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Is alternative medicine effective?
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Alternative medicine makes people feel better

Many people swear by alternative medicine for having helped to ease symptoms or even cure diseases.
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The Argument

There are nearly 200 different forms of healing modalities under the CAM umbrella , springing from a considerable diversity of theories, philosophies and therapies.[1] The common beliefs underpinning CAM include ideas of self-healing, working with (rather than against) symptoms, individuality, no fixed beginning or ending but a continuum of wellness/illness and conformity to the universal principles. [1] They include therapies based on touch or manipulation (e.g. chiropractic), diet and herbs, influencing 'energy fields' (such as reiki or magnetic therapy), mind therapies (e.g. meditation or hypnosis), naturopathy, aromatherapy, balneotherapy (e.g. warm water such as health spas), biofeedback, and homeopathy. Homeopathy is based on the principle of treating “like with like,” meaning a substance that causes adverse reactions when taken in large doses can be used - in small amounts - to treat those same symptom. Alternative medicine systems have existed for millennia long before orthodox medicine, for example Ayurveda, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago.[2][3] People who use CAM express very high levels of satisfaction with them.[4] Alternative or complementary medicines satisfy a demand not met by orthodox medicine.[5] An estimated 40% of people (in USA) use some sort of complementary or alternative medicine.[6][7]

Counter arguments

It is difficult to use scientific methods to check whether alternative medicine makes a difference – very few high quality studies of alternative therapies exist and none of these showed that they work.[8] Conventional medicines undergo rigorous testing and must show safety and benefit before they are made available for public use. While in use, they continue to be tested to check if any harms occur. If any harms outweigh the benefits, then the medicine is withdrawn from the market. Many CAM such as balneotherapy (warm water such as spas), meditation and biofeedback are all based on relaxation which does benefit multiple physical and mental illnesses. Others involve diet and herbs. The healing property of herbs are proven and accepted and were the way many orthodox medicines were discovered. There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.[2]


Nature has intrinsic healing powers. People should be free to choose whatever method of healthcare they want.


[P1] Alternative medicine describes a large collection of treatments. [P2] These treatments have been shown to work for many people.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] These medicines have not been categorically proven to work - if they had, they would be part of orthodox medicine.

Further Reading

Astin, J.A. (1998) Why patients use alternative medicine: Results of a national study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 279(19), 1548–1553 Ernst E et al. (1995) Complementary medicine — a definition. British Journal of General Practice, 45, 506 Ernst, E. (2000) Prevalence of use of complementary/alternative medicine: A systematic review. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 78(2) 252-257 Fulder, S. (1998) The basic concepts of alternative medicine and their impact on our views of health. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 8(4),148–150 Furnham, A. and Smith, C. (1988) ‘Choosing alternative medicine: a comparison of the patients visiting a GP and a homoeopath’, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 26, pp. 685–7 Hall, H., Brosnam, C., Frawley, J. et al . (2018) Nurses’ communication regarding patients’ use of complementary and alternative medicine. Collegian, 25(3) 285-291 Nguyen, Long & Davis, Roger & Kaptchuk, Ted & Phillips, Russell. (2010). Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Self-Rated Health Status: Results from a National Survey. Journal of general internal medicine. 26. 399-404. 10.1007/s11606-010-1542-3 Pandey, M., Rastogi, S. & Rawat, A. (2013) Indian traditional Ayurvedic system of medicine and nutritional supplementation. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Tonob, D. & Melby, M. (2017) Broadening our perspectives on complementary and alternative medicine for menopause: A narrative review. Maturitas, 79-85.


This page was last edited on Wednesday, 15 Apr 2020 at 07:34 UTC

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