New American Medicine III:
Ways to Wellness
The current attempt to resolve the conflict between conventional medicine
and complementary medicine is not new in American history. In past centuries,
the practitioners of "regular" medicine competed quite fiercely with
the practitioners of health approaches we now call alternative or complementary.
Many of the complementary medical techniques themselves are not new.
They are, in fact, far older than Western scientific biomedicine. Even
medical therapies created in the 20th century frequently owe their origins
to healing traditions that are thousands of years old.
If human beings survive the great turmoil of our era, future historian
will look back at this period of development and see it as a crucial
turning point for mankind. Individuals and entire societies alike have
been struggling to create new ways of living. Often, the "new" ideas
that are put forth to get humanity back on the right track are not new
at all. They are frequently very old ideas that could not take root
in an earlier historical period.
Many of the complementary health therapies, among the oldest on earth,
are trying to reassert themselves. In his book, Ether, God and Devil,
Wilhelm Reich wrote "We find the accent on life thousands of years ago--in
the ancient thought systems of the great Asiatic religions such as Hinduism,
certainly in early Christianity, and in the beginnings of the natural
sciences in antiquity." The healing traditions that arose from the first
religious and scientific attempts to understand reality, and to influence
and alter it, also focused on lifethe life force, the life energy,
the healing power within us all. The earliest known reference to a universal
healing energy comes from India in about 5000 BCE.
In our era, a Life and Death struggle is taking place on all levels
of existence: within individual human beings; within human society;
and on a planetary scale as well. The health of each person; the environmental
health of the nations of Earth; and the ecological survival of the planet
itselfall are in peril. And humans everywhere are searching for
answers. The development of the New American Medicine is one expression
of this quest to solve the problems facing humanity today.
Health is now being viewed in a more complete context, one that includes
the interaction of many interrelated factors. In the past, healers and
patients alike were more aware of the rooting of human beings in Nature.
Sickness was considered to be the result of a disharmony between the
individual and his or her environment. In most ancient healing traditions,
there is no independent "disease" that exists apart from the complex
network of relationships between each person and his or her life. Individuals
do not exist in isolation.
For the ancient cultures of the mideast, the Australian bush; the African
plains; or Native American cultures, the group or the tribe is integral
to healing. In the West, this is not the case. Healing and treatment
take place on an individual basis. In other cultures, however, the power
of the entire community is brought to play in their healing traditions.
Recently, the influence of group support on promoting and maintaining
health has become recognized by scientists and physicians in the West.
The work of David Spiegel, MD with support groups for women with breast
cancer, reported in his book Living Beyond Limits, is an excellent
example of this awakening in the medical profession. Dr. Spiegel himself
was astonished by the results of his workthe women in his support
group lived on average twice as long from the time they entered the
study as women who did not.
If these results had been achieved by a drug, they would have been trumpeted
worldwide by the mass media and the stocks of the company making the
pharmaceutical would have soared. There has been comparatively little
response to this heartening news in the medical profession or the press,
other than to try to explain it away.
One of the most successful "alternative" methods of healing has used
group support since its founding in 1935Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
This organization embodies many of the principles that guide other complementary
healing traditions. In addition to group support, AA members take full
responsibility for their own recovery and for maintaining their own
health. Self-responsibility for health is a bedrock principle of complementary
care. The AA ethos has penetrated into the mainstream culture in America
and, in an indirect way, Alcoholics Anonymous may have helped open up
the culture to a greater acceptance of complementary medical practices
far beyond its own primary purpose for existing.
Ancient Healing to Modern Treatment
Ancient healing traditions put the concepts of balance at harmony at
the center of their conceptions of health and sickness. In Ayurveda,
the ancient medical system of India, the balanced functioning of the
life force is essential to health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine,
harmony and balance of qi energy are evident in the well-known Yin-Yang
symbol. In ancient Greece, health was viewed as a balance of the four
humors in the body. In fact, the Greeks believed that there was only
one disease-humoral imbalance. The healing school of Hippocrates and
his followers was devoted to working with the natural force within patients
to restore the body to harmony. Galen promoted and expanded the work
of Hippocrates during the so-called Golden Age of Rome. During Islam's
Golden Age, Avicenna (or Ibn Sina) extended the reach of Hippocratic
In Europe, from the Medieval period through the Renaissance, healing
was not called "medicine." What we call medicine was referred to as
"physic." The word Medicine is derived from the Latin word "medico,"
which means "I drug." The word "physic" was derived from the Greek word
"physis," which means nature. To the physician, a student of nature,
the preservation of health and prevention of sickness were paramount
and were achieved by working with Nature. To the medical practitioner,
drug treatment was primary.
Gradually, medicine began to become the dominant practice in the West.
Catastrophic diseases devastated Europe. These diseases defied treatment
by traditional healing systems. The wisdom of the ancients was powerless
in the face of rampant infectious diseases such as the Black Plague
or syphilis. In the 16th century, the Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro
studied the spread of smallpox in Europe. He put forth an early germ
theory of contagion but few of his contemporaries accepted it.
In the 17th century Thomas Sydenham's studies of quinine in the treatment
of malaria changed medicine in the West forever. Malaria is the greatest
killer of mankind ever known. In the 17th century, it was a scourge.
Sydenham was able to demonstrate that quinine was safe and effective
in the treatment of malaria. Sydenham proposed the idea that diseases
were distinct entities; they existed separately from the individual
and the individual's relation with the environment. His separation of
diseases into two categories is still used today: pathgnomic,
to describe symptoms shared by most people with a disease and idiosyncratic,
to describe symptoms that were unique for individual patients.
In the 18th century, Lannec, the inventor of the stethoscope, divided
diseases into two categories: organic and nervous. This was the first
time that physical and mental or emotional diseases had been separated
in medicine. The rise of pathology with the acceptance of the practice
of autopsy also turned medicine toward the study of disease rather than
Yet old concepts struggled on in new form. The ancient understanding
of sickness in relation to the interrelationship of the person and environment
lived on in the thought of Rudolf Virchow, the so-called "Pope of Pathology."
