The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human body, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."...Thomas Edison, 1902.
We have many different options for healthcare today, but the focus will be on biologically based treatments and prevention. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines the scope of biologically based practices to include, but is not limited to, botanicals, animal-derived extracts, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, proteins, prebiotics and probiotics, whole diets, and functional foods.
But first, let's take a look at the different philosophies of healthcare practiced today. Allopathic, alternative, complementary, integrative-what does it all mean? Each includes many different kinds of therapies, and although alternative, complementary and integrative are sometimes used interchangeably, the general focus of each is different.
Allopathic medicine focuses on disease and the treatment of the physical body with drugs and surgery. These are conventional physicians with the title of M.D. that are universally recognized as having a medical degree.
Alternative medicine includes those therapies not generally recommended by allopathic physicians. It includes Energy Medicine, Ethnomedicine, Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Homeopathic Medicine, Botanical or Herbal Medicine, Bio molecular Medicine, Manual Medicine, Spiritual Medicine.
Complementary medicine includes therapies used by both alternative and allopathic physicians. It includes Exercise Medicine, Environmental Medicine, Social Medicine, Nutritional Medicine.
Integrative medicine is the attempt to integrate the many philosophies of medicine, allopathic, complementary, and alternative, to treat the whole person, physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual.
Many people are hesitant about trusting their healthcare to anyone other than an allopathic physician. But did you know that Naturopathic Medical Doctors are the only physicians who receive complete training in conventional medicine as well as natural medicine? Licensed Naturopathic medical doctors (N.M.D./N.D.) attend a four-year graduate level Naturopathic medical school where they are educated in all of the same basic sciences as a conventional M.D. In addition to this training, they are extensively educated in the philosophy and implementation of safe and effective natural therapeutics with a strong emphasis on disease prevention. Unfortunately, some states do not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic Doctors.
Allopathic physicians and pharmaceutical drugs are, and always will be, necessary for acute, emergency medical care and trauma, as well as for conditions that cannot be controlled with lifestyle changes, good nutrition and supplements. But many conditions can be prevented and controlled with lifestyle changes and biologically based medicine. Just as many pharmaceutical drugs can interact with other drugs, some biologically based supplements may interact with drugs and cause side effects, so a healthcare provider should always be consulted before adding supplements to the diet. In some cases, alternative therapy may actually have beneficial synergistic effects in conjunction with existing medical therapy, even when not feasible as a replacement.
Biologically based medicine is not new. It was practiced for thousands of years before pharmaceutical companies began manufacturing the first synthetic drugs. In addition, many of the pharmaceutical preparations used around the world are based on plants. As late as the 1930's, the formulation of about 80% of synthetic pharmaceutical drugs began with a natural compound. Today, about 25% of prescription drugs contain active ingredients derived from plants.
The United States has the most advanced medical system in the world, yet the population is increasingly turning to natural healing methods. However, the U.S. still lags behind world stats. A survey of 31,000 U.S. adults conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2004 showed that 35 percent use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that herbal medicine is still the primary source of health care for approximately 80 percent of the world's population.
Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. These diseases and other chronic diseases such as obesity, depression, metabolic and digestive disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and fibroids, account for 7 of every 10 deaths and affect the quality of life of 90 million Americans. Chronic diseases are among the most prevalent and most costly, yet they are the most preventable.
Conventional physicians treat chronic diseases with expensive pharmaceuticals that may temporarily relieve the painful or uncomfortable symptoms, but the drugs do nothing to resolve the underlying cause, and may actually cause other side effects and serious problems. Because nutrition affects our immune system, organ function, hormonal balance and cellular metabolism, many of these chronic conditions and diseases can be traced to a nutrition deficiency. When the deficiency is not corrected, symptoms begin to appear and eventually lead to disease and premature aging.
Many pharmaceuticals can effectively be replaced with multi vitamin supplements, botanicals, amino acids, prebiotics and probiotics, fresh foods and functional foods for both prevention and treatment. Because herbs work synergistically, combinations of herbs with similar properties enhance the properties of each. This is why choosing a product containing a combination of different herbs is usually more effective than choosing individual selections. An example of this is the combination of valerian, passion flower and hops to promote relaxation and restful sleep. All three have a relaxing effect on the body. Valerian relaxes muscle tension, while hops relaxes the nervous system, and passiflora acts as a sedative. Popular alternative medicine company Melaleuca even offers a product called RestEZ that offers a supplement that contains all three natural sleep enhancers: valerian, passion flower and hops.
In part two of The Power of Natural Alternative Medicine we will discuss the regulation of nutritional supplements and little known history of natural medicine.