Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

The Homeopathist Will See You Now

Is there really such a thing as “alternative medicine”?  A recent estimate suggested it’s a market worth over $60 billion dollars worldwide.  In the UK, one in five consumers put their faith in it;  $340 million of worldwide spending comes from Brits alone, whose future king Prince Charles – a true believer – suggests that alternative treatments manifestly “work”, and should be trusted implicitly rather than being regulated, or even subjected to scientific scrutiny.

This is hokum, and the heir to the British throne should know better.  Alternative and “complementary” medicines are immensely popular, but for the most part do not work.  According to the encyclopedic Guide to Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, only five percent of the remedies tested produced a statistically verifiable benefit.  It could be argued that the ‘alternative’ market does not really exist, since pills, potions and salves that alleviate or cure diseases are medicines, and should be regulated as such.  If they don’t work, they are not medicines in the first place.

Except that...

...Except that, in order to assess whether these pills and potions “work”, we need to address the placebo effect.  This is the strange and poorly-explained fact that some medical conditions in certain patients seem to respond to anything that the sufferer thinks is doing him/her good.  This can happen even when the treatment has been scientifically proven to have no effect on the disease concerned.  Indeed, it can happen when the “treatment” is no more than a combination of sugar, chalk and water.

Experiments have shown that prescribing placebos can offer real relief in nerve-related complaints like depression and pain.  There is also a growing body of evidence that a healthy and positive mental attitude can boost a person’s immune system, and that placebo ‘medications’ can contribute to this effect.

Does this mean that quack medicines can claim some kind of spurious efficacy, to justify the huge sums of money people spend on them?  Pi thinks that’s a stretch.

A hidden factor, however, could be the tendency among alternative medicine practitioners to spend more time and care chatting with patients, compared with their opposite numbers in real hospitals and medical clinics.  Some patients don’t want to be brusquely sent home with unpalatable scientific truths.  Instead, many prefer a gentle chat with a concerned and solicitous “healer” with time to spend on each patient, even if the remedies he’s peddling have no science-based legitimacy.  It’s been suggested that it’s the “human side of the treatment” (aka mumbo-jumbo, according to sceptics) that produces the positive response in some patient’s symptoms.

So what’s your choice, truth or belief?  Both will cost you money, but either one may make you feel better.

Zone: Flexibility Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Other