Alternative Medicine: Why So Popular?

Posted on 29. Aug, 2010 by Wendy in Health/Wellness

I found this article on Alternative Medicine very interesting and thought it might give you some insight into “why” it may be in your best interest to look at all of your options before accepting a band-aid solution the next time you have a health issue.

For those of you who don’t like to read long posts I’ve put key information in bold print so that you can easily scan it for points of interest!  I’ve also decided to make it a 2 part post so be sure to check back tomorrow for the “How Is It Different?” this is crucial information for anyone just starting out on their wellness journey, or for those of you who are no longer willing to settle for a practice that  addresses symptoms with prescription drugs instead of finding the underlying cause.

Cheers to having alternatives…at least for now!


Alternative Medicine: Why so popular?

by Hans R. Larsen, MSc ChE

In 1997 Americans made 627 million visits to practitioners of alternative medicine and spent $27 billion of their own money to pay for alternative therapies. In contrast, Americans made only 386 million visits to their family doctor. It is estimated, by none other than the Harvard Medical School, that one out of every two persons in the United States between the ages of 35 and 49 years used at least one alternative therapy in 1997. That is a growth of 47.3 per cent since 1990. This is spectacular by any means and of great concern to conventional (allopathic) medicine especially since the people using alternative medicine are primarily well-educated, affluent baby boomers(1).

The trend to alternative medicine is repeated throughout Western society. In Australia 57 percent of the population now use some form of alternative medicine, in Germany 46 percent do, and in France 49 percent do. The growth of some types of alternative medicine is indeed astounding. Between 1991 and 1997 the use of herbal medicines in the United States grew by 380 per cent and the use of vitamin therapy by 130 per cent. These are impressive numbers by anyone’s standard(1-3).

What it is and isn’t

So why do people increasingly prefer alternative to conventional medicine? The reasons are pretty simple – it is safe and it works! While there is little doubt that allopathic medicine works well in the case of trauma and emergency (you don’t call your herbalist if you get hit by a car), it is much less effective when it comes to prevention, chronic disease, and in addressing the mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of an individual. These are precisely the areas where alternative medicine excels.

To most of the world’s population, over 80 per cent to be precise, alternative medicine is not “alternative” at all, but rather the basis of the health care system. To Western-trained physicians alternative medicine is “something not taught in medical schools” and something that allopathic doctors don’t do and, one could add, generally know nothing about. Alternative medicine actually encompasses a very large array of different systems and therapies ranging from ayurvedic medicine to vitamin therapy.

Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced in India for the past five thousand years and has recently undergone a renaissance in the West due, in no small measure, to the work and lectures of Dr. Deepak Chopra, MD. Ayurvedic medicine is a very comprehensive system that places equal emphasis on body, mind, and spirit and uses a highly personalized approach to return an individual to a state where he or she is again in harmony with their environment. Ayurvedic medicine uses diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, massage, herbs, and medication and, despite its long lineage, is as applicable today as it was 5000 years ago. For example, the seeds of the Mucuna pruriens plant have long been used to treat Parkinson’s disease in India; it is now receiving attention in conventional circles as it is more effective than l-dopa and has fewer side effects(4).

Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for over 3000 years and over one quarter of the world’s population now uses one or more of its component therapies. TCM combines the use of medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and the use of therapeutic exercises such as Qi Gong. It has proven to be effective in the treatment of many chronic diseases including cancer, allergies, heart disease and AIDS. As does Ayurvedic medicine, TCM also focuses on the individual and looks for and corrects the underlying causes of imbalance and patterns of disharmony.

Homeopathy was developed in the early 1800s by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann. It is a low-cost, non-toxic health care system now used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. It is particularly popular in South America and the British Royal Family has had a homeopathic physician for the last four generations. Homeopathy is an excellent first-aid system and is also superb in the treatment of minor ailments such as earaches, the common cold, and flu. Homeopathy is again based on the treatment of the individual and when used by a knowledgeable practitioner can also be very effective in the cure of conditions such as hay fever, digestive problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and respiratory infections.

Chiropracty primarily involves the adjustment of spine and joints to alleviate pain and improve general health. It was practiced by the early Egyptians and was developed into its present form by the American Daniel David Palmer in 1895. It is now the most common form of alternative medicine in the United States. Chiropractors not only manipulate spine and joints, but also advise their patients on lifestyle and diet matters. They believe that humans possess an innate healing potential and that all disease can be overcome by properly activating this potential.

Naturopathic medicine also strongly believes in the body’s inherent ability to heal itself. Naturopathy emphasizes the need for seeking and treating the causes of a disease rather than simply suppressing its symptoms. Naturopaths use dietary modifications, herbal medicines, homeopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, massage, and lifestyle counseling to achieve healing.

Vitamin therapy or orthomolecular medicine uses vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to return a diseased body to wellness in the belief that the average diet today is often woefully inadequate in providing needed nutrients and that the need for specific nutrients is highly individual. Conditions as varied as hypertension, depression, cancer, and schizophrenia can all benefit enormously from vitamin therapy.

Biofeedback, body work, massage therapy, reflexology, hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, and various other forms of energy medicine round out the vast spectrum of alternative medicine modalities.

Fast Forward – Discussion -

CAM – Complimentary/Alternative Medicine

Overall, in 2002, about 62% of U.S. adults used some form of CAM in the past 12 months.

Subgroup differences were noted in the use of CAM: women were more likely than men to use CAM; black adults were more likely than white adults or Asian adults to use CAM when megavitamin therapy and prayer specifically for health reasons were included in the definition; persons with higher educational attainment were more likely than persons with lower attainment levels to use CAM; and those who had been hospitalized in the past year were more likely than those who had not been in the hospital in the past year to use CAM. However, when specific CAM therapies were examined, different patterns of use were noted, indicating the importance of the relationship between respondent characteristics and CAM therapy. The findings that gender, education, and health status are associated with CAM use are consistent with earlier reports (1,2,5,9,11). However, this is the first observation that black adults (71.3%) and Asian adults (61.7%) are substantial users of CAM. Additional surveys are needed to explore use within these minority groups.

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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