I have had this topic come up quite often in the past few weeks. So much so, that I feel the need to comment and lend additional perspective.
Conventional medicine and complementary medicine do not come from the same place
One camp is drugs and evidence-based medicine. The other camp is herbs and hippie medicine without research, and scorns anything that is involved in pharmaceuticals. Both ideas are incorrect.
Firstly, both kinds of medicine come from the same place. What we know of as conventional medicine is fairly new, and many pharmaceuticals are based in herbal medicine. Aspirin is actually an extracted compound from willow tree bark which historically was known to assist with pain as consumed in a tea or ground. The further use of biochemistry made the transformation possible into a predictable dosage of pain-suppressing substances.
As a naturopathic doctor, I do think that the standardization of dosage is beneficial, and is needed in medicine (regardless of the source of the medicine). Compounds should be monitored. It is precisely why society at the time encouraged development of pharmaceuticals because herbs could not be standardized in the same way. Current herbal companies and compounds of good quality do standardize. Ibuprofen, based on the understanding of an inflammatory cascade pathway in the same class as aspirin, is well-known to assist with pain relief. In the same way, so is fish oil and is now used not only for pain relief, but also for depression, anxiety, cognition… and the list goes on. Biochemical understanding in both cases has allowed us to reduce symptoms, and is used by both health care models.
As a naturopathic doctor trained in a conventional scientific background, my experience is unique. My post-graduate masters in medical sciences trained me to think about justification of ideas, evidence, and proof of validity. My experience as a patient demonstrated that, despite evidence-based treatments for skin disorders, my body was failing to respond to treatments in a conventional way despite everyone’s best intentions. My experience as a naturopathic doctor and linking my understanding of the immune system revealed that symptoms we see in a disorder in a conventional framework often apply, and give us an idea of where to start, but each body (and soul) is unique and perhaps we need to think outside of the box especially for chronic conditions.
As current patients of both conventional and complementary medicine, I know that you would prefer for someone to tell you that one of us is right. “One person knows the answer, that the body is predictable, and if you believe one camp over another you will be cured”.
Our society and health care system is becoming integrated.
Not one camp is right. In fact, the more camps working together, the better you will feel. Rather than being defensive about what can or cannot be done by one practitioner or the other, why not think about the idea of possibilities? If I see a patient who has tingling down their arm due to sitting all day at a desk chair, would you not want me to refer back to your GP for an x‑ray, out to a physiotherapist to improve your posture, out to a massage therapist to relax your tight muscles, recommend magnesium to help with the muscular tension, and perhaps include some acupuncture to relieve your discomfort? Perhaps you need to discuss your job itself, the source of your stress and how we can manage it?
I wish for the day that when a new patient sits in my office, they sit down to hear the additional perspective I can offer on their health concern rather than the more common appointment starter that they don’t believe in “my form of medicine”, my approach is not scientific, and that I am not useful to their health care team. It is amazing they still walked in the door! I wonder do they truly believe this, or are we trained to work against one another rather than integrating what we know together?
For those of you who would like to see medicine integrated, let us work together for improved health and a better world. Learning from one another can only improve our health as a whole. Integrated health practitioners is a publication that continues to demonstrate top quality medical research, which I read and participate in monthly with excitement.
To your health!