The debate between traditional medicine and use of homeopathic, or holistic medicine has continued to build as the desire and availability of alternatives to traditional medicine become more prevalent. The alternative treatments are being used either in place of or in conjunction with traditional medicine and the trend has increased as many people find themselves in difficult financial positions. Homeopathic remedies range from vitamin supplements to electromagnetic therapy to chiropractic care. While the cost of alternative medicine practices and therapies still can be pricey, in some cases they are still cheaper than a trip to a traditional physician’s office. This can be especially true for people without health insurance. The question is: are the non-traditional or alternative therapies as safe, and work as well, as proven scientific traditional medicine?
In order to understand the debate between the two practices, it is important to know what each kind of medicine is, and the differences between them.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – Brief History of Traditional Medicine
Traditional or modern medicine is primarily based on the teachings of the Greek physician Hippocrates (circa 460 BC – 370 BC), who is considered to the father of modern medicine. It was Hippocrates that provided a rational, scientific, approach to illness with the categorizing of the diseases into: acute, chronic, endemic, and epidemic descriptions. Perhaps his most well known work was the creation of the ethical code by which all physicians abide by. This code is known as the Hippocratic Oath, and is still used by traditional modern day doctors. Using symptoms, physical findings, and surgical treatments Hippocrates wrote the medical texts that would be taught and continues to be built upon today.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – Brief History of Homeopathic Medicine
While translating a Scottish medical text into German in 1784, Samuel Hahnemann – considered to be the father of homeopathy – decided that the medicine of his time provided little true relief for patients. Hahnemann began working on chemical combinations made from environmental agents realizing that, in minimal doses, “what makes a man ill also cures him”. By the end of the late 18th Century, he was practicing his non-traditional medical treatments on patients and set forth the principles of what has evolved into modern day homeopathy and alternative medicine.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – The differences
A main difference between homeopathic and traditional medicine is the license, degree, and training required. In order for a practitioner of homeopathy to treat patients they must be trained though an accredited school, such as The Medical College of Homeopathy, and should be board certified through an organization such as the American Holistic Medical Association; a traditional medical license is not required. An example of an alternative medicine practitioner would be a chiropractor. While chiropractors are required to attend a school to gain a license to practice, they are not medical doctors.
Another difference between homeopathic and traditional medicine is the focus of the treatments. In traditional medicine the focus is on the science of curing the patient of a specific illness and/or disease. This may include pharmaceutical (medications by pill, drop, injection, or IV), surgical treatments (invasive and noninvasive), or other physical management of the patient. Alleviating the symptoms of a patient to provide comfort, coupled with the determination to cure the underlying disease and/or medical condition in an attempt prevent further complications is the primary goal of a traditional medicine physician.
With homeopathic or holistic medicine, the focus is one the patient as a whole. The treatments are mostly all natural instead of chemically engineered. Homeopathic medicine tends to also focus more on prevention than the curative aspect of a disease or patient. Alternative medicine practitioners see a symptom not as a problem that needs to be cured, but rather a sign that the body is attempting to cure itself. Homeopathic treatments are aimed at helping the body move towards health with minimal intervention.
With the differences in both practitioner and focus of each kind of medicine, it is understandable how the debate between traditional and homeopathic medical treatments, and of which type is more effective, began.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – The debate and Controversy
Medical doctors since the time of Hippocrates have looked to the science and proven trials of medical treatments. To some traditional medical doctors, the idea that the body can be healed with electromagnetic therapy or through the minor adjustments of the skeletal system is dismissed as quackery. Often the medical physician will feel that the approach that alternative medicine takes is too broad and will not have any effect on curing the disease or condition. In contrast, homeopathic supporters view traditional medicine as being too specific and narrow to completely treat a person and ultimately prevent any further illness or distress. While most homeopathic practitioners feel that there is a place for traditional medicine they feel that some, if not most things, can be treated with minimal interference. Adversely, many traditional medical physicians do not see a place for holistic medicine at all.
In 1998, The American Medical Association (A.M.A.) dedicated a year of study to the ideas and treatments of holistic and homeopathic philosophies. It reported results in nine of its medical journals, and found the conclusions of homeopathic trials and studies to be limited to only a few positive results.
Of all the alternative medicine treatments tried, the following were the only one proven to effectively help a patient’s condition:
*Relief for irritable bowl syndrome by use of a mixture of several Chinese herbs.
*Relief of carpal tunnel syndrome through yoga practices.
*Relief of bladder issues caused by prostate enlargement by use of a specific herb.
While the results for those with the conditions were beneficial for the relief of the symptoms, the remedies did nothing to correct or treat the underlying disease or condition. Traditional medical treatment was still required.
