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Take two herbal tronics and call me in the morning: holistic treatment are as a medical alternative. Here's what you need to know.

AS AN OVERWEIGHT CHILD, JEFFREY Banks endured years of ridicule and rejection. By the time he reached his senior year of high school, he weighed 400 pounds and was diagnosed with Type It diabetes.

"I remember the morning that it happened. I was rushing to get to school when, all of a sudden, I got a severe pain in my stomach. My mother rushed me to the emergency room, where I was told that my blood sugar was so high, I could have died," recalls Banks, now 30. "Doctors told me that I could reverse the diabetes by losing weight, but to me that was like a pipe dream because I hadn't seen anybody lose the amount of weight that I was caring around. It just didn't seem possible."

Encouraged that he could still live a normal life with the right medication, Banks took his daily insulin injections and diabetic pills to stabilize his blood sugar level. He graduated from college, worked as a substitute teacher for several years, and eventually started his own events planning and promotion business. But after gaining nearly another 100 pounds, Banks began to feel as if the medicine was perpetuating his illness, as he would eat to keep his blood sugar up, but then have no practical way of managing his weight.

He briefly considered gastric bypass surgery after trying a number of yo-yo diets, but opted against it after a bariatric surgeon suggested he lose the weight naturally. It was then that Banks partnered with his friend, a personal trainer, to try and shed some pounds from his 6-foot 3-inch frame. But irregularity in his routine thwarted any progress he might have made. By 2004 Banks was 525 pounds, making him a prime candidate for a heart attack

"I was slowing down so I knew that I had to make a change. I just didn't know how the change was going to come, so I prayed that God would make the resources available for me to lose the weight successfully and He did," Banks says.

Through his personal trainer, Banks met Dr. Andrea Pennington, a holistic practitioner and founder of the Pennington Institute for Health & Wellness in Silver Spring, Maryland. The institute blends traditional medicine with holistic therapies such as acupuncture, therapeutic touch, and massage therapy.

Banks enrolled in the Life Transformation Makeover program, where he learned what to eat and how often. He worked with a personal trainer and underwent acupuncture to help suppress his appetite. Banks lost 200 pounds in eight months and reversed his 12year history of diabetes. He no longer takes insulin or oral medications. "I was 300 pounds by the time I was 13, so I had a lot of rejection growing up. I had dating challenges and dealt with a lot of insecurities, so I ate because it was a way of feeling good. Of course, at the time I didn't realize that my eating was tied to wanting to be comforted, but the acupuncture allowed me to relax, really focus on myself and get to the heart of the matter, rather than just focusing on eating," he says. "Now I'm not saying that if you just get acupuncture you will lose weight, because it's not going to work that way. It's a piece of the holistic puzzle that when used in conjunction with everything else is good."

Like Banks, millions in search of alternative therapy visit holistic practitioners for everything from allergies and irritable bowel syndrome to depression, infertility, and cancer. But how safe or effective are holistic practices compared to traditional medical applications? And how does one find and choose an appropriate holistic practitioner?

Holistic medicine is an ancient healing approach that emphasizes the connection between mind, body, and spirit. Treatment isn't isolated to one area of the body. Aspects such as diet, emotions, environment, and even relationships must be considered for true healing to occur.

Holistic therapies, which break in theory and practice from traditional medical treatments, are often referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and are typically divided into five categories: biologically-based, which focuses on herbs, vitamins, or special diets; body-based, which includes methods such as massage or osteopathy (a system where the relationship between the body's nerves, muscles, bones, and organs is emphasized); mind-body healing, which involves prayer, meditation, and music therapy; alternative medical systems such as Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of preventive healthcare such as acupuncture, naturopathy (using food and exercise as treatment), and homeopathy (all-natural plant, animal, or mineral treatments); and energy medicine that taps into the body's energy fields, such as therapeutic touch and Reiki (the Japanese technique involving the laying on of hands to channel energy).

Unlike allopathic, or traditional, medicine--which typically uses drugs to control, mask, or eliminate the symptoms of an ailment-alternative therapies target the symptoms at the root of a problem.


According to a 2002 health survey developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics, 36% of U.S. adults use some form of holistic medicine. When prayer, specifically for health masons, is included, that number jumps to 62%.

"There are a lot of people who can't tolerate prescription drugs," says Suzan Walter, president of the American Holistic Health Association, a consumer education nonprofit that offers resources and information about the industry. "They get side effects or the drugs just don't work, so they look for other options."

Those options have created a billion-dollar industry. According to Pennington, alternative medicine is the largest growing sector of the healthcare industry, "because people will and are going into their wallets to buy this stuff."

Nutrition Business Journal reports that in 2003, consumers spent nearly $54 billion on alternative therapies and dietary supplements. Of that figure, $34 billion (an increase from $25.5 billion in 1999) went to services such as naturopathy, chiropractics, osteopathy, and massage therapy. That same year, the U.S. market for dietary supplements generated sales of $19.8 billion, accounting for a growth rate of 3.5% to 6.5% annually since the late 1990s. According to Nutraceuticals World, overall sales in the health practitioner market--which comprises more than 1 million medical doctors, osteopaths, naturopathic physicians, veterinarians, and other allied healthcare professionals--increased 14% from 1997 to 2001.

