“Alternative medicine” versus traditional medical care

How do you feel about “alternative medicine”?  Do you have confidence in treatments that have little or no research to support them, or do you believe it is a mistake to try healing methods that are not supported by traditional medical authorities?  Polls of the American public have shown that there is a steady increase in the percentage of people trying non-traditional therapies in this country.  In fact, the percentage using alternative practitioners is fast approaching that of the standard medical sources of care.

You might ask why a physician like myself, with a very conservative medical background, even bothers talking about methods that seem to lack much scientific support.  This is a fair question.   My training is definitely mainstream.  The medical school where I trained, the University of Pennsylvania, is recognized as a very solid, scientifically oriented institution of medicine.  In my training, I remember absorbing everything I was taught as if it were gospel.  (Truthfully, though, I don’t think you could successfully complete your medical training if you didn’t.)  So my background and training are completely traditional.

I do not doubt much of what I have learned.  And I do not just believe it to be true, I know it is accurate and effective.  I see the results confirmed every day.  Much of modern medicine is highly effective.  The key word in this phrase is “much.”  Obviously, if standard medical care was the only effective game in town, it would be a waste of time for me to be talking about alternatives.  In addition, your time in reading about medical topics would be better spent reading what the best teachers in our medical schools write rather than the articles in this blog.  But there is much of value to learn that does not fit well into the accepted medical curriculum.

In my bio and my articles about acupressure and EFT, I have described some of the experiences that have caused me to re-assess my treatment techniques in my exam rooms.  I will provide a very brief summary here. When I heard stories from Kosovo about the dramatic responses of war atrocity victims to therapies based on the Chinese acupuncture meridians, I began to carefully and thoroughly investigate them.  I did an extensive evaluation of the research concerning the Chinese acupuncture system itself.  I found that much the research evaluating acupuncture is of very good scientific quality and clearly demonstrates that these treatments are often as effective as many that we routinely use in traditional medical care.  I also explored the reports that acupuncture points on the human body are spots that have much lower electrical resistance than surrounding human skin.  I found that using readily available sensitive voltmeters, you can map out these points yourself on your own body quite easily.  Finally, after learning EFT and using simplified approaches based on it in my office, I have accumulated a lot of experience that is absolutely conclusive that these techniques can be wonderfully effective.  Sometimes they can even be very effective when all standard treatments have failed.

I hope I have made it clear that just like I know that much of what I learned about in medical school is very effective, I also know beyond any doubt that these non-traditional methods can be quite effective.  Sometimes the results are literally incredible.  Their success is a problem, though.  According to traditional medical theory, these methods should not work.  There is very little within the modern medical viewpoint to even begin to explain what I am routinely seeing in my office using these unusual techniques.

Resolving this conceptual conflict is not just a matter of integrating non-traditional methods into our routine care.  What the successes of these techniques are telling us is that our theories about how the human body becomes ill and how it heals needs to be fundamentally revised.  Exactly how to revise it is not at all clear, but the effort promises to greatly advance our understanding of illness and healing.  Much needs to be done if we are to take advantage of these new insights.  We need a lot of research to weed out the ineffective novel treatments form the ones that provide reliable benefit.  Those that are effective should also be thoroughly explored to determine the mechanisms by which they bring about their benefits.  Some have no known mechanism of action, yet they still work!

This is how things look from my perspective.  What about yours?  Have I given you enough explanation to be convincing?  (I have quite a lot more data to provide if it is needed.)  Or should I concentrate my efforts, instead, on what to do with these insights so more people can learn about them and we can spread the word more effectively?

What do you think?   I promise to honor all viewpoints, always.

Please know that I greatly appreciate your consideration of what I offer here.


About Chuck Gebhardt

I am a physician specializing in internal medicine. I sub-specialize in nutritional medicine. I am very interested in all areas of healing research, not necessarily limited to traditional medicine topics.
This entry was posted in The cutting edge of science, The healing power of the human mind and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “Alternative medicine” versus traditional medical care

  1. jochen says:

    “According to traditional medical theory, these methods should not work.” Thanks for this very funny remark, doctor. As we all know, according to aerodynamics, a bumble bee should not be able to fly.

