Better Health—A New Direction?

Few subjects matter more to people than health. At times, there seem to be as many opinions as there are health practitioners. Rather than taking sides, Awake! endeavors with this series of articles to report on the increasing use of treatments that are commonly called alternative. We do not endorse any of the health treatments that we will discuss or any others. Many types of treatment are not mentioned—some quite popular, some controversial. Education regarding health issues is, we believe, generally useful; decisions regarding health issues are entirely personal.

EVERYONE wants to be healthy. But good health can be elusive, as can be seen by the numbers of people who have health complaints. It seems to some that more people are sick today than ever before.

In order to combat sickness, many doctors rely heavily on prescribing medicines that are developed and aggressively advertised by pharmaceutical companies. Significantly, the world market for such drugs has skyrocketed in recent decades, from just a few billion dollars a year to hundreds of billions of dollars annually. What has been a consequence?

Medically prescribed drugs have helped many people. Yet, the health of some who take drugs has either remained unchanged or become worse. So, recently some have turned to using other methods of medical treatment.

Where Many Are Turning

In places where modern, conventional medicine has been the standard of care, many are now turning to what have been called alternative, or complementary, therapies. “The Berlin Wall that has long divided alternative therapies from mainstream medicine appears to be crumbling,” said Consumer Reports of May 2000.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), of November 11, 1998, observed: “Alternative medical therapies, functionally defined as interventions neither taught widely in medical schools nor generally available in US hospitals, have attracted increased national attention from the media, the medical community, governmental agencies, and the public.”

Noting recent trends, however, the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy explained in 1997: “In the past, conventional medical practitioners have been skeptical about alternative medical practices, but 27 medical schools in the United States [a more recent report says 75] currently offer elective course work on alternative medicine, including Harvard, Stanford, University of Arizona, and Yale.”

JAMA noted what many patients are doing in an effort to improve their health. It reported: “In 1990, an estimated 1 (19.9%) in 5 individuals seeing a medical doctor for a principal condition also used an alternative therapy. This percentage increased to nearly 1 (31.8%) in 3 in 1997.” The article also observed: “National surveys performed outside the United States suggest that alternative  medicine is popular throughout the industrialized world.”

According to JAMA, the proportion of the population that used alternative treatments within a recent 12-month period was 15 percent in Canada, 33 percent in Finland, and 49 percent in Australia. “The magnitude of the demand for alternative therapy is noteworthy,” JAMA acknowledged. This is especially true in view of the fact that alternative therapies are rarely included in insurance benefits. So the JAMA article concluded: “Current use is likely to underrepresent utilization patterns if insurance coverage for alternative therapies increases in the future.”

The trend toward integrating alternative therapies with conventional ones has long been a general practice in many countries. Dr. Peter Fisher, of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, noted that the principal forms of complementary medicine have become “virtually conventional in many places. There are no longer two types of medicine, orthodox and complementary,” he claimed. “There is only good medicine and bad medicine.”

Thus many medical professionals today are recognizing value in both orthodox medicine and alternative therapies. Rather than insisting that a patient accept either one form of medicine or another, they recommend taking advantage of whatever proves to be beneficial to the patient from all the various forms of healing therapy.

What are some healing methods of what is called alternative, or complementary, medicine? When and where did some of these originate? And why are so many using them?