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Conventional or 'alternative' medicine?

Chuck, I hear so much about alternative medicine these days. What’s your take on it all? – Roy J., Chula Vista, Calif.

With anything in this life, from fast foods to politics to toothpastes, humans have polarizing opinions. It seems innate in us. And all we need to set us off is a simple question: Paper or plastic? Organic or inorganic? Cloth or disposable? Diet or regular? Tap or bottled?

No doubt, the best answer is sometimes “this one” or “that one.” But often the best answer is “both this one and that one.” Not jumping down on either side of the fence of opinion sometimes allows us to fish the ponds on both sides. That is where I land in the debate about conventional and alternative medicines.

I genuinely value the expertise in the traditional medical fields; they have made amazing advances over the decades. At the same time, I believe alternative approaches have made great advances, too, for they often seek natural or holistic approaches with the same fervency that traditional experts seek results in their own specialty fields (for clarification, the terms holistic, alternative, complementary and unconventional care often are used today interchangeably).

A clear example of the value of both can be found with clogged arteries, or arteriosclerosis – as well as thrombosis, blood clotting in the veins and arteries. Herbal remedies may aid in the prevention of clogging agents, such as cholesterol, accumulating in the bloodstream. And diets that are low in saturated fats and rich in fruits, vegetables and grains – i.e., rich in antioxidants, soluble fiber, bioflavonoids, potassium and folate – will strengthen blood vessels, improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and strengthen the heart.

But the fact is that while you seek out holistic alternatives to free your circulatory system, if your artery is 50 percent or more clogged, you may need (at least temporarily) prescription blood thinners or even the insertion of a stent to save your life. And you’re not going to find that down at your natural food store.

According to surveys conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, 1 in 4 Americans turn to complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, every year to find remedies and solutions. The reason for the growth of CAM is easy to figure out: Despite its advances, conventional medicine often has fallen short in providing answers and getting the job done. In addition, we have an increasing preference for natural treatments and alternatives, for example, for bodily ailments and environmental problems.

To be fair, increasing numbers of traditionally trained physicians are bridging the gaps and offering alternative services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “therapeutic and preventive services” (not including medication therapy) were ordered or provided at 41.4 percent of office visits, including counseling or education about diet or nutrition (11.6 percent) and exercise (8.2 percent).

Another positive trend is that more and more clinics are popping up across the country that offer a blend of conventional care with CAM, for example, the Integrative Medicine Center in Derby, Conn.

One integrative clinic that my wife, Gena, and I personally recommend because of the way we have been helped there is the Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. As its website conveys, the people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies. The facility has become a haven of hope and healing for those seeking care for a variety of debilitating conditions. It specializes in chronic degenerative, autoimmune and infectious diseases. Here are some examples:

Whether you consult traditional, alternative or integrative experts, what’s important is that you make sure they are reputable, with solid credentials and equally verifiable references and referrals. Don’t just assume that if one works for a “clinic” and wears a white lab coat, he has the qualifications to practice his “expertise” on you.

The best way to deal with anything going on in your body is for you to be the boss. Not in the sense that you know what is best, but that you are the one who knows you best – a vast and organic integrated system of mind, body and spirit.

You are the one who should direct the flow of your medical attention. Ask the hard questions. Be respectful but assertive. Don’t just simply go with the flow, and don’t get carried away by the winds and whims of fads. Don’t check your brain in at anyone’s door. Learn. Research. Seek a wide variety of opinions. As Proverbs says, “there is success in the counsel of many.” Then narrow your options or strategize the sequence of probable solutions.

For too long, medical insurance and pharmaceutical marketing have been the king and queen of your medical treatment. It’s time you took back the reins in controlling your and your loved ones’ health. It is your body, your health and your life on the line. You are the boss; you are the captain of your body. So take the helm and chart your course!