The Harm Complementary and Alternative Medicine Can Do

What’s the Harm

I have written often about ways in which complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be harmful. This is not because I believe CAM is necessarily always unsafe, or that I think conventional medicine doesn’t have significant risks as well. Any therapy that is doing anything at all is likely to have potential risks as well as benefits. It simply isn’t possible to tinker with as complex a system as a living organism without affecting elements of the system one does not intend as well as those one is targeting.

However, the advantage to science-based medicine is that the risks and benefits of individual therapies are often well understood. If we have sufficient information about what an intervention does and what the risks and benefits of it are, we can then make rational choices about using it. The problem with CAM is that there is often very little information about risks and benefits and yet strong claims are frequently made that these therapies work and are safe. The lack of real, scientific information, and beliefs about safety which are not founded on reliable evidence can generate harm.

The two types of harm that can be seen with CAM therapies are direct and indirect. Direct harm is injury or illness experienced by a patient from the treatment itself. This is similar to the side effects one can see with conventional treatment. Indirect harm is the harm that comes from acting on misinformation or false beliefs even when the treatment itself is not dangerous. This usually involves the harm experienced by patients who avoid conventional therapy in favor of unproven or clearly ineffective CAM remedies.

I have put together a list of articles from scientific journals and the news media illustrating both the direct and indirect harm of CAM therapies: What’s The Harm? The name is in honor of the web site What’s the Harm, which is a collection of anecdotes illustrating the dangers of all kinds of pseudoscientific and superstitious thinking, including that behind much of alternative medicine.

This post will be a collection of links to previous posts I’ve written and links to articles elsewhere illustrating the harm CAM can do.

General CAM Use:

Association between CAM use and decreased success of IVF in Holland.

Association between CAM use and decreased survival in cancer patients in Norway.

Boström H, Rössner S. Quality of alternative medicine–complications and avoidable deaths. Qual Assur Health Care. 1990;2(2):111-7.

Yun YH, Lee MK, Park SM, Kim YA, Lee WJ, Lee KS, Choi JS, Jung KH, Do YR, Kim SY, Heo DS, Kim HT, Park SR. Effect of complementary and alternative medicine on the survival and health-related quality of life among terminally ill cancer patients: a prospective cohort study. Ann Oncol. 2013 Feb;24(2):489-94. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mds469. Epub 2012 Oct 30.

Johnson SB, Park HS, Gross CP, Yu JB. Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable CancersJAMA Oncol. Published online July 19, 2018.


While generally safe if performed by a licensed, properly trained acupuncturist, acupuncture does pose direct risks, including side effects such as dizziness and nausea, infection from improper technique, and trauma from needles.

A Review of Reviews of Acupuncture for Pain: Might Work, Might Not, Could Kill You, Probably Won’t

Veterinary Acupuncture

Cho YP, Jang HJ, Kim JS, Kim YH, Han MS, Lee SG. Retroperitoneal abscess complicated by acupuncture: case report. J Korean Med Sci. 2003 Oct;18(5):756-7.

Choo DC, Yue G Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache 2000 May;40(5):397-8.

Chung SJ, Kim JS, Kim JC, Lee SK, Kwon SU, Lee MC, Suh DC. Intracranial dural arteriovenous fistulas: analysis of 60 patients. Cerebrovasc Dis 2002 Feb;13(2):79-88

Cole M, Shen J, Hommer D. Convulsive syncope associated with acupuncture. Am J Med Sci 2002 Nov;324(5):288-9

Ernst E, Sherman K. Is acupuncture a risk factor for hepatitis? Systematic review of epidemiological studies. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2003 Nov;18(11):1231-6.

Ernst E. Deaths after acupuncture: A sytematic review. Int J Risk and Safety in Med 2010;22(3):131-6.

Wenju He, Xue Zhao, Yanqi Li, Qiang Xi, and Yi Guo. Adverse Events Following Acupuncture: A Systematic Review of the Chinese Literature for the Years 1956–2010. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. E-pub ahead of print. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0825.

Iwadate K, Ito H, Katsumura S, Matsuyama N, Sato K, Yonemura I, Ito, Y. An autopsy case of bilateral tension pneumothorax after acupuncture. Leg Med (Tokyo). 2003 Sep;5(3):170-4.

Kirchgatterer A, Schwarz CD, Holler E, Punzengruber C, Hartl P, Eber B Cardiac Tamponade Following Acupuncture. Chest 2000 May;117(5):1510-1511

Laing AJ, Mullett H, Gilmore MF. Acupuncture-associated Arthritis in a Joint with an Orthopaedic Implant J Infect 2002 Feb;44(1):43-4

Nambiar P, Ratnatunga C. Prosthetic valve endocarditis in a patient with Marfan’s syndrome following acupuncture. J Heart Valve Dis 2001 Sep;10(5):689-90

Peuker E Case report of tension pneumothorax related to acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 2004 Mar;22(1):40-3.

Saw A, Kwan MK, Sengupta S. Necrotising fasciitis: a life-threatening complication of acupuncture in a patient with diabetes mellitus. Singapore Med J. 2004 Apr;45(4):180-2.

Sun CA, et al. Transmission of hepatitis C virus in taiwan: prevalence and risk factors based on a nationwide survey. Sun J Med Virol 1999 Nov;59(3):290-6

Jayne Wheway, Taofikat B. Agbabiaka, Edzard Ernst. Patient safety incidents from acupuncture treatments: A review of reports to the National Patient Safety Agency. The International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine. 2012;24(3):163-169.

