Have natural health advocates ever been right about anything?

Alternatives

Anti-vaccinationists have a perfect record. In the 200+ years since vaccine rejection came into being (shortly after vaccines came into being) they have been wrong about 100% of their claims.

Pretty impressive, no? Yet, there are still vaccine rejectionists despite the fact that their all time batting average is zero.

That got me thinking. Have advocates of alternative health ever been right about anything?

I’m not referring to whether individuals believe that a particular method of alternative health, like homeopathy or chiropractic cured their cancer. I’m looking for examples where alternative health advocates proposed a new treatment for a specific disease or disability and scientific evidence ultimately vindicated their claims. Or they offered specific claims of harm for a specific vaccine or medication and scientific evidence was found that substantiates it.

I can think of one minor example. Natural childbirth advocates oppose pretty much all obstetric interventions on the grounds that they are ineffective or harmful. It turns out that they were right about episiotomies, a procedure designed to prevent vaginal tears that may actually increase them.

But there must be other examples somewhere, right?

Help me out. If you can think of any alternative health “treatment” that has ever been demonstrated to actually work, please let me know.

  • yentavegan

    I have been reading and following this blog for so long now that the tear in the fabric of earthmotherloveoneness has enlarged enough to allow bacterial bronchial pneumonia to enter my lungs. Thanks to you Dr. Amy, I am taking the medically prescribed anti-biotics instead of just toughing it out to strengthen my immune system. That whole ideology of riding an illness out to strengthen your immune system is magical thinking. I am recovering already.

  • InformedWomen

    I stumbled across your site this evening and was shocked by how angry and harmful your statements are. I am currently in school attaining my MSN in midwifery. I understand many of your concerns but I feel that your approach is as incredulous as those your are trying to discredit. If you are trying to make a difference, move mountains with up to date information and positivity. Passion is necessary, but biased hateful propaganda is often ignored and only attracts those that already share your point of view.

    • realityycheque

      “Passion is necessary, but biased hateful propaganda is often ignored and
      only attracts those that already share your point of view.”

      Incorrect.
      Many of Dr. Amy’s readers are ex-HBers/ex-HB advocates, and have
      expressed having initially having felt incensed at what they found on
      this blog, and appalled by Dr. Amy’s harsh tone, but stuck around – if
      for no other reason than to hate-read – and changed their point of view.

      Like it or not, it is precisely the attitude you complain of
      that makes SOB so successful. I have visited numerous other sites that
      share similar content to Dr. Amy’s blog, albeit with a “nicer” tone, and
      they don’t experience anywhere near the level of activity that SOB
      does, not to mention the “hate advertisement” that has proven to be
      life-altering for some readers (i.e. those who came here after seeing
      the link shared by women who were appalled by Dr. Amy’s unforgiving tone
      and wanted to rant about how awful she was).

      Dr. Amy may seem
      harsh, but when time and again we see babies dying unnecessary deaths
      and midwives rallying together to cover their butts, whilst continuing
      to lie and mislead parents about the safety of homebirth and their prior
      outcomes, you lose patience and frankly being “nice” goes out the
      window. Many of these midwives/homebirth advocates are remorseless, and
      in the wake of preventable deaths repeatedly absolve
      themselves of any responsibility and turn on the parents during their
      darkest hour, all the while portraying any attempts to hold the midwives
      accountable as a “witch hunt”. They rally against measures that would
      improve outcomes, regulation, insurance availability and accountability,
      evidencing the fact that they have no interest in improving morbidity
      and mortality outcomes for mothers and babies.

      So, given the
      circumstances, you will have to forgive Dr. Amy and the readers here if
      we have lost patience, and if our tone isn’t one of sunshine and roses.

  • Lisa from NY

    Wheatgrass juice, but only works for ulcerative collitis. Doesn’t do anything else other than increase sales for vitamin stores.
    (Source: Wikipedia)

  • fiftyfifty1

    I don’t know if this is mentioned downstream: Nasal saline irrigation (neti pot),

    • Trixie

      Except for the part about the brain-eating amoebas. I think the nasal irrigation has been shown to be beneficial for the short term under some circumstances, but not beneficial as a daily ritual. Make sure you use sterile water.

      • Lisa the Raptor

        While it is short term, sometimes you just gotta breath normal for a second or you’ll lose you dang mind, ya know?

        • Trixie

          Oh totally!

  • Lisa the Raptor

    So, I have the black plague right now and I have been doing the honey and lemon tea, and I have to admit it is quite soothing. Also, it is true that real ginger can soothe and upset stomach. So, that’s what I’ve come up with.

    • Wren

      But neither of those actively go against regular medicine, do they? I think the issue isn’t that all alternative things are always wrong, but more that medicine will use what is actually proven to be useful but drops those things which are not, unlike alternative medicine.
      Ginger is forever connected to the all-day, 9 month long morning sickness I had with both of my children now and no longer does anything to quell nausea.

      • Lisa the Raptor

        I’ve noticed that ginger seems to work as long as you are actively drinking it (One of my favorite things when sick or with morning sickness was this fantastic real Ginger Brew that I got from my husband’s work. It was spicy and yummy). So, yeah while I can admit it works, I know that it’s pretty much only as long as your have it in your hand.

        I think maybe what I might be thinking of is what my mom would have called “Home remedies”, which are like a salt water gargle for a sore throat or a tea bag on a mouth ulcer. Point is that they are simple that one can do to make you feel better, without having to get medicine, but not the same as “alternative medicine”, which is in fact as much or a mix of chemicals on one end and water on the other end.

        • Nashira

          I freely admit, I love Zofran more, but black tea with coins of ginger in it got me through an imipramine trial that left me too nauseated to sit up. I sucked that stuff down at the rate of 1 mug/30 minutes, I swear.

          • Lisa the Raptor

            Zofran is expensive (and why not, clearly it’s made from Unicorn piss), so sometimes ginger tea wins the bill.

  • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

    thought of more things- mandatory shaving, enemas, and twilight sleep drugs. I think that is why NCB is so effective- there is a grain of truth in all the BS.

    • Young CC Prof

      But did the NCB movement start resisting twilight drugs before or after doctors figured out that they caused respiratory suppression in the newborn? Did the current NCB movement even exist at that time? I’m not sure, thought it was more of a 70′s thing.

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        Ina May Gaskin started her farm community in the 60′s if I recall correctly. It does seem unethical (by contemporary standards) for mothers to be unable to remember their experiences in childbirth.

        really there isn’t a need for NCB to be completely right or wrong- each claim should stand on its own merit. Rooting for one side or the other reminds me very much of football loyalties rather than evidence based research. Reality isn’t black and white, it is often nuanced.

        • Young CC Prof

          Definitely. And it doesn’t make sense for ANYONE to be wrong all the time, the law of averages if nothing else.

          However, it is good to figure out which sources are reliable and usually right, and which are right only on occasion.

      • Susan

        My best understanding of why twilight sleep bit the dust is the respiratory issues and not natural childbirth. However, I do think the NCB movement can be credited for a lot of positive changes. Perhaps you are right though, I have been following this since my first baby was born (1979) and maybe the natural birth movement is becoming irrelevant today. If I had to say what I think the biggest accomplishment of the NCB movement it would family centered maternity care and patients as consumers. There is a bad side to patients looking at themselves, and being looked at, as consumers. But overall, I think the change has been overwhelmingly in the patient’s best interest. I think the natural birth movement can be credited for a lot of the positive changes in maternity care since the late seventies. It’s interesting to consider that perhaps the movement has become absurd or irrelevant though. Because though lets say asking for husbands in the delivery rooms seemed crazy back in the mid seventies.. is asking to have a Lotus birth the same? Of course not. The interesting thing to me is a lot of what the natural birthers wanted benefits EVERYONE, not just those birthing “natural”. My epidural moms and C/S moms love a pretty room, 24 hour rooming in, respectful staff, having their children visit, having the husband/partner at the birth and having who they want at their vaginal birth just as much as a mom with no meds. So yes, the natural birth movement, especially Lamaze, deserves a lot of credit in changing maternity care, but I do think the criticisms that they are going a little over the deep end now is also valid. Lamaze promotes what it calls “normal birth”, which pretty much translates into natural birth. What they need to do, to stay relevant and to be ethical, is what they say they do, listen to mothers. Mothers often are very happy with their epidurals, they are often quite satisfied with their C/S, and want support when they need to or choose to formula feed. That’s where the NCB movement today is failing, their insistence on demonizing the legitimate choices women make which differ from the party line.

        • toni

          Exactly. What is it 60% of US women get epidurals now? I know it’s more than half. So they’re already dismissing at least half of them as having non ideal births who what? need to try harder next time I suppose?

          • Susan

            Yes, it’s incredible. Women now have them because, labor hurts, and epidurals work. Just in my career I have seen that not only to they work, anesthesiologists have become better and better at getting the dosing so they work well, moms can move, the side effects are so much less, and they are extremely safe. And MOTHERS LOVE THEM! The NCB just ignores that because it doesn’t help their cause. They’ve become more self serving than the medical community they criticize.

