Dear Mark: Insurance and Alternative Therapies

One benefit of the national debate over health insurance is the spotlight on health care itself. I don’t pretend to have the answer to the political quagmires, but I have to say I’ve enjoyed the deliberation (most of it anyway). Most of all, I appreciate seeing health care issues hashed out in a wide public forum. (I’m holding out hope that it will lead to a real discussion of genuine health itself. A few public figures have tried to steer it that way to little avail so far.) While politicians and talking heads bicker and vent, I tend to take more interest in the stories of independent-minded people who’ve learned to steer the system in their favor, those who’ve fought it tooth and nail and those who’ve checked out of it altogether to go their own route. (Gee, no one fitting that description here … wink). In the last year I’ve gotten a good number of emails from folks trying to do just that – navigating the health care system and their insurance companies as they take charge of their health and buck CW in favor of what they consider more effective interventions that complement their Primal journeys. Here’s one such message…

Dear Mark,

As someone who’s suffered from chronic back pain and arthritis for years, I’m exploring alternative medicine now but finding it impossible to get my insurance company to help pay for it. I’ve taken up the Primal Blueprint lifestyle, which has made a difference in my symptoms, but I know I need to take it to the next level. Conventional treatments haven’t done much of anything for me. I’d love to hear your advice.

Alternative treatments are known in the health community as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). CAM therapies include treatments like chiropractic care, massage, meditation, biofeedback, movement therapies, yoga, diet therapies, and non-vitamin/mineral supplements. It’s estimated that some 38% of American adults used at least one form of CAM in 2007. Obviously, we live in a free society where people can choose to undertake whatever treatment course they deem desirable. The controversy comes, warranted or unwarranted, when someone is asked to pay for the choice. The New York Times just ran a story about a woman with cancer who, told there was no solution, took the bull by the horns and pursued a course of integrative treatments that saved her life. Her next fight was then battling her insurance to cover the treatments that led to her recovery.

As the Times article notes, she isn’t alone. As CAM therapies – for chronic lifestyle conditions to immediate life-threatening diseases – become more popular in patient and physician circles, there’s more pressure for insurance companies to reconsider their stance on reimbursement. Even government officials joined the debate recently, pushing for certain CAM coverage changes in insurance regulations.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine offers recommendations for those seeking financial assistance in covering their CAM expenses. When it comes to maximizing the possible coverage offered by your current health insurance plan, NCCAM suggests first examining your policy to see which treatments are covered specifically for your particular health condition and what restrictions are imposed (higher co-pay, visit limit, etc.). Find out if pre-authorization is required or if you need a referral from an in-network physician for these services. You can also talk to your present insurance company to see if they offer policy riders, (coverage add-ons) that cover CAM therapies.

If insurance doesn’t cover CAM and you’re going to pursue the treatment anyway, you can always try to fight the good fight. Cover your bases by getting a physician referral, using a state licensed CAM practitioner (preferably associated with a conventional health provider office), and asking him/her to write a letter to the insurance company describing the treatment course and its value for your condition. Make the case by then including whatever solid published research you can find showing the treatment’s demonstrated effectiveness for your condition. Also, check out the respective professional association for your particular CAM treatment. As the NCCAM notes, oftentimes these associations keep track of insurance issues related to their field: who covers or reimburses for what, etc. If you’re fighting a claim that’s already been denied, talk with the provider’s billing staff about how the treatment was coded on the claim.

If you’re using CAM treatments without any health insurance (or efforts to get your policy to cover them), consider other ways to lower your cost outlay. Flexible Savings Accounts and Health Savings Accounts allow you to use set aside funds for certain CAM treatments. Be sure to talk to a representative to get the full details on coverage and conditions.

Finally, just let me say that I realize not every alternative therapy can or should be covered. Indeed, a good many are questionable at best, and just as many are wholly bogus. Critics complain there isn’t sufficient scientific proof that CAM therapies work. Truthfully, this is an argument I understand and appreciate on a theoretical level. Even the treatments that appear most promising are frequently supported by smaller studies of less than stellar design. Nonetheless, when you know a thing or two about science, you realize that the actual practice too often differs from the theoretical principle. Plenty of Big Pharma’s solutions don’t exhibit any more effectiveness than some CAM treatments. Sure, Big Pharma has the money to set up large studies and then ghostwrite seemingly objective articles that get big press. The fact is, CAM therapies don’t have big industry dollars behind them. That doesn’t change my view of the studies themselves, but it leads me to at least suspend disbelief on some level.

Science is science, but I guess the contrarian in me is a little more sympathetic to alternative/complementary treatments that show initial promise and need to be studied more rigorously than I am to many conventional treatments that have a well-funded agenda (and massive lobbying power) behind them. I’d argue that just as many conventional treatments (particularly pharmaceutical interventions) are questionable or outright bogus as the most suspect CAM therapies. Just a couple weeks ago, research showed that a simple niacin formula was more effective than Big Pharma’s Zetia in preventing artery plaque. There’s also the issue of cost. Many drugs cost upwards of $10,000-20,000 a year. Drug companies will pay for these no questions asked. Alternative therapies that might add up to a $1000 or less in a given year for the same condition aren’t even considered. It’s a drop in the bucket for a big insurance giant but a potential budget-buster for many folks.

Let me what you think. Do you have tips, experiences in this arena? As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep ‘em coming!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

63 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Insurance and Alternative Therapies”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. It’s so true-many alternative care treatments cost far less than the Big Pharma “solutions” and have emprical evidence to back them up. Accupuncture is one, massage is another. I am grateful and fortunate enough to have a job and insurance that covers these treatments with a $15 co-pay, though I have to say I wish insurance would go further (covering some of my vitamin/mineral supplements and natuopathic visits).
    Another great and thought-provoking post, thanks Mark!