Witt CM, Pach D, Brinkhaus B, Wruck K, Tag B, Mank S, Willich SN. Safety of acupuncture: results of a prospective observational study with 229,230 patients and introduction of a medical information and consent form. Forsch Komplementmed. 2009 Apr;16(2):91-7. Epub 2009 Apr 9

Woo PC, Leung KW, Wong SS, Chong KT, Cheung EY, Yuen KY. Relatively alcohol-resistant mycobacteria are emerging pathogens in patients receiving acupuncture treatment. J Clin Microbiol 2002 Apr;40(4):1219-24

Woo PC, Lin AW, Lau SK, Yuen KY. Acupuncture transmitted infections. British Medical Journal 2010;340:c1268.

Yamashita H, Tsukayama H, White AR, Tanno Y, Sugishita C, Ernst E. Systematic review of adverse events following acupuncture: the Japanese literature. Complement Ther Med 2001 Jun;9(2):98-104



There is little research on the risks of chiropractic treatment in dogs and cats (or on any possible benefits). However, there is clear evidence of harm in humans, particularly with manipulation of the neck. Given the limited evidence of benefit (for back pain) in humans and the absence of clear evidence of benefit in veterinary patients, significant caution is warranted. 

Veterinary Chiropractic

SBM–Neck Manipulation:Risk vs Benefit

SBM–Chiropractic’s Pathetic Response to Stroke Concerns

SBM–Chiropractic and Stroke: Evaluation of One Paper

SBM–Chiropractic and Stroke

Albuquerque FC, Hu YC, Dashti SR, Abla AA, Clark JC, Alkire B, Theodore N, McDougall CG. Craniocervical arterial dissections as sequelae of chiropractic manipulation: patterns of injury and management. J Neurosurg. 2011 Dec;115(6):1197-205. Epub 2011 Sep 16.

Herbs and Supplements

Herbs and dietary supplements are among the most plausible and likely to have real physiologic effects of all CAM therapies. This also means, they are the most likely to have potential risks. As things currently stand, most of these products, particularly herbal remedies, should be viewed as drugs that have not been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy (as pharmaceuticals are) and that are not regulated for quality to any meaningful extent (again, unlike pharmaceuticals). Under these circumstances, there are unknown but potentially significant risks to using these products.

Unregulated Herbal Products and Supplements Send 23,000 People to the Emergency Room Annually in the U.S.

FDA Finds Serious and Widespread Violations of Safety and Quality Control Regulations for Dietary Supplements

What’s in Chinese Medicine? New DNA Study Finds Some Unpleasant Answers

Herbal Remedies Can Interfere With HIV Treatment

Less is More—A Reminder of Why Irrational Dietary Supplement Use is a Bad Idea

Neoplasene—Benefits Unproven and Risks Severe

Neoplasene—The Latest head of the Escharotic Hydra

Vitamin Supplements-Do They Prevent Cancer?

GAO Reports on Deceptive Marketing and Contamination of Herbal Products

Risks of Herbs and Supplements Finally Getting Some Attention

Use of Herbals Associated With Lower Quality of Life in Asthma Patients

Orthomolecular Medicine–Big Talk, Little Evidence, Real Risk

GAO Acknowledges FDA Oversight of Dietary Supplements Inadequate 

Consumer Reports—The Dangers of Supplements

Doctor Lies to Dying Cancer Patients about Herbal “Cure”

Vitamins & Supplements

Vitamin C can interfere with chemotherapy.

Unregulated Dietary Supplements Still Killing People

Thomas LK, Elinder C, Tiselius H, Wolk A, Åkesson A. Ascorbic Acid Supplements and Kidney Stone Incidence Among Men: A Prospective Study. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;():1-2. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2296.

Vitamin E can increase cancer risk.

Vitamin E not useful for prevention for prostate cancer and can increase risk of congestive heart failure.

Vitamin E supplements increase risk of hemorrhagic stroke

Vitamin E supplements may increase risk of heart attacks and stroke

Vitamin E increases risk of prostate cancer

Vitamin supplements may associated with overall increase in mortality and no benefit in preventing gastrointestinal cancer.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids may increase risk in ventilator patients with acute lung injury

Mursu J, et al. Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;17(18):1625-33.

Widespread Failures in Quality Control of Dietary Supplements

Herbal Preparations

Bashir Ahmad, Samina Ashiq, Arshad Hussainb, Shumaila Bashir, Mubbashir Hussain. Evaluation of mycotoxins, mycobiota, and toxigenic fungi in selected medicinal plants of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Fungal Biology. 2014;118(9–10):776–84.

Aliye Uc, MD, Warren P. Bishop, MD, and Kathleen D. Sanders, MD, Camphor hepatoxicity. South Med J 93(6):596-598, 2000,

Angers RC, Seward TS, Napier D, Green M, Hoover E, Spraker T, O’Rourke K, Balachandran A, Telling GC. Chronic wasting disease prions in elk antler velvet. Emerg Infect Dis. 2009 May;15(5):696-703.

Angkana R, Lurslurcharchai L, Halm E, Xiu-Min L, Leventhal H, et al. Use of herbal remedies and adherence to inhaled corticosteroids among inner-city asthmatic patients. Annal Allerg Asthma Immunol 2010:104(2);132-138.