          • Anj Fabian

            The favorite part of my first birth was either the epidural itself or the blessed, blessed sleep I got once the epidural took effect.

            (Birth was a scary emergent c-section and there were no high points to that experience.)

        • Young CC Prof

          That’s exactly how I feel, actually. A generation ago, the NCB folks drove some changes that were very beneficial, but for the most part, that portion of the job is done, and they’ve now moved on to enforcing one definition of a good birth experience, rather than listening to what large numbers of mothers actually want.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      And if it were 1950 that might still be relevant. lol. Seems to me that women complaining and suffering trauma by waking up and finding their children had passed, was a greater call for the end of twilight sleep. Also, the advances in better, safer pain relief. At the time twilight sleep was much safer and had less side effects than say, ether. Did natural childbirth advocates change that or did they just try to fix the things that didn’t seem to work? Plus, from everything I’ve heard, the drugs were still a choice. You could labor or you could get knocked out. I think it’s actually possible that labor can be so terrible that twilight sleep would still be the preferred option.

    • toni

      I don’t understand what’s so horrific about an enema. Obviously they shouldn’t be mandatory but I’m puzzled that more women don’t request them. I’d rather not crap myself in front of a room full of people if there’s any easy way to prevent it, am I alone in this?

  • http://www.hfme.org/ Thy Miocena

    Guided meditations really do help people relax though claims are of course exaggerated. Certain scents can have an affect on the brain like help you relax but I would much rather use a plug in or properly formulated bath products than mess around with oils myself.

  • http://www.hfme.org/ Thy Miocena

    Massage although the claims of what it can help are greatly exaggerated. SOME supplements for specific conditions like some people with CFS being low in coq10. Supplements have greatly exaggerated benefits too and if you are not depleted in whatever it is you are taking you are pissing money down the drain. The people most likely to take multivitamins are middle class people who are least likely to need them. But if you are working or poverty class and you consist off of mainly cheap processed foods I think it would be a good thing to consider.

  • baby-paramedic

    Swedish massage – relaxation and positive outcomes in palliative care in particular.
    Some studies ginger as an anti-emetic (although, you have to have stupidly large doses when using it as an anti-emetic during chemo). Other studies are inconclusive.

    Honey in wound care. Was something that was considered completely nutty a few years back, but is now becoming more common in mainstream hospitals.

    • Anj Fabian

      Most wounds heal and close quickly, so while using honey can be effective, it’s not going to be needed often.

      • baby-paramedic

        Oh for sure! And it is mostly specific wound care nurses who are only called in when wounds won’t heal in our metro hospitals that use it. It isn’t routinely prescribed as far as I am aware.

    • Sue

      Yep – and essentially all the research that has shown which of those things are effective and safe has been done my mainstream medical science – surprise!

      • baby-paramedic

        To be able to do research, and get it published, you need funding and the resources, the costs can be prohibitive. Just because something hasn’t been “proven” by mainstream medical science doesn’t inherently mean it does not work. Same as labelling something “natural” doesn’t inherently make it safe. Much mainstream western medicine isn’t “proven” either, and research reveals new information all the time, even in the mainstream. Naturally with my area being paramedics and pre-hospital emergency care this is a very real issue for me, as historically very little research has been done in the pre-hospital environment and some hospital based research doesn’t transfer over so well. Now pre-hospital emergency care is becoming something more researched we are changing our practices as more information becomes available, and either confirms or denies our previously held beliefs (many which were held with no real research behind it).

        The things I listed existed well before they were “proven”. There will be other things currently considered ludicrous that will later be “proven”. It is just a pity we have to wade through the truckloads of crap and lies before we stumble across them.

        • Young CC Prof

          Actually, that’s where plausibility and basic science come in to it. It’s important to direct limited research funds to new potential treatments that are plausible, and to current treatments that are suspect.

          When researchers do a real double-blind placebo controlled trial of a treatment that’s already in use, about a third of the time, they find it doesn’t work. Natural-health nuts usually misquote this as “a third of medicine is useless.” In fact the true number of useless treatments is probably far lower, because people are testing only treatments which experts already suspect may not work. As they say, no one has suggested a placebo-controlled trial of appendectomy. (Now, a paramedic like you might be more interested in how to get the patient to the hospital without rupturing, and ways to gauge how much time he has. That’s less glaringly obvious.)

          When testing new treatments, only about 5% of potential new drugs that sound exciting actually make it all the way through human trials for approval. This is why new drug approvals are so expensive: the manufacturers have so many failures.

          Another reason to hate on acupuncture and the other seriously implausible alternative treatments: The theft of giant piles of research funds that could have been spent, say, searching for the next great antibiotic. Yes, I will call it theft.

        • Scared mom

          Trick Or Treatment by Edzard Ernst ans Simon Singh answers much of what you’ve said here. The multi million dollar alternative health industry can certainly afford the costs of research.

  • Guestll

    Hyland’s Pertussis Tablets. The antivax Moms in my Babycenter group swear by them!

    • Anj Fabian

      The _what_?

      Pertussis tablets. I though the woo world insists that pertussis is only like a bad cold. Why would you need a specific product for a mild transient illness?

    • Certified Hamster Midwife

      Allium Cepa 6X HPUS……………………watery runny nose, cold, hacking cough

      Hepar Sulph Calc 12X HPUS…………..cold, sneezing

      Hydrastis 6X HPUS………………………..rattling/tickling cough, sinus congestion, dry/raw/sore throat

      Natrum Muriaticum 6X HPUS…………dry cough, sore throat

      Phosphorus 12X HPUS……………………hoarse/dry cough, nasal
      congestion, chest
      congestion

      Pulsatilla 6X HPUS…………………………moist cough, cold, nasal congestion

      Sulphur 12X HPUS…………………………chest congestion, nasal
      congestion, sneezing, runny
      nose

      “HPUS” indicates the active ingredients are in the official Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States.

  • cold steel

    Artemisinin. Changed the face of malaria control, and was a traditional Chinese medicine.

    • Box of Salt

      True.
      But it’s another case (like aspirin and taxol) where the active ingredient was identified, isolated, studied, and improved by science.

  • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

    Elimination Communication is actually pretty spiffy if you are staying home with your baby. It eliminates a lot of diaper costs and simplifies potty training.

    • cold steel

      EC trains the mother, not the baby. The external urethral sphincter and the anal sphincter are not fully myelinated until 11 months of age. It is literally anatomically impossible for the infant to achieve any degree of voluntary control until this age.

      • Renee

        Who cares who is train? It can be effective.
        I used SO many more diapers though, as odd as that sounds. I couldn’t put a wet one back on, even if it was just a tiny bit. Had I just left them on, they would have soaked up many pees before changing.

        • Busbus

          Ok, so I did EC with my older child for about a year. I am not doing it again, mainly because it STRESSED ME OUT. Big time. And then when I stopped doing it, I felt guilty about stopping (and about “not being in tune enough”). It took me a while to come to a more compassionate (and reality-based) view of myself and my choices and that time in my life.
          I’m not saying that it can’t work for anyone, but I’ve personally seen many mothers who drove themselves crazy over it, or who felt like they weren’t living up to their standards whenever they “failed” at reading their child’s cues, had “off” days etc. Plus, it can really only work if you are with your child most of the time and don’t have many other things in your life that need your attention.
          Like Renee said, I also did use a bajillion diapers whenever I did use them (which was often). I didn’t want my daughter to get used to the feeling of being wet, so I would change her 12 times a day, at least – sometimes those were cloth, and sometimes they were disposables. Now, I’m using maybe 5-6 disposable diapers a day for my second child. No constant changing or stressing out required. :-)
          Also, I spent a whole lot of money on weird EC-supplies – potties, potty seat cushions (I kid you not), EC pants, EC pads, EC pad holder thingies, cloth diapers, baby sized underwear, etc. etc.
          So not going there again. :-p

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        its not a matter of always being able to control when a kid goes, its a matter of them consistently attempting to pee/poo when on the potty. I am not saying everyone should do what I do, I’m just saying that this is something I found very helpful for my own family. ??? what is wrong with that.

    • Trixie

      Yep, I love being on constant red alert for baby shit flying across my clothing and home decor at every moment of the day or night.

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        you could ask instead of telling me how it works, since I actually do it.

        • Trixie

          Hunger and sleepiness are less likely to require my hiring a professional carpet cleaner. If you’re using diapers but just putting your baby on the toilet sometimes when you think it has to poop, that’s not the same as actually going diaper less. Also, some kids give signs ahead of time and others give literally none.

          • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

            EC isn’t synonymous with ‘going diaperless’. Some kids giving sign ahead of time and some kids giving none isn’t incompatible with what I posted. Do what is right for your family, I won’t judge you at all. Its fine. The majority of ECer’s use diapers, just so you know.

            Its hard for me to understand anti-EC stuff as being accepting of different cultural practices. Not everyone has access to diapers- what are they supposed to do instead exactly? I believe that the vast majority of parents do the best they can with their own child’s personality and needs.

