Dr. David Gorsky, MD, who has been practicing as a physician for over thirty years, is disgusted with his alma mater, University of Michigan Medical School–with good reason. Although this school used to teach anatomy, histology, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and the like, it now also offers all kinds of training in alternative medicine. Medical students in this school, and in many others throughout the country including Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia Medical Schools, are currently taught what Dr. Gorsky calls “quackademic medicine“. The schools themselves call it Integrative or Anthroposophic Medicine.
Anthroposophic medicine is based on the idea that “health is a matter of mind-body-spirit balance” and “prescribes treatment for the whole being through conventional methods in combination with holistic methods.” Treating the whole person sounds reasonable, so why is AITSE, an organization majoring on integrity in science, featuring a paper that calls this practice “quackademic medicine”? Because it is a typical, and very dangerous, example of a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down, only in this case a little bit of truth is making the poison go down.
Of course, we want to see our bodies treated with medicine that is based on good science and most of us are aware that we are more than our bodies. Few would dispute that depression or long-term anger can have physical effects. So, how to treat that part?
The trouble with alternative medicine, which purports to bring all into balance, is that it is based on Eastern mystical philosophies rather than science and as such has no scientific validity. Examples of alternative medicine include homeopathy, reiki, chiropraxy, cleansing of toxins, reflexology, and the like. All have lots of the “woo factor” which makes them readily accepted by our new age culture, but no scientific basis.
In homeopathy alleged medicinal substances are diluted until nothing is left so that only the “vital forces” remain. In reiki the physician mysteriously waves his or her hands to channel “positive energy” that will heal the affected part–only “benefiting” the gullible. Acupuncture is said to balance the “vital energy” and “vital juices” of the body, but has not been scientifically demonstrated to have more than a placebo effect. Chiropraxy is based on the benefits of “vertebral subluxation”, but is a combination of science and pseudoscience that may provide temporary relief of pain due to endorphin release, but will cause long-term damage to joints. What about “cleansing” of the body’s toxins? Or “balancing” the body’s systems and forces? Or even the administration of the useless and potentially toxic Iscador (a mistletoe extract) for treatment of cancer? Amazingly, this last one is based on the twisted reasoning that since mistletoe is parasitic on plants and cancer is supposedly parasitic on people, mistletoe should cure cancer. Clearly not scientific reasoning!
The problem is that alternative medicine therapists treat people who are desperate for better health–they are ripe for exploitation. And when this type of quackery is taught in medical schools, even the medical practitioners may not realize that there is no scientific basis for what they do. At the very least, this gives patients false hope. But, some of these treatments are also very expensive, robbing patients of funds that would better be applied elsewhere. This is not even to mention the travesty that insurance companies pay for some of these treatments, forcing all who pay premiums to support pseudoscience. Worst of all, many of the supplements are dangerous, causing untold health problems in themselves (see vitamin article).
This may not be a not a popular topic for AITSE readers. After all, some may be very wedded to their favorite alternative therapy. But, the fact is that good relationships and a healthy lifestyle, combined with good science, based on evidence, is the demonstrably best approach and AITSE is dedicated to good science, based on impartial evaluation of data, not Eastern mysticism.