March 10, 2011
Although many Americans use complementary alternative medicine (CAM), nevertheless the boundaries between CAM and conventional medicine are not absolute because there is a lack of evidence in its safety and effectiveness. While some doctors and patients embrace alternative medicine and use them by integrating them with conventional therapies, other professionals and patients believe they may be dangerous or simply just don’t work. Most conventional medicine is proven to work with evidence obtained through clinical trials and other research. The majority of this research has been done on conventional therapies, like pharmaceutical drugs. With there being little evidence that proves alternative medicine or therapies work many think they don't work. This is not necessarily true and is the result of the lack of research put into CAM. Most research is supported by for-profit organizations like pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to prove that their drug or device works. With this proof, they can get FDA approval to sell their drug or device. Even research done in nonprofit organizations like universities and academic medical centers are mostly being conducted through grants and foundations developed by for-profit companies. There isn't as much money to be made if the evidence for CAM therapies is shown to exist. Further, no research needs to be done to achieve FDA approval. Therefore, except for government research projects through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Therapy, research simply does not exist. If the research doesn't exist, then efficacy of CAM therapy can't be proved one way or the other. We just don’t know if it works or not. That means we mostly rely on anecdotal evidence. Some medical professionals and patients just need anecdotal evidence to decide a CAM therapy is useful. For example, natural supplements are a multi-billion dollar business in the United States, and there those supplements have no proof to show they work. Some even have proof that shows they don't. But people still buy them. Meanwhile there are skeptics that say spending money on CAM supplements and therapies is a waste of money and may even be dangerous. Choosing a CAM therapy may cause a conflict with a current, conventional therapy which can result in additional medical problems when they are used together. Using a CAM therapy in place of a conventional therapy may mean improvement in health, or it may cause death. However, even these reports are anecdotal. The evidence of the conflicts and deaths is not based on studies or clinical trials either. Another caution about anecdotal evidence is quackery: the illegal and dangerous practice of selling therapies to sick, debilitated and dying patients who spend their money on products and procedures that don't work. CAM therapies take a different approach. Most are founded in Chinese medicine, also called Eastern medicine (emanating from the Eastern hemisphere). They rely on herbs and other "natural" substances the human mind or physical manipulation to achieve health and wellness. Often the term “alternative” and “complementary” are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference. Alternative therapies are used in place of a conventional medical approach. Complementary therapies are used together with conventional therapies. The U.S. government, on its website devoted to Complementary and Alternative Medicine, breaks down these therapies into five categories: •
Biologically-Based, such as herbal supplements, botanicals, animal-derived products, vitamins, proteins, probiotics and other organic approaches. •
Energy Medicine, such as veritable energy like sound, electromagnetic forces, biofields which work to identify a body's own energy field, also called "chi." Alternative medicine professionals believe that when these biofields are disturbed, it causes illness in the body. Examples of energy medicine are...
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