When the various attacks upon alternative medicine are considered it should be pointed out that mainstream physicians are not trained in alternative medicine. The exception, and these are growing by leaps and bounds, is that regular physicians are increasingly embracing alternative medicine as they learn the benefits it offers to patients. But they come to this view in a way that is outside their actual medical school training. This is, of course, less true for those who were trained outside the United States or in a less mainstream practice of the healing arts, like osteopathy. If you are a fair-minded reporter, and you want good information about anesthesia, who should you ask? Obviously, you would seek information from an anesthesiologist. If you want information about the benefits and problems of alternative medicine then it seems only fair that you would interview physicians who have developed an appreciation of alternative medicine by actually studying it and using it with their patients.
Another problem in this debate is that we, the general public, are done a great disservice when facts are reported out of their context. Herbs and dietary supplements have not cured any disease. There is no solid research saying that they have. But the fact is this: most of the medicines doctors prescribe have not cured specific illnesses either but they are used because there is good evidence that they can and do help. There is also, in almost every case, abundant evidence of many “side effects” (often quite serious) associated with almost every medication used in the West. The fact that people may die, or be made worse, from these side effects is effectively under reported in the media. The one major exception to my statement is antibiotics but even here there are downsides that are increasingly being discovered as our bodies resist these drugs when they are over used. Herbs and dietary supplements can be abused, and often are, but they generally have less serious side effects than prescription drugs.
One of the biggest problems with supplements is in manufacturing. Poor quality control and labeling issues are serious issues but even pharmaceutical companies are now producing supplements. In time this industry will shift and develop accountability as was done with drugs. The FDA does not regulate supplements but it has the authority to do so. Why hasn’t it done this? The answer some suggest is that the FDA is understaffed and overworked. Complete manufacturing standards are slow in developing. When a problem is found it is addressed as quickly as possible. More needs to be done.
Finally, research in alternative and complimentary medicine is a new field. It needs to be given time and be tested and held accountable. The potential here seems apparent, especially for millions who deal with chronic health issues medicine has no answer to at present.
A good example of a commonly recognized benefit of the new medicine is Vitamin D supplementation. I recently had a blood test in which I discovered that I was low in Vitamin D. We now realize the clinical benefits of Vitamin D in preventing heart disease and Alzheimer’s. I expect this will prove to be the tip of an iceberg but time will tell. I do know that cell biology is bigger in medicine than it ever was and this will have its impact over time.
All therapies and approaches to medicine should be scrutinized and studied carefully. The new alternative treatments need to be tested but when mainstream medicine refuses to take these alternatives seriously there can be no serious advance in knowledge. This is not good science, it is bias built on supposition. We need to use all therapies that do no harm and thereby offer people relief wherever possible. We also need to advance meaningful dialogue, with less passion, in an area that presents great potential to the advance of medicine and health.