Just as one would not dismiss all western medicine because of a flaky doctor or treatment, one should also not dismiss all holistic practitioners for the same reason. There are good and bad doctors as well as controversial forms of medical treatment just as there are in holistic medicine.
It is important that consumers and patients be educated about the treatments they choose when working with any practitioner, including traditional medical practitioners. Education is the ultimate way to be empowered about the decisions we make when it comes to the health of ourselves and our family. Going beyond a practitioner's endorsement or recommendation for a treatment such as a prescription medication, supplement, food, home remedy or other treatment by doing research is very important. Researching possible side-effects, drug interactions in addition to health benefits can in some cases prevent serious health complications.
People tend to get confused and frustrated with having to research their health and certainly finding someone who is educated in the field is helpful; however, any good patient/practitioner relationship is based on collaboration from both parties. Keep in mind that no one should give their power away completely to a health practitioner no matter their training because no practitioner, no matter their background knows everything and because everyone is different, there is always a chance that your body many not respond in the same way that others do. Taking some time to research the treatment you are interested in can determine whether or not you achieve the results you desire; thus, it is most certainly worth your time to research and become educated about what you are partaking in.
The Ideal World: Integrating Western & Holistic Medicine
In an ideal world, there would not be a division between holistic health care and traditional medicine. In our current society, we have a tendency to go too far in one extreme where we dismiss one side or the other when both have pros and cons. Staying humble and open minded is what has led us to great medical advancements and dismissing something just because there is not a huge amount of data or large studies on the treatment does not make it an invalid solution. Staying balanced means questioning everything we find including the status quo. In addition, we should also appreciate the gains we have made in medicine and not dismiss things just because it is not directly from nature. In order to advance and move forward in addressing health from either side of the fence we must stay open to one another.
As a consumer and patient you should provide accurate and detailed information as well as question any type of treatment that is proposed for you and your family, whether it is from a holistic practitioner or traditional doctor. No matter what a practitioner's background they are a lot like a detective when it comes to your health concerns, especially during your initial assessment with them. They are looking for information from you to help them to figure out what may be causing a health problem and the best treatment plan to effectively deal with it. The more information you provide upfront, the easier it will be for them to help you. After all, many detectives have to rule out suspects and sometimes they may even charge an innocent person with a crime they did not commit; the same can be said in the area of a medical or holistic misdiagnosis.
Having a list of symptoms, the times and severity those symptoms are occurring, as well as your nutritional intake, supplements, medications and health history will greatly assist your health practitioner in helping you as they are not mind readers and they do not know how you live your life other than what you divulge to them. Certainly things like lab work and a physical exam can prove suspicions, but because there are so many reasons for the body to react in certain ways it is crucial that you help them put the pieces of the puzzle together to create a fuller picture so that you may then review and research their recommendations as an option for you rather than as the last word.
Below are examples of true stories that will show you why it is important to question both traditional medical doctors as well as holistic practitioners.
Western Medicine Problems
When people go to their doctor they often assume that the doctor can figure out their diagnosis quite easily and prescribe the right treatment without any potential problems. However, this is simply not always the case. Physicians only know what they learned in medical school and through their professional experiences. Because science is always advancing and because the field of medicine is so vast, it is impossible for any physician to know everything and understand how every treatment or medication they prescribe is going to impact their patients both short and long term. Medical school is often basic and does not focus in depth on many important subjects that patients often assume are covered such as nutrition, sexuality and pharmaceuticals.
For example, if you ask an OB/GYN what they studied in medical school, you may be surprised to learn that most are not required to study sexuality in terms of things such as orgasms, libido, female ejaculation, etc. Often these topics are skimmed over or are only in courses that are electives; thus, many women would be shocked that their doctor is not as educated about their sexual functioning as they thought.
