So-called “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM or alt-med) is a nebulous collection of treatments that fall outside the realm of medicines and therapies scientifically proven to work. Though a $35 billion-a-year industry in the United States, complementary and alternative medicine consists of methods and substances that are at worst disproven, and at best unproven but unlikely to work. Efficacy and safety is the standard for medical science, and if “complementary” and “alternative” medical treatments were proven to work, and work safely, they would simply be called medicine.
Some examples of alternative medicinal treatments include: Homeopathy, acupuncture (see our report), acupressure, chiropractic, naturopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, herbal supplements/herbal medicine, Reiki, qigong, therapeutic touch, electromagnetic therapy, colonic irrigation, moxibustion, cranial sacral therapy, dietary supplements, megavitamins, water-birthing, prayer, and certain forms of meditation, among many others.
Despite extensive serious concerns about training and ability all 50 states, to varying degrees, license CAM/Alt-med advocates to practice in their states—including the license to write prescriptions. Many leave certification up to private professional organizations run by CAM/alt-med practitioners themselves, with no genuine scientific oversight. The situation is only getting worse.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Since 1992, taxpayer money has funded the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health, wielding a yearly budget approaching $130 million. Created with the vocal support of lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one purpose of the NCCAM was to determine whether any evidence exists to support the claims made for various alternative treatments. 20 years and nearly $2 billion later no evidence has been found to support the alternative medical treatments the NCCAM has studied. As a 2011 report by the Center for Inquiry made clear, even if the NCCAM may have served some purpose initially, there is no longer any reason for the NCCAM to exist. It now represents a massive misuse of scarce research dollars.
Some NCCAM-funded studies include:
- Whether coffee enemas (part of the infamous “Gonzalez protocol”) treat pancreatic cancer ($406,000)
- Whether distant prayer can cure AIDS ($666,000)
- Whether inhaling lemon and lavender scents helps wounds heal ($374,000)
- Whether massage helps treat advanced pancreatic cancer ($1,250,000)
- Energy healing ($1,180,000+)
A full list of NCCAM clinical trials can be found here.
Alt-med lobbying groups such as the American Chiropractic Association, Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium, and others have worked ceaselessly with their allies (such as Sen. Harkin) to win legislation friendly to the alternative medicine industry’s interests, and direct tax dollars (through NCCAM grants, Medicaid, Medicare, and the VA Health system) toward unproven and disproven alternative medical treatments.
During the debate and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), CAM lobbyists succeeded at inserting language (Section 2706) which requires CAM providers be covered by mandated health insurance plans, even though their treatments are not scientific, effective, and sometimes outright unsafe. Although there are questions about implementation, Section 2706 subverts the entire purpose of the ACA and should be repealed immediately.
In The Hospital
Under the guise of “integrative medicine,” alternative medicine has made inroads at hospitals, clinics, and even medical schools nationwide, including some of the most reputable. These therapies piggy-back on actual medicine, hiding their failure behind scientifically-proven medical treatments. As elsewhere, even in a hospital setting alternative medicine wastes time, money, and can lead to increased suffering and trauma for patients.
In The Drugstore
Homeopathic, herbal, and other alternative medicines litter retailers nationwide, often found on shelves directly alongside or interspersed with actual medicine. This presents a confusing situation for sick and desperate customers, some of whom may not be able to afford real medicine or medical treatment. Sometimes that confusion can be exceptionally dangerous, as with homeopathic “remedies” for life-threatening conditions such as asthma. For this reason CFI has petitioned the FDA to start regulating homeopathic products as they do all food and drugs.
Even away from the medicine aisle, one can find racks upon racks of herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and various vitamin concoctions.
The demand for alternative medicines, and the production of them, has led to the senseless slaughter of animals worldwide, including some of the world’s most endangered, whose body parts serve as ingredients. Elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, various shark species, and others have seen their populations decimated, in part due to poaching to feed the international demand for unproven and disproven remedies.
This section will be updated as news develops on this topic.
- ThinkProgress: Inside The Sleazy Business Of Cashing In On Americans’ Ebola Fears – October 17, 2014
- Cover My (Ineffective) Care: Homeopaths Demand Insurance Coverage of Disproven Methods – September 8, 2014
- Selling Pseudoscience: A Rent in the Fabric of American Medicine – September 4, 2014
- The Telegraph: Why Do We Believe in Homeopathy? – August 22, 2014
- WHO: “There is no evidence that homeopathy can cure Ebola.” – August 15, 2014
- The Scotsman: Complementary Therapy Risk to Cancer Children – August 12, 2014
- Science-Based Medicine: Chiropractic Scope of Practice Includes … Well, You Won’t Believe It – August 8, 2014
- Foster’s Daily Democrat: Complaint Filed Against Physician Over Treatment – August 1, 2014
- USA Today: Texas Medical Board Charges Controversial Cancer Doctor – July 25, 2014
- Forbes: New Medicare Data Reveal Startling $496 Million Wasted on Chiropractors – July 23, 2014
- Alternet: 4 of the Biggest Quacks Plaguing America with False Claims About Science – July 22, 2014
- The Washington Post: Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Belief in Autism-Vaccine Connection, and its Political Peril – July 21, 2014
- The Fiscal Times: Millennials Embrace Alternative Medicine, a $32 Billion Business – July 18, 2014
- The Burzynski Case: The FDA’s Failure to Prevent Exploitation of Desperate Patients – July 7, 2014
- CFI to FDA: Stop Burzynski’s Dangerous Cancer Treatments – July 2, 2014
- USA Today: FDA Gives Controversial Doc Green Light to Restart Work – June 26, 2014
- PolicyMic: America’s Favorite Weight-Loss Doctor Is in Some Serious Congressional Trouble – June 18, 2014
- The Hill: Dr. Oz’s Bad Day on Capitol Hill – June 17, 2014
- VIDEO: Sen. Claire McCaskill Grills Dr. Oz on Weight Loss Pseudoscience – June 17, 2014
- Committee for Skeptical Inquiry: An Intro to Homeopathy – June 4, 2014
- NeuroLogica: The Clinical Evidence for Homeopathy – June 3, 2014
- The Guardian: Homeopathy is Bunk, Study Says – May 30, 2014
- Information — What’s the Harm in Going to a Chiropractor?
- Information — Science-Based Medicine Resources
- Article — Alternative Medicine Providers Show Their Greedy Side
- Report — Review for NCCAM is Overdue
- Press Release — CFI and CSI Petition FDA to Take Action on Homeopathic Drugs
- Report (CFI) — End Federal Funding for Study of Alternative Medicine
- Position Paper (CFI) – Acupuncture: A Science-Based Assessment
- Press Release (CFI) — Coalition of Experts to FDA: Protect Cancer Patients from Burzynski’s False Cures