For two years, we have been in the grip of a pandemic that has largely undermined most… A virus that can mutate at breakneck speed, unlike measles or polio, put and enormous pressure on public and private systems of different nations.
Joël Monzée, doctor in neurosciences and ethicist (www.joelmonzee.com), and Éric Simard, doctor in biology and researcher (www.esimard.com), offer you a reflection on voluntary oversights of the pandemic.
As a reminder, a theory is only scientific because it is subject to various criticisms emerging from a universe of contradictory information (1). If one theory is prioritized at the expense of others because communication channels are effectively exploited, this induces a false sense of consensus. At best, it’s a mainstream theory that doesn’t reflect the necessary nuances.
Even in the field of physics firmly rooted in mathematics, it is sometimes difficult to demonstrate certain theories. We all know that the earth is round and revolves around the sun, but demonstrating it beyond any doubt is a big challenge. Just because it’s hard to prove doesn’t mean it’s not true.
In the field of Health, this can mislead many. And we have, collectively, been unwise in letting a single point of view occupy all thoughts. Although possibly necessary, should it be the only one? Would it be possible to dare to put things into perspective?
The example of meditation
Associated with Eastern spiritual practices, meditation has been encouraged for millennia to create a state of serenity for practitioners. It has become fashionable in recent years thanks to the spiritual movement referred to as “new age”, but especially through the studies of Jon Kabat-Zinn (2). It took 30 years for the stress and anxiety management protocol to receive some consideration. However, it is still criticized, even if there are strong positive effects found in regards to physiological function.
In fact, this practice (like other so-called alternative medicine approaches) is not guaranteed. It requires an effort, sometimes arduous, to use it on a regular basis. In a world under pressure, it is sometimes easier to take a psychotropic. The molecule forces a reaction from the brain and the person can eventually remain functional without devoting some 30 minutes of an already busy day to reduce their mental load.
The example of depression
In the treatment of depression, many studies (3) have shown that three strategies can reduce symptoms: 1- an antidepressant for 3 to 12 months; 2- psychotherapy for 3 to 12 months; 3- walking, at least 30 minutes 3 times a week, for 3 to 12 months. However, people practicing physical exercises are statistically less likely to relapse than those who had taken medication or underwent psychotherapy.
Obviously, the effectiveness of psychotherapy or physical activity depends on the person’s availability and lifestyle. However, the person may not have the necessary energy. They may become discouraged when faced with the necessary transformation of their lifestyle. They can legitimately favor the pharmacological solution, because it may be more convenient to them. It is a personal choice that does not invalidate the other options.
In addition, a recent study (4) focused on physical activity among people affected by the health crisis in terms of their mental health. The authors demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing anxiety, sadness and depression, and even regaining serenity.
The example of gluten
There has been much discussion in clinical circles, as well as in the general public, about a dramatic increase in the number of people who suspect they have gluten intolerance without actually having celiac disease. The mainstream theory claims that it’s merely a fad. However, it is common for people who stop consuming foods containing gluten to report better health. Does their experience deserve to be ridiculed by those who don’t believe in it or don’t want to change their eating habits?
The problem with gluten intolerance is that the symptoms are different depending on the terrain, i.e., the initial conditions and lifestyle of each individual (5). In this case, it is very complicated to bring out quantified data linking the two variables. Those who reduce their gluten consumption shouldn’t necessarily be labelled as conspiracy theorists.
The contribution of alternative medicine
Among the missed opportunities since the start of the pandemic is the contribution of alternative medicine. Few professionals have dared to explain how we can take care of our immune system. However, many of them apply these recommendations themselves, which they prefer to keep silent for the risk of being criticized. We walk on eggshells, in fear of being labeled as “antivax”.
For example, several dozen studies (6) demonstrated greater consequences of infection related to certain dietary deficiencies, while obesity-related comorbidities are very common in people who were hospitalized or, unfortunately, deceased.
The pitfall of quantitative studies is that it leads us to believe that life resembles the hypercontrolled environment of research protocols. This often leads to a cockfight: Method-A works 70%, while Method-B only works 60%. What if the 30% dissatisfaction of Method-A were satisfied by Method-B? Should we abandon this 30% because Method-A has a higher satisfaction rate than Method-B? What if we let the person with the problem choose according to their preferences? Shouldn’t it be their choice?
As a society, we still consider that this is not significant enough to justify recommendations to the population. What about the level of correlation if all these facets were considered at the same time? Faced with risk-free approaches, should we refrain from talking about them? Should we be sure to present higher mortality data to judge the relevance? Where is the risk/benefit assessment?
Pending the creation of a specific antiviral, many hopes have been placed in a candidate vaccine, but this serum does not prevent the transmission of the virus and it is less effective than expected. Proof of this is the accumulation of the doses necessary to prevent serious effects and the closure of places exclusively reserved for QR code holders. We will have to live with the virus, but how?
Unfortunately, we have never been interested in people who recovered without resorting to medical treatment. However, more than 95% of people have recovered thanks to the efficiency of the human body, that is to say thanks to the efficiency of their immune system… What if we could also promote this natural ability? We would have the possibility of giving concrete tools to the population so that they can once again feel responsible for their health.
(1) Joël Monzée, Recherche en santé : un univers d’informations contradictoires, LaPresse.
(2) Pour une large revue scientifique, voir J. Kabat-Zinn, L’éveil des Sciences, Les Arènes, 2005; J. Kabt-Zinn, Au cœur de la tourmente, la pleine conscience : MBSR, la réduction du stress basée sur la mindfulness (trad. de l’anglais), Bruxelles, De Boeck, coll. « Carrefour des Psychothérapies », 2009.
(3) Pour des revues scientifiques, citons notamment S. Renaud, De l’utilité des neurosciences dans la compréhension de la psychothérapie de la dépression, in J. Monzée (dir.) Neurosciences et psychothérapie, Liber, 2009; J. Monzée, Médicaments et performance humaine, Liber, 2010; Dishman et al, 2021, Customary physical activity and odds of depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 111 prospective cohort studies. Br J Sports Med. 2021.
(4) Ai, X. and Yang, J. and Lin, Z. and Wan, X. (2021) ‘Mental health and the role of physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.’, Frontiers in Psychology: Environmental Psychology, 12, 759987
(5) Par exemple, Uhde M, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 2016 Dec;65(12):1930-1937; Borrelli A et al. Is it time to rethink the burden of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity? A systematic review. Minerva Gastroenterol (Torino), 2021 Dec 21. (ahead of print). PMID: 34929997.
(6) Citons notamment : Kumrungsee T. et al. Potential Role of Vitamin B6 in Ameliorating the Severity of COVID-19 and Its Complications. Front Nutr. 2020 Oct 29;7:562051; Hernández JL et al. Vitamin D Status in Hospitalized Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infection. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Mar 8;106(3):e1343-e1353; Asher A. et al. Blood omega-3 fatty acids and death from COVID-19: A pilot study. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2021;166:102250; Du Laing G. et al. Course and Survival of COVID-19 Patients with Comorbidities in Relation to the Trace Element Status at Hospital Admission. Nutrients. 2021 Sep 22;13(10):3304; Salazar-Robles E. et al. Association between severity of COVID-19 symptoms and habitual food intake in adult outpatients. BMJ Nutr Prev Health. 2021 Nov 12;4(2):469-478.