Alternative medicine, once considered controversial and experimental, is now enjoying a newfound respect within the medical community. More and more doctors trained in Western medicine are allowing alternative therapies — everything from hypnosis to herbs to spiritualism — to be incorporated into their patients’ care. Are many patients embracing alternative medicine as part of modern medical care? How do doctors successfully blend Eastern and Western medicine?
In a three-part series on Good Morning Americathis week, Dr. Nancy Snyderman looks at the state of alternative medicine. After the broadcast, Dr. Snyderman took your questions in an online chat. The chat transcript is below.
Moderator at 2:30pm ET
Welcome Dr. Nancy Snyderman.
Alex Vilaythong from resnet.tamu.edu at 2:31pm ET
Is alternative medicine safe for children?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:32pm ET
I don't even like the phrase "alternative medicine" anymore. I think at this point were talking about complementing centuries-old medicine with modern technology, and depending on a child's ailment, complementary medicine can certainly be safe. I have seen children get bone marrow biopsies and have blood drawn while using meditation techniques, and they have had minimal pain, so, in the right circumstance, children can use complementary, or alternative, medicine in much the same way that adults do.
Michele K. Carter RN at 2:33pm ET
In this morning's newscast, during the piece on Dr. Mehmet Oz, I believe he mentioned garlic as being effective for decreasing pulmonary artery pressure. Is there some where to locate published research on this?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:34pm ET
In fact, I believe Dr. Oz has published research. We know that garlic has a role in treating high blood pressure, and the pressure in the pulmonary arteries should be no exception. Log on to Medscape.com and see if you can find the reference that way.
Rebecca at 2:35pm ET
What can you tell me about Chinese medicine and acupuncture? I hear that it is really effective in treating many things, like migraines, back pain, nausea, smoking, etc. I also hear that it doesn't have the side effects of Western drugs and is cheaper too. Where can I find a good practitioner?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:37pm ET
First of all, let me tell you that I do believe in acupuncture, and acupuncture, as a treatment, has been used safely and effectively for thousands of years. Doctors are now using acupuncture to treat chronic pain, nausea, migraines, and I use it with many of my cancer patients for a variety of problems. In the Bay area, where I live, it's easy to find acupuncturists. Depending on where you live, you may have to do some digging. Call your local University and check with your county medical society for a referral. It's safe and painless and in many cases can mean throwing your medicines away.
Maggie Coleman at 2:38pm ET
Do you think that if medical doctors start recognizing the value of alternative therapies that insurance companies and HMOs will be more likely to begin paying for alternative therapies?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:38pm ET
I think the day is coming. The hard sell is convincing corporations and HMOs about the importance of saving money in the long run when everyone is looking at the bottom line. The science will convince them, and the science is there.
Rodney Schwan from san-diego-06-07rs.ca.dial-access.att.net at 2:39pm ET
What role does energy healing play during open heart surgery?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:39pm ET
Dr. Oz has shown that energy healing decreases blood loss during surgery, and also minimizes a patient's pain. I can't tell you how it works, but the science sure seems to support the fact that it does work.
Jack from proxy.aol.com at 2:40pm ET
How does one approach a hospital about "alternative" therapies? I will be having an aortic valve transplant (at 30!) on Friday and am especially interested in this for postoperative pain and recovery.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:41pm ET
If your doctor and hospital are not using alternative therapies routinely, one thing you can do is to do it yourself. Ask your doctor to let you listen to headphones as you fall asleep, and play your favorite, most relaxing music. That's almost a form of hypnosis, and can decrease your anxiety and will at least make you feel more comfortable before the procedure. The most important thing is, it can't hurt.
Ian from umaryland.edu at 2:42pm ET
If alternative medicine really works, why wouldn't they just call it medicine? If something like acupuncture has been around for so many years, why hasn't it ever been proven? Doesn't the fact that it hasn't been scientifically proven for so many years imply that it doesn't work?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:45pm ET
Your question is a good one, but somewhere along the line, as we took a Western view of modern medicine, we seemed to disregard the importance of the soul and spirit, and how they relate to the physical body. In my opinion, that departure from the total integration of the mind and body was a big mistake and we are now, centuries later, trying to put the mind and body back together. There is no doubt in my mind that the science will support the fact that these modalities, that have been used for centuries, have a place in the practice of modern medicine. But the real challenge now is to prove to the naysayers that complementary medicine plays a role, and the only way to prove it is with science and data; that's what we're doing with this series on Good Morning America.
Jan Spitzenberger at 2:46pm ET
How does one go about finding a doctor that practices alternative medicine, and what questions should be asked when searching? Any other comments you can give in the aid of searching for an alternative medicine doctor would be appreciated. Thank you for broadening the medical field in this direction.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:48pm ET
Interestingly, many of the instinctive qualities that you have as a human being, you need to use in finding an alternative medicine specialist as well as a traditional physician. Checking a doctor's credentials is only one part of the journey. Find out who in your area is incorporating alternative therapies into his or her practice. Meet with that doctor, and ask what he or she believes in and where your doctor draws the line. Let your instincts and your gut guide you. Most of the time we know good doctors when we see them. If something sounds wacky to you, or seems dangerous, it probably is. But if your comfort level tells you that you're with a physician who is willing to explore alternatives that seem safe, and may get you better, you may have nothing to lose.