        • Sue

          ” I looked into what people did before diapers”

          IN cold climates, there was no ”before diapers” – babies were just wrapped in whatever was available and disposable or washable. Animal skins, linen, moss under animal skin…

          • Lisa the Raptor

            I personally use corn cobs and my knees for wipes.

        • Lisa the Raptor

          I have seen EC and it does work, I personally just don’t care for my time being spent that way. I use a cloth/ disposable combo and mainly do that because we line dry and water is free, and I have a cloth diaper addiction.

          • Lisa the Raptor

            I did have to add that having spent the last two weeks potty training with a puppy, I know that EC works on that specific breed. Yes, you do have to watch for cues and be on the ready 24-7, but you can’t lock a baby in a kennel all night and know they’ll use the pad. lol

  • Lisa the Raptor

    Maybe Saint John’s Wart? But did anyone in medicine every deny that it was an SSRI? I know that given the lack of regulation you may as well just start picking out random antidepressants from friend’s and families medicine cabinets and trying a different color every day.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      What I don’t get is that everyone knows that SJW is a legit antidepressant, so why is it OK to take that but not Celexa, Prozac, Paxil? Why is it OK to gnaw on a Willow tree but not OK to take a Tylenol?

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        I don’t think any of them took chemistry.

      • Ariannel

        I imagine it’s because SJW and Willow bark is “herbal” and the other stuff comes from big bad Pharma? My sister in law will swear that medications come loaded with toxins that are more harmful for your body than what it’s trying to cure. Of course, she hasn’t done any research on the topic but, rather, is spouting what she heard on some crunchy website.

    • Sue

      (Whispers: ”Wort” no ”wart”)

      • Lisa the Raptor

        Ha ha ha My bad lol.

  • Lisa the Raptor

    The historian in me takes me waaaaay, waaaaay back, when medicine was sort of a hit or miss thing. There was indeed a time (based on the book about the Frontier Midwifery school, I read a few years ago) when a woman was most likely safer with a midwife than a physician, mainly because men didn’t feel they had a place in that field but a few tried, and failed, mainly because they had no idea what they were doing. Make no mistakes though, the midwives of that time were not purposefully trying to be counter culture and alternative. The things they had at their disposal might have indeed later turned out to be wrong, but they were using what they believed to be the best treatment available at the time. Allopathic treatment, not holistic, even thought it might look more like modern day holistic treatment now. That’s not really what you asked but that is where your question took my brain

    • Young CC Prof

      Well, those Frontier Midwives sure weren’t trusting birth, in any case. They’d seen babies die, and mothers too, including quite probably some close to them.

      • Lisa the Raptor

        I think my favorite story from that book was the pair of midwives that took the laboring woman 20 miles down the river in a boat to get to the hospital.

    • resaurus

      So you must be familiar with Austrian physician Ignaz Semmelweis! In the mid-1800s in Austria, he observed that women tended by trainee physicians in one of the hospital’s two clinics had a much higher mortality rate than the second clinic, attended only by midwives. Women would rather give birth in the street than go to the first clinic due to this reputation. He made the connection that these trainees were causing deadly fevers by going from performing autopsies to attending births. His proposal for trainees to wash hands in between led to a significant drop in deaths, but unfortunately for him, because this discovery ran counter to medical knowledge at the time (the miasma theory still pervaded; germ theory was slowly gaining traction), he ended up dismissed, disgraced and IIRC died of brutal treatment in a mental institution.

      • Amy Tuteur, MD

        Not quite:

        http://open.salon.com/blog/amytuteurmd/2008/09/25/did_doctors_refuse_to_wash_their_hands

        Medical historian Irvine Loudon:

        “…But most of the claims made about him in the twentieth century – that he was the first to discover that puerperal fever was contagious, that he abolished puerperal fever (or that if he did not, it was because of the stupidity of his contemporaries), and that his treatise is one of the greatest works in nineteenth-century medicine – are sheer nonsense…”

        • resaurus

          Huh, I didn’t know that. Someone alert my public health degree professors as well as some public health textbook publishers, because they repeat this non-nuanced mythological story. Very interesting.

  • KarenJJ

    Breastfeeding? I mean they’re not quite as right as they think they are but it turned out there are some benefits that are quantifiable.

    • rh1985

      My issue with that is more that many breastfeeding advocates don’t want to consider situations in which the negatives for the mom and/or baby may outweigh the positives. It’s like their hill to die on that it’s ALWAYS better. I think those that say it’s “generally better” are being accurate.

      • wookie130

        Yes. Breastfeeding is “natural”…only when it works, and the mother and baby are able to swing it, and for a lot of women and babies, formula feeding is actually the better, more feasible option. So, the blanket statement that breastfeeding is the ONLY or the BEST way to feed babies still rings is still a fallacy.

    • Siri Dennis

      Nah, mainstream medics also advocated breastfeeding as they saw the dangers of feeding babies the wrong substitutes.

  • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

    Exercise and eating right. …. That is all I can think of.

  • Mariana Baca

    Acupuncture actually has double-blind studies proving pain relief for certain conditions above placebo.

    • theNormalDistribution

      Sources please.

      • Mariana Baca

        Given I really don’t care one way or another about spending my afternoon looking up sources in google scholar (I’m not a proponent of acupuncture, it is just something I heard), please check out the references linked in this wikipedia article (I’m not claiming wikipedia as a source, just as a list of sources) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acupuncture

        • Nashira

          Implying that acupuncture works when really, the science isn’t there at all, and you don’t actually know, is maybe not the best idea. It’s not that hard to hit SBM and read their well-researched posts, rather than contributing to misinformation.

          • Mariana Baca

            That was not my claim at all. All I said was there were studies with controls. Not having access to the full-text of the studies or the refutations, I cannot verify their validity or not. I was not aware of the site “science based medicine” until now. Thanks for the link. As I said, I don’t know or care much about alternative medicine. Just prompting discussion on the topic mentioned.

          • theNormalDistribution

            Actually, it was. You said

            Acupuncture actually has double-blind studies proving pain relief for certain conditions above placebo.

            (emphasis mine)

          • jake

            Wow guys, no need to jump down her throat. What’s wrong with backpedaling if she randomly heard about something and then was proven wrong right now? For that matter, she’s done it in a nice and off-hand way. I think we’re being a little too aggressive here.

          • theNormalDistribution

            I don’t think anyone has responded particularly harshly. But if you think this is a place where you can make a claim about something without being prepared to back it up, you are mistaken. Most people around here actually know what study they’re referring to when they say “Actually, a study proved [something that refutes what you just said]“, and they expect the same from you. What’s the point of even talking if you’re not prepared to verify that what you’re about to say is actually true?

            And excuse me for saying, but I don’t think it’s particularly nice to make a statement of fact and then respond with “sorry, but I can’t be assed to find you an actual source” when you’re faced with skepticism. It’s rather disrespectful, really.

          • Nashira

            As theNormalDistribution points out, you most certainly did claim that acupuncture was proven to work, using pretty strong language. Are you just backpedaling because you were wrong? I don’t care that you didn’t know, but it is a little irritating to have you act like there’s no way you possibly could have known, without having enough time to analyze each study in detail yourself.

        • Box of Salt

          May I also suggest reading “Trick or Treatmen”t by Ernst & Singh

          http://www.amazon.com/Trick-Treatment-Alternative-Medicine-Trial-ebook/dp/B001CDZZHW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386434779&sr=8-1&keywords=trick+or+treatment

          and/or R. Barker Baussel’s “Snake Oil Science”

          http://www.amazon.com/Snake-Oil-Science-Complementary-Alternative/dp/0195383427/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386434871&sr=8-1&keywords=snake+oil+science

          Both have pretty good descriptions of how the sham acupuncture trials were developed, and how they work . . . just like regular acupuncture.

          • araikwao

            Ooh, haven’t read the second one! Thanks for the link!

          • Trixie

            I’m halfway through Snake Oil Sciece right now!

          • resaurus

            I’d like to add “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre, a British epidemiologist. He starts at the very basics of the scientific method and goes through why various alt med procedures either don’t work or are placebo effect (he looks at fish oil, acupuncture, reiki, those foot baths, and more). He does it in a humorous fashion too, which makes it quite readable.

    • Trixie

      Not good studies, though. It’s pretty hard to design credible fake acupuncture for a placebo.

      • araikwao

        There is a nifty sham acupuncture device (?) that has been used. A quick search of SBM or of Edzard Ernst’s stuff will have details and assure you that acupuncture is plain old placebo, too.

        • Trixie

          Oh, I have no doubts that it’s a placebo. I’m just saying that the studies that have shown it to be better than placebo didn’t do a good job of concealing which is the “real” vs “fake” acupuncture. Especially since many of them used a “real” acupuncturist who was obviously interested in the data showing that the real acupuncture was better.

          • AmyP

            Isn’t a more painful, more inconvenient placebo more convincing than just a sugar pill?

            As we say in my family, “We need better placebos!”