Surprisingly, when these results were released, it was found that some of the most common homeopathic treatments did not work. These included the use of Garcinia cambogia for weight loss, acupuncture for relief of pain in patients with H.I.V, and the use of chiropractic manipulation to relieve tension headaches.
The use of chiropractors and massage therapists continue to rise in numbers around the world, especially in the untied states. Yet there is little to no evidence that this form of treatment will provide long term relief for many conditions, if any at all. This alone is a largely debated topic amongst traditional and alternative medicine advocates and physicians.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – Prof Edzard Ernst
Perhaps one of the most public figures on the debate between homeopathic and traditional medicine Dr. Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD. Beginning his career at the homeopathic hospital in Munich, Germany, Prof Ernest, a trained homeopathic physician, has become the voice of alternative medicine skeptics. Currently Dr. Ernst is currently a Professor of Complementary Medicine in the United Kingdom, and is the first person to hold this position.
In a 2010 publication in the Medical Journal of Australia, Prof Ernest reviewed 150 homeopathic clinical trials and found that either the results were biased and skewed towards the homeopathic therapies, or they failed to provide any conclusive evidence that the remedies worked at all. Traditional medical professionals find Prof Ernst’s work to be unbiased given his homeopathic training and practice, however, many homeopathic medical practitioners see him as a somewhat of a trader to his craft.
In addition to the 2010 publication in the Australian medical journal, Prof Ernst has published several other articles and books on the ineffectiveness of homeopathic medicine. In the conclusion of the book: Trick or Treatment (2009) Prof Ernst, in partnership with Simon Singh – a British mathematical and scientific writer – challenge anyone to prove the review of homeopathic positive results (2008) in the Cochrane Collaboration, correct and true. A reward of ten thousand Euros was offered as payment, paid out of pocket by Ernst and Singh. No person was able to complete the challenge and prove the Cochrane Collaboration’s report true and factual, despite many attempts.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – Ban on Homeopathic Teaching
With skeptics as outspoken as Prof Ernst, and others organizations against alternative medical treatments located in countries who practice modern medicine, the British Medical Association (BMA) has overwhelmingly voted to place a blanket ban on all teachers preventing the, from teaching homeopathic practices and treatments.
Citing such reputable health and research centers, such as the National Institute of Health in the United States, The BMA argued that with no conclusive evidence, the practices of homeopathic treatments offer no more value than placebos when studied in clinical trials. As reported in the a May, 2010 article of the Telegraph, a national news reporting source in the UK, Dr. Tom Dolphin – deputy chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors committee in England, – described the practice of homeopathy or alternative medicine to be “witchcraft” and something that should not be paid for by the government. As of May 2010, the National Hospital of Homeopathy is located in London, and is funded by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
The British Homeopathic Association (BHA) rebutted the “unfounded criticism” of the BMA’s ban on alternative medicine teaching on their website, and addressed allegations of lack of positive clinical trial results. Citing several cases where alternative medicine and homeopathic treatments were somewhat helpful, they attacked testimonies of those such as Prof. Ernst. Ultimately it was admitted that while they believe that alternative and holistic medicine is beneficial, it should be used in conjunction with traditional medicine.
The UK is not the only country that enforces a ban, or is attempting some kind of medical prevention of alternative medicine. There are reports and/or laws in some Asian countries such as India and Malaysia.
Homeopathic Treatments Vs Traditional Medicine – Can Both Practices Coexist?
Given the continued, building attention in alternative medicine and homeopathic treatments, many western physicians are finding a way to balance their patient’s interest in holistic medicine with the proven science of traditional medicine.
In 1998, then assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University, Dr. David Eisenberg, was reported by the New York Times as saying that even with the trend to alternative medical treatments, that surveys show that patients continue to see their traditional medical doctors. While he acknowledges that patients were correct in continuing traditional care, he expressed concern that patients may not report what alternative therapies they are using. This lack of information could result in harmful interactions with some prescribed medications.
Another worry of physicians is that some of the relief of symptoms as a result of the homeopathic treatments may mask a more dangerous issue. Dr. John McConnel cited an example of this worry in the 1998 A.M.A study when he expressed concerns that while the natural herb saw palmetto may relieve some bladder problems in men from enlarged prostate, without the symptoms and proper medical treatment with traditional methods, cases of prostate cancer may be missed.
However, since the majority of all clinical research done on homeopathic and alternative medicine shows that there is little difference between the treatment and that of a placebo (a non-medical controlled substance or stimulus), many traditional medical physicians do not try to sway their patient’s interest. It is because of this placebo effect that doctors believe if a patient feels that their medical issue is being addressed and the treatments of alternative medicine practitioner, such as that of a chiropractor, are helpful there is no need to express concern. It is only asked that a patient take some responsibility in their health care and discuss the risks and benefits of any treatments, alternative or otherwise, with their traditional medical physician before beginning any new health and/or medical management regimens.
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