Alternative Medicine: A New Frontier
By Giselle Mazurat
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The medical system in the United States and Canada is going through a major crisis. Our medical system has failed to prevent and manage several types of chronic illnesses and diseases that many patients in our hospitals and physicians' offices experience. Almost 85 percent of the national health care bill in the United States is for treating chronic diseases, and we have learned to accept such levels of chronic disease as normal.

In his 1988 Report on Nutrition and Health, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said imbalances in our diet are the leading preventable causes of premature death in the U.S. He recommends that people, including health care professionals, get more educated in how we can change our diet and lifestyle to improve our health.

Research has shown that we can prevent heart disease, cancer, and atherosclerosis by changing our lifestyle. If doctors continue to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause, these health problems will continue to exist at high levels.

Many people, including children, suffer from allergies, headaches, lack of energy, chronic fatigue, digestive and respiratory disorders, mild depression, mood swings and anxiety. Some medical experts say these people are suffering from "vertical ill health." They are not sick enough to lie down but, ironically, they think they are healthy because they know so many people who experience the same symptoms. They seek relief through prescribed medications such as sedatives, antidepressants and anti-inflammatory drugs. Unfortunately, these drugs have side effects which only make matters worse.

Physicians are becoming more aware that something is wrong with their patients' immune system since their patients continue to experience illnesses that normal immune functioning should be able to handle. However, contemporary medical treatments are often unable to restore the functioning of the immune system. As a result, patients depend on their physicians to constantly monitor and adjust their medications because their doctors don’t teach them how to live a healthier lifestyle. Some over-the-counter and prescribed medications only mask the symptoms; others control health problems by changing the way organs or systems such as the circulatory system work.

Alternative medicine is a return to the principles of health and disease that existed for thousands of years. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who became the father of Western medicine, believed good health depended on hygiene, a calm, balanced mental state, proper diet, a peaceful work and home environment, and physical conditioning. According to him, health depended on a balance of these forces.

The mid-nineteenth century witnessed a departure from this philosophy of health. Various medical developments such as vaccines and x-ray, followed by the discovery of bacterial cultures and antibacterial drugs like penicillin and sulfa drugs, gave birth to contemporary medicine as we know it today. While these discoveries were enlightening, they diminished the importance of the individual's role in his or her health.

Twentieth century medicine can be described as a war against disease. The disease is considered as an enemy; and medical treatment, in the form of drugs and vaccines, are used as "magic bullets" to conquer the enemy. Today, we are witnessing many examples of lost wars. Our losing battle on cancer has led to the development of cell killing radiation and chemotherapy treatments that do more harm to the body as they try to restore normal health. These types of therapies fail to repair the imbalances that cause the illness to occur in the first place.

Since the emphasis of conventional medicine is war and not restoration, it has led to the development of medical schools with specialized departments such as cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, etc. Therefore, medical students focus their study on only one organ system at a time. Diseases are named according to the organ it affects, for example tonsillitis, appendicitis, heart, or gallbladder disease. Thus, the inter-relationship of all the organs of the body and the complex dynamics of their functioning are ignored. This is why some "modern doctors" don't really understand the holistic approach to health that focuses on the overall functioning of the body.

Alternative medicine approaches health care from a holistic point of view. It accounts not only for the body, but also for the psychological and emotional makeup of the individual, environmental factors, lifestyle, diet and medical history.

A diet free of pesticides, chemical additives, preservatives, antibiotics and hormones is essential to our health. Our diet should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and organically raised, free range poultry and certain types of fish. This diet is rare today because our foods contain preservatives, high levels of fat and chemical additives. Our meats and dairy products are loaded with antibiotics and hormones. So, our diet can cause many of the health problems that people are facing today.

Alternative medicine recognizes that we must change our lifestyle to restore our health. This includes eliminating habits that are harmful to our health such as smoking, drinking excessive alcohol or using drugs. We should also eat better food, reduce our stress, get more sleep and exercise. Hygiene is also important to health. Detoxification and cleansing our bodies can remove toxins from our body.

One advantage of alternative medicine is that it offers many methods to restore health. Some methods such as chiropractic can address structural or mechanical imbalances while others such as herbal medicine can address hormonal and biochemical imbalances. Other methods such as meditation and biofeedback training restore mental and emotional balances. Acupuncture and homeopathy can restore normal energy levels in the body.

Most importantly, alternative medicine treats the individual rather than their symptoms. For example, the nutritional requirements vary from person to person. It depends on the person’s age and any emotional, biochemical or physical stresses. With this in mind, alternative physicians diagnose and treat their patients’ illnesses. They focus on meeting the needs of each patient rather than relying on a uniform treatment or prescription. Some “modern doctors” fail to approach their patients in this manner. For example, they give all asthmatic patients the same treatments and drugs – treating the symptom rather than the cause. The alternative practitioner, on the other hand, realizes that each asthmatic patient is different. One patient may have asthma due to allergies and another due to environmental factors. This difference of approaches is the foundation of alternative medicine. For this reason, alternative medicine is now poised to become the solution to the medical crisis that we are facing today.