Virchow wrote, "Medicine is a social science...Diseases have no independent
or isolated existence." However, the field of bacteriology and the great
advances in antisepsis and asepsis made possible by Ignaz Semmelweiss,
Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister altered Western medicine radically,
in practice and theory.
By the end of the 19th century, the great plagues were beginning to
retreat under the siege of medical treatment. Malaria, tuberculosis,
typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, the plague were conqueredan
age of medical miracles seemed at hand. The germ theory, with specific
causes for specific diseases, and Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet providing
the specific cure, triumphed over the concepts of balance, harmony and
healing through influencing the natural life force within.
Medicine in the United States
In the United States, Dr. Benjamin Rush (one of the signers of the Declaration
of Independence) warned physicians against relying on "the healing powers
of nature in curing disease." Blood-letting and purgation were standard
medical practices in America in the late 1700s and into the 1800s. Physicians
prescribed mercury, medicinal alcohol, opium and other powerful tonics
and spirits, all of which did great harm to many patients who were little
more than guinea pigs.
It was at this time that an "alternative health movement" was born.
Many of the alternative health practices from that period are familiar
today: chiropractic, homeopathy, nutrition, herbal remedies, and osteopathy.
These therapeutic systems arose to challenge the mainstream American
medicine of the day.
By 1900, there were about 15,000 homeopathic practitioners in the United
States, accounting for about 15 percent of all health providers. For
comparison, there were about 8,000 AMA-style practitioners at the time.
Most of these American alternative therapies were based on the view
that disease was due to disharmony and lack of balance in the body.
Disease was not considered to be a distinct entity. This early alternative
movement was very influential.
However, by the first decade of the 20th century, organized medicine
had begun to move toward establishing itself as the only valid form
of health care, separating itself from those who practiced inferior
medicinewomen physicians (7,000 were in practice), alternative
practitioners, and physicians from the lower or working classes of society.
Impact of the Flexner Report on American Medicine
From 1906 through 1910, the AMA and the Carnegie Foundation reshaped
American medicine. A young man named Abraham Flexner produced the eponymous
Flexner Report which became the sacred text of this change in medical
Following Flexner's recommendations, the number of medical schools dropped
precipitously from 160 to 31; medical education was no longer focused
on general practice; medical schools were structured to allow access
only to the upper classes; and 20 states were left without any medical
schools at all. African-Americans, women, Jews, immigrants and people
from the lower classes were all driven out of medicine. A glut of doctors
was turned into a shortage. Because they were in demand, physicians'
incomes rose considerably.
The Flexner report resulted in little benefit to patients but it did
give birth to the medical profession that came to be held in so little
regard by so many-a wealthy, white, mostly male, upper class, authoritarian,
condescending, medical elite too often more focused on wealth than health.
The living patient was forgotten in medicine in the 20th century. Diseases
became the center of attention. Health care grew ever more depersonalized
as technological and drug-oriented treatment became dominant.
in 21st Century America
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement began to bring about
enough change so that African-Americans began to reappear, although
in small numbers, in American medical schools. In the 1970s, the women's
movement began to shake the medical establishment and women once more
were admitted to the great American medical schools, again in small
In the 1980s, the social changes that began with the counter-culture
of the 1960s began to have an impact on medicine. During the conservatism
of the 1980s, the alternative medical movement did not disappear, as
had the political radical movements of the 1960s. The former radicals,
hippies, flower children, health food nuts and adherents of Zen macrobiotics
entered medicine, disguised first as students and later as physicians,
nurses, professors, mental health professionals and alternative practitioners.
In the early 21st century, these men and women-as practitioners and
patients-are now advancing the complementary care movement in the United
States. They are not a monolithic group. There are many people involved
with varied, sometimes conflicting, visions and agendas. But they are
the ones creating the medicine of tomorrow by integrating conventional
and complementary care.
It is helpful to review some of the major complementary care approaches
that are being incorporated, or that are on the verge of incorporation,
into mainstream American medicine. There are many ways to wellness and
Americans are exploring them in ever greater numbers. Techniques that
are of appeal to American physicians are the main focus here because
these will be among the first complementary therapies integrated with
Foundations of Conventioanl and Complementary Approaches
Western medicine is based on the concepts of Newton and pre-Darwinian
biology. In terms of physics, Western medicine can explain the mechanics
of everyday life. It has not yet fully incorporated the advances of
quantum physics, which recognizes aspects of reality not considered
in the Newtonian worldview. Western medicine does not yet emphasize
the findings of modern biological-ecological science, which explores
how living systems interact holistically. Patients are still isolated
individuals with specific diagnoses and standard recommended treatments.
In contrast, modern quantum physics and biology-ecology are necessary
to understand complementary medicine. Homeopathy and acupuncture produce
results that biomedicine cannot explain. It seems that it is biomedicine
that will have to change its views to incorporate new findings. In a
peculiar irony, Western medicine uses advanced technologies to practice
a form of medicine based on a number of old, outmoded ideas, whereas
complementary techniques use very old health practices whose validity
is now being verified by cutting edge physics and biology.
Influence of Patient Pragmatism
Patients have accepted what the majority of physicians have so far resisted-many
alternative treatments have value; they work. Patients are attracted
by the focus on wellness and prevention. They are drawn to the concept
of self-healing, of mobilizing the body's healing energy. In a way,
all healing is self-healing no matter how you look at it. The average
American is less put off by the concept of bioenergy today than is the
average physician. Physicians, used to studying dead cells and searching
chemical structures for answers to life and death questions, balk at
the idea that bioenergy imbalances are at the root of illness.
