Although orthodox medicine is slowly letting in complementary therapies, there are still important, but alternative ways, of looking at modern disease that are incompatible with existing scientific medical models in medicine.
Right now we are stuck between two worlds. In one, the world of medical science tells us that such and such is not proven and therefore not a valid treatment. In the other world of alternative medical models, many things are possible and although they are not proven by medical science – they often work. Mixing medical science with alternative philosophies, for example Chinese medicine or acupuncture, makes any research difficult. Due to the complexity of Chinese herbal mixtures and the different philosophy of Chinese medicine, tests for the compatibility of orthodox Western treatments with Chinese medicine are only just beginning.
For example, researching the effects of chemical drugs in a ‘Western way’ on the Chinese population involves double-blind testing, with a test group receiving a placebo. This method of testing doesn’t work because Chinese people will naturally search out all possible treatments for a cure, including their local herbalist and this invalidates the research.
Practitioners claim that double-blind testing is not easily conducted on many aspects of Chinese medicine. Giving one group of patients a placebo is morally questionable because the Chinese medical philosophy values treatment of the sick over scientific detachment.
They ask if any medical practitioner can be justified in giving a sick patient a bogus treatment. China is behind the West in state-of-the-art chemical drug therapy but their philosophy of medicine is one that has stood the test of time more than any other, and one that values natural sources of medicine over synthetic. It is also a philosophy that treats the person rather than the illness. Eastern medical systems such as Ayurvedic or Tibetan medicine hold similar difficulties for the methodologies of western reductionism.
Little medical research exists on simultaneous, multiple treatments at levels tuned to the individual patient because it is impossible to test the validity and reliability of these using current medical scientific research methodology.
Despite the extremely rigorous testing of controlled drugs, once they are approved, doctors can prescribe them for any purpose they deem fit. This unapproved use of the drug is known as ‘off label’ use, and it happens frequently. Estimates show that as much as 60% of drugs prescribed by doctors in the US, a staggering billion prescriptions a year are for off label uses. This means that highly potent drugs are being dispensed with no more proof for their efficacy than exists for an alternative remedy.
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