the alternative fix
photo of acupuncture

join the discussion: With over a fifth of U.S. hospitals  now  offering some sort of alternative therapy along with conventional medicine, what are your views on this trend? Are you concerned about the lack of scientific studies proving that alternative medicine actually works?
the clash


Yes, it is about money, the money that orthodox medicine wants to keep for its self! They go after anything and anyone who differs from their own beliefs. While watching this show I kept thinking about the viciousness that orthodox medicine unleashed on midwives a while back trying to discredit them and make midwifery illegal.Sometimes orthodox medicine is indeed the best way to go but not always. Hopefully such groups of bullying health providers such as I experienced on this program will never succeed in limiting the health choices of this country's citizens.

Elizabeth Ostrander
Eastport, Maine


Thank you for a very good program on this confusing subject. I have been a medicinal chemist for over thirty years and now I am a retired physcian assistant. I can appreciate the difficulty the public has in understanding what a true study entails.

There is a difference between scientific study and testimonials. It can be demonstrated that at least 95% of all burgalars have eaten mashed potatoes but that is hardly a cause-effect situation. Unfortunately, the FDA has buckled to the profit-seekiing and political pressure that has now resulted in untried and unproven materials being on the market. I think this is in part due to physcians who abandon patients when they can no longer offer any real hope. In my opinion, a physcian would provide a great service to terminal patients by offering to stay with them through the long and stressful passage at the end of life. It is hope that the quacks are selling; not any miraculous cure.

Keith Egli
Gaithersburg, Maryland


I have a raft of comments and questions for this topic, I will limit myself to two.I am biased towards the alternatives, however, as my second comments will atest to.Firstly, i am most struck by the arrogance of the doctor in charge @ the JAMA regarding regulation of supplements. She speaks about these items as though "snake oil", frought w/ risk and unprovable results. Would someone please ask her for her thoughts on the current scandals regarding Vioxx, etc., a heavily studied, "medical" product. I'm in sales and I've recently read that the pharmaceutical industry enjoys an average 70% profit margin! My customers "enjoy" 14% and I drive a pickup truck; pharma reps drive german sports cars. Hmmmm. Oh, and if you need some pills before you can get your 'scrip filled, your doctor will reach into a drawer and give you a handful of the latest & greatest! Free!My second comment is regarding Ephedra. Since I discovered it in herbal teas 6 or 7 years ago, I have not poisoned myself w/ pseudephedrine - the Quaalude of decongestants, and I am able to breathe clearly through the duration of my colds. 'Nuff said.

chris chubbuck
ambler, pa


Dear Frontline, The term COMPLIMENTARY medicine is in my opinion, the wisest approach.Both sides of the alternative medicine question have their "pro's and cons, angels and demons". For the last 4.5 years I have been providing a therapy that has been FDA APPROVED for the prevention of migraine and tension type headaches, as well as TMJ(jaw joint)pain. Using no shots, no pills,with no side effects, the therapy has had considerable success( There are soms strange ironies however: 1)The term "FDA-APPROVED" has lost some of its validity since the VIOXX scandal revealed how some drugs are given the soft glove treatment and how much influence the drug companies have on the process.The wolf IS guarding the henhouse. 2)On going to a meeting of the American Headache Society last week, my form of headache therapy, FDA_APPROVED as it is, was lambasted along with other methods such as accupuncture, herbal supplements, and electric neurostimulation. These detractors have little, if any experience using these methods. They also had to disclose very long lists of drug companies from whom they receive grants or other fees.Their views are HARDLY OBJECTIVE ones. Most of them put down other methods using scripted phrases the same way the GOP linked John Kerry with flip-flopping- over and over. They also minimized and blunted discussion of the side effects of these multi- billion dollar migraine meds. All that said, I am a bit leery of supplements that answer to nobody about their safety and effectivness.

