Tag Archives: Alternative Medicine

Better Than Before: Making the Best of Arthritis

arthritisThe Europeans have it all figured out. At the first sign of any aches they don’t take to bed with a bottle of Aleve. No, they head for the thermae of Italy, the baden of Germany, the baths of England, and station thermales of France The treatments at these detox meccas include water (fresh and sea) and mud therapies that promise freedom from pain — not to mention a cleaner liver. And the concept goes back millennia. After all, Spa is not an acronym for Super Place for Aerobics. Rather, it is named after the town in Belgium favored by Peter the Great. (Yes, that Peter the Great!). They are based, instead, on the restorative and healing powers of thermal and mineral springs and imbibing waters that come directly from those sources.

Alas, we in America may be hard pressed to find these types of cures closer to home as there are only a handful of natural hot springs indigenous to this country. And, truth be told, most people don’t even know they exist. Just ask someone in your office to name a liquid that makes you feel really good. I doubt hot, bubbling water would be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, make mine a kale and celery smoothie — and a Dirty Margarita for The Lawyer.

Does this mean, though, that we have to suffer such inflammatory ailments as arthritis in silence? After all, about 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with one of the seven common forms of Arthritis. Yes, I am one of them. But limited space will not allow me to regale you with stories about my recent hip replacement! (Call me!) Curative spas aside, it is important, therefore, for patients and care givers to understand the potential impact of the disease and how best to manage it. It can be a critical part of making the decisions to make good on your intent to live a healthier lifestyle that is Better Than Before.

Let’s start with learning a little more about the illness itself. For this I turned to Phyllis Crockett, a specialty-trained pharmacist in the Accredo Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Disease TRC.

“Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions,” she says. “Although common belief is that arthritis is a condition affecting the elderly, two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. Also, arthritis affects people of all ethnicities.”

According to Crockett the vast majority of sufferers, about 27 million Americans, have what I have, Osteoarthritis (OA), which is characterized by a breakdown of joint cartridge. A vast majority of OA patients are elderly. (But it could be genetic, and the result of what sets in after you’ve sustained an injury! Hellooo!!)

The rest of arthritis sufferers have the more severe form: Rheumatoid arthritis. “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation of the membranes lining the joint. Although it can strike at any age, women are typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60, while male patients are usually older. There are about 1.5 million affected individuals in the United States. Finally, Juvenile Arthritis (JA) is a term used to describe many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can affect children ages 16 and younger.”

The disease takes a heavy toll. “Each year, arthritis accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States and is a more frequent cause of activity limitations than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. By some estimates, 67 million Americans will have arthritis by 2030.”

So what do we do?

“Managing the disease so that patients can continue to live normal lives is important,” Crockett continues. “Each patient is different and a physician can help determine the best treatment plan, including pain management and managing the symptoms of arthritis.”

She shared with me some tips that she offers her patients, starting with exercise. “It is a valuable tool in the fight against arthritis. OA and RA patients particularly can benefit from both endurance and resistance training.”

Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting against joint injury can help prevent OA. “Every pound of weight lost reduces the pressure on each knee by 4 pounds. Even a small weight loss can be a big help in fighting it.”

Apart from lifestyle modifications, there are also many drug therapies available for arthritis patients—and doctors and specialist pharmacists can help identify the best one for you.

For patients who already are on medication to treat the condition, adherence – taking medications as prescribed – is critical to healthier outcomes.

“But do not self-medicate!” she cautions: “Combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications can be risky, and can cause side effects such as an increase in GI irritation or a GI bleed. And don’t adjust doses or making changes to the medication regimen without checking with your health care team.”

“Watch for drug interactions: Some common medications like acetaminophen can have a drug-drug interaction with arthritis medications. Limit intake and remember that acetaminophen is often a component in common sinus, cough/cold and pain medications.”

Opt for an anti-inflammatory regimen like the Mediterranean diet – you know the drill, easy on the acidic foods like sugar, white flours, and alcohol, and sticking with leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins. “But some foods and beverages can block the effects of arthritis medications,” Crockett concludes. “These include grapefruit, apple and orange juice as well as milk and yogurt. Wait at least four hours after taking medications. Exact times can vary depending on the disease and the treatment. Check with a trained clinician.”

I can assure you from very painful, personal experience that if arthritis does go too far, surgery may be the only option. So if your intent is to help avoid – or at the very least, prolong – this possible outcome, be aware that lifestyle modification and medication may be the answer.


