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Traditional medicine is but one approach to wellness

Monday, November 25, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brook Schales
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Traditional medicine is but one approach to wellness






BY ANDREW ELLIOTT

In his column in the Oct. 14 Register-Guard, "Ask doctor about ‘natural’ medicines for child,” an esteemed local pediatrician, Dr. Todd Huffman, promotes the point of view that complementary/holistic medicine is rarely evidence-based. We all want medicine to be effective, but it is important to ask who it is that deems a particular therapy effective.

Richard Smith was an editor for the British Medical Journal for 25 years. For the last 13 of those years, he was the editor and chief executive of the BMJ Publishing Group, which publishes some 25 journals.

In his 2005 article, "Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies,” published in the online journal PLOS/ Medicine, Smith quotes Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, as saying in March 2004 that "Journals have devolved into information laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Smith continues: "In the same year, Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, lambasted the pharmaceutical industry for becoming ‘primarily a marketing machine’ and co-opting ‘every institution that might stand in its way.’ Jerry Kassirer, another former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, argues that the industry has deflected the moral compasses of many physicians.”

Is it accurate to say, then, that the majority of evidence in evidenced-based medicine comes from research funded and manipulated by an industry serving its own financial ends?

If profit drives research, how will research into non-patentable (homeopathic, botanical and nutritional) medicine get funded and investigated impartially? When we allow our biases, whether conscious or unconscious, to influence the methodology and interpretation of scientific investigation, science becomes pseudo-science.

We hope and want to believe that randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind experiments eliminate bias and give us a firm basis for evidenced-based medicine, but the experts suggest research can be, and often is, perverted.

Our attempts at scientific method can also be inadequate to the phenomena we seek to understand. The standard methods are not well suited to investigate the "qi,” or life force, of Chinese medicine, or the vital force of homeopathy.

If we begin with a belief that life is biochemical only, we will naturally seek our answers using the tools of biochemistry. If we see life as a harmonious interplay of the physical and the biochemical as well as energy, soul and spirit, we will begin to open up to a much broader universe of possibilities. In the case of the latter, science must not restrict what we are open to discovering, but rather illuminate it.

To come full circle, Huffman asks that we seek answers to our questions about "natural/holistic” medicine from a doctor. Knowing that our biases often lead us to conclusions that confirm our biases, I would suggest that our medical questions be asked of doctors who have a multidimensional paradigm of this mystery we call life, and who are trained in the field we seek to get answers from. Is a doctor who is not trained in and dedicated to the methods of natural medicine the best source for answers about natural medicine?

Since all doctors have biases and have a limited but valuable set of skills and knowledge, it can sometimes be best to seek answers from an integrative team, where doctors and other health care providers who respect each other and share different skills join together to seek the best care for their patients.

Integrative care is an ideal that I dream our world will pursue once it has established the moral and practical value of health care for all.

Andrew Elliott, a licensed naturopathic family physician, has practiced in Eugene since 1979 and served on the Oregon State Board of Naturopathic Examiners from 1988 to 1994.

Please note that the article's title was selected by the newspaper and not by Elliott. He prefers using the term "traditional medicine" to refer to the medicine practiced by NDs, DCs, LAcs  and "conventional medicine" to denote the medicine practiced by MDs. 

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