Alternative Medicine or Conventional Medicine ~ What Does It Mean To You?

Sonia Jones

May 3, 2010

Alternative Medicine or Conventional Medicine ~ What Does It Mean To You?

People are often confused with the terms functional medicine, alternative medicine, holistic medicine or traditional medicine. This is due to a common thread running through them; they are all highly personalized systems that deal with prevention and the primary underlying causes of a condition as opposed to the symptoms of a chronic disease itself. Disease is the manifestation of imbalance.

These terms encompass a large variety of disciplines that share a common bond of endeavouring to balance the mind, body and soul into a harmonized whole being. There is a greater emphasis on caring for the patient and the causes, rather than the disease, a finer appreciation that there is great diversity between each individual, in other words their inherited strengths and weaknesses are taken into account. The individual is not seen as a sum of its parts, all working independently. Rather the body is seen as a whole with all parts of the body working in harmony with each part having a profound effect on the other, rather like all the parts of a clock working together to keep perfect time.

Other terms people often confuse are conventional, orthodox medicine and allopathic medicine, which are in contrast to the first four. Diseases are treated generally with pharmaceutical medication and/or surgery and this type of medicine is excellent for a number of situations and conditions.

Complementary Medicine

Complementary medicine, yet another term, sums up what is most popular today. Most people see their own conventional doctor for their annual check-ups, mammograms, smear tests, vaccinations, urine and blood work. When a person discovers they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, they are likely to take the medication prescribed. On the contrary, they may then go in search of a more natural treatment like acupuncture, homeopathy or naturopathy to treat their arthritis.

Mind over Matter

There are myths surrounding both systems of treating people, be it conventional medicine or alternative medicine. For instance, a common misconception is that natural is unscientific and that pharmaceuticals are 100% scientific. In general, conventional medicine regards statements as “mind, body and soul medicine” as being more to do with hocus-pocus and unscientific, yet the whole issue of drug testing is based in part on mind over matter; “the placebo affect”.   The double-blind trial, or placebo affect, is a big part of testing for conventional pharmaceutical medicine. As an example, one group of people is split into two. One group is given the trial drug and the other is given a sugar pill or similarly ineffectual pill. None of the volunteers know which group they are in, but symptoms or side-effects can be experienced by both groups with or without the new medication. The information collected and used is obtained using the person’s recognizable signs and symptoms, acceptable or adverse side-effects and any improvements (which is not always possible to monitor as some trials ask for only healthy people). The alternative medicine field is accused of using anecdotal-based evidence to say that a particular herb is good for a particular condition. For instance, for centuries in traditional medicine, ginkgo biloba had been used to improve circulation and protect against aging by millions of people over generations with no ill-effects or adverse side-effects; this is seen as anecdotal and having no scientific basis implying that the herb is untested, so at best is useless, unworthy or maybe even implying unsafe.

Russian Roulette or True Prevention?

Both types of disciplines talk of “prevention” but in practice are two very different views. In conventional medicine it is a bit like Russian roulette, meaning most people lead unhealthy lives but proudly tell themselves their tests show they are completely fine. That double cheese burger they are biting into is no problem as their cholesterol and blood work have shown to be within “acceptable” levels. So this time, the barrel is empty and they have gotten away with it. However, eventually the trigger will go off and there will be a bullet in the chamber and that life-style will catch up. In truth, a chronic disease can take years to develop. Doing something about your lifestyle now before the tests show you have developed a problem is true prevention. Alternative practitioners are trained (three to six years) to look for the subtle signs long before more serious problems develop. Evidence has shown and the World Health Organization agrees alternative disciplines can help chronic diseases very effectively and its forte is prevention.

What Does This Mean In Practical Terms?

Whether you choose to see an acupuncturist, a naturopath, herbalist or homeopath, they all start off by taking an in-depth case study. Balance is a key issue in all the various disciplines. Take for instance a case of a person having been diagnosed with the disease arthritis, in very broad terms this is an auto-immune disease with its main characteristics being inflammation resulting in deterioration with stiffness, aches and pains. Once conventional medicine has given the person a label, in other words a named disease, treatment on the disease can begin, usually painkillers and anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals. When a person diagnosed with arthritis seeks alternative medicine – the label is almost insignificant. A full case study is taken regardless of the label, and if x-rays, blood tests and urine tests have been taken, the results are taken into account, however it is the person and any imbalances that will be treated, not the disease. It’s this terminology that sends the scientific world saying here we go again – harmony, balance, mind, body, soul stuff and acupuncture unblocks energy flow, which sends them into a spin. This is why education on alternative medicine is so important.

About the Author

Sonia Jones is a naturopath and a published author of three books so far, co-owner of The Haven spa, health clinic and fitness center with her husband Howard Jones, in the stunning mountain area of Boquete in Panama. They are both British and moved to Panama about five years ago. For the last 10 years Sonia and her husband have worked as a team together with Mark Perren-Jones from Australia who is a joint and muscles expert. Sonia formalised the synergistic approach to treat various chronic conditions with alternative medicine using their various expertise and experience from Acupuncture to Naturopathy.  Sonia continues to write health related books and programs plus various monthly articles for bilingual newspapers in Panama.  The team are also developing for both practitioners and patients various educational Dvds and CD roms on various aspects of health.