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07.04.2015

Does complementary alternative medicine work, alternative and complementary medicines - Review

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The usual assumption within conventional mechanistic medicine is that complementary and alternative therapies only appear to work because people would have got better anyway, or because they lead to improvements through the placebo effect. There are many different kinds of alternative and complementary therapy and some come with their own theories as to how they work. My practitioner, Sam Kankanamge, uses a combination of cranial osteopathy, acupuncture and yoga to treat headaches, back pain, migraines and kidney infections, all of which are, he says, “city related ailments" - the side effects of living a fast-paced, working life. ON MAY 29th Edzard Ernst, the world's first professor of complementary medicine, will step down after 18 years in his post at the Peninsula Medical School, in south-west England. Despite this lack of evidence, and despite the possibility that some alternative practitioners may be harming their patients (either directly, or by convincing them to forgo more conventional treatments for their ailments), Dr Ernst also believes there is something that conventional doctors can usefully learn from the chiropractors, homeopaths and Ascended Masters. Unlike their conventional counterparts, practitioners of alternative medicine often excel at harnessing the placebo effect, says Dr Ernst. Complementary medicine is usually not taught or used in Western medical schools or hospitals.


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Homoeopathy has been dropped altogether, due to declining student applications and campaigns by scientists against non-evidence based forms of medicine. He points out that conventional medicines must be shown to be both safe and efficacious before they can be licensed for sale. This is the therapeutic value of the placebo effect, one of the strangest and slipperiest phenomena in medicine. In the case of depression, says Dr Kirsch, giving patients placebo pills can produce very nearly the same effect as dosing them with the latest antidepressant medicines. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient's discomfort following surgery.
According to his “Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, around 95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined—in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology—are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments.


Practitioners of alternative medicine became increasingly reluctant to co-operate as the negative results piled up (a row in 2005 with an alternative-medicine lobby group founded by Prince Charles did not help), while traditional medical-research bodies saw investigations into things like Ayurvedic healing as a waste of time. That is rarely true of alternative treatments, which rely on a mixture of appeals to tradition and to the “natural” wholesomeness of their products to reassure consumers.
That explains why, for instance, some homeopaths can market treatments for malaria, despite a lack of evidence to suggest that such treatments work, or why some chiropractors can claim to cure infertility.



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