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The old and the new

November 5th, 2014


The old and the new

The duty of a doctor has always been the same – to cure diseases. Good doctors are those who can cure diseases quickly and effectively. How good a doctor is depends on whether he can treat the diseases, whether he can save lives and whether the diseases recur.

In reality, there are only a few diseases that can be healed permanently without a chance of recurring. Many diseases will go away in exchange with other symptoms, such as side effects from the medication. There are diseases that modern medicine cannot cure but traditional medicine can, such as non-Herpetic cold sores.

In treating patients, doctors know there are limits and decades of studies cannot cure all diseases in the world. Even specialized doctors cannot cure every patient. Sometimes the patients seek alternative medicine, which is not completely accepted by modern conventional doctors, so the patients have to sneak around behind the doctor’s back.

A patient of mine had had narrowed artery for a long time. One day, she said her shoulders hurt, but I checked and it was not related to her heart disease (it could be, but in this case it was not). I prescribed some medication to treat her shoulder problem, but months later she came back without any progress. Due to her heart condition, diabetes and high blood pressure, the amount of tablets prescribed had to be limited. I had no option so I sent her to see a Chinese medicine acupuncturist.  Soon, she returned with a happy smile, saying her shoulders were fine, and her blood pressure was back to normal.

Although this option is not recognized by all doctors, alternative medicine has been increasingly popular. Traditional medicine is only a part of this. Alternative medicine includes massaging, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, breathing techniques, and even future medicine (that’s what I call it – it’s not the formal name) such as electricity magnetic fields and many form of energy medicine. Some people do not “treat” the illness but use certain foods to battle the disease. It can be regarded as a treatment, such as the Mediterranean diet which is full of olive oil, nuts and vegetables.

In Thailand, there is also food therapy. We’ve been taught that we should eat mangosteen after we eat durian. It has been proven that mangosteens have anti-oxidants, which would be good for people who eat durian, which is high in calories from fat. Spices such as garlic and chili, which are widely used in most Thai recipes, can help reduce inflammation – one of the causes of many chronic diseases and even artery disease. It was believed that artery disease was caused by fat clogging the artery, but it was later found that it could be due to artery wall inflammation, which triggers the clogging in the first place.

Modern medicine does not fully recognize these alternatives, partly because modern doctors have been taught to think rationally based on statistics and medical research. For a medicine to be used, it has to be tested to prove that it works on “most” patients (not all, unfortunately) and has acceptable level of side effects (meaning there will be some side effects).  The medicine has to be tested on a big group of people and the effectiveness has to be satisfactory and clear.  This is the way how modern conventional medicine is controlled by statistic !!!

Alternative medicine usually has no scientific proof or research to back it up as reliable. It has been passed on from generation to generation, through observation and apprenticeship. Scientific research and statistic accumulation might not be suitable for alternative medicine because traditional medicine is more of art than science.

The purpose is not to treat the symptoms based on numerical data (statistic), but to make the patient feel better and relieved of the symptoms. In other words, the modern medicine is about physical aspect while the alternative medicine targets emotional and physical aspects together.

For example, the benefits of ginger and garlic, scientifically, might be difficult to conclude. Some research says they can reduce blood pressure, while some say they can’t. It could be due to the difference in the ginger’s and garlic’s place of origin, how they are kept, prepared and used. Since they are natural, their effect will gradually appear, not dramatically, so the studies might not be able to detect their effect. Plus, emotional effects cannot be measured by any modern statistic.

Both traditional and modern medicines have pros and cons, so it is better to approach both in the right way. This is called integrative medicine. However, the doctor has to know how to use both medicines in order to obtain best benefits for the patients.

A patient of mine felt pain in his chest because of cardiac syndrome X. It is harder to treat than narrowed artery. I had tried all medicines available, but it was not until the EECP treatment that he felt better. The effect was, however, only temporary and soon the pain came back. I tried the accupuncture (as some reports say it could work) and miraculously the patient felt better.

By better, I mean the symptoms went away and there was no need to use medication or the EECP. That was years ago, and recently, I checked his heart and it was perfectly normal.

Integrative medicine is widely recognized now. Some universities in the US offer this field of study. Other than medical treatments, it also includes meditation, hypnosis, detoxification, acupuncture and food therapy. However, the focus is not only on physical wellness but also emotional wellness. This definitely has no statistic proof as it can’t be measured.

It sounds like the past is the future. However, it is up to your consideration. My suggestion is no method can cure every patient. If it claims to do so, it’s a lie. Don’t believe the hype!

Prof Nithi Mahanonda is consultant cardiologist and interventionist, Perfect Heart Institute.


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