Only recently have medical schools introduced courses in "alternative medicine" or "complementary medicine." There is a demand for this information, and, once they are exposed to it, medical students often have a strong interest. Therefore, this field is likely to grow. Because hospitals and medical schools have very little experience with these health practices, some of the courses leave out many of the best-documented and most effective treatments using dietary supplements, but they are getting their feet wet.
Opponents of Change
There are some antagonists to this development in medical education and health care. They are mired in the old way of thinking about nutrition and dietary supplements. They often make the erroneous claim that the therapeutic value of dietary supplementation is not supported by scientific literature or that it is dangerous. This is simply the last gasp of a cadre of status quo protectors. They often appear to have the ulterior motive of supporting drug companies and a medical care system that needs to change. Sometimes their motives are not clear.
At a 1995 conference on nutrition controversies, sponsored by the University of Vermont, three of my research colleagues and one medical colleague spoke about the value of dietary supplements in health care. Prior to the conference, the program director received a phone call from an antagonist who threatened to call every presenter cautioning them not to speak because he disagreed with the information that we were going to present. The director was not intimidated, but one speaker with a more traditional view did withdraw. These tactics, designed to suppress debate, should not be tolerated in America.
Sometimes, antagonists to the use of dietary supplements claim that the extra nutrients only lead to "expensive urine" because extra amounts of most vitamins are excreted by the kidneys. This is irrelevant, since the important issue is not the ultimate fate of the substances, but what they do while they are on their way through the body and how many tissues they heal-including the urinary tract. In fact, a recent study showed that large doses of vitamins and minerals markedly reduced tumor recurrence in patients with bladder cancer, compared to those who received just the Recommended Dietary Allowances. This was a reputable study, published in the Journal of Urology!
Luckily, I was introduced to nutrition after medical school and was able to pursue it with an open mind. I did not have to contend with as much opposition as I would have had during medical school. Since that time, I have had to learn (and unlearn) a lot. This knowledge of nutritionally oriented health care is available in the medical literature and at conferences, through numerous books, and, perhaps most important, from clinical experience and discussions with colleagues.
It is the clinical experience with patients taking dietary supplements that acts as a filter and helps me to understand what really works. Every day I am able to observe the therapeutic and preventive benefits of dietary supplements in both my medical practice and in everyday life.
Other Health Practices
Before you get the wrong impression, you should understand that supplements are a part of a comprehensive health program. A total approach includes a healthy diet. I recommend that this be mostly vegetarian, whole foods, without added sugars, white flour, white rice, artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, margarines or other hydrogenated oils, and very little of any added oil or fat (but enough of the right oils-more about this later).