In fact, there have been over 300 published papers on the pharmacology and clinical applications of echinacea documenting its anti-viral, immune stimulating and anti-inflammatory properties. However, most of the research was done on injectable preparations, and then it was deduced that the oral capsules or liquids had similar benefits.
Echinacea or purple coneflower, known as the herbal antibiotic, is now the most commonly used herb in North America. The use of echinacea for colds and flus is part of the growing consumer interest in complementary medicine.
An estimated 20 percent of Canadians and 33 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine. Angus Reid said recently that polls in the United States show the largest group likely to demand access to alternative therapies are educated women in their forties.
Not only patients but their doctors are interested in safe use of alternative medicine. A recent survey published in the Canadian Family Physician Journal (June 1995) revealed that 56 percent of general practitioners in Ontario and Alberta believed that alternative medicine had ideas and methods from which conventional medicine could benefit; 54 percent referred to alternative practitioners; and 16 percent practised some form of alternative medicine.
Complementary medicine refers to combining the best of conventional or Western medicine with the best of traditional or alternative medicine. Conventional medicine excels at the management of medical emergencies, trauma care, certain bacterial infections and complex surgical techniques. However, in the prevention of disease and the treatment of chronic illnesses conventional medicine has been much less successful.
The two types of medicine do have some things in common. One is that neither is strictly based on science and both make use of the placebo effect. The placebo effect is the positive effect brought about when both patient and doctor believe that a treatment will work. It is thought to comprise at least 40 percent of any treatment.
The double blind study eliminates the placebo effect by comparing a treated group with an untreated group given an identical appearing treatment that contains no active ingredients.
Most of us believe that modern medicine is based on that kind of research. However, in 1985, the National Academy of Science found that 85 to 90 percent of medical practice was NOT based on the gold standard of double blind studies, only 10 to 15 percent was.
According to cancer specialist Dr. Robert Buckman , in his book, Magic or Medicine (Key Porter, 1993) 85 to 90 percent of medical practice is based on, "accumulated clinical observations, folklore, fad, fashion, prejudice, old wives' tales, institutionalized phobia or prejudice and plain old hokum."
However, in no way does Buckman believe this renders modern medical practice invalid. Clinical observations, clinical experience, and less stringent scientific trials have pointed the way to many valuable treatments for illness. I believe this type of research can prove validity for alternative medicine as well as the stricter more expensive double blind studies.
In fact, several types of alternative medicine have solid evidence behind them in contrast to others which have been poorly studied.
Acupuncture has been rigorously tested and proven to be effective and valid in the treatment of pain. The World Health Organization recognizes 104 conditions that acupuncture can treat.
Other major contenders are nutritional medicine, chiropractic medicine, homeopathy, hypnosis and guided imagery, herbology, environmental medicine and chelation therapy.
The evidence behind the use of antioxidant vitamins for the prevention of heart disease and cancer is solid and growing daily.
Two double blind studies showed that chiropractic manipulation produced better relief of low back pain than treatment in a hospital orthopedic department or by a family doctor.
An article published in the British Medical Journal reviewed 107 controlled studies on homeopathy (the use of minute quantities of natural substances to boost the immune system). Many compared a homeopathic remedy with a placebo. Of the best designed studies, the authors noted that fifteen trials showed positive results whereas seven trials showed no effect.
Chelation therapy, an intravenous treatment legally performed by medical doctors worldwide, offers a nonsurgical alternative to angioplasty, coronary bypass and limb amputation. Eight million people have received these treatments without serious side effects, and much serious research substantiates its use.
In every state and province in the United States and Canada, there are well trained and experienced chiropractors, naturopathic doctors, herbalists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and other experienced professionals as well as medical doctors with varying degrees of interest and expertise in natural medicine.
There are also "holistic practitioners" hanging up their shingle after minimal training. Dr. Zoltan Rona, author of Return To The Joy Of Health, has denounced lay practitioners who have taken a weekend course in nutrition or homeopathy, and then feel qualified to give medical advice.
Both with conventional medicine and alternative medicine, consumer beware, investigate your options, and use common sense. With one proviso, the side effects of natural treatments rarely result in death or hospitalization, and are usually reversible.
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