2009-06-19

Alternative medicine is a crock

I just read this rather poor article on CNN [link] covering "alternative" or "complementary" medicine dosed out by clinics just south of the border. The coverage of the topic is rather uneven, perhaps in an attempt to appear balanced. Essentially, it gives the sense that lots of people are seeking out these complementary treatments even though there is no science to back them up, but leaves the reader with the message that, well, maybe they do work.. at least a little. This is a dangerous view. All the treatments they discuss are in addition to conventional treatment. That is to say, when the supplementary treatment "works," it is in the presence of clinically proven treatment. Note that these clinics don't replace traditional treatment because otherwise their complementary treatment would be ineffective. They are placebo. They make people feel like they are doing something, but in reality, these clinics are bilking people of money, and potentially putting them at great harm by undercutting the actual treatments or displacing real doctors from the treatment of the patient's condition. For every "success" story these alternative medicines tout, just imagine the thousands of people who have died or suffered in the hope that a more "natural" method is better than a scientifically proven treatment. I shudder to think of the number of people who have suffered needlessly, and died for no reason other than an ignorance of science and a blind faith for something that is easy.

4 comments:

Clarke said...

Hi,

Thanks for sharing your opinion about alternative medicine.

We cannot deny the fact that indeed modern medicine has increased the lifespan of the whole population of those living in highly developed countries. Yet there is also a downturn to this. modern medicine has yet to put a name to—spiritual emptiness, loneliness, lack of gusto, depression, low morale, stress. These are so prevalent in modern societies so that modern medicine relegates these to the realm of psychology.

Anonymous said...

Do you know Brian, that the conventional medicine which we take, is one of the top 5 causes of deaths in the US of A alone. If I am not wrong, its the reason of the 3rd largest number of loss due to death.

Alternative therapies like herbal and homeopathic remedies, Yoga, Acupuncture etc. do provide rock solid treatment for numerous diseases, especially the chronic ones and those which conventional medicines are not much good for, like depression.

.brian said...

To Clarke: There are many names for those conditions, such as clinical depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. Psychology is in fact medicine, or healthcare, and should be treated as such in the American system.

As for "conventional medicine" being a leading cause of death, it is very difficult to quantify that correctly. I know there is one study that is cited as doing so (Starfield 2000), but I believe that the results of that study are being misconstrued by sources on the internet. In fact, that is a "commentary" in JAMA, not a research study. The point is that the American healthcare system is badly flawed, and does not necessarily treat patients correctly. More important is the fact that too many people go untreated for too long because of the cost of healthcare. It isn't because doctors are killing people, but because access to healthcare and one-to-one doctor-to-patient treatment is relatively rare. The conclusions from that commentary are that (1) Americans do not receive enough primary care (a systemic problem, not a science problem), (2) medical error and adverse effects from medical treatment are too high in the USA, possibly due to an over-reliance on technology leading to unnecessary treatment (this is not a problem with the medicine, it is a problem with the decision making, and is likely closely linked with point 1), and (3) the inequality in healthcare related to access to primary care leads to excess deaths. And it should also be noted that these excess deaths only show the USA is deficient with respect to a few other industrialized nations, not the world as a whole; modern medicine, by a long shot, saves lives in the net, while the "alternative" treatments I was complaining about do not save lives in the absence of conventional medicine.

The alternative therapies mentioned by the commenter DO NOT provide "rock solid" treatment. Certainly yoga is a good form of exercise, but acupuncture and acupressure have recently been shown to have no more effect than placebo (LINK). Whether such therapies can effectively treat depression is certainly up for debate, but we can not simply assert it and make it be true. I am unaware of any systematic study that shows efficacy of any of these treatments for depression.

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