Untested alternative medicine dangerous | Inquirer Opinion

This is my reaction to Kay Rivera’s article “An uphill battle (2)” (Opinion, 10/26/20). I agree that alternative medicine, which includes natural remedies and traditional cures, should not be outrightly dismissed.

This is so because they can be effective. However, they should also not be outrightly accepted because they haven’t been tested. Promoters may claim that they have been proven effective and safe, but they haven’t undergone clinical trials. In contrast, mainstream practices and medicines have been thoroughly studied for efficacy, dosage, precautions, limitations, risks, contraindications, and safety. This cannot be said of alternative medicine.

Testimonials seem to show that alternative medicine works. However medical testimonials are unacceptable in scientific journals, and court and Food and Drug Administration approval, for three reasons. First, since some conditions are self-limiting, the improved condition may not be due to the intervention. For example, common colds disappear in about one week. Some cancers simply disappear without intervention.

Second, the symptoms of some diseases vary. Thus, the cessation of a symptom may not be due to the intervention. Third, the cure may be due to the placebo effect, placebos being around only 20 to 30 percent effective.

Accepting an untested medical cure has three dangers. First, if the cure does not work, you will have wasted money. Second, if you don’t avail yourself of or discontinue a mainstream cure, you might deteriorate. Third, if the unconventional approach is dangerous, your life will be at risk. For example, some leaves used as herbal medicine may contain toxic alkaloids.

Rivera wishes to integrate mainstream and alternative medicine, but I think the latter must be thoroughly studied first. If not, such integration will simply blend effective and safe medicine with a possibly ineffective and dangerous one. The good news is that there has been research on traditional medicinal plants as Rivera mentioned.

Some people do not trust Western medicine. Would they rather trust untested medicine based on unreliable testimonials? If mainstream medicine is risky, untested alternative medicine is far riskier.

Jori Gervasio R. Benzon,Zamora, Pandacan, Manila, [email protected]

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