  2. Bear in mind that the Placebo Effect is so strong (and appears to be getting even stronger) that bona-fide medications are starting to compare unfavorably. I would venture the opinion that PE is the dominant force in CAM.

    Related (somewhat) to that, I did a blog post a few months ago on how to save money on healthcare, based on a major epiphany I had about 20 years ago. Short version: Insurance makes everything more expensive. LOTS more expensive. Long version can be read at

    There is no substitute for a skeptical inquiry into whatever health problems you may have (and the willingness to challenge whatever your doctor thinks s/he knows about it). It doesn’t take a lot of study into any particular health problem before you will be way out ahead of your primary care physician (unless it is a very common problem), simply because your primary care doc has to keep track of more things than is really humanly possible.

    And things change. Like the new information on vitamin D3…

    1. I agree that insurance makes everything more expensive. Indeed, the whole concept of “insurance” for regular checkups and run-of-the-mill care is silly. It’s like using a sledge hammer to drive a nail. Everyone should have catastrophic health insurance and a fully-funded HSA to pay for everything else.

      If we really want to drive down costs, mandate HSAs for everyone — co-funding them for destitute citizens up to a minimum level — and put each person in charge of his or her own health (and health care costs). You’d have to purchase catastrophic insurance but beyond that, you can spend the rest of the HSA funds for any medical care you choose. Homeopathic/chiropractic/abortion/whatever — no insurance company or government minion to gainsay your choices. (Unless you WANT to spend your HSA money on an old-fashioned health insurance plan so some bureaucrat can make these decisions for you — that would still be allowed…but probably not a popular choice.) Make any funds left in the HSA roll over from year to year (currently most are use-it-or-lose-it at the end of each year) to further reward penny pinchers.

      We would need some education to ensure everyone knows the relative superiority and cost effectiveness of preventive health care. And we would need to publish cost and effectiveness data for health care providers so consumers can make informed decisions. But those investments would pale in comparison to the savings we’d realize in eliminating the need to pay all those smart people to think up novel ways to deny insurance coverage. (Plus those folks could be redirected to do productive work such as research or infrastructure maintenance.)

      These reforms would play to our society’s strengths in establishing a real market for health care options and enabling consumers to make choices, and real competition, costs would plummet. And everybody would be happy, possibly excepting the insurance companies.

      1. I completely agree with your statement. i only wish it were possible considering the way our Congress and big business are set up to only work together pushing commin sense out of the way for more profits.

    2. I agree with the ideas in your blog post (about high deductible with HSA) but it needs to be pointed out that if you have your family on the insurance plan, the upfront savings in the premiums are PER FAMILY but the out-of-pocket costs to meet the deductible are PER PERSON. In my case (simplified example), each of 3 family members used $2499 of service that year, never meeting the $2500 deductible but way overspending our $2500 HSA contributions. They never point that out when they give you the worksheets for deciding which plan to choose.

      1. Even so, the HDHP+HSA is still the best overall deal you can get in healthcare without being a politician (or owning one), which is probably why your current congress is trying desperately to eliminate it. Must not allow the peons to have the same access as the rulers…

        It is always possible to construct an example where any given plan would fare worse or better than any other given plan (as a former insurance peddler, I know exactly how to do that, BTW), since every family’s needs will differ, and we can’t predict the future (if we could, then there would be no such thing as insurance). So no matter what plan is chosen, there will be somebody who would have been better off with a different one, in hindsight. The best we can do is arrange the most favorable odds. For the vast majority of the population, that would be HDHP+HSA.

  3. I’m a little concerned about the “free country” part. In the new health care legislation is the fact that you must be on a government approved health care plan. IF you aren’t, then you are subject to what I believe is a 1.5% tax of your income. If you fail to pay the tax, you are subject to spending 5 years in jail. That’s not freedom to me.

    1. Agreed. What’s the point of having a tax on those who can’t afford insurance in the first place?

  4. I had a disc herniation in January 2009. Surgeon wanted to operate on me immediately. Insurance would have covered all of it (tens of thousands of dollars, easily).

    Instead I went to see a Paul Chek trained exercise specialist whose prescription (improved diet, correct exercise) had me fixed up in no time. Unfortunately I pay him $100 whenever I see him and insurance won’t cover a penny of it.

    The system is stupid.

  5. The health insurance policy I just purchased was quoted at one price then the price was increased due to what the insurance provider quoted as my “build”. At 6’1″ 240 lbs I’ll admit I’m not the skinniest guy on the block, but these people have never seen me or my “build”. So i asked if when I take some weight off (which I’m doing primally), if my rates will go down, I was told yes. Can’t wait to see how that goes, I’m sure it will be a fight.

  6. On one hand we are lucky in the UK to have free-healthcare (well, it’s tax-funded). But of course, it leaves you very little choice as to what therapies and medications are given to you, and doctors are under immense pressure to see a certain amount of patients a day, so the ‘care’ part has sort of gone out the window. We have been seeing a Chinese Herbalist and accupuncturist, and we can vouch that his treatments really work because he works holistically, taking all lifestyle factors into account. The problem with conventional medicine is that it looks at the obvious symptoms to diagnose rather than looking at the person as a whole.

  7. How were you able to locate a Chek-trained exercise specialist? I can’t find a directory of Chek trainers on the ‘net.


