Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Triumph of New-Age Medicine

This article from The Atlantic provides a comprehensive view of the state of alternative medicine, and it's increasing value in the eyes of traditionally trained doctors. There is quite a bit on acupuncture and an examination of the claims that the practice is a sham because it's effects are not demonstrated in randomized controlled studies. I can personally attest to acupuncture which helped me to heal sciatica and later, with a chinese medicinal herb, to cure a swelling of the uvea in my right eye called Uveitis, that and avoid using the heavy-duty six-week course of prednisone that doctors at the Eye and Ear Infirmary wanted to prescribe.

“Mainstream medicine uses the placebo effect all the time,” says Ted Kaptchuk, a Harvard researcher who studies the impact of placebos. “Doctors don’t tell you the drug they’re giving you is barely better than a placebo. They all spin.” To be approved by the FDA, a drug has to do better than a placebo in studies—but most approved drugs do only a little better, and for many drugs the evidence is mixed. A number of studies have indicated, for example, that most antidepressants don’t do better than placebos, but patients filled more than 250 million prescriptions for them in 2010. The vast majority of drugs don’t work in as many as 70 percent of patients, according to an estimate from within the pharmaceutical industry. One recent study concluded that 85 percent of new prescription drugs hitting the market are of little or no benefit to patients.

“Doctors are paid for providing treatments, not for spending time talking to patients,” says Victor Montori, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. A medical system that successfully guided patients toward healthier lifestyles would almost certainly see its cash flow diminish dramatically. “Last year, 75 percent of the $2.6 trillion the U.S. spent on health care was for treating chronic diseases that, to a large degree, can be prevented or reversed through lifestyle change,” says Dean Ornish of UCSF. Who (besides patients) has an incentive to make changes that would remove that money from the system?

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