Alternative Medicine, or medicine that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine, is at the opposite end of evidence based medicine. It encompasses therapies with a historical or cultural, rather than a scientific, basis. Homeopathy, acupuncture, supplements, special diets, naturopathy, electromagnetic therapy, keilation, iridology, light therapy, sound therapy, and many, many others fall in to the realm of alternative medicine.

Dr. Harriet Hall, M.D., otherwise known as the SkepDoc, The Health Inspector in O, The Oprah Magazine, and Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has compiled a list of ten things you should know about alternative medicine. The document is a free download.

Alternative v. Conventional MedicineSwine Flu, Chiropractic, Vaccines

The Placebo Effect, What to eat, HomeopathyAcupuncture, Natural, Detoxification

To summarize her document with a few short quotes:

Alternative VS Conventional Medicine
“I’m skeptical about alternative medicine, pseudoscience, and quackery, but I apply the same standards of skepticism to conventional medicine.”

Swine Flu Vaccination Fear Mongering
“I hope the swine flue won’t develop into a reprise of 1918; but if it does, the false information these people are spreading could be responsible for a great deal of death and suffering. These people are irresponsible fear-mongers. They are wrong, and they are dangerous.

Chiropractic: A Little Physical Therapy, A Lot of Nonsense
“All three principles [of chiropractic theory] are false. (1) Chiropractic subluxations have never been demonstrated; (2) No impairment of nerve function has been documented; (3) No such vitalistic force has been detected.”

Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy
“There is no vaccine-autism controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism.”

The Placebo Effect
“There’s evidence that several things might be going on with placebos: expectancy, motivation, conditioning, and endogenous opiates.”

What to Eat: Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants
“What we really want is sustainable agriculture that does minimal damage to the environment and produces food that is nutritious.”

Homeopathy: Still Crazy After All These Years
“Start with a duck liver, dilute the duck out of it, and hope that the water remembers the duck. In my opinion, all that leaves is a quack.”

Acupuncture
“… no research has ever been able to document the existence of acupuncture points or meridians or chi.”

But It’s Natural, and Natural is Good!
“When you really stop to think, is there any reason a remedy should be better just because it’s natural?”

Detoxify This!
“Our bodies come equipped with livers, kidneys, stomachs, intestines, enzymes, and metabolic processes”

Think twice before jumping into alternative medicine. Ask yourself the following questions first:

– Is the treatment or product regulated?
– Is there scientific evidence for its efficacy? That is, double-blind trials indicating a statistically significant improvement in patients who are treated with the product.
– Is the data published in a reputable journal?
– Is someone just trying to make money?
– Does it sound too good to be true?
-Is the data presented in the form of testimonials (which should not be considered valid)?
– Am I putting myself at risk with the the alternative treatment?
– Am I putting myself at risk by delaying medical treatment in favour of alternative medicine?

Ultimately, it is your decision.

Read more about alternative medicine, and how to spot it, over at QuackWatch, The Skeptic Dictionary, and WikiPedia.