  8. The problem with CAM is, of course, that if it worked it would just be called “Medicine” and integrated into the mainstream. As you say, science is science and until CAM believers can show in scientifically rigourous testing that their methods work beyond the placebo effect, it’s not science, just belief.

    1. Doubt it. Much of what is termed CAM is more effective than conventional allopathic medicine in treating a wide range of problems. But if it goes against the medical model, then it will be ignored. Eg many studies have shown that lifestyle changes (including mind/body training) reduces blood pressure and mortality much more effectively than drugs. But do you think that the big pharma backed medical industry will be introducing mind/body training for everyone that presents with high blood pressure? No. Despite the evidence that it is more effective.

      Also, many pharmaceutical medicines have very little effect beyond placebo.

      1. The funny thing is that you have no proof to back up your statements, but there is plenty of peer-reviewed, double blind studies demonstrating the effectiveness of conventional treatments. Tell me, how many studies have been published in the Lancet or NEJM that proclaim the effectiveness of acupuncture or candling or whatever? None. Why? Because they demand proof that those techniques can’t bring. All they bring is anecdotes and placebo effect.

        I was wondering how long it was going to take before somebody started slagging on “Big Pharma”. Seriously? Big Pharma and friends are out to keep us all sick and dependent on their products?

        And I’ll certainly call ultra-mega-super-bullshit on your statement about pharaceuticals having little effect beyond placebo; you’re clearly confusing CAM with regular, real medicine. Show me some proof, please.

        1. My favorite article from JAMA – Journal American Medical Association July 26, 2000;284(4):483-5, which states that every year in the US, medicine kills lots of people.
          12,000 — unnecessary surgery
          7,000 — medication errors in hospitals
          20,000 — other errors in hospitals
          80,000 — infections in hospitals
          106,000 — non-error, negative effects of drugs
          These total to 225,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic causes!!

          I didnt try and justify ear candling, I merely pointed out that western medicine is not the be all and end all for treating all of humanities health problems. And I certainly didnt say that all drugs are useless, but I did say that some have little effect above placebo -‘ a 2004 paper by the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit group that reviews scientific evidence for medical treatments: “There is no good evidence for or against the effectiveness of OTC medicines in acute cough.”‘

          I dont have the link to the hypertension study, I got the reference from Gilbert, M. 2003 J Comp Alt Medicine 9 (4)

          Big pharma dosent want to make us all sick. Big pharma just wants to make as much money as possible. That generally means selling more drugs.

          And why would they not publish an article about an alternative treatment that works in Lancet? for the same reason that they would not publish drug trials research in the journal of orthopedic and sports physiotherapy – its outside their scope of practice. Which is fair enough. I just wish that western medicine would accept that theirs is not the only relevant guidelines by which to judge treatments.

        2. @Dr. Steve: We are starting to get to niggling details here, but you said “many” not “some”. There is a difference. You still haven’t backed up your statement that lifestyle changes are “much more” effective than meds; I suspect that the truth is that they (lifestyle changes) are effective, but for different cohorts and to different degrees, not hands and fists above meds. I agree that meds should be a last defense, but you and I and everybody else here knows that’s not how people roll; people don’t do prevention, they show up at the doc when their problems have gone bad and it’s up to the doc to try to manage them from there.

          On medical mortality: Yes, nobody claimed that medicine doesn’t kill. It certainly kills far less than it used to (bloodletting, anyone?) and it is a human endeavour, rife with human problems. Most of those deaths are human error; less than half are negative drug effects and it would be interesting to see how much of that is from missed opportunities in prescription (for example, giving penicillin to someone who is allergic). When you’ve got people making decisions, errors are made. One should also ask “How many people die each year from CAM treatments, including those that would have likely been saved if they’d entered the medical system instead of seeking CAM treatment?” That’s a number we’re not likely to see, because there’s no transparency. If somebody, like the ill-fated parents of that child I mentioned earier, steadfastly refuse to utilize conventional medicine and somebody dies for it, where are those statistics? Or is CAM so very safe that there is absolutely no risk whatsoever? If that’s the case, one can argue that there is no actual effect taking place at all; it’s placebo or whatever.

          So fine, no alt. med. in Lancet. There are plenty of other well regarded, solidly scientific journals that cater to each niche of the human condition. Where is the supporting evidence for your claims in any of those? Note that finding evidence that tears down a counter claim is not evidence *for* another claim; it’s just evidence that that claim may not be true. So, for example, saying that medicine kills 225k people per year does not support the claim that CAM is safe or that it is effective. It’s a straw man.

          I’ll take a shot at chiropractic, since you appear to be one; are you aligning so called “energy fields” (or however you want to describe it, I think you know what I’m getting at) or are you doing skeleto-spinal adjustments? Because if you’re doing the former, it’s unproven and roundly denounced in the literature, and if it’s the latter you’re doing what is called physical therapy and there is lots of scientific evidence to support that and what you would then be doing is medicine.

        3. Actually, the reason (at least in large part) that CAM science doesn’t appear in NEJM or Lancet is this: there’s no one investing money to get studies done and no entity investing money in then getting those studies published in high-tier journals. Who stands to make money if it’s proven that massage works as well as Xanax for treating anxiety? Randomized controlled trials are expensive to conduct. And it’s also expensive to get the results published anywhere that anyone will read them. No one stands to gain; no one shells out the cash.

          I’m not some anti-capitalist psycho nor a Big Pharma hater necessarily, but it really is all about the money in this case. I’m not sure where you’d expect to find actual proof of this, but it is the way things work. It’s the problem that comes with having health care be a for-profit industry.

