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Examining Holistic Medicine.

Examining Holistic Medicine

Billions of dollars are spent each year on orthodox medical treatment that cannot produce cures and often causes pain as troublesome as the disease itself. So, many sufferers seek out practitioners of alternatives to standard medical treatment. Among them are practitioners concerned with holistic medicine.

Billions of dollars are also paid to those who treat illness by methods sometimes effective, too often dubious. The holistic medicine movement initially projects a reasonable desire for preventive health care and a sincere concern for behavioral, environmental, and social causes of illness. Unfortunately, many "healers" in that movement employ exotic devices and questionable therapies, including acupuncture, therapeutic touch, reflexology, Rolfing, chelation therapy, biofeedback, iridology, and visualization.

The book Examining Holistic Medicine raises questions about the legitimacy of these and other treatments in contrast to traditional medicine. How does a reviewer, however, deal with a work that negates the value of so many innovations in healing that have brought great relief to many, spurred the medical profession into adopting ideas such as megadose vitamin-mineral therapy and nutritional treatment, and into recognizing food allergies, the dangers of animal fats in diet, the value of stress reduction, and the various nonmedical means of dealing with degenerative diseases and the mysteries of cancer?

There are inherent truths in holistic medicine's emphasis on the value of recognizing the power of mind over body, how emotions affect illness; there is also validity to persuading directors of institutions who have the power to bestow grants upon particular projects that would benefit from more research. (Linus Pauling has tried to secure funding from the National Institutes of Health for testing and research to prove the theory that vitamin C could be very important in cancer therapy. After numerous rejections he was given a pittance to pursue such work.)

The overemphasis by some holistic health advocates that psychological states contribute to illness and that all disorders are considered to be psychosomatic is simplistic and misleading, the writers contend.

"Psychological states are not in any ordinary sense causal in Down's syndrome, cholera, nephritis, or a host of other disorders," they note. "Of course, psychological states may affect how an illness is endured, even if they do not cause the affliction."

In dealing with the little-discussed subject of holistic nursing, the commentators in the book reveal a more sympathetic attitude. Nursing's traditional belief has been that it alone as a profession cares for the whole patient. Medical doctors traditionally zero in on the offending organ; nurses try to care for the mind and the spirit.

Nursing has long concerned itself with helping patients to help themselves. Nurses speak of "the patient's right to appropriate education and instruction from health care personnel so that they can care for themselves."

Nursing theories favor the concept that health exists independently of disease and that it is possible to achieve wellness despite a pathologic condition that might otherwise be labeled as illness. There is also a trend toward the belief that prevention and health promotion can ward off the inevitability of ailments associated with aging.

"Nursing's attempt to separate itself from medicine is due to several factors," the authors explain. "There is a dissatisfaction with the status of nurses compared to that of physicians. Nursing has longstanding grievances with the medical profession ... the search to gain recognition and credibility has intensified as nurses become more highly educated and seek to exercise more control over nursing practices."

They add: "Medicine is said to be concerned with pathology and nursing with health ... as a result holism is embraced not on the basis of good reasons and evidence, but rather as a way of differentiating between nursing and medicine."

Iridology is the "science" of reading the markings or signs in the iris (the colored part of the eye) to determine the functional state of various components of the body. Other systems seek to diagnose disease by studying the soles of the feet, the ear, the palm, and the spine.

It is true that the eye is an optically clear porthole that allows the viewing of body tissues, such as blood vessels and nerves. The question that critics raise is whether such investigation performed by nonmedical practitioners, with inadequate knowledge of anatomy, can yield significant results.

Even among holistic doctors, skepticism exists. Lawrence Le Shan, an eminent psychologist, calls iridology "nonsense." Others, including the essayists in this book, term it "pseudoscience." Several cases, revealing the absurdity of the practice, are recounted. In one instance, a patient was told that "a whitish color emanating from the iris shows a lot of acidity and mucus in the body and could be from eating meat, bread, and milk products." When the patient replied that she was a vegetarian, the iridologist said the acidity could be a reverse effect from eating too much fruit and vegetables.

The subject of acupuncture is taken to task because it lends itself too easily to exploitation by unscrupulous operators, including medical doctors.

Unreasonable cures are being promised; miracles are abundant. There are such patent absurdities, the book reveals, such as acupuncture's supposed ability to cure acute bacillary dysentery, myopia, cataracts, paralysis, and raging fevers.

The Chinese have been successful in employing the practice as anesthesia. In that country, doctors have had centuries of traditional techniques passed on to them; in the United States, many practitioners are "sixty-day" wonders, or less, having learned the "science" in a hasty course.

The authors do not condemn the principles of acupuncture, but are dismayed by the rush to ascribe miracles to the therapy and the influx of healers who do not practice the basic rudiments of sanitary procedures. Many cases have been reported of skin infections after acupuncture treatments.

Few would argue that the practice of chiropractic does not have enthusiastic supporters among patients. The record of success among its practitioners in relieving skeletal problems is impressive. The critic who deals with the subject in this book focuses on those chiropractic doctors who are insistent upon extending their talents into other areas.

"My motivation to protect unwary human beings grew very strong when I learned that an ophthalmologist who had been my fellow student was prevented from saving the life of an eight-year-old girl by a chiropractor," one case history described. "The ophthalmologist planned to remove surgically the girl's left eye and surrounding tissue along with a localized cancer.

"He was prevented from doing this because the chiropractor insisted that he could cure cancer. He warned the child's parents that the surgeon would cut her up and kill her. The mother removed her daughter from the hospital and the chiropractor began a daily manipulation of the girl's spine while providing a large supply of vitamins, minerals, food supplements and laxatives for her to take. The tumor grew larger. The eye was pushed out of its socket by the pressure ... and three months later, the child was dead."

The above incident, typical of many other efforts by therapists who practice alternative medicine with more enthusiasm than judgment, should not necessarily be considered a denouncement of chiropractic, but a clear indication of what can happen when professional discipline is tossed aside and medical ignorance takes over.

Examining Holistic Medicine is a compilation of commentaries by eighteen professionals consisting of medical doctors, psychologists, a nurse, and a biologist. For all of its faults in condemning the pursuit of "far-out" ideas, its value is inestimable in reviewing the various components of holistic medicine and their backgrounds. From such scrutiny the reader will become aware and demanding when dealing with the prospect of alternative healing.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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