The Coastal Post - December, 1998

Medicine In The Next Millennium

By Stephen Simac

The medicine and health care practices of the new millennium are being forged now between the silver hammers of alternative medicine and the iron anvil of conventional medicine. On some fronts there is a rush by medical doctors to embrace the popularity of alternative health care practices, and on other fronts there is all out war by the orthodoxy against heretics or "quacks."

There is an overwhelming demand by Americans for more than western biomedical medicine offers. More Americans visited alternative practitioners than MD's last year. Most of these users were between 30 and 50 years of age and half of their visits were for massage or chiropractic care. They spent more than $12 billion out of their own pocket for treatments with total bills estimated at $27 billion in 1997. This doesn't even include the self-care and educational material on diets, health and medicine which rank right up there with sex and money on the best seller lists.

The rush to become holistic and offer integrated health care by some physicians resembles a herd of hippocrates stampeding into a green river. Weekend workshops and trainings in integrative health care are filled with MD's who want to hang out a holistic shingle. Some genuinely want to pursue whatever methods of healing works for them and their patients, others just smell the money. This is also true of alternative practitioners and has been true of medicine men since shamans promised cures or curses. Century of progress and profits

The armies of alternative medicine and health care professionals have been laboring in the dark and legally persecuted since the ascendancy of modern medicine in this century. The Rockefeller funded Flexner Report in the 20's led to limiting the accreditation of medical schools to those with a curiously narrow view of health care.

Orthodox medicine is basically a disease care mode with very little focus on true prevention of illness. Conventional prevention measures mean vaccines and early detection, not reduction of health hazards. This focus has achieved wonders but is better at treating acute emergencies than long-term health maintenance or the lifestyle diseases of western society.

Antibiotics and anesthesia allowed surgery to become elevated from hacksaws and hope to the shining scalpel of modern medicine it is today. Pharmaceuticals and radiation round out their weapons against disease. The drug industries control medicine in research directions, treatment options and through pervasive influence.

Researchers are always announcing the latest miracle cure, but not many really pan out. Meanwhile the factors repeatedly shown by decades of research to be most important in maintaining health and increasing lifespan are a personal sense of control over your immediate environment, and maintaining numerous friendships and relationships over your lifetime.

This is true of long-term survivors of cancer, heart disease, AIDS and other diseases which modern medicine has spent billions fighting wars against, but nothing on the value of friendship, and has no insight into people learning to come into relationship with their illness or impediments.

The orthodoxy controls education, financing and legal definitions of what is medicine and what is quackery. Their high priests' legal teams and the profitable medical industries allied with them have spent millions to make billions in disease and accident care. Changes to society and individual behavior to reduce known health hazards have often come slowly and grudgingly. Fox guarding the henhouse

This is both from customer desires and profit motives, but a new age in consumer-driven medicine may change the face of the old guard. Membership in the American Medical Association by doctors is down to 40% from a high of 90% in the 1960's.

The AMA and their medical journals along with allied medical associations have traditionally set the standards for accepted medical practices. These then become bureaucratic laws and health-care protocols by regulatory agencies. They pay little attention to toxic pollution and health hazards from transportation, agriculture, power, military and consumer industries.

The temple priests of the true medicine have little knowledge of nutrition or food supplements, yet feel competent to send SWAT team Food and Drug Administration troops to bust vitamin factories. The FDA is a revolving door for pharmaceutical industry CEOs. They continue to persecute and jail doctors for using unorthodox cancer treatments or treating other illnesses which medical science has given up on. They are currently gearing up for another assault on vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements, which is an industry competing with pharmaceutical drugs.

The death toll from pharmaceuticals is reliably estimated at 100,000 patients a year, some contaminated batches of tryptophan and some improperly used herbs have caused about a dozen deaths in the last decade. Tryptophan, a precursor of the hormone serotonin, is banned, even though it had proven health benefits for insomnia, depression, lowering aggression and anxiety. Tylenol is still killing dozens of children from liver failure, even with child-proof lids because of the scare when some bottles were poisoned.

