Does alternative medicine really work? Experts face-off

Acupuncture is known to reduce shoulder pain and inflammation.
Acupuncture is known to reduce shoulder pain and inflammation. Nev Madsen

The holistic health market has spawned a multi-billion dollar industry that is alive and well in Australia.

But there is a concerted push from Friends of Science in Medicine to see alternative therapies, such as acupunture, lose their Medicare funding. 

It's a recommendation new Healthy Minister Sussan Levy is looking at closely as she looks to save money in the budget to remove activities with questionable benefit. 

The Sunshine Coast Daily spoke to long-serving general practitioner Dr Wayne Herdy and Changing Habits consulting nutritionist Sheridan Williamson to see if conventional and alternative can find a mutual path to providing healing.

Dr Wayne Herdy:

"Most doctors are tolerant to other medicines.

"They don't mind if their patients take these things as long as they have some idea of what it is they're taking.

"Very few recommend them.

"Homeopathic medicine is diluted to such a degree it has practically nothing in it but water; they are of little real concern to us.

"Most conventional doctors believe homeopathic medicines are a waste of money.

"The main concern is the risk when someone thinks this is going to fix them and because of this, they neglect to get conventional help.

Dr Wayne Herdy
Dr Wayne Herdy Brett Wortman

"With acupuncture, there is little science behind it, this is why the government is contemplating withdrawing this from Medicare benefits.

"Chiropractors can do significant harm by manipulating things they should never do.

"Some order x-rays they can't read.

"There is a certain amount of snake-oil magic to chiropractic. They can achieve short-term relief from manipulation.

"A lot of conventional medicines also don't have significant scientific support. My old medical professor said to me 40 years ago he had two confessions.

"The first is half of what he taught us was wrong, the second was he didn't know which half.

"A lot of little things GPs do have little science behind it and some things we do we are as much to blame as a holistic therapist, such as giving an antibiotic for a virus.

"This doesn't only not make you better, it can decrease your immunity to antibiotics."


Sheridan Williamson, consulting nutritionist, Changing Habits:

"Nutrition is sometimes referred to as an alternative medicine when in reality it is our original medicine.

"Some health conditions do need the attention of health professionals and it is encouraging that more doctors are taking a more holistic approach to managing our health.

"However, unfortunately some people who practice modern medicine are still closed-minded to the benefits that alternative therapies (such as naturopathy, homeopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture) offer to the health of our community.

"I would include yoga, aromatherapy, herbalism, kinesiology, massage, tai chi and more to this list. Many of these 'alternative' therapies have been around for thousands of years and are proven to be effective for the many individuals who choose to use them.

Sheridan Williamson.
Sheridan Williamson.

"Unfortunately, the focus of modern medicine is often a sickness care approach, rather than preventative health care. I encourage people to change their lifestyle and eat well and they can avoid a large number of health problems.

"For example, some people with conditions such as auto-immune diseases are told the only treatment is medication, however, diet can most certainly slow the progression of this disease - and reduce symptoms.

"I also believe that Australians are taking far more medications than they need.

"For example, antibiotics have been a life saver and when it is a life-threatening situation, then do not hesitate.

"However, giving broad spectrum antibiotics for colds and flu - which are often viruses, not bacteria - does not help in any way. In fact, antibiotics can destroy our gut bacteria which are an important part of our body.

"If we destroy them, we destroy our health.

"Instead we should be nurturing our gut bacteria. We can do this by healing our gut with healing foods such as old-fashioned broths and replenishing the bacteria that has been destroyed by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt, kimchi and apple cider vinegar.

"My focus is on prevention. As a nutritionist I guide people through what to eat and the best foods to eat for health. It's a matter of finding the integrative approach that works for the individual.

"I would love to see all health professionals work together for patients."

Topics:  alternative medicine doctor editors picks gp

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