Further evidence of the industry's growth is the development of governing bodies surrounding the use of holistic therapies. While this process has been slow, Pennington says regulatory laws, licensing, and accreditation are becoming more common to help ensure that practitioners are competent and provide safe and quality services. Currently, there are regulations in each state that govern the practice of acupuncture (visit to check the regulations in your state). Other alternative therapies are being monitored through various groups and associations. For example, the American Massage Therapy Association represents more than 54,000 massage therapists in 27 countries. Recognition of naturopathic physicians has also increased in a few states. Medical schools are underscoring the industry's popularity by integrating complementary and alternative medicine into the curriculum, and many hospitals, including Beth Israel in New York, the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, now operate CAM centers.


Although health insurers are increasing their holistic coverage, many medical professionals still debate the safety and success rate of alternative medical practices.

"Some insurers are concerned that since there are few credible studies showing the effectiveness of CAM, people who are sick will use them and their condition will worsen. They will then need more expensive, conventional treatment," says Steve Gorman, president of Alternative Health Insurance Services, an independent health insurance brokerage company that develops benefits plans that include acupuncture and chiropractic services.

Despite concerns, a 2004 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust reported that nearly 47% of employees with health benefits received coverage for acupuncture--an increase from 33% in 2002. About 87% of employees received coverage for chiropractic services up from 79% just two years prior.

Mercer Human Resource Consulting, which conducted a survey of large employers in 2003, found that 13% provided benefits for massage therapy, 7% covered a technique called biofeedback, and another 7% covered homeopathy.

Increased consumer demand and employer interest in offering a low-cost option to benefits packages are driving the increase in coverage. Also priming the benefits pump are more studies on efficacy and growing evidence that CAM coverage reduces employers' overall healthcare costs.

One such study, published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found acupuncture to be more effective than conventional treatment for short-term relief of chronic lower back pain. Duke University Medical Center released a 2004 survey that showed acupuncture was more effective than the drug Ondansetron in reducing nausea and vomiting following breast surgery.

Major health insurance companies such as Aetna, Cigna, and Independence Blue Cross offer discount programs for some forms of complementary and alternative medicine. American Specialty Health (, one of the nation's leading complementary healthcare organizations, provides benefit programs to health plans, employer groups, and insurance carriers that include coverage for unconventional medicine, That's good news for consumers like Banks, who says taking a holistic approach to healing has given him a new outlook on life.

"I am the thinnest I've been since I was 12 years old," he says. "So to me, holistic medicine can work just as well as conventional medicine, if not better."

doctor's in: tips for choosing a holistic practitioner

Though holistic practitioners are becoming more popular, selecting one still requires careful consideration and research. Here are some guidelines you can follow to find a practitioner that's right for you:

* Define your purpose. Virtually any health condition can be approached using holistic medicine. Before committing to any one practitioner, determine what you are looking to achieve and consider the reasons why modern medicine by itself may not be the right option for you. According to the 2002 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine health survey, holistic treatments are most often used to treat chronic back and neck pain, anxiety and depression, joint pain and stiffness, and colds. The study also revealed that while 28% of adults used complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) because they believed conventional medicine wouldn't work, most people use it with conventional medicine rather than in place of it.

* Do your homework. Whatever treatment you are considering, research how the treatment works, the risks and benefits, possible side effects, and efficacy. Determine the therapy's track record in treating your condition and how many treatments you will need. Also, check state regulations regarding its practice. There are a number of associations that you can contact for information (see Resources for Healing Holistically on Also, talk to people who have used the same treatment to get their opinion.

* Consider the costs. Since most procedures are not covered by health insurance, many people pay out of pocket for treatment. Check with your provider to see what coverage it allows. Some major health carriers offer discount programs for such things as acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic services. Out-of-pocket fees for these treatments vary widely by location, length of treatment, and the practitioner's training, but can cost upward of $100 per visit.

* Locate providers, Finding a qualified practitioner is not difficult. It just takes some legwork. Start by asking your regular doctor for recommendations. Check professional organizations and Websites. The American Holistic Medical Association ( has a physician referral directory that you can order or view online. Holistic Health Network ( maintains an online community of both practitioners and patients. And Directory of Information Resources Online ( houses a variety of health organizations, including CAM associations. State licensing boards and regulatory agencies are good places to check, as they may be able to provide information regarding physicians in your area. Hospitals and medical schools also make great resources since many may have CAM practitioners on staff.

* Interview the provider. Ask lots of questions. What's his or her back ground, education, training, and experience? Does he or she have professional relationships with others in the field? Does he or she work at a hospital, clinic, medical school, or other healthcare facility? Is the facility clean, up-to-date, and conducive to practicing medicine? Are you comfortable and cared for when you call or visit the office? Does the practitioner appear to be healthy? What is his general philosophy about treatment and care? Most holistic practitioners use methods that are considered complementary and alternative, but their philosophies and practices may vary, so make sure your interests match those of the provider you select.

* Consult your regular doctor. You don't want CAM therapy to interfere with medications or treatment you're getting from your primary care physician, so tell your regular doctor if you are using holistic remedies. Holistic practitioners should be willing to work with your regular doctor to ensure you receive the best and safest care possible.

* Be realistic. These therapies may not be a cure-all for whatever ails you. "Results vary from disease state to the practitioner and even to the person receiving the treatment," says holistic practitioner Dr. Andrea Pennington. So avoid anything that promises a miracle cure and don't think something is safe just because it's labeled "natural."
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Author:Harris, Wendy
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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