Alternative Health Medicine Represents
The Future of Healthcare

Voltaire summed up alternative health medicine when he wrote, “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”  That was sometime in the early 1700's.  Imagine that.


Photo right:  Voltaire; and he wasn't even a doctor!

Voltaire at 24 by Largilliere

The father of natural medicine, Hippocrates, lived in Greece about 2400 years ago.

As a physician and teacher, he lived by the principle that medicine must respect nature’s healing forces and that these forces inhabit every living thing. 

Hippocrates was really on to something.

Hippocrates is widely quoted as saying "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food".  Unfortunately this is a belief that has largely fallen out of favor in the medical community where nutrition is now replaced by prescription drugs.

Photo:  Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine

Hippocrates engraving by Peter Paul Rubens

This is promulgated by the FDA whose position is that food or a dietary supplement cannot heal, cure or mitigate any disease; only a properly authorized prescription drug can make that claim.

The FDA aside, a growing body of evidence seems to indicate that Hippocrates had it right.  He viewed illness as a natural occurrence that forced people to recognize and deal with imbalances in their body.  He advocated good food and tended to relate any ailment to poor nutrition and bad eating habits. 

Lucky Hippocrates!  He didn't have the FDA on his back. Nor did he have to compete with a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry; an industry with the government in their pocket and big media willing to advocate anything to get billions of those drug dollars flowing their way for "ask your doctor" commercials.

If Hippocrates were alive today, he would probably be in jail for making such audacious statements about food being medicine.

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First things First...
Let's define the terms

Alternate and complementary medicine, usually referred to as "CAM", is used to describe treatment that is different from traditional medical intervention but in harmony, or complementary, to it.

Alternative health medicine opens the door to a lot of different terms that generally refer to the same thing.

Alternate and Complementary Medicine

Alternate and complementary medicine, usually referred to as "CAM", is used to describe treatment that is different from traditional medical intervention but in harmony, or complementary, to it.

The National Institutes of Health has a National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine that does a pretty good job of defining the terms pertinent to CAM.

NCCAM is worth a visit if for no other reason than to know that it exitst. 

Allopathic

By the way, another word that pops up occasionally for traditional western medicine is "allopathic". 

It's not a popular word with many medical doctors so when we mean modern, traditional medicine, we will say "traditional" medicine.  The term "allopathic" was coined in the early 1800's by the founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann.

It encompasses medical practice based on the use of pharmaceutical FDA approved drugs, vaccinations and  interventions such as surgery, chemo and radiation to treat relieve symptoms and maybe even cure something. 

It is also described as "evidence based" medicine in which symptoms and lab test results drive the diagnosis which leads to an accepted "standard of care".

Integrative Medicine

Then we have the descriptive phrase, "integrative medicine".  It refers to the integration, or combining, of traditional and natural medicine. 

There is now an American Association of Integrative Medicine, several journals in publication, a sample of which is the IMCJ (Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal), and numerous courses offered in Integrative Medicine. 

Most of these courses are recognized for continuing medical
education (CME) credit.

Natural Medicine

"Natural medicine" is what Hippocrates had in mind with his famous "let food be your medicine" quote. 

The practice of natural medicine is called "naturopathy" and as of 2004 there were four naturopathic medical schools in the U.S. and one in Canada.  I expect there are a few more today.

The term natural medicine is a bit misleading in that today, recognized naturopaths are considered to be integrative practitioners. 

What this means is that they know and may practice many of the basics of traditional medicine together with their alternative modalities.

From Mary Ruggie's book, Marginal to Mainstream: Alternative Medicine in America, Cambridge University Press, 2004, she explains that the first two of four years of naturopathic education very closely resemble a premed program including classes in physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and the like.

However only a few states allow them to prescribe drugs, perform minor surgery or facilitate natural childbirth.

In general, naturopaths treat the whole body by identifying the root cause or causes of an illness.

Treatment consists of an arsenal of choices that may include supplements, herbals, dietary and/or lifestyle changes, exercise, meditation, stress management techniques, spiritual counseling or homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathy

And that introduces another word, "homeopathy".   Homeopathy centers on a belief that an ill person can be treated using a substance that can produce, in a healthy person, symptoms similar to those of the illness.
 
Treatments are selected based on an examination of the patient’s physical and psychological state which are both considered in the diagnosis.
 
Treatment involves giving the patient a selected toxic substance in a series of steps.  A dilution of the substance takes place after each treatment which eventually removes the toxic effects of the substance, while the essential qualities are retained by the diluting agent.  The diluting agent could be something like water, alcohol or sugar. 

There is little scientific or clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of homeopathic treatments and whatever positive results are obtained are most often credited to the placebo effect.  To me the procedure sounds a lot like the desensitization approach for reducing allergic reactions.

