“Alternative Medicine” in the news… a bit too much?

"Alternative Medicine," a term I don't like very much, has been featured in numerous AP news reports this week, all by the same writer. Something's fishy.

Journalism

First of all, the word "alternative" implies "other than standard." To whom? Is acupuncture alternative? Not if you're in China and have a headache. Is Prozac alternative? Sure, if you're using it to treat athlete's foot. OK, I'm being ridiculous, but you get the point.

On to the main point. Here's a short list of this week's articles featuring alternative medicine with key exerpts:

1. Alternative medicine goes mainstream: "An Associated Press review of dozens of studies and interviews with more than 100 sources found an underground medical system operating in plain sight, with a different standard than the rest of medical care, and millions of people using it on blind faith. How did things get this way?"

2. 'A sad case': She chose herbals over surgery: "Paw paw, mushroom extracts, pills with names like 'cell regulator' and 'immune stimulator.' Rows of bottles lined her medicine chest. She grew worse, but still refused surgery. 'The whole family wanted Leslee to go seek medical treatment,' said a sister, Donna Flasch. 'I'm a believer' in herbs, Donna said, but 'you don't let something like that grow. You don't ignore it and think it will go away'."

3. 60 pct of cancer patients try nontraditional med: "Some people who try unproven remedies risk only money. But people with cancer can lose their only chance of beating the disease by skipping conventional treatment or by mixing in other therapies. Even harmless-sounding vitamins and "natural" supplements can interfere with cancer medicines or affect hormones that help cancer grow."

4. Tests show many supplements have quality problems: "Lead in ginkgo pills. Arsenic in herbals. Bugs in a baby's colic and teething syrup. Toxic metals and parasites are part of nature, and all of these have been found in "natural" products and dietary supplements in recent years."

5. Herbal sales dominated by sizable companies: Some people who buy supplements to avoid Big Pharma drug companies may find themselves doing business with Big Herba, instead…The industry's little-guy, granola image has been a great marketing asset, allowing it to tap into Americans' frustration with big medicine, big prices and big risks. Supplement makers are dwarfed by leading pharmaceutical firms, whose drugs command sales in the tens of billions of dollars. Yet the reality is that natural remedy makers constitute a sizable business that doesn't have to play by the same rules as companies that make prescription or over-the-counter medicines."

At face value, it's a bit strange to see all of these articles in print in a three-day period (Sunday-Tuesday). But look a little further, and it gets really weird. All of these articles are by the AP. In fact, they are all by the same writer, Marilynn Marchione. Is it just me, or is this just a little too coincidental? There have been no major research studies released to spur such a prolific outburst of medical articles on one subject, all with the same slant. I wish I could look for the silver lining, as did the widely-read blog, The Daily Kos, commenting on article #1: "Suffice it to say that it is refreshing that 'alternative medicine' is being treated with the respect that thousands of years of human experience should be. I hope we can progress further to reframe medicine as the treatment of living systems rather than the repair shop for machines."

Unfortunately, though, these articles are all incredibly biased against alternative medicine. Why would one writer for the AP spend so much ink bashing alternative medicine? The 5th article above provides what is likely the biggest clue – who has the most to lose with integrative medicine (which, by the way, is a blend of conventional and CAM therapies – the best of both, based on efficacy and safety evidence) being considered as a possible solution for health care system woes? Well, it's not "Big Herba." You do the math.

I think the American public has had enough of politics-as-usual and will see through this nonsense. But it still doesn't make this kind of journalistic trash acceptable.  

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ADDENDUM (6/10/09):

AP IMPACT: $2.5B spent, no alternative med cures:

add one more to the list – seems like we might be in for a treat everyday!

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