Disease, "dis-ease," what's the difference?

I've had a rule of thumb for a while that helps me identify quacks with a high degree of accuracy. It's not very sensitive, as a lot of quacks don't exhibit this trait, but it's very specific. A lot of quacks don't use the term; so not hearing says nothing about a practitioner. If you hear someone using this term, however, it's at least 99% likely that he is a quack. At least.

I'm referring to the word "dis-ease."

You see it everywhere. Instead of using the word "disease," quacks will often use the word "dis-ease" instead. Basically, the idea (apparently) is to choose not to empower health issues by focusing on a particular ailment. How focusing on a particular ailment "empowers" health issues, I don't know. The quack's answer to a nonexistent problem, however, is to use hyphenated variant to place emphasis on the natural state of "ease" being imbalanced or disrupted. Chiropractors seem particularly enamored of this term:

The medical term Disease simply represents any group of symptoms grouped together and given some type of name. For example, a cough, sneeze, drowsiness, and runny nose grouped together is given the name “Common Cold”; swollen tonsils with a possible fever is given the name “Tonsillitis”; abnormal growth of cells in the body is given the name “Cancer”; pain in the low back with pain or numbness shooting down the leg is given the name “Sciatica”, etc…. The term disease is a very all encompassing way to look at the absence of health.

The Chiropractic term Dis-ease on the other hand has nothing to do with symptoms, conditions, or Latin given names of diagnosis. The term Dis-ease simply means lack of ease or harmony within the body. It occurs when for any reason the Innate Intelligence of the body is not able to carry out its functions to its optimal capacity. This would obviously occur whenever there is interference in the transmission of mental impulses in the body (nervous system primarily), resulting in less than 100% optimal function. There are several causes of Dis-ease in the human body. The most obvious would of course be a Subluxation interfering with the transmission of mental impulses or commands by way of the Nervous System.

Yes, practitioners of medicine based on pseudoscience do tend not to understand some basic medical terms. Note above how this particular chiropractor seems confused about what constitutes symptoms and what constitutes a disease, which is typical. Now, there is a term that every first year medical student learns, often on the first day of class, and that's homeostasis. Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment to maintain a stable, constant set of properties, such as pH, concentration of specific ions, and the like. That's exactly what the body was. One might think that the way that the term "dis-ease" is used indicates that "ease" is roughly analogous to homeostasis. You'd be wrong. The word, as used by the sorts of practitioners and believers who tend to use it, is more a rejection of science-based medicine than it is a different way of expressing a concept that is at the heart of science-based medicine, homeostasis. I'll give you an example.

Any reader of this blog who's been a regular more than a few month likely has seen me write about one of the worst quacks of any whom I've encountered. The quack is Robert O. Young. You might remember that the central idea behind his particular brand of quackery is that acid is the cause of all disease, be it cancer (which, according to Young is not a mass of malignant cells but the body's reaction to cells "spoiled by too much acid"), sepsis (which, according to Young, is not caused by a bacterial infection getting into the blood, although, oddly enough he also asserts that there is no such thing as good bacteria), or viral infections (to him viruses are really "molecular acids"). At his heart, Young is a germ theory denialist.

To treat the "acid" and "acid lifestyle" that he believes to be at the heart of all disease, Young puts those who are seduced by his quackery on what he calls an "alkaline diet," which is basically a raw vegan diet with a lot of supplements. Oddly enough, he also seems to think that drinking a lot of fruit juices will "alkalinize" the body. Of course, going back to the concept of homeostasis, I note that it's actually very hard to change the pH of the blood significantly, as the body is quite stubborn about keeping it within a very narrow range and is very good at adjusting its homeostatic mechanisms to make sure the pH of the blood doesn't change, except within a very narrow range. In fact, large changes in the pH of the blood are indicative of a failure of homeostatic mechanisms; indeed, that would be closer to "dis-ease" than anything quacks can think of.

Young is also the guy whom I took note of when he was revealed to be the "practitioner" to which a woman named Kim Tinkham turned after being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for having decided to eschew conventional treatment for her then recently diagnosed breast cancer based on her belief in The Secret. Take a guess to whom she turned to treat her breast cancer. That's right, Robert O. Young. Now guess the end result. Sadly, that's right. Kim Tinkham died. Young is also very enamored of the term "dis-ease," going so far as to talk about the "illusion of disease":

There is a curious tendency in conventional medicine to take a set of symptoms, string them together, and give the whole thing a name which is then called a disease.

Did I say “curious?” Well yes, but I might add, disconcerting, irresponsible, self-serving, exclusionary and just plain wrong! Once the western medical monopoly names a symptom a disease, they have made a major effort and taken a major step toward baring the door for all other adjunctive and alternative medical professions from getting involved.

