Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Alternative therapy - Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream

Like most physicians who cut their teeth on “scientific medicine”, double blind controlled studies, and “curative medicine,” I’ve been skeptical of alternative medicine because it often has no “scientific” basis, and its outcomes do not stand up under controlled conditions.

My mindset may be wrong. The American public has certainly embraced plant-based diets, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and herbal remedies. And in January 9 WSJ piece, “ ‘Alternative’ Medicine is Mainstream, “ four passionate alternative medicine advocates – Deepak Chopra, MD, Dean Ornish, MD, Rustum Roy, and Andrew Weil, MD, forcefully argue the heyday of alternative medicine has arrived.
As evidence, they cite a conference “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public,” to be held in mid-February and to sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Bravewell Collaborative.

The spokesmen, who have academic connections at Harvard, U. of California, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Arizona, argue that those ignoring life style and diet is causing millions of Americans to die needlessly from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases, with the help of alternative medicine techniques, they claim, could be prevented and even reversed by diet, exercise, behavior change, alternative medicine approaches. They assert what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and social support can be just as powerful as high tech interventions, drugs, and urgery. Furthermore, they point out 95% of every dollar spent on health care is spent after the disease has already occurred.

I have no argument with these self-evident assertions, in theory. But I do have practical questions. Given our freewheeling culture, can integrative medicine reverse or alleviate these diseases, which account for 75% of costs. in sufficient numbers to make a difference in costs? Will the public, conditioned to live and behave as they please, respond to pleas to behave? Will Americans, en masse, turn to alternative medicine, as a means of reducing health costs?

I have my doubts. Still, alternative medicine is worth a try. “It is time,” our alternative medicine spokespeople say, “to move past the debate on alternative vs. traditional medicine, and to focus on what works, what doesn’t, for whom, and under what circumstances. It will take serious government funding to find out.”

Now all we need to do is persuade Congress to spend the money and patients to take personal responsibility, eat and exercise right, try herbal remedies, use yoga, meditate, and use acupuncture for pain. It might work. All we need is a change in mindsets.


Dr. Val said...

Of course we need Americans to change their unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. That's not alternative medicine, that's science-based medicine. What we don't need is for quacks to use diet and lifestyle platforms to slip in adoption of placebo therapies that contribute nothing substantive to alleviating our current disease burdens. These economic times require more strategic investment of tax dollars than "energy healing," homeopathy, and acupuncture. We must lean more heavily than ever on evidenced based therapies and drop the snake oil.

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Cleo Pascal said...

This is a breath of fresh air, Richard. I think this is the first time that I encountered a doctor in the blogosphere who is willing to open his mind to alternative healing methods. I believe that the proprietors of alternative medicine are not pushing people to believe that the treatments work. They just want the public to see for themselves what alternative medicine can do to help them gain back their health. They just want to let them know that we all have options. Knowing that is already enough for me to give it a try.