Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) consists of medical treatments and therapies outside of what is traditionally taught in medical school or recognized for reimbursement by government health programs. Unlike conventional medical interventions and remedies, CAM treatments are not always proven through clinical trials.

The 21st century is seeing an explosion in the popularity and profitability of alternative medicine and complementary medicine.[1]

In the United States, 36% of adults are using some form of CAM and spent $36 billion to $47 billion on CAM therapies in 1997.[2] The numbers of uninsured Americans increases by about 1 million persons per year, and the amount spent on CAM is likely much higher today. If CAM is defined to include megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons, 62% of Americans use CAM.[Citation Needed]

The US National Institutes of Health sponsor the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which spends more than $120 Million dollars a year researching CAM.[3] They received $31 million in additional funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.[4]

CAM Practices include the following:

  • Biologically based treatments using substances found in nature, such as herbs, special diets, or vitamins in non-conventional doses, such as massive amounts of Vitamin C.
  • Manipulative and body-based practices that utilize movement of body parts.
  • Mind-body medicine emphasizing the potential of the mind to affect bodily function and symptoms.
  • Holistic medical approaches that focus on all of one's life, as physicians did in ancient times.
  • Non-western treatments, such as Chinese acupuncture.

Traditional Chinese medicine

See also: Traditional Chinese medicine and Atheism and medicine

The atheist, communist dictator Mao Zedong revived and heavily promoted Traditional Chinese medicine in China. He didn't believe in it himself, but pushed it as a cheap alternative to real medicine.[5] See also: Atheism and medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a type of traditional medicine based on 2,500+ years of Chinese medical practices which includes various types of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and dietary therapy, but recently has also incorporated modern Western medicine. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine is poorly researched and supported.[6]

The Chinese government's National People's Congress Standing Committee regulates TCM.[7]

Steven Salzberg wrote in Forbes magazine concerning TCM:

The Nature writer, David Cyranoski, presents this news in a classic two-sides-of-the-story format, describing the "endless hours" that TCM proponents spent on such important topics as the "correct location of acupuncture points and less commonly known concepts such as ‘triple energizer meridian’ syndrome." Later in the article (but much later), he points out that scientists have argued that qi and meridians simply don't exist.

Were you thinking this was about health care? Afraid not. Cyranoski goes on to point out some serious problems with TCM, for example:

"Critics view TCM practices as unscientific, unsupported by clinical trials, and sometimes dangerous: China’s drug regulator gets more than 230,000 reports of adverse effects from TCM each year."

Actually, it's much worse than this. Here's what TCM really looks like: the horrific slaughter of the last remaining rhinoceroses in Africa in order to hack off their horns, which are sold to become part of elixirs that some people mistakenly think confer strength, virility, or other health benefits. Last year, National Geographic ran a heart-wrenching photo essay showing some of the awful results of rhinoceros poaching in Africa; take a look at these photos here.

TCM also looks like this: black bears kept in grotesquely cruel "farms" with a permanent tube inserted into their abdomens so that their bile can be harvested. Despite a growing movement to end this inhumane practice (see this NY Times story), it persists today, with thousands of bears kept in cages so small they can barely move. No one can view photos such as these and say that TCM is a good thing...

Well put. On the other hand, Cyranoski does point out that the major motivation for TCM is money:

"[China] has been aggressively promoting TCM on the international stage both for expanding its global influence and for a share of the estimated US$50-billion global market."...

As the Nature article points out, TCM has been a scam for decades: it was revived and heavily promoted in China by former dictator Mao Zedong, who didn't believe in it himself, but pushed it as a cheap alternative to real medicine.[8]


  1. The Alternative Fix, PBS
  2. "The Use of CAM in the United States", National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
  3. "NCCAM Funding: Appropriations History", National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
  4. "Stumulus funds for pseudoscience", Genomics, Evolution, and Pseudoscience
  5. WHO Endorses Traditional Chinese Medicine. Expect Deaths To Rise by Steven Salzberg, Forbes magazine
  6. Shang, A.; Huwiler, K.; Nartey, L.; Jüni, P.; Egger, M. (2007). "Placebo-controlled trials of Chinese herbal medicine and conventional medicine comparative study". International Journal of Epidemiology. 36 (5): 1086–92. doi:10.1093/ije/dym119. PMID 17602184.
  7. China passes first law on traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). WebMD China (December 28, 2016).
  8. WHO Endorses Traditional Chinese Medicine. Expect Deaths To Rise by Steven Salzberg, Forbes magazine