Alternative therapies like herbs, supplements, acupuncture and meditation can help a variety of health conditions. There is growing scientific evidence on the importance of traditional/alternative therapies and their role in modern medicine, UCF Health’s new integrated medicine specialist told a community gathering June 17.
Dr. Christopher Smith, a board-certified family medicine specialist who completed a two-year fellowship in integrative medicine under the direction of Dr. Andrew Weil, recently joined UCF Health, the College of Medicine physician practice. He presented an overview of how traditional therapies, considered “alternative” therapies in modern society, can promote good health and well-being. His recent talk was held at UCF Health’s second location in Medical City to almost 100 participants.
Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine to treat their health conditions, he said, but few patient’s if any tell their physicians. He supports the approach of ‘integrative medicine’ where alternative and complementary medicine have a duel role in conventional therapies. “I don’t take patients off their medicines unless they are getting better,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you to wear magnets around your neck and drink a gallon of pomegranate juice every day. My approach is to cherry-pick the best options based on scientific evidence and patient need.”
During his talk, he provided an example of a patient with recurrent migraine headaches. Dr. Smith’s approach would involve a pharmaceutical prescription in addition to recommending magnesium and riboflavin as a preventative measure, therefore reducing reliance on a pharmaceutical drug. Similarly, a diabetic patient would be given a prescription for medication but also get nutrition and supplement suggestions to help with control of blood glucose levels.
“I want to treat you, not the disease,” he said.
The Internet is filled with alternative medicine claims, he said, which can be false and even cause harm when taken with prescription drugs. He urged participants to use reliable scientific sources when researching alternative therapies, including the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine or ConsumerLabs.com
Dr. Smith provided perspective on a variety of topics:
- Inflammation: Weil, a Harvard Medical School graduate, has developed an anti-inflammatory food pyramid. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, whole soy products, dark chocolate and wild salmon. In addition, Dr. Smith said research has found that the spice turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties, especially when taken with black pepper, meaning it can help provide symptom relief for people with osteoarthritis.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: This syrup is created by concentrating fructose, primarily deriving it from corn. Fructose is also what makes fruits taste sweet. When a person eats high fructose corn syrup, rapid spikes in blood sugar level occur which lead to metabolic problems such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. When we eat a whole fruit, the fiber prevents rapid release of sugar into our blood stream. It is best to eat foods as close to nature as possible. “Every time we try to alter something made in nature, it comes back to haunt us,” Dr. Smith warned.
- Acupuncture: Developed in ancient China, acupuncture involves inserting small needles into areas of the body to impact the flow of energy, or what is known in traditional Chinese terms as “chi.” Dr. Smith is trained in medical acupuncture and performs the procedure for UCF Health patients. He said the VA is having success using the procedure on veterans for chronic pain, PTSD and depression. The result: a reduction in the use of prescription drugs and their associated side effects.
- Exercise: An audience member asked where exercise fits into integrated health, and Dr. Smith’s replay was “everywhere. Humans are meant to move.” Dr. Smith then referenced the large physical activity that early hunter-gatherer tribes exerted in daily life compared to today’s sedentary occupations.
- Aging: Anti-aging therapies and specialists are increasing dramatically as Baby Boomers get older and many specialists run cash-only practices where they run an array of tests and provide their own therapies. Dr. Smith noted that some of these therapies are based on science and some are not. “Aging is completely normal,” he said. “It’s going to happen anyway. They key is to age gracefully and maintain optimum health.”