Vol. 21 May 15, 2010 Alternative Medicine

ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE is therapy that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine; often described as “natural”
Ex: Taking Echinacea to prevent a cold.

COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE is alternative therapy used in conjunction with mainstream medical techniques.
Ex: Undergoing Reiki or other energy work to reduce cancer pain

INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE is a combination of alternative and complementary medicine therapy that has scientific proof of efficacy.
Ex: Acupuncture for pain relief in certain conditions.

Per cent of US residents >18 yo. that used any form of alternative medicine in 2002: 75%

Per cent who did so if you exclude “prayer” as a therapeutic modality: 50%

Per cent using the most popular (excluding prayer) alternative therapy of herbs: 19%

Per cent using chiropractic and its rank in popularity: 7% / 4th

Per cent of hospitals offering some form of alternative medicine in 2005 and 2008 respectively: 26% / 37%

Year that the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was created within NIH: 1999

Amount of research funds granted by NCCAM and per cent of total NIH research grants in 2009: $277 million / 0.6%

Year that National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) was created and its research fund distribution in 2009: 2002 / $676 million or 1.5% of NIH total

Amount of funds expended by NIH for study of herbs and other alternative therapies between 1999 and 2009: $2.5 Billion (1)

Per cent greater reduction of arm pain by a fake pill compared to sham acupuncture: Who cares? BOTH placebos reduced perceived arm pain by up to 1/3. (No improvement in grip strength or function however) (2)

Date of the first appearance of the concept of a control arm using a placebo in a medical study: 1784

  • The Benjamin Franklin Commission created by Louis XVI to discover if a “new physical force” was involved in those people who were being “mesmerized”. (3)

Per cent of alternative medicine therapy found to have a positive or possible positive effect in 2005 Cochrane Library reviews: 38%

Per cent of conventional therapy with a positive or possible effect in the same year: 41%

  • BUT 8% of the conventional therapies caused harm while 0.7% of the alternative therapies did.
  • AND 21% of the conventional therapy studies had insufficient evidence to judge while 57% of  alternative therapy studies had insufficient evidence.

Per cent reduction in the immune response to influenza vaccine if your sleep was reduced by 50%: 50%

Per cent reduction in pneumonia in developing countries by use of zinc supplements: 15%

  • Early enthusiasm for zinc supplements as shortening cold symptoms was dampened by the discovery that zinc-containing nasal sprays sometimes cause a loss of the sense of smell.

Year that the International Olympic Committee chose COLD-fx, a ginseng containing product, as an official cold and flu remedy for the Winter Games: 2010

Per cent reduction in incidence and duration of colds respectively if this product is taken daily for 4 months: 25% / 6 days

  • A single study showed a similar reduction in incidence of colds with daily garlic for 12 weeks. Presumably the side effects of garlic on breath, belching, and body odor tipped the scale toward ginseng.

Per cent improvement of depression in patients receiving magnetic stimulation of the head for 37 minutes daily for 3 weeks compared to those who improved with the sham treatment respectively: 14% / 5% (4)

  • The problem a skeptical doctor might have with this study is deciding which is the control (placebo) arm.

Per cent reduction in biochemical stressors in intubated ICU patients who heard one hour of slow Mozart piano sonatas: 50% (5)

  • Patients hearing the music through earphones in this double-blind study of 10 post-surgery patients also used less sedation after the music was turned off.

References:
1. MSNBC.com, June 10, 2009
2. Br Med Jour. 332; 391-397, Feb 18, 2006, Kaptchuk et al.
(Ted Kaptchuk, a non-physician practitioner of Chinese medicine,is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and has written extensively about alternative medicine and “the placebo effect”; an increasingly hot topic in the medical literature.)
3. Lancet 374; 1234-5, 2009, Kaptchuk et al.
4. Archives of General Psychiatry, May 2009
5. Crit Care Med 2007; 35 (12), 2709-13, C. Conrad et al.

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