Thursday, 15 April 2010

Alternative Medicine: Alternative For a Reason

A little while ago I wrote a post about 'Settling it with science' talking about chiropractors wanting to sue Simon Singh for calling them bogus. Well I've just seen that the whole case has been dropped which made spurred me to write down my opinions on 'alternative' medicine.

Now most of you would probably assume you'd be able to spot alternative therapies a mile off, they're easy to spot aren't they? Not at all. In fact, some of them are genuine therapies that are just being used to treat things they have no business in treating. So here's some alternative medicine that I'll talk about here: Chiropractic, Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Naturopathy.
What annoys me most about these things is that they rarely try to complement traditional medicine as they'd like to claim, they actively suggest that traditional medicine doesn't work and that they alone have the master cure. Anyone who says, 'These things can't be tested using traditional science but they work because they made me/a family member/friend feel better', take the time to slap them across the face for me please. It's utter rubbish. If treatments don't work in a controlled trial with a placebo control, then they don't work, simple as that. Lets look two of the big ones:

Chiropractic: Possibly the most mainstream, even people who would consider alternative medicine to be rubbish still consider this to be somehow separate from the others. The truth, having your spine manipulated is no better a treatment than gentle exercise. The fact that bad back is such a hard medical problem for practitioners maybe makes chiropractors a appealing option, its a get out jail free card for a doctor who can't think of any further treatment. The patient feels like something is getting done, you assume that the clicking noise is your spine being fixed, it isn't, it has no medical benefit. Chiropractors say they fix 'subluxations' of the spine which cause all sorts of illness. Can you see a subluxation, say on an X-ray? Nope, they're invisible apparently. This is utter clap-trap, if you currently get chiropractic, stop, you're paying for a very expensive massage.

Homeopathy: Truly a ridiculous idea if ever there was one, yet the NHS shells out good money for these treatments, so what is it? Basically, homeopaths treat like with like, they use substances that give the same symptoms as disease for a cure. The twist, they say that water has memory, it remembers what you put in it, and if you dilute the substance to a ridiculous degree then the treatment is more effective. Of course water has no memory and you are in fact being sold treatments with no active ingredient. Interestingly, as opposed to the others, if homeopathy were to be true not only would medicine be wrong, but the entirety of physics. And yet around a quarter of Europeans use homeopathic treatments despite no research supporting its use, it makes no sense. You're healing yourself with water.

In general, if anything promises to 'heal your energy' or 'look after your aura' its garbage, stay well away. In the wise words of Dara O'Briain: 'Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairytale appeals to you.'

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