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Holistic Medicine

The last approach we will look at for alternative health medicine is "holistic" medicine.  Holistic medicine attempts to establish a cooperative relationship among all those involved with the patient to achieve optimal balance of the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of health.

"Holistic" refers to the "whole" person, analyzing everything that touches or influences the patient’s life.  It doesn't rule out any modality of diagnosis and treatment including drugs and surgery if no safe alternative exists.

I like the holistic approach for a very special reason; namely because it strives to educate a person and instill a sense of personal responsibility for doing the right things to maintain balance and well being.

The Herbal Side of
Alternative Health Medicine

Herbs seem to be a very misunderstood area of alternative health medicine and one that presents some hazards to people who may be mixing prescription drugs with herbal remedies. 

Herbs, or botanicals, probably should not be lumped in with dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fatty acids and amino acids.

Photo:  Rosemary, perennial medicinal and culinary herb

Rosemary, culinary and medicinal herb

Because of some potentially serious interactions with drugs and even some supplements, herbs should be categorized separately and special warnings or instructions included with the purchase of some herbs.

Click on herbs to navigate to a separate page devoted to their hazards and proper use.

The "Alternative" in
Alternative Health Medicine

There are countless books written on "natural cures" for everyday ailments and we will devote a page to going over some of the more common afflictions and how relief can be obtained from substances as near as your local supermarket.


These items aren't presented as recommendations for curing illnesses but as maybe something to try as a stop gap before running off to your doctor.

You won't find any cancer cures here or anything relating to life threatening conditions.  These suggestions fall into the category of natural home remedies...things your grandmother might have told you about. 

If you have chronic aches and pains, headaches, allergies, the heartbreak of psoriasis or any one of the common ailments of life, then navigate to Home Remedies to see what the natural health practitioners have to say.

The Sticking Point of
Alternative Health Medicine

Acupuncture needles being inserted

The theories and practice of acupuncture and acupressure in alternative health medicine will not be examined in any detail in this website other than to touch on their existance.  They are not a nutritional pathway to health which is the focus of the site.  Rather, they are an alternative approach to healing that deserves mention.


Photo:  Acupuncture needles being inserted in arm

There are several disciplines of alternative health medicine based on the belief that the body's energy, known as chi or qi in Chinese, flows through channels called meridians.

The thinking is that illness is caused by disruptions or anomolies in this energy flow and that it can be corrected by the insertion of very fine needles or the application of pressure to the appropriate point in a meridian.

This is the essence of the practice of acupuncture and acupressure, derived from ancient Chinese medicine but can Chinese acupuncture or acupressure really heal? 

A lot of practitioners are making a good living doing it and many of their patients seem to be getting results so maybe the answer is yes.  

In modern western medicine, there is no known anatomical or microscopic basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians, nevertheless, modern acupuncture texts present them as concepts useful in clinical practice.  

A National Institutes of Health consensus statement on acupuncture states that Chinese acupuncture is "difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continues to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture."

Is the NIH being politically correct or do they recognize that if someone believes a procedure will work, it probably will work for them.  The placebo effect is alive and well and can't be dismissed. 

If you are interested in this side of alternative health medicine and want to delve into it in detail, there are numerous websites to visit or you could pick up a comprehensive text on the subject from Amazon.  A few suggested titles are:

Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine

Acupressure's Potent Points: A Guide to Self-Care for Common Ailments

Deep Tissue Massage, Revised Edition: A Visual Guide to Techniques

A Manual of Acupuncture

Is Food Really an
Alternative Health Medicine?

Although Hippocrates said food should be our medicine and vice versa, is it really medicine?  Food is nutrition that the body needs to function and maintain balance, or homeostasis. 

But if you're already sick, will just eating certain foods cure you?  The FDA says no, but historical experience with scurvy says different.


Photo: Rx for scurvy...it works!

Vitamin C source, Rx for scurvy

Scurvy was a feared disease at one time that killed sailors and a lot of civil war soldiers.  When they started consuming vitamin C, scurvy sufferers got well and people getting adequate vitamin C never got scurvy. 

Granted scurvy is a disease of deficiency.  Reverse the deficiency, problem goes away.  If that's not alternative health medicine, what is? 

Is every disease a deficiency of something? Navigate to Food as Medicine for an examination of the current thinking and legal ramifications surrounding making healing claims for food.

Dietary Supplements in
Alternative Health Medicine
Do They Have a Future?

The alternative health medicine section wraps up with an in-depth look into dietary supplements and a peek at the crystal ball to see where all this might be heading. 

It is a serious and worrisome thing in that there are pressures to bring dietary supplements and herbals under the control of the FDA and make them available only through a doctor's prescription.  I'm not kidding.

Just click on dietary supplements and their future to see what might be in store for us.


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