The History of Alternative Medicine

It’s time for conventional medical experts to prove the science behind their medicine by demonstrating successful, nontoxic, and affordable patient outcomes.

It’s time and energy to revisit the scientific method to deal with the complexities of alternative treatments.

The U.S. government has belatedly confirmed an undeniable fact that an incredible number of Americans have known personally for many years – acupuncture works. A 12-member panel of “experts” informed the National Institutes of Health (NIH), its sponsor, that acupuncture is “clearly effective” for treating certain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, pain following dental surgery, nausea during pregnancy, and nausea and vomiting connected with chemotherapy.

The panel was less persuaded that acupuncture is suitable as the only treatment for headaches, asthma, addiction, menstrual cramps, and others.

The NIH panel stated that, “you can find a number of cases” where acupuncture works. Since the treatment has fewer unwanted effects and is less invasive than conventional treatments, “it is time and energy to bring it seriously” and “expand its use into conventional medicine.”

These developments are naturally welcome, and the field of alternative medicine should, be pleased with this particular progressive step.

But underlying the NIH’s endorsement and qualified “legitimization” of acupuncture is a deeper issue that must arrive at light- the presupposition so ingrained in our society as to be almost invisible to all but probably the most discerning eyes.

The presupposition is that these “experts” of medicine are entitled and qualified to pass judgment on the scientific and therapeutic merits of alternative medicine modalities.

They’re not.

The situation hinges on the definition and scope of the word “scientific.” The news headlines is high in complaints by supposed medical experts that alternative medicine is not “scientific” and not “proven.” Yet we never hear these experts take the time from their vituperations to examine the tenets and assumptions of these cherished scientific approach to see if they are valid.

Again, they are not.

Medical historian Harris L. Coulter, Ph.D., author of the landmark four-volume history of Western medicine called Divided Legacy, first alerted me to an essential, though unrecognized, distinction. The question we should ask is whether conventional medicine is scientific. Dr. Coulter argues convincingly that it is not.

Throughout the last 2,500 years, Western medicine has been divided with a powerful schism between two opposed ways of taking a look at physiology, health, and healing, says Dr. Coulter. What we now call conventional medicine (or allopathy) was once known as Rationalist medicine; alternative medicine, in Dr. Coulter’s history, was called Empirical medicine. Rationalist medicine is based on reason and prevailing theory, while Empirical medicine is based on observed facts and real life experience – about what works.

Dr. Coulter makes some startling observations based with this distinction. Conventional medicine is alien, both in spirit and structure, to the scientific approach to investigation, he says. Its concepts continually change with the most recent breakthrough. Yesterday, it absolutely was germ theory; today, it’s genetics; tomorrow, who knows?

With each changing fashion in medical thought, conventional medicine has to toss away its now outmoded orthodoxy and impose the newest one, until it gets changed again. This is medicine based on abstract theory; the reality of the body must certanly be contorted to adapt to these theories or dismissed as irrelevant.

Doctors with this persuasion accept a dogma on faith and impose it on the patients, until it’s proved wrong or dangerous by the following generation. They get overly enthusiastic by abstract ideas and forget the living patients. Consequently, the diagnosis isn’t directly connected to the remedy; the link is more a matter of guesswork than science. This method, says Dr. Coulter, is “inherently imprecise, approximate, and unstable-it’s a dogma of authority, not science.” Even though an approach hardly works at all, it’s continued the books because the theory says it’s good “science.”

On another hand, practitioners of Empirical, or alternative medicine, do their homework: they study the patient patients; determine most of the contributing causes; note all the observable symptoms; and observe the outcomes of treatment.

Homeopathy and Chinese medicine are prime types of this approach. Both modalities might be added to because physicians in these fields and other alternative practices constantly seek new information based on the clinical experience.

This is the meaning of empirical: it’s centered on experience, then continually tested and refined – although not reinvented or discarded – through the doctor’s daily practice with actual patients. Because of this, homeopathic remedies don’t become outmoded; acupuncture treatment strategies don’t become irrelevant.

Alternative medicine is proven every single day in the clinical experience of physicians and patients. It absolutely was proven ten years ago and will remain proven ten years from now. According to Dr. Coulter, alternative medicine is more scientific in the truest sense than Western, so-called scientific medicine.

Sadly, what we see far too often in conventional medicine is a drug or procedure “proven” as effective and accepted by the FDA and other authoritative bodies simply to be revoked a few years later when this has been proven to be toxic, malfunctioning, or deadly.

The conceit of conventional medicine and its “science” is that substances and procedures must pass the double-blind study to be proven effective. But is the double-blind method the most appropriate way to be scientific about alternative medicine? It’s not.

The guidelines and boundaries of science should be revised to encompass the clinical subtlety and complexity revealed by alternative medicine. As a testing method, the double-blind study examines a single substance or procedure in isolated, controlled conditions and measures results against an inactive or empty procedure or substance (called a placebo) to be sure that no subjective factors be in the way. The approach is on the basis of the assumption that single factors cause and reverse illness, and that these may be studied alone, out of context and in isolation.

The double-blind study, although taken without critical examination to be the gold standard of modern science, is in fact misleading, even useless, if it is used to review alternative medicine. We know that not one factor causes anything nor is there a “magic bullet” capable of single-handedly reversing conditions. Multiple factors contribute to the emergence of an illness and multiple modalities must come together to make healing.

Equally important could be the understanding this multiplicity of causes and cures takes devote individual patients, no two of whom are alike in psychology, family medical history, and biochemistry. Two men, both of whom are 35 and have similar flu symptoms, do certainly not and automatically have exactly the same health condition, nor should they receive exactly the same treatment. They could, nevertheless you can’t depend on it.

The double-blind method is incapable of accommodating this degree of medical complexity and variation, yet these are physiological facts of life. Any approach claiming to be scientific which has to exclude this much empirical, real-life data from its study is actually incorrect science.

In a profound sense, the double-blind method cannot prove alternative medicine works well because it’s not scientific enough. It’s not broad and subtle and complex enough to encompass the clinical realities of alternative medicine.

In the event that you be determined by the double-blind study to validate alternative medicine, you find yourself doubly blind about the truth of medicine.

Listen carefully the next time you hear medical “experts” whining that the substance or method hasn’t been “scientifically” evaluated in a double-blind study and is therefore not yet “proven” effective. They’re just wanting to mislead and intimidate you. Question them simply how much “scientific” proof underlies using chemotherapy and radiation for cancer or angioplasty for heart disease. Truth be told, it is rather little.

Try turning the specific situation around. Demand of the experts which they scientifically prove the efficacy of some of the cash cows, such as for instance chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, angioplasty and bypass for heart disease, or hysterectomies for uterine problems. The efficacy hasn’t been proven because it can’t be proven.

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There’s no need whatsoever for practitioners and consumers of alternative medicine to hold back like supplicants with hat in hand for the scientific “experts” of conventional medicine to dole out a few condescending scraps of official approval for alternative approaches.

Rather, discerning citizens should be demanding of the experts which they prove the science behind their medicine by demonstrating successful, nontoxic, and affordable patient outcomes. When they can’t, these approaches must be rejected for being unscientific. All things considered, the proof is in the cure.

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