When most people think of “natural medicine” or “alternative medicine” they think of a small, mostly harmless industry, often beaten down by “Big Pharma”. “Natural” does not mean better. Neither does organic, but that is another post. The alternative medicine (also known as CAM, complementary and alternative medicine) industry is not small. It is a multi-billion industry. According to NCCAM, people spent $33.9 billion out of pocket in 2007. That is not a small industry. It only represents about 1.5 percent of total health care expenditures, but the difference is that medicine is governed by Science!, not by magic. Real medicine is regulated too. The CAM industry is dangerously unregulated.
Let’s look at Gary Null (who bills himself as a PhD, but if you read the quackwatch link it’s more of a BS degree), quack supreme and a proponent of CAM and supplements. An ironic thing happened recently. You see, Gary Null is all about taking a lot of vitamins. This recently backfired on him when he overdosed on vitamin D and almost died. Too much of a good thing? Yes, way too much:
In legal papers, Null’s lawyers say he suffered from fatigue, pain and cracked and bleeding feet while taking Gary Null’s Ultimate Power Meal. He continued to eat the power meal,, “thinking that it would help him and relieve his condition.”
After a visit to his doctor, Null discovered he had been ingesting 2 million international units of Vitamin D every day, 2,000 times the recommended dose and 1,000 times what the power meal was supposed to contain, his lawyers said. Clearing the excess from his system took 3 months. (Source)
Gary claims that the manufacture of the product (one of his products) put too much vitamin D in it. He is suing the manufacture (Triarco). The best part is that he continued to consume his power meal thing after he became ill, thinking it would make him better. According to the linked NY Daily News article:
The suit accuses Triarco of inadequate safety testing that led to six consumers being hospitalized with severe kidney damage. A company representative did not return calls.
You are telling me that something went wrong in an unregulated industry? I tried to find out how much vitamin D is in Gary Null’s Ultimate Power Meal, but no luck. It has been pulled from stores, both online and physical. Apparently other people have been effected by his product too. While this is only one example, it does show that the CAM industry needs more regulation. Unfortunately, the CAM industry has the backing of some members of congress. Mainly, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA).
In 1994, Senator Harkin helped make sure the CAM industry would stay unregulated for a long time. He was one of the main supporters of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. DSHES basically said that supplements were only to be regulated as a food, not as a drug. This means that they were not required to prove their safety or effectiveness. They could not specifically claim that they cured anything, but they could hint the hell out of it. The minute they claimed they could cure something they were classified as a drug and fell under the scrutiny of the FDA. There was a lot of wiggle room for the supplement industry to sell almost anything. It was a big win for them.
Their next victory over science and reality came in the form of NCCAM, and guess who was behind it’s creation. Senator Tom Harkin. If anyone wants to complain about government waste, I recommend starting with NCCAM.
If you wanted to blow $120 million on something that has been proven over and over to be more or less useless, what could better than the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)? Well, I can think of lots of things that I would blow that money on, but most of them involve synthesizers. Congress established the Office of Alternative Medicine in 1992, and in 1999 it turned into NCCAM, and that came with a large budget increase. You can see the NCCAM’s yearly budget on their website. Since 1992, we (the taxpayers) have spent over $1.3 billion on alternative medicine research through NCCAM (and OAM). $1.3 billion. $1.3 BILLION!
And what are the results of this massive amount of money? Nothing that is good for the alt med community. If you read through he studies on the NCCAM website you will find three things: Inconclusive results, negative results, or things like “meditation relaxes you!” No. Shit. Almost all of the studies that do show CAM having an effect are flawed in some way (not double blinded, sloppy statistical analysis, etc.). They refuse to let go.
I have an idea. Let’s give this money to scientists doing real research, they need it. It has been shown over and over again that CAM had not real effect beyond a placebo effect. It is not medicine. I’ve said it before, as have many others: there is no such thing as alternative medicine. There is medicine that has been proven to work, and there is medicine that has proven not to work. CAM falls in the second category. Do a PubMed search using any term in the world of CAM and read what you find.
There is good news. Read that link for some recent news that might probe to be useful, but who knows if that bill will go anywhere.
I’ll save the negative effects of CAM for another post. They aren’t pretty.