Medicine is Medicine

I follow Dr. Kiki on twitter and if you’re a science geek and don’t, I highly suggest that you do. Dr. Kiki is adorable and fun, and her weekly science podcast, This Week in Science (TWIS) is one that I rarely skip – no matter how packed my week is.

Anyways, she linked an article on her twitter entitled “Complementary medicines can be dangerous for children”. As a strong advocate of CAM and integrating CAM with allopathic medicine, I had to read on and yes, there were points that I just had to comment on.

Complementary medicines (CAM) can be dangerous for children and can even prove fatal, if substituted for conventional medicine, indicates an audit of kids’ CAM treatment published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. But parents often misguidedly think CAM treatments are better for their children because they are “natural” and therefore less likely to have harmful side effects, say the authors.

I want to start with defining complementary and alternative medicine or CAM. Complementary medicine is medicine that is used with allopathic medicine, and alternative medicine is medicine that is used instead of allopathic medicine. What I want to point out here is that medicine is still medicine. “Natural” medicine is still medicine, and you should treat CAM and allopathic medicine with the same level of seriousness.

Secondly, “every action causes an equal and opposite reaction”. I push you, you fall back. I take antidepressants, and there may or may not be side effects of headaches, nausea, increased/decreased appetite, increased/decreased sleeping, etc. I use ginger root, and there may or may not be side effects of heartburn, lower blood pressure, and decreased ability to form blood clots. Natural treatments still work by having some kind of biochemical or physiological effect on the human body.

Furthermore, I would like to emphasize the fact that using herbs or remedies that are associated with the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine without the direction or supervision of a TCM practitioner is not using Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is analogous to taking any pharmaceuticals without the approval of a medical professional.

In over three quarters of cases (77%) the adverse events were considered to be probably or definitely related to CAM, and in almost half of cases (44%) the paediatricians said the child had been harmed by a failure to use conventional treatment in favour of CAM therapies.

This is where there can be a disconnect is between patients and doctors. Some doctors insist on allopathic medicine when some parents want to use traditional or natural medicine. The key to have doctors who are trained in both – physicians with an allopathic medicine background that understands natural medicine enough to integrate the two into their practice. As an advocate of CAM, I do not shun modern western medicine – I embrace it. But I do believe that the two types of medicine excel in different areas. Traditional whole-medicine systems medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or ayurvedic medicine are generally better in things like the prevention of disease, and integration of nutrition into everyday life. Modern western medicine excels at intensive-care cases like when I need surgery or when I fracture my foot.

The best medicine isn’t the use of one modality over another. The best medicine is the integration of different modalities that is tailored to each patient’s individual needs.

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