        4. OK Alchemyguy it appears that you know exactly what you are talking about. without asking me what I do, you have concluded that I am either a quack OR in the field of medicine. You must have been attending the George W school of rhetoric (You are either with us or against us!)

          BTW, 106,000 is the side effect of correctly prescribed drugs, not allergic reactions and the like. Also, 225,000 deaths makes medicine the fourth largest cause of mortality in the US. Which does not prove the effectiveness of CAM, but certainly comments on the ineffectiveness of allopathy.

        5. @Dr Steve: Easy with the Ad Hominem there tiger; attempting to associate me with a roundly disliked figure doesn’t do anything but muddy the waters. Doesn’t actually address the question, does it?

          I skimmed your website, came to the conclusion that it looks a lot like chiropractic and went forward from there. I suppose you could be some other kind of practicioner, but judging by your response I would say that I probably got it right. The fact that you didn’t actually address the point or offer an alternative to the options I presented and instead resorted to attacking me really says everything that needs to be.

          On the ~225k deaths in the medical system; No, it doesn’t even remotely call into question the *effectiveness* of conventional medicine, it demonstrates that there is *risk* involved. And just because there is risk does not invalidate everything it does. If you want a perfect world where everything goes 100% perfectly all the time, I have bad news for you. I would also suggest, again, that over half of those deaths are…human error by practitioners of medicine. No shocker there, people make mistakes all the time and if you expect your medical team to be superhuman, you’re also in for a shocker.

          One more on that topic; lets assume for a moment that those 225k deaths are unacceptable and we ban the practice of conventional medicine. I wonder how many people would die each year then. I bet you dollars to doughnuts (ha!) that it would be no comparison.

          You’re going to do better than personal attacks and drawing incorrect conclusions from fairly clear data, Dr Steve.

        6. Ahh, one more. Nobody ever claims that medicine can’t get better; doctors, nurses and administrators work constantly to make medicine safer because nobody likes losing a patient, especially if it was because you misdosed them or misdiagnosed them or whatever the case may be. Just because “Big Pharma” is out to make money doesn’t make medicine some kind of failure; it means the American for-profit system needs to be fixed, not thrown out and magical belief substituted.

    2. Nonsense. There are many examples of treatments that have been proven in research, but which remain outside of the establishment practices. For example, if you have arthritis, just try getting a prescription for glucosamine so that the insurance companies will re-imburse the modest expense. It doesn’t matter that there a stack of studies showing that glucosamine is beneficial. On the other hand, if you go for a TNF blocking drug that costs $20,000 a year (which also has serious potential side effects) it will be covered.

      The medical system is not purely scientific – it also has legal and cultural dimensions. The legal end is set up so that drugs generally need a corporate sponsor to get approved for mainstream use, which means they need to be patentable (and are more expensive until the patent monopoly expires).

      1. I’ll bounce TJ and Jonathan here. It’s hard to have a proper conversation when you can only have about 5 layers of responses.

        @Jonathan: You’re right, to a degree. Glucosamine (as an example) is recommended by our doctors, but it’s an OTC supplement so no scrip and no reimbursement. That’s certainly a symptom of an imperfect system that could do with work, but hardly damning. 😀 And you’re right, of course, that there is more than just straight-up science to the medical system. I am arguing that there is far, far, far more research and work done in conventional medicine to improve practices and treatments than in any of the CAM, and that’s what counts in the big picture.

        @TJ: I also can’t really disagree with you, except that not all research comes out of for-profit corporations; there is tons of research around the world that is done under Gov’t grants, and I know that there have been some well funded and performed studies examining acupuncture (for example) that came back no better than placebo. It’s true that Pfizer and friends are out for the big $$ drugs and aren’t terribly excited about developing a better anti-malarial, but if your government is doing its job they’re not the only research game in town.

  9. Food is medicine. Eat the right stuff for you, and you probably wont really need CAM treatments either. The problem is, it’s easier said than done…

    Trauma medicine is what we’re getting good at and should advance further. A good chunk of the other is preventable by being proactive about your health (as many of us PB-ers) know.

    1. I agree 100%.

      I’ve worked as a medical transcriptionist for 15 years in hospital settings. I’d say probably 80% of patients in any given hospital at any given time ate themselves into their situation. The neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons, infectious disease specialists and the like, handling the other 20% (trauma, acute care) are worth their weight in gold.

  10. The director of Duke Integrative Medicine was just on the people’s pharmacy talking about this. She indicates that there are dozens (if not hundreds of studies) backing up alternative medicine but not western medicine. Her colleagues, typical MDs, look down on anything outside of their schooling, however, majority of Western medicine is anecdotal, not scientific. She considered this very hypocritical. She expressed her frustration with this. I a gree with her on this and most doctors would agree that conventional western practice is anectodal. (mark indicates this in the blog, drugs do not do a thing but cover up chronic problems, and no operations have ever had studies before being performed)

    If conventional wesern medicine was scientific, they would be able to take a blood test and know exactly what drug was best for you, dosage, etc. but they can’t. So you take it home and then come back later if there is a problem. Whatever works for most of their patients, they’ll try with you and then change it if there is a problem.

    The placebo effect is way overrated. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to some very potent alternative therapies that yielded amazing results, biomechanical changes, etc. That isn’t placebo in any way, shape, or form.

    Unfortunately, many alternative practictioners are junk or not very qualified to deal with a wide range of issues, so i’m sure many studies are employing the “talents” of these individuals vs the real deal.

    I’ve had many friends who have thought it was all placebo or “my mind was so strong” or “febble mindedness” and then they tried it and were blown away and admit they were wrong.

