On Tuesday of this week (4/29/14), I was on the Katie Couric Show to discuss Integrative Medicine.
Somewhat ironically, I returned from Manhattan that same day to a waiting email from a colleague, forwarding me a rather excoriating critique of integrative medicine on The Health Care Blog, and asking me for my opinion.
The juxtaposition, it turns out, was something other than happenstance. The Cleveland Clinic has recently introduced the use of herbal medicines as an option for its patients, generating considerable media attention.
Some of it, as in the case of the Katie Couric Show, is of the kinder, gentler variety. Some, like The Health Care Blog — is rather less so. Which is the right response?
One might argue, from the perspective of evidence based medicine, that harsh treatment is warranted for everything operating under the banner of “alternative” medicine, or any of the nomenclature alternative to “alternative” — such as complementary, holistic, traditional, or integrative.
One might argue, conversely, for a warm embrace from the perspective of patient-centered care, in which patient preference is a primary driver.
I tend to argue both ways, and land in the middle. I’ll elaborate.
I don’t recall if I’ve ever mentioned my connection with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF). I probably have, but just don’t remember it.
Long-time readers might recall that I did my general surgery training at Case Western Reserve University at University Hospitals of Cleveland. Indeed, I did my PhD there as well in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.
Up the road less than a mile from UH is the Cleveland Clinic. As it turns out, during my stint in Physiology and Biophysics at CWRU, I happened to do a research rotation in a lab at the CCF, which lasted a few months.
OK, so it’s not much of a connection. It was over 20 years ago and only lasted a few months, but it’s something that gives me an obvious and blatant hook to start out this post, particularly given the number of cardiac patients I delivered to the CCF back in the early 1990s when I moonlighted as a flight physician forMetro LifeFlight.
Obvious and clunky introduction aside (hey, they can’t all be brilliant; so I’ll settle for nauseatingly self-deprecating), several of my readers have been sending me a link to a story that appeared in the Wall Street Journal the other day: A Top Hospital Opens Up to Chinese Herbs as Medicines: Evidence is lacking that herbs are effective.
I also noticed that Steve Novella blogged about it and was tempted to let it pass, given that I had seemingly lost my window, but then I realized that there’s always something I can add to a post, even after the topic’s been blogged by Steve Novella.
Whether that something is of value or not, I leave to the reader. So here we go. Besides, if this article truly indicates a new trend in academic medical centers, it’s—if you’ll excuse the term—quantum leap in the infiltration of quackademic medicine into formerly reputable medical centers.
It’s a depressing thing, and it needs to be publicized.
After a terribly painful and debilitating illness, Steve died. He had been treated for Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Disease with a series of intense therapies including German enzymes, American antineoplastins, Mexican naturopathy and Chinese Herbs, complemented by focused meditation, innumerable vitamins, extreme diet modification and acupuncture for severe pain. He fought the cancer with every ounce of his being, doing everything to survive, except the one thing that had an 85% chance of cure; chemotherapy.
I was struck this week by a comment on my website, which bemoaned the highly disorganized state of “alternative medicine” in this Country and in particular the “paltry sums” for alternative research funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The writer suggested that not only could the quality of health be improved with alternative medicine studies, but would go a long way towards saving health care dollars.
It seems to me that the idea that we need more Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) research goes right to the core of the confusion between so called “conventional medicine” and CAM. There is a major difference between the medicine practiced by board certified, classically trained physicians and that of alternative practitioners. That difference is research and data.
If an MD or DO is treating a cancer patient and that patient asks to see or understand the basic science and clinical studies which support the recommended therapy, that published data is readily available. Standard oncology treatment goes through 10-20 years of research, from the test tube, animal studies and through a series of supervised human multi-phase trials, until it is approved and offered to patients. Each step is refereed by competing and critical PhD and physician scientists and must be published in peer-edited journals for general review and criticism, all of which is public and transparent. Where it is not, and when people attempt to manipulate or falsify the system or data, massive blowback eventually occurs.
A recent meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that coenzyme Q10 is of benefit in congestive heart failure. For those who like the idea that food and nutrients can be excellent medicine, this paper is interesting at the very least. But there is a case to be made that it is far more than that. There is a case to be made that it is, in a word, miraculous.
For resurrection, after all, is a miracle. And according to a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April of 2000, coenzyme Q10 for heart failure was a dead concept. The authors reported 13 years ago that “coenzyme Q10 has been studied in randomized, blinded, and controlled studies and … these studies have found no detectable benefit” and that “coenzyme Q10 should not be recommended for treatment of heart failure.”
The final nail had been driven into the CoQ10-for-heart-failure hypothesis 13 years ago — and yet now, it’s back. If that’s not a miracle — then what is going on?
First, a bit of relevant orientation. The condition in question here, congestive heart failure, occurs in particular in the aftermath of one or more heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) which cause portions of the heart muscle to die for want of oxygen. Those areas stop pumping, of course, and the whole heart does its job less well.
The pumping efficiency of the heart is routinely measured using ultrasound as the “left ventricular ejection fraction” (LVEF), which, as the name suggests, is the proportion of blood the left ventricle is able to pump out of itself when it contracts. Roughly 55 to 70 percent is considered normal. High values can occur when the heart is stiff and muscle-bound, and tend to mean the heart empties well, but fills poorly. Congestive heart failure is associated with low values.