To understand how I can make that claim, it is important to understand what both medical and alternative treatments are. There are medical treatments that can offer a “cure” to the disease based on chemotherapy (drugs) and radiation as primary treatment. These treatments fall under the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines of medical treatment. However, if vitamins or dietary supplements are used, it falls under Section 403(r) of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 which states, “A statement under this subparagraph may not claim to diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent a specific disease or class of diseases” (“Dietary Supplement 5-6”). Medical practitioners look towards the guidelines of the FDA and the American Medical Association for guidelines for cures to many such diseases. This has not always been the case. Based on information from the Alternative Medicine Sourcebook, (to be referred to herein as Sourcebook) alternative medicine once had its place in history (Note 1). It has just been since 1847 when the AMA was organized that any guidelines were established. Prior to that, medicine included practices in homeopathics, acupuncture, naturopaths, and botonics, and those parameters are now referred to as alternative medicine. By the mid 1800’s the medical system as we know it now was referred to as biomedicine. Biomedicine was defined in two areas:
(1) Specific organic entities which included bacterial and pathological damage, and
(2) Antibiotics and vaccines which would ward off pathogens.
Both of these categories were based on warding off infectious disease and to perfect surgical procedures (Cook 8). The establishment of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1937 under the National Cancer Act became the only federal institution with exclusive responsibility in cancer research (Epstein, The Politics 200). NCI defines alternative medicine as “…it is often called alternative when it is used instead of conventional [biomedicine] treatment” (“Questions & Answers” 1). NCI further clarifies whether the evaluation between alternative and conventional medicine is the same. NCI approaches conventional treatments as having been studied for safety and effectiveness by scientific processes, which include clinical trials using large numbers of patients. And yet they state that, “Often, less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods. Some of these complementary and alternative therapies have not undergone rigorous evaluation” (“Questions and Answers” 2). Finding a scientific explanation for principles behind alternative therapies is a most difficult issue. Herbal remedies have been used for centuries in China with no backing from universities, hospitals, statisticians or full-time research staffs. Drug companies are not likely to invest in researching herbal success because there can be no financial patent rewards on natural products; therefore, funding is scant. And these are the very elements that create research environments (Woodham and Peters 17).
In 1847 the American Medical Association was organized, and it sponsored and lobbied for the enactment of state licensing laws. As a result there was a quick decline in competition from other schools of medical practice. In 1910 Abraham Flexner, a United States educator and founder of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, compiled convincing evidence and wrote a report entitled, Medical Education in the United States and Canada. His report, funded by the Carnegie Foundation, helped to upgrade medical education. “It also enabled medical schools with a greater orientation towards biomedicine research to receive preferential treatment from the large philanthropic foundations that were then awarding money for medical education” (Cook 9). Indirectly, this was the demise of the alternative medical institutions. Based on Flexner’s report, many competing alternative medical schools lost the much needed funding to survive. And ironically, Flexner had no first hand knowledge of medicine or medical science, yet after his report was published even he became disenchanted with the rigidity of the education standards. In 1907 there were approximately 160 medical schools in the United States and four years after the report was released there were one hundred schools that were able to survive the lack of financial support. Biomedicine became the standard in health and illness. The Sourcebook also states that, “As a result, for the next half century it overshadowed ‘less scientific’ paradigms, and those who adopted and practiced biomedicine accumulated great power and prestige” (Cook 9). The end result was that rival alternative healing professions gradually disappeared which brought biomedicine to the forefront of the medical industry. This, too, changed the confidence in the patient who leaned more to biomedicine. But chronic illnesses (i.e., arthritis, allergies, hypertension, cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, and others) and deaths relating to those illnesses started to replace simple infectious disease, which was, of course, how biomedicine had originally been classified (Cook 8-23).