It's not "curious" at all that physicians would try to categorize diseases. In fact, diseases are more than just symptoms. "Alternative" medicine practitioners frequently represent conventional "Western" doctors as treating "only symptoms," but that's not right at all. It is actually practitioners of SBM who try to categorize diseases based on their causes, whenever possible, and then to try to treat the cause. For instance, pneumonia is an infection of the lung that can be treated only because the cause, specifically bacterial infection, is known. Treat the bacteria causing the pneumonia, and you treat the pneumonia. True, there are diseases for which the cause is not well understood or even understood at all, and these are categorized more by symptoms, but they are not classified only by symptoms. Laboratory and imaging findings matter. So does epidemiology. It's a complete caricature Whether our current disease classification is the most scientifically sound way to categorize diseases, whether we medicalize conditions more than is warranted, and whether classifying diseases could be done better, but to reject it as nothing more than a means of excluding "alternative" therapies is fantasy. Yet to Young disease names are nothing more than a means of control, a means of obscuring, a means of limiting choices.

Now, he might have a tiny germ of a point in that modern medicine arguably overmedicalizes, but that's not what Young is about at all:

But there is a fatal flaw in this approach to disease treatment: the symptom is not the cause of the dis-ease. There is another cause, and this deeper cause is routinely ignored by conventional medicine, doctors, drug companies, and even patients. Let's take a closer look at hypertension or high blood pressure.

What actually causes high blood pressure?

Many doctors would say high blood pressure is caused by a specific, measurable interaction between circulating chemicals in the human body. Thus, the ill-behaved chemical compounds are the cause of the high blood pressure, and therefore the solution is to regulate these chemicals. That's exactly what pharmaceuticals do. They attempt to manipulate the chemicals in the body to adjust the symptoms of high blood pressure.

Except that hypertension is not a "symptom." Most hypertension is asymptomatic. The reason we treat it is not because it causes symptoms but because if untreated hypertension can result in horrible consequences: stroke, myocardial infarction, peripheral vascular disease leading to limb loss. If science-based medicine were treating only the symptoms, something like hypertension wouldn't need treatment. Science showed medicine otherwise, that hypertension needs treatment if the long term consequences are to be avoided.

The other aspect of this example that stands out is how Young completely rejects nasty scientific things like...oh, you know...physiology, biochemistry, and all those nasty hormones, cytokines, and other physiological mechanisms regulating blood pressure. None of it matters to him; it's all wrong to him. In the place of the nasty complexity of biochemistry and physiology, Young wants to substitute that is simple, appealing, and wrong, namely his idea that all disease is caused by too much acid. To the extent that Young recognizes that diet and lack of exercise can contribute to hypertension he is sort of right but for completely the wrong reason, which leads him to write something that is so amazingly wrong that I'm going to quote it in its entirety, even though the passage is relatively long:

Another dis-ease that is named after its symptom is cancer. In fact, to this day, most doctors and many patients still believe that cancer is a physical thing: a tumor. In reality, a tumor is the solution of cancer, not its cause. A tumor is simply a physical manifestation of bound up acidic cells so they do not spoil other healthy cells. The tumor is the solution to cells damaged by dietary and/or metabolic acids, not the problem.

The truth is cancer is not a cell but an acidic poisonous liquid. When a person "has cancer", what they really have is cancerous tissues or "latent tissue acidosis". They are absorbing their own acidic urine. That would be a far better name for the cancer dis-ease: Cancerous Tissue Dis-Ease (CTD) or "Latent Tissue Acidosis" or LTA.

If cancer were actually called "Latent Tissue Acidosis", it would seem ridiculous to try to cure cancer by cutting out tumors through surgery and by destroying the immune or janitorial system with chemotherapy. And yet these are precisely the most popular treatments for cancer offered by conventional medicine. These treatments do absolutely nothing to support the patients immune system and prevent the build up of acids in the tissues.

That's exactly why most people who undergo chemotherapy or the removal of tumors through surgical procedures end up with more cancerous tumors a few months or a few years later. It's also another reason why survival rates of cancer have barely budged over the last twenty years.

(In other words, conventional medicine's treatments for cancer simply don't work).
Bottom line, the main reason treatment doesn’t work is that current medical science wrongly perceives cancer as a cell when in reality cancer is an acidic poisonous liquid, like lactic acid or uric acid.

Now who's renaming diseases (or "dis-eases") to fit his idea to fit all disease into the straightjacket of acid. Instead of cancer, Young fantasizes about "latent tissue acidosis. Instead of accepting the science that has shed so much light on the mechanisms by which cancer forms and identified molecular targets for the treatment of various cancers. Instead of a tumor, contrary to science, physiology, and over a hundred years of research, Young sees a "physical manifestation of bound up acidic cells," viewing cancer as the body's mechanism to defend itself against these "acidic cells." If it's a protective mechanism, as Young says, I can only say: World's Worst Protective Mechanism. After all, the cancerous tumor (or "bound up acidic cells"), if not cut out or otherwise eradicated, frequently metastasize throughout the body and ultimately result in its demise.