Berberine. Inbaraj JJ, Kukielczak BM, Bilski P, Sandvik SL, Chignell CF. Photochemistry and photocytotoxicity of alkaloids from Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.) Chem Res Toxicol 2001 Nov;14(11):1529-34

Cheung E, Ng C, Foote J. A hot mess: A case of hyperemesis. Canadian Family Physician July 2014 vol. 60 no. 7 633-637.

Geller, A. et al. Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements. N Engl J Med 2015; 373:1531-1540

Lauren Blacksell, Roger W. Byard, Ian F. Musgrave. Forensic problems with the composition and content of herbal medicines. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. Volume 23, March 2014, Pages 19–21

Booth JN 3rd, McGwin G. The association between self-reported cataracts and St. John’s Wort. Curr Eye Res. 2009 Oct;34(10):863-6.

Burkhard PR, Burkhardt K, Haenggeli CA, Landis T.Plant-induced seizures: reappearance of an old problem. J Neurol 1999 Aug;246(8):667-70

Chung-Hsin Chen, Kathleen G. Dickman, Masaaki Moriya, Jiri Zavadil, Viktoriya S. Sidorenko, Karen L. Edwards, Dmitri V. Gnatenko, Lin Wu, Robert J. Turesky, Xue-Ru Wu, Yeong-Shiau Pu, Arthur P. Grollman. Aristolochic acid-associated urothelial cancer in Taiwan. Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, April 2012. Panax ginseng: A Systematic Review of Adverse Effects and Drug Interactions. Drug Saf 2002;25(5):323-44 Drug Saf 2002;25(5):323-44

Cupp MJ Herbal remedies: adverse effects and drug interactions. Am Fam Physician 1999 Mar 1;59(5):1239-45

Debelle FD, Vanherweghem JL, Nortier JL.Aristolochic acid nephropathy: a worldwide problem. Kidney Int. 2008 Jul;74(2):158-69. Epub 2008 Apr 16.

Douros, A., Bronder, E., Andersohn, F., Klimpel, A., Thomae, M., Ockenga, J., Kreutz, R. and Garbe, E. (2013), Drug-induced acute pancreatitis: results from the hospital-based Berlin case–control surveillance study of 102 cases. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

Emery DP, Corban JG Camphor toxicity. J Paediatr Child Health 1999 Feb;35(1):105-6

Ernst E Adverse effects of herbal drugs in dermatology. Br J Dermatol 2000 Nov;143(5):923-

Fugh-Berman A Herb-drug interactions. Lancet 2000 Jan 8;355(9198):134-8

M.L. Hoang et al., “Mutational signature of aristolochic acid exposure as revealed by whole-exome sequencing,” Science Translational Medicine, 5: 197ra102, 2013.

Huang WF, Wen KC, Hsiao ML. Adulteration by synthetic therapeutic substances of traditional Chinese medicines in Taiwan. J Clin Pharmacol. 1997 Apr;37(4):344-50

Kutz GD. Herbal dietary supplements: Examples of Deceptive or questionable marketing practices and potentially dangerous advice. General Accounting Office. May 26, 2010.

Lai MN, Lai JN, Chen PC, Tseng WL, Chen YY, Hwang JS, Wang JD. Increased risks of chronic kidney disease associated with prescribed Chinese herbal products suspected to contain aristolochic acid. Nephrology (Carlton). 2009 Apr;14(2):227-34.

Lawrence JD. Potentiation of warfarin by dong quai. Page RL 2nd, Pharmacotherapy 1999 Jul;19(7):870-6

Mangala, P. Study of Lead Content in Ayurvedic and Homeopathic Medicines Commonly Used for the Treatment of Cold, Cough & Body Aches. IOSR Journal Of Environmental Science, Toxicology And Food Technology. 2014;5(3):8-12.

Means C. Selected herbal hazards.Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2002 Mar;32(2):367-82

National Toxicology Program. Technical Report on the Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Gingko Biloba extract in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1/N Mice. March, 2013.

Victor J. Navarro, Huiman Barnhart, Herbert L. Bonkovsky, Timothy Davern, Robert J. Fontana, Lafaine Grant, K. Rajender Reddy, Leonard B. Seeff, Jose Serrano, Averell H. Sherker, Andrew Stolz, Jayant Talwalkar, Maricruz Vega, Raj Vuppalanchi. Liver injury from Herbals and Dietary Supplements in the US Drug Induced Liver Injury Network. Hepatology; Article first published online: 25 AUG 2014 DOI: 10.1002/hep.27317

Steven G Newmaster, Meghan Grguric, Dhivya Shanmughanandhan, Sathishkumar Ramalingam, Subramanyam Ragupathy. DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products. BMC Medicine 2013, 11:222

Nizsly N, Grizlak B, Zimmerman M, Wallace R. Dietary Supplement Polypharmacy: An Unrecognized Public Health Problem? eCAM 2010 7(1):107-113

Norred CL, Finlayson CA Hemorrhage after the preoperative use of complementary and alternative medicines. AANA J 2000 Jun;68(3):217-20

O’Connor A, Horsley CA. Yates, KM “Herbal Ecstasy”: a case series of adverse reactions. N Z Med J 2000 Jul 28;113(1114):315-7 Pittler MH.

S.L. Poon et al., “Genome-wide mutational signatures of aristolochic acid and its application as a screening tool,” Science Translational Medicine, 5: 197ra101, 2013.

