Music Heals

It’s cheap. It’s relaxing. It might make you feel better, and it doesn’t have any side effects. Sound like music to your ears? It is, and it’s called music therapy!

 Longtime migraine sufferer Carol was tired of taking pills. She wanted a remedy that didn’t include side effects. “When I have a migraine headache, it affects me physically and emotionally,” says Carol. “It’s very debilitating. It’s very painful.”

August, a mind-body counselor in Chicago, recommended Carol try music therapy. “Studies show that music is the most effective in terms of bringing relaxation,” he says.

Beyond helping you relax, Keith, M.D., says music can actually make you healthier. “It changes the physiological energy or pattern in the system and, as we’ve seen with some research, may help the immune system do its job better”.

Three months after beginning music therapy, Carol considered herself migraine-free. Now, nearly five years later, she’s still pleased.

Alonzo says even some people with chronic diseases can benefit from music therapy. “People who couldn’t even walk or talk sometimes sing and dance to the music,” he says. Carol adds, “Music heals. I believe that.”

Interested in trying music therapy for yourself? Alonzo recommends relaxing to your favorite tunes, eyes shut, without interruption, for at least half-an-hour a day.

Menopause and Phytoestrogens

Jeanie has made dong quai, soy and flaxseed a regular part of her diet since she turned 50. “A lot of women that I know have specific ailments and so are accustomed to going to their doctor and getting medication,” she says. “I have had an interest in alternative medicine since the 1960s, and this seemed like a natural progression for me.”

These dietary supplements appear to be having a positive effect on her health. “The doctors would always ask if I was having symptoms of menopause, and I would always say no,” she says. “They checked my bone density and found that I was in wonderful shape.”

Phytoestrogens are plant chemicals that resemble the estrogens found in humans. When ingested, they are able to substitute for human estrogen. The result generally appears to be beneficial to the health. Asian populations that consume a great deal of phytoestrogens in the form of soy products have a lower rate of osteoporosis, menopausal symptoms and breast cancer.

The natural question is: why don’t more Westerners include these plant products in their own diet? Jeanie believes, “Some people think that if you take the hormone replacement, it is easier than eating soy.”

In addition, some women and physicians may not believe that plant estrogens can relieve the symptoms of menopause. As more and more scientific studies are designed to test the impact of phytoestrogens on women’s health, however, the volume of data in support of consuming soy and other plant products is increasing. While not extensive, clinical and other studies have demonstrated that eating soy can decrease the incidence and severity of hot flashes, increase the level of good (HDL) cholesterol, prevent stroke-forming blood clots and preserve the structure of bones.

Dr. Anderson says you only need about 60 mg of the soy estrogen in order to experience the benefits. You can find this much in one six to eight ounce serving of tofu or one cup of soymilk. She explains that “you can utilize that tofu in so many different ways” and mentions a soy cheesecake “that is really not bad.”

Even women who have already decided to take hormone replacement therapy in the form of medication may benefit from increasing the soy in their diet. Dr. Anderson suggests, “If you take soy, you may be able to cut down on your HRT (hormone replacement therapy) dose.”

However, Dr. Anderson cautions women to use moderation when taking herbal supplements. Her preference is to see women consume these plant estrogens in their food (such as soy) as opposed to consuming them through herbal supplementation.

Some of the web sites about pills, capsules, supplements, etc., are actually quite frightening. One of them actually advises some groups of women to use their product at a dose that would be more than 100 times the daily amount of isoflavones [a plant estrogen] consumed by women on traditional Asian diets. This is so scary! No one in all of human history has been exposed to those sorts of levels through food.

Foot Fancy

More and more we hear how modern medicine works hand in hand with ancient science to help heal the body. While the ancient methods may seem far-fetched, they have a host of supporters.

This may look like a simple foot massage — but according to Charlotte, it’s really an ancient healing art. She’s a registered reflexologist in Parkville, Mo.

Charlotte, “Reflexology is based on the theory that these are areas in the feet and hands that correspond to every system in the body. You name the system, and we can work on it through the hands and feet.”

Charlotte says she can increase circulation to any part of the body through pressure points on the hands and feet.

Mary is a regular client. A skeptic at first, she still doesn’t know the science behind it, but says it definitely brings her relief and relaxation.

Mary, “It takes a lot of soreness away from my feet and legs. At first you just feel relaxed. Then you notice you have resiliency.”

Reflexologists say they can even treat certain disorders. A 1996 Chinese study claims success in six areas ranging from vertigo to diabetes.

Charlotte doesn’t consider reflexology treatments an alternative to modern medicine but feels there are definite health benefits when the two work hand in hand.

Reflexology is still not a widely-accepted practice in the United States. In fact, in some states, licensing falls under the umbrella of “adult entertainment.” In 11 states, it is considered a part of massage therapy.

What are the downsides of using alternative medicine?

It is important to use the advice of a competent, licensed provider and be certain that all of your providers know everything you are doing

There are several important caveats for patients, First, not all cam providers are competent. A naturopathic physician licensed in a competent licensing jurisdiction is trained and regulated to physician standards.

Second, when using conventional and cam treatments together, it is important to be certain that there are no interactions. “Cam therapies can reduce side effects and even help some conventional treatments to work better but, when combined incorrectly with conventional treatments, they can interfere with the therapeutic effect, worsen side effects and reduce the chances of a positive outcome.”

