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Biology 103
2001 Third Web Report
On Serendip

CAM and the Medical Community

Samantha Manewitz

Alternative, complementary, and integrative healing are all part of a well debated but poorly researched area of medicine. Doctors of the conventional American and European medical communities have been long prone to dismiss unconventional healing methods such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, and massage therapy as ineffective, or outright crackpot methods of treating illness. The view of the medical community, however, seems to have little impact of the growing popularity of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) among patients. An increasing number of people in the United States and Europe have been turning to these treatments in addition to or instead of traditional Western medicine. The sheer popularity of CAM has forced the medical community to better examine the acceptance of CAM in medicine.

CAM encompasses a wide range of healing methods from acupuncture to massage therapy to herbal remedies such as St. Johnís Wort and Echinacea. Many of these remedies have been around for centuries. In the case of Acupuncture, there have been regulations on acupuncture in China and Japan for years. However, since many of these procedures have not been proven ěscientificallyî, western medicine had largely rejected the remedies as being effective forms of treatment. One professor of medicine at the Rabin Medical Center likened CAM to beliefs in magic and superstition that medicine relied on before modern scientific advances. "The deep model of Alternative medicine is anthropocentric magic. The explanations of the practitioners of alternate medicine are giving patients a set of magical rules to control the physical world, rules that have the human as the fulcrum."(1). In this article, he argues that alternative medicine is fraudulent, impossible to prove in clinical trials, and therefore, unacceptable even on the fringes of modern medicine.

Arguments to the contrary have grown increasingly louder as acupuncture, holistic therapies, and herbal remedies grow popular in the western markets. Most of these remedies and treatments have been around for centuries, so there must arguably be some healing properties to these treatments. People turn to CAM treatments when western medicine fails them. CAM provides people with more options and gives them hope for remedy. One argument for the acceptance of CAM is the Psychological impact it has on its patients. Herbal treatments and acupuncture give people hope for alleviation of their symptoms. One example of this can be seen at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. They provide their cancer patients acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga, and other CAM services in addition to their chemotherapy treatments. The theory behind these options focus on their patientsí emotional and physical well being beyond their illness. The chemotherapy treats the specific illness and the alternative healing takes care of the rest of the patientís mind and body. This cooperation between CAM and Western medicine is known as integrated medicine. It marks the beginnings of cooperation between western and CAM medicine, even though the cancer patient is something of an extreme example.

Unfortunately, much of the CAM debate remains theoretical. As much as medical professors and practitioners enjoy arguing over the acceptability of Cam and integrated medicine, very little hard research had been done to test these theories until very recently. Members of the medical community both for and against CAM have argued that these healing methods donít need to be tested. ěIts practitioners argue that the consultation, a complex interplay between two people, is itself therapeutic, and it necessarily defies empiric understanding". This is, somewhat ironically the very problem that most practitioners of medicine have with CAM, if they have any issue with it at all. The medical community puts a great amount of weight on all things empirical. If a treatment isnít a tangible theory, or a tangible theory that cannot be proven, that treatment is considered to be a failed hypothesis. Medical professionals therefore put more faith in conventional medicine.

This is not to say that there is no research being done on CAM and integrated medicines. Within in the past five years, the idea that CAM cannot be tested has begun to change. There are the beginnings of medical societies and research societies being set up to better research CAM and Integrated medicine. Researchers have started to conduct clinical trials on the testing of the more popular methods of treatment such as acupuncture and holistic healing. In fact, one study proved the correlation between acupuncture points and brain function. (4). As of September of 2000, scientist all over the world had started ongoing research studies experimenting with case studies of St. John's Wort, Ginkgo biloba, spinal manipulation for back pain, and 2 independent acupuncture studies. (3). However, as of now, there are no regulations for acupuncture and other such holistic clinics or over the counter herbal remedies.

I agree with the popular medical opinion that there must be some way that these treatments can be analyzed. The big conflict between western medicine and CAM is the conflict between the empirical and the unproven. Further studies on CAM would aid in removing the stigma of CAM and further push the effective CAM treatments into the mainstream. In time it could be taught in medical schools and further funding would be given to its development. If CAM is to have any chance at becoming a sanctioned method of health care, more of these tests need to be implemented. Traditional western medicine is effective to the extent that it is because it has a defined set of standards by which it adheres to. A set of such regulations for CAM would no only succeed in giving these practices in the medical community, but they would benefit the patients of CAM as well. Such standards would to protect the consumer from false advertising, and give them more access to verifiable information about such treatments.

I don't find anything wrong with the practice of CAM and integrated medicines. I have been witness to many scenarios in which these forms of treatment proved to be beneficial to the parties involved. I also know of people who suffered from complications created by taking herbal therapies. The term is too broad for CAM to be properly tested and approved. There is no way a single experiment can prove or disprove alternative or integrative medicine on the whole. The effectiveness of CAM treatments ranges too much to be grouped under one umbrella term. It is entirely possible that some of the remedies under the CAM heading are ineffective or even dangerous, but that isnít a good reason to scrap the validity of all CAM treatments entirely. To assert that all alternative remedies are ineffective because one such remedy was proven so is ridiculous. Each method of treatment needs to be analyzed individually. In taking apart the individual therapies, doctors may find that they belong under a different heading. .

WWW Sources

1)Alternative (Complementary) Medicine: a Cuckoo in the Nest of Empiricist Reed Warblers, An Article that argues philosophically about the dangers of accepting alternative medicine into the medical community

2) Commentary: A Warning to Complementary medicine practitioners: Get Empirical or Else , A direct response to the warbler article in favor of empiricizing CAM research by means of saving it

3) New Clinical Review:  Recent Advances; Complementary Medicine , The introduction of integrated medicine into the conventional medical community

4) New Findings of the Correlation between Acupoints and Corresponding Brain Cortices Using Functional MRI , A self explanatory study

5) Pursuit and Practice of Complementary Therapies by Cancer Patients Receiving Conventional Treatment , A study taken of cancer patients and the effect CAM treatments have on their physical and psychological well being

6) Integrated Medicine; Imbues Orthodox With the Values of Complementary Medicine., Another article about the benefits and advances in integrated medicine

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