Until the mid-1980s, nutrition and health was a subject too close to
quackery for comfort for the medical establishment. Now the American
Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and great medical teaching
universities have published their own authoritative guides to nutrition
and health. The medical establishment can now accept that foods provide
chemical nutrients. But the idea that foods provide energy is another
matter (except when the word energy is used as an imprecise, vernacular
The rise in use of herbal remedies indicates that Americans are coming
to see the value of botanicals. The emerging field of phytomedicine
(plant medicine) shows that physicians are moving in that direction
as well. But how many are willing to view plants as not only sources
of nutrients, or as medicines, but also as elements in vibrational energy
To integrate complementary and conventional medicine successfully, both
traditions must be knowledgeable about the other. It is not only conventional
physicians who must learn new disciplines; complementary providers need
to become well-versed in the basics of biomedicine. This is happening
and will continue at an ever-increasing pace. Many MDs are also licensed
acupuncturists; many homeopaths also are licensed physicians. Not only
is there integration between conventional and complementary health systems.
Integration is occurring among diverse complementary practices. For
example, Naturopaths use a wide range of healing techniques. Today,
chiropractors and Ayurvedic practitioners may work side by side in clinics.
Despite all the differences in approaches, the living human being-a
self-healing energy system-is at the center of the efforts to promote
health, prevent illness and treat sickness. There is no one "truth"
involved. In fact, patient satisfaction entails much more than any objective
demonstration of safety and efficacy of one modality. Healing systems
are created within a cultural context.
Research shows that all types of health care are experienced as satisfactory
if the cultural expectations of the patients are satisfied. For example,
in the West, if a patient goes to the doctor and does not receive a
prescription, the majority of patients feel as if nothing healing has
occurred. "I went to the doctor but he didn't do anyhting" is a common
complaint. Without a prescription to take to the pharmacist, the cultural
belief in the curative power of synthetic chemicals has not been addressed.
As Americans become more familiar with healing traditions from other
countries, and as American culture is transformed in the process, it
will become evident that most of what we think that we "know" is actually
culturally conditioned. Even highly valued, objective scientific facts
are shaped by cultural expectations and preconceptions.
Patient-Driven Demand for Change
The demand for complementary care is at a peak that has not been seen
since the middle of the 1800s. In the early 20th century, technological
advances were making it seem as if paradise on earth was at hand. There
was almost a worship of the new technology and its miracles, especially
the miracle cures it brought to medicine. However, over the course of
the century, painful treatments with side effects worse than the disease;
hurried, impersonal care; and an over-emphasis on lab tests all left
patients feeling uncared for. And they were uncared for in a deep, human
way. Complementary medicine offers that one-to-one caring relationship
biomedicine no longer provides.
In addition to feeling cared for, educated patients knowmuch more
so than their physiciansthat there is a substantial body of scientific
evidence indicating that complementary treatments are often as or even
more effective than conventional treatments for many conditions. In
the United States, it is estimated that 12 percent of the gross national
product is spent on health care and that the majority of patients and
practitioners are unhappy with the health care delivered.
As a result their dissatisfaction with conventional healthvare, Americans
are spending tens of billions of dollars out-of-pocket to get the kind
of care they want and need. Let's look at some of the major complementary
techniques Americans are turning to to attain and maintain health.
This modality involves the therapeutic use of essential oils that are
extracted from plants. The term aromatherapy was coined in 1928 by Rene-Maurice
Gattefosse, considered to be the pioneer in the scientific use of essential
oils. Another French physician, Jean Valnet, described aromatherapy
as the medicinal use of plant-derived aromatic essences. Others have
depicted this therapy as a combination of science, psychoaromatherapy
and perfumery, all in the service of altering the body-mind-spirit.
Despite a lack of generally accepted scientific validation, aromatherapy
has become increasingly popular.
Essential oils are extracted from different parts of the plant-roots,
stalks, leaves, flowers or bark. These oils-volatile, fragrant, organic
constituents of plants-can be used in many ways, such as being inhaled,
applied by massage, mixed into an ointment or turned into a compress.
Aromatherapy is one of the fastest growing alternative treatments in
the United States and the United Kingdom. It is even becoming accepted
by orthodox medical people. It has been shown to be of value in improving
physical and psychological aspects of care.
While there are no definitive double-blind controlled clinical trials
of aromatherapy, such research will undoubtedly be undertaken and it
seems likely that this technique will be integrated into medical practice
in the U.S. Aromatherapy appears to be useful for a wide range of conditions,
among them depression, insomnia, hypertension, burns, bacterial infections
and heart arrhythmias. The pleasing fragrances of the essential oils
contribute to their popularity. But aromatherapy affects the section
of the brain known as the limbic system, the structures of which extend
through the hypothalamus to the basal forebrain-an area connected with
emotional expression. The emotional impact of aromatherapy can be quite
useful in chronic conditions such as AIDS, cancer and heart disease.
These substances have been used throughout history. Although modern
scientific evidence is lacking, thousands of years of experience by
people throughout the world suggest that future studies will prove the
medical value of this complementary therapy.
Ayurveda, or the Science of Life (or Longevity), is a popular complementary
approach for millions of Americans. It is the standard medical approach
for nearly one billion Indians. Ayur in Sanskrit means "life" or "life
span;" veda means "knowledge." Prana or life energy is at the heart
The first phase of this form of medicine dates from about 1200 to 800
BCE. The available information about this period indicates that a form
of magical-religious healing was being practiced. The Sanskrit treatises
available to us describe the second phase of Ayurveda, the classic phase
lasting from 300 or 200 BCE to the first few centuries of the Common
Era. The third or syncretic phase began in the 11th century with the
Muslim invasions of India and continues to this day. Some writers suggest
that the term "New Age Ayurveda" be used to describe the present-day
adaptation of classical Ayurveda to the Western medical model.
Indian medicine has always maintained that there is an intimate connection
between the microcosm and the macrocosm, between our world and the cosmos,
and between human beings and the Universe. Healing can only be understood
in this context. The cosmos is composed of five basic elements (earth,
air, fire, water, and space.) The interplay of these forces creates
all that exists, including human beings. Health is a state of equilibrium
of the forces within humans called doshas. There are three doshas and
an imbalance of any one of them causes disease.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the eradication of disease is not all that is
involved in returning a person to health. The physical, emotional, mental
and social aspects of the patient's life must be considered when making
a diagnosis and planning treatment. Ayurvedic medicine offers preventive
treatment for healthy people, to maintain their state of balance. Purification
or alleviation therapy is available for those who become ill.
