Alternative medical “cures” flunk out en masse

| June 10, 2009 | 8 Replies

According to the Associated Press, numerous alternative medical cures have now been tested by the U.S. government, at great cost, and almost none of them show any promise at all in controlled studies sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do.

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Category: Health, Medicine, Science, scientific method

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The referenced article shows a bias in that it mentions the biggest failures while only listing minor examples of success.

    There are dozens of herbal remedies that passed clinical trials, and are effective treatements for many conditions. None are cures, but Bitter Melon does help lower blood glucoes and bilberry does improve night vision. Many of these treatments may show promise for pharmaceutical products in the future and must be studied, but the article spins such studies and research as a waste of government funds, and as such promotes the notion that only mass produced drugs (many of which are made from herbs) cna be used to treat disease.

  2. cheesemissile says:

    The Associated Press can suck it. Of course the gov'ment doesnt want natural homegrown remedies to replace billions of dollars of revenue a year in symptom-suppressant pills. So I bet they'll spend some dolla to "prove" that nature doesn't cure, only labs do.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I agree with Erika on her many points, Cheesemissile. But I would add my confusion that you would be frustrated with the Associated Press for merely reporting the findings. Go to the website of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for first-hand verification that many alternative "remedies" are worthless, aside from the placebo effect that might occur. Therefore, there's no need for you to buy expensive magnets, dandelions or bottles of colloidal silver. There's no evidence that homeopathy works. Additionally, there is no evidence that any of the following work:

      Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer.

      You'll find all of this at the NCCA, which, according to the Associated Press article, has a research agenda that is "shaped by an advisory board loaded with alternative medicine practitioners."

      Consider all of the hype for these alternative remedies, many of which are hawked by big box stores. Wouldn't you think that you would have SOME major successes? Yes, conventional western medicine has many failures, but it appears that "alternative medicine" is, as a rule, highly suspicious, even when put under a somewhat sympathetic microscope.

  3. Erika Price says:

    Cheesemissile: the fact that pharmaceutical companies can profit from the efficacy of pharmaceuticals is not proof that clinical trials are rigged. It's not even suggestive. Also take into account that many purveyors of western medicine also own or profit from alternative medicine- alternative "immune system boosters" such as Airborne are owned by mainstream pharmaceutical companies, and drug-peddling CVS and Walgreens stores all across the country sell supplements, herbal remedies, homoepathic "cures" and other alternative medicines. How is it possible that Big Pharma wants to quash alternative healing when they can profit from it just as easily?

    You faux skepticism may be tempting, as western medicine is costly, difficult to understand, and not miraculous. But anyone possessing an advanced understanding of logic should see the link between a rational thought process and the scientific method. In addition to the inherent logic of clinical studies, there is enough competition that frauds are often easily found out. Let's say there is a temptation to fudge results to pad corporate wallets. Well, the opposing companies and less economically-concerned universities have a strong incentive to disprove their opponents or create new drugs that are better.

    Academics want to be published, and they want to tear down the achievements of their fellows when it is necessary. We don't have to assume good-heartedness or incorruptibility in order to "trust" western medicine. We just have to believe in rational self interest in logic. It is a strange and paranoid leap to claim that the foundation of western medicine is faulty and part of a conspiracy to conceal alternate cures.

  4. Stacy says:

    Cheesemissile, "Alternative medicine" is also Big Business, and you can rest assured that they will spend big dollars to try and refute these findings. But unlike those of scientific medicine, their claims will not be subject to peer review, experimental protocol, experimental replication, and the rest of it.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    As Tim Minchin points out,

    "Do you know what they call Alternative Medicine that has been proved to work?"

    "Medicine".

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  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    My problem withthe article is that it implies that all herbal remedies are complete hokum and to spend any tax money to determine veracity of these treatements is a total waste. This is simply not true.

    Many, possibly most, of the pharmaceutical compounds we pay so dearly for are derived from traditional folk remedies. Because someone scientifically assessed the effectiveness of these remedies, we now have many drugs that relieve symptoms and restore health to many. The famous example of this is willowbark tea, the study of which led to the development of aspirin. Another folk remedy lead to the development of vaccines.

    The article also ignores the millions of dollars granted by the government to pharmaceutical companies to study folk remedies in state sponsored universities across the country.

    In all, this type of article is a form of propaganda favoring privatization of government by corporations by furthering the misconception that the government can do no right and the corporations can do no wrong.

    Folk remedies need to studied for several reasons.

    First, those remedies that show no promise need to be disproved by an authoritative source to weaken the arguments of the snake oil salesmen that profit from such nostrums.

    Second, those that do work need to be examined closer to understand the mechanisms by which they work and provide a means of standardization. This understanding is also necessary to determine side effects and interactions with other medications.

    Third, even the hokiest of remedies may, through a placebo effect, help a patient to heal due to the de-stressing of the individual, which has been shown to improve immune system effectiveness.

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Erika, unfortunately when it comes to development of new medicines, our current patent system encourages cheating by the pharma companies.

    One of the obvious examples is Celebrex.

    Celebrex is a cox2 inhibitor, a non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAIDand was approved under accellerated approval guidelines as a treatment for a rare genetic disorder. It is broadly advertised as a safe and effective alternative to generic NSAIDs such as Naproxen, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin.

    Any cox2 inhibitor raise blood pressure. but the push behind cox2 inhibitors was simply becasue the patented nature of the drug made it much more profitable than the more effective and safer drugs that were available as generics.

    Check out this video by a former pharma rep concerning the money and motives <a> behind marketing new drugs

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