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Unconventional Healthcare in the Era of High-Tech Medicine : From Quackery to Credibility.

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  • eric krieg
    People, I have kind of mixed feelings sometimes on bogus/fringe health claims. I kind of hate to see the government go too far to protect everyone from
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2000

      I have kind of mixed feelings sometimes on bogus/fringe health claims. I kind
      of hate to see the government go too far to protect everyone from themselves;
      Perhaps we need some Darwinian influence on those rejecting real medicine. And
      perhaps it would save money if people do crackpot medicine instead of the
      real thing. Still the ignorance of and backlash against real science and real
      medicine still threaten rational people. The following is of interest:

      Press Release (e-mail version)

      Unconventional Healthcare in the Era of High-Tech Medicine : From Quackery to

      A new Healthcare Report from Financial Times / Informa Pharmaceuticals.

      US consumers spent $30 billion on alternative medicine in 1999, double the
      outlay three years earlier. For their part, Europeans spent over Euro 13 billion
      in the same year on herbal medicines and Euro six billion (retail prices) on
      dietary supplements.

      Is it not a paradox that people are losing faith in modern medicine and
      pharmacology, turning instead to alternative or complementary healthcare, herbal
      remedies and functional foods, at a time when both medicine and pharmacology are
      at the peak of their effectiveness?

      This report describes the tremendous progress in biomedicine that has provided
      doctors with the tools to ease suffering rather than watch patients die. It
      details the political and economic context in which medical practice has
      changed, taking into account parallel shifts in ideas about medicine, their
      impact on regulatory measures and the manipulation of power by parties involved
      in health provision. It reaches into the past to throw light on the present. And
      it looks at the genetic research that now promises to enlarge the frontiers of

      These days healthcare entrepreneurs come and go, many of them amassing fortunes
      before they leave the theatre of pseudo-science. There are more than 1,300
      entries on the ever-changing list of therapies offered by these self-proclaimed
      gurus - from absent healing and aromatherapy to healing love and healtheology,
      Mahikaro and Marma Science, network spinal analysis, psionic medicine,
      radiesthesia, rebirthing, vibrational medicine, Zen Alexander Technique and many
      more. A broad selection of these is covered in the report, giving modern
      quackery its full dimension.

      "Don't forget that there is something outside that has been around for 2,000
      years", advises renowned US consumer activist Ralph Nader. But the New England
      Journal of Medicine voiced the concerns of the international medical community
      by insisting that alternative therapies could not be allowed a free ride,
      substituting assertions, speculation, and testimonials for sound clinical
      evidence and following a rationale that violated fundamental scientific laws.

      Since the end of the vitamin discovery period, there have been advances in
      quantifying human requirements for specific nutrients and developing practical
      dietary and pharmaceutical means of satisfying these requirements. Yet an
      unending flood of new preliminary findings or hypotheses, born mainly of the
      food industry's efforts to promote foods with specific health claims, has led to
      public confusion. Journalists fixed on daily news agendas have encouraged the
      hype, and the question of how best to disseminate accurate nutrition and health
      information to the general public is still a matter of debate. The report
      explains how to avoid the pitfalls of misrepresentation and misinterpretation.

      Among the proxies for scientific evidence in the alternative therapy sector are
      the ubiquitous placebo effect, a mismatch of correlation with causation and an
      over-emphasis on the anecdotal. Often these are a front for misdiagnosis and the
      failure of human logic. The question of why unproven therapies appear to work,
      and how the mysterious placebo can be such a powerful healer, is addressed in
      the report.

      A regulatory approach to alternative/complementary therapies that is fast
      gaining currency is the notion of a 'Third Way'. US experts consider Germany's
      Kommission E monographs to be a possible model for a third category of medicines
      alongside prescription and OTC products. The report examines the potential
      advantages of a system that, although far from perfect, has been proposed to the
      FDA as one way to tackle herbals when reviewing the contraversial DSHEA (Dietary
      Supplements Health Education Act).

      Germany's love affair with nature is put in its historical context. The report
      describes past and present natural and holistic remedies/theories with their
      roots in the German tradition, particularly homeopathy. Phrenology, Mesmerism
      and Naturopathy are offered as examples of alternative practices from Europe
      that have sought to undermine conventional medicine by borrowing the symbolic
      capital of science. Nor is the impact of dogmatic faith and folk remedies from
      the Indian and Hispano-Mexican cultures ignored.

