Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Your Doctor and You.— Looking for Answers Outside of Traditional Medicine: Twelfth in a Series

Unconventional treatments often seem to make people feel more comfortable, even when their accompanying theories are silly.”

Edward Champion, MD, New England Journal of Medicine, 1993

You're weary of seeing MDs. They usually prescribe drugs, dismiss your theories of self-care, and don’t have the time or interest to discuss vitamins, supplements or herbs or other things you consider good for your health.

For you, the time has come to talk of other things, herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathic, and even exotic, quixotic procedures that may help, once everything else has been tried.

Your friends, the clerks at the local health food store, and multiple folks on TV, radio, and the Internet are telling you there’s relief to be found outside of traditional medicine.

After all, Chinese and other Oriental cultures believe in remedies outside of American scientific medicine. Surely thousands of years of experience mean something. These remedies have worked for them, why not for you?

Besides, alternative treatments are inexpensive, natural, and devoid of side-effects. You can choose which one works for you. You don’t have to argue about the bill with the insurance company. Control of your own health, in your own way, is important to you.

You and millions of other Americans have accepted complementary medicine as a legitimate “alternative” and “supplement” to conventional scientific medicine. The medical establishment is now grudgingly “integrating” alternative medicine into mainstream practices. Traditional doctors are aware alternative practitioners are on to something. They know practitioners outside of mainsteam medicine have succeeded in winning new patients by emphasizing humanistic, spiritual, natural, self-healing, and hope-engendering approaches to health.

Defining Alternative and Complementary Medicine

You might be interested in how The National Institute of Health, the most influential scientific establishment in America, defines alternative and complementary medicine(SOURCE: National Institute of Health, Division of Alternative and Complementary Medicine).

“Complementary and alternative medicine is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies--questions such as whether these therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.”

Proponents and Opponents Not Swayed by Each Other

Alternative medicine vs. scientific medicine is one of those debates in which neither side is swayed by the others’ arguments. Recently a spate of articles in the scientific literature using double blind techniques to remove bias have shown Palmetto for prostate overgrowth, glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis, Echinacea for the common cold, and St. John’s Wort may not be worth the bottles they come in.

About the only thing conventional medicine will admit is that chiropractic medicine has some benefits for back pain, ditto for acupuncture for migraine, and the placebo effect. The placebo effect is powerful, i.e., if you think something is going to make you feel better, it will.

Loyalists of Alternative Medicine

Loyalists of alternative products are by scientific studies discrediting their beliefs. unimpressed (“Natural Remedy Users Loyal, Studies or Not,” Associated Press, February 27, 2006. Loyalists say they will keep accepting alternative nostrums, undergoing its procedures, and downing its pills as long as they make they make them feel better.

The debate is unlikely to reach any definitive conclusion. While the medical establishment denounces alternative medicine, patients embrace it. According to a February 3, 2006, New York Times article “When Trust in Doctors Erodes, Other Treatments Fill the Void.” consumers spend $27 billion a year on alternative medicine. Nearly half of adults used alternative therapy in 2004, up from 42 percent a decade before.

Favorite Remedies

Millions of patients now venture outside mainstream medicine. They are taking herbs for colds, depression, headaches, arthritis, and backaches; getting their spines manipulated; desperately seeking cancer cures with massive doses of multivitamins, enduring caffeine enemas to flush out toxins, and undergoing intravenous therapies to leach out calcium from atherosclerotic plaques to unclog their arteries.

Why You Like Alternative Practitioners

You like alternative practitioners because they spend time with you, give hands on therapy, promise results, and don’t “poison” you with expensive dangerous drugs. Besides, you don’t have to haggle with insurers or worry about drug or surgical side effects. Herbs, supplements, and acupuncture needles appeal psychologically because they are either “natural” or rooted in traditions of Eastern medicine.

Grudging Respect from the Medical Establishment

Let there be no doubt. Alternative medicine (also sometimes referred to complementary, integrative, holistic, or natural medicine) has gained a foothold in today's medical world.

Alternative medicine has garnered respect from many mainstream physicians and researchers. Medical centers such as UCLA and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City have created integrative programs, and medical schools increasingly offer courses in the field.

Even the vaunted National Institutes of Health, the government’s premier scientific arm, has gotten into the act. In 1998, the NIH established the National Center for Alternative fro Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or CAM.

Next: Your Doctor and You – Looking for Answers Outside of Traditional Medicine, Thirteen in a Series, The Great Debate, Fraudulent Practitioners, A Realistic Approach to Alternative Medicine by Doctors

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