Support for alternative medicine
Advocates of alternative medicine hold that alternative therapies often provide the public with services not available from conventional medicine. This argument covers a range of areas, such as patient empowerment, alternative methods of pain management, treatment methods that support the biopsychosocial model of health, stress reduction services, other preventive health services that are not typically a part of conventional medicine, and of course complementary medicine's palliative care which is practiced by such world renowned cancer centers such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering (see Vickers 2004).
Advocates of alternative medicine hold that the various alternative treatment methods are effective in treating a wide range of major and minor medical conditions, and contend that recently published research (such as Michalsen 2003, Gonsalkorale 2003, and Berga 2003) proves the effectiveness of specific alternative treatments. They assert that a PubMed search revealed over 370,000 research papers classified as alternative medicine published in Medline-recognized journals since 1966 in the National Library of Medicine database (such as Kleijnen 1991, Linde 1997, Michalsen 2003, Gonsalkorale 2003, and Berga 2003).
Advocates of alternative medicine hold that alternative medicine may provide health benefits through patient empowerment, by offering more choices to the public, including treatments that are simply not available in conventional medicine:
"Most Americans who consult alternative providers would probably jump at the chance to consult a physician who is well trained in scientifically based medicine and who is also open-minded and knowledgeable about the body's innate mechanisms of healing, the role of lifestyle factors in influencing health, and the appropriate uses of dietary supplements, herbs, and other forms of treatment, from osteopathic manipulation to Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. In other words, they want competent help in navigating the confusing maze of therapeutic options that are available today, especially in those cases in which conventional approaches are relatively ineffective or harmful." (Snyderman, Weil 2002)
Although advocates of alternative medicine acknowledge that the placebo effect may play a role in the benefits that some receive from alternative therapies, they point out that this does not diminish their validity. Researchers who judge treatments using the scientific method are concerned by this viewpoint, since, according to standard controlled studies, it is an acknowledgement of the inefficacy of alternative treatments.
Danger reduced when used as a complement to conventional medicine
A major objection to alternative medicine is that it may be done in place of conventional medical treatments. As long as alternative treatments are used alongside standard conventional medical treatments, most medical doctors find most forms of complementary medicine acceptable (Vickers 2004). Consistent with previous studies, the CDC recently reported that the majority of individuals in the United States (i.e., 54.9%) used CAM in conjunction with conventional medicine. (CDC Advance Data Report #343, 2002)
Patients should however always inform their medical doctor they are using alternative medicine. Some patients do not tell their medical doctors since they fear it will hurt their patient-doctor relationship. However some alternative treatments may interact with orthodox medical treatments.
The issue of alternative medicine interfering with conventional medical practices is minimized when it is only turned to after the conventional medicine path has been exhausted. Many patients believe alternative medicine can help in coping with chronic illnesses for which conventional medicine offers no cure and only management. It is becoming more common for a patient's own MD to suggest alternatives when they cannot offer a treatment.
Criticism of alternative medicine
Due to the wide range of therapies that are considered to be "alternative medicine" few criticisms apply across the board. For more information about a particular therapy or branch of alternative medicine, including specific criticism, please refer to the following link: List of branches of alternative medicine.
Criticisms directed at specific branches of alternative medicine range from the fairly minor (conventional treament is believed to be more effective in a particular area) to incompatibility with the known laws of physics (for example, in homeopathy).
Critics argue that alternative medicine practitioners may not have an accredited medical degree or be licensed physicians or general practitioners. This cannot always be considered a serious criticism, because unless a new system of medicine becomes established, it does not receive accreditation of any kind, except by its own professional organizations. This is the route homeopathy, ayurveda, siddha, unani, and naturopathy had to follow in those countries where it is now offered by accredited institutions.
Proponents of the various forms of alternative medicine reject criticism as being founded in prejudice, financial self-interest, or ignorance. Refutations of criticism sometimes take the form of an appeal to nature.
Lack of proper testing
Although proponents of alternative medicine often cite the large number of studies which have been performed, critics point out the fact that there are no statistics on exactly how many of these studies were controlled, double-blind peer-reviewed experiments or how many produced results supporting alternative medicine or parts thereof. They contend that many forms of alternative medicine are rejected by conventional medicine because the efficacy of the treatments has not been demonstrated through double-blind randomized controlled trials. Some skeptics of alternative practices point out that a person may attribute symptomatic relief to an otherwise ineffective therapy due to the natural recovery from or the cyclical nature of an illness (the regression fallacy), the placebo effect, or the possibility that the person never originally had a true illness .
Problems with known tests and studies
Critics contend that observer bias and poor study design invalidate the results of many studies carried out by alternative medicine promoters.
