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Volume 90, Issue 64

Friday, January 17, 1997

double talk


Good-natured alternative medicine

©Nick Jamal/Gazette
JUST LIE STILL AND IT WON'T HURT. . . I PROMISE. Acupuncture appointment at two and a pedicure at three – what's a guy to do?

By Natalie Henry
Gazette Staff

"Just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down."

We hear this tune and are reminded of a childhood classic that evoked peals of laughter and the urge to fly. But what about the thought of good old Buckley's Mixture burning down your throat and the tears that insisted to take form? Or what about the mystery brew that your grandmother would concoct on the day you pretended to be ill in order to miss an exam? If life was only that sweet.

In the last decade hospitals threatened ‘no vacancy' due to tremendous cuts to health care. Some people view these cuts as damaging to the quality and quantity of medical treatment; thus, there is an increasing trend to tend to its wounds with alternative forms of traditional medicine. The goals of these alternative forms are to prevent disease and increase individual responsibility for one's health.

"People just want to get off drugs and use alternative medicine," Cheryl Kwok, a representative for the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada, says. "We teach the science of acupuncture to licensed physicians, dentists and physiotherapists who eventually perform written and oral exams and receive certification from our institute – The Certified Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute."

The institute in existence since 1974, has experienced "a lot of growing interest. There's no question about that."

"Acupuncture is a therapeutic path to natural healing," Stella Skrok, program manager and nurse for the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada, explains. "It reduces pain and is a safe, effective method preferred over surgery, especially where traditional medicine has failed."

Acupuncture stimulates the body to produce endorphins – pain-relieving chemicals that block pathways that relay pain messages to the brain. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles at certain points on the body to relieve disorders such as asthma, insomnia, headaches, neck and back pain, tennis elbow and menstrual disorders. Indeed, the needle is mightier than the scalpel.

"Alternative medicine such as shiatsu is growing popular for a number of reasons," Larry Fletcher, administrator at the Shiatsu School of Canada, explains. "People are disgruntled with western traditions of medicine and want different ways of treatment without the drugs."

The Shiatsu School of Canada is in its 10th year of existence. "We train shiatsu and other kinds of Oriental therapy to a lot of university graduates. The owner [Kaz Kamiya] is from Japan and wanted to teach the art," Fletcher explains. "Shiatsu is a form of alternative health similar to acupuncture. However, it involves no needles.

"Our students include bank managers, single moms, nurses and some people with doctorates. We are a very diverse school. In 1981 Kamiya started teaching to 15 students and now we accept 55 with 20 students on the waiting list."

A recent Canada Health Monitor survey showed that over 20 per cent of Canadians sought alternative therapies in the previous year and the number is growing. Another botanical medicine that is reaching new heights is ginseng.

"There are a variety of manufactured forms of herbal and ginseng products: tea, capsules, bulk powder and plant extracts," says Kathy Snively, accounts manager and marketing representative for Atkins Ginseng Farms. The company sells products all across Canada and exports to the United States.

For those of you who don't have a good eye or green thumb for ginseng, Snively offers a human description.

"Ginseng looks like a parsnip or a white carrot that resembles a man. It has a body, arms and legs with a carrot-top head," she explains. "It's a natural root that grows underground for at least three years."

It's known as the elixir of life and the king of herb, Snively says. Ginseng root grown in southwestern Ontario is preferred by Chinese buyers over the American crops.

"It's good for everything. People call every day and I hear great things about it and if it's all in their head that's fine. I can't give clinical proof that it works for everything, but, if it's really working – great!"

Its medical properties are being tested in clinics. Currently, ginseng is being used as a treatment of Alzheimer's disease by Dr. L. Wang of the University of Alberta.

Not only is the miracle herb reported to boost your immune system and keep you out of bed, it supposedly increases your endurance making you better in bed.

"Ginseng is known as an aphrodisiac which is a good-selling point," Snively says. This is good explanation for its present popularity. "There's no proof that it is [an aphrodisiac] – the idea stems from a Chinese myth. It gives people a good feeling and if you feel better, you're going to be a little more frisky."

Naturopathic medicine involves the art and science of disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention using natural and gentle techniques which can be taught at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine currently based in Toronto. Techniques include homeopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, prevention and lifestyle counselling, acupuncture and naturopathic manipulation.

"We have a four-year full-time program with certification for those who have three years of university prerequisites," explains Audrey Adams-White, CCNM's director of communications. "The prerequisites needed are biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, chemistry and psychology.

"We use natural methods such as botanical herbs from which pharmaceutical drugs are derived. Students spend 4,000 hours of classroom and clinical training learning to prescribe dietary moderation as well as homeopathic medicine."

Homeopathic medicine is an incredibly effective system of health care founded in Germany over 100 years ago, Adams-White explains. It is based on these ideas – like cures like and stimulation in an area can heal the ailment in an ill person or create the illness in a healthy person.

"We believe that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself and it needs to find help to do this in nature," the college director says. "Drugs only suppress the symptom. However, botanical medicines help the body to become immune and deal with the ailment."

People can obtain natural medicine in health product stores, community drug stores which carry them over the counter and from naturopathic doctors.

"To become a naturopathic doctor, students must perform a series of 11 international licence exams and receive the right to work in regulated provinces," she explains. "There are only four provinces regulated for naturopathic training – British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

"We are the largest on-site clinic in Canada and with an increasing application rate of nine times since 1991, we anticipate doubled enrolment for the year 2000."

"Now people have a choice in health care and with the right tools we want people to be able to do it themselves," Audrey-White says.

The number of people choosing alternative health care is becoming popular, yet traditional doctors are now learning different forms of medicine to help their patients even more. Although most trends die out, some do flourish proceeding to create new life.

graphic by Colin Dunne

To Contact The Features Department: gazfeat@julian.uwo.ca