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Alternative MedicineThe Christian Handbook
By Donal O'Mathuna Walt Larimore
ZondervanCopyright © 2001 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlternative Medicine: The Issues
Physicians practicing conventional Western medicine at times see alternative medicine as unproven, worthless, perhaps even dangerous, steeped only in anecdotal case histories. Some view the alternative therapist as being naïve at best, a charlatan at worst.
A provider of alternative medicine may see conventional physicians as so focused on a disease or body part that they have no humanity, no compassion, and lack concern for the whole person. The conventional physician has been called a money-loving individual, in bed with pharmaceutical companies, who is out to take the life savings of the ill and infirm.
A truly accurate picture of both sides is a lot more complicated. But you need to understand the benefits and the dangers of alternative medicine before you make any serious mistakes.
What Is an Alternative Therapy?
The simplest definition of an alternative therapy is any therapy that is not accepted by the dominant medical establishment in a given culture. While the definition of alternative medicine can vary, there are some general characteristics and principles that most agree on.
Alternative therapies are those approaches to healing that physicians and hospitals in the United States are unlikely to provide for their patients. The dominant medical establishment tends to look with disfavor (or disgust) on certain therapies and labels them "alternatives." Alternative medicine claims to have been pushed aside by practitioners of conventional medicine for reasons of political or financial gain.
Practitioners of alternative medicine generally stress their holistic approach to health care-treating the body, the mind, and the spirit-relying on noninvasive "natural" methods of healing with an emphasis on prevention of disease. Although conventional medicine can be holistic as well, medical physicians frequently do not stress that fact.
Some alternative therapies refer to the spirit in ways that are alien to Christianity. Unless you understand the roots of a particular therapy, you may find yourself involved in a practice with a theology dangerously different from what Jesus taught or what he would have us follow.
Much in alternative medicine has little quality scientific evidence to support its assertions of healing. However, as we shall show, some therapies have excellent scientific support, yet are not utilized by many conventional Western physicians. Other therapies, with proper testing, might gain proof of the value claimed. Without such proof, no one, not even the experts in alternative medicine, knows for certain whether the untested, unproven alternative therapies actually have healed anyone or not. All we know is that patients relate how they were helped, or how they entered long-term remission, or were cured after using some unproven alternative therapy.
Before you embark on any path that takes you into the world of alternative medicine, even if it's just to buy an herbal remedy that's being recommended by a friend, you need to investigate the realities of alternative medicine-the costs and the risks you might face as well as the benefits.
Our purpose in this book is to point out the benefits, explain the risks, anticipate your questions, and provide objective answers. We will show how conventional medicine has evolved over the centuries, how what we commonly call "alternative therapies" have come to exist, and the background for the various therapies and remedies. And we'll look at what the use of alternative therapies could mean for a Christian.
In part 4 we discuss each of the most popular alternative therapies available today in North America. This section lists not only what exists but also gives the origins, effectiveness, and any reasons for caution and concern. We also give you detailed information on herbal remedies, vitamins, and dietary supplements, since these are used as a form of self-help available without much direction in health food stores, most drugstores, many supermarkets, and even on the Internet. Here, too, you'll be able to read our recommendations along with any cautions and concerns.
Conventional Medicine Takes an Interest in Alternative Medicine
As more research is done, we believe that conventional medicine and alternative medicine will increasingly be used together. Some alternative therapy specialists recognize the potential of a holistic approach in contemporary conventional medicine and work in tandem with medical physicians to give high quality care. And many conventional medicine practitioners recognize that one or more alternative therapies might benefit their patients when used in tandem with surgery and pharmaceuticals.
Increasing numbers of doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are incorporating the best of both approaches into what is called "integrative medicine." Professional continuing medical education (CME) courses also are providing information on alternative medicine. In fact, some of the most popular CME courses for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists focus specifically on alternative medicine. Pharmacies are increasingly making alternative remedies available, although natural or health food stores, the Internet, and mail-order companies still account for most of these sales. According to a 1994 study, homeopathic preparations were being stocked by 69 percent of chain drugstores and by 3,000 independent pharmacies, accounting for annual sales at the time of about $100 million.
Interest Grows Among Christians
Interest among Christians appears to mirror-and sometimes exceed-this general trend. Christian radio stations carry advertisements for herbal remedies and nutritional supplements even more commonly than the secular media. Specific "Christian" alternative therapies are promoted. One entrepreneur claimed to have figured out the recipe for manna and alleged it would protect people from all forms of illness, just as the original manna protected the Israelites in the wilderness. Another is the "Genesis 1:29 Diet" based on God's declaration that "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." Believers in this diet teach that people will be most healthy when eating a vegetarian diet.
Some Christians claim to have found particular ways to cure or alleviate cancer. One prominent Christian author has written about the benefits he experienced from an alternative cancer therapy available only in Europe. We frequently hear his case mentioned to encourage Christian involvement in alternative medicine. Research studies on prayer and religious faith have been published in mainstream medical journals. Although some of what is called "prayer" is very different from the prayer described in the Bible, some Christians now claim the power of prayer is supported by scientific research.
NIH Begins Evaluation of Alternative Medicine Treatments
In 1992, the National Institutes of Health began an evaluation of alternative medical treatments, establishing the Office of Alternative Medicine (since renamed The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine). It has made grants available to a number of prominent universities and major medical centers to encourage both research and teaching of alternative medicine. In response, many medical schools and nursing schools have added courses in alternative therapies.
At least eight new journals devoted to alternative medicine were launched in the late 1990s, with their primary audience being physicians and other health care professionals. Well-established professional journals increasingly publish articles about alternative medicine. Some have even devoted entire issues to the topic, such as the November 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Even medical insurance and managed-care companies have started to pay for some alternative therapies. In fact, by the end of 1998 an estimated 58 percent of major health maintenance organizations (HMOs) were covering some types of alternative medicine.
Excerpted from Alternative Medicine by Donal O'Mathuna Walt Larimore Copyright © 2001 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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