          • araikwao

            Oh, yes, agreed!! Sorry. half of that reply was to Mariana. I probably shouldn’t comment in a hurry late at night and/or/when my kids want my attention.

            Also, the harm done by the placebos (acupuncture, chiro), although rare, can be catastrophic – vertebral artery dissection and death, infection/pneumothorax +/- death…. ;)

      • Mariana Baca

        Not really — you just stick needles in random places, see if it makes any difference to stick needles in the right places. Most people don’t know where acupuncture needles should go.

        • Lisa the Raptor

          From what I’ve heard, it can be kinda like that anyway. Like the chiro, I’m sure some of the things they do might make you feel better, but when someone believes they are moving your life force around, I tend to think them not very scientific.

        • Durango

          People got the same relief from needles stuck randomly as well as simply having toothpicks twirled on them. What matters in acupuncture is that the person thinks they received it, which means it’s a placebo.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      All I’ve ever heard was for back pain. Which is sort of interesting, but “better than placebo” does not mean, better than other treatments available for back pain.

      • Mariana Baca

        Oh, I’m not claiming it is better than drugs or other treatments: I’m a proponent of better living through modern medicine. :) I’m just saying there might be something more there than placebo, and the only way to verify that would be through studies. Not sure it is worth the effort, but maybe for some people.

        • Lisa the Raptor

          Well technically that is all you have to prove, that it’s better than placebo.

    • Young CC Prof

      According to Science-Based Medicine, the larger, better studies find little or no effect, and the studies that find substantial effect tend to be small and/or contain methodological errors.

  • PollyPocket

    Leeches are still used very effectively to drain blood post reattachments (ie ears) before adequate vascular drainage is established

    Maggot therapy pretty much rocks.

    Those are natural, right?

    Is cognitive behavioral therapy considered alternative medicine?

    • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

      CBT is not alternative medicine. It has extensive evidence demonstrating its efficacy for many conditions (mainly mood disorders).

      Leeches were originally used to drain blood because quacks thought that health was related to a balance of various fluids in the body. Modern medical leeches are used to increase bloodflow after reattaching amputated parts (toes, ears, fingers, scalps, etc). Its an apples to oranges sort of thing. :/

      • PollyPocket

        CBT was TAUGHT as complimentary and alternative medicine way back when I was in school. Something can certainly start as alternative and become mainstream.

        I work in reconstructive plastics and use leeches and maggots. It is not a common practice at all. Way more common to use anticoagulants and serial drainage than leeches. In fact, fear factor (tv show) wanted to submerge people in leeches and contacted our practice to supervise because they couldn’t find other doctors who used them regularly. So bloodletting aside (which was not part of my original post) leech therapy is a fringe practice.

        • Young CC Prof

          Is it unusual to use leeches because most reconstructive surgeons think it’s actually a bad idea? Or is it unusual because sanitary medical-grade leeches are inconvenient to procure, and because some patients are freaked out by the treatment?

          • PollyPocket

            Because the office staff hates it and people are reluctant to even consider it (surgeons and patients). Can’t stress the office staff hating it enough. Some will not be in the same room with the critters. Makes for good threats.

          • Young CC Prof

            Did you ever watch “Merlin” on BBC? Young Merlin is always getting threatened with having to clean the physician’s leech tank! It’s apparently the worst chore in the whole castle, worse than mucking stables.

      • Lisa the Raptor

        I don’t think they were quacks (like they would be now if they tried to sell that) . The humors were a legit form of medical practice for a long time, thus my comment above about there being a legit time when going to a doctor might kill you.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      But see, at the time those were not “alternative medicine”, but just medicine.

      • Lisa the Raptor

        And no, there is nothing natural about letting a maggot or leech eat you lol

  • drmoss

    I think the best example of unproven and crazy alternative medicine that actually worked was introduced by Edward Jenner.

  • Hava NaturalMama

    Elective inductions

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      The jury is still out on that one.

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        pfft violent pooping is good for pregnant women. duh

      • Lisa the Raptor

        What the jury is not out on is that Castor oil is a terrible tasting yet very effective laxative!

    • Karen in SC

      Do you mean the NCB induction technique of castor oil?

  • Allie P

    The saying goes “You know what they call ‘alternative medicine’ that’s proven to work? ‘Medicine.’” But we don’t live in the middle ages where midwives were called witches and burnt at the stake for knowing things while being women. Now treatments are put through their paces and adopted or dismissed as proof stands up. Lots of plant based remedies work, but they work BETTER when the active compound is isolated normalized, regulated, etc.

  • Leica

    I can’t think of anything offhand, and “natural” remedies are even an interest of mine. I used to work in a research lab dedicated to studying opium poppies. Unfortunately, one of the things we found is that there’s a huge variation in the amount of active alkaloid between plants, so a gram of sap from two different plants could have dramatically varying amounts of morphine and codeine. I view most of the herbal remedies as fun to know, but of little day to day use. Could you imagine trying to dose Digoxin by brewing foxglove tea? Warfarin was initially discovered in moldy silage. It makes for some great discussions though, and my patients often love hearing the history.

    I did hear of neat work by a doctor who came to our hospital to raise money for his medical mission. They were using granulated sugar to pack wounds and decubitus ulcers, and getting good results. The sugar kept drawing fluid out from the wound bed and maintained a bacteriostatic environment. Someone did ask him how it compared to a wound-vac, and he pointed out that where he was, wound vacs were simply not an option. It did a better job than anything else they had available, with the benefit of being cheap.

    • Awesomemom

      I had no idea about the history of warfarin. My son takes it daily and I am thankful that it works so well to keep him stroke free.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      Could you imagine trying to dose Digoxin by brewing foxglove tea? Warfarin was initially discovered in moldy silage.

      I barely feel comfortable dosing digoxin and warfarin using the purified and standardized drugs. I can’t imagine how terrifying having to guess how much herb to use would be. (Not that, as far as I know, anyone ever used moldy silage medicinally.)

      • Leica

        I can’t imagine anyone ever used the silage medicinally, but it takes a certain amount of crazy genius to go from “Oh no! These cattle are dying horrible hemorrhagic deaths!” to “Hey, I bet we could give this to people to prevent blood clots.”

        Foxglove tea was used for treatment of dropsy (edema likely related to CHF) as far back as the late-1700′s. It may even go back further than that, but that was when the usage was really described. However, it’s a great illustration of what happens when a real remedy is found among folk tales. It’s tried and eventually put into a standardized form. A lot of other herbs never made the cut. Sorry, I can go on about this kind of thing for hours! I collect historical treatises on medicine.

    • Lisa the Raptor

      I mean, I know we have man made elements (which kinda blows my BA. getting mind…how do you make something out of two or more ingredients that becomes one ingredient in it’s purest form–I’ll leave the chemists among us to explain that), but if we call something natural, as in made from things on earth.then everything is natural..everything.

  • BostonGal

    St John’s wort is being used quite successfully with mild to moderate depression in places like Germany. So much so, that I think I heard it is now being prescribed by doctors. I am not sure if the active ingredient there was ever isolated. Also, many plant based remedies such as aloe started as a “grandma’s remedy”, but have inflammatory properties that are mapped now. As others have pointed out, meditation has been shown to induce discernible and measurable changes in the brain, in a positive direction (e.g. greater thickness). There are probably other things I can’t think of right now, that started out as “potions” and ended up being developed into legit meds.

    • araikwao

      Germany is full of woo, and St John’s wort isn’t very effective, plus it interacts with a heap of other meds so can be quite dangerous.

      • Guest

        The woo is actually not stronger here than in any other western country. ;) Homebirth for instance is almost non exsistant.

        • Young CC Prof

          Point. There does seem to be a particular lot of herbalism going on in Germany, though.

          Perhaps all countries have their own woo-specialties. The USA is big enough and diverse enough that if you dig around, you can find any of them. Unfortunately.

        • http://www.europeanmama.eu/ Olga Mecking

          It is strong, thought because the Germans believe in al things natural… the Netherlands are even worse! Oh, and Poland, too!

        • Trixie

          They’re pretty big into homeopathy, though. And pretty big into anti-GMO woo.

    • Trixie

      Yeah, “they use it in Germany” sort of raises a red flag that it’s probably woo.

    • Nashira

      Dude, the drug interactions of St. John’s Wort + its limited efficacy = BIG NO. Especially little things like the way it makes hormonal contraception less effective. And a heap of antihypertensives, statins, immunosuppressants…

      • Lisa Cybergirl

        Yikes! Interfering with contraception is a very depressing side effect!

      • http://shameonbetterbirth.wordpress.com/ Shameon Betterbirth

        yeah it sucks compared to SSRI’s generally. I’m sure there is a small subset of patients that it works best for, though. Thats how psychiatry tends to work…

        • Young CC Prof

          Might also be a viable option for patients who really need an antidepressant, but refuse to, maybe because they are turned off by the stigma of psychiatric drugs (or something like that.)

          If you’re taking an herb instead, you can tell yourself that you’re just pursuing a natural remedy.

