Alternative Medicine Remains Popular, Legal, and Ineffective (or Worse)
Poison on the Shelves
Doctors, scientists, and researchers have long warned that most "complementary and alternative medicines," or CAM -- acupuncture, homeopathy, dietary supplements, Ayuverda -- are at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. Little scientific evidence suggests efficacy, and many studies backing them lack scientific merit. The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act weakened up the regulation of dietary supplements, permitting marketers to promote vitamins, minerals, herbs or botanicals, and amino acids without submitting proof of efficacy or safety to the FDA.
The result is potentially poisonous products on the market, say researchers in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Dietary supplements were considered safe unless proven otherwise by the FDA, through postmarket surveillance: a strategy the General Accounting Offices criticizes for being ineffective. And under the DSHE act, manufacturers of dietary supplements were not required to record or forward to the FDA any reports of illnesses that may have resulted from the use of their products.
In 2007, some 38% of U.S. adults and 12% of children used CAM in the previous 12 months, according to the National Institute of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Those 83 million adults spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on CAM: 1.5% of the total spent on U.S. heath care, and 11.2% of what was spent out-of-pocket. Despite evidence that they're ineffective, such remedies constitute a growing category.
A Senator Backs Faith-Based Medicine
Britain's House of Commons on Monday dealt a blow to CAM. "Homeopathic products perform no better than placebos," said the Parliamentary committee's report, which concludes: "To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy."
In the face of the looming health-care reform, U.S. Senators have been trying to add various provisions to the bill: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has tried to push insurance coverage for alternative medicines; and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has attached a provision that would cover Christian Science prayer treatments.
It's unclear whether faith-based medicine has ever been clinically tested, but a spotcheck of the NCCAM Health page and its Office of Dietary Supplement fact sheet shows that many remedies have very limited health benefit, if any. WIth an industry whose products offer a greater risk of danger than a promise of benefit, and as the public keeps buying into these remedies, the U.S. should intervene not to support the trend of their growing use, as Harkin and Hatch would seem to support, but reducing our reliance on quackery.