As I've pointed out before, the level of misunderstanding of cancer demonstrated by Young boggles the mind, staggers the imagination, and in general consists of napalm-grade burning stupid. Maybe even hydrogen-bomb grade. And it's all in the service of a combination of Young's "alkalinizing" diet plus the naturalistic fallacy:

By creating a whole new vocabulary for medical conditions, doctors can speak their own secret language and make sure that people who aren't schooled in medicine don't understand what they're saying. That's a shame, because the treatments and cures for virtually all chronic dis-eases are actually quite simple and can be described in plain language: They include making different alkaline food choices, getting more natural sunlight, drinking more alkaline water, engaging in regular physical exercise, avoiding specific acidic foods, supplementing our diet with green foods and green drinks, alkalizing nutritional supplements, and so on.

Perish the thought that doctors, like other professionals, have their own language to describe concepts in their discipline precisely and quickly! Obviously, it must be a plot to keep you, the common people, from understanding what they're doing. More importantly, to Young, everything can be cured without any need to understand nasty, complicated science. All you have to do is what he says. All you have to do is believe your body is a perfect machine that would neve become sick if you didn't mess it up and give it a "dis-ease" and that you can cure any "dis-ease" just by eating the right foods, exercising, and getting more sun. It's what I like to call the "Superman" myth, and it's one that's been expressed by, for example, Bill Maher. It would be nice if it were true, but it's every bit as fantastical as the word "dis-ease." You can try to reject reality and substitute your own, but reality has a way of always intruding again.

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If there's one quack who both amuses and appalls me at the same time, it's Robert O. Young. You remember Robert O. Young, don't you? He's the guy who thinks that all disease is caused by excess acid. I've written about him quite a few times over the last several years. For instance, he amused me…
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By Guy Chapman (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

The truth is cancer is not a cell but an acidic poisonous liquid. When a person “has cancer”, what they really have is cancerous tissues or “latent tissue acidosis”.

And yet, we can isolate cancer cells from tissues, spread them and cultivate them on Petri dishes in a single layer of cells (so no chance of any bad humor staying encapsulated), changing the medium every day (so washing off any putative "acidosis") and then implant them in poor mice, where these cells are very likely to keep behaving like cancer cells and form tumors.

We can also cultivate normal cells in similar conditions (if I remember my cell culture training correctly), i.e. with the same "diet style", and yet they are not very likely to form tumors if implanted.
Not to mention that media used for cell culture usually contain a nicely redish ph-sensitive dye, so acidosis should show up very easily.

What give?

Mr Young, reality doesn't seem to conform to your hypothesis.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

The dis-gusting practice of referring to dis-ease has spread to dentistry, or more specifically "holistic dentistry". From the website of a group that warns about the dangers not only of amalgam fillings, but also root canals:

"Infections can exist under the teeth and may be undetectable on X-Rays, especially in root canal treated teeth. Toxins leak out from infections and depress the normal functions of the immune system, leading to dis-ease."


Don't miss their Interactive Meridian Tooth Chart, which combines the worst aspects of dental woo and acupuncture.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

It's really amazing that anyone falls for Young's stuff, but, as Firesign Theater says, "There's a seeker born every minute."

In terms of explosive power, a good, and alliterative, phrase might be "supernova of stupidity". A couple hundred thousand earth masses of carbon fused into iron-peak elements in a fraction of a second -- now THAT'S an explosion.

By palindrom (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Dangerous Bacon @3 -- I wandered over and took a look at that Arizona dental site. It'd be great if it were only a marketing ploy to get nude-agers to take care of their teeth, but given that the guy went and got himself a naturopath degree ("He's in medical school for a few weeks in Mexico, Bob."), it would appear that he believes in it.

The woo, it is strong in this one.

By palindrom (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

@Nick Theodorakis

It’s kind of ironic they pick on mercury amalgam, inasmuch as recent studies indicate that some types of white composite fillings may have a small but detectable affect on behavior:

Better the devil we know than the the devil we don't know eh.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Cancer as a protective mechanism?

I believe it's more like:
Young's beliefs about cancer are actually a SELF-protective mechanism through which he might-
- create a reputation and livlihood for himself that bysteps the grind of a traditional education in medicine
- appeal to desperate, frightened clients who are ill
- create a belief system wherein cancer is easy to control and obliterate if you follow his plan
- protect himself and others from the vicissitudes of reality.

I sometimes wonder if woo-meisters who also believe in their own press/theories ( i.e. partial charlatans as opposed to total charlatans) have a family or personal history that includes a person with negative results from SBM- i.e. they observed a parent or relative die of a serious illness and spend their life trying to deny the inevitability of illness, aging and death through their 'research' and work.

