Many people turn to Alternative Medicine when real medicine, or the medical system, fails them. However, alternative medicine is often at best a waste of time, and in the worse cases, it proves to be fatal. In this modern age, why do so many people still turn to alternative medicine?
If there is one scientifically agreed fact about alternative medicine it is that it simply does not work. Yes, there is a placebo effect, but that does not mean that it is a viable solution! Here we present a few articles on alternative medicine.
The Big Con
Alternative Medicine is the biggest rip off of all time. Alternative Medicine is a con. Why?
Imagine if you read in a newspaper today that scientists had discovered unequivocal proof that mediums could contact the spirits of the dead and that these spirits could be channelled into a healing force that can completely cure the most devastating of ailments. Wouldn’t that be fantastic! Wouldn’t that be the most Earth-shattering, life-changing piece of news ever broadcast!
Or imagine if they announced that they had proved, beyond any rational doubt, that the Glory of God can be directed and manipulated by a chosen few to the same healing ends. Wouldn’t that be amazing! Wouldn’t that be unbelievable! Or perhaps it’s bits of quartz crystals waved in some esoteric manner around the patient’s head; or magnets; or prayer; or whatever else the latest ‘alternative’ health fad happens to be.
Discovery that these methods of treatment actually worked — worked consistently and measurably — would shake our world; it would be the most significant discovery in the modern age; it would shatter some of the fundamental principles upon which our sciences are built; it would tell us that everything we thought we knew about how the universe worked was wrong.
Most people, even those that believe in supernatural remedies, appreciate how startling scientific confirmation of these remedies would be. Why then, do so many people accept them without question? Why are billions of dollars spent, often by those who cannot afford the healthcare they really need, on ‘treatments’ that are not only unproven, but which would be so shocking if they were to be proven? Why do televangelists and faith-healers earn millions when respected doctors — leaders of a profession that does deliver provable and measurable results — do not?
What about some of the less fantastic ‘alternative’ remedies?
Things like acupuncture, herbalism and homoeopathy? Would the discovery of the validity of these practices be so Earth-shattering? Homoeopathy and acupuncture are both founded on principles for which there is no scientific evidence nor even a scientific theory as to the mechanisms at work. Homoeopathy claims that when an active ingredient is repeatedly dissolved until none of the original molecules remain, the solution retains a “memory” of the active ingredient.
Perhaps that is not as fantastic as having God as a medical assistant, but it is still an extraordinary claim. To prove such an effect would have fundamental consequences for biology, chemistry and physics; this would be ground-breaking, career-making, Nobel Prize-winning stuff.
Acupuncture imagines a live-giving ‘energy field’ that flows around the body that can be manipulated by, among other things, metal needles. What is the physical nature of this energy? How is it conducted? Again, the practitioners remain silent; no answers are forthcoming even though such answers would invite a flood of prizes and distinctions.
Herbalism, on the face of it, seems reasonable. Herbs and plants contain many active ingredients that can be harnessed for medicinal purposes. Let’s try another thought experiment and see how it feels: imagine if it were announced that one of the traditional herbal remedies used to counter pain was scientifically proven to work; it really does reduce pain and the scientists have proven this with rigorous trials and with a functional model for the herb’s action on the brain.
Does that seem so far-fetched? Not really. Wouldn’t that vindicate the practitioners and elevate Herbalism from being the domain of hippies and New Agers to being a real science? Well… not really. In fact this is exactly what has been happening ever since the early 19th century when the active ingredient in willow bark, a traditional pain remedy, was isolated. This active ingredient, after being transformed into a safer form with reduced negative effects, was marketed as Aspirin and heralded the birth of the pharmaceutical industry.
Since then the industry has grown into a vast, global industry that spends enormous amounts of money on finding the active ingredients in herbal and other remedies, testing them, making them safer and more effective.
In parallel with the growth of the industry, legislation has grown up to protect the consumer, to ensure that the positive effects of the products are real and that they outweigh any negative effects that the product may also produce.
The pharmaceutical industry is our thought experiment made real: herbalism proved to be real and effective, it used scientific method to prove itself and improve itself and it became what we now call the pharmaceutical industry.
What then, of modern Herbalism?
If herbalism has grown up into pharmacology, who are these people today who call themselves herbalists? What are their products? The herbalists that understood the science of their profession became known as pharmacologists; so what was left?
Herbalism today is characterised by a fundamental aversion to science. Its practitioners not only fail to use scientific methods to validate their practices, they even go so far as to disregard the vast amount of evidence that shows that their products simply do not do what is claimed of them.
When one examines the core beliefs of the herbalist industry, they seem ludicrous: they believe that substance A has a medicinal effect that is better than any other substance being produced by the pharmaceutical industry, yet they believe that despite the vast sums of money the pharmaceutical industry spends on researching and developing new products, they are either unable or unwilling to productize substance A.
The pharmaceutical industry, never one to miss an opportunity for new profit, has sucked all the useful bits out of the cannon of traditional remedies and left behind only those which simply do not work; yet herbalists still advocate these remaining dregs.