In addition, while many doctors understand basic nutrition, they often fail to emphasize the importance of it to their patients and lack detailed information that may allow them to offer natural, inexpensive solutions to health problems. Further more, they can feel pressured by their patients to simply give a prescription instead of addressing a change in lifestyle which has become the norm for medical complaints. This get even more complex of an issue when you begin to look at the role that pharmaceutical companies play in creating the need and desire for their products making it even more likely that patients will have their symptoms treated rather than the underlying health issue.
An example of this may be when a patient feels stress and complains to their doctor that they are having difficulty dealing with anxiety. Instead of addressing what is causing the anxiety and finding healthy coping skills such as meditation, exercise and better nutrition to deal with the stress or ways to remove the stress, it is not uncommon for an anti-anxiety (anxiolytic) medication to be prescribed. Beyond keeping the person from dealing with their stress in a more proactive manner, these drugs can cause short and long-term side effects that can further cause problems to one's over all health.
Mainstream doctors are also not as well educated about drugs as you may think. With research always advancing and new medications being released, they often find it difficult to keep up. It is not uncommon for physicians to prescribe a medication for a patient only to have the pharmacist have to call them and tell them that they prescribed the wrong dose or that they cannot have their patient take the prescription they wrote for them with another drug the patient is already taking. Bottom line, when it comes to prescriptions, always check with the pharmacist as they are much more educated about prescriptions than your doctor and make sure to do research on the drug or drugs in the same class to have a sense of what research has been done on it for short and long term side effects.
Old School Doctors
Some doctors are so old fashioned and ignorant of nutrition they actually recommend things that the public knows are unhealthy. A general example of this is seen through the prescription of vitamin D by medical doctors for those with low vitamin D levels. When a person has low vitamin D levels it can cause depression, low energy, an increased risk of type 1 diabetes as well as lower the effectiveness of the immune system making one vulnerable to illness; including a variety of cancers.
The prescription vitamin D (most often vitamin D2) that some doctors are prescribing is not absorbed well by the body without taking calcium (which new studies show women are typically getting too much of through supplements), in addition, it is the wrong vitamin D to be taking. The body needs vitamin D3 which is easily absorbed by sitting in the sunlight for 15 minutes a day. It is also found in over the counter supplements with a particularly effective form being vitamin D3 as cholecalciferol (made with organic mushrooms).
These old school doctors are creating problems for patients by 1) having a patient have to pay for a prescription they do not need, 2) giving them the wrong vitamin D and 3) are recommending too much calcium from calcium supplements to absorb the D they are prescribing.
In another example of an old school doctor, there was a child with a stomach flu who went to see his pediatrician. The parents were told to ease their child's stomach cramping by giving him a Coke to drink. Had the doctor had any concept of nutrition, he would know that caffeine and sugar are known irritants to the stomach and consumption of this unhealthy soda would actually increase stomach acid production making the symptoms worse. This is an example of a doctor that is well known in his community as an expert in pediatrics and even teaches pediatrics at an Ivy League university. This just goes to show that any doctor can always use improvement in their education and recommendations.
Over Prescribing Drugs & Expensive Medical Tests
In addition, it is also not uncommon for a doctor to treat symptoms in a manner that does nothing to address the root cause of the health issue but only address the symptoms. Here is a true story to demonstrate this point. A patient went to their doctor and complained of acid reflux at night that was getting worse with time. The doctor asked them a few questions about the severity and then prescribed a medication to decrease the acid in the stomach in order to keep the acid from coming into the esophagus. The stomach acid continued to bother the patient so the doctor ordered an upper gastrointestinal test (UGI) so that they could watch liquid barium move via the esophagus and stomach through x-rays. They find no ulcers, tumors, polyps, hernias, etc. so they prescribe a stronger medication. This does not work, so they order another UGI and find nothing and in turn prescribe an even stronger medication.
The patient takes the prescription antacid medication for a few years but nothing changes and digestive issues become worse. So what did the doctor miss? The patient simply liked to eat a lot of sugar and dairy, especially before they went to sleep. Had the doctor simply better understood nutrition, then identifying that as the cause would have saved the patient from having to suppress the natural and healthy stomach acid by taking unnecessary medications not to mention the expensive cost of those medications. In addition, it would have saved the patient from having to go through two uncomfortable UGI tests that were also very expensive and exposed them to radiation twice for no reason.