Building Healthier, Happier Communities Through Functional Medicine

₪ Cobija: Corporativa al atardecer - Flickr Meeting at Tusk ₪With Mark Hyman, MD and Lissa Rankin, MD

We live in an era in which individualism is rewarded, and collectivism is seen as weak. We raise our children to be independent and self-reliant. It’s so hard for us to ask for help. Interestingly, we also practice medicine this way. We teach our future medical leaders to separate the body into individual disconnected parts. We allow patients to believe that their distinct symptoms are totally isolated and unrelated. If this kind of medical system supported better outcomes, creating healthier and happier communities, then it would be acceptable, and we wouldn’t even need to discuss this. But the simple fact is it isn’t working, and we are now at the brink of a health revolution through which medical visionaries are now working together to bring in a new era of living well and feeling great.

In my work as a functional medicine doctor, I see the patient as a whole person instead of merely as an assortment of disconnected parts. The body is an extraordinary system; every part is connected via an intricate web of body, mind, and spirit. In functional medicine, we seek the root causes of illness so that we can address the underlying triggers that have thrown the patient off balance. In order to heal properly, the whole patient requires attention; that includes the emotions, thoughts, and spirit of a human being—not just the physical body.

Throughout the many years I’ve worked with my patients using this model of medicine, I’ve been astounded by the resilience of the human body. It’s humbling to realize that, even though I was taught in medical school to believe that a patient’s recovery is completely in my hands, in fact, it is the patient who has the most power. My job is to be a facilitator who gently assists the body back to its natural state of health. I do this by encouraging a paradigm shift in the hearts and minds of patients. We discuss the role of whole foods, water, air, light, rest, movement, sleep, rhythm, connection, love, meaning, and purpose. (For more information on the seven fundamental systems in your body that can bring back balance, see my book The Blood Sugar Solution).

We need doctors who understand how well the body reacts when the whole system is treated, not just the symptoms. One doctor in particular, Lissa Rankin, has made a career out of a calling she felt to serve her patients on the most authentic level possible. She inspires me along with the thousands following her online health and wellness community, Owning Pink. She began this site as her own way of revolutionizing healthcare, encouraging people in need of healing to own all the many facets that make them whole: their relationships, their professional lives, their creative lives, their spiritual lives, their sex lives, their environment, their physical and mental health, and more.

Lissa’s work is functional medicine at its best, addressing the truth that we all need each other to lean on, to help heal, to connect, and to flourish. Lissa and I share the belief that there is nothing more productive and exciting than a collective of people united together to combat feelings of loneliness and powerlessness in the face of illness. Because she and I feel a special calling to do this work, I wanted to invite her to share with us some insight into her unique approach to healing. Here are some questions I asked her followed by her comments.

Dr. Mark: On your blog site LissaRankin.com and on your community site, Owning Pink, I see a lot of importance placed on finding one’s truth and authentic nature. I, too, encourage my patients to reflect on how to live with more purpose. How can synchronizing this authentic energy with another person help heal a broken mind, body, and spirit?

Dr. Lissa: In my first TEDx talk, I introduced a radical new wellness model, which I also discuss in my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself . The wellness model is based on a “cairn,” those stacks of balanced stones you tend to see marking trails and sacred landmarks. In the “Whole Health Cairn” wellness model, the foundation is not the body, as it is in so many wellness models that suggest that a healthy body is a prerequisite for a healthy life. Instead, I think the foundation is the part of you I call your “Inner Pilot Light.” Call it your intuition, your inner doctor, or your highest self, this part of you always knows what’s true for you, even if the rest of you may not want to face your personal truth because it often commands change, and change scares us.

Your Inner Pilot Light is always radiant, never extinguished, 100% authentic, and will never lead you astray. I help people tap in to their Inner Pilot Light here, but as healers, I believe that’s one of the most essential parts of our jobs, not to dictate what our patients should do or prescribe the one and only way to optimal health, but to help our patients tap in to their own unique Inner Pilot Light, so they can make treatment and life decisions that are in alignment with the core of who they are. When you make decisions from this place of truth, the body tends to naturally come back in to alignment with its natural state of health.

Read the rest of the interview on my website, DrHyman.com!

Deepak Chopra: The Power of Ayurveda for Perfect Health

Does Ayurvedic medicine really work, and if so, how?

