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Dr Duncan

Complementary medicines

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And this is a good thing because it has meant that we have been saved, in a great many cases, from releasing highly promising medicines onto the market that have later been shown to have some very bad side effects. This has occurred because all medicines have to undergo strenuous research over many years before they are even trialled in humans; and then, even after release onto the general market, they are monitored for decades to make sure that everything is known about how that particular medications works and all it’s potential side effects. This is an enormously expensive process and in the vast majority of cases, all this research and clinical trials are funded by multinational pharmaceutical companies who are the only ones with the sort of money needed to pay for such trials. And this does have the potential for conflicts of interest.

Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs) are a different kettle of fish altogether. They have evolved out of a millennia of experience, little of which has been subject to the rigours of modern research. CAMs also face the other apparent credibility problems because:

1. CAMs covers such a vast array of health care issues such as herbal medicine and so on.
2. The excessive claims of a small minority of CAMs practitioners for cures for cancer and other diseases, which have given CAMs an unfair reputation amongst the more conservative medical practitioners.

So the first challenge is to try and get a “handle” on the vast discipline that CAMs are. For that I suggest that the Americans have a solid basis and they classify CAMs in the following way.

  • Whole medical systems
  • Mind-body medicine
  • Biologically based practices
  • Manipulative and body-based practices
  • Energy medicine
Whole medical systems are centered on a philosophy based on the power of nature or the presence of an energy force in your body: such systems include the ancient Indian Ayurveda and the traditional Chinese medicines. It would also include Naturopathy that focusses on helping the body to help itself. But the more mainstream activities of healthy living such as exercise, lifestyle changes, acupuncture, massage and so on are included in this section; as is Homeopathy whose proponents believe that by using minute doses of a substance, the body is stimulated into healing itself.

Mind-Body Medicine is based on the idea that these two systems are interdependent and need to be in balance for maximal health. Therapies in this group would include meditation, prayer, relaxation, music and art therapy.

Biologically based practices use herbs and supplements and encompass a vast variety of nature based therapies. These are used in the forms of capsules, powders, oils, teas, syrups and inhalations.

Manipulation methods include massage therapy.

Energy medicine is based on the belief that our bodies have an energy that flows through it, and if there are interruptions to this natural flow, then ill health can follow. By unblocking, or re-balancing the flow, health is restored. Examples of such methods would be reiki, magnetic and qi gong therapy.

Many of the methods described above have become incorporated into western medicine: all of us have been urged to be active every day, such as the benefit of exercise - and this has been proven by many well recognised clinical trials that cover such areas as cancer prevention, depression, heart disease and so on. But there are still many problems to overcome before both sides of the CAMs v Western Medicine debate live happily ever after.

The good news is that the search for truth will always win in the long run, and while many will be skeptical about some CAMs claims there are many good features that can only help people who are worried about their health. And the way that we will achieve a good outcome is for everyone to be part of the solution. Good communication is essential. So, if you are taking, or receiving any CAM treatment please:

  • Do tell your family Doctor.
  • If you want to find out more about CAMs, talk with your Doctor and get their advice and input.
  • If you’re taking any supplement or treatment from a CAMs practitioner, then please do tell your treating Doctor, especially if you are on any medications for other health issues.
  • And finally, do not stop taking any treatment for any condition and replace it with a CAMs therapy before consultation with your treating Doctor and your therapist.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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