Michael Steinberg DDS
Brooklyn, New York


The Frontline special on "Alternative" medicine was concluded with the basic idea that money is the force behind this "trend" in dietary supplements. Money is also the force behind the AMA's and FDA's attempt to regulate the supplement industry. They want to get their hands in the pot. If I can grow an herb in my back yard that can reduce my depression and lower my blood pressure just think of the hit the drug industry and the medical community will take in their pocket books. The reality of the whole thing is they want to regulate food products. Dietary supplements come from food sources.The arguments for regulating supplements can apply to OTC drugs. Someone can die just as easily from taking aspirin as from taking Ephedra. I'm taking a guess that the reported deaths from Ephedra were people abusing it for athletic or weight loss reasons. There are many more people dying from prescription drugs every year than people taking dietary supplements. Also, why arent medical doctors asking their patients about the supplements they are taking. If supplements are contraindicated with prescriptions its the MD's responsibility to inform the patient.

Joel Menges
Hershey, PA


I have speant years practicing medical hypnosis. Most of my patients are referred to my office by 'traditional' practitioners: medical doctors, dentists and licensed psychologists who trust me and my work. They refer people to me for several reasons, not the least of which is the high success-rate enjoyed by my patients, especially those who come for weight-loss, bulimia, anxiety, fears and phobias.

I am not concerned with those who do not believe in the use of hypnosis as a means of habit or behavior modification. I am concerned only with the countless numbers of people -- the vast majority -- of those who seek my help and succeed. I'm not out to convince anyone who simply 'does not believe'. That's their choice.

Dr. Ron Glassman
Mountainside, NJ


As a first year medical student, I appreciated the views from both sides as discussed in the the Alternative Fix. I think that the underlying attitudes and thinking of many western physicians and medical establishments is that there is only one way to approach patient treatment. Unfortunately, it has been narrowed to their perceptions on what is "appropriate" medicine. The only problem with this is that it leaves little, if any, room for innovation and thus progressives cures and remedies are lost to closed thinking.

Hopefully, with the matriculation of a new generation of physicians, there will be an exposure to properly train and inform future physicians how to utilize the beneficial aspects found in some alternative remedies so that patients can be assured the best treatment.

Nena Stanley
Detroit, Michigan



I appreciated FRONTLINE exploring Alternative medicine but found your conclusions wanting. If you produced a show on surgery, chemotherapy and radiation showing only those that had negative responses, do you think people would want to try those therapies?

It might be interesting to delve into how the WHO is trying to stuff the Codex alimentaris down our throats, but that might be too politically charged for even PBS.

Please have your researchers check on "Snake Oil". They could have enlightened the public on the real derivation of the phrase.

Udo Erasmus ("Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill")found that the "snake oil originally came from China, where it was used to alleviate inflammation and pain in rhematoid arthritis..." Chinese water snake actually has one the highest "natural levels of the parent of series 3 prostaglandins, which inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory series 2 prostaglandins". The oil "contains 20% of the important omega 3 derivative eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as well as 48% myristic acid, ..."

The patent medicine men tried to deny this claim. I know you want to disseminate accurate and not sensational information.

Pat Brown
The Woodlands, TX


Below is part of a report done in 1994 by Hugh Downs. I was researching ephedra at the time that I discovered this. By the way- a drug version of ephedra is still used in over the counter inhalers and nasal sprays. No prescription necessary. Because herbal ephedra was suspected(but not proven)to be the cause of a few deaths it has now been pulled off the market, it is only "speculation" that this herb caused any deaths! Was the correct dosage taken? Were other health problems there, undetected? If people abuse legal drugs and die from them is it considered the fault of the drug? Notice below how many people die each year from Aspirin. Does anyone even know this? Would you ever think of aspirin as unsafe? Now that's marketing! It's especially dangerous for seniors, but it is often given to them for arthritis and heart problems! According to this report it causes as many deaths as heroine each year!

Taken from a report by Hugh Downs from 1994:

"In a typical year, the approximate number of people who die from taking cocaine hovers around 2,500 people. Heroin deaths are less than that, at about 2,000. To give some perspective to these numbers, it's useful to bear in mind that 2,000 people die every year from taking aspirin, too. Aspirin can cause catastrophic intestinal bleeding and death. And can be easily used to that effect, legally, by suicides. Tobacco which, so far, is still a legal drug, kills around 400,000 people every year. The government supports tobacco production, and helps to sell American tobacco products around the world." H.D.