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra is joined by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar, an renowned Ayurvedic doctor, to explore Ayurveda as a science of health, wellness, and wholeness. How can Ayurvedic practices be used to create balance and health? Dr. Kshirsagar explains that the purpose of Ayurveda is to connect to your spiritual self and remove the fear of death and disease — that health is a by-product of enlightenment. How do we move beyond a quantitative approach to healing to a more qualitative one?

Ayurveda is the holistic approach to healing that is greatly needed in an age filled with all manners of dis-ease. It is the mind-body-spirit approach to health and wellness that can provide a powerful alternate, or at least addition, to the medical practices we are more familiar with in the West. Unfortunately not everyone is quick to accept this ancient healing wisdom.

What do you think? Would you seek out Ayurvedic healing to address various health conditions and improve overall wellness? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak’s book, Perfect Health!

7 Natural Energy Boosters

Do you muster every ounce of energy you have just to lift your limbs out of bed, experience a daily afternoon crash that only lifts with a caffeine boost, or feel a general sense of fatigue throughout the day?  According to researchers, you are not alone.  Fatigue is the second most common complaint to doctors in North America.

Unfortunately, many people turn to caffeine to boost their energy levels. That approach provides short-lived energy at best. At worst, it may cause damage to your body in the form of caffeine addiction, blood sugar fluctuations and adrenal gland depletion that makes you more vulnerable to stress. Since caffeine continues to work for about 12 hours, that afternoon coffee may leave you lying awake counting sheep when you are ready to sleep.

Nature offers many natural herbal energy-enhancers. Some of the best include: bee pollen, royal jelly extract, Siberian ginseng, spirulina, gotu kola, ho shou wu, and cayenne.

1. Bee Pollen

Bee Pollen is touted as a source of perpetual youth in many of the world’s great books, including the Talmud, Bible, Koran, scrolls of the ancient Orient, Greece, Rome, Russia, the Middle East. Ancient Greek athletes ate bee pollen regularly to increase their strength and vitality. More recently, the USDA discovered that bee pollen even has anti-cancer properties.

Bee pollen is packed with 22 amino acids, natural antibiotic factors, DNA/RNA (the genetic coding of plants), 18 enzymes (to aid digestion and other bodily functions), glucosides (natural sources of energy in the body), plant hormones, 27 minerals and at least 16 vitamins, it is no surprise that it increases energy and vitality. Avoid bee pollen if you suffer pollen allergies or if you are allergic to bees.

2. Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is the natural result when bees combine honey and pollen. It is a powerhouse of B-complex vitamins. It also contains many other vitamins, minerals, hormones, enzymes, 18 amino acids, and natural antibacterial and antibiotic substances. It has traditionally been used to address bronchial asthma, pancreatitis, liver disease, insomnia, stomach ulcers, kidney disease, bone fractures, immune problems, and skin disorders, but royal jelly is also effective for increasing energy.

3. Siberian Ginseng Extract

As the name suggests, Siberian ginseng originates in Siberia. It also grows in Japan, China, and Korea and parts of Canada. It has been used medicinally for at least two thousand years. Siberian ginseng is one of only a handful of herbs that is an adaptogen, which means that it works to normalize bodily functions. It inhibits the adrenal stress response and works as an immune stimulant, particularly for fighting the effects of stress and depression. It aids the liver in detoxifying harmful toxins, including chemotherapeutic agents and radiation. Siberian ginseng also stimulates the activity of several immune system components: B and T cells, making it excellent for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other viral infections. Athletes around the world use Siberian ginseng as a training aid because of its reputed ability to increase resistance to stress, increase performance, bolster the immune system during workouts, and reduce fatigue. But it also helps strengthen energy levels over time.

4. Spirulina

The Aztec people knew a good thing when they saw it. They discovered spirulina, a single-celled algae that they called tecuitlatl and soon made it a staple of their diet. It is high in usable protein, a great source of Vitamin B12 (often called the “energy vitamin”), 8 minerals and many vitamins, including 7 types of vitamin A precursors known as carotenoids. It is also packed with chlorophyll, the green pigment that gives spirulina its colour and its blood purification properties. And, of course, it boosts energy levels.

5. Gotu Kola

Gotu Kola is an herb that contains many nutrients and healing phytochemicals. As one of the primary energy herbs used by herbalists, gotu kola lessens fatigue and depression without the effects of caffeine. Actually, unlike caffeine that may keep you awake into the evenings, gotu kola actually helps improve sleep at night.