Ernst, E Risks associated with herbal medicinal products. Wien Med Wochenschr 2002;152(7-8):183-9

Poppenga RH.Risks associated with the use of herbs and other dietary supplements. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract. 2001 Dec;17(3):455-77, vi-vii

Pies R Adverse neuropsychiatric reactions to herbal and over-the-counter “antidepressants”. J Clin Psychiatry 2000 Nov;61(11):815-20

Prakash S, Hernandez GT, Dujaili I, Bhalla V. Lead poisoning from an Ayurvedic herbal medicine in a patient with chronic kidney disease. Nat Rev Nephrol. 2009 May;5(5):297-300.

Raman P, Patino LC, Nair MG. Evaluation of metal and microbial contamination in botanical supplements. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Dec 29;52(26):7822-7

Ruschitzka F, Meier PJ, Turina M, Luscher TF, Noll G Acute heart transplant rejection due to Saint John’s wort. Lancet 2000 Feb 12;355(9203):548-9

Saper RB, Phillips RS, Sehgal A, Khouri N, Davis RB, Paquin J, Thuppil V, Kales SN. Lead, mercury, and arsenic in US- and Indian-manufactured Ayurvedic medicines sold via the Internet. JAMA. 2008 Aug 27;300(8):915-23.

Shad JA, Chinn CG, Brann OS Acute hepatitis after ingestion of herbs. South Med J 1999 Nov;92(11):1095-7 Smolinske SC J Am Med Womens Assoc 1999 Fall;54(4):191-2Dietary supplement-drug interactions.

Tachjian A, Maria V, Jahangir A. Use of herbal products and potential interactions in patients with cardiovascular disease. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 2010 55: A32 ,

H.-H. Tsai, H.-W. Lin, A. Simon Pickard, H.-Y. Tsai, G. B. Mahady. Evaluation of documented drug interactions and contraindications associated with herbs and dietary supplements: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 2012; 66 (11):

Wang JD, Lo TC, Chen PC. Increased mortality risk for cancers of the kidney and other urinary organs among Chinese herbalists. J Epidemiol. 2009;19(1):17-23. Epub 2009 Jan 22.

Zhang SY, Robertson D. A study of tea tree oil ototoxicity. Audiol Neurootol 2000 Mar-Apr;5(2):64-8

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13 Responses to The Harm Complementary and Alternative Medicine Can Do

  1. Pingback: Complementary and alternative medicine: an information resource | Gilgablog

  2. Pingback: How Important Was Acupuncture in Ancient China? | The SkeptVet Blog

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  4. Val says:

    Keeping in mind our biological (and overall) individuality, both standard and alternative medicine are prone to making the same mistake by professing “one-fit-all” principle. This is forgivable only in emergencies, immunization, prevention, where generalizing doesn’t harm. But Joe’s lung cancer is not Jane’s lung cancer. Joe may die from it no matter what treatment he takes; and Jane may have a spontaneous remission DESPITE any treatment. Well, we might say that their respective individual natures took their course.
    It’s easy to play with statistics in assessing possible outcomes. It’s also easy for one camp to attack the other : there is always plenty of ammunition available on both sides : from documented miserable failures of medicine, incompetence of a particular doctor, malpractice, medication toxicity…etc. to gullibility of patient, lack of “scientific evidence”, superstition, con-play…, what not.
    However, the basic problem remains overlooked: we are not statistics, and our cancer is not just a “lump of tissue to be dealt with” – but possibly a physical manifestation of a deep unresolved anger, loneliness, or other psycho-somatic factor; or a result of our sensitivity to a chemical that “normally” is not labelled as dangerous…or who knows what else that in our particular psycho-physical individuality spells trouble.
    In my younger days, I spent five years “testing the competence” of a whole list of doctors (including a psychiatrist) who couldn’t figure out why I had an incapacitating vertigo. Then I read a small book called “Sugar blues” and started eating protein breakfasts – and after two weeks I was not dizzy anymore. In all those five years no doctor ever asked me whether I had anything for breakfast – other than heavily sugared coffee. Some other dude could thrive on sweets, to me they caused a hypoglycemic misery.
    I am somewhat surprised at all this witch hunt against alternative modalities. Yes, you can make a fatal mistake by choosing a tea if you have an inflamed appendix. But on the other hand, if you have an ulcer, doesn’t a proper diet make more sense than Tagamet – regardless of the fact that Tagamet is “scientifically tested”?
    How is this helping medicine to have all “standard procedures” scientifically approved – if there is an almost mandatory list of side effects or other risks involved , liver being a usual target because of toxicity”?
    If two bona fide medicos of the same education come up with two different diagnoses/treatments, doesn’t that make of medicine an interpretive art rather than an exact science “resting on scientific, provable, repeatable evidence”? Likewise, if one doctor sticks to the mainstream reductionist, mechanistic “school”, and another one of the same education practices some alternative modality that puts some weight on patient’s psychological profile and forms of stresses involved – which one should look more credible in the confused eyes of an ordinary thinking dude in a need a medical intervention?
    Also, there is a growing number of doctors admitting that in a great number of cases placebo effect is the sole reason for the effectiveness of their treatments. Well, if there is any truth in that, maybe alternative medicine doesn’t really need any “scientific evidence”.
    All in all, we can always single out a sad case pointing at impotence of a treatment resulting with patient’s dying. But ultimately, what’s the difference whether someone dies from misdiagnosis, mishandling medications or test results, wrong medication, overdose, under-dose, – or they die from drinking too much of a herbal tea?
    I guess,politically correct answer would be : under doctor’s care – because it’s “officially THE ONLY health care there is”.

