Alternative Health: Trend or Anomaly?
By Staff News & Analysis - April 25, 2014

A Top Hospital Opens Up to Chinese Herbs as Medicines … Christina Lunka appeared nervous and excited as she sat in the Chinese herbal therapy center recently opened by the Cleveland Clinic. The 49-year-old had been to many doctors seeking help for ongoing issues that included joint pain and digestive problems. Now the Kirtland, Ohio, resident was hoping to find relief through herbal remedies. – Wall Street Journal

Dominant Social Theme: We ought to give these herbs a try, even if it's not scientific.

Free-Market Analysis: As we chart the results of the Internet Reformation, we make certain predictions. We have felt for a long time that elite dominant social themes would gradually shift under pressure – that in a sense the power elite would have to take an aggregate "step back" and perhaps we are beginning to see evidence of this.

Marijuana prohibition is suddenly eroding worldwide and global warming has retreated into something called Climate Change. "Organic" farming is suddenly popular and now we see that herbal medicines have made a beachhead at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.

The advance of herbal medicine is certainly significant given the mechanistic state of Western medicine. The pharmaceutical model, which substitutes chemistry for herbology, is often propped up by dubious scientific evidence and a broad (and biased) regulatory structure that makes it difficult for even age-old alternative treatments to advance.

But now it looks as if things are changing. Here's more:

… The Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top hospitals, is a surprising venue for the dispensing of herbs, a practice that is well established in China and other Eastern countries but has yet to make inroads in the U.S. because of a lack of evidence proving their effectiveness.

The herbal clinic, which opened in January, has one herbalist who sees patients on Thursdays. Patients must be referred by a doctor and will be monitored to ensure that there are no drug-herbal interactions or other complications.

… The herbal clinic is part of the hospital's Center for Integrative Medicine, whose offerings also include acupunture, holistic psychotherapy and massage therapy. "Western medicine does acute care phenomenally…. But we're still struggling a bit with our chronic-care patients and this fills in that gap and can be used concurrently," says Melissa Young, an integrative medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.

While acupuncture programs have sprouted across the U.S., there are only a handful of herbal clinics. Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem, affiliated with the University of Chicago, both include herbal medicine among their offerings.

"I'm getting more and more physician referrals [for herbal treatments], which to me is a sign of greater acceptance," says Leslie Mendoza Temple, medical director at NorthShore's Integrative Medicine Program. "When I first started here we were pounding on doors to prove we're not crazy and we're legitimate and safe."

Referrals come from neurology, oncology, gastroenterology and rheumatology, among other departments, she says. Jamie Starkey, lead acupuncturist at the Cleveland Clinic who got the herbal clinic started, says there is little scientific research outside Asia on using herbs as medicine.

… Maged Rizk, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic … says Chinese herbal medicine is still being critically evaluated. "In the past it wasn't even considered seriously," Dr. Rizk says. "At this point there is a thinking, 'Some of the things we're doing now aren't very effective. Should we really be looking at alternatives a little more seriously?' I think the verdict is still out," he says.

The article delivers a positive message about herbs, though we have left out – in the above quote – certain negative elements presented in the story having to do with a lack of scientific rigor. In fact, the article quotes one medical specialist as saying that successful results when it comes to herbs are "quite thin."

This is actually ironic, as the pharmaceutical industry itself is built on herbal research. Big Pharma sends researchers to the Amazon mostly to find unknown herbs that may be efficacious for certain treatments. These herbs, if they prove promising, are then mimicked chemically so that they can be patented. It is impossible to patent a plant.

As pointed out above, the Western model is mechanistic whereas other, more ancient medical models are holistic, focusing on treating the entire body. Western medicine is derived from the Guild of Barbers and is focused on treating a specific health problem, often by the application of physical treatments. In fact, this led to an emphasis on treating symptoms rather than underlying causes.

It is what we call the Internet Reformation that is probably provoking increased interest in alternative treatments to those provided by Big Pharma. Homeopathy, herbal treatments and acupuncture are all increasingly in vogue even if resisted by established Western medical gatekeepers.

The arguments against such treatments are usually the same and have to do with the lack of positive outcomes derived from rigorous applications of double-blind testing.

In defense of non-Western treatments, however, one can surely point out that even double-blind testing is not always effective or even predictive. Plenty of pharmaceutical drugs have passed through double-blind testing only to be withdrawn from the market because of unwanted additional health impacts.

It will be interesting to see how alternative treatments fare in the West in the 21st century. Acupuncture is increasingly popular and even homeopathy – often blasted by the Western medical establishments – persists and is growing in popularity in various countries.

From an investment standpoint, non-traditional health treatments, organic farming and medicinal marijuana may all offer increased equity opportunities – both private and public – over time. Alternative farming techniques like alternative health approaches are being driven by Internet era exposure and it is not likely that interest in them, once stimulated, is going to subside.

After Thoughts

One may be tempted to think of the Cleveland Clinic's herbal focus as anomalous but for us is part of a much larger trend.

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  • Alice Maxwell

    Herbs and chemicals have been the treatment for most of Man’s so called health problems since his beginnings. Most of our “doctors” knew about them, used them until the chemical industry outproduced its war products and needed to convert for peace.
    That transition began in Germany with companies like Bayer and their success bred copycats in almost every nation since and so the days of patent medicine began.. Advertising became a large addition since people who never went to doctors had to be informed as to the new offerings. Amazingly, most cultures existed very well without what we know as “medicine”today. The local dispensers of “drugs” kept people going despite claims to the contrary, whether they were herbalists, gardeners, concocters or barbers turned surgeons and doctors.