Adams recounts how he 'cured' his own diabetes and obesity that SBM couldn't. Null relates how doctors "killed" his mother with HRT.
I wonder if Young had a family member with cancer who wasn't saved by SBM?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

I'm on the same page with you Denise. As a former resident of Wooville (I lived in beautiful Shit Creek, the Worried Well subdivision), I am obsessed with what goes on in these quacks heads. Are they exaggerated versions of what I used to be, haunted by low-grade, gnawing, existential angst and fear of illness, or do they suffer from a clinically identifiable mental condition? Of course, I also wonder if they're just out and out charlatans, which I imagine would fit the sociopathic personality mold.
My worldview was changed through experiencing the deaths of several key people in my life. I woke up from my magical thinking as a result of several factors, but mostly these experiences of passing. Death turned out to be just another event in life, filled with a terrible beauty as my loved ones came to terms with and accepted their fates. Oh, except for the HIV denialist friend, he just ignored reality to death and died with a bag of unopened protease inhibitors an arm's length away.
I was going to wonder if going through cancer would change someone like Robert O. Young's perspective, but then I remembered Hulda Clark and her reliance on her Supernova of Stoopid™ Kancer Kure®. I think I can guess the answer.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

The term thrown at me all the time on altie forums is their derogatory name for Modern Medicine - "Mode-Earn" Medicine!

Heliantus hit it on the head.

This "bad acid" theory sounds a whole lot like "bad humors" of the body.

It really upsets me when people are fooled by quackery like this, while the author rakes in millions selling his books. It works easily and consistently: people want to believe that they don't have to die, that cancer can be beaten (more regularly, at least). And they're willing to trade their last dollar for a saucer full of secrets chasing that dream.

I really wish I could get more people to read/understand people like Orac. Seeing otherwise intelligent human beings get suckered in by trash like Young is very disheartening.

I'm reminded of the old joke about the aging hippies at the Woodstock reunion: "Watch out, man .... there's some bad antacid going around ... "

By palindrom (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Speaking of dentists and acidity, I have an ex-dentist who was totally into it. While I was in the chair waiting for my mouth to numb, he showed me a video of an "amazing breakthrough" in Japan, which consisted of a tour through a colon that was liberally coated in slimy, ropey sludge (photoshop, anyone?). They claimed everyone who had a western, acid diet had a colon like this. The colon's owner drank alkaline water for several weeks, and a new colon was showed, clean as a whistle. The person's many ailments were cured! Amazing!

Funny thing was, I viewed my spouse's colonoscopy soon after, and it was also clean as a whistle, despite his western acid-scarfing ways. Ugh.

It did seem a tad strange to show a gross colon to a dental patient with an open mouth and queazy stomach.

@Dangerous Bacon

Does "holistic dentistry" treat the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth?


It did seem a tad strange to show a gross colon to a dental patient with an open mouth and queazy stomach.

More than a tad. There are a disproportionate number of weird dentists, or so it seems to me.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

I meant "is" not "are".

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

@ Pareidolius:

We're probably on the same page because we have the same paymaster.
How's your Jaguar?

I do wonder if magical thinking originally served as psychological insulation but later evolved into a
means to feed both the ego and the purse.

I do feel that perhaps some of our woomeisters have a bone to pick with authorities ( SBM, the elite et al) because they may have attempted to become part of an elitist university enclave/ professional association but either were not ever admitted in the first place or dismissed. Thus the venomous attacks on so-called elitists and professionals.

People who study these things ( ahem) can spot a poseur at 50 yards. It's the lingo- amongst other clues. One of the reasons they are able to communicate so well with the scientifically naive/ illiterate is because they are not very far removed from that category themselves.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Denise Walters:

Your last paragraph @#18 supports my Mathematical Theory of Woo Complexity vs. Intelligence, which states:

"The complexity of a given woo treatment is inversely proportional to the intelligence of the person peddling it"

Sorry, Walter, not Walters

Our paymaster (may his spring molt be itch-free) upgraded me to a lovely 1956 Lincoln Mk II, butter yellow with a black leather interior. Its dreadful, polluting V-8 has been replaced and now it runs on the tears of ear candlers and revenge. But seriously, back in the day, I worked with many Woomeisters and they were a mixed bag. Most of them were sincere and poorly educated in critical thinking and the sciences. Some were fearful and wishful thinkers and some were just charlatans and at least one had Borderline Personality Disorder. I often am asked what would have changed my mind back then, and I think the only answer is "nothing." At least not one single thing. It took what it took for me to break free and that was about ten years in the making. That doesn't mean don't speak out against this crap, however. That was just my process, and even though I ignored and belittled contrary information, I saw it. The info got in and was instrumental in my own process of waking up to the real world.
And speaking of the real world, I'd better report in or ol' dragonpants will have a fit.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

@ Ism:

You might have something there-
although I was going for a unified theory of woo**, myself-

but....as an aside:
A simple, elegant alt med theory might indeed reflect the un-adorned elegance associated with abstraction ( which usually doesn't occur until adolescence's formal operational thought, thus is more advanced than a concretism)-
a complex, multi-causal theory may reflect the more advanced style ( of adolescents) which admits more information/ factors and uses qualifiers ( e.g. attributions/ social cognition).
Decisions, decisions...

At any rate, let's just *assume* that the simpler one reflects higher intelligence as you said:
thus, a simple theory would reflect a brighter (?) creator, e.g. vitamin C cures cancer ( Pauling)
however, not-so-bright Null believes that everything boils down to one factor: inflammation.