I feel that we need to know what drug/herb interactions are in order to keep ourselves safe. (For instance- it's good to know if the herb you are taking is a blood thinner- you don't want to take that with a blood thinning drug.) But I don't feel that an herb should be pulled off the market, when you can go to the drugstore and buy a version of it over the counter. What a con job! They are now selling (ephdera/ephedrine)in gas stations as well, and can do so because it is a "drug". Doesn't it seem odd that as an herb it's too dangerous, but as a drug it's not, and should we keep allowing ourselves to be manipulated like this? We keep getting these huge "scares" over possible problems with herbal products, let's put it in perspective, it's about money. Many, many drugs have been used for a long time before hazard's were suspected or discovered-(i.e. hormones)and if you watch drug ads on t.v. you may see side effects that are far worse that your problem.

Cyndi Beale
Sarasota, Florida


I have been introduced to many alternative methodologies of medicine, including acupuncture, aryuveda, homeopathy, massage, etc. What seems to me to be obvious is that the allopathic model of medicine is based upon ridding the body of symptoms. It can be a very effective model for crisis situations, such as car accidents.

However, many alternative and traditional forms of medicine have a holistic and preventative approach. For long term degenerative disease, it is more helpful to look at diet, nutrition, excercise, exposure to toxins, etc., rather than suppressing symptoms with drugs. Wholistic medicine asks, "What is the cause of the symptom? " and works back from there.

What about this lack of regulation by the FDA? I remember the furor some years ago when the FDA wanted to regulate supplements. The supplement users were against such an action because they feared the FDA would take away supplements which they, the patient, felt were useful. However, it has led to a dreadful lack of standards in the supplement industry. Scientific research shows the efficacy of various nutrients, but the consumer walking into a store is unable to buy a quality nutritional product that can guarantee it's potency. There is one company making nutrition according to a pharmaceutical standard, that is available to the general public. That company is Usana Health Sciences. Usana's nutritional supplements set the standard in an industry in need of standards.

In conclusion, the American medical system, which is struggling with costs and degenerative epidemics such as diabetes and cancer, could become more effective in preventing disease, and would then save the system millions of dollars. People could focus on being healthy, rather than ignore their health until a crisis occurs.

Forrest Evans
Albuquerque, New Mexico


I saw Alternative Fix last night and found it very biased toward allopathic medicine. I knew based on the first line which said something to the effect that alternative medicine is a 48 billion dollar industry; it is driven by money, where the slant would be. When we as a nation spend over 200 billion on drugs each year, this is a bit of a hypocritical statement. The top ten drugs sold in the US gross more than 48 billion.

You covered safety of the supplements and quoted a death from ephedra resulting in FDA involvement to look at pulling the supplement. What about the 160,000 deaths now determined to be due to Vioxx? You also reported that some want the FDA to regulate supplements to protect the public. When things like Vioxx, thalidomide, Des, Premarin and Prempro to name a few go through the FDA process and still get out on the market, what makes you think they will be able to do any better with supplements. Between the years 1975 - 1999 the FDA had to pull 56 drugs off the market that they previously had approved.

It was also brought up that it isn't that alternative medicine has been disproved, it is that it has not been proven. When you look up the mechanism of action of many of the prescription drugs it says mechanism unknown. Chemotherapy drugs are based on response rate; that is did the tumor shrink by 50% or more, not did it cure the cancer.

I agree that many people are self treating with supplements based on what they read on the internet or what their local health food store clerk tells them. This is dangerous. The only practitioners that are adequately trained in nutrition, supplements, homeopathy, herbs, and their interactions with drugs are Naturopathic Doctors (ND). You didn't even mention these practitioners. There are four accredited, four year Naturopathic medical schools in the US. The oldest is the National College of Naturopathic medicine located in Portland Oregon. These medical schools require on average 4500 hours of resident training similar to traditional medical schools (not to be confused with all the mail order ND schools out there). They diverge from the allopathic training in two main areas. 1. Because getting to the cause of illness is central in Naturopahtic philosophies, NDs get approximately 125 additional hours in physiology than the average allopathic medial training. 2. Where as ND's do get training in pharmaceuticals and can prescribe certain drugs in the licensed states, their main medical management is based on natural substances. These are the substances and therapies that were used by all doctors before pharmaceuticals came along. The Naturopathic doctors are trained to help you remove the cause of your ailments so you don't need medications.

Make no mistake; I am not saying we should never prescribe medications. Some of us would not be here if it were not for these prescription drugs. The sad part is when there are 100,000 deaths per year from appropriately prescribed and appropriately taken pharmaceuticals. (Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Dr. Barbara Starfield of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health) there has to be a better, safer way.

