2 Viewpoints: Holistic Care Practitioner and Vassar Brothers Physician

Interview in Go Healthy on the state of Holistic Healthcare

GO Healthy posed a series of questions to Fran Sussman, a holistic practictioner, Sussman Holistic Services Inc., in Chester; and Dr. Mohammed A. Aziz, Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Poughkeepsie, to get their points of view.

QUESTION: U.S. government studies, it was determined that virtually no natural medications offered results, including echinacea for colds, ginkgo biloba for memory and chondroitin for arthritis. How do you respond to this?

Fran Sussman: That’s absolutely correct. Rather than trying to cure a complex situation with a pill, whether natural or not, I encourage my clients to take a comprehensive approach to their health. Working uniquely with each individual, we look at the whole picture, identifying the underlying problems that are causing their symptoms, and rebuild their health step by step. You have to build a good foundation for health. That means not only supplements to target specific symptoms, but addressing nutrition, learning to manage stress, getting enough good quality sleep, decreasing toxic load, smart exercise (longer and harder isn’t always better, especially as we age) and, if necessary after all these other steps, balancing our hormones.

Mohammed Aziz: There are hundreds of chemical products that are available in stores labeled as natural health remedies for many illnesses. These herbs and supplements have self-acclaimed or anecdotal effect, at best. Most of these herbs and supplements are not only ineffective, but also can have life-threatening consequences. To date, there has been no evidence of remedial effects of these herbs and supplements.
Because of their extensive use by the general public, scientists decided to evaluate the efficacy of some of the most commonly used herbs and supplements, including echinacea, ginko and chondroitin. Studies revealed that none of these herbs or supplements were better than placebo. Some of the herbs and supplements caused liver failure, kidney failure and other life-threatening effects. These were well-designed, prospective randomized studies and leave no doubt that the tested herbs and supplement are not only ineffective, but also can even be harmful.

QUESTION: Do you believe that alternative medicine should be used when dealing with serious, life-and-death illnesses, such as cancer? Why/why not?

Sussman: Of course it should, along with all that conventional medicine and science have to offer. Many hospitals incorporate complementary care services, because they have proven significantly beneficial. I would never tell a client not to seek medical help. I do not believe people should ever address chronic, recurring or serious health issues on their own, nor should they ever reject conventional medical approaches without professional guidance and a thorough investigation and understanding of the consequences.

Aziz: Cancer is a complicated disease that includes knowledge of cancer type, its mode of spread and the interaction of the immune system to suppress the cancer cells. Cancer chemotherapy drugs are extensively tested first in animals and then in humans. This involves years of research and billions of dollars to assess the mechanism, efficacy and safety of these drugs. These data are then presented to the FDA, which independently scrutinizes the studies and decides either to approve the drug or ask for more information. Only FDA-approved drugs are legally eligible to be administered in a specific cancer.

It is inappropriate to give a drug, chemical, herb or supplement to a seriously ill patient, without any scientific evidence of its usefulness. In my opinion, it is not only dangerous but also morally and ethically wrong. You may not only harm the patient but also fail to recognize the harm – “your eyes do not see what your mind does not know. The scientific method has been developed to objectively assess effectiveness and safety. Properly structured studies remove any chance to introduce investigator bias.

QUESTION: Even some rigorously tested medications, such as Vioxx, have been found to be dangerous and were recalled. How can the average person know whether or not to trust the safety and effectiveness of a drug, pill, vitamin or supplement, whether prescribed by a mainstream physician or recommended by a holistic practitioner?

Sussman: There was information available about the risks of Vioxx long before it was actually recalled, and there were safe and effective alternatives, as well. Ideally you have a relationship with a practitioner who is not only knowledgeable and up-to-date in her/his field, but also knows you, your history, your lifestyle, someone who you trust, who will take the time to address your concerns. At the same time, every person needs to learn to become their own health advocate. We simply can’ afford to be passive consumers. It comes back to education. You need to ask questions and make sure you get answers you can understand. You need to find out about the risks and benefits of all the options available to you before you can make an informed decision.

Aziz: It is true that a number of drugs have been withdrawn from the market because of their unacceptable long-term safety profile. All of these safety issues were discovered after years of close follow-up and could not have been evaluated during the initial studies. Once the undesirable effect was identified, the drug was pulled from the market and all the doctors were informed to stop prescribing and discontinue the drug. In short, a system exists to identify, report and act once a drug’s safety is compromised. No such system exists in holistic medicine.
There are no evaluations, studies or trials done before any herb or supplement is marketed. There are no quality-control criteria, and there is no overseeing entity to report to. Many adverse effects are not even identified, and those adverse effects that are clearly attributed to these herbs or supplements cannot be reported to the FDA. It’s like a free-for-all.

QUESTION: Do you believe there is a bias against, or negative preconception toward, the holistic approach from the mainstream medical world?

Sussman: Many doctors are now realizing the value of incorporating a holistic approach. In fact, much of my training has been with holistic M.D.s. I would love to be able to work more in concert with medical professionals for the benefit of our mutual clients. I do this with psychologists, physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists, and would love to find medical professionals who are open to a team approach as well. We each have different areas of expertise. Mine is helping people address issues and attain optimal health through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Obviously medical doctors are experts in areas I am not. The answer is to work together to support the health of our clients.

Aziz: It is not a question of bias, but that of scientific evidence. All the pharmaceutical drugs have shown some scientific proof of their efficacy as compared to herbs or supplements. It is very difficult for doctors to prescribe substances uncertain of effectiveness and unconvinced of what harm they can cause.

On the other hand, we have seen patients with organ failure and death related to toxic effects of some of the herbs or supplements. Since doctors demand scientific basis for herbs and supplements, they are tainted as biased. There is no doubt that many botanicals contain ingredients that possess therapeutic activity. What the FDA process is intended for is to use all available information to harness potential benefits and avoid unnecessary harm.

In short, there is no bias or negative preconception about holistic approach … just a lack of scientific evidence and safety profile.
—Fina Bruce

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