        • Nashira

          I have had episodes of major depression since I was ten, and I have been off and on psych meds since I was sixteen. I am well aware of the difficulty involved in finding meds that work well, but I still don’t see how being UNABLE TO SAFELY TAKE WHOLE CLASSES OF MEDS WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT THE DOSE is somehow considered an acceptable side effect. Yes, I’m yelling: but it’s not an acceptable side effect to have to worry that some stupid, unregulated herb is going to make your hormonal contraception fail or screw up your statin or screw up your antihypertensive or screw up your immunosuppressant or screw up your…

          Is that clear enough?

        • Nashira

          I have had episodes of major depression since I was ten, and I have been off and on psych meds since I was sixteen. I am well aware of the difficulty involved in finding meds that work well, but I still don’t see how being unable to safely take whole classes of meds without significant concern about your dose being screwed up is somehow considered an acceptable side effect. Yes, I’m yelling: but it’s not an acceptable to have to worry that some stupid, unregulated herb is going to make your hormonal contraception fail or screw up your statin or screw up your antihypertensive or screw up your immunosuppressant or screw up your…

          Is that clear enough? We have better, safer options.

    • Suspended In Gaffa

      I use aloe vera juice to treat heartburn…my husband introduced me to it. I guess it’s a common trick amongst weight lifters who consume a lot of protien powder and end up with upset stomachs. I totally forgot about this even being a “natural” treatment. No clue if there are any studies proving effectiveness, I just know it works for me.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      There are definitely plants that contain substances that are helpful in medicine. The thing to remember about them though is this: The plants didn’t make these substances to be nice. They made them to kill the animals that were trying to eat them. Always remember that what you’re really doing is taking a controlled dose of poison and treat the compound with the respect it deserves.

      Also, Germany has at least some controls on “naturopathic” medications. So you at least have a good chance that a bottle labelled “St John’s wort” contains St John’s wort. In the US, there are virtually no regulations on “natural remedies” and, as a recent study showed, often what is in the bottle is not the same as what is on the label.

  • Dr Kitty

    OT
    Rather good Guardian article about the actual challenges facing the NHS in providing maternity care.
    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/05/24-hours-europe-busiest-midwives-liverpool-hospital-nhs

  • Durango

    Looking over what folks have listed I have to wonder…alt med folk reflexively distrust all conventional med stuff, so it seems like if they do get something “right” it’s only because they cast their nets so wide. So, okay, no routine episiotomy, but they hate c-sections and IVs too. The alt diet folk hate “chemicals” like artificial sweeteners or whatever and so they also hated trans-fats which happened to turn out to be bad for you. Not because alties said so, but because something (of the many things) they happened to distrust ended up being not good for you.

    • Ceridwen

      As a corollary to this, they tend to distrust even natural interventions when they become a part of medicine. So dosing yourself or your children with tons of vitamin D is awesome and will prevent the flu when the recommendation is coming from Mercola.com. But dosing your children with vitamin D because your mainstream pediatrician recommends it due to prevalence of low vitamin D levels in breastfed infants in the area you live? Unacceptable!

      So they tend to reject the very things they previously found useful once they are actually demonstrated to BE useful.

      • Young CC Prof

        Taking mega-doses of any vitamin under the sun to prevent heaven knows what, that’s good. Vitamin K injection for newborns to prevent bleeding problems? No! It’s unnatural! It causes cancer! The dose is too high!

        • AlisonCummins

          That’s partly a function of different groups. Some appear fixated on “purity,” other like using pills. It’s a bit like saying “people keep saying how much their animals like laser pointers but I tried it on my animal and it’s just not true” when ‘my animal’ is a sheep.

          • Young CC Prof

            I have specifically heard both opinions out of the infamous Mercola.

      • Trixie

        So true!

  • Squillo

    I think a better question is: Have natural health advocates ever admitted being wrong about anything?

    Seems to me the key differences between “alternative” med and scientific med is that the latter generally requires evidence and discards practices that don’t work (albeit sometimes more slowly than we’d like). When “alt med” practices are eventually tested (generally by the scientific “establishment” rather than the purveyors) and are found wanting, the purveyors and supporters use the “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio” gambit to keep business rolling.

    • Susan

      Bravo Squillo!

  • Dr Kitty

    Acupuncture and Chitopractic are in the NICE guidelines for back pain, FWIW.

    • araikwao

      Grrrrrr

  • Meerkat

    Not childbirth related, but a naturopath friend suggested magnesium supplements for my horrible migraines. I promptly forgot what she said, until my neurologist made the same suggestion. I can’t take anything stronger because I am still breastfeeding, so I thought, what the heck, I will try it. I was shocked, shocked to realize that I haven’t had a migraine in over a month since I started taking the supplement. I used to get them 2-3 times a week!

    • Amy M

      My neurologist has me taking CoQ10 for migraines based on clinical trials. (I haven’t been taking it long enough to see if it is working for me or not) I’m not sure if the alt-med community was into Coq10 for that though, since it is usually marketed for heart health.

      • Meerkat

        Ooooo, I will ask him about that! How much are you taking?

        • Amy M

          craploads…400mg, 3x/day

          • Meerkat

            I was surprised, maybe it has something to do with individual deficiencies and causes of migraines. Mine are clearly hormone-related. I have to say though that doing yoga regularly and meditation helped reduce the severity of my migraines greatly.

          • Amy M

            Mine don’t seem to be hormone related, at least not presently. Main trigger is stress…sure wish I could eliminate more of that, but hopefully the universe will stop throwing crap our way sometime soon. :) I had some vacation time last week and what do you know? No migraines! I have more coming up in a few weeks…really looking forward to it.

        • Amy M

          My doctor wasn’t too keen on the data about the magnesium, I guess some trials have shown efficacy and some have not. Clearly if its working for you, that’s great. Maybe I should try it, on the grounds that it can’t hurt. Topamax has failed, so I’m running out of options.

    • drmoss

      It’s very hard to take enough magnesium orally to affect the serum level – even one MgO2 420mg tab per day will give most people diarrhoea and it doesn’t touch the serum level.

      • Meerkat

        I have no adverse effects from it. It could be the sugar pill effect, but I doubt it. I have had migraines my whole life with the exception of pregnancy, tried many many medications, so I had little hope that magnesium would work. I take it along with my prenatal and Vitamin D, so I don’t think much about the process. I realized that something was different only around my period, when my migraines are usually the worst, lasting for several days. This month I had I had no migraines, and the only thing I did differently was magnesium…

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Assuming normal kidney function. People with kidney problems can end up with high Mg levels.

      • Captain Obvious

        I disagree, pregnant women with palpitations that may be related to low Mg and/or K levels always seem to get better with MgOxide and KCl supplements. And when I follow serum results, the levels do rise above my thresholds or benefit. Mg 2.2, K 4.0

        • drmoss

          I’m not saying it doesn’t work, only that it is hard to tolerate because of the diarrhoea. Some geriatricians are giving Mag Sulph IM as a way of boosting low serum Mg in nursing home residents who would find it burdensome to go to the local OPD for an IV infusion.

  • AmaryllisZ

    Ginger and marijuana do relieve nausea, with no more side effects than Zofran, the rx treatment. (Note: if marijuana is illegal where you live, stick with the ginger or Zofran. I’m not condoning illegal activity, just stating a well researched fact.)

    • Dr Kitty

      As someone who had hyperemesis, ginger did crap all and Zofran was wonderful.
      Cannabis was not tried.

      • Ceridwen

        Indeed. Cannabis isn’t really an ideal option for pregnancy-related nausea and ginger also did nothing for me. I needed Zofran AND Diclectin to not be puking my guts out, though I was never officially diagnosed with HG.

        I did try cannibis once for migraine-related nausea. It was horribly ineffective as it made my migraine much much worse, which in turn made me much more nauseated.

        • Dr Kitty

          Hub and I did some backpacking many moons ago.
          I got my period while we were in Amsterdam, and discovered that you cannot buy codeine OTC there (I have endometriosis).
          It turns out that chocolate brownies in Amsterdam are a fairly decent alternative.

          But still, Drugs are bad, mmmkay!

          • Lizz

            Wait where can you buy codeine OTC?

          • Dr Kitty

            The UK, Ireland and Belgium from personal knowledge.

            8/500 Co-Codamol (8mg codeine and 500 mg paracetamol) and 12.8mg codeine +200mg ibuprofen tablets, marketed as Nurofen Plus, are available OTC.

            2 Nurofen Plus TDS and 2 Cocodamol QDS was my usual period pain relief pre Mirena.

          • Certified Hamster Midwife

            Hydrocodone takes care of my cramps nicely, but doctors are quite stingy with them here.

          • Lizz

            Yeah here in my state they are even cracking down and limiting doctors on how many scripts they can write for it. The pharmacy can turn you down if you come in with a script for too many pills or if you come in with too many scripts.
            That would be the greatest thing in the world for my family since we’re all on pain contracts.

          • Lori

            Here in Canada it is a “behind the counter” med, meaning no script but you consult with a pharmacist before walking out with it.

