The alternative alternative: physician-prescribed alternative medicine

Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Meditation/mindfulness therapy | 8 comments

In addition to exploring mid-life emotional, physical and social issues, Flashfree is about effective alternatives to hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms. A huge challenge in this arena is that alternatives are often automatically dismissed as “woo woo” medicine, with naysayers claiming that there is little scientific evidence to support their use. Nevertheless, I have long believed that with the proper considerations and adjustments to the way that medical studies are conducted, findings might prove to be very different than they are. That’s why I’m heartened to read that  mind-body medicine, which includes yoga, tai chi, qi gong, meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing, comprises a large portion of the types of practices that are being incorporated into everyday life (and medicine).

Is the tide turning?

It may be, at least when it comes to mind-body strategies.

According to a study in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine, over 41 million Americans report trying some sort mind-body strategy. More importantly? About 1/8th, or  6.36 million of these individuals are using these strategies on the recommendation of their healthcare providers, most of which involves deep breathing, meditation and yoga or a combination thereof. Moreover, complementary strategies are apparently suggested mostly in people who have chronic illness, such as pulmonary disease or anxiety. On a broader level, physicians are increasingly recommending mind-body therapy to individuals with neurological deficiencies including headaches, migraines, back pain with sciatica, strokes, dementia, seizures or memory loss.  Meanwhile, in so far as menopausally-related symptoms, there is evidence that mind-body medicine may ease hot flashes and promote overall wellbeing (which in turn, eases symptom severity).

For something that is as easy and safe as mind-body medicine, one has to wonder why it’s taking so long to catch on. And yet, the question remains: are physicians starting to turn to alternative or complementary strategies because conventional medicine isn’t working or has been just about exhausted for a particular condition or patient? Is it possible that physician recommended alternative strategies lead to better outcomes or declines in use of the healthcare system? Only time will tell.

Stay tuned.


  1. 5-13-2011

    I admit I’m a cynic, but as to why it’s taking so long for alternative therapies to catch on, I can’t help but assume that it’s because it’s in pharma’s & the healthcare industry overall’s best interest if the only therapies available are those that generate a huge profit for them–e.g. drugs & physician provided services. Hopefully this will change over time, but I’m not holding my breath. Unless it becomes possible to patent alternative therapies 😉

    • 5-15-2011

      I am not sure I agree Maggie. I think it’s more a matter of a lack of thorough understanding of alternatives than profit margin. Supplements, for example, are a huge industry. It’s a shame but Western methodology doesn’t neatly apply to alternative strategies, leaving evidence less than stellar.

  2. 5-15-2011

    Since my OB/GYN is also a trained acupuncturist, I guess I am spoiled, but integrative practitioners — MDs, NPs, etc. who are also trained in TCM, ayurveda, etc. ARE out there. But if you just can’t find someone, I suggest getting in touch with Women to Women. Read their articles on menopause — and then print them out and give them to your own doctor! That’s what I do with my PCP and she LOVES them 🙂 Here’s a good one on natural menopause relief:

    • 5-15-2011

      Jacqueline; it’s always wonderful to find an open minded practitioner. Thanks for sharing your resource with my readers!

  3. 5-15-2011

    When MD Anderson opened “The Place of Wellness,” an alternative center that features massage, yoga, tai chi, and a full menu of educational and alternative treatments in 1999 and started an integrative medicine lecture series…I knew the tide was turning. Now I don’t know anyone who DOESN’t include some form of alternative therapy along with traditional cancer treatment.

    That’s a good thing, too. When I went through surgeries, chemo, radiation and reconstruction from 1998 – 2000 I did everything within my means to heal. I had 50/50% chance of recurrence. Here I am:)

    • 5-15-2011

      It’s great that it’s considered a standard part of cancer treatment. Now it’s time to move it past chronic or serious illness and into the mainstream.

  4. 5-16-2011

    I’m sure that some practices which we call ‘alternative’ medicine will become part of medicine. (In fact, I’ve always thought there is no alternative to medicine – there’s just medicine, it’s just a matter of tradition and institutions).

    Anyway, one note here is that any research needs to be framed in specific terms. For instance, “Yoga is healthy” doesn’t tell us much. And it’s an impossible claim to verify – justly like “surgery is healthy”.

    Knowing, however, that certain kinds of meditation have this or that effect on cognition or mood or neurotransmitter level can go a long way in guiding us.

    So I would love to see more research into specific claims – wether it’s herbal therapies or meditation or yoga.

    Docs and nurses need to use EVB.

    It’s just that the scientific method and ‘alternative’ therapies aren’t exclusive.

    Important point here – an we definitely need more attention: if nothing else but to ensure people are safe from unvetted claims. But I hope we do more than just that.

  5. 5-23-2011

    It certainly worth asking your doctor about when you go in for exams. Here’s a video I found helpful when coming up with Qs to ask:

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