Lorna Vanderhaeghe, BSc
As we enter the new millennium, a dramatic shift in our health consciousness has arrived. Midwives are now licensed to deliver babies both in the hospital and at home. Pharmacists are being trained in herbal and homeopathic medicine.
As we enter the new millennium, a dramatic shift in our health consciousness has arrived.
Midwives are now licensed to deliver babies both in the hospital and at home. Pharmacists are being trained in herbal and homeopathic medicine. Canada now has over 490 general medical practitioners who prescribe to the principles of natural medicine. Many more medical doctors practice "integrative" medicine, in which they combine the best of alternative or complementary medical treatments with the best of allopathic medicine. Several hundred licensed naturopathic doctors are also offering excellent patient care.
As little as two decades ago those seeking medical treatments using herbs, homeopathy, detoxification, vitamins and minerals would have had a hard time locating a general practitioner who would even discuss these types of treatments, let alone recommend their use.
The term given to this non-drug approach to disease elimination was "alternative." Alternative medicine was generally chosen in direct opposition to standard allopathic treatments prescribed by our general practitioners. People sought this type of treatment after exhausting what mainstream medicine had to give.
Only a handful of Canadian medical doctors would offer "alternative" medical care to their patients, for fear of being threatened by their provincial medical boards. Anyone seeking an alternative approach to drug therapies had to educate themselves by reading books and other materials. They enlisted the help of health food store owners, herbalists, homeopaths, traditional Chinese medicine doctors, acupuncturists and the rare naturopath.
Only one health magazine existed-alive Magazine. Alive had the courage to tell the truth about the many types of alternative treatments available.
A New Health Consciousness
According to an Angus Reid survey completed in September 1997, over 42 per cent of our population now uses natural remedies and/or visits a doctor offering alternative treatments. Why the dramatic shift?
In 20 years much has changed. Information has been disseminated, people are taking charge of their health care, our consciousness is heightened and alternative medicine is becoming accepted.
If you are looking for referrals to the medical doctor who uses the best that alternative and mainstream medicine has to offer, you can contact The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in Toronto at 416-733-2117 or Purity Professionals in Vancouver at 888-443-3323. As well you can contact the American College for Advancement in Medicine for physician referrals in Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit its web site at www.acam.org. The toll free number does not work from Canada.
Medical universities now offer courses on alternative medicine. The University of British Columbia offers a three-credit, 400-level course to medical students on alternative and integrative medicine. See ams.ubc.ca/aims/ for information on UBC’s Alternative and Integrative Medical Society.
McMaster University in Hamilton, ON and the University of Alberta in Edmonton also offer alternative medicine programs for medical students. Post-graduate degrees are available in homeopathy and naturopathy at Bastyr University in Seattle. The University of Maryland at Baltimore offers a two-year fellowship in Integrative and Complementary Medicine. Harvard Medical School Center for Alternative Medicine Research also provides post-secondary education for doctors. Stanford Medical school, the University of Arizona and the University of Berkeley, California, also offer such programs.
Thousands of research studies on plant nutrients are being performed in university laboratories and clinical settings. These studies confirm the effectiveness of alternative treatments, giving validation to decades of traditional use.
Access to Health Information
For years skeptics demanded to know why alternative medicine is so great or why they or their medical doctors had never heard about it. Limited access to information and the lack of desire of both patient and doctor to find better treatments is the answer.
Never before in history have we been inundated with so much information. Partly, this is due to access to the Internet. People can now read medical journal articles and share information with others who have similar health concerns, in their own home, at the click of a mouse. Information that was once only privy to our medical doctors and research zealots is now available to anyone with a computer and telephone line. When patients come into the doctor’s office with reams of research printed from the Internet, doctors have to respond.
Most people did not know there were any other options than those that their medical doctor was offering. We can only make informed decisions about treatment options when we know what is available. So now we have more people learning more about alternative medicine and liking what they read. Each person tells another person and eventually it becomes accepted doctrine.
