Mainstream Medicine, Alternative Medicine And ‘Integrative’ Healthcare
Since childhood I’ve absorbed a lot of information about traditional and alternative remedies and in more recent years my focus has been on fitness and overall health (mind+body). Whatever the perspective, personal health is a topic that interests me a great deal but not one I have previously written about on this blog.
The old mainstream versus alternative medicine debate, however, came up again recently when the Medical Journal of Australia published an editorial from professors Alastair MacLennan and Robert Morrison that practically condemns all alternative healing practices with cutting statements like the following:
“The levels of evidence supporting these alternative beliefs are weak at best, and such randomised controlled trials of these therapies as exist mostly do not support their efficacy (with the exception of acupuncture for some types of pain).”
I was reading more about it and joining in the public debate on Mamamia.com.au, when I realised how much more I had to say. Rather than leave a comment half a page long, I decided to talk about it here.
I can say right now that I think both general practices and alternative medicine have a place in our healthcare system. In my experience no one method is accurate or helpful 100% of the time, so this debate (and the ensuing doctors versus alternative practitioners discussion) often comes down to personal experience more than factual evidence for either form.
In Favour Of Integrative Medical Practices
One of my biggest complaints about doctors is that they often don’t have enough time to give patients proper care (which is not their fault and a bigger issue I won’t get into here) and I’m wary of which ones I talk to. I will walk out on those “quick fix” doctors that, when you say you’ve been feeling restless, lethargic or dissatisfied, automatically suggest antidepressants, and I will fight for treatment when I think I need it.
My Mum is a nurse so I often ask her for advice before going to a GP, so I at least have some idea of what they should say (her colleagues have also helped me out in the past).
Once, while I was in my last year of uni, there was this nasty bacterial flu going around that I managed to get just as everyone else was getting better. The only problem was the symptoms took on a different form for me and the doctor I saw said it was a virus. But I was convinced it was bacterial. After five minutes discussing it with the doc (poor thing worked in one of those busy 24/7 medical centres in the city), I got a prescription for antibiotics and feeling better within a couple of days.
A similar thing happened again in 2010 just before I went to live overseas for a year. My throat was sandpaper, the back of my tonsils swollen and congested and energy and emotions all over the place. But no fever, and Mum (who I was visiting) was pretty sure it was viral. The doctor I saw said the same thing.
The difference this time was that she didn’t just go ahead and listen to my argument then prescribe antibiotics. She listened, but then she did a more thorough assessment. Then (to my surprise) she told me she was going to try kinesiology on me. Through kinesiology she discovered that it was bacterial.
If she hadn’t done kinesiology, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go on the plane a few days later.
My experience with osteopathy has been even better. The cartilage that keeps my ribs in place is apparently not very strong, leading to a condition sometimes called “slipped-rib syndrome” (it probably sounds worse than it is for me). Before I knew that, I went to a doctor, who referred me to a chiropractor, who spent two sessions (and took a lot of my money) trying to crack my vertebrae and admitting he had “no idea” what the actual problem was.
Then I went to an osteopath in Brisbane who took one look at my back and said “your ribs are out of place”. She told me upfront how many sessions it was likely to take to fix it, and she was right on the money. Best investment I ever made in my back, because she showed me exercises to help strengthen the area and gave me other relevant information I still use today.
I don’t think this debate is going anywhere any time soon, there’s too much criticising and generalising from both sides, and far too many extreme views. But from where I stand, there’s value to both mainstream medicine and alternative or complementary health practices. So I’m just going with the line “whatever works”.