Is alternative medicine effective?
- The British royal family has been using homeopathic remedies for generations.
- The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, considered the first medical text devoted to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), was written in China about 2,100 years ago.
- 'Complementary medicine' is a term that describes when treatments out of the medical mainstream are used in conjunction with traditional Western medicine, whereas 'alternative medicine' describes when these same treatments are used instead of allopathic medicine.
- To become a medical doctor in the United States, one must go through four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school, and three to seven years of residency.
Recent surveys have confirmed that alternative medicine such as herbal supplements, specific dietary changes, naturopathy, and even various hallucinogens have been effective at helping patients, particularly those with chronic pain and mental health disorders. Additionally, the survival of alternative practices through the centuries speaks to their benefits. Many unconventional treatment methods, such as acupuncture and Ayurvedic medicine, have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient China and India, respectively.
Acupuncture, specifically, is a naturopathic treatment that is fast on its way to becoming mainstream, as studies have shown that it helps ease pain caused by sports injuries, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis.
But even less drastic therapies, such as nutritional changes and dietary supplements, are successful in taking the place of traditional drugs and anti-inflammatory medications--easing pain and also healing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and thyroid disorders.
Laboratory studies have also found that certain psychedelics can help with anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Additionally, there is strong evidence to support medical marijuana's effect on nerve pain, nausea, and chemotherapy side effects.
Nearly half of all Americans have tried alternative treatments; however, they are still rarely prescribed by doctors because their benefits are not expressly taught in most Western medical schools. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies influence doctors with perks like paid lunches and office visits, whereas non-traditional remedies have few representatives.
People still need to do their homework to weigh a treatment's pros and cons against traditionally prescribed medicines. However, alternative medicine should not be written off because its treatments have helped many people and are often cheaper and safer than traditional prescription medication.
While it may seem that conventional doctors are biased against alternative medicine, it is for a very good reason. As the saying goes, 'natural isn't always better.'
As evidence, the world's first university chair of complementary medicine, Dr. Edzard Ernst, relates that much of the research procured directly from China as to the validity of Chinese medicine, in particular, is unreliable, of poor quality, and doesn't report negative findings. Further, in the Western world, alternative medicine research relies too heavily on unscientific surveys that do not adhere to the standards of clinical trials.
Although many Americans prefer alternative medicine over conventional medicine, its perceived efficacy is due to the placebo effect--a phenomenon in which the belief that something is beneficial produces symptom reduction. Researchers point to studies in acupuncture for migraine headache therapy to illustrate the placebo effect at its finest, as apparently needle placement wasn't as important as once thought, with one lead author, saying, 'it is likely that complex traditional theories of acupuncture are incomplete or simply wrong.' Acupuncture for endometriosis produced even sparser results, with the efficacy proven through just one study participant.
Not only have inadequate clinical trials been conducted to prove the benefit of alternative treatment, but the side effects have also proven to be disastrous, even life-threatening. Some estimates conclude that 309,096 people have been injured and $2,815,931,000 incurred as damages. And unfortunately, some people go so far in believing in complementary therapies that they pay the ultimate price.
Alternative medicine is not one-size-fits-all. It must be approached with extreme caution and low expectations.