        • araikwao

          My doc told me it was B6&ginger? I couldn’t face the prospect of swallowing big tablets 3x a day, as that was likely to make me gag and vomit, so I never tried it..

        • Captain Obvious

          Diclegis is out now in USA, the old bendectin.

      • Carolina

        Zofran is the greatest medical gift I’ve ever received!

        Ginger was total crap. I’m not sure about smoking pot during pregnancy, so I think I’ll pass on that.

        • AmyP

          I found Thai fried ginger with chicken worked beautifully for nausea during my second pregnancy.

          I also like a spicy panang tofu for clearing out the airways during a bad cold.

          Mmmmm.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          A friend of mine with HG threatened to name her baby Merck after she got relief from Zofran and stopped having to get IV fluids every other day. Fortunately she thought better of it and little GlaxoSmithKline isn’t named for the wrong company!

      • Trixie

        Ginger did seem to help my mild nausea during pregnancy. Then again, so did goldfish crackers.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        I had nausea but not hyperemesis in pregnancy. Because I wasn’t actually vomiting all that much (just feeling like I needed to continually), no one was willing to give me zofran, but tried lots of OTC and folk remedy type things. The thing that worked for me, oddly enough, was massage. Don’t know what to make of that. Maybe relaxation helped? Anyway, I had about a 15 minute interval after a massage where I could eat with reasonable impunity and then it was back to gagging every time I smelled anything cooking. Ah, pregnancy: such a joy!

    • Nashira

      My migraines make me so nauseated it’s almost like a new form of
      pain, and my ulcerative colitis has been giving me bouts of nausea that
      are almost that bad. Sublingual Zofran is proof that science is AMAZING. (Though phenergan was freaking awesome when this UC flare was bad enough I was on 5/325 Vicodin to stop the pain, due to the wonders of potentiation…)

      Ginger is delicious. It does not stop my nausea. In fact, sometimes its strong flavor makes it much worse.

      • araikwao

        Uncool :(

    • Captain Obvious

      Found this on marijuana, that it for what it’s worth.
      Marijuana

      Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation. Textbook.

      Marijuana category X

      Marijuana risks contaminants. So unless you are growing your own, beware of laced product.
      THC does cross the placenta.
      Possible decrease gestation by .8 weeks.
      Increase risk precipitous labor (29% v 3%) or prolonged labor (31% v 19%).
      Increase risk of meconium passage (57% v 25%).
      Increase risk resuscitation (41% v 21%).
      Association with strabismus.
      Newborn risk for decreased visual responses, irritability, high pitched cry, tremors, startles.
      At 36 and 48 month lower verbal and memory scores.
      At 9-12 yo, worse impulse control and visual analysis/hypothesis testing.
      1989 report from Children’s Cancer Study Group demonstrated 10 fold increase risk for acute nonlymphoblastic leukemia (ANLL).

  • Meerkat

    Alternative medicine practitioners always stressed mind/ body connection and suggested that positive outlook promotes healing. I think modern medicine is starting to recognize that too. My friend has cancer, and as a part of her treatment her hospital is offering art therapy and meditation classes.

    • AlisonCummins

      You might like this article:
      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/integrative-oncology-trojan-horse-quackademic-medicine-or-both/

      Meditation may help if you’ve been having trouble sleeping, but it won’t actually cure your cancer.

    • Ceridwen

      I have a lot of issues with the “positive outlook improves outcomes” thing. It’s good in the sense that we should be looking for and promoting methods that can help patients maintain a positive outlook on their life while dealing with disease. But it’s also extremely dangerous because it often is used (purposefully or not) to make patients feel badly when they *don’t* have a positive outlook. As though they are the cause of their disease or poor response to treatment.

      • Dr Kitty
        • Lisa Cybergirl

          I’ve always loved that essay.

        • resaurus

          Was just going to recommend “Bright-Sided”! Love that book.

      • Young CC Prof

        http://xkcd.com/828/

        There really is an xkcd for everything.

      • Meerkat

        I read all the articles below, and I agree with all if them—yes, there is a ton of quackery out there, and yes, meditation will not cure cancer. Yes, forcing a sick patient to have a ” positive outlook” sucks. But I do think that there is a connection between our brain and out physical health. What about placebo effect?
        I hope that scientists study the way our brains might help us heal. It might sound like science fiction, but wouldn’t modern day technology look like science fiction to someone living even 50 years ago?

        • Young CC Prof

          Thing about the placebo effect is that it mostly provides short-term relief of symptoms, rather than improvement in measurable signs like blood test numbers. One study compared acupuncture vs placebo inhaler vs actual inhaler for asthma. All three made patients feel better, but only one actually improved lung capacity.

          So, placebos can work for pain, but not so much for the underlying disease.

        • KarenJJ

          The other problem I’ve encountered is that people (and in my case, doctors) think that if it is not explainable by them then it must be ‘in your head’ and due to your ‘attitude’. Being sent to a psychologist because your physical symptoms don’t make sense is a real kick in the pants (this didn’t happen to me but to someone else that has the same thing I have).

          • Nashira

            It happened to me for years with something that, WHOOPS, turns out to have been either Crohn’s or (more likely, says the GI) ulcerative colitis my entire freaking life. My shrink still hasn’t said much to me since I mentioned being nervous about the first colonoscopy, and he told me that my gut issues have always been psychosomatic and rooted in anxiety… and the next day I had a formal diagnosis. Yes, I have had anxiety issues most of my life: but dang, not worrying about embarrassing UC symptoms has up and vanished most of those.

    • KarenJJ

      Alt-med seem to have the listening thing and the time spent with patients right. I spent an hour talking about the different issues I had with alt-med practitioner and she umm’ed and ahh’ed in the right plaes. Told me I had ‘too much heat’ and prescribed acupuncture and a bunch of random pills. Which I took because I was infertile and waiting for IVF to start and not in a good place.

      I had a GP look at my blood tests that said ‘anaemia due to chronic disease’ and tell me that maybe my red blood cells don’t last as long as other people’s and sent me out the door in under ten minutes…

      When I finally had a name of a syndrome that linked ALL my issues (hives connected to hearing loss, who’d thought?) I then spent an hour at an appointment with a Prof of Immunology going through all my issues and medical history. Emerged with a bunch of tests to do and a plan of what to do after that if the syndrome is confirmed (and it was) and some potential answers.

      If there was a way to combine the time and attention from a natural health practitioner with the knowledge and access to the big guns of medicine that doctors have access too, that would be ideal…

      • Meerkat

        Yes, exactly. It’s all connected, we have one body, but many specialists look at “their” parts only, so they might miss the whole picture.

        • KarenJJ

          That’s definitely what happened with myself. The immune system issue was affecting a whole different bunch of things.

  • Ceridwen

    I would say that stuff like relaxation and massage are the best examples of things I can think of that started (at least primarily) in “alternative medicine” and moved into medicine. The problem is that in alternative medicine they are typically assumed to have MAJOR impacts, while in medicine they are considered to be relatively easy to introduce, have a low risk of causing any harm, and can cause some mild improvements in some measures of health (usually mental health).

    I would also agree with some other posters that the push toward natural childbirth has probably helped create a more pleasant environment for birth in a lot of non-medical ways (presence of support people, more comfortable rooms, etc). But it’s very difficult to say how much of that is due to NCB-type pushes and how much really comes just from the push throughout medicine for less paternalistic care, plus competition between hospitals to pull in patients, which is especially strong for maternity care. And it needs to be remembered that NCB pushes have also created a lot of unpleasantness for many women, so it’s hard to say it’s been a net good.

  • Julia

    Medical marijuana?

  • Ainsley Nicholson

    Glucosamine for osteoarthritis?

    • araikwao

      Nah, that doesn’t work either

    • AmaryllisZ

      Unfortunately, no. I was quite disappointed, too.

    • Certified Hamster Midwife

      Vets are very big on glucosamine for dogs in particular, but there isn’t any solid proof for it.

      • Nashira

        And horses. Glucosamine is HUGE among horsey circles, but so is a lot of other bullshit.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          I think horse circles are probably the biggest circles of crap there is when it comes to medicine. But then, given that horses are so prone to problems, it’s probably easier for witchcraft to get accepted.

          “If we orient the barn north to south, we have less problems with laminitis. That’s the cure!”

          • Certified Hamster Midwife

            Obligatory:

            http://www.aonghascrowe.com/storage/FarSideCartoon.jpg

            http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3066/2573694294_f357ddf383_o.jpg

            Horses are so delicate and I think a lot of weird lore crept in before there were competent vets to deal with them. I still refuse to go to the races because I can’t even deal with a sporting event where there’s a good chance one of the athletes will be euthanized right on the track.

          • Nashira

            Plus, I volunteered several years on a rescue farm in Maryland, home of the Preakness. We had a lot of horses who had to be taught (bribed: lots of treats) that humans were safe, that we wanted to help, that we didn’t want to hurt them, all rescued from racetracks. Many of them would have been killed if the farm hadn’t been able to rescue them. That’s a good reason to not support horse racing for me.

