Hunter-gatherers didn't have our diseases of comfort (I prefer the term above diseases of civilisation). But they did have medical problems. Mostly of the kind where our modern doctors are good at (trauma, infections, ...).
Although I've read quite a lot of anthropological literature, I'm not at all a specialist, but it seems that among all hunter-gatherer societies, there was some kind of doctor. Call it a whitch-doctor, a shaman, a medicine man, ...
The fact that it seems to be universal, probably means that shamanistic practices work, at least for some problems. It would also imply that we are susceptible for these treatments.
Hunter-gatherers have great knowledge of medicinal properties of plants. That probably explains some of the treatment effects.
On the other hand, there was most probably a major contribution from the more psychological effects of the treatment. Modern terms we would apply: psychosomatic, placebo, hypnosis, ...
Do the latter effects have consequences for us? Is our firm 'believe' in our 'diet' possible for a placebo response. Do you think that this could have any other implications for us?
Let me know what you think...
asked byPieter_D (10299)
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on December 07, 2010
at 08:14 AM
Humans are pattern-finders. I believe that over our paleo- and neo-lithic history it's been a positive trait overall. The patterns we find are sometimes - often? - coincidence. Our reasoning about why the pattern exists and works - or seems to work - may be right or wrong; close to the mark or way off base. Nevertheless, we refine, refine, refine, winnow out the superstition and reinforce the reliably successful practices.
When we made the jump (actually, we are still making the jump) from the Success Method (repeat what seems to work) to the Scientific Method we've been able to winnow and refine more reliably.
on December 06, 2010
at 09:56 PM
"The fact that it seems to be universal, probably means that shamanistic practices work"
Oh boy, this logical error is too juicy to pass up! Religion is universal, yet healing prayer has been repeatedly shown to not work. My sister is a naturopathic doctor out in Seattle, and after some research, I've concluded it is 87% bullshit. Plants do not exist to heal us, and 99% of them did not co-evolve with us in a symbiotic fashion. In fact, some want to hurt us!!!
The most effective part of natural (shamanistic?) medicine is the eating healthier part! Next up is the positive thinking part, followed closely by avoiding side effects from allopathic medicine part.
That being said, there are more and more trials being done on alternative and complementary medicine, funded by the federal government (NCCAM). Certain herbs do have pharmaceutical-type effects, but there are no panaceas that I'm aware of yet. Some things that I've partaken in that have limited effects are saw palmetto (prostate), acupuncture (pain), meditation (pain), biofeedback (pain), and valerian root (sleep). One thing to keep in mind is that older trials often lack experimental rigor, and should be interpreted with caution.
on December 07, 2010
at 03:37 AM
I have tried other diets which I believed in. THe most obvious is the 'eat less food diet' promulgated by the mainstream 'experts' of the world. I believed in that diet so much that I tried it over and over again for most of my life. And for many years I worked very hard to follow the 'eat more fiber and less fat diet.' The one thing all these diets have in common is they all made me feel hungry and weak and obsessed with food all day long. This may sound silly, but when I tried low carb/atkins and after about 7 days, when the hunger to overeat that I had experienced for MY ENTIRE LIFE was 'magically' gone, it was a huge epiphany. At that point, I had no clue of the biology behind it, but I knew this lowcarb thing was something totally different from everything else. It was also the first time in my life when I did not have to fight hunger every single day. The ironic part was that I was actually rather skeptical when I first started the lowcarb diet. It just didn't seem possible that I could lose weight while eating as much as I pleased. But it worked! Of course, I now realize it works at least because you no longer desire to eat so much. You will still be eating less but the trick is, you will eat less because you want to eat less, not because you are forcing yourself to eat less.
So believe me when I say, I am quite positive that the lowcarb effect is not just placebo effect. As for paleo, I guess the paleo 'upgrade' from lowcarb could concievably be written off as placebo. Certainly, I did not feel as huge a change from lowcarb to paleo as there was from SAD to lowcarb, but a lot of that could be because even when only eating lowcarb, my favorite foods were always lots of steak and butter. I was not a huge PUFA eater and lowcarb Atkins types really have not, IME, had any major issues with saturated fat. Whole natural foods, meat, and bacon are IME, already favored greatly in the Atkins community. So really, it was not a huge switch for me to go from lowcarb to paleo. In fact, it seemed the most natural obvious logical next step.
on December 06, 2010
at 10:13 PM
Given typical HG infant mortality rates, that we're better off consulting paediatricians?
That being said, I think that there's probably all sorts of fascinating work to be done in terms of cross-cultural studies of shamanism.
on February 12, 2011
at 12:16 PM
from a review of: "Michael Winkelman, Shamanism: A biosocial paradigm of consciousness and healing." that appeared in the journal Evolutionary Psychology:
[...] despite its prehistoric origins, shamanic consciousness holds great relevance for dealing with modern-day psychosocial problems. In the chapter on ???Shamanistic Therapies???, he reviews how the various aspects of shamanism???the social rituals, mystical experiences created by psychedelic drugs and other parasympathetic means, and invocation of spirits???all contribute to its healing effectiveness. To varying extents, the therapeutic benefits of shamanic rituals are tied to its ???psycholytic??? (mind-dissolving) aspects, associated with the universal shamanistic theme of ???death-and-rebirth.
on December 07, 2010
at 02:37 PM
One area in which shamanistic practice has actual, measured benefits that are only now being explored by science is the use of entheogenic plants (or synthetic versions) for treating psychological disorders - depression and addiction, primarily.
A recent pilot study of terminal cancer patients found that a single dose of psilocybin - the active substance in "magic mushrooms" - wrought numerous subjective benefits: reduced depression and anxiety, reduced need for pain medication, improved "acceptance" of death.
Ibogaine (a plant used in some Central West African groups as a traditional medicine) is effective at reducing amphetamine, opiate, alcohol and cocaine cravings in addicts, and it actually can reduce or prevent relapse after treatment.
Similar work is underway with ayahuasca, the Amazonian vine brew, but nothing concrete - just pubmed stuff about the neural effects of administration, the safety (it's physically safe), and lots of positive anecdotes.
This stuff has to be approached with caution and treated with respect, but there's definite clinical potential.
on February 12, 2011
at 03:22 PM
There's a branch of modern science that studies medicines used by traditional cultures. These scientists analyze and test old drugs to figure out whether they really work.
Some modern prescription drugs were discovered this way. This branch of science is called ethnopharmacology and its has its own journals. For example:
If you google "ethnopharmacology" you can track down dozens or hundreds of modern drugs that derive from traditional ones. Vincristinem, reserpine, and Artemisinin are examples.
I'll give one example of a paleo drug that is in this category. Until recently it was widely used in hospitals, but in the last few years it has been replaced by better drugs.
It's a drug that everyone here has probably heard of, curare. It was discovered by South American hunter gatherers. They used it as poison on their arrows. In 1596 a European explorer mentioned it for the first time in a book; in 1780 a European scientist studied it for the first time; in 1850 an English doctor discovered that it was a good treatment for tetanus.
In 1870, Burroughs Wellcome (a pharmaceutical company which is now part of GlaxoSmithKline) began selling curare tablets. The hunter-gatherers' arrow poison had become something Europeans bought in a drugstore.
In 1935 a scientist isolated the active component, d-tubocurarine. Starting in the early 1940s, it was routinely used by anesthesiologists to paralyze patients during surgery. Recently it has been replaced by better drugs.