Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry, But Only One-Third of the Treatments Have Been Tested

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Alternative medicine tends to elicit strong opinions. Some people swear by natural remedies while others insist that traditional medicine isn’t effective and, at worst, can be dangerous. Alternative treatments are gaining popularity in the U.S., where around 50 percent of people say they have used them, but despite the billions of dollars spent on these remedies each year only a third of them have ever been tested.


As USA Today reports, many American consumers cite distrust of big pharmaceutical companies as one of the main reasons they lean towards using traditional therapies. But a new book by Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, argues that the alternative medicine industry is just as focused on profit and business as it is on healing.

In his book, Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.

Written By: Rachel Nuwer
continue to source article at blogs.smithsonianmag.com

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  1. Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.

    That sounds like a pale reflection of the mainstream drug industry.

    • The drug industry has the FDA watching it’s back (In the US anyway). Fake medicine can just be some pretty flower packed in a glycerine pill and sold without testing, oversight or even basic QC.

      In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.

      That sounds like a pale reflection of the mainstream drug industry.

  2. In the UK, people are willing to pay ridiculous amounts for untested herbal treatments, despite the NHS providing medication at a set prescription rate. There is a tendency to think that you know best, and definitely better than those doctors with their years of training. If they won’t prescribe something for my stress related ailment, then I’ll just have to get something myself, and that lovely herbalist/homeopathist will never turn me down whilst I have money in my wallet.
    The drug companies may well be making large profits, but at least they are ploughing money back into research and development, whereas the alternative crowd are just in it for the profit.

  3. For the FDA to approve a new drug, all the drug company has to do is so show some trials where it did not hurt anyone, and had greater than placebo efficacy. They don’t have to report embarrassing trials. The new drug does not have to work better than existing drugs.

    The marketing people can than run with the new drug as “new and improved”, and push the old superior cheaper patent-expired drug off the market.

    I am not sure how you would go about discouraging that fraud, perhaps mandatory revelation of comparison with alternatives.

    • In reply to #5 by Roedy:
      You need to look at Ben Goldacre’s campaign for all trials to be fully published as to their results for both efficacy and safety. He has persuaded many big drugs companies to sign up for it. ( Check Alltrials).
      Even without this, you cannot compare a drug that has been shown to be both safe, and better than a placebo, with something that has been tested for neither. A large number of people who look to alternative treatments are those who are most vulnerable, eg cancer sufferers. I feel very uneasy about an industry that takes advantage of this vulnerability, but puts nothing back in the way of proper scientific research.

    • In reply to #6 by Jabarkis:

      And of that third of treatments tested, how many are effective?

      I would imagine the answer must be none, otherwise they’d no longer be regarded as alternative medicine, they’d just be medicine.

  4. “distrust of big pharmaceutical companies as one of the main reasons they lean towards using traditional therapies.”

    Mmm,” traditional” and “alternative” are not really the same thing.
    Sawing your leg off at the knee is a traditional remedy for various infections in the leg, but I bet “traditionalists” accept big pharma’s antibiotics as a better, if modern, alternative.

  5. When the FDA can be manipulated by Donald Rumsfeld, into approving substances like aspartame, which they already knew caused holes in rats’ brains, I have little faith in their objectivity. Having used herbs myself to solve health problems I have more faith in them. I also use an enzyme called Serrapeptase to keep my blood pressure normal, as I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother & mother who had high blood pressure from 37, a stroke at 42 and a massive brain haemmhorage at the age of 55, which I will be next month. My blood pressure is normal.
    Natural products have been used for hundreds/thousands of years, presumably if they had caused harm in the past they would have used common sense and stopped using them. I get sick and tired of the superior attitude of the scientists who don’t believe anything unless a battery of tests have been carried out, usually paid for by the obviously biased companies who will make money from them. I am married to a pharmacist by the way.

    • In reply to #11 by katwoo2:

      First of all, aspartame is one of the most tested substances in the world and all of these tests concluded that it is safe for humans. Second, life expectancy increased not through the use of herbs which has been happening since ancient times but (among other reasons) through western medicine practices.

  6. Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry,

    .. and there is a desperate shortage of money for universal health care in the USA, and a lack of investment in carbon-free energy production in most of the world!

    BTW:- The USA has the most expensive health care in the world – but other countries do better at less than half the price.

    http://thesocietypages.org/graphicsociology/2011/04/26/cost-of-health-care-by-country-national-geographic/

  7. Buying drugs, “alternative” or not, are, in most cases, buying hope, not cure.
    Recognized pharmaceutical companies are producing drugs of various efficiency categories. When consumers buy these drugs they are not aware that many of the more “reasonable” drugs often lack important components, rendering the medicine more or less in the placebo class.

    The recognized pharmaceutical industry is extremely big business and what is of most concern in the case of approvals of their drugs is whether or not it is dangerous for humans. All kinds of reservations are taken in order to ensure they can not be brought to justice if something happens due to their products. (see accompanying leaflets of drugs)

    “Alternative medicines” are often just plain hope and nothing else, but this hope can, sometimes, work wonders by increasing the body’s natural self-repairing abilities.

    So, which is better and which is worse? Medicines are huge business, full stop!

  8. I work in pharma and it galls me to see the claims that alt. medicine makes for its products with no evidence whatsoever. There is also no reporting system for side effects either. This is a vast difference to proper medicines where every claim made for a product i) must be made for a licensed indication ii) must be based on published scientific information and iii) every side effect mentioned by a medical professional has to be forwarded onto the medical dept within 24 hours under pain of disciplinary action.
    One industry is a boon for mankind ( look at massive recent increases in survival rates for CV disease, diabetes and cancer) one is snake oil period.

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