The push for Alternative medicine is not being done by alternative practitioners; it is being demanded by the public. Hospitals like Beth Israel, and Cancer Treatment Centers of American are responding to that demand and have Naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, Chinese medicine, Nutrition, etc. available for their patients. The public is demanding this and we need to figure out a way to safely integrate all modalities of medicine to the benefit of the patient. Isn't that what it is about, doing what is best for the patient?

Cynthia Bye
Vancouver , Wa


I was disappointed in your coverage of Alternative Therapies. I have used osteopaths, naperpaths, chiropractors & acupunture for many years. I have had insurance coverage for my acupunture treatments for sinus infections, after taking several rounds of antibiotics with no success. I am helped more by deep tissue massage for my fibromyalgia than taking Rx of Celebrex, and other strong doses of prescribed medicines that do damage to your body and eventually aren't that helpful.

Recently I must have twisted my knee (aggravating an old injury) causing me difficulty walking, so I obtained one treatment of physical manipulation & ultrasound from the chiropractor and was up and back to normal within 2 days.

I hope in the future that you can do a more in depth coverage of these alternative therapies & shed a more favorable light on them.

The FDA is not the final answer. In fact, with the drugs that have been approved & now being withdrawn, I am very wary of our FDA. Keep in mind that your viewers are a widely read, intelligent group & able to think for themselves without government always looking out for them.

Nancy Johnson
Rockford, Illinois


I have been a patient of Dr Gonzalez for 14 years and have benefited immensely from his treatment. I was truly dismayed that you focused primarily on coffee enemas because of its obvious shock value and did not say one word about the central component of his treatment - the use of pancreatic enzymes to digest cancer cells. There is evidence going back almost 100 years in major medical journals that pancreatic enzymes can thwart cancer and again no mention was made.

And why would you choose as the 'success' story a woman who did not have a biopsy to prove cancer, when there are many many other patients of his who would have shown a clear unambiguous positive result.

I never expected that kind of bias and sensationalism from Frontline. Next time take a full hour and do an indepth and truly balanced presentation of his work. You'll find the results staggeringly positive and revolutionary.

herb simmens
princeton, nj


Frontline's show this evening was a disappointment to me. I felt that no attempt was made to present what alternative medicine is really about - namely long-term reliable health.

I am a veterinary homeopath and also tutor of future veterinary homeopaths for the British Institute of Homeopathy, American Chapter (BIH/USA). I provide email information counseling to clients who treat their animals using the professional information so obtained. I specialize in a disease which no allopathic veterinarian has ever cured - Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). I obtain significant restoration of health (about 50%) though it does not satisfy me and never will till it is 100%.

Where there is 100% success with homeopathy is in simpler diseases like cat flu, or the silent pneumonia cat killer of bordetella bronchiseptica (where conventional medicine loses all cases under 6 months age and 50% of cases over 6 months), or resolution of the nasty animal infected uterus which by conventional medicine requires hysterectomy of valuable breeding animals.

Surface wounds are simple to fix as well - there are so many obvious uses of homeopathy that are easy to demonstrate - why did Frontline make no attempt to use those as examples of what can be done? Homeopathy's great strength is also in chronic disease where allopathy has no answers.

To even suggest that homeopathy has no proven success as one person on the show was permitted to state unchallenged, is the greatest insult to a profession which helps more people on the planet than any other! Homeopathy is the health care system used by more people on earth than any other system! Just because USA is not on board with homeopathy does not make it unknown or obscure as a profession - it's been going since it was scientifically developed by a German physician in the late 1700s. It has been scientifically followed ever since and the explanation is on line for all to read free of charge:

The Organon of Medicine, 6th edition, by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann is a full and meticulous explanation of the principles and practise of homeopathic medicine, from the objectives of the system to heal gently with resistance to recurrence - to the explanation of the energy involved and how and why it works by copying what nature itself does - to the careful instructions for making remedies:

Hahnemann was way ahead of his time and explains how energy is used to heal. Looking for a chemical "drug component" in a homeopathic remedy is like looking for one in the electric plug in the wall. We don't ask for a chemical reason to pay the electric bill - or a chemical reason to explain how the TV picture arrives with Frontline on the screen. Both use energy. Homeopathy does not work at the chemical level either so there is no point looking for chemicals. Those were diluted out so as to remove all possibility of side effects. The healing works using energy - not chemicals.

