Attack on Complementary Medicine
Dr Ross Walker
745

No, “complementary” medicine isn’t…

Nice try, Dr. Walker, but this isn’t how it works. Your argument for “complementary medicine” isn’t one, and I am almost sure, you know this. Which brings questions as to your motives, which I’ll touch on below.

For starters, however, let’s define medicine. Medicine is the practice of diagnosing, treating, and preventing illnesses. An easy sentence, yet one that encompasses almost everything. It’s Medicine to evaluate the harm and help of wearing a seatbelt, weighing the miniscule risk of injury from the seatbelt against a huge one from not wearing it, for example. In injury and illness prevention, “huge risk vs. small risk” always skews in favor of whatever poses the smallest risk.

This brings us to part two of what medicine is: an evidence based, research oriented, non-ideological, attempt at weighing risks and benefits and finding preventions, treatments, and diagnostic measures that are replicable and scientifically sound.

Easy, right?

In other words, if it’s tested, researched, weighed, tested again, and has been found to be replicable, it’s medicine. Not “alternative medicine,” not “complementary medicine,” simply medicine.

Medicine often includes research into, for example, phytochemistry. Pretty often, as in the case of digitalin (a “natural” extract from Foxflower, known as Digitalis or Lanoxin), this leads to the development of new medicine, that can be used to treat or prevent illnesses.

This happens after research has concluded the safety and efficacy of a substance or compound. Lanoxin was an oft-prescribed medication for atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation, and a few other heart related issues. Years later, studies prove that the survival of patients was not that positively affected, and better, newer, medications are now used as first line drugs, such as diuretics, beta-blockers and/or ACE inhibitors. That’s how medicine works.

You know that, you’re “an expert in the field of preventative cardiology and [have] published seven books.”

Yet, even after knowing that, you muddle the waters. You cite K12 studies, and you know pretty well: that’s not “complementary medicine,” that’s medicine, old-school and all, at work: research, theory, testing, predictability, replicability, side-effects, interactions, the works.

“Complementary” and “alternative” medicine don’t care about this scientific rigor. If they would, they wouldn’t be alternative or complementary, they’d just be medicine. By lumping one with the other, you’re doing medicine (and your profession) no favor, and strengthen a field, that relies on anecdotal “evidence” (the plural of anecdote is not data), “feelings” and trust in “ancient knowledge.”

You support a field, that causes deaths and injuries while being utterly unable to diagnose, treat, or prevent them. A field, that recently showed its colors in the deaths of ten children, and injuries to many more. A field, that makes billions of dollars by selling water, sugar, and “healing ray” magnets.

One, that not only does not pursue scientific clarity (if it would, it’d be medicine), but also actively attacks those who do. One, that declares its own offerings and ideas to be outside of the workings of the world as we know it, and unprovable, unverifiable, and inexplicable.

And that’s not enough. By pushing the “safe and not harmful” agenda, “complementary medicine” neglects to test itself against potentially harmful interactions.

St. John’s Wort, for example, is often prescribed mindlessly by “naturopaths” against mood swings (and, more harmfully, clinical depression). Why not? It’s “complementary,” right? If can’t hurt, it’s natural! So either it helps, or nothing changes? Sadly no. Real, actual, medical, studies, show that St. John’s Wort very significantly reduces the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.

While most over-the-counter versions now sport this warning in small print at the bottom, the preparate was sold for years without proper testing and research (“can’t hurt, right? It’s natural.”), with the predictable outcome. And, even today, medically untrained homeopaths and naturopaths continue to sell substances that have never been tested for their interactions or side-effects, or without knowledge that they have and have been found to have serious side-effects or interactions.

Your example of multivitamins is about as selective, as it gets. Here, I can do this too:

Evidence is insufficient to prove the presence or absence of benefits from use of multivitamin and mineral supplements to prevent cancer and chronic disease. — The efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplement use to prevent cancer and chronic disease in adults: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference

and

No difference was found in mean cognitive change over time between the multivitamin and placebo groups or in the mean level of cognition at any of the 4 assessments — Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial

and

Antioxidant supplements are not associated with lower all-cause mortality. Beta carotene, vitamin E, and higher doses of vitamin A may be associated with higher all-cause mortality. — Antioxidant Supplements to Prevent Mortality, emphasis mine.

“Evidence is insufficient” is code for “nothing happened.” And “let’s keep researching, because that’s what medicine does.”

In conclusion, dear Dr. Walker, your attempt at weakening the division between the unproven, untested, unverified, and the scientifically sound, is a shallow one. None of the “evidence” you bring for “complementary medicine” proves anything but the fact, that medicine has a wide field to research ahead of itself. That’s what it does. And once it has been found to work, its interactions and caveats have been established, questions about cost and benefit have been raised and addressed, it is part of medicine.

But you don’t prove, not for one second, the efficacy and safety of following feelings, untested ideas, or to trust in “ancient civilizations,” the ramblings of Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Vitamin Shills, and others. You prove, that medicine, not “complementary” or “alternative” works, and researches. Your prove, that we have things we can look into. You never prove, one second, that evading medicine and medical research is not harmful or even helpful.

A cautious trust in research and the scientific way, actual medicine, is likely warranted today. Trust in a feelings and mysticism based billion-dollar industry? Not so much.

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