Treatments of conditions through means not generally used in conventional medicine is called alternative medicine. The debate burst into the public view earlier this year when the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute — which markets a variety of alternative therapies — published an article raising discredited theories linking vaccines to autism.
Rather, it’s the mindset that leads to strong associations between CAM use and, for instance, refusing adjuvant chemotherapy, as I have discussed in detail before and noted by way of citing a Malaysian study in which CAM use was associated with delays in diagnosis.
In General Guidelines for Methodologies on Research and Evaluation of Traditional Medicine, published in 2000 by the World Health Organization (WHO), complementary and alternative medicine were defined as a broad set of health care practices that are not part of that country’s own tradition and are not integrated into the dominant health care system.
But many products that claim to be safe and beneficial may not be. Unlike conventional medical treatments that are thoroughly tested and carefully regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most CAM therapies have undergone very little — if any — scientific study to evaluate their safety and effectiveness.
There are several socio-cultural reasons for the interest in these treatments centered on the low level of scientific literacy among the public at large and a concomitant increase in antiscientific attitudes and new age mysticism 3 Related to this are vigorous marketing 7 of extravagant claims by the alternative medical community combined with inadequate media scrutiny and attacks on critics.