An article appeared on Forbes today wherein the author wrote disparagingly about alternative medicine treatments and research, entitled “$142 Million For Quack Medicine Buried Inside The New 2018 Budget.” The article detailed how terrible the author felt about the current US federal budget including ANY funding whatsoever for the research and study of the effectiveness of alternative medicine treatments for chronic health conditions.
One has to wonder where the dismissiveness and vitriol comes from as regards this Forbes writer, Steven Salzberg, and his feelings toward alternative medicine. For a distinguished, disinterested researcher, he certainly has strong opinions on incompletely researched topics. The central idea of the article is that the money spent by our government on “alternative medicine” is a complete waste and nothing “alternative” has ever turned out
to be useful.
This is where we would say, “Hold on, back up, please.” This is simply not true. Even though proponents of conventional medicine assert that alternative medicine is useless, and further, that we must all use ONLY conventional treatments because only these have been proven to work, this is actually not the case. However, most Americans believe inaccurate memes because of articles such as the Forbes piece and many others like it which they are barraged with on a continual basis.
Here are some facts about conventional medicine that you may not be aware of: First, there is massive corruption concerning pharmaceutical companies and manipulation: manipulation of data in the drug studies (where the FDA takes them to court and wins, and then the drug company has to make a statement of ethics and promise never to do this
again….and they then get sued again later for the same offense with a different drug – according to researcher Peter Gøtzsche in Deadly Medicine and Organized Crime); manipulation of doctors with gifts, trips, money, and dinners (which has become so excessive that New Jersey has just made a law against it); and the incredible number of doctor-caused deaths in hospitals, making iatrogenic death (doctor-caused death) about the third-leading cause of death in this country.
This last statement comes from an article in the JAMA which was published on their website, but has since been removed. You can still find the text of this article in a PDF on the Johns Hopkins website.
Some might make the argument that Dr. Starfield, the author of the JAMA article, is the only person to have made this assertion; a quick look to the British Medical Journal disproves this notion. U.S. News has shared the content of the BMJ article wherein two other researchers (lead author Dr. Marty Makary, also of Johns Hopkins!) state that medical errors are responsible for 250,000 deaths per year in the US (the same number as Starfield concludes).
These are deaths tallied from medical errors inclusive of all classes of doctor or hospital-caused deaths, where Barbara Starfield further presents a breakdown of deaths due to correctly prescribed medications, infections in hospitals, other errors in hospitals, unnecessary surgeries, and medication errors. These are in descending order, from highest occurrence to lowest.
Since all of these can be classed together as medical errors, it is safe to say that doctors are the third-leading cause of death in this country. Just to be clear, there is no similar track record among alternative medicine practitioners. Whenever a patient dies while undergoing an alternative treatment, even if the death is not caused by the treatment itself, there is generally such bad press and backlash that the alternative health provider is driven out of business post-haste. Yet hospitals continue causing unnecessary patient deaths, year after year, without much concern expressed by the public.
It is also true that when persons die or experience life-altering complications outside of a hospital from a properly-prescribed and correctly taken medication, it is unlikely that their cause of death will be attributed to the medication that was actually responsible. It is more likely that their death will be attributed to the secondary effect, such as when the medication causes a heart attack or a stroke. Then, the cause of death would be listed as a stroke, rather than as a result of the medication (such as one of the leading NSAID drugs, its black-box warnings clearly state that they can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke).
In addition, all reporting of adverse events, reactions, and deaths is performed by doctors. There is no consumer reporting database collecting reports, where a family member of someone who died of a stroke could easily make a report to state that their medication was being taken prior to death or debilitation. Such anecdotal data could be useful in providing more complete data for aggregation and pattern tracking.
The American Journal Of Medical Quality found in surveys at hospitals that the reporting systems in place are under-utilized by doctors, with only about 43% of physicians contributing to the database at all. There is no Federal mandate, as of yet, with regard to reporting systems, though over half the states now have such systems in place.
This likely means that the incidence of errors, including doctor-caused deaths, is likely higher than the present projected numbers could possibly indicate, since most doctors are not reporting possible or known issues.
The author of the Forbes piece, Steven Salzberg, is a respected researcher at the very same place that Barbara Starfield, now passed, once taught at, Johns Hopkins University. Therefore, Mr. Salzberg should be familiar with her past research and similar studies that have been conducted demonstrating that conventional medicine is actually the “dangerous” medicine, warranting caution, at the very least.
Yet, the premise of his article completely ignores this important fact. Why provide more money for research to the NIH, as he suggests, when there may be less dangerous alternative medical treatments for the same conditions? Considering that the facts are the converse of what he suggests, why would a researcher discourage alternatives to something that is among leading causes of death for Americans?