A.C. Trout from on-net.net at 2:49pm ET
Are the medical schools including classes in alternative medicine as a way to focus more on prevention rather than treatment of disease?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:50pm ET
Medical schools are increasingly becoming better about training medical students about disease prevention and complementary medicine. One of the best programs is at the University of Arizona Medical School. Dr. Andrew Weil started the program there. But as with so many things, whether politics or medicine, when the patients lead, the leaders will follow. Doctors are increasingly being forced to learn about alternative therapies, because we know our patients are using them anyway. And we are better doctors if we are informed.
Albert at 2:52pm ET
In your research did you happen to discover a non-invasive procedure for angina called "E.E.C.P."? I've read that it is working to help people without surgery or drugs and it's covered by medicare and many insurance companies.
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:53pm ET
I am not a cardiologist, and did not specifically look at this procedure. I have heard of it, but have no first hand experience with it. My suggestion would be to talk to your local heart specialist and contact the local medical school in your area
Jessica Berlin from 245.47.224.sandiego1.level3.net at 2:54pm ET
How does Dr. Mehmet Oz use aromatherapy in his practice with patients? Yourself?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:55pm ET
He has used aromatherapy, and has used massage. But at this point, relaxation techniques and meditation are the two methods that he has proven to have a positive impact on his patients. As you know, many people use aromatherapy in conjunction with various modalities, but I don't think it has been studied as a stand alone entity.
firstname.lastname@example.org at 2:55pm ET
The alternative medicine program this morning was fantastic! We've been waiting for someone like Dr. Oz for a long time! How do we receive more information about Dr. Mehmet Oz, articles, books, e-mail, or whatever? And thanks to Dr. Snyderman!! Charlotte Davis
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:56pm ET
Dr. Oz has written two books that you can easily find through your local bookstore. He is also a practicing thoracic surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
Bob E from ptc.com at 2:56pm ET
You mentioned checking a doctor's credentials; how would you best go about doing that for alternative medicine?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 2:59pm ET
It can be dicey. Not everyone is going to have a degree from an accredited University, like the University of Arizona, but one of the best places to check is the local branch of the American Cancer Society, or the Arthritis Foundation. I say that because these societies deal with patients with chronic long-term problems, and it is just these patients who have reached out beyond the scope of traditional medicine. When there are good things to report, patients usually get back to these societies, and they keep track of the experts in their areas. One word of caution though: people who are very ill or dying can be so desperate for help that they can be easy targets for charlatans. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And with any type of mainstream physician, always remember that you can get a second opinion.
melanie from proxy.aol.com at 2:59pm ET
Are there any herbal remedies that are alternatives to drowsy antihistamines, decongestants and inhaler medicines for children suffering from allergies and asthma?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:01pm ET
Freeze-dried stinging nettles can be used in lieu of antihistamines. The advantage is that they don't make you drowsy. However, they are no replacement for inhaled steroids; be careful not to change any medications without your doctor knowing.
lynn bozof from lmco.com at 3:06pm ET
What natural methods or remedies can you recommend for depression?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:08pm ET
Certainly, I think it's dangerous to treat depression without having a physician's help. That said, the treatment for "the blues" is much different than the treatment for severe depression. But if you feel blue, and you've been under a lot of stress, turning to simple relaxation techniques can be a big help. Something as simple as getting a massage, or taking a long walk, or playing hookey from work, can go a long way toward restoring your inner self. However, if you sense that this is something more than just a transient low time, check with your physician, because there are now medications that you can take and incorporate the relaxation techniques with them.
Ellen Kirker, RN from hsh.org at 3:09pm ET
Do you have any experience or information regarding the connection between faith, healing and Parish Nurses, and their role in health and healing?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:11pm ET
Yes. We know that people who believe in something, a higher power, religion, Mother Nature, tend to do better during times of illness. Doctor Oz has studied patients who have undergone heart surgery, and has shown that people with faith and patients who are prayed for have better outcomes. My take on this is that a belief in something beyond yourself in some way heightens your immune system in ways that we may not even be able to explain yet. This is one of the most fascinating parts of current research and certainly underscores what many of us have seen individually in our patients for years.
Moderator at 3:12pm ET
What will you be looking at in the next installment of the alternative medicine series?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:13pm ET
Tuesday we'll take a look at a modern day medicine man. This is a doctor who is trained in traditional Western ways, but who now uses Native American beliefs to treat his patients. I found the results hopeful and startling and exciting. Wednesday, Dr. Herbert Benson from Boston, the father of integrated medicine, will be interviewed. It is on his shoulders that all the modern advances have been made.
Julz from as16.dytn.oh.voyager.net at 3:13pm ET
Dr Snyderman, I'm an older student finishing up my pre-med. Are there any medical school programs that you know of that completely integrate alternative medicine with Western medicine?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:14pm ET
Boston's Deaconess Hospital, the University of Florida, and the University of Arizona all have integrated programs. I'm sure at this time there are many more that I'm not even aware of. When you send for application materials, inquire about the availability.
Moderator at 3:14pm ET
Dr. Snyderman, thank you for joining us today. Do you have any final thoughts to share?
Dr. Nancy Snyderman at 3:16pm ET
The great part, for me, in combining medicine and cancer surgery with my life as a television correspondent, is that I continually learn from the doctors and patients I meet. There is no doubt in my mind that it's time for doctors to take the blinders off and consider applying therapies outside the realm of traditional medicine in various situations. I firmly believe that a doctor who can't take off the blinders and who has no sense of spirituality probably is not a very good doctor. The door has been opened to the future, and complementary medicine is here to stay, just as it should be.
Moderator at 3:16pm ET
Please take a moment to check out recent chats in our Chat archive. Thank you for joining us.