health

A GP sheds light on the deadly and emotional cost of the "wellness" industry.

As a doctor, I live to help people – but the ‘wellness industry’ doesn’t see it that way.

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I started out at medical school starry eyed. I was careful not to say it in the interview, because everyone warns you that’s the stereotypical answer, but I became a doctor to help people.

I still want to help people – but according to a very large and very vocal “wellness” industry, apparently I’m actually just an evil Boogeyman who is either on the take from Big Pharma or is part of a huge global conspiracy to cover up The Truth.

Pete Evans is a chef. 

The Truth varies depending on who you talk to. Pete Evans favours no grains, no milk and something about bone broth by the glass. Jess Ainscough tried coffee enemas and juice (although sadly that didn’t end well). Sarah Wilson blames sugar. A homeopath will sell you very expensive water. For naturopaths The Truth seems to be quite variable, I’ve heard varieties of hair testing, electrodermal testing, odd thyroid testing and a bunch of other “tests”. None of these “experts” seem to think it particularly strange that they contradict each other. What they all have in common is a non-scientific base and a hefty price tag.

Pete Evans is a chef. I have 14 years of university and postgraduate medical training. But here’s the problem: when you get cancer, or autoimmune disease or diabetes everything I say is going to sound pretty bad.

Read more: Sarah Wilson: “Diet doesn’t cure disease and it’s irresponsible to say otherwise.”

The next problem is that I won’t be able to promise you a cure. I can’t. I’ll only be able to tell you the likelihood you might get better. I’ll probably prescribe you something nasty like chemotherapy, which will make you vomit, lose your hair and lose weight. I’ll probably frighten you with my diagnosis and the treatment – because they are both scary.

Your homeopath might tell you that you shouldn’t listen to the prognosis I give you because negative thinking interferes with outcomes. She might tell you not to take some of the medication I prescribe because it will interfere with her therapies.

She might tell you if you follow her therapies and protocols exactly you will definitely get better. Unlike the things that I prescribe, her tablets, pills and potions won’t make you sick. They might not make you feel anything; they might make you feel better.

In other words – she will promise you the world. I will only be able to tell you the truth.

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Read more: Belle Gibson’s debut cookbook to be shredded by her publishers.

Let me be straight up here: I don’t blame people who turn to alternative therapies. Why would I? Being sick is scary – and so is the treatment. And every week another “wellness warrior” is ready with the easy solution. Diet. That’s simple to control. Juicing. Everyone can do that.

I completely understand why you would want that when the only answers I have are to pump you full of chemicals that make you feel like you’re dying anyway and still tell you there isn’t much hope. My frustration and sadness isn’t levelled at the people who need hope. It’s directed solely at those charlatans who think they can label themselves a healthcare professional with no more training than the time taken to set up a Facebook page.

Belle Gibson claimed her diet helped cure her cancer. Now, doubts have surfaced about the legitimacy of those claims.

In the course of my career I have already seen this scenario play out more times than am comfortable with. I will see it again, I’m sure, as no one seems interested in stopping the people pushing these magical cures.

But I need you to know that I am not the heartless automaton these wellness gurus want you to think I am. I remember patients who have died under my care. There are the patients who spend the last few months of their lives spending thousands of dollars seeking a “cure” that never comes. That’s time they could have spent, at peace, with their family. Giving them hope, you say? False hope is no hope for someone who is dying.

As that starry eyed medical student I didn’t realise one day I’d spend a night sitting with a woman who was dying from cancer. Her naturopath told her it was curable. It was. Just not with herbs.

Her naturopath did not come to her hospital room. The alternative practitioners never come.

But I was there. I still cry about that woman.

Here’s the thing I want to say to people who are turning to alternative therapies instead of medical treatment: I know you’re scared. I know you want control. I know you don’t want to die. I can’t stop you dying but I can help with the first two if you let me. That’s what a good General Practitioner does each and every day.

I can’t promise you miracles but I can promise you I will be there, right to the very end.

Dr. Gillian Riley is a mum all of the time and a GP some of the time. You can read her blog here