      Where their safety and efficacy are recognised by significant scientific
      agreement, functional foods and herbal supplements could emerge as significant
      factors in government efforts to curb national healthcare expenditure. With the
      advent of genetic modification, the near future could bring crops with improved
      nutritional value, peanuts or wheat without allergens, milk with reduced lactose
      and foods with enhanced 'functional' components, such as tomatoes with more
      lycopene. The public, however, has mixed feelings about science and technology,
      associating it with improved quality of life but concerned that it will make the
      world a riskier place.

      Assessing the potential risks and benefits of functional foods means answering
      questions about safety and efficacy: does the product actually contain the
      active component and will it be effective? Is it safe at the levels likely to be
      consumed? Might not the product displace traditional healthy foods from the
      diet? Could people be spurred into self-treating serious medical conditions,
      neglecting or delaying professional help? Communication and consultation with
      the public are essential to ensure they can make informed choices from a range
      of alternatives. They must be allowed access to credible information and the
      chance to have their say in the development and application of science.

      Can 'complementary' healthcare supply the financial magic that governments
      desperately need in managing the costs of illness and ageing? The report
      evaluates nutrient supplementation as a potential money-saver in today's
      outcome-oriented environment. Detailed consideration is also given to the
      dilemma of pharmacists in this respect, caught between the desire to turn a
      profit and a professional awareness that many alternative healthcare products
      may be of limited, if any, clinical value.

      The report questions whether evidence-based medicine (EBM), with its emphasis on
      the economic aspects of healthcare, may not be aiding the renaissance of
      unconventional therapies And it surveys a range of other contributory factors,
      · Genuine concern about the adverse effects of powerful drugs, allied to the
      perception that conventional medicine is too harsh for chronic and
      non-life-threatening diseases.
      · Moves to restrain social health and welfare costs, prompting a search for
      affordable means of alleviating suffering.
      · Doubts over conventional medicine's ability to maintain the flow of more and
      better treatment options.
      · Reduced tolerance for medical paternalism.
      · Increased interest in spiritualism as a replacement for disappearing
      centuries-old values.
      · The general public's deep-rooted preference for the 'natural' over the
      · Health illiteracy, compounded by 'information age' confusion.
      · The shift in emphasis from keeping people alive to keeping them fit for longer

      The measure of success enjoyed by alternative theories and products has always
      reflected the degree of disillusionement with the orthodox medical system of the
      day. But that in itself is no proof of efficacy.

      Complementary therapies, invoking nature and its universal healing powers, are
      more than a current fad: they are embedded in cultural heritage and practice.
      Yet mysticism should not be allowed a new lease of life in matters of health.
      One scenario for the future of unconventional healthcare is to acquire
      'conventional' credibility through recourse to full regulatory approvals. But
      this is a less likely survival strategy for the sector than others envisaged in
      the report: adaptation (evolution), democracy/diversity and the pendulum
      scenario. Also examined is the current concept of integrated healthcare in a
      framework of outcomes-driven therapy.

      The report includes several case studies. Among them are :
      · The largest. Most heartless and firmly rooted racket
      (Treating cancer)
      · Luring the manly man full of vigour
      (Erectyle dysfunction)
      · The stubborn resistance to new medical knowledge
      (Pink disease)

      We are witnessing now the reinvention of the nutrition industry around a core of
      health and 'functionality'. This in turn could catalyse the strategic
      realignment of other global businesses - pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture -
      around biotechnology as the defining, integrative technology base. But companies
      may misunderstand the nature and true potential of the emerging 'naturals'
      business. Today's functional foods are just one step in the evolution of
      products that will increasingly be promoted as healthier, more nutritious,
      better tasting and as better insurance against disease. The long-term winners
      will be those companies that learn to set their sights beyond the passing

      We retain a romantic affection for the plausibility of the unproven; we warm to
      the scientific underdog. Yet this can lead to adventurism with consequences that
      we have not fully weighed. While it is easy to sympathise with emerging theories
      of disease prevention and treatment, we must beware of having our interests
      dictated by the ambitions of self-declared health priests, yellow press
      journalists, drugstore cowboys and commercial mavericks. Credibility matters.

      "Unconventional Healthcare in the Era of HighTech Medicine" is published by
      Financial Times /Informa Pharmaceuticals in its series of Healthcare Reports.
      Author : Gilbert Mertens. ISBN : 1 8606 7465 8. Price US $ 780/UK 495 Pound.
      For further information contact :Dr.Fischer-Mertens@...

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