Alternative Medicine Goes Mainstream
Bonnie Tarantino, left, and nurse Donna Audia, center, perform Reiki on a patient as the patient's mother Joyce Armstrong, left, and wife, Karen Armstrong, right, hold his hands at the University of Maryland Medical Center. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Associated Press/AP Online
June 08, 2009
BALTIMORE — At one of the nation’s top trauma hospitals, a nurse circles a patient’s bed, humming and waving her arms as if shooing evil spirits. Another woman rubs a quartz bowl with a wand, making tunes that mix with the beeping monitors and hissing respirator keeping the man alive.
They are doing Reiki therapy, which claims to heal through invisible energy fields. The anesthesia chief, Dr. Richard Dutton, calls it “mystical mumbo jumbo.” Still, he’s a fan.
“It’s self-hypnosis” that can help patients relax, he said. “If you tell yourself you have less pain, you actually do have less pain.”
Alternative medicine has become mainstream. It is finding wider acceptance by doctors, insurers and hospitals like the shock trauma center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Consumer spending on it in some cases rivals that of traditional health care.
People turn to unconventional therapies and herbal remedies for everything from hot flashes and trouble sleeping to cancer and heart disease. They crave more “care” in their health care. They distrust drug companies and the government. They want natural, safer remedies.
But often, that is not what they get. Government actions and powerful interest groups have left consumers vulnerable to flawed products and misleading marketing.
Dietary supplements do not have to be proved safe or effective before they can be sold. Some contain natural things you might not want, such as lead and arsenic. Some interfere with other things you may be taking, such as birth control pills.
“Herbals are medicines,” with good and bad effects, said Bruce Silverglade of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Contrary to their little-guy image, many of these products are made by big businesses. Ingredients and their countries of origin are a mystery to consumers. They are marketed in ways that manipulate emotions, just like ads for hot cars and cool clothes. Some make claims that average people can’t parse as proof of effectiveness or blather, like “restores cell-to-cell communication.”
Even therapies that may help certain conditions, such as acupuncture, are being touted for uses beyond their evidence.
An Associated Press review of dozens of studies and interviews with more than 100 sources found an underground medical system operating in plain sight, with a different standard than the rest of medical care, and millions of people using it on blind faith.