Alternative Medicine - Why It's Needed


by Stephen Terrass

Over the last several decades, there has been a substantial growth and maturity in the science of medicine. During this time, the orthodox medical community have worked very hard to discover and develop new treatments for a multitude of health disorders.

In spite of the vast sums of money and time being spent for research and treatments for such diseases, we often still see an increasing number of cases of these same diseases every year.

What is the reason for this? Could it be that the emphasis has been in the wrong area all along?

There is no question that we need orthodox medicine, and many lives have been saved by the technological advances in surgery and drug treatment over the years; however, these advances have generally not been focused in the area of avoiding the disease to begin with. In addition, the side effects and toxicity of most drug treatments greatly reduce their ability to be used to their fullest extent.

The problem seems to stem from the priorities. What everyone wants to see is a cure for cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and so on, but the truth is, that for such conditions, the only guaranteed cure is prevention. If the person already has the disease, then the highest priority should be to effectively correct the cause of the condition in addition to the treatment of the symptoms - and preferably avoiding side effects which can damage other functions of the body. Orthodox medicine, and drugs in particular, typically do not accomplish these goals.

A growing amount of research has proven that one's diet can have a considerable influence on the prevention of many diseases. This is not only the case form the standpoint that eating the wrong things can harm your body - it is also proven that deficiencies in various nutrients caused by eating too little of the right foods can cause disease as well. It is in this area of nutrient deficiencies that we are made aware of perhaps the most promising method of both preventing as well as treating disease, and without the high risk of side effects or toxicity - orthomolecular medicine.

Orthomolecular medicine is often classified as the treatment of disease by administration of various micronutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.). The late Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling, the man who actually invented the term 'orthomolecular medicine', gave this more complete definition - 'the preservation of good health and the prevention and treatment of disease by varying the concentrations in the human body of the molecules of substances that are normally present, many of them required for life, such as the vitamins, essential amino acids, essential fats, and minerals.

The field of orthomolecular medicine has gained in popularity throughout the last twenty years or so, but is there any real proof that it is a valid science? Absolutely! Over the last two decades, literally thousands of medical and scientific research studies have been published in various professional journals which prove beyond doubt that there is a great value to the role of micronutrients in both disease treatment and prevention.

Every essential nutrient has been the subject of research as to its benefits. The results of several of these studies are staggeringly conclusive and convincing. The following is just one example of how important the correction of micronutrient levels can be in the course of disease:

Harvard Medical School compared vitamin E deficiency with that of both smoking and high blood cholesterol levels in terms of their influence on the development of heart disease. At the time, smoking and high cholesterol were considered to be the factors which caused heart disease in the greatest amount of cases. After the results were compiled, the researchers discovered something quite shocking. The rate of heart disease caused by the deficiency in vitamin E was higher than that of smoking and high cholesterol COMBINED!

To confirm this, two double-blind clinical trials, also done by Harvard took over 80,000 female nurses and over 50,000 male health workers over ten years. Some were given a placebo and some were given vitamin E, at levels of at least 100 IU. per day. After the ten years, those nurses who received the vitamin E supplements had a 43 percent lower rate of heart disease and the men had a 37 percent lower rate than those receiving the placebo! It was also noted that these results were only accomplished by supplementation, and were not achievable through food-derived vitamin E.

There are thousands of other cases where administration of nutrients has corrected or prevented health disorders, such as in cancer, arthritis, depression, angina, allergies, skin disorders, alcoholism, atherosclerosis, immune disorders, schizophrenia, digestive problems, thyroid malfunction, and dozens of others.

Even when one becomes convinced of the fact that deficiencies in various nutrients can cause disease, some people still argue that as long as you eat a 'balanced diet', that you do not need to supplement. According to the research, this argument, although understandable and logical, is not correct. First of all, the majority of the studies proving the benefits of micronutrients in the treatment of various diseases were administering levels of the nutrients which were typically far too high to be achieved from foods alone. Secondly, even the best of diets may not even achieve nutrient levels to prevent disease, much less treat it. Let's look at this issue now.

The European Commission has set what is known as the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for the essential nutrients. The RDA is based on those levels that should keep a normal, healthy person from developing a disease from a particular nutrient deficiency (e.g. scurvy, rickets, beriberi, etc.).

The United States, where a large amount of nutritional research has been performed, has its own set of RDAs. In 1977, the US Department of Agriculture, a government agency, compiled a large and very detailed national food survey of more than 20,000 Americans in order to establish the average nutrient intake of US citizens. When the statistics were compiled, the results were quite very disturbing. Out of the more than 20,000 people, NONE of them even reached just the RDA level for each of ten essential nutrients studied! Many of these people would have been eating a poor diet, but in more than 20,000 Americans there are going to be many who eat a very nutritious and healthy diet - and still none of them were even achieving the amounts deemed necessary to avoid deficiency disease. American and European diets, while not identical, are becoming more and more similar a time goes on. As a result, it is realistic to assume that there would be a similar problem in Europe (statistics are difficult to compare because the EU RDAs are typically lower than that of the US RDAs). This study seems to show that there is a need for orthomolecular intervention through supplementation of nutrients even in those with the best of diets.

Many people throughout Europe are becoming aware of the need for supplementation, but there is still a resistance in some to use higher potencies. The approach of the large pharmaceutical companies has been to produce vitamin and mineral which are of potencies which would be closer to the levels stated as RDAs. However, in America, as well as in a number of European countries, the use of higher potency supplements is growing. There are good reasons for this development. As mentioned earlier, the amounts of nutrients administered in the studies which proved to be beneficial were generally far in excess of the RDA levels. Consumers are becoming aware of this fact through various health practitioners, as well as the countless references to these studies in the media. It must be understood that the RDAs are intended to help avoid a deficiency disease such as scurvy, rickets, etc. They are NOT set at levels which provide optimal health, which is what all of us hope to achieve.

The amounts of each nutrient which would be optimal for an individual will vary from person to person based on their unique body chemistry. For instance, a pregnant woman or a child would need more or less of certain nutrients than the average adult. Equally, a health disorder will increase one's needs for certain micronutrients. For a person who just wants to maintain or improve their health, but with no obvious health disorder, supplementation with the basic essential nutrients would be prudent. Fortunately, the research clearly indicates that in general, toxicity is not a factor with the potency of nutrients in even the highest strength supplements, so there is a great flexibility in the dosages one could use.

Orthomolecular medicine is definitely a valid science with much to offer to both the prevention and treatment of disease. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle, with assistance of the proper use of micronutrient supplementation can give one the best possible health, both now and in the future.

copyright 1995 VITAM Barcelona, Spain 1995