It is shocking that the UK has just introduced The Traditional Herbal Medicine Registration Scheme, in response to the European Directive 2004/24/EC which relaxed the controls on medicines. Previously, to market a medicine, the manufacturer needed to provide evidence of the efficacy of the product. This new law allows them instead to provide evidence of “traditional use”.
Eh? So if you can prove that the product has been used for a long period of time without anyone ever being able to show that it actually works, then you can sell it as a medicine? How is a consumer supposed to tell if a medicine has been proven or if it has been classed as a medicine under this new law? Is there some handy labelling requirement whereby medicines that work can be labelled as such and those that don’t work have to declare their failings?
Yes, if you examine the product code on the box, those that have proven that they work will have a product number starting with PN, those that don’t work, that have been classified as medicines purely on grounds of traditional use, will have a product code starting THM (for Traditional Herbal Medicine). That’s simple isn’t it?
When dealing with health and people’s well-being, a rational pragmatic approach must be taken to determine the best course of action.
Alternative Medicines take the exact opposite approach, they spurn the evidence and instead base their assertions on anecdotes, outdated traditions and the vagaries of popular opinion.
Alternative Medicine has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry which has the freedom to push its products and services without ever having to demonstrate that they actually work.
In short, alternative medicine is a con.
Mass Homeopathic Overdose Proves it is not Medicine
Once again reason and logic are fighting against the absurdity of homeopathy. 10:23.org.uk, has been founded to fight the homeopathic movement. It is planning to stage a mass homeopathic “overdose” on 30th January 2010 at 10.23am outside Boots stores across the UK.
Of course, it is not possible to overdose on homeopathic “medicine” as there is nothing in it other than sugar and water. So it is really just a way to try to make people realize that homeopathic pills are a complete con and should be avoided. It is the 21st Century equivalent of snake oil. Companies make a fortune by selling pills to people that do nothing. In fact Boots, a large UK Pharmacy, even stated that homeopathic pills are not medicine and do nothing – but it still stocks them as customers ask for it!
“The 10:23 Campaign aims to raise awareness about the reality of homeopathy. We will tell you how it can be proven not to work, why homeopaths’ claims are impossible, why you should care.” 10:23.org.uk.
This is a great opportunity to do something to help promote reason and science in medicine, and put an end to fake medicines which put health at risk. There was a case last year where attempts at using homeopathy killed an otherwise healthy young girl:
“The parents of a nine-month-old girl who died from septicemia were responsible for their baby’s death because they shunned conventional medical treatment for her eczema in favour of homeopathic remedies, a court heard yesterday.
A homeopath, Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife, Manju Sam, 36, are standing trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with manslaughter by gross criminal negligence after they allegedly resisted the advice of nurses and a doctor to send her to a skin specialist.
Instead Gloria Thomas, who was born in perfect health in July 2001, allegedly died with malnutrition and eczema so severe that her skin broke every time her parents removed her clothes and nappy.” Source: Sydney Morning Herald.
This was a terrible case, but highlights a simple shockingly obvious fact – giving sugar pills to a sick patient instead of medicine may result in death.
Study Shows that So Called Drugs in Health Shops Do Not Work
A recent study has shown that many drugs recommended by health shops do not actually work, at least they fail to treat the condition the customer is suffering from. Out of 13 drugs tested by a Leeds hospital, only St John’s Wort appeared to have any benefit with regards to treating depression.
A study of health shops also showed that staff are not likely to provide adequate advice to customers concerning the possible side effects of taking herbal remedies.
Natural drugs recommended by health shops include ginseng, royal jelly, cat’s claw, vitamin B complex, Bio-Strath liquid tonic, Floradix liquid tonic, gingko biloba, guarana, and multivitamins. There is no concrete evidence that any of these provide any useful benefits.
Staff in health shops often do not ask the correct questions when prescribing medicine to customers. Sometimes staff fail to ask of the customer has consulted their GP. Also some staff in health foods were unaware that St John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of the contraceptive pill.
Although many herbal remedies can help to improve health, raise energy levels and supplement diet, it is always essential to visit your GP / doctor if you are concerned about your health, and not to simply trust the advice given by staff in health shops.
Another Success for Science in the Fight Against Alternative Medicine
Apr 6, 2010
Dr. Simon Singh, a science journalist, has won a libel case against him brought by The British Chiropractic Association over an article he published in The Guardian 2008 (but since removed from the online edition). In the article he stated that the claims of chiropractors were unfounded and not based on any medical or scientific research. Specifically he was critical of the claims that chiropractors could treat childhood illnesses such as asthma. The success in court means a great deal to the media.
“In the article, Singh criticized the BCA for claiming that its members could use spinal manipulation to treat children with colic, ear infections, asthma, sleeping and feeding conditions, and prolonged crying. Singh described the treatments as “bogus” and based on insufficient evidence, and criticized the BCA for “happily promoting” them.” Guardian.co.uk.
What it essentially means is that now people in the UK are more free to speak their opinion about theories and statements made by organizations, especially when the debate is a scientific one. The case should bring an end to people being taken to court for holding an opinion against a theory carried by a company if the issue is something that can and should be tested by science, not the courts.
