COMMENTARY

Alternative Approach to Treating Allergies: The Wonders of Nature

Hana R. Solomon, MD

Disclosures

September 18, 2006

In This Article

Philosophical Divide: CAM vs Conventional Care

Western or modern medicine has come a long way with life-saving antibiotics and surgeries that would have been unthinkable just 25 years ago. This advance has been largely made through scientific studies that have followed stringent protocols. Modern medicine is based on the evaluation of these studies and the application of the emerging evidence in routine clinical practice. Clinicians depend on the scientific, evidenced-based approach; alternative medical approaches are rejected unless based on sound, scientific evidence.

Studies in the field of Allergy and Clinical Immunology using blind controls often focus on new medications or manipulation of the immune system. Surgery for allergy-related problems is offered for recurrent ear or sinus infections. Prevention in this and other areas of medicine is generally not a source of income for physicians or corporations and, therefore, is not often studied.

In the past quarter century, researchers have begun to apply serious scientific study to CAM - time-honored practices often based on folk beliefs, traditions, and wisdoms handed down from generation to generation. (The logic is like this: One's grandmother thought it was true. She used it and lived to a ripe old age - that is, long enough to pass it down; so, at the very least, the practice must not cause harm.)

Contrast grandmother's advice with an increasing number of medications approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because they were initially found to be safe and effective, only to be recalled later because of serious or deadly side effects discovered once a larger population has had experience with the medication. Time is a wonderful teacher.

As patients become more aware of medication risks, they are self-educating and searching for safe (or at least safer) alternatives. As reported in a landmark trial, CAM visits skyrocketed from 427 million each year in 1990 to 627 million in 1997.[1] This number continues to increase while the number of modern or Western medicine visits essentially remains the same.

One major philosophical difference between conventional medicine and CAM practices is that the former treats or, rather, masks symptoms while the latter appreciates symptoms as the body's natural alert. Drugs, the most popular Western modality:

  • Tend not to treat the root cause of disease;

  • Have potentially harmful side effects; and

  • Do not generally prevent recurrence of disease.

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