Sunday, November 9, 2008

Breaking Down the WHO Pro-Alternative Medicine Agenda.....

The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a weekend conference on irregular medicine today, although technically they use the terminology "traditional medicine" to specify systems of medicine that, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), "involve complete systems of theory and practice that have evolved independently from or parallel to allopathic (conventional) medicine." Irregular medical systems such as traditional Chinese medicine, or India's Ayurvedic medicine are examples that fit this rather unhelpful and unwieldy mold. These systems came about as a result of a steady stream over many years of the uncontrolled anecdotal experience of human beings prone to magical thinking and unencumbered by the scientific method followed by many more years of a religious devotion in the face of mounting contrary evidence.

The WHO is no stranger to making unfounded conclusions regarding so-called alternative medicine, an essentially meaningless marketing term that is highly politicized and unfairly allows a large number of modalities utterly lacking in legitimate scientific support to ride the coattails of a few high-profile but equally unfounded therapies. In a May 2003 for instance, the WHO claimed that,

"Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving postoperative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia."
This is true only if the lack of plausibility and the totality of the medical literature on acupuncture is ignored, and only cherry-picked poorly conceived, or small and unconvincing, studies are used to support such claims. The information on traditional medicine provided by the WHO is full of equally unfounded and misleading statements.

A Reuters report on the aforementioned conference reveals just how uncritically the WHO is approaching the subject of traditional medicine. According to the article, the conference, which was attended by representatives from 70+ countries, was an opportunity for brainstorming on how to achieve a wider distribution of traditional medical systems, and how to better combine them with conventional medicine so that both systems benefit. This is, of course, pure and total hogwash. Alternative medical modalities add nothing to conventional medicine.

One WHO official is quoted as saying that"Integration of traditional medicine into national health systems will not only bring benefits to patients, but will also ensure safety and proper use." This sounds reasonable but never pans out. Putting the weight of the WHO behind treatments that are not based on good science, and which often call for the bending of fundamental laws of reality, benefits nobody but those who sell such treatments. And one need look no further than the efforts of the NCCAM to realize that calls for increased research in order to determing what is safe and what works is an expensive waste of time. Proponents of alternative medicine don't care about research unless it supports their belief system.

The author writes that WHO director-general Margaret Chan called traditional medicine "a valuable source of leads for therapeutic advances and the discovery of new classes of drugs." It's true that modern medicine owes much to substances derived from the natural world, but this is a classic bait and switch. The fact that some ingested plants have measurable effects on human physiology that can be harnassed for our benefit in no way supports the silly pre-scientific notions behind most of these traditional systems of healing. There are already rational scientists looking into natural medicines and we don't need the wholesale acceptance of a seemingly unbounded entity such as alternative medicine to encourage more to enter the field.

The article further reveals that,
"Traditional medicine is used throughout China and in other developing countries, even with access to Western-style health care growing. Leech therapy is used in parts of India to treat pain and skin diseases, and hospitals in China often offer both Western treatment and traditional cures like acupuncture or herbal antidotes."
This is merely the WHO applying the illogical argument that popularity serves as valid proof of efficacy. It doesn't or else we would still be bleeding folks to relieve their excess blood or purging impurities from our patient's bodies with oral mercurous chloride. But pandering to the masses is the name of the game these days, as evidenced by the growing number of alternative medicine departments in academic medical centers across the United States.

The WHO isn't all bad, not by a long shot. They provide a valuable service and add much to international efforts to end suffering and save lives. But they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to rationally evaluating the place of alternative medicine in global healthcare. The position they are taking runs the risk of adding suffering to the world but emphasizing therapies that have failed to meet the standards of science-based medicine in a number of areas by placing far too much importance on popularity and anecdotal evidence.

13 comments:

Jim said...

Modern medicine isn't any better than alternative medicine. In fact, modern medicine is just an expensive high-tech version of alchemy and strange potions. Chemicals from BigPharma will never be better than a healthy lifestyle.

Clark Bartram said...