    To put it simply – simple enough for myself as I don’t know too much about science – science is unable to prove the existence of anything. It does not know where anything comes from. It says, “We cannot yet look back beyond the big bang but we will one day, and in the meantime we go on dealing with what is obviously and irrefutably there.” That’s the problem. We don’t know for sure what was before the big bang, we only know something must have been there, and before, and before. We end up being forced to posit that something must have been there “all along”. In the end, if you insist to hear where everything comes from, there will be the Big Shrug and a lot of metaphysics, and you will find out that nobody really wants to know because it’s so obvious that things ARE there.

    The point is, they are not. The point is, there is nothing but images, perceived according to beliefs.

    Eternity is unthinkable. Have matter and energy been there “all along”, along with eternity? Did they originate somewhere in eternity? Does it make sense to ask questions of this kind?

    Science can only remain science as long as it strictly refuses to ask where things come from ultimately. Why? Because according to a paradigm that posits time, space and matter as real, there is always a before. However far you go back, there is always a before. It doesn’t make much sense, but we insist it must be so. Science can only be science when it has a clear beginning for everything it studies, that’s the real purpose the big bang serves. Without a beginning, everything simply dissolves into less than thin air.

    Ant that’s the true state of affairs, there is nothing at all. Where should matter come from? Trillions of billions of years ago, what happened so that matter came into being? Or was it God? Why should God create “real matter”? What would he create it from? Ex nihilo? What for when imagined matter serves just as well? And anyway, divine creation is hardly a scientific fact.

    In dreams of the night, things are as real as we see them. After waking up it’s quite clear there was nothing, nothing at all. And our waking experience of a world is the same. Once we wake up, we will see there is nothing but images projected and images perceived. True, it hurts to stub your toe on the leg of a table, but the table is imagined, the toe is imagined, the pain is imagined, the “Ouch!” is imagined. There is nothing “real” there. Or let us say, Imagination is as real as reality gets.

    For health and healing this means that every seeming condition of the perceived body can, in principle, be changed in no time at all by simple intention since there is no real physicality and hence no real migraine or cancer in the way. The problem with intention is that it can be rendered ineffective by beliefs. One major belief of our time is called science. The belief called science or scientific method is not there by chance but simply the next level of development after what is called the “dark ages” of ignorance and superstition. Science is very convincing and very successful in many respects. Only it turns out today that its object, matter and energy, does not exist the way we thought it did. Science is fast becoming the new superstition. It attempts to block the awareness of our boundless creative freedom in all areas, sickness and healing being only one of them.

    “According to traditional medical theory, these methods should not work.”

    • jochen says:

      A few typing errors, sorry.

      • I took the liberty of correcting typos as I saw them, since this seemed to be a concern for you. I hope you don’t mind. I take it WordPress does not allow you to correct a typo after you make a comment.

    • Wow, Jochen, you really took the ball here and ran with it! I have come to the conclusion that I need to keep my blog posts under 800 words (at very most), based on this, it seems like I would need to write about 100 posts to adequately respond to your comments! As you know, I am writing a book that will just skim the surface of some of the topics you address here. Let me pick a few quotes from your comments to address a bit here:

      “As we all know, according to aerodynamics, a bumble bee should not be able to fly.”

      This candid scientific comment says a lot about our
      limited understandings, doesn’t it.

      “Science can only remain science as long as it strictly refuses to ask where things come from ultimately. Why? Because according to a paradigm that posits time, space and matter as real, there is always a before.”

      I would change the wording of this fascinating statement
      to start: Science as we know it can only remain science
      as we know it …….I think science and religion
      and metaphysics and spirituality must all eventually merge
      and be compatible with one another if they are to be fairly
      completely accurate.

      “In dreams of the night, things are as real as we see them. After waking up it’s quite clear there was nothing, nothing at all. And our waking experience of a world is the same.”

