Modern Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine:
Different Levels of Evidence
Prescription medicines and advances in medical treatment have helped people avoid disability and death caused by disease, lowered overall treatment costs and death rates for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other deadly diseases for several decades. One example: life expectancy for people with cancer increased by 3 years between 1980 and 2000, and 86% of that gain is attributed to better treatment and medicines. Indeed, these medicines and advances, researched and developed by the pharmaceutical industry, have increased the average life span worldwide to 72 years in 2014! Yet despite these and many more statistics the global community is growing more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities partly due to a perception that “mainstream medicine is failing”…
Though alternative-medicine experiences, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, Reiki, massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, Ayurveda (a traditional Indian medical practice), can vary widely, they all tend to take an holistic approach. They can include a long initial meeting covering many details of the patient’s history in a calm atmosphere; a strong focus on reducing everyday stress and improving diet and exercise; an explanation of how the treatment will unleash the body’s ability to heal itself; assurance that over time the treatment will help both the problem that prompted the visit and also general health; and the establishment of frequent follow-up visits.
While some scientific literature shows that virtually all of the core treatments plied by alternative practitioners help patients no more than “placebo” treatments, many people report significant improvement to health because of alternative medicine. There is a concern that alternative medicine is misguiding people due to lack of regulation and research and that patients of alternative practitioners will stop seeking mainstream care altogether.
On the other hand, supporters of alternative medicine argue the following: modern medicine stemmed from fighting infectious diseases, which have been the biggest problem until recently. But today, the challenge is less one of fighting infectious diseases and more a matter of dealing with chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Now that we live longer, these typically late-developing diseases have become by far our biggest killers and account for three-quarters of our health-care spending. And in many cases, lifestyle and attitude changes, the focus in part of alternative medicine, can have an enormous impact on health.
So what is the Conclusion?
The term integrative medicine refers to the conjunction of alternative practices with mainstream medical care.
There is no question that physicians who spend more time with patients and listen more carefully will see benefits. This is something medical practitioners can learn from their alternative colleagues; many already have.
We should look to our doctors to be the nurturing caregivers who take the time to listen to us, bond with us, and guide us toward healthier lifestyles and lower levels of stress, but in most countries the current system makes it nearly impossible for most doctors to have the sort of relationship with patients that would best promote health.
But though there is a role for alternative medicine to play in our overall health, mainstream medicine is nowhere close to failing, and the pharmaceutical companies deserve credit for the discoveries they made.
Ultimately, if it were not for the declines in death rates from heart disease and stroke, created by the pharmaceutical industry, we would lose 1 million more Americans every year. Just ask yourself, what are the chances that you or someone you love will be in that 1 million, this year or the next. So let us take a balanced and integrative approach to our health.