6. Ho Shou Wu

Also known as fo-ti or ho she wu, the root of this native Chinese vine is a powerful tonic to increase energy and maintain youthful vigor, while still having a calming effect. It contains a natural form of lecithin that helps lessen arterial plaque and lower blood pressure. In laboratory studies, ho shou wu effectively reduced blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and even prevented cholesterol from forming in test animals.

7. Cayenne

Cayenne works to boost energy by improving circulation. It is also effective to help ward off colds, sinus infections, and sore throats. It even helps reduce pain and inflammation.

As with all herbal medicines, it is best to consult with a skilled health professional prior to starting any herbal or nutritional supplement.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, DNM, DAc, ROHP, RNCP is a best-selling and six-time book author and doctor of natural medicine, whose works include: The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, and The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan.  Learn more at: www.TheLifeForceDiet.com.



photo by: ben▐

Meditation Improves Children’s Attention

A new study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that when children are trained to practice meditation, their attention spans are significantly increased.

The researchers tested two yoga-based relaxation practices involving specific meditation and rest techniques with 208 school children (132 boys and 76 girls) between the ages of 13 and 16 years of age. Their attention spans were tested before and after practicing the two techniques: meditation and rest.

Both meditation and rest improved the childrens’ attentiveness significantly but meditation had the greatest impact on the attention scores, regardless of gender or age of the children.

The study shows that meditation training may be valuable in improving attention in all children, but may especially have a role in the treatment of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), particularly since there are no negative side-effects. 

Adenoids and Tonsils – What Is Their Purpose?

Channeled Message – 2009

Question: "What do the adenoids do?"
"Your adenoids are responsible for replacing lost molecular function. They keep the body in balance by stabilizing the ability to process food, assimilate nutrients, fortify any essential nutrients and stabilize the nervous system."
Question: "How do missing adenoids affect the skin?"
Answer: "Your skin regenerates rapidly and therefore requires direction. The adenoids change molecular function as needed to repair the body. Without the adenoids it regenerates at random without regard to elasticity or reparation. The adenoids require direction from the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland tells the stomach to digest, the intestines to absorb, and the bowels to discharge waste. Without the pituitary gland, the body would not know what to do. When the adenoids are removed it becomes necessary for the body to change direction and make other organs try to replace the function of the adenoids. Restore the lost function by regenerating adenoids and see what happens. Restore all of your missing body parts and you will find yourself wondering how you did without them."
Question: "Is such a thing really possible?"
Answer: "Anything is possible. Human beings have no limitations except that which they place upon themselves."
Question: "What about the tonsils?"
Answer: "Tonsils require adequate understanding. They are needed to keep the body in line in regard to molecular changes that happen over time. Your tonsils are needed to reduce molecular dysfunction. This molecular dysfunction is caused by many agents that attack the body. The spine is a good example. It may be deformed due to the inability of the stabilizing effects of the tonsils. There are many instances of molecular dysfunction in the body (of a person who has their tonsils removed) overwhelming them with the inability to concentrate well. The tonsils can repair that. Tonsils require an absolutely clean environment. They need adequate nutrition…. Chronic tonsillitis is caused by chemical agents in food and drinking water. Keep the diet clear of any poisonous substances. Bless your food. This can make a tremendous difference. You have the power to transmute any chemical agent with your mind; however, this must be consistent and thorough. The mind is a powerful thing. Right now it (the mind of most people) is under the control of others who use them to their advantage."
Question: "What causes enlarged tonsils and adenoids?"
Answer: "Many things can cause the tonsils (and adenoids) to be enlarged; toxic matter in the water, drinking substances that are toxic in general. All cola beverages and the like are toxic to the body. There are many more reasons, infection in the body which can be far removed from the tonsils. Earaches, digestive problems, there is no end to the list. Chronic digestive problems inflame both tonsils and the adenoids. Polluted food is the primary culprit in most cases. The tonsils are sensitive (especially in young children) and require a diet that is free from chemicals and additives. Polluted drinking water will keep the tonsils inflamed."
Question: "Isn’t the water in this country (the US) quite safe?"
Answer: "No, hardly the case. Chlorine is detrimental and fluoride is worse. These are agents that can kill in large quantities. What makes them think small quantities are safe? Organic food, properly cleansed, is needed by the body to flourish. Don’t think that there is an easy answer. The body must be treated with respect. Toxic matter inflames the bowels as well. For children it is important they are given a diet that is free from all chemicals and additives of any kind. They are especially prone to infections from toxic matter. Please understand that this is essential to keep them healthy. Far too many children are eating food is not fit for rats."
Question: "What about the emotional causes?"
Answer: "These are varied also. Basically people need to see themselves as well. People are being brainwashed into sickness. What people read and hear weakens the immune system. Fear is the main emotional cause. Fear is the most devastating emotion and blocks the immune system. There is no immune system when fear is in control.   People need to see themselves as perfect and they will be. It is their vision of lack that causes them problems. When they see themselves as less than perfect, that makes it so. Everyone could resolve all physical problems if they believe in their power to make it so."
"You are Divine. You have the power to do anything you choose. Believe in this and it will happen."
The above is from a series of channeled messages I received. I was then asked to create a glyph to regenerate tonsils and adenoids which I have done and I am now testing them.

