When Hospitals Sponsor Alternative Therapies

   -- by Bob Glickman

Last spring a Philadelphia city hospital sponsored a lecture on alternative therapies. It was called "Botanical Medicine and Women's Natural Health." I was curious that a hospital would sponsor such a lecture and made sure that I attended to review the content. The speaker was Stephanie Maxine Gross, a medical botanist from Temple University. She also has an M.H. after her name which stands for Masters in Herbology. She received this degree from Wild Rose College somewhere in Canada. I have been searching and can't find any information on this institution.

At the beginning of the lecture, we received a booklet listing many herbs. This booklet coincided with the slide show and lecture by Gross. Each plant would appear on the view screen and Gross would explain what it was and for what ailments it could be used. We were advised about many herbs that could be turned into liver tonics and laxatives or for strengthening the walls of veins and capillaries, for stimulating menstruation and lactation, and for dry, scaly skin. Others were mentioned as remedies for stress and anxiety, prevention and treatment of colds and for various inflammations.

Gross stated that herbology is both a science and an art and that only a reputable herbalist should be sought out. However, who or what determines who is and who isn't a reputable herbalist? Another point she mentioned is that herbal preparations are not standardized. The preparations are considered food supplements and outside the FDA's jurisdiction. Therefore, doses of the same herbs can vary from company to company and from bottle to bottle. There no way to tell if one is getting the same dose each time.

As we moved into a general question and answer phase, more and more interesting information was presented. Gross feels that Andrew Weil MD is great and recommends his works. Other statements Gross made include the following:

During the Q & A period, I threw in a few questions just to get an idea of where Gross was coming from. My first was about homeopathy as it is always a great gauge to see how knowledgeable people are. She said she used it on herself and it worked. Unfortunately, personal testimony doesn't constitute proof for me.

Then I asked her the big question. "How many full-blown colds have you had in the past year?" Although this is hardly a scientific study, I was going to compare my lifestyle, which doesn't include any herb or vitamin supplements, with hers. I had had one cold in that same span of time. On the basis of her supplemental wizardry, I expected her to say "zero." Her answer was "Three, but I have been under a lot of stress." "Who isn't," I thought. I doubt that anyone there caught the irony of someone with all these different herbs, supplements and remedies at her disposal who still managed to have three full-blown colds.

The bigger question becomes how far will hospitals allow alternative medicine to intrude into scientific healthcare? I know of a local hospital-based pharmacy store that has regular FDA regulated and approved over-the-counter drugs on the same shelf with herbal and homeopathic remedies all intended to treat the same symptoms. I don't know what message the consumer is supposed to get from such a display.

Hospitals must realize the liabilities of becoming involved with unproved alternative therapies and therapists and thereby giving them unwarranted credibility. According to the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), the hospitals are more at risk as lawyers tend to target the "larger pockets" when it comes to poor patient outcomes for treatment; alternative therapists usually do not carry malpractice insurance.

Quick education section

Naturopathy or natural medicine relies on nature for healing.

Naturopaths call themselves doctors and use the initials "ND" which can easily be confused with MD.

NDs tend to be anti-drug, anti-fluoride and anti-immunization while promoting herbs, vitamins, acupuncture and any other "natural" remedy.

Homeopathy is a medication system where the more dilute a solution is made, the more powerful it becomes. Although this system defies all known scientific principles, with the exception of the placebo effect, homeopaths do not seem to mind.

Multiple studies have shown that Vitamin C does not prevent colds and, at best, might slightly reduce cold symptoms. Bioflavinoids are claimed to increase resistance to colds and flu but testing does not bear this out.

Marshall, C. W. "Vitamins and Minerals: Help or Harm." Consumer
Reports Books, Mt. Vernon, NY, 1985 .

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