Dr. Simon Singh has recently co-authored with Edzard Ernst a new book called Trick or Treatment? which provides a reasoned debate about alternative medicine.
Dr. Simon Singh was supported during this time by many well known rationalists, such as Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervais, and also by the charity Sense About Science who work with scientists and civic groups to promote evidence and scientific reasoning in public discussion.
Learn more about this from the leading news reporters;
- BBC Online Science writer Simon Singh wins libel appeal
- The Guardian Simon Singh wins libel court battle
- The Lawyer Court of Appeal overturns Eady J libel decision
- BBC Radio The World at One
- Reuters Science writer wins “fair comment” libel appeal
- The Guardian Simon Singh’s ‘resounding victory’ raises hope of libel reform
Natural Healthcare Council Provides Regulation of Alternative Medicine
Jan 5, 2008
Currently, there is no statutory regulatory system in the UK governing the practice of other complementary therapies such as homoeopathy.
The Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health has been commissioned by the Department of Health to set up a regulator for alternative and complimentary medicine, which will include practices such as aromatherapy, reflexology acupuncture, Tradition Chinese Medicine, reiki and yoga.
Currently alternative medicine is not regulated, and there has been concern in the past over poor practices and advice given by those administering complimentary and alternative health care.
Membership to the Natural Healthcare Council will be on a voluntary basis, however the watchdog will minimum requirements and standards, and be able to remove companies and practitioners that are deemed to be incompetent.
The Health Professionals Manager of The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, Ian Cambray-Smith, stated:
“one of the problems, from the point of view of the public, is that there are many different types of professional body, there are many different sets of initials that practitioners have after their names and nobody’s quite sure what they all mean. By bringing things together in this way, it can give the public confidence.”
The new watchdog aims to build a safer and more trustworthy environment for the practice of alternative medicine. Practitioners that prove that they act with professionalism and build trust in the community will be rewarded by being accredited to the Natural Healthcare Council, whereas charlatans will be denied membership. The public will then be empowered to make a better decision when choosing complimentary medicine.
A Department of Health spokesman said that the Department of Health have commissioned the Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Health (FiH) to develop voluntary self-regulation amongst a range of currently unregulated professions.
“To ensure public safety, the Department of Health encourages all CAM practitioners to register with a reputable voluntary regulatory body.”
The Natural HealthCare Council will only register practitioners who have a recognised professional qualification, are insured and have signed up to the code of conduct.
This should mean that from April onwards, members of the public will be in a position to make a better judgement over choosing a practitioner of alternative medicine, and also be able report poor practice to an official body, thus improving the quality of care available to all.
Submitted on 2009/02/07 at 6:05 pm
Worried that practitioners can get government certification without showing that their treatments are effective, or even safe? Me too, so here’s a link to the Number 10 petition requiring evidence of efficacy and safety be made a requirement for CNHC approval.
Scottish NHS Agrees to Stop Funding Homeopathy
Oct 5, 2010
Great news for health professionals, patients and the tax payer. The Scottish Health Service has said that it will stop providing funding for homeopathic “medicine”.
Homeopathy is certainly not medicine, unless sugar and placebos are now considered to be medical advancements. Dr Somerville, the director of public health, made it clear that there was no scientific evidence that homeopathic remedies improve health. Although some people experience a placebo effect that cannot be justification for encouraging doctors to prescribe it to patients and to pursue further testing.
Replacement of Real Medicine
Homeopathy has always been considered a complimentary medicine,. and not a alternative medicine. Unfortunately many people fail to grasp the difference between the two. A complimentary medicine is taken specifically to help compliment real medicine. The fact that there is a placebo effect suggests that with some people they may feel more confident if given more “medicine”. But as we said already, homeopathy certainly is not real medicine.
Alternative medicine can be given instead of traditional medicine, if there is evidence that it works. It is simply an alternative to the standard medicine, but should still be prescribed by a doctor who has seen evidence that it works. If that evidence is not found, then it can only ever be considered complimentary.
The greatest abuses of homeopathic treatments have been seen where parents have refused to give their children the MMR vaccine due to fear of Autism (the connection between Autism and MMR has been disproved and the doctor that made the claim has been struck off the medical register for not following correct scientific and medical procedures, and putting commercial interests before health).
According the Faculty of Homeopathy 7 million people in the UK still use homeopathic treatments. Can 7 million people be wrong? Yes.
Web Resources on Complementary and Alternative Therapies
- OU on the BBC: Alternative Medicine
- Alternative medicine – BBC News, 8 February, 2003
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine - U.S. National Library of Medicine - nlm.nih.gov
- Alternative medicine – The Guardian – various articles on alternative medicine
- Compliance Report - Health and Beauty 2006 - Advertising Standards Authority - This pdf is a survey into the compliance rate of health & beauty advertising with the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code), BCAP Radio Advertising Standards Code and BCAP TV Advertising Standards Code.
This page was written by Jon Wade, principal author and editor of Medimise.