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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Pseudo Alert! Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

by Dani Johnson

March 15, 2013

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Complementary and alternative medicine practices are harmful to society because they take money from cancer patients that they could be using on real cancer treatments that actually work. Doctors spend years in college and medical school and even longer in residency training to become as knowledgeable as they are about the human body and what diseases it can get and what can be done for treatment. The treatment provided by a trained physician has been studied, tested and proven to work as stated by the manufacturer and the FDA rigorously tests for effectiveness as well as potential side effects. Institutions that offer complementary and alternative treatments make claims that simply haven't been proven to work and not because people haven't been trying. Taking medicine that makes one sick and miserable all the time isn't exactly something that a person chooses on a whim and if it was scientifically proven that something as simple as Baking Soda could cure cancer I truly believe we'd all be replacing the medicines that once made us so miserable.

Complementary treatments are offered along with actual medical treatment and are usually recommended to relieve symptoms of the illness or original treatment. Alternative treatments are sometimes also offered along with actual medical treatment but are often offered as replacements for actual medical treatments and have the potential to be harmful to your health. Neither are proven to work and some are even known to cause more harm than good. Yet, for some reason they still make enough money to keep their deceptive businesses open year after year.

Complementary and alternative treatments are a waste of money and shouldn't even be neutrally mentioned by reputable medical institutions. Not everyone blindly follows what their aunt's sister's husband's co-worker tells them to do, some people try to research reputable treatment facilities to see what might help them feel better. It is bad enough that alternative practice facilities are abundant in big cities as well as small towns, reputable medical institutions have complementary and alternative treatment FAQ and information sheets posted on their websites with links to where to seek treatment and they only casually mention that these treatments are not proven to be safe or effective in treating symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments. Someone that is desperately seeking to save their lives and their money could easily be talked into trying alternative treatments arguing "what's the harm"? Well, the harm is that cancer treatments are extremely expensive, as are all diseases that require extensive medical treatment, and money that might be scarce shouldn't be wasted on something that simply doesn't work.

I agree that money is hard to come by and healthcare is markedly expensive, especially for someone who is terminally ill, but offering alternatives that do not work impedes progression towards a society that can offer affordable health care to its population. It would be better for people to focus their attention and effort towards finding ways to allow proper treatments to cost less and for healthcare to be more affordable for everyone in the long run.

There isn't one specific solution to harmful alternative therapies because there are so many people that fall victim to the tom-foolery. It is important to learn how to employ critical thinking so that one can be quick at realizing the flaws their logic and how to see the world of medicine as it is in reality rather than how pseudoscience portrays it to be. This is another reason why it bothers me so much to find that certain respectful health institutions have information on how to seek alternative or complimentary therapies and only casually mention that they are not proven to be safe or effective by the FDA or any other established source. They should be proponents in helping rid this society of cash-sucking alternative treatment institutions rather than letting them get away with what they are doing as long as it isn't causing direct harm.

Luckily, our own Brian Dunning has already covered How to Spot Pseudoscience in episode 37 of the Skeptoid Podcast, a 15 point checklist designed to help one figure out how to tell a false medical claim from a true one. "When you hear any claim about a new product, a new discovery, or some paranormal ability, run it through these fifteen questions and you'll get a pretty clear idea of whether or not it has any merit.", Dunning recommends. He ends the article with, "There you have it. With this checklist, anyone is well equipped to filter out the chaff from the wheat. Questions like these are what should be taught in schools, encouraging young people to begin looking at all the crazy misinformation in our world with critical analysis. The ability to tell fact from fiction is essential to our progress as a species as we search for the next great discoveries in medicine, space exploration, computing, power generation, and every other scientific field." I couldn't have said it any better.

Sources:

What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

Topics in Complementary and Alternative Therapies (PDQ)

Thinking About Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Guide for People With Cancer

Alternative cancer treatments: 11 options to consider

by Dani Johnson

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