    1. Mike, I’m a little late, but I wanted to add to what you said, that Ayurveda is a medical system 3000-5000 years old, and I’m often told it’s “junk medicine” from allopathic doctors and CWers all the time without realising the irony.

  11. I do love aloe vera gel, straight from the plant in our garden, on burns. Works like a charm.

  12. I have had success getting my insurance company to reimburse me for alternative treatments related to my broken back.

    How I did it: I got my primary care physician, who was completely floored that I am in no pain whatsoever given all the instrumentation now in my back, to write a letter to my insurance company saying, basically, all these treatments (CranioSacral Release, massage, and an offshoot of chiropractic called the Tonal Approach) are obviously working and are much cheaper than keeping me hepped up on OxyContin for the rest of my life and needing further surgery. I attach a copy of said letter every time I submit the form for reimbursement. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I received the Explanation of Benefits saying they were reimbursing me for CranioSacral Release claims totaling more than $1000 (money well spent — it works!).

    I also put the maximum into my Flexible Spending Account at work. I have to show them the letter as well, but they do reimburse me for the part that the insurance company does not pay.

  13. Here’s the thing: Not every medication works for every person. Some people will take a drug and feel better, others won’t. And others will just suffer with side effects. The idea is that if the drug can help enough people, it’s useful. Why can’t we think that way with alternative medicine too? People say it doesn’t work or that it’s a sham. But what if it worked for you? I read that NY Times article, and I also read the comments, where people were attacking that woman for seeking out an alternative treatment for her terminal cancer, calling her stupid for trying something not tested in a peer-reviewed journal–and spending unnecessary health care dollars. But what would you do? When you’re really sick, you’re willing to try anything. And for her, that payed off; she beat the cancer.

    I would be willing to try a treatment that hasn’t been proven effective in a blinded, placebo-controlled trial and published in a peer-reviewed journal if it meant finding relief for chronic pain or stopping a terminal illness.

    1. One of the things I kind of indicated in my post before is that these studies and trials do exist, the naysayers choose to disregard all of the research that would force them to think or live outside of their boxes. So back on subject, yes, insurance companies need to catch up and help people cover these treatments, treatments that are not simply covering up symptoms so the problem can fester and worsen over time.

      1. Unfortunately, those naysayers are the CAM believers. They *want* their method of choice to work so they ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Conventional Medicine works exactly the opposite way; you propose a mechanism of action (say, that incredibly diluted amounts of an active substance in water will have an empirical effect), and then you try to disprove your claim. If you can’t disprove it, it would appear to be true and you go forward. You don’t do what CAM researchers (I use that loosely) do and try to prove your claim.

        And that’s where the studies and so on that show that homoeopathy or acupuncture or whatever work fall down; they’re constructed to win, not to lose.

        What’s the danger in using CAM? Maybe none at all, but there are plenty of cases of people that put their faith there for relatively minor things and ended up dead or in very bad shape. Search “Manju Sam” in Google for the case of a couple of homeopaths that insisted on treating their 9 month old daughter’s exema (a mild skin condition, treatable with simple stuff like zinc oxide) with alternative methods, and the child died from infections caused by the condition. They believed in their system so much their child died for it.

        1. I think a hybrid of the two systems is the best aproach. I have had great success with acupuncture, but if I get a serious infection I’m going on antibiotics. The problem with conventional medicine is with most Doc’s they go straight to the pills. My dad was on blood pressure meds for almost ten years, until I got him eating well and working out a bit. Now he’s been off his meds for almost a year, and feels better than ever.

          If we had doctors that would prescribe regular activity, and a proper diet we would all be better off. My dads Doc never once even brought this up??

        2. Do some reaserch on how many people die every year from complications, or reactions related to conventional medicine as well. It may balance your view a little.

        3. @Brad: Are you trying to tell me that people that die from complications in an attempt to make them better using the most proven tools available are somehow equivalent to gross negligence? Seriously?

          There is no “balanced” viewpoint when it comes to facts. Either stuff works and it’s just plain old medicine, or it’s not proven to work and it’s CAM. It’s really just that simple. Aloe vera, for example, is known and proven to help with burns. That’s not herbology or CAM or anything other than medicine. Honey is used for its antibacterial properties; that’s not because we were told so by the old witchy-woman who lives in the hut down the way, it’s because its been shown to perform.

          I get that people don’t like the medical system. I don’t like the medical system, but it’s the best we’ve got and it’s always working on getting better; Homeopathy is stuck in the 1700’s and can’t do diddly against polio.

        4. No thats not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying you will find evidence of gross negligence in conventional medicine as well, and that people should question both. Thats why I said a hybrid sytem that balances both is best.

          And when I say gross negligence in Coventional medicine, I’m not talking about the know risk complications etc.. I’m talking serious mis diagnosis, wrong drugs being administered, and at the very least prescribing potentially harmful drugs to treat afflictions that could be simply treated with diet and excersise.

          And do you really think that Big Pharma really always has the best interest of public health in mind, and never the bottom line…Really?? I’m not saying there all Evil, and that I’ve never taken a prescription drug etc etc… I’m just saying..

  14. Our system is backward. Very little prevention yet pounds of cure. Chiropractic and herbal treatments have been the base of my health care for a number of years. yeah I gotta pay out of pocket but I have been very healthy for my 50 years, with the exception of routine chiropractic maintenance, I very rarely see a doctor. Once with a broken foot 2 years ago, and 3 years ago before that for a mandatory work related physical. Thats it. The chiropractic and herbal route (when needed) costs me less than $200 per year. Not bad for maintenance. Hell one prescription could cost that for a month. Save traditional medicine for emergencies and traumatic injury.

