By Dr Nancy Simpkins, MD
Here at The Sweat Life, we are big believers in an entirely integrative approach to medicine. We have personally witnessed the power of healing through diet and alternative healing, and are also grateful for the role that mainstream medicine plays in keeping illness at bay. There are times and places for both — alternative medicine alone is not always appropriate, and the same goes for Western mainstream medicine.
Over the past few months on The Sweat Life, we have heard from a naturopath who sways toward the alternative, and an old-school doctor who has explored the range of possibilities — and now we hear from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, a board certified internist and medical consultant for the state of New Jersey. The Question: What is the role of alternative medicine in a doctor’s office, from a doctor’s perspective?
What is Alternative Medicine?
The simplest explanation is that it is anything with healing power that is not founded in science. It consists of a wide range of healing products and procedures. As a strictly “western trained” doctor (my internal medicine residency was at Montefiore Medical Center of Albert Einstein Hospital System), I must admit I start off with the scientifically proven medication first.
Nearly 40 percent of adults report using complementary and alternative medications. Mixing of alternative with mainstream medications is called “integrative medicine.” This is becoming a well-established, well-respected field in medicine.
How Alternative Treatments Can Help
It is easiest to explain the role of alternative treatments by using a clinical example. Let’s take an example of a young woman with breast cancer. I always recommend state-of-the-art treatment: surgery, radiation, and chemo. Each case of breast cancer is different, and some patients will require one, two, or all three treatments. However, women experience all different types of reactions to breast cancer and its treatment. So for example, there is stress and depression attached to the diagnosis. I recommend exercise, yoga, and mediation. These alternative treatments are not treating the disease, but rather they are treating the patient.
What about the fatigue and insomnia attached to a cancer diagnosis? Can patients use a special diet? Supplements? Radically changing your diet can truly help with treating cancer. Just as a small example, diets that are rich in antioxidants (blueberries for example) and smoothies with dark leafy vegetables tend to give patients energy. Insomnia can be treated with various supplements such as valerian, melatonin, and Berry Sleepy (super fruit capsules).
Patients frequently ask about chiropractors and acupuncture. Once again, my background pushes me to treat back and joint pain with medication first. But what if traditional medications don’t work? A chiropractor who is well trained and understands the human body can be helpful in treating chronic back pain. My personal preference is acupuncture, which I find helps patients immensely.
What about Reiki? This natural technique accesses the body’s natural energy to speed healing. This is based on the old theory of “healing hands” placed on the body. Once again, as long as patients do not forego mainstream treatment, I see no harm in this technique.
Now For the Negatives…
There is no FDA monitoring of homeopathic medication. These products are sold in pharmacies, food stores, and health food stores. People do not consider these products medication, and therefore do not even tell their doctor that they are taking them. So what is the downside of this? First of all, people tend to believe that if a little bit of a supplement is good, then a lot is better. Without definite dosing information, patients can easily overdose with the supplements. These supplements can cause liver damage, kidney damage — or even worse, can interfere with patients' prescription medication.
How to avoid this? Make sure to tell your doctor EVERYTHING you take. It is important to share all of this information to avoid medical harm.
What About Cleanses and Detoxes?
There is an incredible system in the human body that is designed for cleansing and detoxing. The liver and the kidneys do an incredible job of taking care of this. So is there harm in doing a cleanse? I see no issue in a SHORT cleanse or detox. For example, if patients want to eat only fruits and vegetables and water for 3 days, I am okay with it. I am not okay with unproven cleanses that could cause damage to the bowel by putting too much pressure on it. Speaking of pressure on the bowel, I am not a fan of high colonics. Although I understand wanting a flat stomach and feeling empty, there have been numerous cases of colonic rupture with this treatment.
Okay so how do you weigh which treatments and herbal supplements to use? It is a simple answer, talk to your doctor. Even if your doctor is not a supporter of integrative medicine, ask his/her opinion on the safety of your supplements. Take a long walk, go to yoga, learn to meditate, and most of all respect your body and treat it well!
Dr. Nancy Simpkins is a Board Certified Internist and Medical Consultant for the state of New Jersey. With a practice in Livingston, NJ, Dr. Simpkins has been involved in all aspects of internal medicine, with a focus on women’s health. Known for her diagnostic ability, coupled with her wit, Dr. Simpkins has garnered a huge following and become a sought after speaker, guest, and consultant for women’s groups. She is dedicated to raising awareness by providing the most current and up-to-date information that women at any age can utilize to feel and look their best.