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Let’s Add Chicken Soup Back to Medicine

“Traditional” and “non-traditional” medicines are often at odds with one another, and have been ever since the scientific method took hold in the Renaissance. In general, that has served humanity well. Science has slowly and steadily teased out the true causes of disease and their treatments, and pushed aside the myths and fabrications of pre-evidence-based health care.

But now, I believe, it is time for reconciliation. Rather than butting heads, “establishment” practitioners and technologies need to collaborate with so-called alternative or allied health providers. Doing so will deepen the care narrative and improve patient experiences.

Traditional medicine is based on scientific discovery. Where once, the ill and infirm would pay good money for Dr. Smith’s Magic Elixir only because Dr. Smith said it work, science helped determine if Dr. Smith’s cure-all really did cure all – or if the alcohol in the magic elixir just made you not care.

However, it is dangerous to think that science itself is a magic elixir. Scientific discovery is still fraught with bias and poor study design. And alternative medicine may not be alternative at all, just based on older teachings that, though not scientifically proven (usually because there is no money to be made by studying them), may be just as valid.
As we all know, patients have been returning to some of those teachings in droves over the past few decades. Take chicken soup. Grandmothers have been touting the healing properties of chicken soup for generations, and a recent study proved your grandmother was right. It really is a time for both the old and the new.

We also need to look at how we got to modern medicine. What was left behind may have been due to political or religious pressure rather than science. The use of silver in medicine is a good example. Once a common remedy in the physician’s black bag, it became too expensive with the advent of photography. Maybe we might come back to it?

In all things there needs to be a balance. Healing cannot occur without a compassionate understanding of the power of the mind. We cannot underestimate that power. I am disappointed that traditional medicine has called this “the placebo effect.” That demeans and diminishes this important healing power rather than really using the mind’s ability and desire to cure the body to its fullest advantage. After all, “science” has proved that 30% of people will have a beneficial effect from a treatment if they believe that it will help. Having healthcare that is in alignment with our belief system is important for that reason.

That’s why I believe we need to add allied health to our practices. We also need to do it right. I am not advocating moneymaking “medi-spas.” I am advocating for the use of real healing massage, real counseling about optimizing diet and exercise, real skin and body care that checks for moles along with providing facials. We need healing foods, healing music, healing movement.

I also believe that we need healing therapies that are specific to our individual heritages. Before humanity was so mobile, it was fine for local and traditional medicine to address those local or regional illnesses. But today, our culture is no longer local. It is multiethnic, multicultural and global. We should have – in fact, we need – care that reflects that diversity of needs and beliefs. We need care that is specific, not one-size-fits-all.

This is not to say that we should embrace all allied health practitioners out of hand. I think we should work with those who have proven their worth over time, culture and, yes, scientific inquiry. There is still a lot of bad, incorrect and downright dangerous information out there, and patients have access to it in unprecedented ways. Doctor Google has been wonderful because it allows patients to feel they have more control, to get a variety of opinions and multiple sources of data. It allows them to ask smart questions, to learn the language, to be involved and to process. However, in the Internet age of the three minute YouTube video or 140-character Tweet, they don’t get the whole story. There is no filter, no expert to confirm to them if that bump on their nose really is –according to whatever source they stumble upon – a spider bite, a pimple or cancer. That is why we must work with allied, alternative practitioners, not against them.

I also advocate for educating these allied health professionals in how to look for diagnostic clues, so that they can then alert the patient/client’s physician. Think about this: A massage therapist likely sees more of the patient than the primary care physician, and is thus more likely to notice darkening of the skin, loss of eyebrows, skin tags, varicosities, joint pain or other signs of disease.

So let’s make use of it. Let’s add chicken soup back to medicine.

AgeSmart Community Resources would like to thank Dr. Teresa L. Knight for this month’s article.  Dr. Knight is the CEO at Women’s Health Specialists of Saint Louis.

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