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Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine Hardcover – August 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Noted science writer Singh and British professor of complementary medicine Ernst offer a reasoned examination of the research on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine and other alternative treatments. Singh (Fermat's Last Theorem) and Ernst work hard to be objective, but their conclusion is that these therapies are largely worthless. As they examine the research on various alternative therapies, the authors explore the principles of evidence-based medicine on which their conclusions are based, including clinical trials and the placebo effect; they also explore related ethical issues. The authors report that many patients will improve with any alternative remedy—but no more than those given a placebo. Exceptions exist; some herbal remedies (e.g., St. John's wort, echinacea) can be helpful though not always advisable, and chiropractors can relieve low back pain under certain circumstances. This is a stimulating and informative account that will be indispensable to anyone considering an alternative treatment, though it may not dissuade true believers. 16 illus. (Aug.)
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“Entertaining as well as informative. . . . The examination of evidence is comprehensive, forensic, and for champions of these therapies, damning.”
- Toby Murcott, Nature
“Physicians should recommend the book to their patients, and it will help health practitioners provide patients with sound advice.”
- New England Journal of Medicine
Top customer reviews
I really appreciate that Singh and Ernst do list the few areas where chiropracy has been shown to have a positive effect, and they also provide pages of tables with herbs and their positive, neutral, and negative effects. Yes, there are some herbs that actually work, and Singh and Ernst are perfectly happy to call those out.
As far as I can tell, this book is balanced. Unfortunately, there is no scientific explanation (i.e. how does water retain attributes of a chemical, once all the molecules have been removed) or evidence (despite repeated studies) for homeopathy. So a balanced review finds that homeopathy is no better than a placebo.
There is no scientific explanation (i.e. no measurable, magical energy fields) for acupuncture and repeated tests have shown no measurable difference in treatment results between fake and real needles. And so, a balanced review is finds acupuncture is no better than a placebo.
There are a few, a very few, areas where chiropracy may work based on studies. But the risks are high (up to and including death) and the field is very touch-feely. Studies where patients visited multiple chiropractors resulted in different assessments every time! The practitioners are incredibly inconsistent in their prognosese. I'd recommend anyone thinking to try a chiropractor get several assessments, and compare.
Yes, there is a huge amount of money in traditional medicine, and yes drug companies have a strong motivation to seek out studies that show their products in a positive light. That tells you exactly nothing about how well alternative medicine works. It just tells you to keep shining a very bright light on traditional medicine.
Alternative medicine is raking in many tens of billions every year too, and the companies that hawk these products are just as strongly motivated to sell product. If you distrust money, then please apply your distrust equally to both groups.
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