I don't know if you are kidding or not. Alchemy and potions were based on magical thinking, just like the majority of alternative medicine is. Science-based medicine is based on a system that, although there is room for improvement, fairly effectively works to remove a number of the biases and logical errors inherent in our pereception of reality. Science-based medicine has led to a significantly longer lifespan, to major improvements in the quality of life for sufferes of a large number of previously fatal or debilitating illnesses, and to the amelioration of a vast number of more minor complaints in life. But I challenge you to look a pregnant woman with type I diabetes in the face and say that the insulin that she needs to survive is no better than alchemy or strange potions, and that she should just adopt a healthier lifestyle. Prior to insulin people with diabetes died young and woman did not survive pregnancy nor did their children. This is one of thousands of examples of the benefit to mankind that modern medicine has led to.

Perky Skeptic said...

Irregular medicine, like irregular sheep, should be stringently guarded against.

Looks like ol' Jim (first commenter above) is selling some sort of fiber cure. Case in point.

Jim said...

Nope, I am not selling anything, and I don't advertise anything, and I don't plan to. I am just trying to lose weight with a high-fiber diet, and I got a little optimistic in choosing a name for my personal diet. The diet consists mainly of whole grains and fresh veggies. Unlike my non-commercial diet, the drug companies are selling billions of dollars worth of risky chemicals. Take chemicals if you want, but I'll stick with my whole grains and salads.

Clark Bartram said...

I'm glad that you are healthy enough to say that Jim. I would argue though that there is a very high liklihood that many people you know and care about have benefited greatly from pharmaceuticals. Many medical treatments have risk, and this risk is taken into account by physicians. If the benefit greatly outweighs the risk, as is the case the overwhelming majority of the time medications are prescribed, then chemicals, even risky ones, are not the evil you make them out to be. We would all like for a healthhy diet and lifestyle to become more of a priority for our patients and their families, but even if that became a reality there would still be a large role for pharmaceuticals in improving the quantity and quality of our lives.

Jim said...

I guess my body reacts very differently from most people, because I have had very serious problems from virtually every medication I've ever been prescribed (including statins, glyburide, penicillin and beta blockers). Maybe my liver or kidneys just don't process chemicals the way other people do, but after experiencing several life-threatening adverse effects, I've completely quit all medications. And I'm about to give up on doctors who won't listen to my side-effects and then just call me non-compliant. Are doctors trained to ignore patients?

Clark Bartram said...

No. I have no doubt that some doctors ignore patients and I have no doubt that some patients unfairly project onto their physicians their. But most people are happy with their doctors and most people are living longer and healthier lives than at any point during human existence in large part to modern medicine and pharmaceuticals. Nothing is perfect and it is possible you have had horrible bad luck, but we can't come to a generalization based on your anecdote any more than we could conclude that all medicines are perfectly risk free based on one patient who has had no adverse reactions to their medications. We have to look at the data and this tends to work significantly better than when we don't.

Clerk said...

Looking for the ideal destination over the internet to buy sleep aid pills is not an easy task as some of the websites, pharmacies or drug stores selling sleep aids are proved to be fake stores selling counterfeit sleep aid pills. Therefore, you should be careful while looking for an online store to purchase sleep aid pills and in this regard, it is noteworthy that http://www.sleep-aid-pills.com is a reliable online destination that directs customers to reputed online pharmacies selling genuine sleeping pills.

Dean said...

greetings to all.
I would first like to thank the writers of this blog by sharing information, a few years ago I read a book called Real Estate Investment costa rica in this book deal with questions like this one.

niz said...

Hello .. firstly I would like to send greetings to all readers. After this, I recognize the content so interesting about this article. For me personally I liked all the information. I would like to know of cases like this more often. In my personal experience I might mention a book called Generic Viagra in this book that I mentioned have very interesting topics, and also you have much to do with the main theme of this article.

Cheap viagra said...

Hi everyone! is a pleasure for me to share my amazing experiences with you all! This article in particular seems to me that is very useful and effective! I would like to receive more information!

costa rica real estate said...

Costa Rica is a country of beautiful landscapes, beaches and lush variety of plant and animal species. Visit


In Costa Rica will always find a variety of animals and plants that beautify our landscape. Come and see the beauty of our land
costa rica real estate

costa rica investment said...

The people of Costa Rica is warm in his dealings, kind and hardworking. Visit our country and will enjoy the natural beauty of the find


When you want to know a country full of beautiful natural landscapes come to Costa Rica, a place of beauty in every way, come and visit our land, you'll easily fall in love with Costa Rica
costa rica investment