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Why 'belief' in complementary medicine is misguided

Professor Edzard Ernst begins his blog by challening 'belief' in complementary and alternative medicine and answers the question 'how come you are a professor of CAM and don’t seem to be in favour of it?'

Professor Edzard Ernst begins his blog by challening 'belief' in complementary and alternative medicine and answers the question 'how come you are a professor of CAM and don't seem to be in favour of it?'

Have you ever heard anyone say, I believe in Aspirin, in bone marrow transplants, or in surgery? Probably not.

Have you ever heard someone proclaim to believe in homeopathy, energy healing or reflexology? I am sure you have. CAM - complementary and alternative medicine - is an emotive subject where belief reigns supreme over science.

But healthcare should not be about belief, it should be about facts: "Science commits suicide when it adopts a creed" (Thomas Huxley).

With this blog, I will try to regularly provide interesting facts, figures and views on CAM.

Such information might be handy when your patients come with printouts from the internet - there are currently around 50 million websites on "alternative medicine", and the vast majority are dangerously misleading - or with cuttings from the daily papers. in Britain, newspapers carry roughly 3 times more articles on CAM than on conventional medicine.

41222025About 20% of your patients use some form of CAM and most of them will not volunteer this information to their GP. Therefore, GPs should know more about CAM.

For or against CAM?

The question I hear regularly is "how come you are a professor of CAM and don't seem to be in favour of it?"

I usually answer that a toxicologist's task is not to dish out poisons to patients. People then tend to give me a blank smile, and I realize that I have probably failed to get my point across.

And yet, it is a simple point: I don't see myself as a promoter of CAM, nor am I an opponent of it. My task is merely to research the subject and subsequently present the findings. This I have done for 15 years. It resulted in over 1000 articles in the peer-reviewed literature. Through this work, many issues have become quite clear.

CAM is currently dominated by belief and by misinformation. Some of this misinformation puts patients' health (or savings) at risk. So I often feel compelled to speak out and try to put the record straight. This does not always make for cosy friendships, and some people may even feel attacked. Yet I am not in the "attacking business" - merely in the "truth telling business".

Convinced? No? Perhaps I can give an example relevant for general practice. In our book, ‘The Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine', my three co-authors and I try to clearly point out what the evidence for a wide range of CAMs shows.

In the chapter on hypertension, for instance, we state that, according to reliable studies, biofeedback lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure. We also tell our readers what to expect of around 30 other CAM treatments that have been tested for antihypertensive effects. Lastly we point out that the best clinical evidence available to date indicates that chiropractic might cause more harm than good for this indication.

I hope that this example demonstrates that I am neither for or against CAM. All I want is sound evidence, transparency and single standards in medicine. And this I will try to provide here.

Professor Edzard Ernst: questions 'belief' in complementary and alternative medicine Pull out quote1

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