  5. skeptvet says:

    The basic idea that population data (statistics) don’t usefully inform the care of individuals contains a grain of truth and two major flaws. The truth is that of course one cannot perfectly predict the response of any individual based on knowledge gained from studies of groups. That said, the flaws are these:

    The Vegas Delusion- This says that statistics don’t apply to individuals or can’t be useful in making decisions. The odds of winning or losing at a game of chance are just statistics, and they can’t tell any individual gambler whether they will win or lose. But the overwhelming majority of gamblers lose, which is why casinos stay in a very profitable business. If you choose to gamble because you think the odds don’t apply to you, you might win, but you are far more likley to lose. Using the odds to guide your decisions is a strategy much more likely to work out for you than ignoring the odds.

    The same is true in medicine. If I know a drug helps 90% of patients and harms 10%, I can’t predict what will happen to any single patient. However, if I choose not to use the drug, I will harm far more patients overall than I help. Imperfect knowledge is still useful knowledge.

    The second flaw is the Snowflake Fallacy- Yes, we are all individuals and different from each other. But we are also very much the same, and the real issue is which differences matter. If you and I have different hair color, that is very unlikley to matter when we both have a wound infection and are trying to choose an appropriate antibiotic. Alternative medicine doesn’t “individualize” treatment any more than conventional medicine, it just claims things are relevant to what care an individual should have which aren’t proven to be relevant. Maybe changing what you had for breakfast affected your condition (I know you believe it did because of the timing), or maybe it didn’t, but the real issue in evaluating doctors is not whether or not they asked you about this but whether or not there was any sound reason they should have. If there is good scientific evidence this factor was relevant and they ignored it, that’s a problem. But if someone just asserts something is relevant without proof, as alternative medicine practitioners so often do), there is no reason for everyone to simply take their word for it and start treating this factor as important.

    As for the placebo, the big misunderstanding about that is that it doesn’t actually make your disease any better. Placebo effects can make you feel better, but that is only worthwhile if your disease isn’t actually still damaging your body. A study of asthma patients found that a placebo inhaler made them feel like they could breathe better, but their lung function was not improved when measured objectively, whereas the real inhaler did improve the underlying disease. Asthmatics who continued to use such a placebo therapy who suffer damage over time and end up far worse off than those who used a truly effective treatment (which, by the way, has the same placebo benefits as a treatment that does nothing). Placebos also require doctors to lie to patients about the therapies they are using, which doesn’t seem a wise road to start down.

    So I think there’s a bit of a middle ground fallacy here. There is a real difference in the liklihood of science-based medicine and alternative medicine making people better, and the evidence is strong that science-based medicine is the far better choice.

