Solving the Mysteries of Anecdotal Cures

“Every illness can be cured.  No disease can be cured.”
– the Healthicine Creed

Is that sense, or nonsense? It depends on your definitions, your definition of illness, and your definition of disease, and your definition of cured.

How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms. — Aristotle

What is your definition of illness?  What is your definition of disease? Are they illness and disease the same? There are many, many definitions of illness and disease – and quite a few definitions of cure. Medical scientists often avoid these words, because of their vagueness or lack of clarity.

So, to validate the claim “every illness can be cured, no disease can be cured”, we need a single definition of illness, of disease, and of cured.

Illness – an illness is what the patient has, what the patient presents to the physician. Every illness is unique. Every patient is unique, has a unique life, a unique diet, unique exercise and rest patterns, and a unique physical body. An illness is a single instance of ‘ill’ in a single patient. Each illness is unique and has unique causes.


There are no such things as incurables; there are only things for which man has not found a cure.” — Bernard M Baruch

Disease – disease is the name given to a collection of illnesses with similar symptoms.  Many of the illnesses that make up a disease can have widely varied causes. A doctor diagnoses a disease, giving the patient’s illness a name.  The diagnosis helps the doctor develop a prognosis, and a treatment plan. Sometimes the diagnosis is wrong, and the illness is given the wrong disease name. When an illness is given the wrong name, it is unlikely to be cured.

An illness can be cured, but a disease, a collection of illnesses, cannot be cured. Smallpox, the disease of smallpox, was never cured, it was eradicated.

Often, the disease – in the patient – cannot be cured either. There is a long, and growing list of diseases that are deemed ‘incurable’ by current medical professionals: heart disease, cancer, the common cold, diabetes, arthritis, and more.

Can we cure, without a clear definition of cure, of ‘cure’? There are many definitions of cure.  For this blog, I use a single, clear definition of ‘cure’.

Cure – to stop the progress of an illness by addressing the cause. Healing, another type of curing, might be required for a complete recovery. Complete healing might not be possible.

Often, when a patient’s illness is named a disease, there is no knowledge of cause. Diseases are classified and named by the signs and symptoms the patient presents. Some names imply a cause, but in many cases – the cause is completely unknown, not researched, not studied. Cause is often ignored in diagnosis and in treatment.

Illness-is-a-hole2An illness is a hole in the patient’s health. Naming it a disease – is naming the hole. The hole can be caused by a deficiency – a hole in the health needs of the patient.  The hole can also be caused by an excess – a hole in your healthy body’s ability to deal with the excess. Every illness has causes, and symptoms.  In-between the causes and the symptoms is a hole.  The illness is invisible, it is a concept, between cause and consequences, a hole. Naming the disease – is giving a name to the invisible hole.

There are two ways to cure an illness. Two ways to deal with the hole. You can address the hole directly – meeting the deficiency, or removing the excess.  Or you can raise the person’s healthiness, such that the hole disappears. Let’s look at some simple examples.

Scurvy is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C.  It is cured by supplying the deficit, by providing the patient with Vitamin C, as a medicine. The cause is removed, and the illness, the invisible hole disappears.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by breathing an excess of carbon monoxide.  It is cured by giving the patient oxygen as a medicine, giving them air that has no carbon monoxide content. The cause is removed, and the illness, the invisible hole disappears.

The healthy way to cure scurvy is the make the patient’s diet healthier. A healthier diet is one that contains sufficient Vitamin C.  A healthier diet cures the disease.  The first cure, providing Vitamin C directly to the patient, as a medicine, appears to cure the disease – but it only treats the ‘current symptoms’. The symptoms regress, and reemerge when the treatment is removed. The second cure, if it succeeds in improving the health of the diet, the health of the patient, is a cure. The powerful medical cure works quickly, but it does not cure.  The health cure works slowly, and it actually cures.

The healthy way to cure carbon monoxide poisoning is to move the patient away from the carbon monoxide, to make them healthier, by moving them to a healthier environment.  It is also effective to remove the carbon monoxide from the air. To make the patient’s environment healthier, for that patient, and for anyone else in the environment.  Like the medical cure for scurvy, the medical cure for carbon monoxide poisoning is temporary. The patient goes back to work, where the environment is high in carbon monoxide, and the illness returns.  But the health cure is permanent. The cause is addressed, not just the immediate symptoms, and the illness is cured. The medical cure for carbon monoxide poisoning works quickly, but does not provide a permanent cure.  The healthy cure works slowly, and it actually cures.

Medical texts like MERCK’s Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy tell physicians how to diagnose the disease scurvy, and how to ‘treat’ scurvy. MERCK recommends a nutritious diet with supplemental ascorbic acid, medical Vitamin C. But they don’t use the word cure. The disease can be treated – but MERCK does not classify the treatment as a ‘cure’. Harrison’s Guide to Internal Medicine also recommends Vitamin C to ‘treat’ scurvy, and suggests that a healthy diet prevents scurvy, but does not use the word ‘cure’. Why not use the word cure?

