Many of us have tried acupuncture and herbal medicines – And many of us are no stranger to the chiropractor or homeopath...
Well, science journalist Dr Simon Singh has questioned the effectiveness of these common treatments.
Heal or hoax?
Description - A system based around the belief that health is related to the flow of Ch'i around the body. Therapists place needles into the skin in particular parts of the body. The needles aim to remove blockages and increase the flow of Ch'i or life force. They claim to treat a broad range of ailments.
Cost- A single visit will cost upwards of $50.
Simon says – Generally, it isn’t effective.
1. There is no evidence that meridians and Ch'i actually exists.
2. The majority of positive trials are unreliable as they haven't used proper substantial placebo groups, leading to an unbalanced trial.
3. Acupuncture can be used in some case for the treatment of nausea or pain relief. Generally it can only be used as a placebo.
4. The evidence in the use of the treatment in the case of pain or nausea is not conclusive enough. It is borderline.
Simon’s conclusions also apply to other similar methods such as acupressure, laser light therapies and electricity based therapies.
Description- Treatment based on the premise that like cures like. The homeopath administers small doses of the same substance that exists in healthy individuals. Therapists claim it treats almost any ailment.
Cost- Each treatment costs about $100.
Simon says – Generally, there is no evidence it is effective - "There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that Homeopathic remedies simply do not work."
- They don't have a single active ingredient.
Description - A form of treatment that uses manual adjustments of the spine. The claim is that adjustments to the spine will have positive effects on the nervous system and help with treatment of back pain to asthma.
Cost- The cost begins at about $50 per session.
Simon says- Effective only in the treatment of back pain.
- Chiropractic can only be effective for people with back problems.
- Simon still stresses people need to be cautious.
- He says those that see a chiropractor for six sessions without resolution to their problem should see their GP.
- He also says a person's Chiropractor should not become your primary health care provider.
Description- Herbal medicine involves the use of herbs and plant extracts to treat a range of ailments. The practice is widely used in Asia and Africa. It is one of the fastest growing forms of treatment used throughout the world.
Cost- Upwards of $20, depending on the treatment.
Simon says – Some herbal medicine is effective.
- Some herbal medicines can be effective for some conditions.
- Simon stresses in many cases there are mainstream medicines that will have the same effect and may be safer.
- The only exception is the treatment of the common cold where herbal medicines have been proven to be more effective.
- The main risk associated with the use of herbal medicines is the level of potency associated with different plants in individual cases.
- Simon says that in the case of cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, hangover and hepititis, there are no effective herbal remedies.
- Herbal remedies made for individuals after consultation with a traditional herbalist are much safer than those sold over the counter in equal strengths for all.
Some tips for anyone considering alternative therapies:
- See a GP first.
- Don't stop conventional treatment.
- Consider the evidence.
- Consider the cost.
- Assess the risk.
Be sure to check out Simon’s website at www.simonsingh.net
Simon is also speaking at the University of Sydney on the issue of Alternative Medicine. To find out more, visit www.usyd.edu.au