The patient ended up taking a holistic cooking class and learned that sugar and dairy are one of the main causes of acid reflux and realized why they had been experiencing it so strongly at night. The patient simply changed their diet and stopped taking the medications prescribed by the doctor and never had acid reflux problems again.
Holistic Medicine Problems
Society tends to get caught up in trends and this is true in both western medicine as well as holistic medicine. In holistic medicine it is often seen through the increase in dietary supplements. The problem with holistic health is that, like western medicine, the field is vast and typically a practitioner is only going to have knowledge about their specialty. It is impossible for any holistic practitioner to know everything about health no matter their training and that is why it is important that as a consumer and patient you stay empowered by contributing your own research and questions about any form of treatment you receive.
An additional problem in holistic medicine is that there are very few regulatory agencies that oversee the qualifications of a holistic practitioner. That is why it is particularly important that you ask not just what education the practitioner has but also the school where they received it so that you can determine if they are qualified to address your health concerns. If the specialty does not have a formal education available, then ask them questions about why they are qualified to help you until you feel satisfied with their answers.
The dietary supplement trend is getting more and more popular and with shows like Dr. Oz that encourage the use of them, the appeal has grown more mainstream. The problem is that not all supplements should be used by everyone as each person has different health needs. Just because something is natural and fairly healthy for most people does not mean it cannot hurt you.
For example, maca root has been indicated to be a good supplement to combat fatigue and while it is a nontoxic supplement based on the studies that have been done on it; women that have an increased risk of hormone sensitive breast cancer may want to avoid Maca as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that maca root possesses estrogenic activity which can contribute to hormone related breast cancer. Also if you have a diet that is low in iodine, maca may interfere with the production of thyroid hormones due to it containing glucosinolates. As you can see from these examples, even a nontoxic supplement is not necessarily for everyone.
Another example is the turmeric / curcumin craze. If you are well researched then you would know that there are many articles that outline the health benefits of turmeric such as the effective treatment and/or prevention of Alzheimers disease, headaches, cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, menstrual problems, bronchitis, heartburn, diarrhea, colds, lung infections intestinal gas, loss of appetite, liver disease and much more. In addition, in order for it to be effective it should be taken with black pepper (which many supplements have already combined with the curcumin- a.k.a. Bioperine) in order to help the body absorb it. However, Turmeric has been shown to slow blood clotting so those with hemophilia should avoid it. Also, it has been shown to be an iron chelator, so those with anemia or low iron stores may want to consult with their physician to make sure they are not inadvertently depleting their iron levels by taking it.
Stevia is also a popular sweetener and it is fairly safe to consume, however, because it naturally lowers blood pressure, those who have low blood pressure already may find that taking it causes it to dip even further, thus, causing dizzy spells and the feeling shortness of breath. Again, researching if a supplement is safe or not is just the beginning of your journey as you should also make sure to research how it will react with your personal health issues and/or needs.
Really healthy people don't look for magic pills, quick fixes and easy living. They understand that it requires commitment to take care of themselves through nutrition, physical activity, stress management and more. In the end, your health is your responsibility and no practitioner should be blindly followed. It is important to ask questions, research and stay on top of your particular health needs as everyone is different and reacts to treatments uniquely.
If you do find a holistic, integrative or alternative form of medicine that you want to try, get as much information about it as you can. Use the Internet to ask other consumers or patients what their experiences have been through health forums and social media connections. Also, don't stop with one opinion, make sure you get many and open your mind to reading both positive and negative feedback on the treatment or suggestion so that you can make an informed decision. Nothing is black and white and just because you read one positive or negative resource on something does not mean it does not work or that it is not for you. That is why getting multiple educational resources is so important. After all, your health, the prevention of disease and the solutions for health problems is your responsibility because you are worth it.