Lippin Papers > Letter to the editor




Voiume 1, Number 2, 1995
Mary Ann Leibert, Inc.

To the Editor -

Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School and others have put forth a functional definition of alternative medicine:
“The term ‘alternative medicine’ refers to those practices explicitly used for the purpose of medical intervention, health promotion or disease prevention which are not routinely taught at U.S. medical schools nor routinely underwritten by third-party payers within the existing United States health care system.”

As a physician who has given a great deal of thought to the issues surrounding alternative medicine for several decades, I would like to offer the following observations:

Inherent within the above definition, of course, is the notion that medicine is a living, evolving science/art where proven safe, effective, and cost-effective interventions move from the alternative category to the mainstream. Alternatively, as outcomes research gains increasing significance, I foresee several current interventions moving out of the so-called mainstream category, especially because of their failure to meet even rudimentary standards of cost-effectiveness. Let me offer the following additional thoughts on the growth of alterative medicine. In my opinion, two major trends are particularly noteworthy.

The first is the growth and pre-eminence of neuroscience and its corollary, the acceptance of mind-body medicine. This reflects a fundamental paradigm shift which has potential for profound consequences — far greater consequences, in my opinion, than those produced by the billion dollar human genome project which has been projected and promoted “to revolutionize medicine.” The brain is now defined as an active bioelectric endocrine organ which has profound influence on every organ system. Once that fundamental fact is simply accepted, we then are required to recognize that the entire universe and everything in it, including one’s perception of it, can and does (through the brain) affect human physiology and medical outcomes ranging from disease and accidents to peak performance. As Michael Murphy cofounder of Esalen Institute, has stated in his book The Future of the Body, “Today we have strong evidence that any aspect of bodily functioning, once brought to awareness, can be deliberately altered to some extent for healing or the development of new abilities.” Also, acceptance of mind-body medicine profoundly shifts the relationship between patient and physician to one of physician as teacher and away from the model of the physician as the paternalistic “MDiety” whose technologies and pronouncements are viewed as omnipotent by a dependent, fearing patient.

The second major trend, which I believe is particularly noteworthy, is the increasing recognition and acceptance of the health-giving properties of pleasure. Modern western medicine, coming from puritanical roots, has not adequately studied the fundamental phenomenon of pleasure and, hence, has denied the, American medical consumer the value of touch, massage, job satisfaction, laughter, the arts, and responsible sexuality. For example, human beings are the only species on this planet who, at a very early age after birth, engage in weeping and laughing behavior, and yet little or no funding has been targeted to the study of these phenomena. I believe we have paid a very severe price in health for this omission.

Less important, in my opinion, in alternative medicine, would be the study of herbalism which is simply substituting one pharmacopia for another (“my drugs are better than yours”). While there may be value in studying these compounds, this does not fall into the category of a paradigm shift in the manner in which it is currently being pursued by many of those involved.

Regarding “energy medicine” (is there a better term?), one does not have to look only to Asian cultures to study this. Two prominent American psychiatrists, Wilhelm Reich and his disciple Alexander Lowen, I believe, have made brilliant contributions to the study of human energy systems and their work should be revisited in the context of alternative medicine. I have lectured on this topic as it relates to my personal interest in stress releasing phenomena in the context of the release of energy in stress management.

It is imperative, however, that we study other cultures’ medical philosophies and practices for the global village is rapidly becoming reality and, frankly, we all have much to learn from each other.

I trust that I have contributed to the important dialogue on the definition of alternative medicine and priority setting. The journey before us is a remarkable one—the best is yet to come.

Richard A. Lippin, MD
Corporate Medical Director
ARCO Chemical Company, and
Founding President
International Arts-Medicine Association

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