Other federal and state agencies controlled by the orthodoxy determine financial support for research, teaching colleges and hospitals, educational curriculum, and have rarely tolerated other viewpoints of the causes of illness. Ultimate wellness: Put the lime in the coconut

Now they are either widening their world view to include alternatives or getting them in their gun sights.

Alternative practitioners from chiropractic, acupuncture, ayurvedic, naturopathic, homeopathic, herbal and holistic, to a thousand schools of bodywork or movement therapy, into the horizon with different treatments and beliefs about health, aren't sure either. They are uneasily being romanced by the medical establishment, both would like to dance a spell to see if there's chemistry.

If they had their druthers the educational institutions of medical doctors and their profit-driven partners, the pharmaceutical and medical technology industries, would smother the competitor baby in its crib, rather than adopt complementary and alternative medicine as a red-headed stepchild cutting into their profits.

Cost-cutting measures by health maintenance organizations and health insurance companies are already forcing the adoption of some treatments such as St. John's Wort herb for depression, chiropractic for lower back pain, Dean Ornish lifestyle adjustments for heart disease, marijuana for medically-induced nausea and other treatments which have proved as effective or more so than current medical treatments at far less cost.

The demand by the forces of orthodox medicine is that alternatives and complementary treatments must be "scientifically proven to work." Primarily this means testing therapies for benefits in specific illnesses, preferably by the "gold standard" of American medical science, double-blind controlled tests. Naturally this is expensive and mixes medical concerns with profit motives. Also single action, "magic bullet" treatments, which modern medicine prefers, more easily fit into this "gold standard" mold. Even so, only 15% of accepted current medical treatments have been subjected to this type of testing. This bias towards randomized controlled studies is hypocritical and not "scientific". There are other methods to test for benefits or side effects of medical treatments, such as individualized case studies, epidemiology-the statistical analysis of large numbers of people searching for environmental or lifestyle causes of disease-and pragmatic trials where patients choose their treatment and are measured against others following current conventional treatment. Doctor, can you heal me?

The research bias ignores one of the key components of healing, the "placebo effect," where a "sugar pill" or even surgery can heal or cause side effects created by the patient's beliefs and the physician's enthusiasm for a treatment. The results of even double-blind studies are easily skewed by the bias of the tester, and research can be easily bought or ignored if its conclusions are unprofitable.

It also ignores the unique biochemistry of each individual. A treatment will always work better for some people than others, so why shouldn't patients be allowed to find some unorthodox treatments they believe will be most effective for them. If that happens to be prayer and snakebites, ayahuasca and crystals, or chemo and radiation isn't it their choice?

Medical orthodox methods qualify as the treatment of legal standing, where courts order families to surrender their sick children to the state if they don't follow prescribed medical treatment. It's not as if conventional treatments are curing all the diseases of the modern world or even making them less painful and debilitating, and even the "proven cures" they promote don't heal every patient.

MD's should either stick to what they do best and ignore the competition, or widen their understanding of the many approaches to healing and incorporate any that show promise of helping their patients. This sounds utopian, because there are tremendous profits at stake and a history of fierce attacks by the medical industries against competition.

Alternative therapies might survive attacks by following the British proposed model of integrating medicine in their country. The various methods of alternative medicine are urged to band together, self-regulate according to their standards and keep registers of their practitioners, so that customers can inquire about the status of their choice. Those practitioners who don't want to participate could still practice, but at least consumers would know there's a reason they are cheaper.

Consumers, and that's how we are viewed by almost all vendors of health care, will be best served by taking an active role in our own health by making and keeping friends, cultivating a sense of control, no matter how illusory, improving our diet and exercise habits, and acting to decrease the level of toxic pollutants in our common environment. There are still no guarantees against death and disease, but we are the biggest influence on our health.

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