If you are having a heart attack, it is probably not a good idea to seek immediate treatment with homeopathy, herbal medicine or acupuncture. In that setting, it is best to be treated with western (allopathic) medicine where available. However there are many illnesses where western medicine has its limitations: ranging from terminal cancer, certain neurological problems like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) to common cold, where you can only treat the symptoms. There are also diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, and hypertension where there is clearly effective control with modern medicine but no cure. Many people desire a cure and choose alternative medicine.
However, reports based on recently published findings show that 95 per cent of alternative or complementary medicine is not evidence-based and borders on quackery. This is big pill to swallow for practitioners of alternative medicine. Western medicine, as mentioned often in this column, is based on randomised controlled trials which try to show that a drug for a certain disease is better than a placebo (sugar pill). However, most alternative medicine therapies do not look better than a placebo.
Many alternative medicine researchers have reached a point where they do not want to carry out more trials because the trials show the ineffectiveness of their medicine and risk hurting the trade in the long run. Even meta-analysis (putting together small trials to see if the sum effect shows efficacy of the drug in question) of these alternative medicine drugs have increasingly shown negative results.
Rather than giving up, more rigorous trials of diseases using herbal and other complimentary drugs with adequate sample size of the population need to be carried out. There may be many useful herbs with an effective drug molecule that need to be tested to show benefits. Making use of the placebo effect for certain patients may also be a great idea.
But in reality, most people who have a clear-cut disease will want to know if there is proper evidence for use of that particular drug for them. There is also a myth that unlike western drugs, alternative medicines have no adverse effects. This needs to be dispelled.
What also needs to be shunned are statements by 'scientifically-challenged' celebrities and godmen who think that alternative medicine is outside the realm of scientific scrutiny. Time to separate science from superstition.