They Call It Mellow Yellow… Would You Drink Your Own Urine For Optimal Health?

Ever since my friend told me about some crazy college roommate who claimed that drinking her own urine made her super-healthy and super-energetic, I have been morbidly curious about the topic. Is drinking your own urine one of those secret holy grails of optimal energy that requires brave souls to overcome the obvious EWWW GROSS factor of drinking pee?

More than a subgenre of kinky sexual fetishes, it turns out that urine therapy dates back to many of the earliest human cultures, from ancient Rome to India to China. People not only drank urine to improve their health, they also applied urine on their face for better skin and even gargled urine for whiter teeth.

And what do you know, people are still doing it.

"Oh, yeah," my guy friend said to me nonchalantly when I brought up the topic. "When I was a kid, my uncle made me pee into empty water bottles so he could drink it." 

(The background cultural context being that my friend is Chinese and in Chinese medicine, the urine of young boys is apparently regarded as a curative. According to a Xinhua news agency, more than three million Chinese citizens drink their own urine believing that it benefits their health.) 

The late J.D. Salinger was known to have drank his own urine. The British actress Sarah Miles, who has drank her own urine for over three decades, has claimed that urine therapy immunizes her against allergies. Moraji Desai, the former Prime Minister of India, has even said that urine therapy is the perfect medical solution for the millions of Indians in poverty who can’t afford expensive medical treatment.

Supposedly, your own urine contains key healing ingredients, such as antibacterial, antiviral and anticarcinogenic elements, that are specific to your own body system. Introducing the urine back to your body means that those specific healing ingredients can do their maximum power to do your body good. Urine therapy is touted as a traditional panacea that can cure a laundry list of ailments including but not limited to: allergies, adrenal failure, diabetes, eczema, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, pancreatic isufficiency, and even multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and cancer. Really? 

Urine therapy groups and conferences have their share of healing stories of how urine therapy has drastically improved specific ailments, their weak immune systems and their overall health. Books have even been written on the topic, such as this one and this one.

So why aren’t there more scientific studies with more substantial evidence on the healing properties of urine? Either the healing qualities are sketchy at best, and any beneficial medicinal powers are probably due to placebo or an infinite number of other factors–OR Big Pharm doesn’t want you to know that you can heal many of your ailments for free without buying a lot of expensive meds. Your call.

One positive side effect of urine therapy: if it does turn out to be your miracle panacea for your acne, herpes or chronic fatigue syndrome, you will have the most interesting conversation-starter at every social function you will attend for the rest of your life.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / patrickmayon


Which Health Challenges can Acupuncture Address?

Which health challenges can acupuncture address?

Please note that the following information is based upon the teachings of Oriental medicine. Some, but not all of the information presented, has been documented by clinical research. Though acupuncture is being studied in universities and medical institutions around the world, the research has not caught up with the demand. This is due to the relatively recent recognition of acupuncture as a viable medical modality as well as the western medical establishment’s historical resistance to its use. You may wish to follow up your reading of this material by exploring what the current medical literature has to say.

The information on this site is not designed to substitute for proper medical care. If you have any health concerns, please see your physician before you explore other options.

The Oriental medical system helps the body improve any health condition that results from the body malfunctioning or not optimally doing what it is striving to do. For example, your body does not want to have a headache. In fact, it works hard to avoid them. If you suffer from them anyway, your body needs help correcting the problem that causes them. Acupuncture effectively helps your body adjust its own healing mechanisms to resolve the problem. As a result, acupuncture can support you in healing from a wide variety of ailments.