  15. Ooo…you hit a big one for me. I am an amateur herbalist, well, Holistic Healer. Everything has it’s place in regard to health. Sooooooo many problems could be fixed/avoided by diet alone (diabetes, being overweight, having a healthy immune system, less pain etc). Add in a little exercise and BOOM more problems avoided. Those are the first things that should be tried in any case. Which is why I’m glad that I found PB, because with the week and a half that I have been on it, my sinuses have cleared up, my acne down, and my energy levels up as well.

    As for CAM, I believe it has it’s place as well. That couple that tried treating their child’s eczema with homeopathic alone were just stupid. As I believe CAM has its place, so does Conventional medicine. As soon as the homeopathic stuff didn’t work they should have followed the doctor’s advice. I would have liked to know exactly what they were using, but I really don’t want to spend that time searching, it isn’t THAT important-in the past.
    There are many herbs that I have found help with certain conditions. Aloe, as someone mentioned works wonders for burns (My favorite mixture for burns is aloe, lavender oil, and honey). For helping to speed up the length of a cold by helping the immune system I like a mixture of Golden Seal, thyme, catnip, oregano, and fenu greek. And you can’t tell me that it doesn’t work because I have tried it with just thyme and fenu greek and it doesn’t work as well. Of course that is what works for me…Someone earlier mentioned that what works for one person may not work for another, which is VERY much true.
    Acupuncture and chiropractics need to be done by someone who has had correct training, as with ANY medical/healing profession, otherwise things can go very wrong.
    Does anyone know how acupuncture works? I notice no one has really commented on that. It has to do with the energy (chi)surrounding ones body. When there are energy blockages, things can easily get hurt, muscles can knot, a lot of things. But people don’t seem to be too metaphysical on here, so I won’t go into anymore than that.
    And of course then there’s conventional medicine, which, as I stated earlier does have it’s place. I can’t remember which it is, but either Typhoid or Yellow Fever can only be treated by antibiotics. Doctors ARE too pill happy these days (well, not as much as when I was younger, but still too pill happy for my likes). I’m just glad my immune system isn’t shot, because that is what antibiotics can do to you. Obviously there are some people who really do need antidepressants because St. John’s Wort is not strong enough (or they have a heart problem) Surgery also has it’s place, but it should be used as a last resort (unless of course it’s an emergency).

    My point is that everything has it’s place in the medical field, but diet and exercise should come first.

    1. Ris:
      I can also vouch for acupuncture. I went to an acupuncturist (insurance also paid, BTW) in the early days following my accident. Both issues (no menstrual cycles following my accident, horrible constipation from all the OyxContin) were virutally immediately resolved. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have pushed my body to resume my periods. Our bodies have a wisdom of their own, and mine had much bigger fish to fry at the time. But the point is, I told the acupuncturist what I wanted, and she accomplished it.

      Also, acupuncture completely resolved my friend’s Bell’s palsy and did so quickly.

      There are a couple of us here who are metaphysical. Nice to see you. 🙂

      1. Unfortunately, people like Alchemguy will never be persuaded, despite their lack of experience personally with alternative treatments or good practitioners. People here have indicated amazing results. I personally have had biomechanical changes as indicated earlier, changes in ROM of joints with congenital muscle contractions, stuff that westernd MDs would have to surgically change if they tried to attempt the same result, but the naysayers will cling to their specific citations on studies that show everything is placebo. I won’t argue anymore as I’ve been down this road and know the outcome.

        Different note: there are simple things in alternative medicine that are effective, like adrenal gland reactivation, that take seconds and people can do themselves even. MDs just are not trained in any of this stuff, just trained to throw meds at anything that is chronic and that’s the end of the story. Don’t get me started on how they treat back pain.

        Insurance companies would be smart to reimburse for alternative healthcare.

        1. You’ve assumed I’ve had no experience, but you’re wrong there. And “clinging” to verifiable, reproducable proof isn’t exactly a character flaw.

          Look, anybody can have positive results and nobody believes that their result is anything but legit; who honestly *wants* to believe the only reason their treatment worked is because of the placebo effect? But all the anecdotes in the world don’t constitute proof.

          Can any of you who feel “Big Pharma” and their simpering MD slaves are out to steal your money and keep you under their heel provide some real, honest evidence? Not “I had to pay $$$ for some stupid pills that didn’t work” stories, but longitudinal studies that show that, say, all Western style medical systems (not just the wildly dysfunctional American system) suffer from this blight you claim? Maybe you’re all just upset with *your* medical system and don’t realize that that’s not how all of us get our health care, and that drives you to “alternatives”. Consider it, won’t you?

        2. I have to correct myself; I suggested longitudinal studies would be excellent, but of course that’s not right. Cross-sectional would be more appropriate.

  16. What was the last “Disease” that has been cured since polio? Big Pharm’s answer today is to put people on a regimine of pills for a lifetime of profits (think choleterol, blood pressure,diabetes,prostate, Erectile disfunction etc) Eliminate the symptoms to hell with the cause. What other industry does not back their product. I see no reason why if a “treatment” doesnt work unused pills cannot be returned in original blister pack. I often tell those that still believe in BP to have pharmacist or doctor give 3-5 days worth of pills and if they work then get the rest, if not you save yourself 25 days worth which could be substantial. Also BP lobby will not let alternative medicine lay claim to the word “cure” or “treat” because only a “drug” can due that; and thus, if you have a “diseases” you must use a “drug”. Talk about stacking the deck. Now you know why we have so many new “Diseases” today. Because BP lobby to have all kinds of maladies defined as diseases so only their “Drugs” can be used to treat.(alcoholism,drug addiction,depression etc)
    We need to take the profit motive away.
    Isn’t it amazing that we have been giving to Cancer Society, Jerry’s Kids,
    MS Society etc for years and still looking for a cure. Talk about billions $$$$, yet they “cured” the newly named disease erectile disfunction just fine. Where is the focus?????

