Understanding Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Homeopathy spammer Ellen Kramer (@EllenKramer, she of the pouting MySpace face avatar), whose claimed qualification appears to be from the “college” of which she is principal, would like you to believe that “therapies are termed as complementary, when used in addition to conventional treatments”.

As with so much that she says, this is misleading.

I have quoted Ellen’s wibble in comic sans, to help you identify truth from fiction.

Understanding Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM)

By Ellen Kramer (MCPH)

MCPH sounds suspiciously like it comes from her “College of Practical Homeopathy” doesn’t it? So, Ellen, what are your actual qualifications? I have a BEng from a Russell Group university, I decided to pass up the offer of an MEng place in favour of paid work with the department. I know a number of chemists (I’m married to one of them). Do you have degrees in chemistry, medicine or any other relevant discipline?

The terms Complementary and alternative medicine are often used interchangeably. The boundaries between them are not always sharp or fixed.

True, but actually it’s Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM), because the supplement industry is a massive driver, supporter, funder and enabler of the quackery industry.

Complementary and alternative medicine covers a variety of different meanings:

  • a broad domain of healing resources that encompasses all health systems, modalities, and practices and their accompanying theories and beliefs, other than those intrinsic to the politically dominant health system of a particular society or culture in a given historical period.

False. That may be how it’s presented by believers, but the fact is that this is a rag-tag agglomeration of legitimate complementary therapies suborned by quacks alternative practitioners  for the purposes of trying to gain a halo effect. There is nothing remotely alternative or controversial about massage, relaxation therapy and so on, these are and always have been used by doctors as part of treatment regimes. The aim of quacks is to use the term CAM to assert that the legitimacy of such treatments extends to cover alternative treatments.

This is, and always has been, mendacious.

The key here is the “theories and beliefs”. If you believe that disease is caused by miasms, not germs, then you are simply wrong. This is not complementary. It’s not healing. It’s alternative only in as much as it’s alternative to reality. There is no way of being right while denying germ theory.

  • such practices and ideas self-defined by their users as preventing or treating illness or promoting health and well being.

By their users? Only in as much as the quacks tell them to define it thus. What distinguishes SCAM from medicine is the lack of credible evidence. The idea that SCAM, with its long-term ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation and denial of science, understands the immune system and human physiology and homeostatic mechanisms, while medicine does not, is self-evidently bollocks. Yet they get away with it – or seem to think they do.

  • complementary and alternative medicine therapies are defined as those therapeutic practices which are not currently considered an integral part of conventional allopathic medical practice.

Nope. Complementary therapies are defined as therapies which complement medical interventions, alternative therapies are defined as those which lack evidence or are actively disproven. The pejorative term “allopathy” is, by one definition, everything except homeopathy – so, herbal remedies and supplements are emphatically part of this, but basically anything supported by medicine and medical science is essentially “allopathy”. A more formal definition might be: any treatment designed to oppose symptoms, rather than induce a mimic of them. That includes surgery, physiotherapy, antibiotics and many other interventions, in particular herbal remedies – which of course homeopaths never tell you, as they like the fact that homeopathy is often misperceived as a type of herbal medicine, and actively collude in this fiction.

SCAM is defined as the area of practice that sows FUD about medicine, i.e. quacks and charlatans.

  • They may lack biomedical or ‘scientific’ explanations but as they become better researched some, such as physical therapy, homeopathy, diet, and acupuncture have become widely accepted.

Nope. Valid complementary therapies have credible mechanisms of action, “alternative” therapies often do not, that is not a good thing for the alternative therapies.

Four things are identified:

  • Physical therapy is not remotely alternative, unless it’s some bullshit like chiropractic.
  • Homeopathy is alternative, not complementary; it requires alternative definitions of commonplace terms such as disease, diagnosis and cure, alternative laws of physics, alternative physiology and biochemistry, and an alternative view of evidence.
  • Diet is entirely mainstream, not even remotely “alternative”; there are two types of people who advise on diet: dieticians (qualified, regulated, evidence-based) and nutritionists (quacks, notable examples being “Dr”Gilllian McKeith and  Ben Goldacre’s cat).
  • Acupuncture has taken longer to understand than homeopathy due to the inherent difficulty of properly double-blinding, but the conclusion of the best evidence has long been clear in the case of meridians and qi (they don’t exist) and is now becoming clear in terms of needling generally (it is a placebo intervention).

So, as usual with quacks, Ellen deliberately conflates complementary (valid) therapies with quackery.

  • those medical interventions not taught at medical schools or not available at hospitals.

Sadly untrue: “integrative” bollocks has even been seen at Harvard.

Therapies are termed as complementary when used in addition to conventional treatments and as alternative when used instead of conventional treatment. Homeopathy is therefore both a complementary and alternative medicine depending on the approach being used.

Nope. Homeopathy is always alternative. It is a “treatment” that is refuted. It is, to use the technical term, bollocks.

Consider complex numbers. A complex number is any number that includes an imaginary component. Ellen would have you believe that any complex number is real because it contains a real component, but actually it’s the other way round: real numbers are those numbers that contain no imaginary component, as soon as you introduce an imaginary component you have a complex number, even if the real component is zero.

Homeopathy is an imaginary component. Acupuncture is an imaginary component. Physical therapy and diet are real components. it is the introduction of an imaginary component that flips the switch.