Doctors Who Care: Does Alternative Medicine Work?

Leading a growing trend, doctors at the Center for Integrative Medicine incorporate alternative medicine practices like healthier eating and self-healing into mainstream medical care.

| May/June 2012

  • Woman-Accupuncture
    The medical community seems to be growing more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities, not less. That’s in large part because mainstream medicine itself is failing.
  • Alternative-Medicine-Jars
    “These clinics throw together a little homeopathy, a little meditation, a little voodoo, and then they add in a little accepted medicine and call it integrative medicine, so there’s less criticism," says Steven Salzberg of John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
  • Man-Meditating
    The benefits of a healing approach extend beyond the prevention of major chronic diseases to the management of everyday maladies that plague millions of people.
  • Happy-Baby
    A more open-minded consideration of alternative-medicine practices has become par for the course at medical schools.

  • Woman-Accupuncture
  • Alternative-Medicine-Jars
  • Man-Meditating
  • Happy-Baby

I met Brian Berman, A physician of gentle and upbeat demeanor, outside the stately Greek columns that form the facade of one of the nation’s oldest medical-lecture halls, at the edge of the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore.

The research center that Berman directs sits next door, in a much smaller, plainer, but still venerable-looking two-story brick building. A staff of 33 works there, including several physician-researchers and practitioner-researchers, funded in part by $35 million in grants over the past 14 years from the National Institutes of Health, which has named the clinic a Research Center of Excellence. In addition to conducting research, the center provides medical care. Indeed, some patients wait as long as two months to begin treatment there—referrals from physicians all across the medical center have grown beyond the staff’s capacity.

“That’s a big change,” said Berman, laughing. “We used to have trouble getting any physicians here to take us seriously.”

The Center for Integrative Medicine, Berman’s clinic, is focused on alternative medicine, sometimes known as “complementary” or “holistic” medicine. There’s no official list of what alternative medicine actually comprises, but treatments falling under the umbrella typically include acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, Reiki, meditation, massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, Ayurveda, and several other treatments not normally prescribed by mainstream doctors. The term integrative medicine refers to the conjunction of these practices with mainstream medical care.

Berman’s clinic is hardly unique. In recent years, integrative medical-research clinics have been springing up all around the country, 42 of them at major academic medical institutions including Harvard, Yale, Duke, the University of California at San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic.

At one of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s hospitals, I introduced myself to Frank Corasaniti, a 60-year-old retired firefighter who had come in for an acupuncture treatment from Lixing Lao, a PhD physiologist with Berman’s center. Corasaniti had injured his back falling down a steel staircase at a firehouse some 20 years earlier, and had subsequently injured both shoulders and his neck in the line of duty. Four surgeries, including one that fused the vertebrae in his neck, followed by regimens of steroid injections and painkillers, had only left him in increasing pain. He retired from the fire department in 2002 and took a less physically demanding job with Home Depot, but by last year his sharpening pain made even that work too difficult. “I was starting to think I’d have to stop doing everything,” he told me. He was particularly worried that he’d be unable to continue helping out his mother, who had been battling cancer for two years.

5/12/2012 12:06:15 AM

There is no such thing as 'alternative medicine' when conventional medicine has nothing to say, There is only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't work. Lots of times, conventional medicine works, and lots of times it doesn't have a clue what to do - as discussed in this article - much less clue as to what works. If we had a health insurance system that paid for results, MORE than it paid for treatment, the truth would come out. When a patient is diagnosed with an illness and a 'conventional doctor' can do nothing, the insurance pays him. But in many case, when the patient finds an alternative practitioner who gets results, insurance does not cover the treatment. There are many situations where all the conventional doctor can do is diagnose - nothing more. It's up to the patient to find a doctor who can do more. It is, in theory, easy to measure results. A patient is diagnosed with an illness. A doctor tries to treat the illness and it persists or it is defeated. But when an 'alternative practitioner' defeats an illness it is seldom recorded, it simply becomes 'anecdotal evidence'. tracy -

Emily Dale
5/11/2012 3:40:52 PM

At age 86 I have been in the care of Integrative Physicians for the past 25 years, and as a result, I am in very good health. I became very impressed with their procedure of first analyzing my body chemistry, then prescribing supplements and natural drugs to remedy any inbalances. Periodically I visit them for follow-up analyses of areas that indicated needing correction, and then adjusting the supplementation as needed to restore balance. This, to me, is true "Health Care", and should be the mainframe of teaching in medical schools. Sadly, it will probably continue as a sideline due to the enormous influence the pharmaceutical companies have on med school curricula.

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter

click me