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Is alternative medicine effective?
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Alternative medicine works because of the placebo effect

The thing that makes alternative medicine 'work' is a simple placebo effect.

The Argument

Many alternative treatments seem to work, but this is due to belief that it will work rather than an actual clinical effect. This is called the placebo effect, which is when a patient’s condition seems to improve after receiving a treatment with no actual medicinal benefit. This appears to work due to a combination of how the intervention is administered and the expectations the patient might have of the treatment itself.[1] The beneficial health outcome results from a person’s anticipation that an intervention will help.[2] When the belief in the value of an alternative therapy is strong, this can account for the success of a treatment even if scientifically it may not be accepted. How placebos work is still not quite understood, but it involves a complex neurobiological reaction that includes everything from increases in feel-good neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine, to greater activity in certain brain regions linked to moods, emotional reactions, and self-awareness. All of it can have a therapeutic benefit.[3]

Counter arguments

It is the alternative therapy that makes the difference - it is not simply a placebo. Additionally, orthodox medicine has been shown to have a placebo effect also.



[P1] The placebo accounts for 50% of the benefit of any treatment. [P2] Any benefit from alternative medicine is due to the placebo effect.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The placebo effect occurs with orthodox medicine too. [Rejecting P2] It therefore does not disprove the benefits of CAM.

Further Reading

Jütte, R. (2013) The early history of the placebo. Complementary Therapy Medicine, 21(2):94-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2012.06.002.


This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 08:43 UTC

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