            Of course, the one day a horse had to be put down due to a major unfixable injury, the owner of the farm didn’t warn my mother, so my four year old younger brother toddled by in the middle of the euthanasian. Uh, we didn’t go back after that – Bearbear was pretty traumatized.

      • An Actual Attorney

        For several years, until he died, my mom and her dog took the same glucosamine pills. He got a half, she got a whole one, out of the same bottle. Not sure if it helped either of their arthritis, but it was amusing.

    • Box of Salt
  • SkepticalGuest

    I think there have been some minor problems with vaccines that got uncovered–and fixed!

    For instance, I think there used to be a live, attenuated polio vaccine that was causing mild cases of polio in a very small percentage of people who got vaccinated. In fact, I believe there was a time when the ONLY cases of polio in the US were from this vaccine–because the vaccine did such a fabulous job of controlling polio.

    The vaccine was changed and that doesn’t happen any more.

    I believe there have been other similar stories with other vaccines of rare reactions that got uncovered and fixed.

    Too bad there is such nonsense, though, about today’s vaccines, which are extremely safe and save countless lives every year.

    • Ceridwen

      This was known pretty much all along though. And it wasn’t found or changed because of anti-vaccine people. And oral polio vaccine is still used in many parts of the world because the benefits of using it still outweigh the risks of a (very) few cases of vaccine derived polio.

    • Therese

      Or what about DTP? Anti-vaxxers claimed it was too risky and science must have agreed because they ended up replacing it with the DTaP.

      And the smallpox vaccine, did the anti-vaxxers argue that it needed to be removed from the schedule once small pox was eliminated? Seems like something they must have said, if so, they ended up being right about that.

      • Young CC Prof

        The way I heard it, phasing out whole-cell pertussis had less to do with real evidence of harm and more to do with public outcry.

        And many thousands of people have gotten sick and a few dozen newborns have died of pertussis, in significant part because of that change, so I’m not sure it was the right choice.

      • Sullivan ThePoop

        No, that is wrong again because there was no real problem with the DTP and they should have never replaced it with DTaP.
        Oh and scientists were the ones who said that Smallpox should be phased out, not alternative medicine people.

  • Guest

    I think there is some evidence that breastmilk does fight blocked tear ducts and eye infections. Walking does help bring on labor. Laboring in water does help control pain, although an epidural is much more effective. :)

    • Karen in SC

      Actual research or anecdotes? For instance, if you are 40 weeks pregnant, you probably have a certain percentage chance of going into labor every day anyway. Plus, walking earlier is safe and not known to bring on pre-term labor for women with a healthy cervix.

      • Guest

        I don’t know about the walking bit, actually, and I shouldn’t have said it “brings on labor” — you’re right. What I meant is that it seems to be standard practice to encourage walking in early labor to keep contractions coming. It was standard practice in our area for a hospital to tell a woman in early labor to walk around a lot to bring on contractions — literally, to not admit her, tell her to walk outside until she was in real labor — which suggests to me that the hospital, at least, thought it an effective method.

        http://scienceofmom.com/2011/11/08/can-breast-milk-cure-my-child’s-eye-infection/

        There’s the best summary I can see of the research, such as it is, into the use of breast milk to treat eye infections. The best it does is not rule the efficacy out, anyway. I did it and had more than a few friends who did and to us it sure did seem to work.

        Most women I have talked to found that laboring in water offered good pain relief early on. I think this falls into the category of a mental health benefit that offers something of a physiological benefit as a bonus. The water soothes and relaxes, helping the mother to relax which does help with pain. Like massages, yoga, meditation, etc., mentioned above.

        • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

          Also, isn’t breastmilk supposed to help with cracked nipples? Does anyone have legit research on that?

          • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

            And lanolin for same – disqus won’t let me edit today

          • Trixie

            Yeah, but that sort of falls under the category of “lotion is good for your skin.” It’s a thick heavy lotion that’s safe if babies injest a bit of it.

  • Amy M

    Hasn’t meditation been shown to have beneficial effects? Of course it won’t cure cancer, but can’t it relax people and reduce stress which would certainly be good for most people? I guess if the alternative people are saying meditation will cure some disease then this would be a bad example, but if kept within a reasonable scope, it can be a good thing. Same for yoga—not going to cure any disease, but as a form of light to moderate exercise which is generally considered a good thing for most of the population, it has its place.

  • MelodyCason

    I hadn’t heard that about episiotomies. I had one with my first, and I’m not sure with my second (they said I tore just a small bit, not sure if it was an episiotomy or not). Should I have not gotten one?

    • Ceridwen

      It really depends on the circumstance. While NCB advocates would have you believe that all episiotomies are bad, there are circumstances in which they are necessary (baby in distress needs to come out now and they can’t wait around for mom to tear so they can fit the necessary instruments in for example) and other circumstances in which tears and episiotomies are pretty equal for risk of damage/difficulty in healing or episiotomies come out a bit ahead. As is so often the case, the picture is just more complex than the natural health advocates want to think.

  • AlisonCummins

    Not sure what you’re asking.

    Personally I define “alternative” as “counter to all scientific evidence,” so there aren’t going to be a lot of positive hits. If you’re asking about “natural,” that (as you have pointed out) is very vague.

    “Natural” can be about self-reliance, such as focusing on lifestyle and CBT to manage mild to moderate depression instead of depending on an antidepressant prescription, or using observation of cervical mucus for natural family planning instead of purchased pills and devices, or managing hypertension with diet and exercise. There is nothing inherently anti-science about this philosopical preference and the examples I just gave are firmly science-based. They come *from* science and not the other way around. (Any assertion that these forms of self-reliance are always superior and always sufficient is of course not science-based.)

    Sometimes “natural” means that whatever-it-is is not supplied by a large corporation like Bayer or Wal-Mart or the AMA. They don’t mind that active ingredients in a herbal tea are less pure than a pill sold at the drugstore — prescription or otherwise — because they just prefer not to support large corporations or to live their lives as the ideal consumers envisioned by large corporations. Or they reject the intervention altogether, such as vaccinations, preferring to take their chances and live with the consequences rather than support a pharmaceutical company. In theory there’s nothing inherently not-science-based about this choice — you can know that your child is at greater risk for measles and of passing on measles and still reject vaccination on principle, or you can use old t-shirts to make perfectly good washable menstrual pads without enriching Proctor & Gamble — but in practice it’s associated with mistrust of the large corporation and reflexive rejection which is not science-based thinking. People tend not to want to dwell on the fact that their child could kill a neighbour’s infant and make up other rationalizations which are unlikely to find support, but they might. I think this is the category that might find scientific support after the fact.

    • Young CC Prof

      Good point, philosophically at least.

      Of course, they should keep in mind that unless you’re growing or gathering the herbs yourself, or getting them from a friend who does, you’re STILL supporting big corporations.

  • Amy Tuteur, MD

    As Bofa pointed out, there is a difference between natural and alternative. While most alternative remedies are natural, not all natural remedies are alternative.

    The hallmark of natural health advocates is the belief that natural is better than technological, hence the claim that active ingredients in herbs are somehow different than the active ingredients purified from herbs. Or that “natural” oxytocin is better than synthetic oxytocin.

  • Susan

    Well, yes, episiotomies. But I give the ncb movement credit for more than that which is positive. How about birthing rooms__ predecessor to LDRs and LDRPs? How about doing away with enemas and preps? Was that the natural birth influence? How about fathers at birth? Letting the mom invite other support people? Even though I agree with you the benefits of breastfeeding are overstated, they are still real. It should have never turned into shaming formula feeders… But I for one am glad women no longer have to feel they have to explain why they are breastfeeding. I actually credit the natural childbirth faction with a lot of good changes in maternity care.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Birthing rooms are not a medical advance. Enemas, as you probably know, actually work. Shaving was supposed to prevent infection. It doesn’t, but that was not discovered by NCB advocates.

      • LynnetteHafkenIBCLC

        Some women (cough cough) might have preferred an enema ahead of time…

      • Therese

        It might not have been discovered by them, but if they were against it all along, shouldn’t they get credit for having been right?

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Not if they were against it for all the wrong reasons, no.

          We had this discussion a lot in grad school. If your model accurately predicts reality, but the internals make no sense and don’t follow the real world, can we really call your model “right”? The answer usually comes down to no- we can use the model, but if reality starts to diverge from the model, it becomes totally useless because we don’t know why it stopped working.

          If you hate everything, you’re going to hate a few things that are actually bad. You don’t get credit for the things you were right on if your overall record is incredibly wrong and you were only right by using the spray-and-pray approach.

          • Young CC Prof

            Indeed, it would be remarkable to be wrong all the time about everything!

            Natural-health advocates are right in two circumstances:

            1) When quoting “natural treatments” also recommended by actual medical science, like eating veggies, not smoking, or exercise. What most people call common sense health advice.

            2) By coincidence. Kind of like that guy who claims he can predict the weather, because back in ’98 he said there would be a really bad storm, and he was totally right.