The range of health challenges improved upon by acupuncture includes but is not limited to:

1. Ailments that your current medical care is not addressing to your satisfaction: Chronic pain, including arthritis, migraines, back or neck pain, phantom limb pain, osteoporosis, residual injury pain and others…

Chronic illness including diabetes, asthma, gastrointestinal difficulties, allergies, skin disorders, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, post stroke or heart attack, MS, tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug addictions, osteoporosis and others…

Acute ailments including influenza, colds, food poisoning, hangover, toxic shock syndrome and others…

2. Difficult side effects of medical treatment: Post surgical healing, chemotherapy side effects, fertility treatment side effects, prescription medication addictions, medical testing side effects and others…

3. Orthopedic and Traumatic Injuries: Sports injuries including tendonitis, muscle sprains and strains, muscle tares, joint inflammation and others… (This medical system was the very first in history to have a branch specifically devoted to sports medicine. The martial arts, originating in China, are still the most injury prone of the world circuit competitive sports. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have been treating martial arts and war related injuries since its inception over 2500 years ago).

Accidents including whiplash, disorientation, muscle spasm, body pain and others.

Violent or sexual assaults including emotional trauma, foggy thinking, absent mindedness, loss of sexual sensation, sexual function problems, depression, mood swings, and others.

4. Hormone related problems such as PMS and other menstrual disorders, menopausal symptoms, sexual function and desire problems in men and women, adrenal fatigue, infertility in men and women and others…

Acupuncture is only one of the many tools used by practitioners of Oriental medicine. When you go to see a practitioner, he or she will have many technique options to help you. Please see Oriental medicine section of this site for further details.

This is a very different medical system than the one you are used to. It is worth learning about as it answers many of the questions you may have about your health that your physicians, as well-trained, hard working and sincere as they may be, do not answer to your satisfaction.


The Mythology of Science-Based Medicine

By Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey and Rustum Roy

The current healthcare debate has brought up basic questions about how medicine should work. On one hand we have the medical establishment with its enormous cadre of M.Ds, medical schools, big pharma, and incredibly expensive hospital care. On the other we have the semi-condoned field of alternative medicine that attracts millions of patients a year and embraces literally thousands of treatment modalities not taught in medical school.

One side, mainstream medicine, promotes the notion that it alone should be considered "real" medicine, but more and more this claim is being exposed as an officially sanctioned myth. When scientific minds  turn to tackling the complex business of healing the sick, they simultaneously warn us that it’s dangerous and foolish  to look at integrative medicine, complementary and alternative medicine, or God forbid, indigenous medicine for answers.  Because these other modalities are enormously popular, mainstream medicine has made a few grudging concessions to the placebo effect, natural herbal remedies, and acupuncture over the years. But M.D.s are still taught that other approaches are risky and inferior to their own training; they insist, year after year, that all  we need are  science-based procedures and the huge spectrum of drugs upon which modern medicine depends. 

If a pill or surgery won’t do the trick, most patients are sent home to await their fate. There is an implied faith here that if a new drug manufacturer has paid for the research for FDA approval, then it is scientifically proven to be effective. As it turns out, this belief is by no means fully justified.

The British Medical Journal  recently undertook an general analysis of  common medical treatments to determine which are supported by sufficient reliable evidence. They evaluated around 2,500 treatments, and the results were as follows:

·         13% were found to be beneficial

·         23% were likely to be beneficial

·         8% were as likely to be harmful as beneficial

·         6% were unlikely to be beneficial

·         4% were likely to be harmful or ineffective. 

This left the largest category, 46%, as unknown in their effectiveness.  In other words, when  you  take your sick child to the hospital or clinic, there is only a 36% chance that he  will receive a treatment that has been scientifically demonstrated to be either beneficial or likely to be beneficial.   This is remarkably similar to the results Dr. Brian Berman found in his analysis of completed  Cochrane reviews of conventional medical practices There, 38% of treatments were positive and 62% were negative or showed “no evidence of effect.”

For those who have been paying attention, this is not news. Back in the late 70’s the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment  determined that a mere  10 to 20% of the practices and treatment  used by  physicians are scientifically validated.  It’s sobering to compare this number to the chances that a patient will receive benefit due to the placebo effect, which is between 30% and 50%, according to various studies.

