ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE II: Reax To JAMA Issue
Some experts criticized the methodology and findings of the lead JAMA study (see above story). NPR's Rebecca Perl reported that Dr. Wallace Sampson of Stanford University called the study "of very little value, and ... highly misleading." He said, "When you finally get the results, what happens to it is that people pick up on that and say, 'there must be something to this, so many people are doing it.' But that's not true. What you're really measuring is the success of advertising, the success of popularization" ("All Things Considered," NPR, 11/10). Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch said the Eisenberg study distorts the incidence of alternative treatment use "by including such therapies as relaxation techniques, self-help groups and biofeedback, which often are used by doctors." He said, "The more things they can call alternative, the higher the numbers are." He added that Eisenberg's groundbreaking 1991 study actually caused the growth in alternative medicine by lending credibility to the field. "It ushered in the golden age of quackery," Barrett said (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/11).
An accompanying JAMA editorial argues that there are risks both in incorporating alternative medicine into regular practice and in exposing alternative treatments to the ills of convention medicine. Dr. Wayne Jonas of the National Institutes of Health argues that the main dangers in embracing alterative medicine are the lack of quality in care, impure and unstandardized products and unscientific and unproven remedies. Jonas notes the main "ris[k] of conventionalizing alternative medicine" is the loss of alternative medicine's messages: "[e]mpowerment, participation in the healing process, time, and personal attention"; using a "gentle" approach to focus on the patient's inherent capacity for self-healing; and containing medical costs by utilizing "low-cost interventions such as lifestyle changes, diet, supplement therapy and behavioral medicine" (JAMA, 11/11 issue).
A second editorial by JAMA editors Dr. George Lundberg and Phil Fontanarosa asserts: "Priority for research funding for alternative medicine should be given to investigations of relevant clinical problems for which well-designed studies have shown encouraging results for alternative therapies, especially for conditions that are common and those for which conventional medicine has not been effective." However, they caution that "until solid evidence is available that demonstrates the safety, efficacy, and effectiveness of specific alternative medicine interventions, uncritical acceptance of untested and unproven alternative medicine therapies must stop." They conclude that "for all who share the goal of improving the health of individuals and of the public, there can be no alternative." Click here to see this week's JAMA table of contents.
Headlines from other newspapers:
- Washington Post: "Widening the Medical Mainstream: More Americans Using 'Alternative Therapies; Some Prove Effective."
- Los Angeles Times: "Alternative Medicine Is on the Rise, Studies Say."
- Philadelphia Inquirer: "Study sees boom in alternative therapy."