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 folk remedies, should not be dismissed outright.
This is so because they can be effective. However, they shouldn’t be outright accepted either because they haven’t been tested. Promoters may claim that they have been shown to be effective and safe, but they have not undergone clinical trials. In contrast, common practices and medications have been extensively studied in terms of efficacy, dosage, precautions, limitations, risks, contraindications, and safety. The same cannot be said for alternative medicine.
The 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, improvement in the condition may not be due to the intervention. For example, colds go away in about a week. Some cancers simply disappear without intervention.
Second, the symptoms of some diseases vary. Thus, the disappearance of a symptom may not be due to the intervention. Third, healing may be due to the placebo effect, with placebos only being about 20-30% effective.
Accepting an untested medical remedy has three dangers. First, if the remedy does not work, you will have wasted money. Second, if you don’t use or stop traditional treatment, you could deteriorate. Third, if the unconventional approach is dangerous, your life will be in danger. For example, some leaves used in herbal medicine may contain toxic alkaloids.
Rivera wants to integrate traditional and alternative medicine, but I think the latter must first be studied in depth. If not, such integration will only mix effective and safe medicine with potentially ineffective and dangerous medicine. The good news is that there has been research into traditional herbal medicines, as Rivera mentioned.
Some people don’t trust Western medicine. Would they rather trust untested medicine based on unreliable testimonials? If traditional medicine is risky, untested alternative medicine is much riskier.
Jori Gervasio R. Benzon, Zamora, Pandacan, Manila, [email protected]
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