Since I have blown my cover, indulge me in a bit of a rant...
Scientists, particularly those in the pharmaceutical industry, are often vilified when it is thought that better, cheaper, easier solutions are know and the only reason these aren't available is that the "scientists" and the "industries" are in collusion for profit.
I worked in discovery research in the pharmaceutical industry for 18 years, and I can assure you that this is not the case. Ever.
Yes, we have discovered drugs that could be beneficial to some but decided not to pursue them for profit reasons. Yes, I personally think that diseases like malaria would have much better treatments if there were better profit potentials in them.
And yes, we have systematically studied many, many folklore medicines and did not pursue them into clinical studies.
The reasons for that have nothing to do with profit and all to do with an inability to design a scientifically valid
study. This is often difficult for non-scientists to understand, but a scientifically valid study is not easy in the best of circumstances when the endpoints are arbitrary or difficult to measure (Ms. Smith, do you feel
better?) and the patient population is comprised of humans who refuse to be treated in a controlled manner (Mister Jones, can you please just stop eating bacon for two weeks?).
Really difficult. Let me tell you about Viagra. Clinical studies require quantitative measurements, and we all know what that measurement is for a drug like Viagra. Well, quantitation required hanging weights on a certain body part and measuring the "performance" before and after dosing. And doing this enough times to be statistically significant. Imagine you are the person being studied and imagine your "performance" with clinical people watching and recording. You can begin to see the difficulty of designing a valid study.
And let's not go into depression medicines. These require finely teasing out what it means to "feel better".
pharma companies HAVE to operate within scientifically established and controlled parameters. This is a legal
requirement, as much as a basic scientific requirement.
The "alternative medicine" companies do not. Most of this industry is composed of heresy and folklore, sprinkled with anecdotal evidence.
The fact is that they do NOT submit their claims or any studies to the scientific community (which includes academic scientists NOT affiliated with the pharma industry), nor do they bother with the trivialities of going through the FDA or any other country's regulatory agency. And believe me, the FDA is NOT on the pharmaceutical companies sides. The "alternative medicine" companies may have a few academic researcher supporters here and there, but not a systemically rigorous and testable hypothesis.
Instead, they skirt the whole issue by operating as "supplement" companies, but not as "nutritional supplements", because that will get them very close to the FDA. They make vague claims, but not specific enough to draw them close to regulation. They have practitioners that operate outside the licensed and regulated establishments.
In other words, they themselves refuse to bring their ideas and claims into basic mainstream science, and prefer to operate as patent medicine sellers of an earlier century.
Could pharma learn something from them? Possibly, but I assure you that most folklore medicines have already been vetted by pharma. For example, I was involved in a large controlled study of St. John's Wort - all the rage a number of years ago for depression. Lots of people spent lots of money
on that supplement without any scientifically controlled study. A controlled study uncovered the expected placebo effect and nothing more.
For those of you who need to believe that pharma companies are evil, let me reassure your belief with this: if pharma finds a natural, cheap
, readily available product with efficacy, they WILL make a monster profit off of it.
Most folklore medicines are abandoned by pharma because of the complications of designing a controlled study or the complications of identifying an active ingredient and its specific method of action.
Unlike the patent medicine folks, the pharma industry is required by law to identify their active ingredients, describe with data the specific method of action and show statically valid activity through controlled clinical studies. And don't get me started on safety
studies - these take years of studies.
And that last paragraph is what you should keep in mind when evaluating alternative medicines and the claims of their practitioners against the pharma industry.