Alexandra Carmichael Almost Eliminates Headaches

In an earlier post.

You might marvel that conventional healthcare (e.g., doctors, the Mayo Clinic website, and so on) was no help. Or you might not. In the case of the woman I wrote about for Boing Boing, her conventional doctors actively got in the way of helping her find the source of her migraines. Alexandra takes ibuprofen for her headaches. So conventional healthcare (in this case, the makers of ibuprofen) has managed to profit from every one of her headaches but hasn’t done one useful thing to prevent them. A nasty state of affairs (provide expensive relief of symptoms, ignore prevention and underlying causes, thus ensuring that people continue to get sick and need relief) that is repeated a thousand places in our healthcare system (e.g., in depression, cancer, etc.).

At the First QS Conference, I gave a talk that included the following equation:

progress = resources*knowledge*time*freedom*motivation

I used this equation to explain why mainstream medicine was stagnating, but personal science was not. Personal scientists (individuals trying to improve their own health) seem tiny and insignificant compared to medical school professors with million-dollar grants and large labs. But the visible superiority of medical school professors — they have far more resources and knowledge than personal scientists, not to mention more prestige — masks an enormous hidden inferiority: Personal scientists have far more time, freedom, and motivation than medical school professors. And personal scientists are rapidly gaining more resources and knowledge. This is why, in terms of progress, they are catching up to and surpassing mainstream healthcare.

Alexandra’s story illustrates the pattern. In this case, personal science made progress (it eliminated most of her headaches), mainstream healthcare did not (it eliminated none of them). And the success of personal science depended on increases in resources and increases in knowledge. A new resource that helped Alexandra was a DailyBurn iPhone app that helped her track what she ate. From those records she noticed a curious pattern: that changes in how much dairy she ate caused trouble. Two new sources of knowledge also helped her. The accumulation of knowledge at CureTogether led to her to suspect gluten was one of her triggers. And my story in Boing Boing led to her to suspect that Febreze and other cleaning products were triggers.