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ealth Reform
The Health Reform Moment: Peril and Possibility in the Obama Era

© Daniel Redwood DC

The Role of Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Because complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) encompasses a wide range of procedures, disciplines and professions, generalizations about the inclusion of CAM in health care reform are far more difficult to frame than those for prevention or chiropractic. Single therapies like St. John's wort for depression or echinacea for colds do not comfortably cohabit the same category as entire systems such as Chinese medicine or naturopathic medicine. But a quick perusal of the areas under the aegis of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that such odd groupings do indeed reflect the current definition of CAM.

It is possible, nonetheless, to develop consensus principles, strategies and desired outcomes for the role of CAM in health reform. The final report of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, chaired by CAM pioneer James Gordon, MD, provides the best available roadmap. Anyone arguing for the inclusion of CAM (or any of its constituent parts) in a reformed health care system would do well to consult this document ( for its thorough analysis and policy prescriptions.

CAM's contributions to health reform should grow organically from its areas of greatest strength. Foremost among these is the principled and pragmatic insistence that health be understood holistically, as a summation of various life-affirming inputs and not the mere absence of symptoms. The key corollary - still not sufficiently accepted by conventional medicine - is that while single-intervention "silver bullet" therapies may dramatically eliminate symptoms (sometimes in life-saving ways), they alone are not the road to long-term, sustainable health and wellness.

Thus, perhaps the most important policy change relevant to CAM would be to shift both CAM and conventional health research budgets away from the longstanding emphasis on single intervention therapeutics and toward multi-factorial integrative and whole systems approaches. (The Ornish lifestyle program that proved heart disease could be reversed3, 4 through a combination of diet, exercise, stress management and social support provides the best model for this approach.) Whether for heart disease, low back pain, prostate cancer, or any other condition, NIH policies that funnel virtually all health research funds to single-agent (usually pharmaceutical) studies have led us into a cul-de-sac of historic proportions. This research strategy may have been effective for combating many infectious diseases, but it has proven far less applicable to the chronic diseases - cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis and others - that are the bane of the developed world. CAM can play a helpful role in finding a way forward.

One other issue of great importance for both CAM and the rest of the health care system is that there needs to be a national policy commitment to train all health practitioners - as students and later through continuing education - to deliver basic information on a whole foods diet, exercise and stress management. There is no lack of scientific evidence for these approaches; what is lacking is a deep appreciation of their importance and the will to teach these to the patients who so desperately need them.

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About The Author
Daniel Redwood, DC, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City. He is editor-in-chief of Health Insights Today ( and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, and Topics in Integrative Healthcare....more
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