We all marvel at the technological advances in materials and techniques that allow doctors to perform quadruple bypass surgeries and angioplasties without marveling that recent studies indicate  that coronary bypass surgery will  extend life expectancy, in only about 3% of cases. For angioplasty that figure sinks to 0 percent. Those numbers might be close to what you could expect from a witch doctor, one difference being that witch doctors don’t submit bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

It would be one thing if any of these unproven conventional medical treatments were cheap , but they are not. Angioplasty and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)   alone cost $100 billion annually.  As quoted by President Obama in his drive to bring down medical costs, $700 billion is spent annually on unnecessary tests and procedures in America. As part of this excess, it is estimated that 2.5 million unnecessary surgeries are performed each year.

Then there is the myth that this vast expenditure results in excellent health care, usually touted as the best in the world (most recently by Rush Limbaugh as he emerged from a hospital in Hawaii after suffering chest pain). But this myth has been completely undermined. In 2000 Dr. Barbara Starfield, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association , estimated that between 230,000 and 284,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to iatrogenic causes, or physician error, making this number three in the leading causes of death for all Americans.

In 2005 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that out of  the 2.4 billion prescriptions written by  doctors annually,  118 million were for antidepressants. It is the number one prescribed medication, whose use has doubled in the last ten years. You would think, therefore, that a remarkable endorsement is being offered for the efficacy of antidepressants. The theory of behind standard antidepression medication is that the disease is caused by low levels of key brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, and thus by manipulating those imbalanced neurotransmitters, a patient’s depression will be reversed or at least alleviated.

 This turns out to be another myth. Prof. Eva Redei of Northwestern University, a leading depression researcher, has discovered that depressed individuals have  no depletion of the  genes  that produce these key neurotransmitters compared to people who are not depressed.  This would help explain why an estimated 50% of patients don’t respond to antidepressants, and why Dr. Irving Kirsch’s meta-analysis of antidepressants in England showed no significant difference in effectiveness between them and placebos.

You have a right to be shocked by these findings and by the overall picture of a system that benefits far fewer patients than it claims. The sad fact is that a disturbing percentage of the medicine we subject ourselves to isn’t based on hard science, and another percentage is risky or outright harmful.  Obviously, every patient deserves medical care that is evidence-based, not just based on an illusory reputation that is promoted in contrast to alternative medicine.

We are not suggesting that Americans adopt any and all alternative practices simply because they are alternative. These, too, must demonstrate their effectiveness through objective testing. But alternative modalities should not be dismissed out of hand in favor of expensive and unnecessary procedures that have been shown to benefit no one absolutely except corporate stockholders. 

For more information go to deepakchopra.com

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Five Steps to Better Health Through Integrative Medicine

Suffering from headaches and depression? Don’t let your doctor put you on Prozac; instead, look for the underlying causes.

Maybe there are problems at work or at home that you can solve.

High cholesterol? Try the Mediterranean diet, with a glass of red wine a day. And if you really need to take statins, drink green tea to counteract the harmful side effects.

The best way to win the “war on cancer”? Eat healthy, exercise and develop an active social life.

An increasing number of physicians are realizing that this type of approach—geared to prevention and a conservative use of medications and technology—not only increases patients’ vitality but saves lots of money. In the debate over health care reform, one group of doctors and researchers would like to change more than just how health care costs are covered. They believe—in the words of Dean Ornish, founder and chairman of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California—that it is time to “change not only who is covered but also what is covered.” With that insight as a starting point, they hope to inspire President Obama to take a different approach to health care.

Ornish and other critics of the current system claim that a great deal of Western medicine is too often ineffective and sometimes even harmful. There is an overemphasis, they say, on treating symptoms and on the idea that caring for your health is primarily the responsibility of medical experts rather than of individuals themselves. Zhaoming Chen, chairman of the American Association of Integrative Medicine (AAIM), describes the way things currently work as sick: “We only treat the disease after it occurs.” The figures bear him out: 95 cents out of every dollar spent on health care is spent on treating illness. “The best way to reduce the costs is prevention,” he says.

The emphasis on prevention is a crucial element in “integrative medicine,” a practice that combines the best of Western health care with alternative or complementary healing methods employed when conventional therapies are ineffective. Integrative medicine puts the patient, not the doctor or the insurance company, at the center of attention, and it puts the focus on the sources of illness not the symptoms. As it becomes more likely that health care reform will not result in any drastic changes, integrative health offers simple, effective and cost-effective solutions for much of what ails both patients and the delivery of medical care.

