In this week's Scrubbing Up health column, Professor Edzard Ernst looks at integrated medicine and warns that it could be used as a "shabby smokescreen" for unproven treatments.
What do you think? Here are some of the comments you have been sending in to this week's Scrubbing up.
Alternative, complimentary or traditional was the only option that was available when I was first diagnosed HIV positive 20 years ago and I believe it was these treatments which enabled me to survive until viable medication came along. It is also these treatments which now alleviate the nasty side effects of this medication. In fact I still attend one of the few NHS funded acupuncture clinics which began over 17 years later, back then it was viewed with scepticism, now it is lauded.
GP's don't treat the whole patient and more often than not the medicines they provide cause other problems whereas most alternative therapies incorporate nutrition and exercise and improving quality of life. One of the biggest benefits of alternative therapies is that it makes people stop and assess their lifestyle and the effects on their health, which should surely be the aim of the NHS anyway.
Katie Duncan, London
Alternative methods do have their place, in the same way that most people enjoy going to a spa or having a massage. It's nice to be pampered and doctors don't have the time to sit and chat with patients. There is no medical benefit, but the pleasure of someone taking time to make you feel better in some small way can't be bad. The problems occur when unscrupulous practitioners prey on the vulnerable.
I qualified in Medicine in 1952 and retired in 1994. Many treatments that I was taught to use at medical school are now shown to be ineffective or even harmful, so orthodox medics do not use them. They use treatments that are backed by the best available evidence of efficacy, and I tried to contribute to this evidence for treatments relevant to my speciality. It is disheartening now to see, even in the NHS, alternative/complementary/integrated therapies being promoted by opinion-formers who do not see any need to offer evidence that they work.
Prof John Garrow, Rickmansworth, Herts
I totally agree with Professor Ernst. If any 'complementary medicine' is to be used at all, it should only be after it has been properly tested and, in any case, its manufacture should be regulated so that the quality can be guaranteed. The Prince of Wales has done us all a great disservice in promoting his ideas on such treatments.
I have recently been part of another university's degree course in complementary approaches to health. This has enabled me to see the research and decide for myself what is "appropriate" and "effective". Guess what? There is research out there which supports the efficacy of healing and other complementary therapies, as well as research which doesn't. There is a lot of research out there which indicates that many medicines and procedures commonly used in the NHS don't work. When we get honesty around "proof" then people will be able to choose for themselves and make informed decisions.
The point that always, always gets lost in a discussion like this is that most complementary therapies aren't "supported by sound data for effectiveness" not because they're fundamentally ineffective, but because the practitioners and innovators in these fields lack the multi-million pound testing budgets that the large pharmaceutical companies use to "prove" the effectiveness of their products.
The accusation made by many conventional medical practitioners is that complementary therapies are no more effective than a placebo, but that doesn't mean its ineffective. The placebo effect is potentially a very powerful remedy in its own right. The real problem is how to keep charlatans out of complementary medicine, force the testing of some very toxic "natural" remedies and ensure that if a patient has a serious condition that needs conventional medicine that the practitioner will recognise this and act accordingly.
John Mulholland, Glasgow
Treatments should be provided through the NHS after - and only after - they have been proven to be significantly more effective that a placebo. What is more, doctors should be banned from recommending unscientific alternatives, as it is a clear abuse of their position of trust - trust which is built upon hundreds of years of scientific research. If a doctor advised patients to convert to another religion in their quest for good health, they would be struck off, would they not?
Chris, Budapest, Hungary
Too many people feel let down by conventional medicine. Perhaps this is just a perception, or a mismatch of expectations versus delivery, but it is this that needs to be addressed. Fundamentally the disillusionment with medicine reflects a wider disillusionment with technology and science, and that is a consequence of the liberalisation of society and the breakdown of traditional hierarchies that has been going on for decades.
Robert Jones, Taunton
There is no such thing as 'complementary' and 'conventional' medicine. If something can be proven to treat or improve a condition, then it is medicine. If it can't, then it's not medicine, it's nonsense.
David James, London
The spin surrounding alternative 'medicine' has appalled me for many years. Take the word 'holistic' for example. Homeopaths and their apologists employ this term to their own approach; what it seems to mean is that the homeopath will listen to you nicely for a while, then tell you to avoid strong stimulants such as tea and coffee, and take a sugar pill to correct the imbalance in your tissue salts or protect you from the miasma causing your disease. They do this whatever the underlying cause. Real medicine is very complex, and it has increasing evidence showing that it works.
John Knight, Beverley