Many who enter the field of western medicine have a genuine desire to help others. Nonetheless, the “system” and business of medicine changes it quickly. The education received in medical school is seldom questioned. There is a bias within the educational system designed to undermine true inquiry regarding the beliefs and ideas as taught. Integrative medicine is never taught as core requirements but as an elective later in school. By this time most doctors have been “trained” to dispel any notion of natural remedies, vitamins, herbs and other lesser known therapies.
In fact, the history of western medicine reads like a great mystery novel. In it are the players, who discovered new disease and treatment strategies that comfortably fit into the medical models, while others, through secrecy, deceit, and manipulation, have sought to destroy those who challenge long held notions or introduce novel therapies unlike what is mainstream and threaten the financial interests of the medical monopoly. (1, 2, 3)
What is termed “conventional” medicine is that form of medicine using synthetic drugs, surgery and radiation to treat disease. It is what we are exposed to from birth until death and most often encounter in hospitals and clinics. It is invasive and very expensive, but very effective in treating certain conditions as in emergency conditions such as a car accident or life-threatening heart attack. Most people blindly accept conventional medicine as the be-all-end-all approach until faced with a chronic illness that cannot be treated using conventional methods. Some may then turn to what is labeled “alternative” medicine which incorporates therapies outside the conventional realm. This generally includes acupuncture, botanicals, homeopathy, various massage and manipulative therapies and nutrition. These were known as natural medicine, as they incorporate elements more exacting to the way nature heals.
“Complementary” medicine is one in which the practitioner employs alternative therapies along with conventional therapies. An example would be using acupuncture to relieve post surgical pain. Complementary and alternative medicine is often referred as CAM.
The most recent catch-phrase is “integrative” medicine which as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “combines mainstream medical therapies and CAM therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.” Integrative medicine works with the whole person including the body mind, spiritual and other aspect of one’s lifestyle. It is an attempt to “integrate” a healing process by examining areas that are missed by conventional medicine. It utilizes those therapies thought to be effective and without possible harm.
This is also the basis for what is called “evidence-based medicine”. Despite the thousands of years of human use, botanical medicine (herbs) is mostly regarded as inferior and harmful by conventional medicine. The medical community only accepts the “scientific testing” of herbs, nutritional components found in food and therapies like acupuncture, massage and chiropractic. The double-blind, placebo controlled clinical studies are meant to give credence for or against what is being scrutinized. However, studies fail to thoroughly examine the lifestyle, nutritional status and other aspects of the subject’s life prior to the study that could potentially give way to a false positive or negative outcome. One size does not fit all in nature and each individual has their own liabilities both genetically and through their lifestyle.
There is great interest by pharmaceutical companies to locate and study natural substances. However, it is not legal to patent them. After isolating the chemical substance producing the known desired effect in the body, drug companies synthesize a similar structure or simply mimic it. This allows for patenting and reaping billions of dollars in profit. Thus, what originally was a natural substance is artificially synthesized through petroleum or coal-tar into a drug or a “natural product mimic”. (4, 6) How ironic then, if out of ignorance or lying when doctors, their associations and the media state herbs and other natural substances are either worthless and ineffective or are very dangerous. Researching patents reveals hundreds of drugs originating from plant or microbial elements.
“Historically, the majority of new drugs have been generated from natural products (secondary metabolites) and from compounds derived from natural products… Currently there is substantial decline in new drug approvals and impending loss of patent protection for important medicines. However, untapped biological resources, “smart screening” methods, robotic separation with structural analysis, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology offer exciting technologies for new natural product drug discovery. Advances in rapid genetic sequencing, coupled with manipulation of biosynthetic pathways, may provide a vast resource for the future discovery of pharmaceutical agents.” (5, Italics added)
Western medicine stands on the shoulders of botanical (herbal) medicine as practiced since ancient times. Earliest manuscripts cite the medicinal properties of plants as observed by the high priest, shaman or medicine man. They detailed what part of the plant to be used; how to prepare it; what conditions the herb grew best in and recorded both the bodily and mental responses when administered to the one who was ill. Granted, in some cases it was trial and error, but today we know through their writings which herbs work for what condition. We have an enormous amount of information stretching back thousands of years about the value of medicinal plants.
We tend to look down on ancient peoples and their practices as we believe ourselves to be superior and smarter than they. Yet no one can explain with any certainty how the pyramids were built, why and how the Nazca Lines of Peru were carved out, or how is it indigenous aborigines of Australia communicate through trees hundreds of miles apart. The arrogance of modern conventional medicine far outweighs the simplicity by which it was made possible. Nature has infinite more secrets yet to be discovered.
For medicine to truly be “integrative” there needs to be full disclosure and honesty by the pharmaceutical industry, the associations backing it and a changing of the guard within the federal government. The back and forth movement of researchers, doctors, CEO’s and politicians between drug companies and government positions must cease. It is tantamount to the fox guarding the chicken coop. However this is likely to happen depends on educating the public and establishing better and more informative media outlets whether it is print or electronic. The Internet is a goldmine of information about alternative medicine both pros and cons. Using Googlescholar.com brings up clinical studies and professional web sites dedicated to the dissemination of excellent information on alternative medicine. Other websites can be found simply by using keywords in search engines. Take the time to educate yourself. One never knows when someone we love or we may need the expertise of an alternative medicine practitioner. The hundreds of thousands of natural products still waiting to be discovered must be done, not for the sake of monetary profit but for the profit it will bring humanity in alleviating disease.
1) Harris L. Coulter, “Divided Legacy: The Conflict Between Homeopathy and the American Medical Association”, 1982 Sec. Ed. North Atlantic Books
2) Samuel S. Epstein MD, “The Politics of Cancer Revisited”,
3) Barry Lynes, “The Cancer Cure that Worked!” 1994, Marcus Books, Canada
4) David J. Newman and Gordon M. Cragg, “Natural Products as Sources of New Drugs over the Last 25 Years”, J. Nat. Prod. 2007, 70, 461-477
5) Jesse W.-H. Li and John C. Vederas, “Drug Discovery and Natural Products: End of an Era or an Endless Frontier? Science 10 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5937, pp. 161 – 165
6) http://www.rain-tree.com/plantdrugs.htm Leslie Taylor, ND, “Plant Based Drugs and Medicines’, October 13, 2000
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