Doctoring without borders - MoneySense

Doctoring without borders

Canadians spend a fortune on herbs, hypnosis and other alternative treatments. Are we getting value for our money?


Consumer, heal thyself! But with what? While conventional medicine still covers the lion’s share of our health-care system, more and more of us are turning to hypnosis, homeopathy and numerous other forms of alternative medicine to cure what ails us.

Alternative medicine is now so widely practiced that it verges on mainstream, according to a survey conducted by the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank. When the institute asked Canadians in 2006, it found that 54% of us had used at least one alternative therapy during the previous year. All told, we paid more than $5.6 billion to alternative health providers during the 12 months under study.

But do all those billions actually buy us better health? Skeptics complain that advocates for alternative medicine have shied away from testing its effectiveness in tightly controlled clinical studies. Others say there’s simply a lack of evidence either way. “If the evidence is there, then it’s good medicine, whether conventional or alternative,” says Shafiq Qaadri, a Toronto family doctor and member of the provincial legislature. But he adds an allimportant caveat: “Your aunt reporting that her joint pain is so much better after seeing that herbalist recommended by her best friend does not count as evidence.”

To help you sort out the placebos from the genuinely useful practices, we’ve researched some of the most common alternative treatments. Here’s our take on how much bang they deliver for your buck.