CAM preys on the vulnerable – and I should know

Those who know me, readers of this blog, or followers on Twitter know I am not a fan of so called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). When asked why I care about CAM and why I spend my time attacking it in the way I do, it’s because of my own vulnerability.

I should start by saying I really don’t care if those with more money than sense indulge themselves in much of the nonsense of the naturopathic world. It’s impossible to remove every possible scam from people’s lives, be it the latest craze in shampoo, some new detox diet, sports enhancement bracelets, or even some of the legal but dubious financial offers. There is a slippery slope however, and there comes a point where certain practitioners of CAM offer cures for serious diseases. Not only do they do this, but they evoke the name of science to give it a patina of credibility. For the untrained, much of this woo is easily mistaken for the real thing.

I have a personal interest in all this because I suffer from a chronic incurable disease. I have osteoarthritis accompanied with general muscular-skeletal damage caused by a motorcycle accident many years ago. Chronic pain that oscillates from mild on some days to excruciating on other days is symptomatic of the condition. It’s very hard for those who don’t suffer from chronic pain to understand the effects, which are not just physical but also psychological. There are days where the despair becomes almost overwhelming and the frustration comes close to self-loathing triggered by the limitations the condition puts on me. I have friends (two in particular) who also suffer from chronic pain but for different reasons to my own. They understand what it’s like through personal experience, and that’s not something I am not going to wish on anyone, not even the worst CAM scam artist.

I say this not because I want sympathy – I cope reasonably well most of the time (with the support of my wonderful wife). I have described my condition because I’m trying to give a flavour of the desperation anyone in my situation might have for a cure. I would love to simply press a button and it all goes away. And with this desperation comes vulnerability; at times I feel like a wounded gazelle with the CAM lions circling.

Herbalists, acupuncturists and homeopaths have all offered cures. How easy it would be to give my money to these people in the hopeless desire to press that button. Some of the CAM practitioners may do it in good faith, others will be downright scammers with sociopathic tendencies. Deluded or fraudster however, the outcome is the same. A mountain of solid scientific enquiry has shown the vast majority of CAMs are not fit for purpose. Given the huge complexity of physiology and biochemistry of the human body, this is not surprising and over-simplistic solutions and pseudosceince have nothing to offer.

There have been innumerable cases when the CAM practitioner encouraged their client to stop their real medication so they could sell them more of their woo, and then the situation becomes downright dangerous.

And so, if my ranting can help prevent just one person from being taken in by pseudoscientific nonsense, then it will all be worth it. And so that’s why I do it, that’s why I will carry on doing it.

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