Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Due to the uncertain nature of various alternative therapies and the wide variety of claims different practitioners make, alternative medicine has been a source of vigorous debate, even over the definition of alternative medicine. Dietary supplements, their ingredients, safety, and claims, are a continual source of controversy. In some cases, political issues, mainstream medicine and alternative medicine all collide, such as the case where synthetic drugs are legal but the herbal sources of the same active chemical are banned. In other cases, controversy over mainstream medicine causes questions about the nature of a treatment, such as water fluoridation. Alternative medicine and mainstream medicine debates can also spill over into freedom of religion discussions, such as the right to decline lifesaving treatment for one's children because of religious beliefs. Government regulators continue to attempt to find a regulatory balance.

Jurisdiction differs concerning which branches of alternative medicine are legal, which are regulated, and which (if any) are provided by a government-controlled health service or reimbursed by a private health medical insurance company. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - article 34 (Specific legal obligations) of the General Comment No. 14 (2000) on The right to the highest attainable standard of health - states that

"Furthermore, obligations to respect include a State's obligation to refrain from prohibiting or impeding traditional preventive care, healing practices and medicines, from marketing unsafe drugs and from applying coercive medical treatments, unless on an exceptional basis for the treatment of mental illness or the prevention and control of communicable diseases."

Specific implementations of this article are, of course, left to member states.

A number of alternative medicine advocates disagree with the restrictions of government agencies that approve medical treatments. In the USA, for example, critics claim that the Food and Drug Administration's criteria for experimental evaluation methods impedes those seeking to bring useful and effective treatments and approaches to the public, and protest that their contributions and discoveries are unfairly dismissed, overlooked or suppressed. Alternative medicine providers recognize that health fraud occurs, and argue that it should be dealt with appropriately when it does, but that these restrictions should not extend to what they view as legitimate health care products.

In New Zealand alternative medicine products are classified as food products, so there are no regulations or safety standards in place

The production of modern pharmaceuticals is strictly regulated to ensure that medicines contain a standardized quantity of active ingredients and are free from contamination. Alternative medicine products are not subject to the same governmental quality control standards, and consistency between doses can vary. This leads to uncertainty in the chemical content and biological activity of individual doses. This lack of oversight means that alternative health products are vulnerable to adulteration and contamination. This problem is magnified by international commerce, since different countries have different types and degrees of regulation. This can make it difficult for consumers to properly evaluate the risks and qualities of given products.

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