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Is alternative medicine effective? Show more Show less

Complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products for diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention which are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary means to improve the effect of something and suggests a treatment that complements mainstream, orthodox treatment, whilst alternative means instead of. However, the terms are often used interchangeably.

No, alternative medicine is not effective Show more Show less

Alternative medicine has no proven effect, and where it appears to be effective is only a placebo.
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If a treatment does work, it becomes orthodox medicine

Alternative medicine doesn't work - if it did, it would just be mainstream medicine.
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Medicine Science


The Argument

Since many alternative remedies have recently found their way into the medical mainstream, there cannot be both conventional and alternative medicine. 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. There is no alternative medicine - there is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.[1][2] 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.[1] The list of practices that are considered as CAM changes continually as CAM practices and therapies that are proven safe and effective become accepted as the “mainstream” healthcare practices. Many things perhaps formerly considered as alternative therapies including vitamin supplements, certain diets, and therapies that aim at relaxation or gentle exercise such as meditation or yoga are now routinely recommended by mainstream medicine, especially for long-term health conditions. At the beginning of the 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were “exclusively of flowering plant origin.”[3][4] Commonly used drugs that were originally used as plant remedies in some form or other include: • Cinchona bark: in 1912 a person discovered it stopped his arrythmia and it is now manufactured as Quinidine, an antiarrhythmic and antiparasitic. • The floral remedy foxglove which slowed and strengthened the heartbeat is now manufactured as digoxin. • Native Americans used Yew Tree needles for anti-inflammatories and this is now manufactured as a cytotoxic drug. • Willow bark is manufactured as aspirin. • Red yeast rice was the original statin. • Poppy seeds were used for sleeplessness, anxiety and pain and are now manufactured as opium.[3][4]

Counter arguments



[P1] Many medicines we now consider mainstream are derived from natural materials. [P2] If alternative medicines worked, they would be incorporated into mainstream medicine.

Rejecting the premises


Further Reading

Angell, M. & Kassirer, J. (1998) Alternative Medicine — The Risks of Untested and Unregulated Remedies. New England Journal of Medicine, 339, 839-841, DOI: 10.1056/NEJM199809173391210



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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 15 Apr 2020 at 08:52 UTC