      To adequately address this statement would take at least 5o
      of the posts I mentioned above, 😉

      “For health and healing this means that every seeming condition of the perceived body can, in principle, be changed in no time at all by simple intention since there is no real physicality and hence no real migraine or cancer in the way. The problem with intention is that it can be rendered ineffective by beliefs.

      In my opinion, there is actually a lot of scientific
      support for what you say here, particularly in certain
      healing research. These are very counter-intuitive
      statements, though, and hard for many to accept.

      “Science is fast becoming the new superstition. It attempts to block the awareness of our boundless creative freedom in all areas, sickness and healing being only one of them.”

      I think we differ in our assessment of science and one of
      its progeny: our current understanding of modern medicine.
      I see our current theories as just a step in the evolution
      of our understanding of our universe. Science is always in
      the process of revising its own theories.

      Thanks, Jochen, for a wonderful, stimulating comment, you have given us much to think about.

      • jochen says:

        He he, Chuck, at 65 I’m not in retirement but working more than ever. I would never be able to read your 100 posts, not even the 50 most salient ones. My tip: Just write something. Well, you did and it is what I do. Most of the time it feels like I’m fishing it out of the ether, and the ether feels trustworthy. That means I feel confident to write what I write without thinking (except for the groping for words). Sometimes it turns out I’m in error, but so what?

  2. I love what Jochen said: “According to aerodynamics, a bumble bee should not be able to fly!”

    I know there are wonderful M.D.’s, and I have met quite a few, and I would go to you in a minute, Dr. Chuck. I could talk to you. You wouldn’t close me out.

    It is doctors’ caring that makes them wonderful, not the pills they prescribe. I believe that my health is far better because I take no medicine than it would be if I had taken the medicine doctors have prescribed over the years.

    Whether traditional medicine or alternative medicine or no doctors at all, it is God Who heals. The consciousness of the health giver and the confidence he gives can certainly help.

    My beef with doctors, healers of all kinds. (with many exceptions) is that, if I don’t want to do what they suggest, either they are so sure or so threatened that they then try to scare me into obedience. I won’t say some of the terrible things that even nurses have said to me.

    The idea given seems to be that a person is not capable of making decisions that concern himself. There is also that all health professionals are on the look-out for illness rather than health.

    With all that being said, when I broke all the ribs on my right side, I was utterly grateful to the doctors and nurses and the hospital who got me through it!

    • jochen says:

      Oh yes, I would not live today without good old medicine. It may have gotten me into the miserable state I was in a long time ago, but at least it was then able to rescue me. I’m finding I cannot simply approve or condemn any more. I would wish for medicine to leave some of its outdated positions more gracefully – but then, who does? Scaring people into obedience, as Gloria put it, is rampant in medicine, but that is just one of the more glaring instances of this scaring, threatening, shaming and tut-tutting into compliance that is happening in big and small and oh so innocent ways all the time everywhere on every level, most of all in our daily lives. Granting freedom without breaking ties or at least muttering seems to be the hardest thing. Medicine (politics, economy…) is not to blame. It’s only imitating what we do as individuals. May we learn to let each other be the way God does.

      Having some experience with homeopathy, my long-time hobby until a few years ago, I still sometimes read about the latest campaign against it, launched by exponents of mainstream medicine. So funny to see them squirm. So sad to see them so scared. But again, they only mirror what we all do when we cling to our beliefs, trying to buttress them with the most hilariously far-fetched arguments that look so obvious to us.

    • Gloria, dear, you and I completely agree when you say “It is doctors’ caring that makes them wonderful.” I think that it is one person’s love and concern for another that is the true healing factor whether this is expressed as a medicine, a surgical procedure, a kind word or a smile. I am planning an article in the future that I will entitle something like: The biggest problem with managed care. It will discuss the tremendous importance of doctor-patient bonds and how they impact healing and health. You are ahead of me on this one 😉

      You bring up another tremendously important limitation of our current scientific-medicine-healing understandings: the way we are being intimidated by our scientific concepts into following questionable advice. The core question here is whether our beliefs and our worldview truly do impact our health. Again, I think our current scientific and medical research does show that this is very much the case, but I think also that this research is not being adequately considered by most scientists because it implies such a dramatic change in their theoretical approach to their work. We are truly on the brink of very profound changes in our understanding of the world and of our lives. I would say that this is what your forums are helping us to deal with, Gloria, and what I intend this blog site to help with also, just in different ways.

