Author: Michael Castleman, Author of Nature’s Cures and The Healing Herbs
Excerpt From: Blended Medicine: The Best Choices in Healing
Blended Medicine: The Best Of All Worlds
“Mainstream medicine doesn’t have all the answers,” says Anne Simons, M.D. “Good research shows that for many conditions, alternative therapies can help. When I have a cold, I often take echinacea because several studies show that it’s an antiviral immune stimulant. I think doctors should prescribe whatever works best. If what works best is a safe alternative treatment, it’s fine with me.”
Herbs: Plants With The Power To Heal
Most Americans think that medicinal herbs are a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth.
An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population still relies on herbs for treating and preventing disease. In Europe, where physicians have access to the same high-tech treatments that are available in the United States, patients routinely receive “prescriptions” for herbs instead of, or in addition to, pharmaceuticals. And in the United States, an estimated 25 percent of pharmaceuticals continue to be derived from plant sources.
Scientists around the world depend on herbs in developing new, more potent medications. Not long ago, experiments with the Pacific yew tree yielded an extract called taxol, which showed remarkable effectiveness against advanced breast and ovarian cancers-diseases that didn’t respond to standard chemotherapy drugs. Today, yew-derived drugs (sold under the brand names Paclitaxel and Taxotere) have become standard treatments for breast and ovarian cancers.
From “Alternative” To “Complementary”
Of course, many mainstream physicians are still leery of alternative therapies – and some still call them worthless. But many more have come to realize that their brand of medicine doesn’t have a monopoly on healing and that alternative approaches often are quite valuable. Today’s medical rallying cry is “Whatever works best,” and many of those promoting blended medicine have dropped the term altemative in favor of the term complementary. “Complementary says that these therapies do not replace mainstream medicine,” Dr Brauer explains. “Rather, they complete it, expanding it to include areas it has undervalued or overlooked – diet, exercise, traditional healing arts, and mind-body therapies.”
“If I’m involved in a serious auto accident, I want the ambulance to take me to the nearest high-tech trauma center. Mainstream medicine is definitely the way to go for serious injuries,” says Andrew T. Weil, M.D., director of the program in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. “But let’s say I developed chronic pain as a result of the accident. Beyond narcotics, mainstream medicine doesn’t have much to offer. But several complementary therapies can help. I might try chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, massage, or visualization therapy.”
“I’m not opposed to medical technology,” adds Deepak Chopra, M.D., creative director and cofounder of the Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla, California. “Technological medicine is unsurpassed in diagnosing disease and in treating serious injuries and infections. But it does not treat chronic illness – for example, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease – very effectively.”
The term alternative medicine is unlikely to disappear in the near future, but complementary medicine is clearly the coming concept. In late 1996, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Alternative Medicine changed its name to the Office of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
People Like It, People Want It
One reason why more and more mainstream M.D.’s are open to blended medicine is that for the first time, mainstream medical journals are publishing studies showing that alternative therapies have real value. (Until recently, most journals published only dire warnings about the dangers of these therapies.) Another reason is high-profile advocates with mainstream medical backgrounds, such as Dr. Weil and Dr. Chopra.
But the people really driving the blending of mainstream and alternative approaches don’t have any initials after their names. They’re consumers like you. “People like alternative therapies,” says Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, an herbal education and research organization based in Austin, Texas. “No one is being forced to use them. A big – possibly the biggest – reason for their popularity is good word-of-mouth support.”