A review of the effectiveness of certain alternative medicine techniques for cancer treatment (Vickers 2004), while finding that most of these treatments are not merely "unproven" but are proven not to work, notes that several studies have found evidence that the psychosocial treatment of patients by psychologists is linked to survival advantages (although it comments that these results are not consistently replicated). The same review, while specifically noting that "complementary therapies for cancer-related symptoms were not part of this review", cites studies indicating that several complementary therapies can provide benefits by, for example, reducing pain and improving the mood of patients.
Some argue that less research is carried out on alternative medicine because many alternative medicine techniques cannot be patented, and hence there is little financial incentive to study them. Drug research, by contrast, can be very lucrative, which has resulted in funding of trials by pharmaceutical companies. Many people, including conventional and alternative medical practitioners, contend that this funding has led to corruption of the scientific process for approval of drug usage, and that ghostwritten work has appeared in major peer-reviewed medical journals. (Flanagin et al. 1998, Larkin 1999). Increasing the funding for research of alternative medicine techniques was the purpose of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NCCAM and its predecessor, the Office of Alternative Medicine, have spent more than $200 million on such research since 1991. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices Commission E has studied many herbal remedies for efficacy. 
Critics contend that "dubious therapies can cause death, serious injury, unnecessary suffering, and disfigurement"  and that some people have been hurt or killed directly from the various practices or indirectly by failed diagnoses or the subsequent avoidance of conventional medicine which they believe is truly efficacious .
Alternative medicine critics agree with its proponents that people should be free to choose whatever method of healthcare they want, but stipulate that people must be informed as to the safety and efficacy of whatever method they choose. People who choose alternative medicine may think they are choosing a safe, effective medicine, while they may only be getting quack remedies. Grapefruit seed extract is an example of quackery when multiple studies demonstrate its universal antimicrobial effect is due to synthetic antimicrobial contamination.
Delay in seeking conventional medical treatment
They state that those who have had success with one alternative therapy for a minor ailment may be convinced of its efficacy and persuaded to extrapolate that success to some other alternative therapy for a more serious, possibly life-threatening illness. For this reason, they contend that therapies that rely on the placebo effect to define success are very dangerous.
Danger can be increased when used as a complement to conventional medicine
A Norwegian multicentre study examined the association between the use of alternative medicines (AM) and cancer survival. 515 patients using standard medical care for cancer were followed for eight years. 22% of those patients used AM concurrently with their standard care.
The study revealed that death rates were 30% higher in AM users than in those who did not use AM: "The use of AM seems to predict a shorter survival from cancer."
Associate Professor Alastair MacLennan of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in Adelaide University, Australia reports that  a patient of his almost bled to death on the operating table. She had failed to mention she had been taking "natural" potions to "build up her strength" for the operation - one of them turned out to be a powerful anticoagulant which nearly caused her death.
Danger from undesired side-effects
Conventional treatments are thoroughly checked for undesired side-effects, whereas alternative treatments are normally not.[verification needed] Any alternative treatment that has a biological or psychological impact may also have potentially dangerous biological or psychological side-effects. Attempts to refute this sometimes use the appeal to nature fallacy, i.e. "that what is natural cannot be harmful".
Danger related to self-medication
Similar problems as those related to self-medication also apply to parts of alternative medicine. For example, an alternative medicine may instantly make problems better, but actually worsen problems in the long run. The result may be addiction and deteriorating health.
Issues of regulation
Critics contend that some branches of alternative medicine are often not properly regulated in some countries to identify who practices or know what training or expertise they may possess. Critics argue that the governmental regulation of any particular alternative therapy does necessitate that the therapy is effective.
Main article: Evidence-based medicine
Evidence-based medicine (EBM) applies the scientific method to medical practice, and aims for the ideal that healthcare professionals should make "conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence" in their everyday practice.
Prof. Edzard Ernst is a notable proponent of applying EBM to CAM.
1. ^ What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?. Retrieved on 2006-07-11.
2. ^ Snyderman, R.; Weil, A. T. (2002-02-25). "Integrative Medicine: Bringing Medicine Back To Its Roots". Archives of Internal Medicine. Retrieved on 2006-07-11. PMID 11863470
3. ^ "There cannot be two kinds of medicine - conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset. If it is found to be reasonably safe and effective, it will be accepted." Angell M, Kassirer JP, Alternative medicine--the risks of untested and unregulated remedies. N Engl J Med 1998;339:839.
4. ^ alternative medicine Function: noun: "any of various systems of healing or treating disease (as chiropractic, homeopathy, or faith healing) not included in the traditional medical curricula taught in the United States and Britain." Merriam-Webster Online; retrieved from www.m-w.com on 5 August 2006.
5. ^ Dawkins, Richard (2003). A Devil's Chaplain. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
6. ^ The Cochrane Collaboration Complementary Medicine Field, www.compmed.umm.edu/Cochrane/index.html. Retrieved 5 August 2006.