      Back to our current way of practicing medicine, I see bad examples every day of my colleagues who scare the living daylights out of my patients by providing terrible predictions that they have no right to provide (always well-meaning, though). Things like: “Your heart is so bad, you might as well get your will updated quickly before it is too late. You could die at any moment.” Unbelievable? Yep. Do things like this happen in medicine everyday? Yep.

      Thanks for your lovely, insightful comment.

  3. Mary O says:

    I believe in alternative medicine and have done a lot of research on the Internet.
    I take responsibility for my health and will not blindly take a doctor’s advice if I
    am doubtful. When my husband’s BP became elevated about 2 years ago
    because of work-related stress he reluctantly took the doctors medication. We
    later went to see a Homeopath who is also a medical doctor. She also uses
    iridology when making a diagnosis. She asked Ernie if he had some respiratory
    illness as a child. He did have asthma and she could see this in his eyes. She
    did a thorough examination and found no problems other than his BP. She gave
    him a bottle of homeopathic drops and advised him to still use his medication
    and gradually reduce it while monitoring his BP. Within months he was off his BP
    medication and only using the drops. Soon after this he went on early retirement
    so there was no more stress. He was doing well until about a year later when this
    doctor could no longer get all the ingredients for the drops. We bought a BP
    monitor and Ernie used caynne pepper drops, hawthorneberry drops, vit. B, C
    and E and an anti-oxidant. After months of this with no significant improvement
    he went to the doctor and got the BP meds.

    About 30+ years ago I had a flue shot, my first and last one. Within days I was
    sicker than I have ever been. My husband then refused to have the shot and
    since then we warn everybody against it. Some people listen to us and others
    don’t. After that we got an over the counter product that prevented flue. The
    product is no longer available so now we use vitamins. My husband who is 65, is
    the oldest employee at his place of employment and this winter he was the only
    one not to go off sick once. The others all got sick. He takes his vitamins daily
    and when he feels a cold coming he doses himself with vitamin C.

    Of course there will always be times when we do need a good caring doctor and I am fortunate to have one if I need him.

    • Mary,

      It is interesting that you mention homeopathic treatments. If you follow the strict judgments of most modern medical training, you would never even consider homeopathic treatments. However, from what I have seen, some very well done research done by initially skeptical researchers actually supported the effectiveness of the homeopathic treatments. These studies were rejected by mainstream medical journals, not because of the quality of the research designs, but because the reviewers did not believe the results were possible. This is a kind of predjudice that is unscientific, in my opinion.

      Sometimes, standard bp meds are the best (and easiest) answer when the bp is high. Has your husband considered trying meditation or relaxation methods that slow the person’s breathing? As long as his bp is carefully monitored, these would be quite safe to try and also be likely to have many other benefits for him

  4. Mary O says:


    I did mention meditation to him and also exercise but I can understand him not wanting to exercise after a long day on his feet. He started studying hypnotherapy a few years back but stopped. Recently he said that he wants to start doing self-hypnosis and I want to learn it too. He is fine now but sometimes gets pain in his legs which he thinks is from the medication.

    BTW in one of the Kryon books Kryon explains how homeopathy works and why it works. I believe anything that Kryon says.


    • I think I remember reading in the Kryon writings that homeopathy is described as a form of “energy healing.” This makes sense to me. Homeopathy is rejected by traditional scientists since the succussion techniques used in making the remedies leaves no physical trace of the drug in the water that results. To a physical minded scientist, this means that the treatment is just water. To the homeopathic physician, the treatment is due to the energetic pattern left in the water after succussion. For those interested in the Kryon writings (channelings by Lee Carroll) that Mary mentions, here is a link: http://spiritlibrary.com/spiritual-entities/kryon.



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