  6. Val says:

    When I mentioned “our biological individuality”, of course I didn’t mean the silly example of “differences in the color of our eyes”. Well, if we continue this nice discussion I hope to inspire you sufficiently as to give me just a tiny little more credit than that.
    I am 69, male, happily married for some 5 decades, have read some over thousand non-fiction books on human nature; served in rough Yugoslav army as a drill sergeant; emigrated twice; meditated for 4 decades, trained myself to produce alpha brain waves at will (call it “bliss” if you will). Recently I moved all three bedroom home furniture to this new home only with the help of my son. I have no pain, no discomfort, sleep like a baby, never had a headache in my life; no aspirin, no antacid, no preparation-H; and I haven’t seen any doctors for so many years. – This is not to impress you, or to make myself more credible – just to give you a basic idea where I am coming from. (From my experience: people like categorizing the author before thinking WHAT he said).
    I have from ever been an intellectual adventurer, never liked thinking “from the box”, always questioned my yesteryear’s ideas and my intimate paradigm; having dropped many a pet philosophy – keeping my mind open; heavily in the business of de-hypnotizing myself from the outside influences. The sense of freedom is phenomenal when we think for ourselves, not contaminated with the limiting and often crippling boogie-men of this culture market.
    In my long and modestly- studious life I have seen enough to believe that our mind plays a crucial role in prevention, and very often healing of a disease. By the way, it’s wrong that tissues won’t heal with placebo. Tumors of a size of an orange have disappeared almost overnight; eyesight has returned to normal; skin problems have disappeared… and the list goes on and on.
    You know and I know, and it seems to be a household knowledge these days that the Big Pharma won’t invest into studies which don’t bring them any profit. Simple business logic, isn’t it? It would be almost ridiculous to assume that they would in ANY conceivable way devote their efforts to find out how the mind can heal the body WITHOUT ANY OUTSIDE HELP OF THEIR DRUGS. (And their powerful hand in politics and education makes sure it stays that way). So there is a whole field, clumsily evolving without an official blessing in the shadow of “the scientifically sound modern medicine”, with only certain brave minds (of some big and impressive credentials) pushing for an alternative approach that doesn’t involve a scalpel and a pill. Imperfect, collecting the parasitic garbage of some con-artists that are giving it a bad name – but brave to explore.
    Why is it that people are massively turning to alternative medicine these days? Is it an “epidemics of a stupidity virus” – or people are even willing to take a possibly fatal risk of “diving into the unknown” after their bitter disappointments with modern medicine? There is this life saving and revolutionary message coming from the heart of alternative and energy medicine that WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR HEALTH. If you want to call people gullible for resorting to alternative modalities, how about turning it around a little. How about seeing them gullible because they believe that they can eat what they want, drink what they want, keep the attitude dictated by their negatively programmed “automatic pilot” – AND THEN JUST EXPECT THAT THE DEITY IN WHITE COAT WILL FIX ALL THAT WITH A PILL.
    There were other points I made in my comment that you didn’t want to touch. Like the “second opinion” which may suggest a definition of medicine as an interpretive art rather than an exact science. Or, how about the “toxicity of medications” and “medicine being the 3rd major cause of death in the USA and in Europe”? Is that the “80% that you trust”?
    Let’s try to be objective here : medicine doesn’t remove human appetite for self-destructive mindstyles and lifestyles. Medicine deals with symptoms, not causes. We can’t nonchalantly sweep under the rug everything said in that little book written by an MD (I think it was dr. Mendhelson): “Confessions of a Medical Heretic”. And we can’t call a “traitor” that fine medical doctor Lissa Rankin who stopped her practice upon feeling sorry for her patients and herself for not being helped by medical establishment. All that failure of modern medicine doesn’t fit under the umbrella of the nonchalant saying: “Medicine is not perfect”. (Would it pass as a defence in a court of law : “Sorry judge, but nobody is perfect”?) We can’t keep fooling the people that “it’s O.K. for them to take two dozen pills a day while continuing to hate their spouse/job/government/their past/self, and eating hamburgers” – to say it figuratively, not insisting on the full morbid picture.
    By the way, I find it amazing how reluctantly you accept the possibility that I cured myself by introducing some protein into my daily eating routine. “It could have been a number of other things, and this dietary change must have just coincided, or the time was the factor.”
    The above selective assessment is so typical of what I also hear about my current good health, my happy, flexible, easy going attitude, and some 10 years younger looks : “You must be just lucky”. “You must have good genes”. LUCKY? GOOD GENES? As a kid I had all possible sicknesses, I was an introvert cry-baby, my parents divorced when I was 9, I lived in poverty to the point of getting twice seriously sick on my lungs from undernourishment. No toys, no hobbies, (just school where I was excelling as an A-student DESPITE all that), with a childhood immersed in a constant family drama. By every text-book of physical and mental medicine, I should have turned into a ruin, possibly dead long time ago. Well, I guess the “color of my eyes helped some”.
    I understand it’s hard for certain people to see clearly – unless their personal experience has served as an eye-opener – that there is an enormous healing potential in the conscious choice and training of a right attitude, right emotional climate, with some smart choices in lifestyle, and the right belief system (as dr. Bruce Lipton would say). Relying on pills and scalpel is so limiting, so degrading to this creature capable of sending a spaceship to the moon, splitting an atom, what not. What a pity!
    P.S. – Not apologizing, just mentioning that English has been my second language, and my thinking capacity is not necessarily proportionate to my abilities to express it with this limited tool.

  7. skeptvet says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest you meant hair color specifically, I was simply using that to illustrate a general point. It is not enough to simply say “we are all unique.” That does nothing to inform the healthcare practices we use. It is necessary to identify specific differences that matter, since most do not. When people argue for “individualized” medicine, usually of an alternative nature, they never seem to provide any evidence that the specific differences theya re interested in matter, and without this evidence it is meaningless to claim one type of therapy works or is better than another because it accounts for “biologica individuality.”

    All the stuff about your personal history is interesting, but it really isn’t relevant to the issues we are talking about. “Categorizing an author before WHAT he said” is actually a form of bias, and isn’t a good way to get at the truth of what is being talked about.

    Your claims about the real effect of placebos on disease contradict the consistent findings of scientific research, so unless you can provide persuasive scientific evidence for them, I’m afraid I don’t accept them as true.

    Yes BIg Pharma does bad things. No, that’s not why there isn’t good evidence for alternative medicine. The burden of proof properly belongs with the people who make the claims, so if someone thinks an alternative therapy is effective, it is up to them to prove it. The Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association has raised $900,000 in two years for “research,” and the herb and supplement industries, acupuncturists, and chiropractors make billions in profts every year. You can’t blame Big Pharma for the failure of these folks to prove their claims.

    All the rest of your post is just an ideological statement about modern medicine with lots of unproven assertions. Yes, drugs have side effects. So does any therapy that does anything at all. And I have a post on this blog with hundreds of references showing the harm done by alternative medicine as well. The idea that alternative medicine is safer than science-based medicine is simply untrue. And no, medicine does not kill more people than it saves, we just have such short memories that we don’t remember polio or smallpox and we have forgotten that most of us are alive today because of scientific advances that occurred in the last century. People seek alternatives partly out of a misguided belief that they live in unhelathy times and environments when in fact we are the healthiest and longest lived generation in the history of our species.

    I do not have the time to rebut in detail every claim you make, especially since you make no effort to prove anything but simply assert “This is true” and expect others to accept that as enough. Your English is excellent, but your thinking about how we decide what works and what doesn’t in medicine is confused and ill-informed.

