Does Holistic Medicine Work?

holistic medicine
Advances in medical science have doubled life expectancy in the last century. In recent years, however, there has been a growing trend among Americans to distrust the pharmaceutical industry. Some people who refrain from vaccines go so far to argue that the pharmaceutical industry seeks to maximize profit rather than public health. In light of this reasoning, more and more people are reverting to alternative and complementary medicine (ACM) or “holistic” medicine to treat their health conditions.

Holistic medicine uses a wide range of therapies, such as acupuncture and homeopathy, to treat various illnesses. In particular, holistic medicine seeks to treat the “mind, body and soul.” Holistic medicine argues that all illnesses, from cancer to the occasional migraine, are the result of an imbalance between these domains. In an effort to restore this balance, holistic medicine champions meditation over medication.

It is important to mark the distinction between alternative medicines versus complimentary medicines. Complimentary medicine is any therapy that is integrated into a medically prescribed treatment. Alternative medicine abandons medical treatment in substitute of its own remedies.

There are a variety of reasons why many people choose holistic medicine over traditional medicine. As referenced earlier, on the extreme end are those who argue that the pharmaceutical industry seeks to maximize public illness rather than health in order to gain a profit. The problem with this reasoning is that the same reasoning can be applied to holistic medicine. It could be argued that the holistic medicine markets false hopes and feeds on the gullibility of the terminally ill. In order to determine who the charlatan is, we must appeal to the scientific, peer review process.

The problem is that ACMs lack any sort of peer review study. For example, a patient will claim that they took an herbal remedy, got better; therefore, the herbal remedy works. The problem with this reasoning is that it is much more likely that the malady in question would have gotten better anyways, like a bacterial infection or cold. Sometimes the remedy is due to the placebo effect. And occasionally, the product actually does positively contribute to the patient’s health. Nevertheless, it is precisely because of these conflicting possibilities that scientific study, rather than individual hearsay, is most needed. If AMCs worked, then they would simply be dubbed as medicine.

So why are so many people attracted to holistic medicine? A part from conspiracy theorists, holistic medicine is much more patient centered than the medical industry. In particular, the philosophy behind holistic medicine—that all illness can be cured through proper meditation—gives the patient a sense of control. All one need to do is find the proper balance the mind, body and soul. Unfortunately, this reasoning can be dangerous. Many patients gain a false sense of hope and are unable to cope with the reality of their illness.

Natural remedies do have their place in science. A diet consisting of nuts, fruits and vegetables can extend human longevity. In addition, medicine has its own term for finding a balance between the mind, body and soul. Doctors calls this “moderation.” In short: If one really wants to keep the doctor away, one would be best advised to listen to the health advice of an actual doctor.

By Nathan Cranford

USA Today

2 Responses to "Does Holistic Medicine Work?"

  1. Pablo   March 15, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Kathy, there’s so much wrong with your response it’s difficult to know where to start.

    OK, I’ll begin with the placebo effect. There is no suggestion that it only effects those who might be ‘psychologically impaired’ as you put it. A placebo is such a peculiar thing, it can work even if you KNOW its a placebo and the intelligence of the users seems to have no bearing. In addition there are more reasons why you might get better after taking an ineffective treatment than the placebo effect. You might have been going to get better anyway, you might have changed your diet or be getting the rest you need. Regression to the mean and confirmation bias might take a huge role.

    So how can we tell the working medicine from the ineffective if personal experience can be unreliable?. Well trials are a way. Randomize a group of people, make the users and the prescribers and analyzers unaware who is getting what and you have a better method less susceptible to bias and error. The larger the group the better the result.

    Of course when this is done so many holistic treatment fail, and that is why they are often so ridiculed. Along with the science defying principles behind some of them.

    And it’s a nonsense to say there isn’t the money for research. (or use $ signs if you want to make an emotive rather than poignant remark) Holistic treatment is a multi-billion dollar business.

    Then pointing to the failings of real medicine is another slight of hand trick used to promote holistic treatments that just doesn’t hold water. You remedy can have an effect or it can’t. The failings of other treatment are not relevant, any more that the failings of my car effect the magic teleporter I claim to have invented.

  2. Kathy   March 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Holistic Medicine doesn’t have sufficient official peer review studies because there’s not any $$$$ in funding those reviews. Who is going to fund millions to do the research when they can’t make money from it?

    The lack of official peer review is NOT an indicator as to whether or not a particular Holistic Medicine solution works or not. It’s false to state that simply because no one will pay for expensive peer review studies that somehow infers that the holistic medicine is not effective. It’s also unprofessional to imply that people who take it anyway are somehow psychologically impaired (aka, falling for the placebo effect).

    You want “peer reviews”? Talk to the millions of people who traditional medicine “fails” and who have found immediate relief through holistic means. I bet we could crowdsource sufficient detailed examples of where holistic solutions have worked.

    For example, I have a holistic solution that ALWAYS gets rid of stomach flu or food poisoning within 15-20 minutes. Works for me every time. I get immediate relief, then I watch people with the same flu suffer for days because they are too proud or don’t want to look silly using a holistic remedy.

    Feel free to continue to think of me as a psychologically impaired wacko if you want, but I’ll always go for the holistic remedy first at this point because it’s rarely failed me like traditional medicine has.


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