BY RICK VOAKES, MD
Holistic Medicine is defined as medical care that has a total approach to the physical, mental and spiritual needs of the patient. Many times these needs are intertwined, so that spiritual problems may have serious effects on the physical well-being of the patient. Or, physical problems can certainly weigh heavily on a patient's mental and spiritual health and well-being.
Most physicians understand that these relationships exist, but it can be a daunting task to enter a patient's metaphysical world to deal with their spiritual problems. Most physicians would recommend getting psychiatric help or counseling for mental problems, or seeking a spiritual advisor for spiritual problems, which I feel is an appropriate route.
Some physicians take an extra step in dealing with their patients' spiritual needs by doing some counseling, or by dabbling in "alternative medicine". I can see how these modalities can reach a patient whose mental condition has seriously altered his physical condition. Even the simple act of respecting the patient's spiritual needs can go a long way in dealing with an ailing patient.
What I don't like about the way some holistic medicine and alternative medicine are often practiced is the commercialization of it. Maybe it's more like an "industrialization". The catch words for folk healing, such as "natural healing" or "herbal" anything, define a new industry that preys on people who are hurting and not getting enough satisfaction from traditional medicine. Often true Holistic Medicine is subverted by well-intentioned and not so well-intentioned practitioners, who take advantage of the fact that patients are looking for something entirely different from traditional medicine, and they use the fact that any touted alternative will have a strong placebo effect. A growing group of "medical fraud" practitioners have built a multi-billion dollar industry in this country! Sadly, most of the general public believes that most alternative medicine is likely to be as effective as scientifically proven (evidence-based) medicine. And for the smaller number of people who see the fraudulent nature of the vast majority of alternative medical treatments, holistic medicine has gotten a bad name.
With that caveat said, I really do like and practice holistic medicine! But I require that it has to utilize an evidence-based approach (that is, backed up by scientific evidence).
I think a large part the public's dissatisfaction with traditional medicine is the lack of preventive services, which are perceived as more "caring". Prevention is also much more time-consuming, and requires additional skills in teaching and communication.
Whenever there is a profit-driven motive for the use of any medical treatment, whether pharmaceutical or holistic or surgical or whatever, it becomes a conflict of interest, and should be considered medical fraud. For example, a doctor ordering an expensive medication (because there is no cheaper alternative) and that doctor does not derive any profit from the sale of that drug, is NOT a conflict of interest. But a doctor who orders moderately expensive herbal or non-proven treatments that he or she sells you and profits from....THAT is medical fraud! (It doesn't have to be doctor, either! Anyone can sell you medications or treatments or vitamin supplements or miracle herbs, etc if they are not under FDA control.)
Holistic ApproachPhony Holistic Approach
(evidence-based, proven effective) (profit-driven, not proven effective)
Prevent lung cancer Don't smoke tobacco, avoid air pollution Buy herbs and vitamins
Prevent heart attacks Don't smoke, don't eat sugar Buy herbs and vitamins
Prevent diabetes Exercise daily, don't eat sugar Buy herbs and vitamins
Maintain healthy weight Exercise, avoid sugar, 8 hours sleep Buy diet pills, low-fat food, diet supplements
Prevent liver disease Limit alcohol and sugar intake Buy vitamins
Prevent arthritis Daily exercise, stretching Buy drugs and vitamins
etc, etc (you get the idea!)
NOTE: I am not saying that vitamins are harmful, because your body DOES need vitamins every day in order to function properly. I DO recommend taking a multivitamin every day. But in excees of that, taking more vitamins will not make you any healthier, and overdosing on vitamins can actually be dangerous.
About 20% of patients on prescription meds are also taking herbal supplements. About 10% of all children are taking them. A new branch of medicine is called CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). The most common types of supplements include fish oil, melatonin, probiotics, and echinacea. These are avaliable without prescription, so are mostly taken without the advice of a doctor, and very often for purposes that are not medically proven to work (not evidence-based).
Supplements are not governed by the FDA, and can be sold without any proof that they are effective, and have no proven assurance of safety. Marketing and packaging claims that a product can do this or cure that are NOT required to be true! They can legally say anything they want! Some herbs, such as ephedra (ma huang) can be quite dangerous, and can cause heart attacks and death. Children have died from drinking excessive mint tea, for example.
There are many different herbs that can cause minor bleeding problems, but these could become major bleeding problems if a children were to need surgery. These include: echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St John’s wort, valerian and others, which can cause cardiac instability, prolonged sedation, electrolyte problems, trouble handling infections, as well and the bleeding problems.
Sometimes herbal supplements lead to improvement in symptoms, where standard medications could not. But extra care must be used, and be sure to let your doctor know that you are using them. They should be considered as taking drugs (which they ARE). Be especially care to let your doctor what supplements you or your child are taking prior to any surgery or dental work.