Sun-Sentinel, Monday, April 5, 1993
Americans are drinking herbal teas,
submitting to chiropractic manipulations,
having needles poked through their skin
and using the mind to heal the body
as unconventional treatments inch closer
to the mainstream.
Alternatives inch toward mainstream
by TOM STIEGHORST
Six years ago, Marie Kerr smashed her elbow on the guardrail of a boat off Hillsboro Inlet as she went over the side on a dive trip. She screamed in pain.
In seeking treatment, Kerr met with four doctors and had surgery on her damaged ulnar nerve, without much effect. “It just kept getting worse and worse,” she said.
Last fall, Kerr decided to try acupuncture despite an aversion to needless. She said daily use of the ancient Chinese medical technique has her functioning again.
“It’s just totally amazing to me, ” she said. “If I had had this beforehand, I wouldn’t have had the surgery. I wouldn’t have been out of commission for six years”
Increasingly, Americans are turning to alternative medical therapies to cure what ails them. They are drinking herbal teas, having needles poked through their skin, submitting to chiropractic manipulations and using the mind to heal the body.
In a study published in January in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors concluded that one in three Americans had used some type of unconventional therapy in the past year.
Altogether, Americans paid 425 million visits to providers of such therapy and spent $13.7 billion, about 75 percent out of their own pockets, the study said.It concluded that alternative remedies are a hidden factor in the $752 billion U.S. health-care industry.
The frequency of use of unconventional therapy in the United States is far higher than previously reported.” the study said.
That growth is reflected in Florida, where the number of massage therapists has grown 88 percent in the past five years; acupuncturists are up 81 percent; and chiropractors 27 percent. In comparison, the number of doctors and physician’s assistants has grown 22 percent in the past five years.
One reason more attention is being paid to alternative remedies is the new Office of Alternative Medicine set up last year at the government-financed National Institutes of Health. Frustrated by the lack of progress on fatal diseases such as cancer, Congress urged the health agency to at least begin exploring new avenues.
The office will finance about $2 million of research this year into new therapies.
While some doctors worry the move may validate useless or dangerous treatment, alternative practitioners say it will help patients feel better about going outside a medical system that can seem overly specialized and impersonal.
“I you want to use a more holistic approach to your health, you certainly should have that choice,” said Dr. Bud Fein, head of the Broward County Chiropractic Society.
Acupuncture, the Chinese art of sticking needles into the skin at specific points to cure pain and disease, also is becoming more established.
Acupuncture first gained a foothold in the United States in the early 1970’s, after President Nixon re-established trade relations with China, said Dr. Yao Wu Lee, who has four offices in South Florida.
Lee said that at first acupuncture was banned by state legislators who considered it a hoax. Today, nearly every state licenses acupuncture, including Florida which has 334 licensed acupuncturists.
“The reason why acupuncture has become popular in so short a time is because it works. It has a benefit,” said Lee. “Acupuncture stimulates the body to heal itself.”
Lee said he sees about 30 patients a day. He said 1 percent of his patients are Chinese or Asian, and about 20 percent are referred from other physicians.
Florida’s acupuncture community has grown by 81 percent since 1986-87 according to the Florida Department of Professional Regulation, which licenses health professionals.