      • Susan

        I just wrote a post that better captured what I wanted to say about what the NCB movement had right, and it’s more the attitude that what the patient wants matters in the equation than any other factor. I know the NCB isn’t the ONLY factor in the equation, but I think it has overall made having a baby a better experience for all US women, not just those having a natural birth. I wasn’t really responding to your question is I guess my point.
        With regard to enemas, I have given I think 3 in 25 years to labor patients. Seriously. One was a female OB though as a matter of fact! I think that the nice thing is that these things are no longer routine and I think it would be denial to say the NCB movement had no influence on the obstetric and nursing community becoming more likely to question it’s own routines and becoming more responsive to patient’s desires.

    • Bombshellrisa

      I am interested in how enemas can be so evil in one setting, yet alternative medicine suggests enemas with various ingredients to “cure” all sorts of things (coffee enemas for example)

  • Trixie

    Honey for a cough/sore throat in kids.
    Skin to skin kangaroo as an effective means of keeping preemies warm and happy.

    • araikwao

      I think the honey thing is a bit shaky (but beats the harm that can be done with the now-restricted cough medicines). SBM or Ped Insider did something on this..

      • Trixie

        Oh really? Well, there goes that. Still, I suppose it makes parents feel like they’re doing something, and honey tastes good and probably helps the kids feel better.

        • araikwao

          Yeah, I figure the only people who mightn’t like are the dentists!

          • araikwao

            *like it*

        • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

          Heh, honey helps soothe my sore throats. It helps that I always put it in hot tea- the heat and syrup-ness really help alleviate sore throats, at least for a bit, and it makes sure I get some liquid into my system when I’m sick (I never feel hungry or thirsty, so it’s a real chore to make myself take care of myself when I get sick. Tea with honey is one of the few things that’s actually appetizing).

    • Burgundy

      Honey did not work for me nor my kid. It made us vomited everything out. My daughter took honey for sore throat 4 years ago and the result was so bad that she refused to have honey of any kind today.

  • LynnetteHafkenIBCLC

    Letting a low fever run its course instead of administering antipyretics…

    • mollyb

      I remember telling everyone I knew when I was pregnant how I was going to let my kids’ fevers run their courses and not give medications. Turns out I have the kind of babies that will throw a febrile seizure at the slightest fever. Now I don’t go anywhere without a bottle of tylenol in my purse (I do know that this has not been proven to prevent febrile seizures but their doctor says it is a sensible precaution).

    • Dr Kitty

      The advice is not to treat a fever just because it is a fever if the child is well BUT if you have a miserable, rigouring, flushed, headachey child who is clearly feeling yucky because of their fever, go ahead and treat them with antipyretic analgesia. There is no reason for a child to be sore and miserable.

      Personally, whenever I have a fever my hands ache. Letting a fever run its course would make day to day activities too painful, so at the first twinge I’ll take paracetamol. The viruses might survive longer, but I’ll be able to do more while I’m sick if I can move my fingers without pain.

  • PCOSRa

    If someone can prove that homeopathy works, the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay them $1 million. Really! Here’s a link…
    http://www.ted.com/talks/james_randi.html

  • Are you nuts

    What about folic acid reducing the incidence of neural tube defects? Not sure if that qualifies.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Has folic acid supplementation resulted from pushed by natural health people? I know that (at least folate) is a major push even in anti-cancer work, so there is a ton of biochemistry behind it.

    • Elle

      Of course, for an advocate of “natural health,” that would mean eating kale rather than taking folic acid. I’m not sure which came first though… it seems to me that the big kale fetish has been a recent development, which may have come *after* the folic acid recommendations, but I could be wrong, and I’m fairly certain that those who advocate “natural health” have always pushed the green veggies.

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      I would have to say no on this because it was discovered through science.

  • Zyzle

    This reminds me of a Dara O’Briain quote: “We have a name for ‘alternative medicine’ that works: medicine”

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      I think you would like Tim Minchin’s Storm.

  • Amy M

    Well I guess that leeches and maggots are sometimes still used in Western medicine because they are effective, but I guess that would mean that the alternative medicine people would eschew those treatments, even though they are natural.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-07-07-leeches-maggots_x.htm

    • Alenushka

      Leeches are used in hospitals to regulate venous return in transplanted organs. There is nothing alternative about it . Leeches are raised on special medical farms.

      • Amy M

        Yeah, not alternative, just natural.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Then again, leeches are not being used for the types of things that it was used before.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Q: What do you call alternative medicine that works?
        A: Medicine.

    • AlisonCummins

      But weren’t they *always* used in medicine?

      • Amy M

        Sure, but so were lots of things that currently fall under the scope of “alternative”, like Traditional Chinese Medicine for example.

        • AlisonCummins

          Isn’t the question “has anything gone from non-medicine into medicine?” Leeches and maggots were in medicine from the beginning though their use has been restricted and refined. They weren’t used *first* by non-medical types.

          I think there are different shifts and exchanges between medicine and non-medicine.

          Old practices:
          1) Practice retained in both medicine and non-medicine. (Leeches.)
          2) Practice discarded from medicine, retained in non-medicine. (Cupping.)
          3) Practice retained in medicine, discarded from non-medicine. (This doesn’t happen. Nothing is discarded from non-medicine.)
          4) Practice discarded from medicine, discarded from non-medicine. (This doesn’t happen. Nothing is discarded from non-medicine.)

          New practices:
          5) Practice introduced into medicine, rejected by non-medicine. (Vaccines, episiotomy.)
          6) Practice introduced into medicine, accepted by non-medicine. (Diet and exercise to manage hypertension.)
          7) Practice introduced into non-medicine, rejected by medicine. (Homeopathy.)
          8) Practice introduced into non-medicine, accepted by medicine. (?)

          Amy Tuteur, MD’s example of episiotomy is an example of type 5 where something didn’t move from medicine into non-medicine, but I think the question as posed is whether there are any Type 8 practices.

          • Zornorph

            One day, every hospital will recommend a lotus birth, you philistines!

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Exactly! You said it better than I did, Alison.

          • Amy M

            Ok, I see what you mean then. I was thinking more of the “natural is always best” philosophy we have discussed here before.

        • theadequatemother

          TCM was actually never really a thing until Mao. It’s fascinating he pretty much created it and promoted it as a way to push a China-best agenda during the Cold War. Orca has some links to a great blog that detailed the history of Chinese medicine (hint it doesn’t go back hundreds of years) and a series of posts by an anesthesiologist looking at the claims of the use of acupuncture during operations (it doesn’t work and was always combined with local anesthetic in the actual incision and a patient that was told to e still and quiet or else when westerners were observing). I am on my phone so I don’t have a link but it’s awesome reading for those interested.

  • Alenushka
    • Gene

      Chicken soup also has benefit for sore throat. But since that was “Grandma’s Advice”, it’s not really new.

      • Alenushka

        There is a real study on that as well.

      • Are you nuts

        I swear eating pho (vietnamese noodle soup) cures colds! Something about the salt and the spiciness… I don’t actually, but it sure makes me feel better.

        • Burgundy

          That’s how we treat colds in my house :)

        • KarenJJ

          A yummy way to cure a cold too.

  • The Computer Ate My Nym

    Well, willow bark and poppy seed extract really do reduce pain. But generally not as well as aspirin or morphine. In other words, they’re right about the presence of medicinally useful substances in some plants, but wrong in their (frequent) claim that the natural substance is somehow better than the purified product.

    • Zornorph

      Willow bark tea – I’m having flashback to the endless repetition of that cure in the Clan of the Cave Bear books.

      • Amy M

        Oh good old Ayla, she invented everything…spear throwers, fire, domesticated animals, bras….quite the prehistoric genius she was.

        • Zornorph

          What struck me about those books was how ‘modern’ the cavepeople’s thinking was. They didn’t believe in spanking, for example, and had this elaborate way of teaching children to behave by tying them together. I somehow doubt that cave men had the patience for that. I get it’s the whole ‘noble savage’ thing, but it made me roll my eyes.

      • Dr Kitty

        I read that book at a rather impressionable age. DO NOT RECOMMEND.
        My parents don’t believe in censoring books for children, so I pretty much read anything lying about the house.

        I am pretty sure we won’t be carrying on that particular tradition.
        Seven year olds should NOT read gynaecology textbooks from the sixties.

        • Zornorph

          Stephen King (in his novel Bag of Bones) described the books as ‘Sex among the cavepeople’ which I thought was surprisingly accurate.

          • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kumquatwriter

            My husband was just listening to that audio book and refers to it as “caveman porn”

        • Amy

          The first book in that series was actually required summer reading for me going into ninth grade. At one of the top schools in the country. I can’t look at the words nodule, manhood, or throbbing in the same way ever since.

          • Trixie

            Omg!

        • auntbea

          But look how well you turned out!

        • nomorequestionscatherine

          I also read that book at an elementary school age (not for school, just for fun). Seemed normal at the time but I look back and I’m like O_o.