Integrative medicine ‘health fraud and quackery’

A MJA Perspectives piece criticising integrative medicine has been welcomed by Friends of Science in Medicine, who say integrative medicine is “mixing science-based health professions with pseudoscience based practices”.

The MJA piece, by Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor, Exeter University, wrote that while often touted as the “best of both worlds” incorporating conventional and alternative/complementary medicine, it is an “ill-conceived concept which turns out to be largely about the promotion and use of unproven or disproven therapies”.

“Holism, attention to lifestyle, disease prevention, empathetic doctor-patient relationships, and whatever else we might find on the banner of integrative medicine, are important features of any type of good medicine,” he writes.

“If they are neglected in conventional medicine, we should reform our current health care. Creating a new branch of medicine is no solution because it can only distract from this important task.”

He says that claims integrative medicine is simply a “rebranding exercise” for alternative medicine is confirmed by a critical assessment of the therapies on offer. He particularly singles out homeopathy and the conclusion of the NHMRC review that it not be used to treat serious or chronic illness or that which could become serious.

“Promoting such questionable therapies under the guise of integrative medicine seems neither ethical nor in line with the currently accepted standards of evidence-based practice.”

Professor John Dwyer, President of FSM, says FSM has been issuing similar warnings for some time about the emergence of integrative medicine in Australia.

“Many GPs who lead ‘Integrative Medicine’ practices promote alternative medicine concepts to their patients and, in so doing, abandon the long held commitment of doctors to champion the importance of credible scientific evidence of clinical effectiveness underpinning the care they provide to patients,” says Prof Dwyer.

“The prestigious National Health and Medical Research council recently reported to government that they could find no evidence of clinical benefit from any of the eighteen most common alternative modalities commonly promoted in Integrative Medicine.”

FSM says that it strongly supports “research into traditional therapies that are not an affront to accepted knowledge of physiology and pathology and where there is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest proper scientific evaluation would be important”.

It cites a recent address to University of Adelaide medical graduates, published this month in MedicSA, by Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan, Vice President of FSM, who warned the new graduates that they would be challenged by the upsurge in non-evidence based therapies and alternative therapists and that “they should not be seduced into the lucrative but unproven and therefore untenable amalgam of traditional medicine and pseudoscientific alternate practices”.

“The Australian Federal government has no legitimate basis to continue funding health fraud and quackery”, says Prof MacLennan today.

“Just as the government is appropriately suggesting removing Medicare benefits for unproven or low value medical and surgical procedures, there are no grounds for continuing to subsidise a vast array of unproven alternative therapies directly or indirectly through private insurance rebates.”

Another piece in MJA, Pharmacists selling CAM doesn’t wash, criticised pharmacies for selling CMs.


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  1. Michael

    The FSM constantly criticize the “pseudoscience” used by Integrative Medicine which if studied in greater detail will see much of it is based on accepted biochemistry taught in every University. When will they realize the research evidence they hold so dearly is nothing more than sponsored science and history has shown us many times over how flawed this can be and how open to corruption it is. The old consciousness of the 50’s and 60’s where we develop a synthetic molecule to cripple an enzyme or block a transport channel to overcome symptoms without actually addressing the underlying cause is coming to an end (and they are panicking).

    • Justin

      Yes Michael much of it comes from ideas based in biochemistry and a lot of the products that support it come from biochemists. And the testing performed by scientists. The issue is the leap of faith that is required between the idea and the treatment. A great example is pyrolle disorder. That disease beloved of integrated practitioners who talk at length about Hoffer, mauve factor; etc. A urine test is performed, a number is generated and low and behold, a diagnosis is given – a reason for feeling unwell, anxious, etc. No your definitely not crazy, you have pyrolles, this number proves it!!
      The issue is that everyone has pyrolles in their urine, and there is no evidence this means anything. Infact pyrolle disorder was thrown out as a diagnosis of anything in the early 70s. There is no ICD 10 listing for it as a disease, and a cynic would say that these practitioners are providing a palatable diagnosis, for a generalised anxiety disorder and proceeding to treat it with vitamins and minerals, all at a hefty price to the patient and somewhat smaller cost to the tax payer. I suspect that some might have issues with the ethics of this behaviour. The only benefit is that perhaps these patients who would have got this done by a naturopath are at least getting a bit of a look over by a medically trained doctor. And hopefully that doctor is still considering all the legitimate medical causes and directing to appropriate specialists if required. Hopefully.

  2. SBMA

    The Naturocrit Podcast and Blog:

    Great post.


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