I just love the title; it’s from a recent
editorial (link to abstract; subscription required for full
access) in the British Medical Journal. The author, Jonathan
Waxman, argues that the medical profession should protect patients from
exploitation from the alternative medicine industry. He
points out the potential down side to some alternative treatment,
particularly in the area of his specialty, oncology:
80% of all patients with cancer take a complementary treatment or
follow a dietary programme to help treat their cancer. These treatments
may often delay the institution of conventional therapy and may result
from pressure from family and friends to try an alternative approach to
Apparently there is a n effort in the EU to reclassify many alternative
treatments as drugs. This would lead to a higher level of
restriction on what claims can be made about the products, presumably
leading to greater truth in advertising.
I am skeptical about the potential effectiveness of such restrictions.
It is sort of like political campaign reform, in that it is
difficult to balance the rights of free speech against the desire to
have people speak only the truth. Plus, there are so many
purveyors of alternative products, and so many routes of advertising,
that it would be difficult and expensive to enforce.
Even so, an official action of this sort could help physicians bring
some sort of balance into the discussion, when they discuss alternative
treatments with patients. From the patient’s perspective, it
is often confusing to sort out all the different recommendations from
traditional and alternative practitioners. Having the same
kind of restrictions on both traditional and alternative product claims
might make it easier for physicians to help patients sort this out.