  8. Val says:

    It’s easier to find scientific evidence for modern medicine than for the alternative (and especially energy) medicine, for the simple reason that the former deals with tangible, measurable chemicals and consequently bodily reactions to them; whereas the latter deals with emotions, thoughts, and beliefs, for which there are no instruments to measure them and see their interactions with immune, endocrine, digestive and other systems. So we can’t prescribe a “dose of love” and see on echo-cardiogram how it is affecting our heart arrhythmia ; or, we can’t quantify the extent of harm done by anger from a blood test. Nowadays science’s stand about it goes somewhat like this: “Don’t seek an UNPROVEN modality to quiet down your anger; wait until your anger damages your liver, then come to us and we will give you some PROVEN medications for your liver. You may have to keep using it for the rest for your life, but it has been PROVEN to work. (If in the process of medicating your heart starts showing some symptoms, come to us and we will give you some PROVEN medications for your heart. The last thing you want to do is discontinue your anger and your medicating on account of some mambo-jumbo belief about your power to heal yourself.”
    I am surprised that you want “proofs” about things that are a common knowledge. For example, there is a simple line of logic when it comes to stresses of modern living which are AN AXIOMATIC MEDICAL FACT, NOT SOMETHING TO “PROVE”.
    So, as the logic would guide us, if the MOST OF modern ills are OFFICIALLY recognized as results of stress, why is it so hard to accept that any healing modality that would minimize that stress would also take care of the sickness at its core? I would not question your credentials and your competence in this matter; however, dr. Bruce Lipton is probably not less of an academic than you are, so I choose to believe when he says that on our cellular level our bodies constantly respond to the dominant set of beliefs about ourselves and about the safety of our environment, among the whole scale of other information that cells are constantly registering from our emotions, thoughts and beliefs. If you care, read about his SCIENTIFIC, OBJECTIVE, LAB WORK in the field of cellular biology. (Or, what is much easier, just call him a quack). I don’t have the knowledge and terminology to paraphrase his revolutionary findings. Furthermore, dr. William Tiller , a scholar in the field of quantum physics has all the story about the effects of placebo and nocebo better than I can narrate it, plus so many mind-boggling new discoveries which are way “out of the box” of the existing scientific paradigm. Likewise, his findings are not based on some sterile theorizing but on concrete lab work. As I am writing this, I am fully aware how you would have surely come across a whole bunch of these avantguard researchers of sound academic reputation – IF YOU ONLY WANTED TO EVER MAKE A SHORT EXCURSION INTO THE UNFAMILIAR – FAR FROM THE MAINSTREAM SECURITY ZONE.
    What I am trying to say here is that I don’t consider myself as “deceived” by some strange ideas of New Age that have no place in the whole matter discussed; but rather I am inspired by some credible pioneers in new fields of science whose voice is loud enough to be heard in the scientific community.
    Your insistence on the “burden of proof” is pointless, because you know that other than a massive – albeit anecdotal – evidence of its successes, alternative medicine has no way of “proving” itself in the lab. Should I remind you here that the effectiveness of most of drugs can’t really be explained? Do YOU know why aspirin works? Does anybody know? I guess it just satisfies you that it DOES work. And when a hypnotist tells a person that his warts are like crumbs of bread falling off his skin – and they DO fall, does it really matter “what mechanisms have been at work”? (Please don’t tell me that you want even this classic example of mind-over-body “documented”).
    I never said that medicine is useless. If you remember correctly, I gave an example of a hypothetical foolishness of a person with an inflamed appendix who would choose a tea over the emergency room. I am simply looking at the bigger picture where – hopefully some day – our health care would be a matter of our own informed care for ourselves, placing the full responsibility into our own lap – rather than resorting to doctors after messing up our cellular vitality.
    I am also surprised that you didn’t see my personal story as an indicator of “what is possible”, rather than dismissing it (possibly even as a “little ego-trip” of mine) as something that doesn’t belong to the topic of our discussion.
    Also, I never said that medicine, standard or alternative, should be tailored to fit our biological individuality. I tried to point out that we are not merely biological duplicates but much more complex beings; and this complexity often calls for a complex approach rather than a uniform treatment. If I may assert a little of my intuitive observation, as long as the core problem is not addressed, a patient’s symptoms may be “patched up” by medicine – just to reappear in some other form down the road. I am not theorizing, I have seen that time and time again.
    In other words, my main argument against modern medicine is its mechanistic approach to the complexity of the human condition which doesn’t simply respond to “milligrams of this or that chemical” as to make us whole again. I believe you won’t argue the fact that all medications are “foreign substances” in the first place, as they trigger this or that NATURAL healing mechanism. I still have to read somewhere how someone’s body got sick because it was “lacking Tylenol”.

    In my modest assessment, you seem to be intellectually married to the status quo, and the only improvements that you see down the road will stay in the familiar domain of pharmaceuticals, new electronic diagnostic gadgets, and new surgical procedures.
    Someone said : it’s no use to discuss religion; and even ancient Romans said: “De gustibus non disputabant est” – meaning: no sense to discuss tastes, in this case intellectual ones. Well, we all tend to wrap our brains selectively around our chosen concept of reality. So, the only “proof” I have for you is this obvious one showing itself through this little exchange of opinions: WE REALLY ARE VERY DIFFERENT. UNIQUE? MAYBE, BUT DON’T ASK THE PERSON IN THE WHITE COAT, HIS PRESCRIPTION PAD PREFERS UNIFORMITY.
    After all, it’s scary to place our faith into something unknown – so somebody has to be given the right to hold the bag with Truth.

  9. Art Malernee Dvm says:

    I am surprised that you want “proofs” about things that are a common knowledge. >>>
    Your definition of common knowledge would be you and alternative medicine true believers. The author is asking for evidence and you reply it is common knowledge.

