Alternative medicine is called “alternative” because it, unlike mainstream medicine, is often poorly researched, untested, or even pure fraud. If medicine based on science sometimes gets it horribly wrong, think how bad it can get when you base it on the ideas of eccentric people with a need for a quick buck. The Ministry presents a way for you, our distinguished reader, to quickly disseminate these forms of “medicine”, as they should be: with sarcasm.
Acupuncture comes from China, and works on the premise that if something has worked for thousands of years, it’s gotta be good for you (like religion or leeches). In short, acupuncture promise to make you feel better, by sticking lots of needles into you. This works by the universal principle that you should fight fire with fire (just try not to burn down the house).
The needle lovers are convinced it’s working, because they feel better. Critical voices say research is limited, and that the placebo effect may be the cause. Cynical practitioners may say that if it makes people feel better, it can’t be that bad, but rare cases do occur where acupuncture can lead to serious complications. Most of the time though, this is pretty harmless, so there’s that at least.
The needles supposedly correct imbalances in the Qi, or life force, of the patient, much in the same way the Jedi Masters in Star Wars correct imbalances in the force by killing evil Sith lords with their cool light sabers. Much like a light saber, the needles punctures meridians, mythical lines through which the life force flows. The fact that science cannot find any resemblance between this and the real human body, is apparently not an issue.
One of the main goals of many new pseudo-sciences and “alternative” approaches is to use words that sounds “scientific”, and anthroposophical medicine clearly fits that description. According to Wikipedia:
Anthroposophical medicine is a complementary approach to medicine that integrates the theories and practices of modern medicine with homeopathic medicines, physical and artistic therapies and biographical counseling.
The anthroposophs, or whatever they call themselves, use a holistic approach to healing. If you didn’t know, holistic is a new religious word that basically just means “taking everything into consideration”. It mixes real medicine with sugar water (or homeopathy) and adds in a little bit of compassion. We don’t think that talking to patients, taking them seriously, comforting them and giving them a little fighting spirit is a bad thing per se, we just think that calling this anthroposophical medicine and charging them twice the price is a bit, well, shady.
Herbalism (or ‘erbalism, if you want to sound like an obnoxious French dude) is the art of healing by using stuff you can find in your back yard. The idea is sound: plants can defend against disease, so if I eat the plant, I will gain its defensive powers. Much in the same way soldiers gain the knowledge of their enemies by eating the hearts of their enemies, it’s just a common fact.
Herbalism at its best actually works. Herbs have been studied and used to create “classic” medicine, and there’s no point in pretending it’s not so. The trouble, of course, is that anyone with access to a forest can call themselves a herbalist, and anything they mix together can be called “medicine”. Like prescription medicine, you need to know what you do – many plants are poisonous, and the wrong mix can give you life threatening side effects. If you don’t trust a high school dropout to give you heart medicine, you shouldn’t trust him with herbs either.
Alternative medicine is often based on the principle of fighting fire with fire, and so too is the idea (and we use the word lightly) behind homeopathy. The homeopaths believe that the right way to heal poison is by giving you more poison that will magically counteract the first poison. Only, since poison is – well – poisonous, they dilute it a million billion gazillion times, so that not even a single poison molecule remains. Then they give this to the patients and tell them to feel better. It is the medicinal equivalent of treating a gunshot wound by pointing your hand at the patient and saying “bang bang”.
For the record, there is absolutely no convincing evidence that homeopathy works better than sugar water. Incidentally, homeopathic medicine is pure water. And due to the dilution principle, a little tap water should be a miracle cure for anything from the common cold to small pox, but somehow it doesn’t quite seem to work as advertised.