The Ayurvedic physician has access to a wide range of medicinals that
have been used since ancient times. Botanically-based Ayurvedic pharmaceutics
are derived from the Ayurvedic medical tradition. Mineral and inorganic
drugs come from Indian alchemical traditions. In India, medicines and
foods are inextricably connected, so much so that the first Ayurvedic
pharmacies were probably kitchens.
Food as medicine is extremely popular in the U.S. today, with physicians
such as Stephen L. DeFelice, MD promoting what he calls a "Nutraceutical
Revolution." Georges Halpern, MD is another physician who has made the
connection between food and health. He is working on developing a program
in which pleasure-including the pleasure of healthy eating-is the basis
of good health.
Ayurvedic medicine focuses on the whole person in the context of the
external world. Maintaining and re-establishing the body's inner balance
and harmony is the focus of its healing efforts. The Ayurvedic emphasis
on the role of diet and emotions in health is becoming part of Western
medicine today. It will clearly become an important part of the New
Traditional Chinese Medicine
The role of culture is evident in all medical practice. For example,
American gynecologists put their patients in an uncomfortable position
with their feet in stirrups, while British physicians allow their patients
to lie on their side in a relaxed position. These choices are culturally
determined. A patient in China may refuse surgery for painful kidney
stones, opting for herbal medicine instead. However, the choice may
be made, not for medical reasosn, but because of a social fear of the
consequences of having surgery noted on his working papers; surgery
can sometimes bar individuals from promotion on the job. Cultural considerations
are especially important in understanding Chinese medicine.
Americans may think of Chinese herbs as gentle and safe. They are not
aware of the powerful purgative therapies in this tradition. Tibetan
medicine is in vogue, but few Americans would opt for Tibetan cautery
with a red hot iron. Chinese medicine has evolved over the millennia
and has incorporated ideas and practices from around the world. It is
not static. Even such a fundamental practice of Chinese medicine as
pulse diagnosis has undergone great changes over thousands of years.
In Chinese medicine, nothing is thrown away. Discarded ideas and practices
are put to the side, but they often return again centuries later. Or
they make their way to other Asian nations, such as Japan, and flourish
Shen Nong (2698-2598 BCE), the Fire Emperor, is considered the father
of Chinese herbal medicine. He is also thought to have taught the Chinese
to cultivate plants and raise livestock. Huang Di (2697), the Yellow
Emperor, is the creator of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is thought
of as the father of the Chinese Nation. Legend has it that the Yellow
Emperor gained his medical knowledge from "visiting Immortals." (Visiting
from where?) His classic work The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic
describes Chinese medicine in a form that we find familiar today, almost
4700 years later.
Yin and Yang are fundamental concepts in Chinese medicine. They express
the idea of complementary but opposing forces that exist in a dynamic
state of equilibrium. Yin and yang are present simultaneously as paired
functions of nature. The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic and the
I Ching or Book of Changes both seek to explain the relationship
of Yin and Yang to health and happiness.
The language of Chinese medicine focuses on dynamic balance, interrelationships,
interdependence and the interaction of the inner and external environments.
In many ways, Chinese medicine is in accord with modern ecological thought.
But no concept may be more important to Chinese medicine than qi-the
life energy that pervades the human body and maintains health. Qi flows
through the meridians (non-neural energy pathways) and is influenced
by acupuncture. It supports, nourishes and protects the body. Qi is
responsible for circulation and respiration.
Disease is seen as a disturbance of qi, the life energy, within the
body. Acupuncture is used to regulate the qi. An intimately related
technique, moxibustion, is also used to regulate qi. Moxibustion involves
burning dried and powdered leaves of artemesia vulgaris on or near the
skin to stimulate the flow of qi. Cupping and bleeding are also techniques
used in Chinese medicine, separately or together.
Chinese massage involves the manual stimulation of acupuncture points
to affect the qi. And Qigong uses exercise, breathing and the mind to
influence the body's qi. Chinese herbal medicine has been part of health
care in that country since the very beginnings of its medical tradition.
The Chinese materia medica lists 5,767 herbs, minerals and animal parts
as therapeutically active agents. It is the qi in the herbs, not the
chemicals, that are thought to bring healing.
Today, Traditional Chinese Medicine is practiced all over the world:
in Korea and Japan; throughout Europe; and in the United States and
Canada. This medical tradition has been the focus of a great deal of
research in recent years. The National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine has funded studies of acupuncture, Chinese herbal
therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, moxibustion and Qigong. Other
medical societies and universities are also conducting research in this
Improved design of clinical trials is expected to yield more accurate
evaluation of the effectiveness of Chinese medicine in treating a wide
range of illnesses. However, it seems certain that this approach to
health will play a major role in the New American Medicine.
The concept of a vital force or energy is central to chiropractic, which
calls it "innate or universal intelligence." Humans are believed to
possess an innate healing power, an expression of the inner wisdom of
the body. The goal of chiropractic is to use this healing power to promote
health and reverse illness. In chiropractic, it is believed that it
is essential to find the cause of a disease before suppressing its symptoms.
Drugs can hinder a return to health by suppressing the body's natural
healing energy. Natural approaches should be the first treatments. Diet
and regular exercise are considered essential to good health.
Chiropractic has faced great difficulties in the United States. Although
Hippocrates was a practitioner of spinal manipulation, for decades,
the AMA tried to destroy chiropractic. But in 1990, the United States
Supreme Court found the AMA guilty of antitrust violations for having
engaged in a conspiracy to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession.
Today, increasing numbers of AMA physicians refer patients to chiropractors.
In 1994, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services issued its Guidelines for Acute
Lower Back Pain, which included a strong endorsement of the value of
spinal manipulation. Significantly, the panel stated that spinal manipulation
produced both relief from painful symptoms and functional improvement.
No other nonsurgical treatment produced these results, making chiropractic
the treatment of choice for acute low back pain.
