I don't have much good to say about alternative medicine. I don't mind that it's alternative; what bothers me is that most of it is not evidence based. Some alternative medicine is evidence based, that is, has been shown in well done studies to be beneficial. For example, I think that acupuncture has been shown useful for certain types of pain, and that hypnosis has worked for some things, but most alternative medicine practitioners simply make unfounded claims for their treatment, or rely on the claim that it is "natural", as if that automatically infers magical properties upon it. Even when an alternative therapy is shown not to be helpful, it is still promoted. For example, a study published a few months ago showed that echinacea was not useful in the treatment of upper respiratory infections (colds), but it is still touted in and sold at health food stores.
Alternative medicine can be harmful, too, both directly (does anyone doubt that you can be harmed by too many enemas?) and by making someone forgo needed conventional treatment. When I was a medical student I had a patient who was a young man in his twenties who had Hodgkin's disease. Instead of finishing his conventional therapy of chemotherapy and radiation, he went to Mexico and tried laetrile instead. Unfortunately, while on the laetrile his Hodgkin's disease progressed and a tumor compressed his spinal cord, turning him into a paraplegic. He came back to our medical center to finish conventional treatment. His Hodgkin's disease would be cured, but he would be a paraplegic for the rest of his life.
Personally, I think we should do away with the terms "alternative" and "conventional" medicine, and simply describe medicine as evidenced based or not evidence based. If good evidence shows a medicine works and is safe, it doesn't matter if it's a natural herb or a manufactured chemical pill.
We could talk a long time about why people spend billions of dollars a year on alternative, unproven therapies. Maybe it's a failure of conventional medicine to properly attend to the emotional ramifications of physical disease. Maybe it's an almost innate tendency of at least some people to distrust the "establishment" method and try something different. Whatever it is, it's a huge waste of health care dollars, and we don't have unlimited amounts of those to go around. Ideally, we would take some of the money spent now on alternative medicine and use it to study the treatments, so we could keep the worthwhile ones and throw out the rest, but I don't see that happening real soon.