Hollywood musician “Cherry Teresa” recently ranted on her blog about how alternative medicine and its beliefs had harmed her, including how homeopathic “medicine” did not help with her sleeping problems, false information on vaccines and getting sick from cleansing to remove “toxins.” As a former believer in alternative medicine and other “new age” health care, she listed other problems she had experienced in such treatments, citing evidence-based sources, such as Science-Based Medicine and Quack Watch, to support her stance. While Cherry Teresa’s blog is anecdotal, it suggests to the public and her fans that they should take a deeper look into the mystical and ambiguous claims of alternative medicine, which is probably why it may seem more appealing than “standard” medical care.
Dr. Michael Shermer, Ph.D., founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-Chief of Skeptic, described several reasons why alternative medicine appeals to some people and why it has a market. On Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association’s online ethics journal, Shermer cited a 2002 survey from the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine that almost 75 percent of respondents “had used some form of complementary and alternative medicine,” but less than 12 percent had “sought care from a licensed or certified” practitioner. Thus, most people who uses alternative medicine are self-medicated or self-treated. The dominant therapy type was prayer (45.2 percent), followed by herbalism (almost 19 percent), meditation (7.6 percent), chiropractic (7.5 percent), diet-based therapy (3.5 percent), and mega-vitamin therapy (2.8 percent).
“One possibility is that people are turning to alternative medicine because their needs are not being met by traditional medicine,” Shermer wrote. Before the twentieth century, this was the case when traditional medicine was still considered barbaric by today’s standards. However, as science-based medicine progresses and refines throughout the twentieth century, it was safer to go to a doctor than a practitioner who chants and waves incense or a lizard tail to ward of evil spirits or humors. The old belief of avoiding a medical doctor continues to permeate among some of the public, which led to the propagandic ho-hum.
Shermer pointed out another reason why alternative medicine is more appealing than standard medicine: Tender loving care (TLC). “By this I do not just mean a hand squeeze or a hug, but an open and honest relationship with patients and their families that provides a realistic assessment of the medical condition and prospects,” Shermer wrote. Most physicians have become esoteric technicians and bureaucrats of “modern HMO medicine” that they may have forgotten the human side patient care.
In fact, a study that was published in Oncology Nursing Forum in 2011 showed evidence that TLC could make patients feel and recover better, even with sham treatments. Researchers wanted to know if Reiki therapy, a type of Japanese “energy work,” during outpatient chemotherapy is” associated with increased comfort and well-being.” In the randomized-control study, 189 participants received either real Reiki treatment by a trained practitioner who was also a oncology nurse, sham Reiki treatment in which an oncology nurse mimicked a real practitioner, and standard care. While those who received standard care did not improve significantly, both the real Reiki treatment and fake Reiki treatment both raised the patients’ comfort level (statistically) significantly. The researchers concluded that having a nurse providing one-on-one care was more likely the cause of the rise of the comfort level rather than attempting to create an “energy field.”
Unfortunately, even some of the smartest people in the world fall prey to alternative medicine than scientifically proven methods of treatments. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who passed away in 2011, was reported to have regretted his decision of trusting alternative medicine when he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. The Telegraph reported that he pursued self-treatments, including acupuncture, drinking “special fruit juices,” and other “treatments” he found on the Internet. By the time Jobs sought medical attention nine months later, the cancer tumor had spread beyond his pancreas.
While alternative medicine may sound appealing to some people with its mystical explanations and emotional appeals, the harms of buying into such claims instead of receiving standard care can cost lives and trust. “When I argue with my friends about alternative medicine, I don’t do it for malicious reasons,” Cherry Teresa wrote. “I speak out because I don’t want others to go through what I did. And I do it because I understand why people believe these things, so I hope it will help to speak from experience.”
By Nick Ng