MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is, compared to ‘Big Pharma’, a tiny and benign cottage industry – at least this is what we are often told and what many consumers believe. If you are one of them, this report might make you rethink your position.

The global market for SCAM is expected to generate a revenue of US$ 210.81 billion by 2026. It is projected to expand by 17.07% from 2019 to 2026. Factors such as the increasing adoption and usage of natural supplements/wellness medicine coupled with government initiatives to promote SCAM are assumed to be the main causes ot this increase. An increase in the costs of conventional medicine and the trend towards wellness are likely to boost the SCAM market.

Further key findings from the report suggest:
• The market is driven by high adoption of herbal dietary supplements and other wellness therapies like yoga, and acupuncture
• Botanical has become the most prominent form of alternative medicine as the segment was observed to hold the largest market share in terms of revenue 2018
• Europe and Asia Pacific in combination are anticipated to hold a major market share in terms of revenue over the forecast period
• Developing regions such as Latin America and Middle East Africa are set to witness considerable growth in demand over the forecast period driven by high cost of conventional medicine and lack of their availability in certain countries
• Some of the key players and wellness institutes active in the complementary and alternative medicine market are Columbia Nutritional Inc.; Herb Pharm; Herbal Hills; Helio USA Inc.; Deepure Plus; Nordic Naturals; Pure encapsulations, Inc.; and other wellness institutes like Iyengar Yoga Institute; John Schumacher’s Unity Woods Yoga Center; Yoga Tree; The Healing Company; and Quantum Touch Inc.

So, little SCAM turns out to be not so little after all!

In fact, there are billions at stake. And that perhaps might explain why little SCAM often behaves as badly as does the dreaded, much maligned ‘Big Pharma’. Just look at what some German homeopathic firms were up to in the past. One could almost think that their ethics have been homeopathically diluted. The ‘dirty methods’ of little SCAM can be at least as dirty as those of ‘Big Pharma’, in my experience.

But don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans!! The SCAM industry in most other countries is much the same.

And who could blame them?

After all, they are fighting against a Ku Klux Klan of evil sceptics.

16 Responses to So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is a harmless little cottage industry – true or false?

  • And why are you still promoting myths Alexander Technique teachers are advertising world wide?
    Please consult my 2005 dissertation.

    • I hope you know what you are talking about, BECAUSE I DON’T

      • Edzard,

        I have Googled Jeroen Staring. Unfortunately most of what I found was in Dutch, which I don’t read. He appears to be a medical historian. I am not clear whether he holds an academic appointment.

        One of his published works is a history of the Alexander technique, and there is a Web site where you can download a summary. I have only skimmed it but as far as I can see he regards the Alexander technique as an interesting idea which has had his day. He references a review which you published in 2003 in which you concluded “It is now clearly up to the Alexander Technique community to prove, evidence-based, via controlled trials, that the Alexander Technique is not “either of unknown value or ineffective,” and should therefore be considered in medical therapy.” Although as a historian he seems to be aiming to maintain a neutral stance, I get the impression that he is broadly in agreement with you here.

        The review concludes with a curious hypothesis about the influences of Western culture and diet on jaw development ultimately determining posture in ways that cannot readily be changed by the Alexander technique.

        I am not clear which specific myths he is accusing the advocates of the Alexander technique (and yourself) of promoting.

        I have to agree with you that his comments on this thread are somewhat cryptic.

      • Jeroen Staring first mentioned his dissertation in a comment in this thread. In a subsequent comment he sets out the conclusions of his dissertation and states: “My advice for all AT teachers was, “It is now clearly up to the Alexander Technique community to prove, evidence-based, via controlled trials, that the Alexander Technique is not “either of unknown value or ineffective,” and should therefore be considered in medical therapy” , which seems to be a mild conclusion (but broadly in line with the view that the Alexander Technique is not (yet) evidence-based.)

        In 2018 he published a paper entitled “Frederick Matthias Alexander, Born 150 Years Ago, on January 20, 1869. A Fierce Comment Regarding Interpretations of Alexander’s Texts by Alexander Technique Teachers”. The article can be downloaded here. The “fierce comment” is summarized in the terse conclusion to the paper: “One wonders, ‘Do Alexander Technique teachers really know what they are teaching and doing in the name of F. M. Alexander?'”

        Dr Dr Staring (he has two titles of ‘doctor’ because he’s a Doctor of Medical Sciences and a Doctor of Education) has a lot of publications and eight books listed on the Amazon website (all ‘currently unavailable’) but he seems to have a special interest in the Alexander Technique and the way current exponents and teachers of the technique are not following Alexander’s original teachings properly.

