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Why We Need To Replace Hippocrates' Oath And Apocryphal Trope

The skeptical cardiologist has never liked the Hippocratic Oath and so was quite pleased to read that it is gradually being replaced by more appropriate oaths with many medical graduates taking an excellent pledge created by the World Medical Association.
Here’s the first line of the Hippocratic Oath

Asclepius with his serpent-entwined staff, Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus

I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.

Much as I enjoy the ribald hi jinx of the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology and appreciate the back story behind words like panacea and hygiene* I just don’t feel it is appropriate to swear an oath to mythical super beings.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine-The Apocryphal Hippocratic Trope

Hippocrates is often cited these days in alternative medicine circles because he is alleged to have said “let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.”
I’ve come across two articles that are well worth reading on the food=medicine trope which is often used by snake oil salesmen to justify their useless (presumably food-based) supplements.
The first , entitled “Hey, Hippocrates: Food isn’t medicine. It’s just food” comes from  Dylan Mckay, a nutritional biochemist at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, He writes:

Food is so much more than medicine. Food is intrinsically related to human social interactions and community. Food is culture, love, and joy. Turning food into medicine robs it of these positive attributes.

A healthy relationship with food is essential to a person’s well-being, but not because it has medicinal properties. Food is not just fuel and it is more than nutrients — and we don’t consume it just to reduce our disease risk.
Seeing food as a medicine can contribute to obsessing about macronutrientintake, to unfairly canonizing or demonizing certain foods, and to turning eating into a joyless and stressful process.
People tend to overvalue the immediate impact of what they eat, thinking that a “super food” can have instant benefits while undervaluing the long-term effects of what they consume over their lifetime.

The Appeal to Antiquity

The second article is from the always excellent David Gorski at Science-based Medicine entitled let-food-be-thy-medicine-and-medicine-be-thy-food-the-fetishism-of-medicinal-foods.
Gorski notes that just because Hippocrates is considered by some to be the “father of medicine” and his ideas are ancient doesn’t make them correct:

one of the best examples out there of the logical fallacy known as the appeal to antiquity; in other words, the claim that if something is ancient and still around it must be correct (or at least there must be something to it worth considering).
Of course, just because an idea is old doesn’t mean it’s good, any more than just because Hippocrates said it means it must be true. Hippocrates was an important figure in the history of medicine because he was among the earliest to assert that diseases were caused by natural processes rather than the gods and because of his emphasis on the careful observation and documentation of patient history and physical findings, which led to the discovery of physical signs associated with diseases of specific organs. However, let’s not also forget that Hippocrates and his followers also believed in humoral theory, the idea that all disease results from an imbalance of the “four humors.” It’s also amusing to note that this quote by Hippocrates is thought to be a misquote, as it is nowhere to be found in the more than 60 texts known as The Hippocratic Corpus (Corpus Hippocraticum).

Gorski goes on to point out that:

this ancient idea that virtually all disease could be treated with diet, however much or little it was embraced by Hippocrates, has become an idée fixe in alternative medicine, so much so that it leads its proponents twist new science (like epigenetics) to try to fit it into a framework where diet rules all, often coupled with the idea that doctors don’t understand or care about nutrition and it’s big pharma that’s preventing the acceptance of dietary interventions. That thinking also permeates popular culture, fitting in very nicely with an equally ancient phenomenon, the moralization of food choices (discussed ably by Dr. Jones a month ago

We’ve learned a lot about medicine and nutrition in the last 3 thousand years. We can thank Hippocrates, perhaps, for the idea that diseases don’t come from the gods but little else.
It’s time to upgrade the physician pledge  and jettison the antiquated Hippocratic Oath.
We now have real, effective medicines that have nothing to do with food for many diseases. It’s important to eat a healthy diet.
But the food=medicine trope is just too often a  marker for pseudo and anti-science humbuggery and should also be left behind.
Hygienically Yours,
*From Wikipedia, an explanation of the Gods and Goddesses mentioned in the Hippocratic oath
Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia(“Hygiene”, the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso(the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa/Ægle (the goddess of the glow of good health), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy).

The Physician’s Pledge


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