Ancient Practices, Modern Applications
“Doctors Speak Out” about balancing traditional and holistic medicine
Sitting in a white bowl on the front desk of the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center, a pile of Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples were waiting to be picked up by passers-by. After listening to a lecture on complimentary and alternative medicine, the colorful fruit was an extra reminder to guests that an apple a day truly does keep the doctor away.
The latest conversation in the “Doctors Speak Out” series revolved around a growing trend in the medical industry. Three leading experts from Georgetown University discussed the integration of traditional western medicine with alternative, holistic approaches to health.
“We need to keep an open mind [to alternative medicine] and say okay, we don’t know how this works yet but we know that it’s working,” said Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, assistant professor of anesthesia at Georgetown School of Nursing and Health Studies. She noted that doctors don’t know why some traditional medicine such as Tylenol works either, yet it’s a trusted brand name.
Eshkevari, as well as her colleagues on the panel, stressed that complimentary and alternative medicine, also known as CAM, is a viable supplement to traditional practices and should be more thoroughly integrated into modern western health care. A key point reiterated during the panel was the importance of eating a nutritious, balanced diet.
“People need to consume food, not pills,” said Dr. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, professor of oncology. Her statement was supported by Dr. Thomas G. Sherman, associate professor of pharmacology and physiology, who added that fruit lowers your blood pressure just as well as antihypertensive medication which doctors so often prescribe.
While the panel fully advocated CAMs, they also pointed out that the holistic medicine industry lacks the funding, research and regulation that traditional modern medicine frequently receives. Audience and panel members alike raised concerns that this lack of regulations could lead to the widespread use of either ineffective or harmful medicines.
Eshkevari reminded the audience of the Hollywood scandal following Jeremy Piven, the Entourage actor, who contracted mercury poisoning after consuming too much fish and unregulated supplements on a raw food diet. She continued to emphasize the fact that it is important to know exactly what is in foods and medications to ensure the safety of the public.
Sherman discussed how regulation is key in ensuring that the label matches the pill. Although some would say that the bureaucratic systems necessary for regulation might distance the holistic medicine from the consumer, he assured that it wouldn’t bog down the industry. In other words, it wouldn’t take a prescription to participate in a yoga class.
The panel also maintained that it is important for people to use holistic medicine to treat the source of the condition, not just the symptoms as traditional medicine typically does. “People who take multivitamins aren’t healthy only because they take multivitamins, but because they’re the kind of people who think to take them,” Sherman commented when discussing that holistic medications are not quick-fix pills. Supplements, healthy eating and daily activities such as yoga and meditation are long-term practices that affect the brain and the body which, in total, supports a healthy lifestyle.
The three professors agreed that young students of medicine are receiving an education that integrates CAMs and traditional medicine more than ever before. And more importantly, they are open to practicing and prescribing it to others.
“I predict that [in the future] the emphasis is going to be on the whole body. If you come in with a headache, I don’t just come up with something that treats the pain in your head, I come up with an explanation for why you’re having pain in your head and treat that,” Sherman said. “Don’t just treat the symptoms like they do now but treat the internal cause.”
Marilyn Lane, a petit woman overpowered by her dramatic glasses sat in the back of the room at the conference. While she is not a doctor, she chooses holistic medicine because of the results she sees from personal use. She turned to acupuncture to manage her chronic pain, does yoga multiple times a week, and meditates every morning and evening. She said simply with a smile and a shrug, “It works!”