Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry, But Only One-Third of the Treatments Have Been Tested

The traditional medicine industry is just as profit-driven as any other


Alternative medicine tends to elicit strong opinions. Some people swear by natural remedies while others insist that traditional medicine isn’t effective and, at worst, can be dangerous. Alternative treatments are gaining popularity in the U.S., where around 50 percent of people say they have used them, but despite the billions of dollars spent on these remedies each year only a third of them have ever been tested.

As USA Today reports, many American consumers cite distrust of big pharmaceutical companies as one of the main reasons they lean towards using traditional therapies. But a new book by Paul Offit, chief of infectious disease at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, argues that the alternative medicine industry is just as focused on profit and business as it is on healing.

In his book, Offit paints a picture of an aggressive, $34 billion a year industry whose key players are adept at using lawsuits, lobbyists and legislation to protect their market.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who has long fought for stricter regulation of supplements, says the alternative medicine industry is “as tough as any industry I’ve seen lobby in Washington. They have a lot of money at stake. They want to maximize their profits and they want as little regulation as possible.”

There’s even a Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus, composed of legislators who look favorably on the industry.

Moreover, USA Today continues, only about one-third of alternative therapies have ever been tested for their safety and efficacy. In other words, the people selling those supplements, powders or teas can’t really say whether the treatments actually improve a patient’s ailments, and they can’t guarantee their products’ safety, either.   

For the most part, people are free to take whatever alternative therapies they want, but Offit wants consumers to know that they are contributing to a profit-driven industry and may be investing in nothing but empty promises, and in the worst case, could wind up in the hospital.

More from

Ten Threatened and Endangered Species Used in Traditional Medicine 
Can Tattoos Be Medicinal? 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.