Very complex theories which accumulate exceptions and auxilliary treatments sounds a bit like the parental theories of causation for autism and subsequent treatments ( see AoA, TMR); thus, it's the vaccines plus everything else that causes autism and 90 other conditions ( Canary Party) or vaccines act upon particular people ( genetics) via the GI tract which damages the brain ( AJW) when accompanied by a plethora of household products, toxins, GMOs when there is an immunological problem, mitochondrial and/ or hormonal issues ( Teresa Conrick -sp?- @ AoA) and the cure involves 6-10 distinct forms of woo applied synergystically.( TMR)
Doesn't sound too bright to me.
The problem is: often the world really works this way - multiple causality probalistically determined.

AJW's theory is anything but elegant: his intelligence is revealed in the complex and intricate evasions and fixes which he thought up and managed to hide..
for a while.

**My own unified theory of woo starts with the supposition that-
if you scratch woo, you'll find religion.

The world is united through everflowing energy that permeates the cosmos and serves as its spirit/ soul/ brahman/ atman/ ruah/ ka/ mana/ prana/ xi et al or so they tell us.

Woo seeks to access that energy and sell products related to it.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Logic, truth... language is just another thing to twist and destroy for Berties*. Pointless hyphens and made-up words abound.

"Dis-ease" (snort) certainly belongs with the other keywords of woo-speak that we know and love, as they identify the garbage with amazing efficiency:

Holistic, Energy, Quantum, Vibration, Field and not forgetting the 5-sigma gold standard indicator of complete scorching BS (and my personal favourite); Paradigm.

PS. #1 - If this helps: Stephen Ferguson threatens prosecution for copyright infringers on every page of his website's medical A-Z, claiming he wrote it all.

Take any paragraph and Google it... ;) #redhanded

Ok, not trying to Godwin the thread, but I just HAVE to bring up the movie "Downfall" here, after having just watched it recently for like the fifteenth time-- what NEVER FAILS to grip me about that film is its poignant, PAINFUL illustration of the power of denial. The reason I bring it up is that the writings of Robert O. Young strike me as a similar illustration of living in abject denial of evidence that is EVERYWHERE that his idea is wronger than wrong. We have photographic evidence of bacteria, for goodness' sake... we have reams and reams of experimental results, machines that can scan living bodies, fantastically in-depth understanding of the complex ecosystems within the guts of animals and people and... he wants to handwave it all away, because he thinks the 9th Army can turn around and save Berli-- I mean, that ACID causes everything, and lack of acidity cures everything????? It just beggars belief.

By Melissa G (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Something else from Young which resonated in me, and Marc McA (#23) already touched on it:

By creating a whole new vocabulary for medical conditions, doctors can speak their own secret language and make sure that people who aren’t schooled in medicine don’t understand what they’re saying.

Well, it's true that professional jargon could be used by the members of a trade to keep them above the great uneducated masses. No-one is perfect and arrogance tends to be a normal by-product of education. Wise educated people learn to suppress it.
However, after a few years of reading Orac's prose and the comments of its exalted readers, I have come to a little observation, which could be helpful at figuring who to believe:

- honest specialists will try to explain concepts from their fields using simple words, with from time to time the unavailable use of specialized expressions.

- people using a deluge of sciencey-sounding words are either: novice scientists (professional or amateur) inexperienced in communication or trying to consolidate their position (been there, done that...); Star Trek fans; engineers and scientists who caught the Nobel disease in their great age; and full-fledged charlatans trying to impress the crowd and obfuscate the matter.

tl;dr: Jargon, use of. Do I detect projection from Mr Young?

By Heliantus (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink


More woo keywords: Wellness, toxin, colonic, cleanse, allopathy, balance, superfood, the spelling "homoeopathy", gratuitous Latin words, using Latin for chemicals, and "chemicals"

By The Typical Ph… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

More woo keywords:
Herxheimer reaction.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Off-topic (sorry), but on the subject of Dr. Oz...

"Man sues Dr. Oz after show's tip to fall asleep results in burned feet

Frank Dietl was watching an episode of Dr. Oz that recommended viewers warm their socks in the microwave with rice inside. The technique is supposed to help sleepers doze off, but Dietl, who has diabetes, says he ended up with horribly burned feet and is now suing the TV doctor."


Im very used to this term of disease and dis-ease here in Holland. We have some other words for it, but it stands for the same.

Im a medicine writer for: aambeien behandelen this blog. And some people think we are just focussing on dis-ease instaed of disease.

It's sometimes hard to say when its disease or dis-ease when you don't know a lot about a subject.

Do I detect projection from Mr Young?

You're not alone. Let me try a slight modification to Mr. Young's words, quoted in the original post:

There is a curious tendency in alt-med pushers to take a set of symptoms, string them together, and claim that the snake oil they are selling will eliminate all of those symptoms.

Did I say “curious?” Well yes, but I might add, disconcerting, irresponsible, self-serving, exclusionary and just plain wrong!

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Some other sign of woo is claiming you don't treat the symptoms, like SBM does, but treating the real problem.