    It was the “teachers”who transformed our health world.and they began it not in the pubic schools but in the private colleges and universities. When those institutions discovered there was acclaim and gold involved in “discoveries” and the scientists were emerging more important than the “thinkers”, the customary tutors of mankind changed direction. Philosophy and Physics had mapped our world, started upon our heavens, but people had become disinterested since they preferred their religions to do that work and so learning had to be re-invented as education since it was becoming obvious humans had to be led in new directions..This was the point at which the drug makers and dispensers became so important. They all ran successful businesses and had the wealth to take on new directions.They could combine science with business in the colleges and universities and they had good examples to spur their interest in it..

    Every thinker since the beginning of kept journals of knowledge was trotted out as to discoveries. In the English speaking world we had Newton and Franklin (for Americans), a host of genius to draw upon and Europe had even more in many languages. Health became a watch word and a bellweather since it made ailments,dis-ease, discomfort a daily subject which patent medicines addressed so well but what if those drugs and herbs were examined by science, made more a result…….why the elixir of life could come into being, promising everlasting bodies, minds and spirits. It was all so elucidating and almost heaven on earth.

    Two world wars spurred the idea with government cash and real necessity. Men and women were injured and killed in war and first aid had to be improved for both citizen and fighters. Later prophylactics to replace lost body parts had to be found and were. Medicine became an adjunct to industry and industrialized with machines turning out billions of panaceas, cures…,you name it. Medicine, once a people to people art, had to be mad science controlled by those who knew science best….the colleges and the universities. The business involved was happy to bestow that stewardship and re-invigorate it with endowments. It was an unbeatable control axis.

    Like all good things that get to be too big, medicine grew and grew until the cost of health became too much for people and their lives to afford. They were exhorted to give and give because everlasting life was just around the corner but a full century into this, it is obvious that chasing that rainbow is even more costly than ever before. Worse,the charlatans have taken over and the cheats and the liars are in charge. Hospitals are business and the costs are larded with every invention and claim and it is too much for us all. The cost of educating for medicine and health is the worst culprit.and we cannot produce under such certifications required the people we need to keep this rotting monolith going. We have reached the end of the road

    How do you get back to reality in such a situation? Well, one way is to get everyone “stoned”. Let them have drugs to bring peace to mind, ease to bodies and to hell with health. We learned that when we proscribed booze and weeds because both were adverse to health, it was a costly mistake. We removed the prohibitions against booze, upped the taxes so now it is time to do the same for weed (tobacco/hemp) admit our mistakes and get on with life. To Hell with the doctors and medicine

    That’s where we are now. Guess what comes next. Bye bye hospitals, here come the storefront clinics,back in charge will be those who know the pharmacopia, the drugstores, the herbalists, the healers and the machines will be retired, especially the doctors and surgeons who use them.. Man is resilient, life is not everlasting and it is time to get back to reality. Bad things happen and will happen as they always have. Charity begins at home, not in a sterile waiting room and those who suffer the arrows and slings of life will have to suffer them. After all, life is easily replaced so why try to give it when it is truncated. Abortion is the law of the land but to abort has many meanings, especially to the disabled, the deranged and the deprived.

    The Age of Marijuana and all drugs available to ease and remove is upon us. Celebrate your freedom to be what you really are…a small glip in time!

    • john cummins

      whew! I’m exhausted, are u done?

  • nate

    with placebo experiments scientists have proven the mind can be “tricked” into healing the body. i’m sure so called alternative healing methods work in exactly the same way. if it works how can it be called bunk?

    • Pedestrian

      If placebo effects are all there is to it, then why haven’t conventional chemical drugs done it already? Why would you need anything else to produce these placebo effects? Acupuncture, for example, has even been shown to work on animals. Placebo, really?

  • onekzworld

    Where’s there a buck to be made you will find big business…alternative medicine does not adhere to evidence-based medicine structure as it does not receive uniform results….

  • dsaulw

    Let the free market decide which treatments work and which ones do not. No more experts pretending that they can centrally plan our health care through their gold standard research.

  • Whiplash

    So the U.S. cites lack of evidence proving their effectiveness for herbal medicine.

    I doubt seriously that the Chinese with their herbs they have been using for thousands of years didn’t learn anything and that it is effective. Same for the North American Indians. I believe there is no money to be made in a plant from the earth. This would hurt big pharma for sure.

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  • Don Duncan

    What galls me most about western medicine is the treatment of symptoms with little concern for the cause. This causes more problems than it solves, e.g., synthetic derivatives cause more problems, which lead to another pill to offset the new symptom, which causes more problems, on and on, until the patient is taking a half dozen or more pills. The doctor is compounding medical problems. Sometimes death is the direct result. But so much profit is made by this very lucrative “practice” that suits can be settled without putting them in the red.

    I have done a lot of reading on alternative health since the ’50s. I am still learning. Most commercial food is junk.

    I would like to see a free market where the patient does not pay if not satisfied. And some way to enforce the oath: “First do no harm”.

    I am 71 and do not take any prescription pills or have a doctor. I have a lot of health problems but I don’t trust the medical system.

  • Astromoney

    The herbs are not the only important return we may want to make. The Chinese-Tibetan-Indian ‘barefoot” doctors know how to judge the condition of the body by simple means. They look into the eyes and tongue, shake-up the piss & observe quality and quantity of bubbles – Listen to the bubbles. But the most amazing analytical tool is the multi-finger pulse measurement. I went to Dr. Zhang in Chinatown in NYC & later recommended him to a friend, who then took her mother. Dr. Z initiates the pulse analysis & within 2-3 minutes he says: “OOOhhh, lady, you have no left ovary!” She says: “That’s right” Do we really need $100,000+ machinery to tell us what some “ignorant peasant” (yeah, right) can tell with NO Equipment At All?