  10. Val says:

    If anybody needs a “proof” that chronic stress lowers immune protection leading to anything from hay fever to heart disease – then there is not much we can discuss about. That’s what I called “common knowledge” – READ AGAIN AND SEE FOR YOURSELF! Also, anybody who would leave emotions, beliefs and attitudes out of the human equation resembles those proverbial three blind men describing an elephant – while focusing only on the physical aspect of man. Should I really go that far as to see it as a professional limitation of a vet who never heard a dog complaining about his “childhood traumas”, so he (the vet) doesn’t realize the enormous difference between a dog’s barking and the man’s complex intimate life potentially holding answers to his physical complaints. (Yes, I also have a little sense of humor so don’t take this as an offence).
    It’s interesting how people conveniently pick out only some parts of my comments and turn the blind eye on those parts that actually explain my positions much better.
    There is nothing what I said that would call for “proving”, because I basically mentioned certain fine minds who explore some alternative approaches to human health issues – that I DO admire; and I showed my personal example which was to suggest the possibility that nurturing right emotions, beliefs and attitudes benefits human health. I also studied hypnotism sufficiently to have a solid insight into general and daily role of hidden placebos and nocebos affecting man’s health. Again, read, get informed, don’t ask me to prove to you something that medical literature is loaded with.
    I am a result-oriented person, not a science preacher robotically cataloging, analysing, comparing, and otherwise juggling with dry data. I stand behind my beliefs with the way I look, I feel, and I act. And I admit – I don’t have (and I don’t really need) “scientific explanations and proofs” for the validity of what I do. I don’t need the sterile phraseology of science. Not that I could not play with all those silly long words of Greek and Latin origin. (I even studied Latin, LOL!) So I could talk and talk about stressful response resulting with elevated cortisol and adrenaline, with hyperactivity of sympathetic nervous system, neurotransmitters serotonin, gamma-aminobhutyric acid and dopamine dropping under the level of general equilibrium maintenance, with elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, blood ph going predominantly acidic…. – or why wouldn’t I just say STRESS SUCKS! so that all my critics understand what I am talking about. I don’t need all this parading with words, my beliefs and my knowledge are SHOWING. (You don’t get the photo though – my wife would go jealous, LOL)
    On the other hand, I have seen an obese cardiolog, a nervous, divorced, and generally unhappy psychiatrist, an alcoholic general practitioner, a balloon size child doctor, a chain smoker dentist…a garden variety of “smart guys with all scientific proofs under their belt”. (By the way I have also seen proponents of some forms of alternative medicine that made me laugh with discrepancy between their preaching and their appearance and acting). If they could not take a better care of themselves, what makes them competent to take care of many others? So, I don’t necessarily get intellectually intimidated by someone’s framed piece of parchment paper on the wall of their office.

    To make my position clear once again : I am not condoning any particular modality of alternative medicine, but I definitely (FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND SIMPLE OBSERVATION OF PEOPLE AROUND ME) know that there are more solutions to the human suffering in their heads than in the shelves of a pharmacy. Feel free to disagree – and let your own life prove me wrong.
    P.S./ I don’t really think you have what it takes to “refute” my points (“refuting” was a little ambitious word for you to use); so it’s O.K. with me if “you don’t have time for it”. Like the famous Roman orator Cicero advised his students: “When you are short of sound arguments – belittle the opponent”. (Tell him your time is too precious to bother yourself with him).

  11. Val says:

    At the brink of losing my interest for this blog for the obvious lack of some objective response (actually ANY response), I would like to add some icing on top of everything I have said so far. It’s hoping to reach the minds of those skeptics who have just enough scepticism in themselves to also be a little skeptical about their own skepticism.
    If you are not afraid of experiencing something like an intellectual shock, read the book by Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD called “Mind Over Medicine”, or look it up on Google and You tube just for a quick eye-opening.
    Of course, your first reaction will be to call the whole documented list of her proofs “anecdotal”. That’s fine. But my question is : if even a couple of human beings show how mind heals the body – isn’t it worth a MASSIVE study, not just here and there, with a great possibility that findings are “doctored” (altered) in favor of modern medical, reductionist establishment. If nobody ever showed they could grow wings, I’ll say it’s idiotic to think of such a possibility. But if only one human specimen shows that they could beat cancer, or any other illness for that matter by changing their beliefs, emotions, attitude, and thinking, I’ll ask where the hell are all these smart minds to get to the bottom of this “miracle” and mobilize everything available to make it work.
    I am bothered by the fact that the same kind of minds that invented radiation machine didn’t think of inventing something like a “hypnotherapy device” – in layman words: a device that would place a patient in a chair, attach some wiring to his head, bombard his brain with alpha/theta/delta waves…and “positively brainwash” him into a better set of beliefs by combining those frequencies with powerful, multi-layer suggestions that would override his existing sickening program. They could even help the process with some known hypnotic chemicals.
    Without claiming some silly “telepathic powers” I can sense how naïve I may sound by considering the possibility that the medical establishment would give up their biggest source of income (cancer treatment, heart surgeries,) by pursuing these new avenues of research and possibly finding all technological trickery to rewire someone’s unhealthy mind. Furthermore, if the nervous system is so close to our genetic profile and cellular intelligence, doesn’t it sound logical that we could produce healing on cellular level by changing the dominant mental routine – not superficially, not by ineffective act of will, but by some powerful technology; or even by a powerful placebo-therapy that has already shown results.

    Well, so much I wanted to offer for consideration to anyone whose mind is not frozen and stiff as to automatically reject anything new – just because it hasn’t been explored with the same zest and enthusiasm as the business of pills and scalpel has been.

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