The way woos use jargon and their own neologisms feels like it has a lot of overlap with the mentality of business buzzwords. They're more concerned with coming up with impressive positive-sounding ways to say things instead of coming up with new ideas.

They also have to keep adding on new coats of paint onto rotten old ideas to keep their marks from noticing the stink. They like to construct narratives that they're on the bleeding edge, which is why those stuffy, conservative, old-fashioned scientists won't accept their "new" ideas. This adds more incentive to create the illusion of change by reshuffling their jargon.


It's good that there's been some pointing out of the symptomatic approach of a lot of woo. It really irritates me that elsewhere they get away with demonstrating a symptomatic mentality and yet claiming science-based medicine only treats symptoms.

In Young's case as well as many others, there's also the whole "one cause" nonsense that effectively denies the complexity of the human body. These people seem to think humans are like toasters: One dial and one switch that determine the outcome. Don't like your toast dark? Just turn down the acidity dial. Toast still dark? Turn it down more. Still dark? Just keep going at it. Good health is just one easy dial turn away! It really is that simple!

No, it isn't.

By Bronze Dog (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

I think the alties poisoned me with some modified "colonic chemtrail", I've been losing precious toxins by the dozen...

Lord Draconis Zeneca will know about this!

By The Typical Ph… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink


"sheeple" is another dead give-away to presence of a spreader of woo.

@ Bronze Dog:

An hilarious example of woo-speak involves le Grand Woo- Meister himself first using "scientific language" to introduce the woo and then translating it into "lay language" so that his audience can understand it! How cargo cult is that!
As if his own paucity of verbal ability refects any achievement in comprehending scientific terminology.

Other fq words: balance, energy, gratefulness...

@ The Typical Pharma Shill:

If you get a plastic water bottle and drink its contents after re-filling a few times, the newly leached BPA will act as an antidote, re-aligning your toxin daily requirements.
Fix you right up!

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Aw hell, Orac, you have a problem with “dis-ease”?

Some years back I was out at Esalen in Big Sur for a month and (it being late November), several people had colds and sniffles. One guy suggested that “cold” was really “see old” which meant that having old, tired ways of seeing and thinking set you up for having a URI.

Now don’t you feel much better about “dis-ease”?

By Ed Whitney (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

"If you get a plastic water bottle and drink its contents after re-filling a few times, the newly leached BPA will act as an antidote, re-aligning your toxin daily requirements.
Fix you right up!"

Only if you bang it on a leather-bound Bible after each refill.

Moronic word games like dis-ease and c-old are SOP in Woo World. The worst I've run into was some weirdo acquaintance morphing "intimacy" to "into-me-see". I regret that I was too polite to tell him to fornicate elsewhere.

There are few things more frustrating than being bombarded by arguments that reduce something as infinitely complex as the whole of biology to a simple, singular mechanism. The ability to do this requires not only an ignorance of science, but also one of history.

From other places I frequent, I find that an overwhelming number of supporters of this particular belief are from the UK, and I wonder if there's a reason for this or whether it's just because these individuals are just more outspoken. . .

They insist that a "healthy diet" will not just cure, but prevent all disease. When you present to them examples of diseases and conditions that have a genetic origin, they will say that the mother's diet changed the fetus' DNA.

They say that all disorders are caused by stress, and creating a completely "equal" society will eliminate stress, and, therefore, disease. Pointing out that this is, well, Communism, and that not only did it not work as a social construct, but that it certainly didn't result in healthy and stress-free societies has no impact.

When they go deeply into germ theory denialism, citing both the diet as prevention and society as prevention models need to work together (because the flaw in your historic examples only showed how they BOTH had to exist TOGETHER) you can pull out any number of examples of indigenous peoples who ate natural, healthy foods and lived in mainly egalitarian societies in which everyone took care of each other being devastated by communicable diseases after they've been "discovered," and. . .well, nobody's really ever responded after I mention that.

supplementing our diet with green foods and green drinks

I could totally get behind the pistachio ice cream and absinthe diet!

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink


Moronic word games like dis-ease and c-old are SOP in Woo World.

What's even more annoying than the word games is their belief that they've made some kind of profound discovery by chopping up a word and sticking a hyphen in it. Also, most of their tortured morphological stylings would be meaningless in languages other than English (e.g. the French term for a common cold is 'un rhume')

I think the proper response to "into-me-see” would be "Uh, no thanks,"

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

@ LW:

No no no!
A leather-bound bible is strictly off limits, we DO, after all, work for Draconis.
More likely, I'd use the collected works of Coleridge, Wm Burroughs' Naked Lunch or an early recording of the Clash.

@ AlisonM:

Although you are partially correct( the UK is outspoken about woo)- I'm afraid woo rears its ugly head ALL over the English speaking world
AND, even worse, it's not limited to us, just easier for us to comprehend.

I have recently learned about fast- spreading Dutch woo ( CEASE therapy/ homeopathy for autism) and most of us already know about woo Deutsch and Francais.

