Alternative Medicine: How is it different?

Posted on 30. Aug, 2010 by Wendy in Personal Development

Alternative Medicine: How is it different?

So what sets alternative medicine apart from allopathic (conventional) medicine?

•    Conventional medicine is preferred in the treatment of trauma and emergencies while alternative medicine excels in the treatment of chronic disease, although homeopathy can also be very effective as a first-aid.

•    Conventional medicine focuses on the relief of symptoms and rarely places emphasis on prevention or the treatment of the cause of a disorder. All alternative systems, on the other hand, strive to find and treat the cause of a disorder and frown on covering up the symptoms. Alternative therapies are also much more focused on prevention.

•    Conventional medicine is organ specific, hence ophthalmologists, cardiologists, nephrologists, neurologists, etc. Alternative medicine, without exception, considers each person as a unique individual and uses a holistic approach in treatment.

•    Conventional medicine believes in aggressive intervention to treat disease. It revels in terms such as “magic bullet” and “war” (“the war on cancer”), and prefers quick fixes (as do many patients). Alternative medicine believes in gentle, long-term support to enable the body’s own innate powers to do the healing.

•    Conventional medicine’s main “arsenal” consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and powerful pharmaceutical drugs. Alternative medicine uses time-tested, natural remedies and gentle, hands-on treatments.

•    Conventional medicine sees the body as a mechanical system (the heart is a pump and the kidneys are a filter) and believes most disorders can be traced to chemical imbalances and therefore are best treated with powerful chemicals (drugs). Alternative medicine systems, almost without exception, accept that the body is suffused by a network of channels (meridians) that carry a subtle form of life energy. Imbalances or blockages of this energy are what lead to disease and clearing of the blockages and strengthening of the energy is the ultimate goal of alternative medicine.

•    Conventional medicine prefers patients to be passive and accept their treatment without too many questions. Alternative medicine, in contrast, prefers and indeed, in many cases, requires the patient to take a highly active part in both prevention and treatment.

•    Both conventional and alternative medicine ascribe to the principle “Do no harm”. However, while alternative medicine is essentially achieving this goal, conventional medicine seems to have almost totally lost sight of it. Hospitals are now the third largest killer in Australia and over one million people are seriously injured in American hospitals every year. Blood infections acquired in American hospitals cause 62,000 fatalities every year and bypass surgery results in 25,000 strokes a year. Two million patients experience adverse drug reactions in hospitals in the United States every year; of these, over 100,000 die making hospital-induced adverse drug reactions the fourth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer, and stroke(5-11).

•  The practice of conventional medicine is intimately tied in with the whole medico-pharmaceutical-industrial complex whose first priority is to make a profit. Although most conventional physicians have “healing the patient” as their first priority, they find it increasingly difficult to do so while operating within the system with its pharmaceutical salesmen, its rule books, its fear of malpractice suits, its endless paperwork to satisfy bureaucrats and insurance companies, and its time pressures. Most alternative medicine practitioners have no such constraints and pressures and can give the patient their undivided attention.

•    Conventional medicine generally resists the use of natural remedies long after their efficacy has been scientifically proven (Germany is an exception to this). Most alternative medicine practitioners eagerly embrace new remedies and, in many cases, can point to years of safe use. Ginkgo biloba is now the most prescribed drug in Germany and has been found effective in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease(12). Also in Germany the herb saw palmetto is now prescribed in 90 per cent of all cases of enlarged prostate; in the United States 300,000 prostate operations are performed each year to solve this problem. More profitable for sure, but dangerous and unpleasant for the patient(13).

•    The major source of funds for medical research is pharmaceutical companies who, not surprisingly, are very reluctant to support investigations into lifestyle modifications, vitamins, and other unpatentable products. Nevertheless, a growing number of medical researchers are focusing their attention on natural supplements and remedies and are publishing their work in mainstream journals. The benefits of antioxidants have now been thoroughly documented by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and similar prestigious institutions. Folic acid, a simple B vitamin, has also been extensively studied in university laboratories and has been found to be effective in preventing or ameliorating heart attacks, strokes, angina, intermittent claudication, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, colon cancer, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’s disease(14-18).

Although alternative practitioners and a small group of conventional physicians do embrace the use of natural therapies and products the vast majority of “establishment” physicians are still dragging their heels and even denigrating and ridiculing alternative medicine. This fact, perhaps more than anything else, is what is driving the rapid and massive switch from conventional to alternative medicine.

1.    Eisenberg, David M., et al. Trends in alternative medicine use in the United States, 1990-1997. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 280, November 11, 1998, pp. 1569-75
2.    Bensoussan, Alan. Complementary medicine – where lies its appeal? Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 170, March 15, 1999, pp. 247-48 (editorial)
3.    Fisher, Peter and Ward, Adam. Complementary medicine in Europe. British Medical Journal, Vol. 309, July 9, 1994, pp. 107-11
4.    Hussain, Ghazala and Manyam, Bala V. Mucuna pruriens proves more effective than l-dopa in Parkinson’s disease animal model. Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 11, 1997, pp. 419-23
5.    Ernst, Edzard. Harmless herbs? A review of the recent literature. American Journal of Medicine, Vol. 104, February 1998, pp. 170-78
6.    Anderson, Ian. Hospital errors are number three killer in Australia. New Scientist, June 10, 1995, p. 5
7.    Cordner, Stephen M. Australia’s preventable hospital deaths. The Lancet, Vol. 345, June 17, 1995, p. 1562
8.    Bates, David W., et al. Incidence of adverse drug events and potential adverse drug events. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 274, July 5, 1995, pp. 29-34
9.    Pittet, Didier and Wenzel, Richard P. Nosocomial bloodstream infections. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 155, June 12, 1995, pp. 1177-84
10.    10. Roach, Gary W., et al. Adverse cerebral outcomes after coronary bypass surgery. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 335, December 19, 1996, pp. 1857-63
11.    Lazarou, Jason, et al. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 279, April 15, 1998, pp. 1200-05 and pp. 1216-17 (editorial)
12.    The Lancet, November 7, 1992, pp. 1136-39
13.    Wilt, Timothy J., et al. Saw palmetto extracts for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 280, November 11, 1998, pp. 1604-09
14.    Murray, Michael T. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, 1996, Rocklin, CA, Prima Publishing, pp. 119-26
15.    Moghadasian, Mohammed H., et al. Homocysteine and coronary artery disease. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 157, November 10, 1997, pp. 2299-2308
16.    Perry, I.J., et al. Prospective study of serum total homocysteine concentration and risk of stroke in middle-aged British men. The Lancet, Vol. 346, November 25, 1995, pp. 1395-98
17.    Lowering blood homocysteine with folic acid based supplements: meta- analysis of randomised trials. British Medical Journal, Vol. 316, March 21, 1998, pp. 894-98
18.    Clarke, Robert, et al. Folate, vitamin B12, and serum total homocysteine levels in confirmed Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 55, November 1998, pp. 1449-55 and 1407-08 (editorial)
•    Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Puyallup, Washington, Future Medicine Publishing, Inc. 1993
•    Gursche, Siegfried and Rona, Zoltan, editors. Encyclopedia of Natural Healing, Vancouver, BC, Alive Publishing, Inc. 1997
•    Micozzi, Marc S., editor. Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NY, Churchill Livingstone Publishers

This article was first published in International Health News Issue 93, September 1999

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