The differences between modern (or conventional, western) medicine and alternative (or nonconventional) medicine often lead to animated debates amongst friends. On the one hand, the advocates of modern medicine may argue that it is the only scientific approach. On the other hand, advocates of alternative medicine may say that modern medicine is profit-driven by big pharmaceuticals. Often, the stand that people take on the matter reflects more their general beliefs and idiosyncrasies than their knowledge or experience. More skeptical ones will be prone to rely more on modern medicine as they regard it more scientific. The more progressive or trusting may incline towards alternative medicine. We will try to see what is what and help you better understand the options that you have in seeking the best solutions for your health!
The achievements of modern medicine during the last decades are striking. Advances in medical treatment and prescription medicines are to be accounted for tackling severe diseases, increasing life expectancy, avoiding disability and improving the quality of life. However, even though modern medicine offers solutions for the most critical conditions, it fails to answer some of the ailments that are related to the contemporary lifestyle. Indeed, all around us, we see people suffer from physical and mental health problems that are mostly associated with their lifestyle: eating disorders, deprivation of sleep, chronic pain, stress, depression, to name a few. Medical practitioners also seem to suffer the same diseases, and this increases the skepticism towards them.
Another drawback of modern medicine is that it is highly specialized. Each specialization examines in depth a subsystem of human physiology, looking at the tree rather than the forest. The problem is that when something is off, more often than not, the root cause may be elsewhere in the body. The practitioner will provide the patient with the best medicine to relieve his pain. As the drug targets the symptoms and not the root cause, the solution will be either temporary or, even worse, will mask the real problem.
On the positive side, medical practitioners have undergone long years of studies, including studies on general physiology, and have some solid basis on how the human body works. The same does not apply to all alternative practitioners. Furthermore, some medical practitioners have caught up with the trend and are open to alternative solutions if they consider them beneficial to some patients.
Alternative medicine covers many different practices. They range from traditional, like Ayurveda, acupuncture, shiatsu or hypnotism, to more recent, like chiropractic, homeopathy, reiki and naturopathy. Even though these practices differ significantly between them, we will try to focus on some common ground and basic principles they share. Firstly, they tend to take a more holistic point of view and also consider the patient’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual dimensions, and lifestyle. The holistic approach is undoubtedly a great advantage, as a majority of ailments are due to psychological or different stressors related to the modern lifestyle. Secondly, in many cases, the initial and follow up sessions between the practitioner and the patient last longer than with medical practitioners. The longer sessions allow the practitioner to take a comprehensive history from the patient. They also help the creation of a stronger bond between them.
While there is no reliable research for the present time to support the efficacy of alternative medicine, many patients report improvement from these treatments. The fact that there may be an element of naivety behind the faith in some alternative therapies is not necessarily a bad thing. Belief in a specific treatment may also act as a “placebo”. Even though the term placebo has a negative connotation, it is desirable as it can lead to a significant improvement of health. It acts by triggering the capacity of the body to self-heal without taking any toxic drugs. However, there is a high risk if a patient invests his health blindly in some form of alternative therapy and abandons any contact with his medical doctor. He may miss out on a severe disease and compromise his health.
So, what to do?
No division holds the holy grail. The best thing you can do is to choose your primary care doctor wisely. He should be someone that has solid medical studies, and therefore has a deep comprehension of how the body works. He should also be alert on new advancements and open to alternative therapies. Thus, he will be able to guide you to the best treatments for your ailments, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. It is also essential to choose someone you trust and feel comfortable discussing any questions you may have on alternative therapies. If you consider trying an alternative treatment, you should consult with him first, especially if you have a chronic medical condition, have undergone surgery, are pregnant or nursing.
Some more thoughts
There are not enough scientific studies for the present time on alternative treatments, so it is unfortunately hard to evaluate their efficiency and risks. The lack of proof does not mean a specific cure is not valid, but it makes it much harder to have a clear picture of what works. The main reason for the lack of scientific results is that long-time studies are hard to implement and expensive. However, many established health institutions have started including some alternative therapies as complementary to conventional medical treatments. Hopefully, the growing acceptance of some nonconventional therapies will lead to more research.
You should continue conventional treatment, especially if you suffer from some severe condition. Don’t change your conventional treatment or prescribed medicine without consulting your doctor. It’s great to include nonconventional therapies that enhance your health. However, they must be considered as complementary and should not replace conventional medicine altogether. Maintain your regular medical checks to diagnose any health issues.
There are some new approaches, like Integrative medicine, that try to combine the best practices of both traditional western medicine and alternative medicine. If you are interested, you can check out Integrative Medicine Relié – from David Rakel MD. Once we have more reliable research, modern and alternative medicine will fuse more.
No matter how you choose to proceed with your quest for health, there are some simple things you can do to promote your health drastically. These include changes in your nutrition, exercise and stress reduction techniques. Implementing some simple changes may go a long way in improving your health!
Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions about modern and alternative medicine. I know this is a difficult topic to abord, and I would love to have your feedback and comments!