Are Alternative Therapies and Medicines Unscientific?

Are Alternative Therapies and Medicine Unscientific
Are Alternative Therapies and Medicine Unscientific

John was having backache for a few weeks. He went to his family physician for advice. He was prescribed pain killers and referred to a physiotherapist. After spending a good amount of money and getting no better for next six months, John turned to yoga. It took him another three months of daily practice that made him start to feel better.

The word ‘alternative’ refers to treatments that can replace medical treatment. Complementary medicine complements modern medicine. In the daily usage, the two words are usually used to mean the same treatment.

John is not alone in turning to alternative therapies. According to a World Health Organization report published in the year 2000, prevalence of the use of complementary/ alternative medicine ranged from 9% to 65% in the general population.

According to an article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, alternative medicines are used in more than 80% of the world’s population In the US, more than 70% of the population used such services at least once. A report by Timothy Mainardi and Simi Kapoor stated that of $34 billion

was being spent, in the US annually, on such treatments.

Complementary medicine refers to a group of therapeutic and diagnostic disciplines that exist largely outside the institutions where conventional healthcare is taught and provided. This definition was given in the year 2000 in Acupuncture in Medicine journal. In another article published in Anaesthesiology Clinics in the year 2006, a whole range of complementary techniques have been integrated into the management of cancer, which are often of benefit to patients, when conventional treatment is deemed to have failed or caused intolerable side effects.

Complementary therapies, including nutritional supplements, herbs, mind-body therapies, massage and acupuncture can be helpful in dealing with paediatric mood disorders according to Kathi Kemper and Scott Shannon.  Their article was published in the journal Pediatric Clinics of North America in 2007.

According to an article in Mayo Clinic Proceedings published in 2013, the authors Tony Chon and Mark Lee reported that a survey had estimated that 3.1 million US adults and 150,000 children had acupuncture in the previous year. American physicians recommend acupuncture in their practice mainly to treat pain problems,

according to an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. According to Ted Kaptchuk in the Annals of Internal Medicine, trials have indicated that acupuncture was effective in vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy in adults and also for nausea associated with pregnancy. Acupuncture training is now being given in many universities like Bestyr in the US, University College Dublin, in Ireland and Middlesex University in the UK.

Hypnosis, with all its controversies, is a recognised as being a right hemisphere activity in the brain. According to an article published last year in the journal Cortex by Susan McGovern and associates, even if the left hemisphere is damaged, a person can still be hypnotised. Left hemisphere, in the brain, has the language centre. Ordinarily hypnosis is induced using auditory instructions. Hypnosis also involves suggestion, expectation and interpersonal factors that induce hypnosis, according to Michael Lifshitz in Frontiers in the peer reviewed journal Human Neuroscience. There is firm empirical evidence for its effectiveness in analgesia, according to an article in Harefuah in 2004. Authored by Noam Wiezman and associates, hypnosis has

been used in preparation of patients for surgical procedures, asthma, digestive disturbances, skin disorders, bleeding disorders, nausea that occurs before and after surgery and vomiting and smoking cessation.

Homeopathy is more than 200 years old. It was started in Germany by Hahnemann. Hahnemann was a physician practicing traditional scientific medicine at that time. Homeopathy works on the principle that the substance that heals a sick person produces the same symptoms in a healthy person. Wayne Jonas and Ted Kaptchuk, did three independent reviews of placebo-controlled trials on homeopathy. They reported that its effects seem to be more than placebo and one review found its effects consistent with placebo.

According to the website:, up to the end of 2013, 188 papers of random controlled trials in homeopathy were published. 44% showed balance of positive evidence, 5% had a balance of negative evidence and 47% were neither positive nor negative. These figures were in line with 1016 systematic reviews in conventional medicine, according to this site. The website also states that fibromyalgia, influenza, insomnia and seasonal allergic rhinitis were conditions in which the

effect of homeopathy was clearly positive. In 52 other conditions the evidence was ‘tentatively positive’. These conditions included allergic asthma, depression and female fertility.

Meditation practices have caught the attention of the western world after Herbert Benson of Harvard University first published his findings many years ago. Meditation has consistently been shown to correlate with changes in brain activity, according to an article published in hubpagescom. This article is authored by Iris Van Den Bosch. This is not new.

Earlier in an article in Science in 1970, R.K.Wallace, a researcher, had stated that during meditation, oxygen consumption and heart rate decreased, skin resistance increased and the electroencephalogram showed specific changes in certain frequencies. Brown and Gerbard provided evidence in 2009, for the use of yoga breathing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and for victims of mass disasters. Their findings were published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.