This complementary therapy has made great strides since its tumultuous
early days. There is now a solid base of scientific evidence supporting
its claims; many insurance companies offer coverage to its practitioners;
and approximately 20 million Americans see chiropractors each year.
Chiropractic is the third largest health practice in the world, surpassed
only by mainstream medicine and dentistry. Chiropractors are licensed
to practice in the U.S and must follow a rigorous course of study. Accreditation
comes from such groups as the Council on Chiropractic Education. Chiropractors
cannot perform surgery or dispense drugs. Their practice consists of
manual adjustment or manipulation of the spine.
About 9 of 10 patients who visit the chiropractor do so because of back
pain, neck pain or headaches. Spinal manual therapy can be extremely
effective for these conditions. Randomized clinical trials have shown
spinal manipulation to be a superior means of managing low back pain.
No studies have shown spinal manipulation to be less effective than
other forms of treatment for low back pain. A number of trials have
demonstrated that chiropractic is more effective than drugs in treating
headaches resulting from muscle tension. Studies in Ontario, Canada
have found chiropractic to be safer and more effective than conventional
medical care for low back pain.
As it completes its first 100 years of existence, and flourishes in
the 21st century, chiropractic is being integrated into the conventional
medical system in America. Most chiropractors do not want to become
allopathic physicians. Neither do they want to be second-line practitioners,
existing only on referrals from mainstream physicians. They are, and
want to be seen as, equal partners on the health care team. Many patients
see them that way. It is only a matter of time before most allopathic
physicians do as well.
In 1998, when the Journal of the American Medical Association
featured an article on therapeutic touch based on the work of a grammar
school child (a girl whose mother was violently opposed to therapeutic
touch) a farcical nadir seemed to have been reached in organized medicine's
opposition to complementary care. However, The New York Times
and the major television news shows lowered the level of serious medical
discourse even further by absurdly touting the young girl's school project
on page one and as the lead story on the evening TV news.
Would the media reaction have been the same if the school girl had discovered
that therapeutic touch was even more effective than previously thought?
Healing touch is a term used to describe a number of complementary modalities
that have a long tradition in healing. All are founded on an understanding
that there is a universal energy at the heart of healing. Energy healing
through ancient and modern techniques involving touch shows great value
for many emotional and physical disorders. The hand-mediated healing
techniques that are used today include acupressure and shiatsu massage;
therapeutic touch; Barbara Brennan's Hands of Light; reflexology; Reiki;
Qigong; and Polarity therapy. There are many others as well.
One healing energy is at work, though it is called by many names in
different systems of medicine. The Krieger-Kunz model of Therapeutic
Touch (TT) and Healing Touch (HT) are widely used by nurses in the United
States. The American Holistic Nurses' Association offers a Certificate
Program in Healing Touch for Health Care Professionals. It is not really
accurate to use the word "touch" in describing these techniques. In
actuality, practitioners do not touch the patients; their hands are
held above the body, inches or even feet away. Practitioners and patients
say they feel energy during the sessions. Since there is no physical
contact, bioenergy is postulated as the cause of the reported positive
physiological responses to treatment.
There is a wide range of practices. Polarity therapy, for example, combines
chiropractic, osteopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, reflexology and
other techniques. Reiki and acupressure were brought to the United States
intact from other societies. It is quite interesting that nurses have
become aware of these healing touch techniques, applied them in practice,
and defended them against fierce criticism, whereas physicians have
avoided these health approaches.
Because of their training in biomedicine, physicians may be more apt
to accept the prevailing scientific "wisdom" that healing bioenergy
is non-existent, and that healing touch is a placebo or a hoax. Victoria
Slater, RN puts forward an interesting hypothesis about why, in general,
nurses embrace, and physicians eschew, healing touch.
She notes that in the beginning of their training, nursing students
give bed baths to one another and then work with living, energetic people,
with whom they share intimate, emotional interactions. Medical school
students are introduced to the human body through cadavers. Later, as
modern practitioners, most physicians have little emotional contact
with their patients. Is it possible that because physicians do not experience
energetic, emotional contact with their patients, they do not feel or
appreciate the energy of healing touch?
As with other complementary modalities, it is quantum physics and not
Newtonian physics that may help explain the therapeutic effects of the
various healing touch methods. However, until the results of objective
quantum experiments verify subjective experience, physics provides only
interesting speculation about the mechanisms of action for healing touch.
Touch has been used to treat swelling, reduce pain, relieve anxiety,
and fight depression. It has been shown to be useful for premenstrual
syndrome, diarrhea, fever, hives and symptoms of AIDS. It has also been
helpful with patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Nurses
have used touch in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and in home health
care settings. Healing touch has been used in pediatric, surgical and
psychiatric wards. It has proved beneficial for pregnant women in birthing
classes, in nurseries and neonatal intensive care units.
Very few studies of healing touch have been published, or received much
mainstream attention, save for the highly-touted grammar school child's
landmark piece in the august Journal of the American Medical Association.
However, clinically, healing touch has demonstrated effectiveness in
managing a number of different conditions. As more and more people experience
the benefits of healing touch, interest in performing good clinical
trials will grow. It remains to be how soon it will be before the medical
establishment warms up to healing touch.
The human use of plants predates recorded history. Every known human
culture has used plants for food, medicine, clothing and as part of
healing and religious rituals. Herbal medicine uses plants to maintain
health, prevent illness and treat disease. Herbal medicine involves
both self-care and guidance from an expert educated in this approach
to health. Egyptian, Chinese, Tibetan, European and American herbal
traditions are all of value to today's practitioners. In addition, it
is the healing power of the vital energy of the plants that is central
in herbal medicine.
