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2. Disastrous Medicine?

by Guy Lyon Playfair

Complementary Healing Works

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"The most disastrous result of belief in the paranormal" is how Evening Standard columnist David Sexton described, of all things, alternative or complementary medicine in a diatribe that appeared on 5 February 1998.
Just a few weeks previously Channel 4 had shown a six-part series entitled Natural Born Healers, in which producers Charlotte Black and Josh Halil showed that now and then television gets things exactly right. They rounded up six patients who had been having conventional treatment without getting better, taking each of them to a complementary therapist (with their GPs' consent). They were monitored throughout their treatment period and asked to rate their improvement a few weeks later. Only one therapy, homeopathy, was a failure. However, self-assessed improvement after acupuncture, herbal medicine, hypnosis, osteopathy and nutritional supplements ranged from 60 to 90 percent.
Reaction from the GPs was revealing. Three were generous enough to admit that there might be something in this alternative stuff after all and yes, they would consider using it again. One admitted that his patient had improved after a course of herbal medicine, but went on to doubt that it was all due to the herbs. Another, the veteran TV medical sceptic Dr Peter May remained unimpressed even after his patient had clearly stated that complementary medicine had done him more good than allopathy ever had. If these were "disastrous results", let us have more of them.

Copyright © Guy Lyon Playfair

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