East Midlands Green Party Blog

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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According to Medline Plus, ‘Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. ‘Standard Care’ is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice.
Complementary medicine is used together with standard medical care. An example is using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. An example is treating heart disease with chelation therapy (which seeks to remove excess metals from the blood) instead of using a standard approach.
So before I discuss further my views on complementary and alternative medicine, let’s look first at the framework and some relevant points including Green Party policies on improving health, treatment and a patient-centered care approach.
What is health? When I used to deliver training about mental health, I always stressed the point that physical as well as mental health is a state or a continuum; it does not mean “illness” or “being healthy”. According to the World Health Organisation “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
The Green Party has well-thought, detailed and sound health policies, for full details please see http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he However, I will briefly outline some core concepts. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/he
Ideally we address health prior to any illness, which means we must identify and then address risk factors, some are already well known like poor diet, others have been poorly researched due to the lack of funding, or due to large corporations lobbying. For example, there has been some alleged correlations between an increased cancer risk when living close to a nuclear power station; however making such claims would risk being sued by the industry (which holds a lot of power and funds). Another problem is that we might be scientifically aware of a correlation, but nobody acts upon it. The government’s own statistics show that in the UK 29,000 people die every year from air pollution. But little is being done.
The Green Party wants to collect data, complete additional research and then ultimately address environmental factors that cause ill health. Furthermore various Green policies would anyway ultimately improve our health since we would address issues like air and water pollution; and encourage eating more local, organic food and less animal products. Basically a Greener living would not only help the planet but also all of us. Additionally we need to improve education for all so that individuals can make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices and potential health risks.
The Green Party promotes a holistic understanding of health; furthermore we cannot address a symptom of an illness without understanding the individuals general health, mental health and their environmental situation. For example, we are aware that people with mental health problems tend to smoke more than others. If a medic would want to encourage somebody in this position to stop smoking without understanding that smoking may be a coping strategy for their poor mental health, it is unlikely to be successful and may even leave the individual feel unsupported, and not understood which may worsen their mental health. Equally, treating someone for a respiratory disease like asthma with conventional medicines, whilst they live next to a power station, could be considered as short sighted and actually imposing additional risks of side effects whilst not addressing the cause. So we want a holistic and integrative approach to health.
Another important aspect of the Green Party’s policies on health is the focus on the individual being empowered and enabled to make choices. I am a psychotherapist and I feel passionately about the need for each person to be central in their treatment; without the individual’s participation and ability to make an informed choice, the treatment outcome is likely to be jeopardised.
The pharmaceutical industry holds a lot of power; and I do question their integrity. Their focus is on illness rather than on supporting health. It is well known that they use cartel methods to fix prices. I struggle to trust their research methods, their own evaluation of effectiveness and risk factors, since ultimately they want to make a profit. I also question the industry’s lobbying, which has caused for example patients with depression to be easily prescribed antidepressants without the opportunity to first seek counselling. I see regularly clients as a psychotherapist who have been on medication for many years, often with terrible side effects, whilst their GP has been reluctant to refer them on to counselling. If they then come to counselling, the NHS only offers six sessions, which is in cases of long term mental health problems just not enough. So it is my experience that drugs are prescribed too easily, and that patients have little say when it comes to their treatment options.
So that leads me finally to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). I have some personal experiences with homeopathy, which I used once for a minor problem. To be honest I was rather skeptical but gave in to the advice of a dear friend. I must admit I was astounded about the quick and apparent improvement of my problem. I am fully aware that this could have been caused by the placebo effect, but so what? It worked, and completely without side effects. Homeopathic remedies do not actually contain any real chemical content, but the “memory” of the original substance. I know it sounds strange, but it worked.
There are a number of different CAM, and I do believe we must be careful as some can be extremely controversial for very good reasons. For example I do not support Chinese medicine that contains substances or parts from animals (often endangered species). So I would always ensure that the medicines are produced and distributed with safe, sustainable and green methods.
It is also known that some CAM can cause side effects or interaction with other drugs, therefore one must be cautious and seek advice before taking any. I would recommend, as it is Green Party policy, that all drugs including CAM are appropriately labelled with clear outlines of risks, side effects and possible drug interactions.
Many people take vitamins and food supplements in the hope that any potential deficiencies from their poor diet are being addressed. I am very skeptical about this, and I have seen a German documentary of a meta study that clearly showed that these supplements, specifically for antioxidants, are not only ineffective but actually increase the fatality rate. Apparently the supplement industry has been fighting to have these claims withdrawn.
The Green Party promotes a healthy mixed and balanced diet from organic and locally grown produce, which would make this need for supplements void, and it tastes better too!
I visited Weleda in March, we discussed medical regulation here in the Uk and in the EU, we further agreed on the necessity of a sustainable, organic and Green approach which is central to their production of cosmetics and medicines. I have since read about their CAM, here in the UK Weleda produces their Anthroposophic Medicine that constitutes an international school of medical thought and practice developed as an extension of modern scientific medicine, practised exclusively by qualified medical professionals. They do appreciate conventional medicine but believe that a human being has additional dimensions and to treat someone we must take the holistic view of healing. For example, something I appreciate as a psychotherapist when someone has a medical issue, we need to take their psychological dimension into account. Furthermore counselling or some creative outlet may help an individual to deal with their psychosomatic issues that are manifested physically. I regularly see clients who are being treated for various medical illness like stomach problems, which are actually caused by some suppressed emotions. So treating them with conventional medicines are just addressing the symptom not the cause.
Weleda is compatible with my personal and professional view of an integrative treatment approach, and I believe it is also in line with Green Party policies. But it must be foremost a personal choice.
I also think we must distinguish between alternative and complementary; I personally would be reluctant to use alternative drugs alone ie: not using any conventional medicine if facing a serious health concern. But I know that these treatments, correctly dispensed have their place in a holistic health policy.
I would support research, sound regulation and clear labelling for CAM as well as all conventional medicines. The Green Party’s policies do provide a framework that is compatible with CAM. It is right that people are given a choice – an informed choice.

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Author: Kat Boettge

Lead Euro Candidate

2 thoughts on “Complementary and Alternative Medicine

  1. Pingback: #GE2015 number 3! | Cambridge Aromatherapy and Massage

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