Almost all the herbal traditions place an emphasis on the whole person,
body, mind and spirit. In addition, they focus on health and wellness
and on the unique individual patient. For example, if a Chinese herbologist
saw five patients with high blood pressure, each would most likely receive
a different herbal remedy or combination of remedies. Most herbalists
are not seeking to alleviate symptoms; they are looking to treat and
eliminate the underlying cause of the illness. Herbalists are generally
open to learning about new remedies from their own or other healing
Until the 1930s, American physicians relied on plant-based drugs as
primary forms of medicine. Medical schools taught students about plant
medicine. In 1870, the United States Pharmacopeia listed 636 herbal
remedies. In 1990, there were only 58 herbs listed. Herbal medicines
had been replaced by synthetic drugs, which could be patented and earn
their manufacturers enormous sums of money. Today, with organized medicine
so closely connected with the drug industry financially and philosophically,
physicians are ignorant of botanical medicine. Some refer to herbs as
the people's medicine.
Modern life has contributed to the alienation of the majority of people
from nature and natural processes. Few Americans have direct contact
with nature, save for TV nature shows and special eco-vacations. And
fewer still have any contact with the cultivation of herbs and foods
that have healing properties. Self-care with herbal medicine through
growing one's own herbs is rare indeed. Yet such renewed contact with
medicinal plants would be healing in itself on many levels.
Most of the extensive and valuable research of the safety and efficacy
of botanicals has been performed outside the United States. Funding
for such research is unlikely in America because, unlike synthetic drugs,
botanicals cannot be patented. Without patents, vast profits are not
possible. Therefore, the drug industry will not invest in research in
herbal remedies. Other organizations in society must perform this critical
research. However, it is difficult to see where the money to do this
will come from in a nation where health care is a business and profit
comes first and foremost. Botanicals for wellness and prevention cannot
ever compete with billion-dollar blockbuster drugs for chronic diseases
in a health care industry guided by corrupt, crony capitalist "market
It may not be the physician who eventually replaces the herbalist of
old. Instead, it may be the pharmacist. Americans are beginning to develop
ongoing relationships with their pharmacists. Now that the personal
or family physician relationship has almost entirely vanished, pharmacists
are filling a vacuum in the health care profession. In fact, a recent
survey of Americans indicated that the pharmacist is now the most trusted
health care provider in the country. Pharmacists are learning about
herbal medicines just as stores are lining their shelves with herbal
remedies of widely varying quality.
Echinacea was the most used remedy in the United States until the advent
of antibiotics and other "wonder drugs." Ironically, in a stunning turnabout,
sales of echinacea are beginning to surpass competing over-the-counter
products. However, just as botanicals are about to give synthetic drugs
a run for their money, their popularity may be their undoing. The very
existence of medicinal plants needed to create the remedies is now threatened.
The preservation of seeds, of germ plasm, of the biodiversity of plant
life, and of the natural habitats of the plants, are among the most
critical challenges facing our world. If the natural world is destroyed,
their will be no natural remedies.
This healing method was developed by a German physician and chemist
named Samuel Hahnemann, MD (1755-1843). Hahnemann was the author of
a book on medicines that was quite well known in his day. Homeopathy
is a system of self-healing. As with many other complementary methods,
homeopathy has at is center a concept of the life force or life energy,
the vis mediatrix naturae, or natural healing force. Homeopathy
involves the use of small doses of remedies that resonate with the illness
instead of fight it; that actually produce signs and symptoms of the
illness in healthy people. Hahnemann's therapy was guided by what he
called the Law of Similars, "Let likes be cured by likes."
The name homeopathy was created by Hahnemann from the Greek roots "omoios,"
meaning similar, and "pathos," meaning feeling. It was Hahnemann who
also coined the term "allopathy," which is used frequently today to
describe conventional physicians. Allopathic medicine, unlike homeopathy,
did not let like cure like. Instead, it used medicines that sought to
counteract the disease symptoms or medical techniques that were not
directly related to the symptoms, such as bloodletting or purging. Today's
allopaths use powerful synthetic drugs.
Homeopathy was and remains a unique healing system. Most American physicians
consider it absurd, although it is increasingly popular with patients.
Homeopathic remedies have moved from the health food store to the drug
store all across the United States. This complementary therapy does
not offer hypotheses about the true nature of disease and health. Rather,
it is a way of treating illness whose only confirmation is in its results.
Homeopathic remedies were tested by a method Hahnemann called "provings,"
in which substances are administered to healthy people in doses strong
enough to cause symptoms of disease without doing any harm. In this
manner, information was assembled about the relationship of each remedy
to specific health conditions. Provings are believed to be an experimental
technique useful in investigating the medicinal value of practically
In this medical system, all healing is self-healing that involves the
entire organism and applies only to individuals. Isolated parts of the
organism cannot be treated and healed. For the homeopath, healing cannot
be reduced to one formulaic approach that is valid for everyone. Hahnemann
believed it was the life energy itself, the vital force, that was the
ultimate source of health and disease. Although conventional medicine
disdains the concept of a life force, it is now being forced by new
information to confront evidence of a physical life energy.
To a practicing homeopath, illness is a disturbance of the vital force.
These practitioners look at the totality of symptoms, which includes
looking at the full life experience of the patient, including emotional
Homeopaths do not reject or ignore the appropriate advice of physicians
and will use conventional medical techniques, such as drugs or surgery,
when needed. This technique, however, allows the patient to remain in
control throughout the healing process. Homeopathy is a difficult art
for many to practice because each case truly is individual. It may take
years of experience before a practitioner becomes proficient.
Homeopaths use the smallest doses of a remedy possible. This makes adverse
side effects almost impossible. Homeopathic remedies are thought to
be effective even in doses in which the active ingredient cannot be
detected chemically. By diluting remedies through a process called "succussion,"
homeopaths theorize that the vital energy is freed from its chemical
bonds and is released into the solution. This may be the most controversial
aspect of homeopathy. Although many of those who practice conventional
synthetic drug therapy simply cannot accept the claims of homeopathy
regarding its remedies, others believe that new technologies such as
laser spectroscopy and bioassay are detecting activity in homeopathic
remedies. It is thought by some that a new bioenergetic science may
be just at its beginning.
It is difficult to test homeopathic remedies using standard Western
technology. Most scientists reject the homeopathic theory because they
believe extreme dilution produces a useless solution, not a remedy.