That's one of many reasons double-blind trial protocols are inappropriate for homeopathy. It's like insisting on measuring water or electric current with a ruler - it doesn't work - but we still pay the electric bill, and homeopathy still heals. It's just another system which uses energy - it's not non-scientific just because it is not at a chemical level. It's an energy medicine at an individual level that resonates with the life force of the individual - it's not amenable to mass usage by many like drug medicines. One drug can be used for many people as it is not individually matched. But when I have ten cases of one disease, I use ten different remedies. YOu can't compare the apples and oranges and try to force homeopathy to prove itself by a yardstick that does not apply - the double-blind mass trial. Another reason that system does not apply - is that drug treatments are quick chemical suppressants - whereas homeopathy takes time to rebuild good health and resistance. It can't work in the time allocated for a double-blind trial as it has different objectives.

Take an ear infection for example: All allopathy does is poison a few bacteria. It does nothing for the health of the person, and in fact they are poisoned too, though hopefully not fatally. Next month a new infection will be back in the ear with a vengeance - but that's not part of the double-blind trial. The bacteria were counted before and after, end of story. The homeopathically treated folks still have some bacteria there so they "lost" the competition. A month later after the trial is long over, the homeopathy folks have healthy ears with the damaged areas restored to good tissue and bacteria have no chance of getting a new foot-hold, as these folks now have resistance to infection - the goal of homeopathy. Bacteria can get no foothold. So which system is really better? According to the double-blind study - allopathy won hands down. Why? Because homeopathy can not meet the allopathic objective and vice versa. Objectives matter. You can not compare two systems with different objectives, much less use the same efficacy test for them.

So - There's absolutely nothing unscientific about homeopathy. It just works by a different method - energy - to achieve a different objective - long-term health and resistance to disease. I'd have been impressed if Frontline had at least ferreted out this major difference between what they are calling mainstream medicine and alternative medicine.

In most really healthy people's minds the mainstream is the alternative medicine - the homeopathy was there first. It's not possible to get healthy and disease resistant by allopathy; it does not even have that as an objective, and most drugs for acute disease predispose chronic ones.

Frontline did not bother to find a spokesperson who understands the science behind any of the alternative medicine formats mentioned. How sad. It certainly would not have needed more than a phone call to BIH/USA or any other major homeopathic organization for example. The show must have left other viewers with the impression there was no organization!

A final note on the Frontline implication that money is behind it all:

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Homeopathic remedies cost about $5 each for a bottle full. Each individual little tablet in that bottle can be turned into a cup or more of dosing solution - enough to treat an entire shelter of cats with cat flu for example. How sad that the cats in shelters instead get damaging drugs that suppress rather than cure - forcing the infection deeper and into the bain of my life - the FIP disease - that ends up breaking hearts of owners a few months later. And no I don't get rich on this.

My car is a Schwinn and my house is tiny and cosy.

Allopathy doesn't look for reliable long-term health. It is happy with "five year survival".

This whole health issue is not about money - it's about reliable long-term health.

Disappointingly - Nobody made that point in the show.


Irene de Villiers, B.Sc; AASCA; MCSSA; D.I.Hom.

P.O.Box 4703, Spokane, WA 99220-0703.

Veterinary Homeopath and Feline Information Counsellor.

Irene de Viliers
Spokane, WA


Dear Frontline, The report on alternative medicine presented the view of a paternalistic view of health and disease. Scientists and or the physician indeed do have answers for all our health needs. I need not relate the numerous amounts of evidence that disproves that premise. Medicine is focused on Curing, Cuting or medicating and that is all that medicine has to offer--Medical Education consists of learning extensive pathophysiology and biochemistry. This approach neglects the experience i.e emotional and spiritual aspects of the person identified as ill.Healers, whether they use alternative or intergrative methods of helping others, recognize that healing is more than offering a pill or cutting something out.

Please offer another view from yet another paradigm of health and illness . There is evidence that supports the whole person approach to healing in studies supported by NIH and done by nurses.

Nancy English Ph.D. RN

nancy english


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posted november 4, 2003

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