It's everywhere ( as our ancestors often noted) like horse manure.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

I have to wonder what other incredible insights one might get by inserting hyphens:
di-abetes will kill you?
f-lu is what you feel happened to you when you caught influenza?
e-bola is like regular bola, but electronic?
homie-opathy is done by boys from the hood?
chi-rho-practic shows its Greek origins?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

most of their tortured morphological stylings would be meaningless in languages other than English

As Lacan was wont to say, the Unconscious is structured like a language, and that language is French.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

I have to wonder what other incredible insights one might get by inserting hyphens

"As far as I could see, the place was some kind of giant glob. My-am-I. Possession is identity. The sky was too low. General somnambulism seemed to prevail, even among the heads, several of whom arrived to pay their respects soon after I arrived. My kid brother’s middle-class style of life depressed me. Miami struck me as a purgatory world, in which nothing of consequence would ever happen, at least not to me."

I have to wonder what other incredible insights one might get by inserting hyphens

Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Cookie please

Wow, a Nabokov reference and ... OK, Narad, I'm stumped. Burroughs? Ginsberg? Thompson?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Alain - it is my understanding that bad science sounds much better in French. But not Canadian French.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

@ Mephistopheles O'Brien:

Well, Luc Montagnier was born in France but I'm sure that his (recent/ post Nobel) denialism/ woo sounds very bad anyway.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

OK, Narad, I’m stumped. Burroughs? Ginsberg? Thompson?


* Note that the work has gone through a number of versions over the years; I continue to recommend the 1975 edition if one can lay hands on it.

Everything sounds better in French. Except curses military commands, which sound better in German.

Andreas, if that green diet includes guacamole, I'm so there.

Curses and military commands.

A pox on the nonexistent preview function.

@ Shay:

However, swear words are best in English.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink


Ah, I should have recognized a Kleptomaniac if I'd been better educated.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

However, swear words are best in English.

I don't know - the Germans can make a love poem sound like the most violent swearing.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Well, Luc Montagnier was born in France but I’m sure that his (recent/ post Nobel) denialism/ woo sounds very bad anyway.

True enough, in English. In French, (makes Maurice Chevalier "ho ho" noise and sings "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" as performed by Groucho, Zeppo, Chico, and Harpo Marx imitating Chevalier).

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Québécois CB lingo, as I've mentioned before, had some rather interesting variations from the English version. "Pedal to the metal?" Avoir le pied dans le radiateur. "Bear"? Kojak. "Hag feast"? Demonstration de Tupperware.

Narad, Ever listened to Bob Gratton?


Shades of Victor Pivert at the beginning of Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob.

"Perish the thought that doctors, like other professionals, have their own language to describe concepts in their discipline precisely and quickly!"

Oh, not so fast. Physicians may have a precise language, but they also like to throw around big words to impress everyone with the import of what they are doing. The first time I read a doctor's deposition, the lawyer asked if he had "visualized" any injuries, as if the simple word "seen" were not good enough. Amazingly, the doctor could answer what was, understood literally, a very silly question. I have since read doctors' reports stating that they "visualized" swelling, "visualized" hair loss, or "visualized" any of a thousand other symptoms.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A doctor would say that the patient presented with a major contusion on the posterior portion of the upper extremity. Everyone else would say that he had a big bruise on the back of his arm.

By Lucas Beauchamp (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

And then there's the dark side of woo language: shocking! diabolical! Devious! Lethal! Dire! Pepsi admits to using aborted fetal cells! (sorry, that last was from Natural News--I got carried away)

@Edith Prickly

I think the proper response to “into-me-see” would be “Uh, no thanks,”

So, you see no value in a colonoscopy?

Edith, you need to get an appropriate Gravatar.


Everything sounds better in French. Except curses military commands, which sound better in German.

Insults always sound better in Yiddish

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

Lucas Beauchamp #65,

A doctor would say that the patient presented with a major contusion on the posterior portion of the upper extremity. Everyone else would say that he had a big bruise on the back of his arm.

Nice reduction ad absurdum, but how would you like doctors to quickly and precisely distinguish between, for example, an epidural hematoma, a subdural hematoma, a subarachnoid hemorrhage and an intracerebral hemorrhage? Everyone else might say the patient had a brain bleed, but that is not sufficiently precise for a surgeon brandishing a craniotome tool used for drilling holes openings in the skull, generally equipped with a clutch which automatically disengages once it touches softer tissue, thus preventing tears in the dura outermost of the three layers of the meninges membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Doctors use precise language that efficiently conveys precise meaning when communicating with each other, but will, or should, use terms a layperson can understand when talking to a layperson.

Personally I have the opposite problem - I find it slightly patronizing when a doctor asks me if I have any trouble with my "waterworks", for example, but I do understand why they do so. The recent UK campaign asking people to see a doctor if they notice blood in their "poo", also jars a little with me, but at least the meaning is clear.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Except curses military commands, which sound better in German.

Japanese is also a good language for barking order at people.

Insults always sound better in Yiddish.

Yiddish insults are indeed the best. I'm not Jewish but I can fake it thanks to a lifetime of reading MAD magazine.

