Alternative therapy

The holes in holistic medicine

I AM A believer in holistic medicine — treating the body, mind and spirit as a whole. I also believe that any treatment that does no harm and has the potential to be of benefit is worth investigating. That said, in my mind, the word "alternative" is a misnomer. If alternative treatments were as successful as reported, they would be mainstream.

In Canada, close to $4 billion is spent annually on alternative medicine and natural heath products. Studies worldwide have shown that up to 35 per cent of children have visited a practitioner of alternative medicine. The question is why?

One issue is communication. In North America, doctors receive no formal training in communication. This sometimes leads to misunderstandings and patients who are not completely satisfied. Doctors are overburdened and busy and may leave patients feeling rushed. Patients may be frustrated when a specific diagnosis is not made (even if one is not available). Lab tests seem to be ordered indiscriminately, and there are often a long wait times for test results, investigations and referrals.

Practitioners of alternative medicines, alternately, do receive communications training. They spend more time with their patients. They are better listeners. They nearly always give a specific diagnosis and a plausible and understandable plan of treatment. They are reassuring, and giving hope of improved heath leads to trust. Patients who are convinced that they will benefit may also will themselves well.

When considering alternative medicine for your children, you should know that naturopathic therapies are often based on one or more combinations of just a few diagnoses, and the same "cure-all" treatment is often prescribed for a multitude of conditions, many of which are unrelated. Common diagnoses include the immune system being either overactive or underactive; food allergies, too much or too little of a substance in the body, the bowel or genital micro-organism flora being out of whack; something in the skeletal system, the magnetic aura or the electrical field in or around the body being out of alignment; the body containing toxins or being infested with candida (monilia).

The truth is that most naturopathic studies have not stood up to scientific scrutiny. Herbal remedies are not regulated and may vary in quality and quantity of agent. They may be contaminated.

Cross-reaction with other medications is a concern. Naturopathic care can be expensive, and treatment can take a long time. Finally, turning to alternative medicine may delay another diagnosis with life-threatening consequences, and practitioners of alternative medicine may discourage routine childhood immunizations, which is, in my view, a most serious mistake. The expertise of any health provider is determined in large part by the amount of experience he or she has in any given illness or age group. The number of children a naturopathic practitioner deals with is small compared to a family practitioner or pediatrician. Therefore, when it comes to dealing with childhood problems, most alternative practitioners have little experience.

Some day, alternative and western medicine will more closely ally themselves for the betterment of patient care. In the meantime, it is your body, your child’s body, your penny and your choice. Be informed. If a pot of gold is promised, beware. Try chicken soup!

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