Alternative Medicine Outside the Ivory Towers

Douglas J. Sprung, MD, FACG, FACP


May 14, 2004

Editor's Notes:
The author was given a copy of this letter and chose not to respond.

Dear Editor,

The December 30, 2003 article by Kimball Atwood[1] was an honest primer highlighting some of the changes taking place in our academic centers and most prestigious medical schools. The formation of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) departments has legitimatized "alternative medicine" in the eyes of many doctors, nurses, and, above all, the lay public. I will not argue that there is no value to alternative medicinal practices. However, I do believe the potential dangers to the public far outweigh the benefits. I doubt that the academics who are advocates to these practices are fully aware of how these dangers affect communities.

I am a gastroenterologist in Orlando, Florida, who is only seeing the tip of the iceberg regarding this matter. There is an upsurge of public sentiment against taking traditional medications and a preference for using "natural medicines." This may be "media mediated" in great part, as there are so many advertisements suggesting natural methods to do everything. But the biggest hoax is the promotion of "good" health going on in many doctors' offices.

I see patients who have purchased hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, colonic and chelating treatments, and even more bizarre infusions in the hopes of being healed of their maladies. None of these people benefited in any tangible manner.

This is going on in family practice care, chiropractic centers, osteopath offices, and even in the specialties of cardiology, dermatology, and nutrition. The problem? The public has no way of guarding themselves from the increased chicanery that is now out of control.

It is apparent, or should be to logical and well-trained physicians, that this is all a sham! Then why do the academics embrace these practices? I know why the community practitioners do it...MONEY.

The placebo effect is powerful. The media are hypnotic. The people are always more apt to part with their money to a con person than a traditional physician. But are the universities now benefiting monetarily with the promotion of CAM as well?


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