If you do any research into cures, it won’t be long before you bump into the phrase “but that’s just anecdotal evidence”. What does anecdotal evidence mean? What is an anecdotal cure? Technically, anecdotal evidence is evidence based on hearsay, on one person’s report or story, or only a few people.  Evidence not supported by an investigation.  In courts of law, anecdotal evidence typically suggests the need for ‘more evidence’ and legal teams go looking for more evidence.

In the field of medicine, use of the phrase ‘anecdotal evidence’ means ‘something that can be ignored.  It is a direct path to medical negligence. Even if it is possible to check the facts, medical researchers are more likely to simply dismiss the evidence, to dismiss the cure.  Patients who claim they were cured, especially if the cure was not a medicine, are ignored.

The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.” — Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire

But if a patient claims to have been cured by a medicine, that claim is also ignored, because every doctor knows that medicines cure – they just don’t often understand what does cure.  The only cure is health.

When the patient with scurvy claims to be ‘cured’ by eating more fruit, it’s anecdotal evidence – an anecdotal cure. Of course today, we understand scurvy, and we understand the cure, so we don’t reject the claim. But when we don’t understand, we reject anecdotal cures.

Every cure is an anecdote.  Every cure is someone’s story, a single person with an illness, is cured of the illness. Medicine prefers the evidence of clinical studies.  A single cure is an anecdote.  A clinical study is just a collection of anecdotes. The evidence provided by a clinical study is stronger than the evidence provided by a single cure but when it does not search for cures, the clinical study is the weaker.

Clinical studies are broken.

If you check 1000 or more published medical clinical studies, you might notice a pattern. Medical clinical studies seldom test cures, they prefer to test treatments and the effects of treatments on symptoms. Most medicines available today are symptomicines, designed, tested and sold to treat symptoms of disease, making no claim to cure. For the most part, they test one ‘new patented medicine’ against placebos, or against other medicines, to determine which has the most effect on the symptoms of illness.  They do not identify the core cause of each patient’s illness, and as a result, they cannot address the cure. They cannot cure. Most clinical studies do not attempt, and do not even pretend to cure.  Most clinical studies have no techniques to determine if the patient is ‘cured’. They measure symptoms and ignore cures, as anecdotes.

An interesting example can be found in two ‘clinical studies’ of homeopathic medicines for the treatment of warts.

In 1966 a clinical study “Homoeopathic versus placebo therapy of children with warts on the hands: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial.” tested the application of a homeopathic medicine against a placebo, in the treatment of warts. It found that, in regards to symptoms – homeopathic medicines worked only slightly better than a placebo. Nine patients benefited from the homeopathic medicine, seven from the placebo. The study concluded: “There was no apparent difference between the effects of homoeopathic therapy and placebo in children with common warts under the conditions of this study.” But the conclusion was marred a bit by the fact that the homeopathic medicine had cured, whereas, for the most part, the placebo did not. The homeopathic medicine cured the warts in 5 patients, whereas the placebo only cured one. The homeopathic treatment cured 20% of the patients warts.  The placebo cured 3.3 percent.

Thirty-two years later, in 1998, another study “A double-blind, controlled clinical trial of homeopathy and an analysis of lunar phases and postoperative outcome.” was completed, with almost identical parameters. You might wonder, as I do, about the objectivity of the scientists, who grouped it together with a study of the analysis of phases of the moon on postoperative outcomes. In the wart study, there were the exact same number of participants and with regards as to symptoms – the exact same result.  Homeopathic medicines produced shrinkage in nine of the patients, and the placebo produced shrinkage in seven of the patients. The homeopathic medicine performed slightly better than the placebo – but no statistical difference. There was one difference between the studies. The second study did not measure, did not count ‘cured’. The study parameters did not include testing for cures. Because it didn’t count ‘cures’.  All ambiguity that had marred first study disappeared. Cures are anecdotal evidence, so they can be, and are often ignored.

When a cure occurs in a clinical study, it is generally ignored. Clinical studies are studies symptoms of disease, studies of patients with similar symptoms – where causes have not been identified. Because cause is not identified, cure is not possible – except by accident, by ‘anecdote’. If cure is accomplished, it is not noticed, not be counted.  Cures are outside of the limited view of ‘symptoms’ measured by clinical studies. Cure is simply not defined for most illnesses that are the subject of today’s clinical studies. Because cures are not defined, they are not recognized – except perhaps as anecdotes.

Cures can only be noticed in specific, individual cases of an illness.  Every illness can be cured, no disease can be cured. But when a single case of an illness is cured, when someone claims to have cured their illness – it’s an anecdote.

Every cure is an anecdote.

The mystery of anecdotal cures is no mystery at all.  It is a simple reality of current use of the words illness, disease, medicines, and cures.

to your health, tracy

This post is based on concepts being developed in the draft third book about Healthicine, “The Healthicine Creed“. Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

About Tracy Kolenchuk

Founder of Healthicine.org. Author of two books about healthicine;
Healthicine: The Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthiness
Healthicine: Introduction to Healthicine

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.