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Make that: barking *orders* at people. Although there was a word we used to call the class to order at the dojo (which I can't recall anymore)

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Edith Prickly @69, 70 -- Love the avatar. Thanks for the constant reminder of Andrea Martin's hilariously awful SCTV character!


By palindrom (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

If I listen to some Norh Korean news presenters, I get the impression it's a real good language for barking orders at people.
German is a beautiful language, also for love poems.

Lucas Beauchamp @65
Why are you complaining about how doctors use language with an example from a lawyer?

Personally I have the opposite problem – I find it slightly patronizing when a doctor asks me if I have any trouble with my “waterworks”, for example, but I do understand why they do so.

Someone enlighten me what "waterworks" means in context. Urinary tract? Tearducts?

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Someone enlighten me what “waterworks” means in context. Urinary tract?

Yup. It may be a UK thing. It's a question most often asked of men of a certain age when a doctor is checking for prostate problems.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

The US equivalent being "sprinkler system?"

The US equivalent being “sprinkler system?”

Really? I would definitely be seeing a doctor if my waterworks were behaving like a sprinkler system.

Any other similarly used medical euphemisms?

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

This sort of blog & comments are a wonderful learning opportunity for someone who wants to learn, but how does one deal with otherwise nice decent people who want you to join them in woo? In just the past month I've been twice encouraged to use the diet from The China Study to "cure" my diabetes & I learned about the daughter of an acquaintance who is using Gerson therapy to treat her cancer. If I tell them bluntly that it's a bunch of hooey, I'm sure I'll be avoided. I'm not a doctor, nor am I very educated in medical terms, but I know woo when I see it. Is there a good way to talk to people without alienating them? Or a simple book?

Bonnie, just thank them, and then tell them you will bring it up with your doctor.

Unfortunately, as you have seen on this blog especially with those who go to Burzynski, it is pretty much impossible to talk a cancer patient out of woo. Especially if you are not directly connected to them.


Is there a good way to talk to people without alienating them? Or a simple book?

It is difficult to repel woo without causing offence, and I haven't found an effective way yet, which is why I have an unopened bottle of arnica tincture in my medicine cupboard. Trick or Treatment is a good and easy to read book about alternative medicine, and here's a decent critique of the China Study, which probably goes into more detail than most people could possibly want.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Hi Bonnie - that is an excellent question and one that I struggle with too, as I have a number of friends and family members who dabble in various types of alternative medicine. One friend works in student services at the local naturopathic college and unfortunately she never got even a basic science education (dropped out of high school very early) so she has no idea that most of what they teach is utter bunk. So I can completely relate to your situation.

The approach I usually take is to politely ask some basic questions (keeping a friendly, neutral tone of voice) about how the diet/treatment is supposed to work, whether any major medical organizations or doctors endorse (Dr. Oz doesn't count!!), if it's approved by government regulatory agencies or health authorities, etc. After they've explained, say something like "well that sounds interesting, but I'd like to talk to my doctor about it first." Then if they bring it up again later, you can say your doctor advised against it and you trust his/her judgement.

In the case of the Gerson therapy I would be a little more assertive, because delaying real treatment for cancer is extremely risky. t I would take the same approach as above until the explanation, then ask "are you sure about this? I think I've heard about this treatment and what I've heard is mostly bad." There are plenty of online articles dissecting the flaws in Gerson's treatment, including Orac's archives, that you could point them to if you thought it would help.

Finally, I found the book Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh and Dr. Edzard Ernst very helpful as a lay person trying to educate myself about sham treatments and quackery. Good luck!

By Edith Prickly (not verified) on 21 Mar 2013 #permalink

Chris - I have type 2, so no one to blame but myself. I control it pretty well now with meds & diet. Every time I'm tempted to chuck the whole thing as too difficult, I give myself a lecture about the benefits of good eyesight & having feet.

Edith - thanks for the tips. I usually remain silent because I'm not the most tactful of people - I'll need to practice! :)

I'll look for the book.

lsm - That's the only reason I drink Pepsi. That great Foetal Flavour really livens me up.

@Melissa G - I think you'd like a book I read recently, 'The Girl in the Bunker'. It's set in the same period as Untergang/Downfall, and is from the perspective of the eldest Goebbels child. That same denial permeates the book, it's very emotional. It was free on the Kindle store last time I was on these, so I downloaded it to my tablet.

@Alison - Dietary woo is my favourite thing. Raw cold vegan food prevents disease! No, the Paleo diet of meat and berries prevents disease! No, organic meat and produce prevent disease! No, Atkins! South Beach! Juicing! Alkaline Water!

Hilarious. I'm currently on the "anything that stops these bloody IBD flares" diet. I've followed traditional advice about restricting certain items and deleting them from my diet. As a result I'm. down to Haribo Gold Bears and Cadbury Creme Eggs. I added the foetally-enriched Pepsi so that I don't dehydrate! My cripplicious existence means that hot drinks are currently out of the question, so the apple tea will have to wait.