CAM or sham?

After reading stories like the one I just read, you seriously have to wonder what rock some doctors are living under.

The first line said it all: “Physicians are deeply divided over the efficacy of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).”

Apparently, some conventional doctors think that alternative solutions have a place in modern healthcare. While others think natural medicine is nothing but quackery.

You don’t say? I’m dying to know how that latter contingent feels about Penicillin or Digitalis–two very common drugs that happen to be derived from plants.

But that’s just one frustrating part of this discussion.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), “defining CAM is difficult, because the field is very broad and constantly changing.”

And here I thought they were on our side. What field of medicine isn’t constantly changing?

The problem, as I see it, is that not all doctors know how to handle this change. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s their fault for not keeping up with the literature.

I mean, think about all of the studies I’ve shared with you. It’s not as if I make this stuff up.

But I’ll give you this–CAM does cover a long list of modalities. Chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy… not to mention all of the vitamins and herbal supplements out there. You can know a lot, but no one can be knowledgeable in all of these fields.

That’s why I’m always open-minded when a patient asks me about something I’ve never heard of. Or even if I think that a certain approach just doesn’t work.

But you won’t encounter the same attitude among the more skeptical doctors–many of whom also cite potential interactions with prescription drugs as a reason to avoid popular herbs like ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, or ginseng.

I have to call foul here. For one thing, if these herbs are capable of interacting with drugs in the body, clearly they have some kind of pharmacological activity.

Does that sound like snake oil to you? I didn’t think so.

So why aren’t we studying these interactions some more… and trying to nail down the best uses and benefits of these natural compounds?

I’ll tell you why. Because it would go against everything Big Pharma stands for.

Let’s not forget how much money they’ve made off of their medications. Including one very potent cancer drug called Taxol, which is also–you guessed it!–based on a plant.

You can’t put a patent on Mother Nature. So drug companies pour their considerable resources into developing synthetic versions of the real thing, instead. How else would they turn their billion dollar profits?

And of course, this game of bait-and-switch comes with its own set of risks. It’s impossible to perfectly mimic nature in a laboratory. And that makes prescription drugs a lot less safe than their plant-based counterparts, on the whole.

So is it any wonder that more and more patients would rather go “straight to the source” for their medicine whenever possible?

Good doctors should ask what you’re doing–not judge you for it. They should also do some research on natural alternatives so they can best advise you. (That’s assuming you don’t have a doctor like me nearby.)

If they aren’t willing to go that extra mile, then you need to move on.

I can’t tell you how many of my patients have been issued “him-or-me” ultimatums by their other doctors. Or how many have been told “you’re wasting your money on that stuff” when they mention the supplements they’re taking. Or, my personal favorite: “All you’re getting is expensive urine.”

Well, guess what? Most drugs are eliminated in the urine. So if you’re taking any pharmaceutical medications, chances are, your urine is pretty expensive already.

And Big Pharma is laughing all the way to the bank.

No one’s saying that all drugs are bad–or that conventional medicine has no value. (CAM is supposed to be complementary, remember?) So I’ll never understand why so many stubborn doctors insist on dragging out this fight.

When supplements work, everyone wins. It’s as simple as that.

What to Do When a Patient Wants ‘Alternative’ Medicine. Medscape. Jun 12, 2013.