Monday, April 06, 2009

Alternative medicine bites back

I was talking to a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. This is an Indian-originated wholistic/traditional/form, developed over a few thousand years.

He illustrated some of the problems with western medical practice, particularly the corruption by pharmaceutical companies, who routinely bias their research and bribe doctors to use their products. That's a fair cop, and I depicted this aspect as being one of the cruder manifestations of capitalistic infiltration of the western "tradition".

There are of course other aspects of evidence based treatment that are not so tainted, and in fact the analysis and research that takes place outside pressures of profit are manifestly more worthy of being taken seriously. I would also suggest in turn that tradition (stretching back for centuries) does not ipso facto amount to proof.

One interesting point he mentioned was that in his practice, he often referred his patients on to regular medical doctors when he felt it appropriate - and that they in turn sometimes referred patients to him. This was a new one on me - although I guess that amounts to the "complementary" in the term "complementary and alternative medicine". This is by no means the norm. I have in the past, at the urging of friends, tried a couple of alternative treatments. I vaguely recall an acupuncture session once that seemed to ease some flu symptoms. But another time, I attended a naturopath, who prescribed a homeopathic remedy for what seemed to be rashes on my legs and feet. However, they turned out to be mosquito bites (from exposing my feet in bed at night to keep cool). That experience greatly reduced my confidence in alternative treatment. Later, there was a case in the news about a naturopath in the Hunter region who, from memory, treated a girl who turned out to have major organ failure, and died because she wasn't given proper treatment. The naturopath, naturally, ended up before the courts.

My trust in alternative medicine is improved whenever I see that the practice is more properly integrated with the western stream which, whatever its faults, can generally tell when a horse is a horse. You get your cowboys in any profession. And how much more emphasis does that complementary/alternative medicine place on wholistic health - that is, keeping people in good health rather than treating the failures? Lord knows western medicine doesn't plough enough resource into prevention - which is far cheaper than cure.

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