Author revises summary of scientific evidence about complementary and alternative medicine

Posted 08 November 2023

Thomas J. Wheeler, PhD, a retired associate professor from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has published a 60-page revision of his Overview of Complementary and Alternative Medicine on the website of the Kentucky Council Against Health Fraud. The material was originally developed as the first in a series of handouts for an elective course that offered medical students a scientific look at alternative medicine. The topics addressed include:

  • general aspects
  • the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and its predecessors
  • common themes in alternative medicine
  • adverse effects
  • integrative medicine
  • functional medicine
  • regulatory agencies involved in health claims
  • organizations and websites promoting critical examination of alternative claims
  • legal and ethical issues
  • fraud and quackery
  • antivaccination efforts
  • antifluoridation efforts
  • critical thinking in evaluation of medical claims: philosophical issues
  • nature of science
  • scientific activities and methods
  • skepticism and
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Expert consensus on “alternative health care” risks developed

Posted 30 June 2021

A 17-member Canadian team has come to a consensus regarding: (a) how “alternative health care” should be defined, (b) ways it can harm patients directly or indirectly, and (c) its four major risk categories.

The team consisted of three physicians, four nurses, three pharmacists, two physiotherapists, one social worker, two lawyers (with expertise in harm, injury and case law), an epidemiologist, a naturopath and a chiropractor, each with at least 10 years of experience and an identified interest in “alternative health care.”

Their definition is:

The range of therapeutics that largely originate from traditions and theories distinct from contemporary biomedical science, and which claim mechanisms of action outside of those currently accepted by scientific and biomedical consensus.

The team distinguished direct harm from indirect harm:

  • Direct harm can result from: (a) prescribed (including self-prescribed) substances, (b) procedures, (c) reducing the effectiveness of, or causing detrimental effects
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Why SECTION27 and TAC are involved in a court case about complementary medicines

Posted 01 June 2020

28th May 2020 Tendai Mafuma and Julia Chaskalson

Those who manufacture or sell complementary medicines often make claims about what these medicines contain and all the diseases they prevent or cure. As the public, we might assume that the claims must be true since some authority would stop the sale of these products if the claims were untrue. Unfortunately that is not something we can take for granted.

A set of regulations published in 2017 tasked the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) with regulating complementary medicines – essentially so that the public can have confidence that these products contain what they are claimed to contain and that they do what they are claimed to do. This was an important step forward for the public’s right to know and right not to be misled by quacks.

But yesterday (27 May 2020) the Pretoria High Court Read the rest

‘Natural’ does not mean best, better or even good

Ivo Vegter • 7 January 2019

Daily Maverick

A pervasive myth has arisen around the word ‘natural’. When applied to food, medicine, cosmetics or cleaning products by marketing experts, it invariably implies not just a derivation from nature but also that it is better than manufactured alternatives. In fact, it often is significantly worse.

Marketers know very well that the label “natural” is a winner. “Natural goodness,” they’ll declare on an item of food. “Pure and natural,” they’ll gush, on face cream or body scrub. “100% natural, chemical-free,” they state on a hair conditioner. Millions of products and tens of thousands of books extol the virtues of everything from natural foods to natural remedies to natural health for dogs and cats.

Marketers, of course, have only one job. They get paid to make you buy more stuff. If their slogans, labels and taglines do not make a company more profitable, they are replaced. … Read the rest

Keeping therapies “complementary”, not “alternative”

Posted 2 August 2018

Medical Journal Australia 30 July 2018

IN 2013, a 21-year-old Spanish physics student, Mario Rodríguez, died of leukaemia after refusing a second round of chemotherapy in favour of “natural” remedies recommended by his homeopath.

In the wake of his son’s death, Mario’s grieving father, Julián Rodríguez, launched a legal action against the homeopath for reckless homicide and “professional intrusion” (essentially, falsely pretending to have medical knowledge).

The homeopath had prescribed 4000 euros worth of alternative medicines to Mario, including vitamins, fungi and alcohol, according to a report in the Independent.

He denied allegations he had claimed to be able to cure cancer, saying: “we train the body to enhance recovery and if cancer is cured, then perfect”.

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Alternative Medicine and the Ethics Of Commerce

Posted 16 March 2016

Scott Gavura, a pharmacist, publishes to his own website, Science-based Pharmacy. His articles, always thought provoking, are cross-posted to Science-based Medicine.

In this article, titled “The questionable ethics of selling complementary and alternative medicine”, he points out that like other critics, “I looked at CAM from a scientific evidence perspective, the one I was taught in pharmacy school, using the same approach I’d take when assessing a new drug. Did the evidence support the claims made about these products, or not? The answers, as you might expect, were often the same. There was little or no credible evidence to demonstrate CAM had any meaningful benefits”.

He and Professor Chris MacDonald of Ryerson University have now focused on the ethics of selling CAMS, now published in the journal Bioethics, a peer-reviewed paper on the same topic: “Alternative Medicine and the Ethics of Commerce.”Read the rest

Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work

Posted 10 June 2015

[quote]CAM remains, for the most part, “alternative” because its practitioners depend on subjective reckoning and user testimonials rather than scientific research to support what they do. They remain outside the scientific fold because most of their hypothesized mechanisms contradict well-established principles of biology, chemistry or physics. If CAM proponents could produce acceptable evidence to back up their methods, they would no longer be alternative-they would be absorbed by mainstream medicine.  [/quote]

I accidentally stumbled on this article while researching on another topic, ‘hidden’ in Internet Archive WayBackMachine. The article was written for publication in a special issue of Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (1999). The author, Prof Barry L. Beyerstein, makes a number of arguments that are still pertinent today.

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Registering bogus products with NNHPD of Health Canada

Posted 16 March 2015

Marketplace, an investigative television program shown on CBC (Canadian broadcasting corporation) applied for approval to market a homeopathic remedy they named “Nighton” to be used to treat fever and pain in infants and children. However the product was bogus. The program shows how easy manufacturers can register bogus products with  the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate. (NNHPD) of Health Canada.

The background to this and the video is available on the blog Science-Based Pharmacy.

Science-Based Pharmacy  has been critical for years about the lack of oversight where the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) is concerned. (The NHPD recently changed its name to the Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate. (NNHPD))

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Medicines rules are insulting to consumers

Posted 19 June 2014

This article, written by Leon Louw,  the executive director of the Free Market Foundation, was published online on Business Day BDLive. Some commentators have stated that this is “simply an ill-informed rant“, “sheer nonsense and ill-informed“.

Leon Louw writes: “Antagonists, such as CAMcheck, should be as free to denounce Cams as Cams folk are free to denounce both CAMcheck and aspects of mainstream medicine.”

We were going to write a succinct response, only to find that Prof David Gorski, writing as Orac, could respond far better than we could.
Quote: “However, it’s depressing in that it tells me that the bovine excrement reasons people use to defend CAM, including free market fundamentalist “health freedom” religion, are the same the world over.

Jacques Rousseau also weighed in.
Quote: “Far from reducing customer choice, the regulations enhance those Read the rest

Complementary medicines regulations – an interpretation

Posted 24 February 2014

René Doms is a registered pharmacist and also holds a law degree. He has been closely observing regulations pertaining to complementary medicine.

In this article, first posted to the email discussion group, DrugInfo, he shares his interpretation of the new regulations governing CAMS published in November 2013.

Read the rest