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Alternative Medicine

September 21, 2010

The Claims

Alternative medicine is an amalgamation of several healing techniques. “Alternative” medicine is often based on metaphysical beliefs and is frequently untested, nontraditional, or unscientific in its principles or claimed mechanisms of action.
According to the American National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) examples of such therapies include naturopathy, chiropractic medicine, herbalism, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, homeopathy, acupuncture, and nutritional-based therapies, in addition to a range of other practices

The Evidence

As for evidence, we can classify these practices into 3 categories :

  • Abandoned therapies which used to be part of modern medicine, but as result of safer, newer, and more efficacious treatment they are no longer recommended by modern medicine. A majority of herbal remedies fall into this category such as Atropa Belladona – a small plant used for the treatment of abdominal pain. Besides its therapeutic anticholinergic effects, this plant contains toxins like scopolamine and hyoscyamine which cause bizarre delirium and hallucination.
  • Therapies that are based on no empirical, experimental or theoretical evidence, this category contains the most dangerous group of practices which imposed great risk to general public health. A few examples of such fraudulent therapies are : Homeopathic medicine, Spiritual healing, Energy medicine and therapeutic magnets.
  • Untested medications or procedures: A proper scientific conclusion cannot be made till the evidence for efficacy and safety of these family of drugs accumulate.
  • Conclusion

    It is estimated that “alternative” medicine is a $15 billion a year business; and unfortunately the double standard exist when it comes to licensing several of these “Alternative” practices. As Richard Dawkins, famous evolutionary biologist, nicely defined it, alternative medicine is a “set of practices which cannot be tested, refuse to be tested, or consistently fail tests. if a technique is demonstrated effective in properly performed trials, it ceases to be alternative and simply becomes medicine”.

    For details on specific alternative medical treatments, follow these links:
    Chiropractic medicine

    Links from Mayo clinic from Wikipedia from Skepdic

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Arkuna permalink
    April 24, 2011 7:03 PM

    While much of alternative medicine is not scientifically proven to be beneficial, I have to disagree with the inclusion of yoga and meditation as an untested and/or unproven alternative therapy. There is a wealth of knowledge that shows that both yoga and meditation is highly beneficial for several illnesses including Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder; in addition, both practices have been found to improve the quality of life in participants in the majority of clinical trials – yoga in particular improves physical quality of life in people of all ages and types including seniors, cancer patients (and survivors), and women in the perinatal period. I cannot attest to other forms of complementary and alternative medicine; however, I would suggest the moderator remove yoga and meditation from the list as it is not exactly an “extraordinary claim”.

  2. Leslie permalink
    March 20, 2011 6:11 PM

    Ah, see, as someone who’s very interested in herbology and alternative medicine, I’d beg to differ with the great Dawkins on its refusal to be tested. In fact, I think the vast majority of alternative medicine practitioners would more than welcome credible scientific studies NOT funded by large corporations (often with the intent going in that they’ll disprove, say, an herb’s abilities, which skews the results before even beginning).

    Moreover, the vast majority of alternative medicine practitioners would ALSO love to have their results tested and verified, as it would lend credibility. These people WANT credibility. They believe in what they do. And they’re not afraid.

    Corporate-government-funded science, however, is. Because there’s no way to patent, say, Reiki.

    Bring on the scientific studies, impartial and funded solely by curious people, not by corporations looking to disprove a result that they can’t make money on, or the government, funded by big corporations.

  3. Spencer permalink
    February 6, 2011 7:00 PM

    That’s why. Enjoy!

  4. Bryan permalink
    January 9, 2011 7:19 PM

    Dawkins: “…science … has scrupulous honesty built into it by design”


    Dawkins: “private prejudice with publicly, verifiable evidence”

    Scientists have made mistakes, both unintentionally and intentionally, all throughout time. True science may be scrupulous, but are we truly scientific if we choose to ignore evidence and facts that support theories to which we are opposed?

    Example: intelligence always precedes design and creates information, but when we see design in biology and information in DNA, how come we can’t even consider intelligence as the cause???

    Doesn’t sound very scrupulous or unprejudiced.


  1. Homeopathy « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  2. Chiropractic « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  3. Iridology « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  4. Acupuncture « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  5. Reflexology « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  6. Reiki « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
  7. Chi / Qi « Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

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