7. ^ The HealthWatch Award 2005: Prof. Edzard Ernst Complementary medicine: the good the bad and the ugly. www.healthwatch-uk.org/awardwinners/edzardernst.html, retrieved 5 August 2006
8. ^ "Complementary medicine is diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which complements mainstream medicine by contributing to a common whole, by satisfying a demand not met by orthodoxy or by diversifying the conceptual frameworks of medicine." Ernst et al British General Practitioner 1995; 45:506
9. ^ Barnes, P. M.; Powell-Griner, E.; McFann, K.; Nahin, R. L. (2004). "Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults: United States, 2002". National Center for Health Statistics.
10. ^ Ganzera M, Aberham A, Stuppner H. Development and validation of an HPLC/UV/MS method for simultaneous determination of 18 preservatives in grapefruit seed extract. Institute of Pharmacy, University of Innsbruck, Innrain 52, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 May 31;54(11):3768-72. Abstract
11. ^ Takeoka, G., Dao, L., Wong, R.Y., Lundin, R., Mahoney N. Identification of benzethonium chloride in commercial grapefruit seed extracts. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 49(7):3316–20. Abstract
12. ^ von Woedtke, T., Schlüter, B., Pflegel, P., Lindequist, U.; Jülich, W.-D. Aspects of the antimicrobial efficacy of grapefruit seed extract and its relation to preservative substances contained. Pharmazie 1999 54:452–456. Abstract
13. ^ Sakamoto, S., Sato, K., Maitani, T., Yamada, T. Analysis of components in natural food additive “grapefruit seed extract” by HPLC and LC/MS. Bull. Natl. Inst. Health Sci. 1996, 114:38–42. Abstract
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15. ^ Risberg T, et al. Does use of alternative medicine predict survival from cancer? Eur J Cancer 2003 Feb;39(3):372-7 
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* WHO Global Atlas of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine
 Journals dedicated to alternative medicine research
* Alternative therapies in health and medicine. Aliso Viejo, CA : InnoVision Communications, c1995- NLM ID: 9502013
* Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic. Sandpoint, Idaho : Thorne Research, Inc., c1996- NLM ID: 9705340
* BMC complementary and alternative medicine. London : BioMed Central, 2001- NLM ID: 101088661
* Complementary therapies in medicine. Edinburgh ; New York : Churchill Livingstone, c1993- NLM ID: 9308777
* Evidence based complementary and alternative medicine
* Evidence Based journal of Integrative medicine
* Journal of Integrative medicine.
* The journal of alternative and complementary medicine : research on paradigm, practice, and policy. New York, NY : Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., c1995- NLM ID: 9508124
* Journal of alternative & complementary medicine. London : Argus Health Publications, c1989- NLM ID: 9883124
* Journal for Alternative and Complementary Medicine
* Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (SRAM)
Other works that discuss alternative medicine
* Ninivaggi, F. J., An Elementary Textbook of Ayurveda: Medicine with a Six Thousand Year Old Tradition, International Universities/Psychosocial Press, Madison, CT, 2001.
* Diamond, J. Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, 2001, ISBN 0-09-942833-4 , foreword by Richard Dawkins reprinted in Dawkins, R., A Devil's Chaplain, 2003, ISBN 0-7538-1750-0 .
* Rosenfeld, Anna, Where Do Americans Go for Healthcare?", Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
* Planer, Felix E. 1988 Superstition, Revised ed. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books
* Hand, Wayland D. 1980 "Folk Magical Medicine and Symbolism in the West", in Magical Medicine, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 305-319.
* Phillips Stevens Jr. Nov./Dec. 2001 "Magical Thinking in Complementary and Alternative Medicine", Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, Nov.Dec 2001
* Illich, Ivan. Limits to Medicine. Medical Nemesis: The expropriation of Health. Penguin Books, 1976.
* Dillard, James and Terra Ziporyn. Alternative Medicine for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1998.
* Pert, Candace B., Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, Scribners, 1997, ISBN 0-684-84634-9
* Trudeau, Kevin, More Natural "Cures" Revealed, Alliance Publishing Group, 2006, ISBN 0-9755995-4-2.
* Wisneski, Leonard A. and Lucy Anderson, The Scientific Basis of Integrative Medicine, CRC Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8493-2081-X.
* Pine Street Foundation - Center for integrative approaches to cancer research
* The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine - US National Institutes of Health
* Complementary and Alternative Medicine on PubMed - Alternative Medicine Research Database
* Web pages for new BBC/Open University television series "Alternative Medicine" that examines the evidence scientifically.
* The British Library - finding information on the complementary medicines industry
* Database on Traditional Chinese Herbalism (www.rootdown.us)
* A Different Way to Heal? - Scientific American Frontiers Web
* What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine? - By Steven Novella MD
* Skepdic Article on Alternative Medicine
* NCAHF Resource Documents - Includes a list of alternative medicine modalities with links to articles relating to them
* Index of Questionable Treatments - Includes a list of alternative medicine modalities and links to articles relating to them
* Who Gets to Validate Alternative Medicine - PBS article