Susan Biali, MD
I am a physician with a special interest in preventive medicine
I am a physician with a special interest in preventive medicine. Recently I have begun to explore the world of complementary medicine to try and develop my understanding of how people can achieve optimal health and wellbeing.
I have attended several events hosted by the natural health industry, and it has saddened me to hear the anger and venom towards practitioners of allopathic medicine. There's a real "us versus them" attitude. Not that we don't deserve it. Some of the stories I've heard would make Hippocrates turn in his grave! However, when we make diagnoses and prescribe medications or other treatments, it's because that's what we were taught was the most effective way to help people achieve health. We were clearly not given the whole picture.
Happily, new pieces of the puzzle emerge every day. "Scientific" evidence of the body-mind relationship and the growing acceptance of the effectiveness of natural remedies are just two examples. It's time to work together and learn from each other.
I was taught that any significant change must begin at a grassroots level in order to form a solid foundation. That's why I believe that the best place for a true partnership to begin is between a patient and her physician. Here are some suggestions:
Be open. Tell your doctor about any experiences you, or those close to you, have had with complementary treatments. Our medical training was largely case-based. It's a well-known fact that putting a face to an illness or procedure far outstrips the teaching power of a textbook. If we failed at helping you with a particular condition, but someone or something else succeeded, tell us. If eliminating processed dairy products and drinking flax oil finally cleared up your persistent acne, we need to know. We won't find that in any dermatology text yet! We don't like failing our patients. Give us something to suggest to those in similar situations. Give us a story to think about, to share with others.
Tell your doctor if you are on any herbal/natural medicines or products. First of all, it's an opportunity to show your doctor that you are interested in and are exploring alternative healing methods. We need to understand our patients and their belief systems in order to "treat" them optimally. Also, as more physicians realize just how many of their patients are using complementary medicine, it will become clear that this is not something we can hide from in our compendium of pharmaceuticals.
There are some interactions between herbal and conventional medicines that must be taken into consideration. The exact number is difficult to quantify as allopathic medicine is just beginning look into and discover as herbal medicines. For example, a combination of natural medicines and some drugs affect the ability of blood to clot, which could be life threatening if a patient was on blood-thinners. Probably the most studied of herbal medicines is the popular St John's wort. Since St John's wort is a potent botanical medicine, it can seriously magnify the side effects of anti-depressants in those who take it concurrently with drug medication. In such cases, you should take either the drug or the herb. Not both.
Research any natural medications you may be on. As science doctors, we don't have training in natural medicine and most of us have no idea what potential interactions or side effects exist. This onus is often on you, the patients! This is an opportunity for you to educate yourself and teach us in the process. Definitely a win-win situation.
Share the opinions of your complementary health professionals with us. Maybe your naturopath or acupuncturist has a theory as to why you are feeling so tired, or why you have a rash that won't respond to conventional treatment. Tell us. Tell us what your health care practitioner is doing to treat you. You may sometimes be scoffed at, but you never know when something will ring true, or at least plant a seed of interest.
As a doctor, I am excited to see a new chapter in medicine and human health unfolding. Rather than being frustrated and angry with our historically unidimensional approach to health problems, I hope you will channel your energy into understanding and helping us move forward together.