diet control for 45 days” (LifePositive, November 1999)3
How does their fishy medicine work? Well, it is a miracle! Is not their medical formula a secret? But the Goud family is forthcoming at least on the role of the fish component of their ‘miracle medicine”:
“This live fish travels, wagging its tail and fins, through the throat and negotiates the phlegm congestion, providing a 100% cure”4
If you start visualizing a fish moving, wagging its tail and fins as if through a stream, from your pharynx to esophagus to your stomach (the normal path of the food you eat), you are thoroughly mistaken. That’s not where this fish goes. It goes right into your lungs and ‘negotiates the phlegm congestion”!
If you think I am misleading or exaggerating, here is Life Positive, the journal that peddles every new-age nonsense, clarifying it for you in no uncertain terms:
“As the fish moves down the windpipe, it opens pores blocked by phlegm, thus making way for the herbal paste” (Life Positive, November 1999).
Fish moving down the windpipe? Are they joking? Do the author and the editor of the journal never ever coughed up tiny food particles that accidentally entered their trachea or windpipe?
Assuming that they didn’t, let us refer them to a Wikipedia article to get some idea of what the consequences of pulmonary aspiration are. [Pulmonary Aspiration is the medical terminology for, to quote Wikipedia, “the entry of material (such as pharyngeal secretions, food or drink, or stomach contents) from the oropharynx or gastrointestinal tract into the larynx (voice box) and lower respiratory tract (the portions of the respiratory system from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs)]:
Consequences of pulmonary aspiration range from no injury at all, to chemical pneumonitisor pneumonia, to death within minutes from asphyxiation. These consequences depend in part on the volume, chemical composition, particle size, presence or absence of infectious agents, and underlying health status of the person. In healthy people, aspiration of small quantities of material is common and rarely results in disease or injury. People with significant underlying disease or injury, especially hospitalized patients, are at greater risk for developing respiratory complications following pulmonary aspiration because of certain factors such as depressed level of consciousness and impaired airway defenses (gag reflex and/or respiratory tract antimicrobial defense system).5
If this is what happens when tiny food particles accidentally get into your lungs, can you even imagine a fish ‘swimming’ through your windpipe and lungs? It is evident that the Goud family and the worthy editors of Life Positive magazine who have taken upon themselves the task of marketing medical charlatanism are ignorant of even the basic human anatomy and the causes and symptoms of asthma. It is shocking to see thousands of chronic asthma patients flocking to these quacks without worrying about the hazards involved.
Though the Goud family continues to maintain that theirs is a ‘secret formula’ handed down through generations, they were directed by the Court in 2005 to give samples for scientific analysis. The laboratory test concluded that it had no medical properties. It was following this test that the court directed the organizers not to use the word ‘medicine’
Though it is reported that this ‘treatment’ is offered free of cost (the Goud family claims that the saint who had gifted this secret medical formula had made them take oath that the treatment would be offered free of cost; the 'medical formula' would however remain secret – Oh! What a magnanimous saint!), we think that various financial aspects of this annual event should be seriously looked into, studied, and investigated – including the role of the government departments. Who bears, for instance, the cost of 80000 murrel fish supplied by the Fisheries Department of the Government of Andhra Pradesh? At what cost it is supplied? Why does the State Government continue to involve in these affairs by arranging the venue, supplying murrel fish, and making special transportation arrangements from various parts of the state for the patients to reach the venue, despite the fact that it is proven in the laboratory tests that the ‘treatment’ is medically worthless?
'Alternative Medicine' and Placebo Effect
But the more important question to be asked is why do people, even the educated, intelligent lot, fall for this medical charlatanism?
Analysing the growing popularity of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States in the 1990s, R. Barker Bausell says in his book Snake Oil Science that modern medical science’s answers to ‘chronic, non-life-threatening illnesses that drastically affected their victims’ quality of life’ left a great deal to be desired. Pharmaceutical marketing created the expectation that there did exist a medical answer for every human complaint. However, consumers “dissatisfaction with conventional medicine’s inability to treat, much less fix, chronic, sometimes disabling aches and pains” has created demand, which is met by the supply of these ‘alternative treatments’.
Bausell says “… millions of intelligent people could be correct when they conclude that their symptoms were relieved as soon as they received a complementary and alternative medical treatment, but incorrect when they conclude that the relieve was due to the treatment itself … the best scientific evidence available suggests that the genesis of this relief is something else entirely. And while this possibility may seem counterintuitive, I will suggest that this “something else” is actually the placebo effect, a phenomenon recognized at least since the time of Hippocrates and used by physicians ever since".6
- http://topnews.ae/content/27817-fish-prasadam-165-years-old-belief-treat-asthma - Accessed on June 10, 2012
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathini_Goud_Brothers#Nature_of_the_treatment – Accessed on June 10, 2012
- http://www.lifepositive.com/body/traditional-therapies/fish-therapy/fish-therapy.asp - Accessed on June 10, 2012
- http://www.bathinifish.com/history.htm - Accessed on June 10, 2012
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulmonary_aspiration - Accessed on June 10, 2012
- R. Barker Bausell, 2007, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Oxford University Press, New York.