In 1980, the results of a double-blind study using homeopathy to treat
rheumatoid arthritis was published in a peer-reviewed journal and showed
statistically significant results. A later study of homeopathic remedies
for arthritis showed no beneficial results. However, in this study,
all of the patients were given the same medicine. This is standard conventional
practice; it is not true homeopathic practice. The individualization
of homeopathic treatments makes investigation by clinical trials extremely
In the 1990s, a number of trials in Europe have demonstrated that homeopathy
may be beneficial in the treatment of allergic rhinitis; fibrositis;
influenza; and asthma. In 1992, the British Medical Journal published
a meta-analysis of homeopathic clinical trials which revealed that 15
of 22 trials showed positive results. The journal called for more well-designed
studies of homeopathy. In the U.S., asthma, headaches, depression, allergies
skin problems and psychological problems were common reasons patients
consulted physicians who use homeopthy in their practices.
In Europe, this therapy is growing in popularity. Homeopathy is used
by 25 percent of German physicians and 32 percent of French general
practitioners; 42 percent of British physicians refer patients to homeopaths.
In India, homeopathy is part of the national health service. In addition,
India has hundreds of homeopathic medical schools and an estimated 100,000
practitioners. Many thousands of homeopaths practice in Argentina, Brazil
and Mexico, which has five medical colleges that offer homeopathic training.
South Africa also has a number of major homeopathic colleges.
In the United States, there has been a large increase in the use of
homeopathy treatments in the last 20 years. During the 1980s, sales
of homeopathic remedies rose by 1000 percent. Some estimate that sales
of these remedies are rising at an annual rate of 25 percent. In a study
of conventional physicians, it was discovered that those who use homeopathy
in their practice spend more than twice as much time with their patients
as do other conventional doctors. They also saw fewer patients each
day. Physicians who used homeopathy ordered 50 percent fewer diagnostic
procedures and tests, and prescribed drugs at a much lower rate.
Although the jury is still out, it seems likely that homeopathy will
play a significant role in the emerging New American Medicine. It may
be particularly useful for chronic health problems that conventional
medicine is unable to handle adequately. Functional problems in which
there is no tissue damage (e.g., insomnia, fatigue); conditions for
which there is no effective treatment (e.g., viral illness, AIDS); illnesses
that require the chronic use of drugs (e.g., allergies, arthritis);
and health problems for which elective surgery is a choice (e.g., hemorrhoids,
fibroid tumors) may all be appropriate for homeopathic treatment.
The term Naturopathy was coined in New York City by Dr. John Scheel
to describe his approach to health. The teachings of Benedict Lust actually
form the foundation of naturopathy. However, its roots go back to the
ancient healing traditions of many cultures around the world. Naturopathy
is not characterized by any particular form of treatment. In a way,
it is more a philosophy that a specific therapy. A fundamental belief
of this system is that the body has the ability to heal itself through
the power of the life energy or life force. In naturopathic medicine,
it is essential for health to live within the laws of nature.
In the naturopathic system, life is more than biochemistry. It is believed
that the body has an innate intelligence. As in other health systems,
disease is believed to be caused by a disturbance in energy functioning.
The bacteria, viruses or other specific disease-related factors are
able to do harm because of the underlying imbalance or disharmony in
To the naturopath, health is a dynamic state in which a person can survive
life's struggles and stresses and thrive. The naturopathic physician
sees his or her role as that of assisting nature, using the least invasive
methods possible. Naturopaths refer patients to other health care professionals
Practitioners who earn their Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree
study a wide range of therapies. Naturopaths are able to prescribe drugs
and perform outpatient surgical procedures. They have styles of practice
that vary as much as the eclectic mix of therapies they use. Some stay
with a strict natural approach, primarily using lifestyle modification,
diet, detoxification and hydrotherapy. Other naturopaths may practice
medicine in a way that does not seem to be much different from conventional
physicians, save for the use of botanical remedies instead of synthetic
Today, most naturopaths consider themselves to be a fully integrated
part of the health care system. However, not all state governments agree
and naturopaths are not licensed to practice in all 50 states.
The basic principles of naturopathy include a belief in the healing
power of nature; a view of the doctor as teacher; a preference for noninvasive
treatments; in an underlying cause for every illness, often found in
lifestyle or diet; treatment of the whole person; an emphasis on preventive
medicine; and a focus on wellness, maintaining health and increasing
vitality. As with conventional physicians, naturopaths accept the Hippocratic
dictum, "First do no harm."
One of the most fascinating schools of medicine in the United States
was the Eclectic School of Medicine. This group viewed the "heroic"
efforts of allopathic physicians as dangerous to health. They proposed
a form of medicine based on the European, Native American, and American
healing methods. The Eclectic herbal textbook, King's American Dispensary,
written by Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd and published in
1898, describes the history, preparation and use of over 1,000 botanical
medicines. The Eclectic herbal approach had a profound impact on naturopathy.
In 1922, Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical
Association, began a personal campaign against medical therapies
he considered "quackery." With the growing political power of the AMA
behind it, Fishbein's campaign proved successful in suppressing naturopathy
and many other complementary approaches to health. AMA-style medicine
came to be viewed, legally as well as socially, as the only legitimate
In the 1960s, with the emergence of the counter-culture, there was renewed
interest in naturopathy. Disenchantment with depersonalized, expensive
AMA-style medicine combined with a new appreciation of environmental
and ecological concerns. The principles of naturopathy appealed to many
people at that time. In 1978, the John Bastyr College of Naturopathic
Medicine (now called Bastyr University) was founded to teach science-based
naturopathic medicine. It became the first accredited naturopathic college
in America. In 1993, the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine
and Health Science was founded in Scottsdale, Arizona. The National
College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon and the College
of Naturopathic Medicine at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut
are also advancing the cause.