The litany of health care problems is by now pretty familiar. Costs are escalating, along with the instances of conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. The U.S. ranks 37th in the quality of its health care system, according to a 2000 World Health Organization report, despite spending twice as much per person as any other developed country. Some 48 million Americans, 16 percent of the population, don’t have insurance; a lot of those who have it discover, when they become ill, that they don’t have enough. Earlier this year, the American Journal of Medicine published a study showing that illness and medical bills contribute to more than half of all personal bankruptcies—a portion that’s increasing fast. Of the cases studied, three-quarters involved individuals with health insurance, most of whom were well-educated, owned their own homes and had decent jobs.

Daniel Dunphy, a doctor with the San Francisco Preventive Medical Group, an integrative clinic where both conventional and alternative therapies are prescribed, shakes his head at the statistics. He believes that whatever reform is eventually passed, it will not bring about the necessary fundamental changes. “What we now have is not a health care system; it’s a medical delivery system,” Dunphy says, referring to the tendency of doctors to prescribe pills or refer patients to specialists whether they need it or not. “And we’re even bad at that. We give medical care to people who don’t need it. And when people do need medical care, we don’t give it to them. But if we do, we do everything we can to avoid reimbursing them.”

The exclusion of “pre-existing conditions” from coverage has long been a point of contention between insurers and consumers. Less well publicized is the fact that tests, interventions and procedures for which there is no sound medical basis account for around 30 percent of all medical expenditures, according to a statement from last year’s Health Reform Summit convened by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.

In a recent article on the New England Journal of Medicine website, Robert A. Levine, clinical professor of laboratory medicine at Yale University, blames unnecessary care on “perverse incentives” that reward doctors for every procedure: a prescription for medicine, a referral for a test, or an operation. “Even if all physicians were highly ethical and ordered only tests and treatments they deemed truly important,” Levine wrote, “it would take saints not to have their judgment skewed in favor of decisions that will provide them with financial rewards.”

Health care costs are continually rising but people are not getting any healthier. Any reform that does not address this fact will fail. So here is Ode’s five-point prescription for the future of health care, a prescription that applies the tenets of integrative medicine to make health care simpler, more effective and more affordable.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Dunphy draws an iceberg in the air with his index fingers. “What we see in Western medicine is only the tip of the iceberg,” he explains, referring to the symptoms that are treated with pills and technology. “What we don’t see is all that’s underneath the surface, which is what is leading us to disease and away from it. This is where chronic illnesses occur.” And it is these illnesses—cancer, diabetes, heart disease—that account for a large chunk of health care spending. If we can prevent these illnesses, Dunphy argues, we can avoid a great deal of suffering—and save a great deal of money.

Around half of all American adults have a chronic illness, according to The Partnership, a John Hopkins University-led initiative to improve care for Americans with chronic health conditions. Preventive Medicine Research’s Ornish claims that three-quarters of the more than $2 trillion spent last year on health care went to cover these conditions, among which he also includes obesity. “All of these can be not only prevented but even reversed through diet and lifestyle intervention,” he says. “It just seems so obvious to me that this is where we should be putting our focus.”

AAIM’s Chen agrees: “If we do not reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and change our lifestyles, we are not going to reduce the costs.” He points to a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study of over 20,000 Germans, which found that non-smokers who maintain a healthy weight, healthy diet and exercise 30 minutes a day lower their risk of developing diabetes by 93 percent, heart attack by 81 percent, stroke by 50 percent and cancer by 36 percent, compared to people who haven’t integrated any of these factors into their lives. According to Chen, doctors should explicitly discuss lifestyle choices with their patients, including everything from learning to better handle stress to exercising more and enhancing social contacts.

There is, however, a long way to go before prevention is on the agenda. While prevention is indeed better than cure, we tend to reward those who find solutions for existing problems rather than those who ensure that those problems don’t occur. The system is even designed to reward insurance and pharmaceutical companies when they treat a disease instead of preventing it. Plus, by definition, the benefits of prevention won’t show up for decades, or even generations. “It’s hard for Congress to engage in a comprehensive integrative health approach because the savings will only be visible many years later,” says William Novelli, a professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and the former CEO of AARP, the consumer group for older people. “That’s an artificial barrier we need to cross.”

But, according to Ornish, there’s an even greater challenge: Prevention just ain’t sexy. “Prevention is boring,” he says. “We need to focus on living better. [If you have a healthy lifestyle,] you’re likely to look better, feel better, lose weight and gain health, as well as to smell better, taste better and love better.” What’s not to like?

Continue reading on Ode Magazine

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