    1. Hahaha. You make it sound like “Okay, so they cured polio and eradicated smallpox, save millions of lives every year from malaria, typhoid, dyptheria, etc and have expanded our understanding of the human machine exponentially allowing us opportunities to save billions that would have never had a chance over the past hundred years, but what have you done for me lately.” I would respectfully suggest that you get some perspective and ask what the last real scourge of humanity your favourite CAM has crushed or taken control of over the past, let’s say, 2000 years? None whatsoever, because the effective treatments are just plain old Medicine. No alternative required because despite the iteration that rules in the US (which I assume is where the majority of you are from) that’s what medicine does. Be mad at *your* medical system, not medicine. There is a difference.

      1. Alchemyguy, Be mad at *your* medical system, not medicine. There is a difference.

        That statement I do agree with 100% Most medications are created with a genuine need and purpose, and I’m sure there are people who actually need blood pressure medication etc.. I think that the system and doctors (not all of them.) are the problem.

        I think we are looking at this to broadly. If I have malaria, a heart attack, or any major trauma, I’m going to the hospital. If I have a sports related injury, joint pain, or sinus problems, I go to my chiropractor/accupuncturist. If I can avoid drugs or surgery without risking my life be it placebo or not I’m in.

        1. I want to respond to Alchemyguys’s response to my story and his continued belief it is placebo. I have cerebral palsey in my right side. This is a static disease with muscle contractions, weakness, etc. My practicitoner (one of a kind and amazing) has actually, using a variety of methods you would not believe in, has actually straightened my hip and it now has better ROM than my left hip. A doctor would say that’s impossible, can’t be corrected etc. All they can do is go in with the knife to try to correct that kind of stuff (like with ankles etc).

          One more story: a friend of mine tried for years to get pregnant. She went to reproductive specialists and other MDs etc. They told her it was impossible for her to get pregnant and she never would. She goes to see my practictioner, now at the age of 36. She found out she was pregnant three weeks later and they had the kid last year. He found a simple physical problem that he says is actually pretty common with women who can’t get pregnant and took a few seconds to fix it. MDs do not learn this stuff foks. They have a very narrow view on how the body actually works.

          So back on topic, yes, insurance should back this stuff : )

        2. I’m going to respond to brad and Mike H here.

          Brad: I’m not mad at my system; my system works fine because I take responsibility for my health, have a ‘prove it’ attitude when it comes to all aspects of my personal wellbeing and don’t have to intersect with the healthcare system very often. It’s not perfect, it’s slow and doesn’t always hit the mark, but welcome to the real world; nothing is perfect.

          Mike H: I’m honestly, truly happy that you have relief. It certainly sounds like what you underwent was “physical therapy” wrapped in the blanket of CAM. I am not a medical practitcioner, don’t even pretend to be one. All I can say is that you saw relief one of two ways: What your practitcioner did has a physical explanation that hasn’t been reliably determined in studies (yay for you!) or it’s placebo. I never argued at any point that CAM automatically equalled placebo; I’ve argued that anything CAM does that actually works is by definition medicine and will be integrated into the body of knowledge when the mechanism can be worked out. Everything else is placebo.

        3. @Brad: Doh. I realized what happened there; you quoted me then responded, and I took the quote to be part of your response! Nevertheless, my response is still how I feel and hopefully this errata makes it less…stupid sounding.

      2. I doubt that many people would have classified Sir Alexander Fleming as doing mainstream research when he was using mold colonies to kill disease causing bacteria.

        However, I respectfully submit that alternative medicine has done quite a bit for us in the last 80 years considering we got penicillin and a whole host of other antibiotics out of the work his research started.

        1. Alchemyguy, I knew what you meant. I’m not really mad at the system when it comes to my own care either because I take responsability for my own health and guide my own care. What frustrates me in Canada is my tax money goes to pay for all the bandaid treatments given to those who dont.

          Just a caution to all you Yankee’s down there 60-70% of my provincial taxes go to fund my state run healthcare.

          Now care wise our system is pretty good, but there is much room for improvement. I’m just saying don’t look north for a guide to your healthcare reform.

        2. @Brad: A fellow Canuck! I agree, our system has some significant problems, but on the whole it passes. I know some Americans paint our system as some kind of horror-show that sucks the life from our pocketbooks. It’s true we pay more (take note, our southern cousins; Brad did say 60-70% of his provincial tax bill, not 70% of his income; that comes to something like $1200/year if he has a similar income as myself and lives in the Saudi Arabia of the north), but I don’t have to worry about being financially ruined if something terribly strikes myself or my family. I totally agree with you though; the quality of care is very good and there is always room for improvement.

          I think we’re way off topic here. 😀

        3. Yes I too have my own personal pumpjack working in my back yard to fuel my super sized diesel 4×4.

    2. Don’t forget that on any herbal treatment or vitamin or anything CAM is a warning that says “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.” Which is enough in itself to snuff that helpful placebo effect so you have no choice but to get that pharmaceutical.