We Have Lost Faith in Mainstream Medicine
Another reason why we have seen such a shift towards alternative medicine is the failure of many mainstream medical treatments. Over 34 percent of the 42 percent using alternative medicines does so because "regular" medications are not working for them, says the Angus Reid Alternative Medicine Survey.
People are becoming disenchanted with medicine’s drugs and the cut and burn approach to disease. Illnesses that are caused by inadequate nutrition, too much stress and environmental toxins do not respond well to prescription drug therapies.
These diseases are not caused by a deficiency of Prozac, but lifestyle and environmental problems. The development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses, which mutate so fast that formerly effective treatments are now useless, have also made people realize that there must be a better way. Strange diseases not seen several decades ago now plague our society: fibromyalgia, HIV, Ebola and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, MS, scleroderma. Diabetes and arthritis are rampant.
Our medical system is falling apart. Long line-ups for cancer treatment, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other diagnostic tests are commonplace. Emergency rooms are bursting with patients who are destined for long-term care or psychiatric facilities. We are constantly being told by the media that there is no more money for free medical care. Logical people look for a solution-preventing disease and taking charge of your family’s health makes sense. Our medical doctors also realize medicine’s shortcomings.
From Forbidden to Accepted
Many pioneers in the quest for acceptance of alternative medicine can feel proud of their work. Siegfried Gursche, publisher of alive magazine and Canada’s Healthy Living Guide, has spent the last 25 years touting the benefits of nutrition, herbs and other natural therapies. His mandate to spread the word about safe, effective alternatives to drug therapy and his belief that we should be healthy and fit, well into our senior years, has given both magazines their credibility today.
Gursche was often scoffed at by mainstream media and medical doctors, yet today newsstand magazines such as Chatelaine and Canadian Living have changed their mandate to provide the now much sought-after natural health information. Although the information is watered down, so as not to offend their pharmaceutical drug advertisers, they are making a good effort to provide information on lifestyle, herbs and better ways to optimize health and avoid the hospital. With every page of health information published, another person learns how to prevent disease and live longer and healthier.
Another Canadian pioneer, Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, has worked in the face of ridicule to bring more effective treatments for those suffering with schizophrenia, manic depression, other psychiatric conditions and most recently, cancer. Since the early 1950s he has been lecturing, writing books, publishing the International Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine and educating the world about alternative medicine. Dr Hoffer’s medical journal has the distinction of being the place where many now-accepted alternative medical treatments were first published.
Now, recognized journals worldwide including The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine regularly publish the promising results of natural medicine. Physicians are reading these scientific reports and the validation is clear. Science is confirming what traditional healers have known since the beginning of time-Mother Nature provides us with what we need to be well.
MDs Prescribe Alternative Therapies
Over 490 Canadian medical doctors now openly prescribe alternative treatments to their patients and attend medical conferences focused on nutritional treatments for disease. This may seem like a small number, but it is hundreds more than were practicing this type of medicine only a few years ago.
There are probably more doctors prescribing alternative treatments who are afraid to announce publicly their shift to a much more effective, fulfilling and successful way of practicing medicine. We can only hope that with their growing numbers they will gain the strength to stand up. Many cardiologists now encourage coenzyme Q10 and nutritional therapies. Oncologists are adding phytonutrients and stress reduction to treatment regimens.
Another Angus Reid poll conducted for CTV, Chatelaine and the Medical Post found that 32 per cent of Canadian doctors prescribes prayer or meditation as treatments for medical conditions. Dentists are taking out mercury amalgams and replacing them with safer materials. Like a snowball rolling downhill, more and more physicians are practicing their oath to "first do no harm." Encourage your physician to learn about alternative treatments. Remember, he did not learn this at medical school.
There will always be skeptics who refuse to read the research and see the benefits of using nature as our medicine. We can be thankful that over the last several decades alternative medicine has gained a new respect and soon will be accepted and available to everyone under our medical plan coverage. The poem, The History of Medicine, reminds us that we always return to the basics in life.