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Source: Calgary Herald (Canada)
Pubdate: Fri. Sept. 17, 1999
Author: Naomi Lakritz

The patient's health should be the bottom line

Us-versus-them mentality, when it comes to doctors and alternative
medicines, doesn't help anyone.

Six months ago, I was on crutches fighting a daily battle against the constant pain of a three-year-old foot injury doctors couldn't cure. Anti-inflammatory medication didn't help. Expensive orthotics proved useless. I hobbled out of physiotherapy in worse pain than when I went in.

"When will I be able to go for a walk again?" I asked my doctor.

"Maybe never." he said curtly.

In desperation, I turned to a Calgary holistic health clinic where a practitioner told me to try a herbal supplement called alpha-lipoic acid.

"Just take it until the pain goes away," he said.

"Yeah, right," I grumbled cynically.

I'd never heard of it and anyway, herbal medicine is snake-oil, isn't it? Digging up century-old editorials from the Herald's archives for the Daily Herald feature on our editorial pages, I'd seen countless ads for patent medicines with names like Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People, in the pages of those old newspapers. I figured this alpha-lipoic acid stuff was on par with those Pink Pills.
Nevertheless, I bought some because at that stage I would have downed eye of newt if there was the slightest possibility it might help.

Just three weeks after I started taking those pills, the pain was gone and it has never returned. I've ditched the orthotics, the special shoes and the crutches. I take delightfully long walks, listening to Judy Collins tapes on my Walkman.

When I tell this to doctors, they inevitably roll their eyes. They mumble patronizing things about placebo effects and they put on their best condescending airs. You can almost hear them saying, "There, there, little lady."

For a bunch of highly educated people, they are awfully close-minded in their refusal to entertain the heretical notion that something outside their standard arsenal of chemicals might work.

That's why patients who know alternative remedies do indeed work, and that they work without the side effects that make some western medicines worse than the disease itself, should be alarmed at the federal government's proposal to regulate herbal and vitamin supplements.

Ottawa wants to lump these products into a category called neutraceuticals and make them available by doctor's prescription only. That will make them virtually impossible to get. Trying to find a doctor who will deign to prescribe such things is like trying to locate a sunbather on a frigid November day.

"I don't think doctors should have control over prescribing natural supplements, primarily because most of them don't have the training to do it." Tara Martinson, manager of the Vitamin Warehouse on Kensington Road N.W., told me.

Letting them have that amount of control takes away the empowering of ourselves to do preventative medicine...I shouldn't have to go to a doctor to get vitamin C tablets."

Nor should you have to butt your head against an iron wall of resistance when you tell a doctor that an alternative product has indeed worked wonders for you.

If Ottawa can't keep its fingers out of the regulation pie, then it should drop the ham-handed ideas about prescriptions and work with the industry on the consumer's behalf. Labelling, not limiting them, should be the priority. Very few of the dizzying array of products carry information on what condition they treat, their side effects and contraindications.

Martinson, who got into alternative medicine after it cleared up a persistent allergy which resisted standard drugs, says one sticking point has been Ottawa's insistence on grouping supplements with drugs while the alternative industry wants them in the food category.

However, Dr. Rowland Nichol, president of the Alberta Medical association, says that as long as supplements, are unregulated and not evaluated scientifically, "it's in the realm of snake-oil salesmen."

There's that word again. All I know is, thanks to "snake-oil" I can walk, jump, run and am free of pain. How sad that the issue of alternative medicine is stalled in an eternal us-versus-them debate for this is not about insisting that one type of medicine is categorically better than the other. It is about being open to what works best for the patient. Isn't the patient's health the bottom line?



Last Modified:Thursday, 21-Feb-2002 14:03:22 PST