As long as it is down responsively, and involves all of the practitioners, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing, then there are few downsides to using integrative medicine.

What treatments are being used outside the United States that are not used here?

Some therapies that are used worldwide are not approved for use in the United States, and may be difficult to find in this country. One is the anti-cancer drug Laetrile, a treatment first used in the 1920s, but not approved by the FDA as a cancer therapy. While a few doctors may offer it in this country, most patients desiring laetrile treatment go south of the border to Mexico, where it is an approved cancer treatment. Hydrazine sulfate, a treatment that has been investigated for the past 30 years, is commercially available in this country. But since it is not FDA approved as a cancer treatment, it must be offered as a food supplement.

Most treatments, though, are widely available here. There are new therapies coming out all the time, from Europe, Asia, South America and so on, but they’re small incremental things rather than a revolutionary advance.

Most of the cam treatments available in Europe are also available here. The FDA has rejected the importation of some treatments for safety, manufacturing and labeling reasons, but they are few compared to those that are available.

What do doctors not tell patients about using alternative therapies?

Until very recently, the majority of medical schools did not include any information about therapies beyond the Western model. As a result, many doctors were left unprepared to deal with the questions their patients were asking about alternative therapies. And because many therapies do not fit the model that doctors have been trained in, and cannot be “scientifically explained,” they often dismiss these treatments as snake oil.

Many conventional providers are wary of cam treatments because of a bad experience or their lack of knowledge about cam therapy effects on their treatments.

Doctors don’t acknowledge that there are a number of things that patients can do to build up their own systems and make themselves feel better. A lot of techniques have been ignored by doctors. It’s not enough just to hand someone statistics and say here are the chemo drugs I’m going to use — you have to look at a person as a whole, and look at how to treat every system in the person’s body and teach them, to some degree, to take charge of their own healing.

However, Dr. Labriola points out the experience at his practice, the Northwest Natural Health Specialty Care Clinic, provides some interesting insight into how conventional doctors view cam providers. “We receive many referrals from conventional medical specialists,” he says.” They tell us that they have confidence in us because they are familiar with our practice, our expertise with interactions and the fact that we are actually published in scientific journals on the subject of interactions and integrative care.”

“It has been our experience that conventional medical physicians are willing to say a whole lot more about cam therapies when they have the confidence that the patient can receive the benefits without being exposed to the risks of incorrect treatment,” he adds.

When are alternative treatments better than Western medicine?

A recent survey by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found more than 70 percent of adult cancer patients in Washington used alternative therapies and almost all report substantial improvements in well-being as a result of it. While some patients used alternative medicines to treat their cancer, most therapies were used to enhance overall health and well-being.

Many patients also turn to alternative modalities when they have exhausted options in conventional medicine, or if standard treatment is basically unavailable, such as an inoperable tumor, or if conventional options may only be minimally effective at best with a very high degree of adverse events.

“The best clinical outcomes occur when conventional western treatments and complementary and alternative medicine (cam) therapies are combined,” says Dan Labriola, ND, a Seattle based naturopath and nationally known cancer therapy expert. “Conventional interventions tend to be more effective in critical care situations whereas cam treatments can outperform Western medicine with some chronic disease and diagnoses, especially where it is important to utilize the least invasive treatment.”

Dr. Gaynor cautions about terming treatments as better or worse than one another. “I think it makes it makes a lot of sense to use them in conjunction with western medicine because every modality of treating a difficult disease like cancer is limited but can have an effect.”

As an example, he points to chemotherapy, which works predominantly by damaging cancer cells. “It’s not capable, for the most part, of killing every last cancer cell,” he says. “And we know that the immune system is very important in fighting cancer and we know that that it is better able to recognize a damaged cell than one that hasn’t been damaged by chemotherapy.”

Use of Alternative Medicine

Alternative or complementary medicine, often referred to as integrative medicine, includes a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatments and alternative when it is used instead of them.

Use of alternative or complementary medicine has grown tremendously in the United States over the past decade. Some studies report that the percentage of Americans using alternative therapies rose from 34 percent in 1990 to 69 percent in 1998. Alternative therapies have become increasingly popular among patients with chronic illnesses, including cancer. Early pioneers, such as renowned oncologist O. Carl Simonton, introduced the idea that one’s state of mind could influence the ability to survive cancer.

In addition to the mind/body connection, alternative medicine encompasses a wide variety of modalities, including diet, vitamin supplements, herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicine, ayurveda, homeopathy, massage therapy, chiropractic, etc.

There have been a number of alternative therapies developed specifically for cancer treatment. One such treatment involves using antineoplastins, a naturally occurring group of amino acids, and is a relatively non-toxic therapy developed by Stanislaw R. Burzynski, MD, Ph.D. He administers this therapy at his Texas clinic.

According to Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., director of Integrative Medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York City, the most common therapies used by cancer patients are usually a combination of both nutritional and mind/body treatments. “That can involve anything from vitamins and herbs to meditation, yoga, or body work such as acupuncture,” says Dr. Gaynor.

“In my experience,” he adds, “Which may be due to the nature of our center, most patients are doing both — conventional and complementary. We call it integrative therapy.”