GMA: Alternative Medicine Use Rising

When prominent cardiac surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz prepares for surgery he does so in a state-of-the art hospital with every tool of modern medicine available to him.

But what might surprise or even shock most doctors is Oz’s use of ancient healing traditions.

He plays hypnosis tapes to soothe his patient’s unconscious mind, and calls on the services of an energy healer to cleanse his patient’s energy fields.

“I have been accused by some of my colleagues as being too open-minded and they say it actually in a very loving way,” said Oz, director of the Heart Assist Device Program at New York Presbyterian Medical Center. “And I understand why they make that argument because most people do have to draw lines in their life just to focus their energies.”

Over the past five years, Oz and his team at the hospital’s Complementary Medicine Program, has studied everything from guided imagery to aromatherapy to garlic. His studies have shown that the hypnosis/relaxation tape combination helps surgical and long-term recovery in his heart patients.

For example, they have less bleeding during surgery than patients who didn’t get the combination and they require almost no post-operative pain medication.

In the first part of Good Morning America’s three-part series: Alternative Medicine: East, West and the Mind, Dr. Nancy Snyderman visited Oz, one of many doctors who are responding to patients’ desires to try alternative medicine.

Not So Alternative Anymore Two out of three Americans use some form of alternative medicine. And whether it’s tai chi or aromatherapy, “alternative” medicine is not so alternative anymore.

The long-running divide between alternative and mainstream medicine is disappearing with leading medical journals now referring to alternative treatments as “complementary” or “integrative” medicine.

Acupuncturists, hypnotists, massage therapists and meditation instructors are working at new complementary centers attached to major hospitals. A Consumer Reports survey this year found that almost 35 percent of readers had used alternative therapies such as herbals, massage or chiropractic manipulation to treat the worst two medical conditions that they had over the past two years.

A majority of respondents, 58 percent, treated their medical conditions with conventional means. But those who used alternative therapies were not shy about it, as they might have been in the past. Some 60 percent of the readers surveyed who used alternative therapies told their doctors about it, according to the survey.

The key to Oz’s technique is integrating traditional Western medicine with complementary techniques to help heal the mind, body and spirit. It’s an approach that even the most high-tech surgeons are supporting.

One reason could be that patients are, literally, buying into alternative medicine. Sales of dietary supplements, including vitamins, reached $14.7 billion in 1999, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. And the Consumer Reports survey found that over two years, readers who tried them spent up to $300 on alternative therapies.

Here are some alternative treatments outlined in Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide, published by Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, Wash.

Acupuncture originated in China over 5,000 years ago. It is based on the belief that a person’s health is determined by having a balanced flow of “qi” (also spelled chi), the vital life energy circulating through the body. When special needles are inserted into acupoints just under the skin, they help correct and rebalance this flow of energy, relieving pain and/or restoring health. It is used as a healing treatment for numerous conditions ranging from the common cold to addiction and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is also used as an adjunctive treatment for AIDS.

Applied kinesiology identifies weaknesses in specific muscles to pinpoint imbalances in the body’s organs and glands. By stimulating or relaxing these key muscles, an applied kinesiologist can diagnose and resolve a variety of health problems.

Aromatherapy uses the essential oils extracted from flowers, leaves, branches or roots, to treat everything from infections and skin disorders to immune deficiencies and stress. The benefits of the oils may be gleaned through inhalation, external application, or ingestion (with proper medical guidance only.)

Biofeedback Training teaches a person to use simple electronic devices to change and control their body’s vital functions. For example, someone who wants to regulate their heart rate would use a device that beeps or flashes for every heartbeat and they would learn how to regulate it themselves.

Bodywork therapies such as massage, deep tissue manipulation, movement awareness and energy balancing are used to reduce pain, soothe injured muscles, stimulate blood and lymphatic circulation and promote deep relaxation. Deep-tissue massage, for example, is described as releasing chronic muscular tension by using slow strokes across the grain of muscle.

Chiropractic adjustments of the spine and joints are used to influence the body’s nervous system and natural defense mechanisms in order to alleviate pain and improve general health.

Energy Medicine uses diagnostic screening devices to measure the various electromagnetic frequencies sent out by the body, in order to detect imbalances that may be causing illness, or contributing to future disease. The input of electromagnetic signals that specifically counteract the affected frequencies is designed to restore a normal energy balance within the body.

Guided Imagery uses the power of the mind to bring about a positive physical response, sort of the opposite of “worrying yourself sick.” It can reduce stress and slow heart rate, stimulate the immune system and reduce pain.

Herbal Medicine is the most ancient form of health care known to mankind, and various herbs are used to aid health conditions ranging from premenstrual syndrome to heart disease and cancer. Garlic and its preparations, for example, are known for battling everything from coughs and bronchitis to ulcers and gout.

Homeopathy is a low-cost nontoxic system of medicine that works on the theory of “like cures like.” When taken in small quantities, dilutions of natural substances from plants, animals and minerals that would prompt different symptoms of illness instead help cure the same illnesses.

Hypnotherapy uses the power of suggestion and trancelike states to reach into the deepest levels of a person’s mind to bring positive changes to their behavior. It is used to manage numerous medical and psychological problems including helping a person stop smoking, overcoming alcohol and substance abuse and controlling eating.

Meditation, which centers around breathing and focusing the mind, is used to make people feel less anxious and more in control. It is supposed to balance a person’s physical, emotional and mental states, and it may be used as an aid in treating stress and pain management. It is also used as part of an overall treatment for other conditions, including hypertension and heart disease.

Mind/Body Medicine recognizes the profound interconnection of mind and body, using methods such as meditation, imagery and biofeedback to impact health, based on the concept that mood, attitude and belief can affect virtually every chronic illness. For instance, fear, cynicism and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness can have a detrimental effect on health, while courage, a sense of humor and hopefulness can be beneficial.

Osteopathy is a form of physical medicine that helps restore the structural balance of the musculoskeletal system. It combines joint manipulation, physical therapy, and postural re-education to treat spinal and joint difficulties, arthritis, digestive disorders, menstrual problems and chronic pain.

Qigong is an ancient exercise practiced by more than 200 million people in China every day. It combines movement, meditation and breath regulation to enhance of the flow of vital energy in the body, improve blood circulation and enhance immune function.

Yoga is among the oldest known systems of health, based on the concept that if the mind is chronically restless and agitated, the health of the body will suffer. It uses physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation practices to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate and even retard the aging process.