Alternative Treatments to Receive Greater Scrutiny

… but will it be enough?

A new article by Marilynn Marchione, distributed by the Associated Press, paradoxically entitled Boost for alternative medicine once again highlights the alarming increase in acceptance of alternative treatments by medical aid organisations and even hospitals. It may be a question of the hospitals providing the service because of the increased number of requests from their patients or part of a plan to increase revenues. This dispite there being any good evidence for the efficacy of alternative treatments when compared to existing science-based treatments.

If I had a medical aid which announced that I was allowed to claim for accupuncture, that would appear to be an endorsement of the treatment. Patients trust their medical aid companies becuase they are “in the business”, if they say I can claim, it must be a valid treatment. It would be misguiding to the medical aid user, and yet it is exactly what has been happening.

Associated Press (8 June 2009), Marilynn Marchione: Boost for alternative medicine

Health insurers are cutting deals to let alternative medicine providers market supplements and services directly to members.

At least one insurer promotes these to members with a discount, perhaps leaving an incorrect impression they are covered services and medically sound. Some insurers steer patients to internet sellers of supplements, even though patients must pay for these out of pocket.


A few herbal supplements can directly threaten health. A surprising number do not supply what their labels claim, contain potentially harmful substances like lead, or are laced with hidden versions of prescription drugs.

There is strong evidence that a large number of so called “safe” natural supplements are actually harmful and severely toxic, and the natural traditional treatments used here in Africa are even more dangerous.

McGraw-Hill (2002), Goldfrank et al.: Goldfrank’s Toxicologic Emergencies p. 1131


In the United States, a multicenter poison control center study in 1998 collected 2253 calls involving dietary supplements including herbals – 493 patient exposures were determined to be caused by dietary supplements and were associated with 5 deaths, 13 seizures, 8 cases of coma, and 9 cases of hepatotoxicity. The overall severity outcome among dietary supplement cases was greater when compared to other poison center-reported exposures. However, in developing countries, the toxicity from herbal preparation usage may be much higher. It was reported in South Africa that traditional medicines account for 15.8% of acute poisonings, and were responsible for 51.7% of all deaths from acute poisonings.

In the light of new interest from the public investigating the efficacy of these treatments, the industry is now trying to self-regulate. But is it too little too late?

The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 exempted such products from needing FDA approval or proof of safety or effectiveness before they go on sale.
“That has resulted in consumers wasting billions of dollars on products of either no or dubious benefit,” said [Bruce] Silverglade of the public interest group [Centre for Science in the Public Interest].

Many hope that President Barack Obama’s administration will take a new look.

(quote from the AP article above).

All I can add is that with our shockingly high mortality rate from unsafe alternative treatments, I hope that the South African government will also take a new look.

~ by James on 8 June 2009.

2 Responses to “Alternative Treatments to Receive Greater Scrutiny”

  1. Thanks for this. “Alternative treatments” is one of my pet hates. It is bullshit and that is that.

  2. “All I can add is that with our shockingly high mortality rate from unsafe alternative treatments, I hope that the South African government will also take a new look.”

    According to a report here: – ,
    it’s been estimated that as many as 70% of South Africans consult traditonal healers. While some plants may be beneficial, much of it is woo woo based, and has no effect at all, apart from the placebo affect.
    I also seem to recall that there was a call for medical aid shemes to cover traditional medicine claims; I don’t know if any of them do, but I’m going to take a look at mine to see what they cover.
    Our new President follows his culture and it’s traditions very closely ; I would assume that he has a lot of respect for tradtional healers as well, so I doubt that our government would take a new look at traditonal medicines or any other alternative therapies for that matter.

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