  17. Honestly, I’ve become a whole lot more skeptical of modern medicine as I’ve drifted more and more towards a paleolithic-oriented lifestyle. So much of the commonly given advice re: nutrition and lifestyle is speculative at best and completely nonsensical on the face of it at worst. I got bored in math today, and so came up with a list, much of it influenced by or straight-up lifted from MDA:

    -Extra grain fiber advised for IBS sufferers (Mark has apparently experienced this one first hand)
    -Low sodium diets for hypertension
    -Low cholesterol diets for “high cholesterol,” whatever that means
    -Low purine diets for gout instead of fructose restriction
    -Low fat diets diabetic people – low fat implies high carb. Just take insulin to counteract the carbs; nevermind the weight gain and tissue degradation! Dumb dumb dumb.
    -Advice to avoid fatty and acidic foods for GERD sufferers, even though carb restriction seems to work much better.
    -Limit saturated fat for heart disease, even though it improves blood lipids in nearly every conceivable way. Also, egregious overemphasis on LDL-c, and blood lipids in general.
    -Prescription of statins for people who do not fit all of the following criteria: male, under 65, already diagnosed with heart disease.
    -Ketosis is bad because it is “abnormal.” Only if you consider a constant supply of glucose to all tissues at all times to be “normal.”
    -Advocating vegetarian diets and a general irrational bias against animal products; also, specific irrational bias against red meat. (Myoglobins! lol.)
    -“Healthy” whole grains. Need I say more?
    -Promotion of n-6 PUFA-rich vegetable oils (and, up until very recently, promotion of hydrogenated oils!)
    -That whole deal where added sugars can be up to 10% of calories in a healthy diet. Um, what? How about 0% of calories? Or would that be too offensive to the sugar and corn industries?
    -Prions as the cause of CJD, BSE, scrapie, etc.
    -Ridiculous footwear – your feet are not meant to be cuddled by pronation tech, padded heels, and arch support.
    -Failure to take into account any theory of obesity other than “calories in, calories out,” based on a flawed understanding of thermodynamics. But, then we might not be able to badger fat people about how morally inept they are for being so gluttonous and for not spending their free time on a treadmill.

    And so on and so forth. On the other hand, we have vaccines, which have doubtlessly saved lives and have eradicated at least one disease completely, with more on the way. Antibiotics and antivirals, too, but their overuse is turning out to be a potentially huge mistake. Nonetheless, as we see with the nutrition examples, modern medicine is filled with its own fallacies and superstitions, even if not to the extent that CAM is, and even if it has proven itself in other areas.

  18. Alchemyguy, thank you for the response. We have a definitial issue here with how we are defining things, so thank you. I’m glad you cleared it up. (your definition of medicine)

    By the way, with me, it wasn’t PT. You can’t PT a neurological disorder like cerebral palsey. Even after normal chiropractic adjustments my hip would go back it’s usual spot within ten minutes. It’s been stable now for about six months.

    Okay, one more story: a friend of mine received relief after going to the same practictioner after just two to three visits, when she had been seeing FIVE neurosurgeons at two of my areas biggest hospitals (both very well known nationally) for over a year, and they all combined had no clue how to help her. It was not pain of any kind, but spasms the like nobody had ever seen.

  19. My father-in-law is in the hospital again for blockage of the intestines, had surgery 10yrs ago for colon cancer and scars and adhesions on intestines causing blockage, any ideas for him. He does’nt think it’s diet. I suggest massage of the stomach weekly and of course no grains. Help me out, Thanks, your primal brother.

  20. Wow, I just came across this blog post. Not sure if anyone is still reading these posts but I have to come to the defence of Alchemyguy. Everyone who tried to counteract his arguments came up with nothing but personal testimony or friend’s stories. Unfortunately, this is the reason we have science. There’s no way for a person to determine what factor or combination of factors cured them. Maybe the CAM worked, maybe it was the placebo effect, maybe it was purely a coincidence, maybe it was a hundred other possibilities.

    Science at least tries to separate these from what really works. Usually FDA approved rigorously clinically tested drugs don’t work for everyone but they do work for a high percentage of people over and above the placebo effect.
    Of course, that’s not to say all CAM has been properly tested. To warrant research, CAM therapies at least have to propose a mechanism by which they work. Homeopathy has in fact been tested but the mechanism by which they propose it works is so ridiculous that I don’t think it should ever have gotten funding in the first place.

    In my opinion, anyone who would choose 1 or 2 of the 1000’s of untested CAM therapies over the conventional methods is taking a huge risk. How do you decide which one of the untested CAM therapies to go for? If I were to suggest anything, I would say use the conventional approach and then pick the CAM therapy you believe in the most. At least that way you’re likely to get the biggest effect. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with taking advantage of the placebo effect but I would not forego conventional treatment for it.
    And last but not least, just because science is the best tool we have doesn’t mean it’s not flawed. There are a lot of bad interpretations of science out there and just because a doctor gives his opinion, doesn’t mean it’s scientific. Doctor’s are humans and can just as easily misinterpret science. This is a pretty good website to check out

    Judging by the responses so far, I’m probably wasting my time. It’s pretty difficult to convince a true believer. If you’re new, please read the responses and you’ll see that nobody offered any constructive argument to counteract Alchemyguy. I think I’ll head over to now, lol.

  21. G’day Mark,

    Thank you very much for The Primal Blueprint. I have not read you book, but I will as soon as I get a copy.


    I have been experiencing the symptomes of Bi polar disorder. Have you ever had a blog, or mind sharing your thoughts on the treatment of Bi polar disorder?

    I appreciate your time,…and hope to hear from you.

    Oliver York

    Perth, Western Australia