  • It seems youindeed did not read my dissertation.
    No worries. You will certainly do one day….
    Best wishes with your blog,
    Jeroen Staring

  • The fact that SCAM is largely based on an industry with an overall annual turnover is nearing $200 billion indeed seems to be one of several big elephants in the room of alternative believers.

    This is particularly poignant when looking at antivaccine activists. These people, who more often than not are keen SCAM adherents, keep claiming that vaccine manufacturers are making ‘astronomical profits’, ostensibly by forcing their ‘harmful’ vaccines on innocent children (which is a very weird claim already, as selling bad products is not a viable strategy in the long run).
    In reality, vaccines only account for ~2% of the worldwide annual turnover of pharmaceutical products, so approximately $ 30 billion. Profits are 20-25% of this turnover.
    For an example, just take a look at Merck’s annual statement for 2018: Their MMR vaccine has total annual sales of some $ 1.8 billion, with profits estimated at $ 360 million. And this is one the most used vaccines worldwide.

    And oh, quite often, antivaccine people claim that measles is better and more cheaply prevented by administering vitamin A than by vaccination(*). When I point out that pharmaceutical companies probably make more profit off vitamin A supplements than from the MMR vaccine, silence ensues…

    *: This apart from the fact that vitamin A deficiency is a big problem in many developing countries, so providing vitamin A to those people is still necessary.

  • Apologies accepted.

    Please accept my apologies for not responding earlier, but this noon-time I was meeting a co-thinker in a kind of “think-tank” (= dr. dr. Jan b. Eyskens) who reported to me the acceptance of his presentation of our jointly ‘composed’ poster “QUEST FOR SPACE: towards a novel approach in treating pain and fatigue on earth,” yesterday, at the 10th Interdisciplinary World Congress on Low Back and Pelvic Girdle Pain, in Antwerp, Belgium.

    Around a year ago I offered to send you, Prof. em. dr. Ernst, a copy of my 2005 “Alexander dissertation.” You probably were too busy, or perhaps not interested, or whatever, but you neve rsponded. Yet, since I made my offer first (and you know my e-mail address), please contact me and send your snail-mail address to me so I can send a copy of my dissertation to you, and I will tell my snail-mail address where you can send yours to me. I promise, I will read yours first. Now, I hope that must feel very gratifying indeed. And hopefully you will correct your non-evedence-based opinion that I commented here enterily off topic.

    I do not, and will not, prescribe that (and how) you perhaps should adjust the myths you have spread about the history of the Alexander Technique, parotting Alexander Technique teachers. I would however appreciate that you honestly research the matter after I read your dissertation, and you then –in turn, as you requested– read mine, and then come to the conclusion I already came to. Happy reading… I hope I will enjoy reading your dissertation once you sent it to me.

    • Tell me when you have read mine; then I will read yours.

      • That’s funny. You state at 14:21: ” ell me when you have read mine, then I will read yours.” I wrote at 13:49: “I would however appreciate that you honestly research the matter after I read your dissertation, and you then –in turn, as you requested– read mine…..”

        Your blog seems to make me clairvoyant, already knowing your response before you ever responded!
        What a joke!
        \I certainly am not clairvoyant.

        So, question: are you somehow playing with my correspondence?

  • I’m going to have to go true on this one. Considering the total for only national health expenses in the same time frame is $6 Trillion (https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/ForecastSummary.pdf), this only accounts for 3% as compared to only US expenditures. If we are comparing to pharmaceutical sales (https://info.evaluate.com/rs/607-YGS-364/images/EvaluatePharma_World_Preview_2019.pdf) this 17% number is relevant, but big pharma is likely to be responsible for 20% of that (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/botanical-and-plant-derived-drugs-global-markets-300563001.html). So they too think plant extracts are an area of interest.

    • sure, these expenses are fat higher. but the figures you quote are not comparable. as the SCAM cost quotes are for sellable products, only the total drug bill would be a fair comparison, I thin.

    • I’m not quite sure what it is you are saying. Looking at your links it seems to be:

      1. Healthcare is very expensive in the US.
      2. There is a growing market for plant extracts and Big Pharma want to profit from it

      That does not mean that these plant extracts constitute effective treatment for anything (the third document defines them fairly carefully and specifically excludes anything that I, as a physician, would normally prescribe).

  • To project with such exact figures stating to two decimal places suggests to me that either the report authors are over confident with their model or that they have a time machine and have validated their figures this way.

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