So, now we shall return to the main premise of the Forbes article: that there are no effective alternative treatments for any health condition that have been discovered through research. This is an untrue statement that does not reflect the reality of present-day research.
We shall show the effects of two such “alternative health” discoveries that are now in the mainstream and have been researched extensively, one of them by the very same group lauded by Salzberg in the Forbes article, the National Eye Institute, part of the Federal government’s National Institutes of Health umbrella organization.
The other discovery was researched and discovered by the March of Dimes after many years dedicated to exploring all avenues that may help reduce suffering by preventing birth defects. I choose to discuss only two here, for the sake of brevity. This article would be exhaustively verbose if we discussed every alternative treatment with evidence supporting it.
Perhaps you are aware of the detrimental effect of macular degeneration on the quality of life in the aging population. The authors would wonder if the reader is also aware of the AREDS study, and its results.
The AREDS study was conducted by the NEI of the NIH. While unusual for the NIH to research an herbal formulation, this study was crucial, since macular degeneration has no real conventional treatment, and affects a large percentage of the aging population. With America set to have record numbers of retirees as the Boomer generation gets older, this is especially significant.
It could just as easily and
appropriately have been conducted by the NCCIH, because this is an herb and vitamin combination and the NCCIH focuses on herbs and vitamins, among other relevant topics.
This study shows definitively, and in multiple follow-up studies, that the herbal and vitamin combination used in the trials prevented and, in many cases, reversed macular degeneration, especially where one eye with MD was compared with the other healthy eye of the same patient. The risk of developing MD was reduced by about 25%, and the risk of complete vision loss caused by MD (in patients already suffering from macular degeneration) was reduced by about 19% with this anti-oxidant “alternative medicine” formula. The combination consists of lutein and zeaxanthin (herbal extracts from marigolds), and high doses of zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Many older adults have already been prescribed this alternative remedy. A significant number have had excellent results, depending on their vision and level of degeneration when they started supplementation, as well as the quality and dosage of the supplement they received.
The second alternative medicine treatment that has been extensively researched and has entered into the mainstream is folic acid. For many years, the March of Dimes had their annual walk, collected a lot of money, and conducted important research.
At least one amazing discovery came of all that research. Neural tube defects, which were responsible for many cases of birth defects that affected survival rates among newborns, as well as adversely affecting intelligence and learning capabilities, could be prevented by taking a single vitamin, Folic Acid, also known as Vitamin B9.
It is this group, and this discovery, that has made it mandatory for every pregnant woman in the United States and in many other countries to take prenatal vitamin supplements. The addition of folic acid prevents neural tube defects;this is now accepted medical fact.
As a consequence, the rate of this particular type of birth defect has gone down significantly. This supplement has been shown to be directly responsible for the decline in these birth defects in studies by the NIH in a South Carolina population, among other populations where similar studies have been carried out.
So before accepting without question what this Forbes article purports as a legitimate viewpoint, that funding the NCCIH is a waste of money, and that “alternative” treatments are dangerous, consider that the opposite is, in fact, the case, and can be supported by evidence.
There are very few adverse reactions to herbs, vitamins, supplements, and other alternative treatments, while the same cannot be said of conventional medical treatments. This is despite the fact that it has been legally required for all adverse events possibly caused supplements to be meticulously recorded in a database.
Poison Control Center data also shows a similar disparity in the incidence of negative effects from vitamins and supplements, when compared to medications. In fact, the National Poison Control Center reports the highest numbers of poisoning calls, year after year, from poisoning by medications, especially analgesics, sedatives, anti-depressants, and cardiovascular drugs; these are their top four call types, in fact.
These medications actually lead the list of substances poisoning adults, according to the NPCC data. It is interesting to note that there are no poisonings of adults from vitamins or supplements of any kind listed.
So, before you go into your kitchen cupboard and toss all your supplements, do the research yourself! You, as an intelligent consumer, should not be swayed by ad hominen attacks against alternative medicine, entire groups of practitioners of alternative therapies, misrepresentation, or ignorance of fact. In our presentation, we relied strictly upon factual evidence, not biases toward or against any modality, whether allopathic or alternative. Such a disinterested attitude is crucial, when considering science.
We challenge Steven Salzberg to prove his claims that “alternative medicine” is harmful, and provide data demonstrating any statistically significant loss of life or harm to patients resulting directly from “alternative medicine” treatments, alone. Even under such circumstances involving statistically significant death or permanent harm, Mr. Salzberg’s assertions that research by the NCCIH be curtailed fall flat, as such issues certainly call for more research as well, in order that consumers not be harmed in future.
Authored by H Miller with D Alban © 2018 D Alban, H Miller