The usual assumption within conventional mechanistic medicine is that complementary and alternative therapies only appear to work because people would have got better anyway, or because they lead to improvements through the placebo effect. But the placebo effect is itself a problem for conventional medicine since it shows the influence of belief, hope, or expectation over the healing process, including the activity of the immune system.

There are many different kinds of alternative and complementary therapy and some come with their own theories as to how they work. As integrated medicine becomes more important it will become increasingly urgent to find out how other therapeutic systems work, and this may help trigger off more fundamental enquiries into areas of biology which have not been explored so far.

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