The best of both approaches: The role of science in complementary and alternative medicine

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The best of both approaches: The role of science in complementary and alternative medicine

Oxford University Press
Publication Date
Dec 15, 2001
  • Medicine
  • Pharmacology


The best of both approaches EMBO reports 1054 EMBO reports vol. 2 | no. 12 | 2001 © 2001 European Molecular Biology Organization The best of both approaches The role of science in complementary and alternative medicine • by Dónal O’Mathúna The 20th Century has witnessed remark- able advances in health and medicine. The creation of infrastructures and meas- ures to improve public health, as well as medical advances in the second half of the century, have increased the life expectancy of many people around the world. Antibiotics have finally given us a potent weapon to combat infectious dis- eases, we can effectively control diabetes and have made large strides towards cur- ing some forms of cancer. The life expect- ancy of HIV-infected patients has been improved, and surgery allows us to replace failing organs through trans- plantation. And there is still more to come. It is not an exaggeration to expect that the Human Genome Project and advances in biomedical research will allow the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs against a wide variety of diseases. Yet even as conventional medicine reaches into the cell to touch every molecule, patients are reaching out to alternatives without a proven track record that promise to treat them better. This is not a complete rejection of con- ventional medicine, but patients are sens- ing they can benefit from the best of both approaches. Unfortunately, uncertainty over exactly what constitutes ‘alternative medicine’ hampers progress. The problem even starts with its definition: these therapies have been described as alternative, com- plementary, unorthodox, unconventional, unproven, holistic, fringe, integrative, natural or New Age medicine. Such terms often tell us more about how the speaker views the approach rather than explaining the phenomenon. In fact, the same holds true of the medicine associated with physicians and hospitals, which is vari- ously labelled as conventional, modern, scientific, orthodox, allopathic, reduc- tio

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