Naturopathic practitioners are basically primary care providers. They
make conventional Western diagnoses, often use biomedical approaches
to treatment, but may also use acupuncture, herbs, chiropractic, homeopathy,
healing touch, psychological counseling or any number of other helpful
Naturopathic physicians may actually be the vanguard of the New American
Medicine. In naturopathic practice, the integration of conventional
and complementary practice is a reality. Conventional medicine itself
now embraces many naturopathic practices such as lifestyle modification,
stress reduction, diet and exercise and dietary supplementation. Naturopathy
is a rapidly growing profession. As it becomes more widely known by
the public, it is attracting more patients as well.
and Medicine in America
It now appears increasingly obvious that conventional and complementary
therapies are not mutually exclusive, either philosophically or practically.
Rrather, they are mutually beneficial to practitioners and patients
alike. Practitioners from differing schools of thought have a great
deal to teach one another. In this manner, health care for their patients
may improve dramatically. A new integrative medicine is taking
Money is the measure in America, determining much of what occurs in
medicine today. And, as Bob Dylan said, "money doesn't talk, it swears."
It is useful, then, to see how the business community views current
developments in complementary medicine.
Chiropractic is the largest market in alternative medicine. A recent
Gallup poll showed that 30 percent of U.S. adults had seen a chiropractor
and an astounding 90 percent felt the treatment was effective. Insurers
are covering 85 percent of chiropractic care; 50 percent of HMOs offer
chiropractic; 72 percent of self-insuring companies offer chiropractic
benefits to employees. Businesses are interested in the potentially
lucrative opportunities of supplying chiropractors with supplements
and homeopathic remedies.
The growing consumer demand for homeopathic remedies is attracting the
interest of some American business as well. In the United States, only
three percent of the public uses homeopathic remedies, compared to 36
percent in France. About 70 companies now sell homeopathic remedies
in the U.S. but two companies, Boiron and Standard, dominate the market.
Business executive agree that, in order for homeopathic manufacturers
to flourish in the U.S., educational institutions must begin to teach
homeopathy. Consumer demandwhich is low but still outstrips supplyis
not enough to make the market attractive to big business. Physicians
and pharmacists need to be educated about homeopathic remedies if these
useful remedies are to become more widely available.
Insurance companies are discovering the benefits of complementary care:
low cost for care compared with conventional treatments and a huge and
growing market of people seeking coverage for alternative therapies.
The 1993 Eisenberg study woke up the insurance industry, which was stunned
to learn that Americans were spending nearly $14 billion out-of-pocket
for complementary care. In 1999, an estimated $20 billion was being
spent, money that could go to the insurance companies themselves. By
2005, it appears over $50 billion annually on alternative health care.
In addition, 46 states now mandate coverage of chiropractic; seven of
acupuncture; 17 of osteopathy; and 2 of nutritional counseling. And
these numbers are growing. Recently, Washington State mandated that
all health plans cover regulated providers of alternative medicine,
including acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathy, massage, and midwifery.
Massage therapy is booming in America. Over the past 20 years, the number
of massage schools has exploded, from 15 to over 800. The International
Massage Association now has 16,000 members and expects rolls to surge
to 100,000 in the next five years. There are one million massage therapists
in the U.S. Many prestigious American hospitals are now performing research
into the beneficial health effects of massage. American business is
not that interested in massage because, generally, massage therapists
do not sell products to their customers. Insurance companies typically
limit coverage to massage required for rehabilitative purposes.
Acupuncturists are of interest to business because about 25-33 percent
of their revenues are generated by the sale of supplements, herbs and
other products to their patients. Acupuncturists are now licensed in
37 states and insurers are increasingly including them in coverage.
The IRS even accepts acupuncture treatment as a legitimate deduction.
Businesses are intrigued by the possibilities naturopaths present. They
are the most likely practitioners, in addition to chiropractors, to
sell nutritional supplements, vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies
out of their offices. Insurance companies are also strong supporters
of naturopathy. Naturopaths may find the bureaucratic world of third-party
payment difficult to manage, however, since most cannot afford the staff
to handle the volume of paperwork, whereas conventional physicians usually
Economics has prodded pharmacists to dip their toes into the waters
of complementary medicine. The rise of interest in natural remedies
has made it possible for pharmacists to reclaim their traditional role
as educators and advisors to their customers. Many pharmacists are turning
to natural remedies exclusively, leaving the synthetic drug business
behind. Pharmacists can play an especially valuable role since patients
seem to trust them more than their physicians when it comes to complementary
medicine. A pharmacist can answer such important questions as whether
a patient who is taking an anticoagulant may also take Vitamin E safely.
American business sees the complementary care field as a great potential
opportunity for sales of a wide range of products. Natural remedies
are increasingly alluring in a time when four of the top five leading
causes of poisoning fatalities are FDA-approved drugs-antidepressants,
pain-killers, sedatives and heart drugs. Poisoning from herbal remedies
is quite rare. In fact, though tens of thousands of Americans are poisoned
by ornamental plants each year, natural products seem harmless. The
relative safety of herbal remedies is attractive to business in America's
Patients and consumers; those in medical-related businesses; and physicians
in the business of medicine are all aware of the potential benefits
of the integration of conventional and complementary careand of
the inevitability of this merger of medical approaches. But how this
will be done, and what type of medical care will emerge, remains to
Conclusion: Is All Medicine Energy Medicine?
Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, taught that the physician
does not heal but only assists the true healer: the life force or life
energy. Western biomedicine has lost this truth. But it is the life
energy that is at the core of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine,
Chiropractic, Healing or Therapeutic Touch, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy,
Naturopathic Medicine and other forms of "energy medicine" to which
Americans are turning in ever larger numbers.
The effectiveness of these healing traditions, as described by their
founders, is based on the healing function of the natural life energy.
The practioner only assists nature in restoring balance and harmony
to the living organism. It is the life energy in healer's hands, the
plant, the remedy, the homeopathic solution that is the effective healing
It is the Life Energy, functioning in all living things, that needs
to be investigated and understood functionally, not mechanistically
or metaphysically. A practical comprehension of Life Energy is essential
if we are to make progress in medicine and science. For it is the Life
Energy that is the basis for what will become the New American Medicine.