Science Friction

* Although the viewpoints of Andrew Weil and Arnold S. Relman presented in "Science Friction" (Cover Story, May 25) offer an insightful glimpse of some of the medical and nonmedical providers' differences, the reality is that most health care providers have moved beyond these two extremes. The issue at hand is not whether the medical profession should subsume alternative health care practices, but how the two approaches can be integrated to offer the best possible care for patients.

Medical students don't learn to practice every specialty, but they do take courses that prepare them to refer their patients to the proper specialists when needed. Following this approach, many medical schools have begun offering courses that introduce students to the various forms of alternative therapy and teach them to work with patients who need or want to be treated by alternative care providers. This recent change in curriculum may seem unremarkable to those outside the health care profession, but they should know that until a few years ago, it was considered unethical for medical doctors to associate professionally with chiropractors and other nonmedical providers.

The nation's medical schools should be commended for recognizing the public's increasing use and acceptance of alternative therapies and for preparing their students for the integrative health care system of the future. No health care professional has all the answers, but by working together we can provide patients with the best care possible--whether it is "traditional," "alternative" or a combination of both.

Edward L. Maurer, DC

Chairman of the Board of Governors

American Chiropractic Association

Arlington

* Relman asserts that practitioners of alternative medicine "believe in the power of the mind and thought to change physical matter and heal organic diseases." He adds that this concept "basically contradicts the laws of physics and the modern scientific view of nature."

Perhaps the concept of mind over matter merely contradicts the laws of physics as we currently understand them. After all, human perception of reality has deepened and changed over time. Only a few centuries ago the science of the day decreed that the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. In the age of relativity, where physicists have found matter and energy to be interchangeable and time itself to stretch out or compress like Salvador Dali's distorted clocks, how can we be so sure that mind and thought do not, in fact, influence matter?

Relman states that "quantum theory offers no support for the idea of nonphysical causation of physical events." How then does one explain the placebo effect? By the same token, one can dissect the brain and note that it is nothing more than neurons and synapses conducting strings of chemicals. Does this negate the existence of a non-corporeal mind? No. It may simply be how the mind manifests itself on a physical level.

Weil ends the debate by saying "there is abundant evidence for the reality of mind to affect the physical reality of the body." Numerous studies have shown that emotional support improves health. Conversely, it is common knowledge that stress, including emotional stress, weakens the immune system.

Relman asserts that an "unproven" and "highly unlikely" claim made by practitioners of alternative medicine is that "improper breathing is a common cause of ill health, and breathing exercises will cure disease and promote good health." Interestingly, the very next article in the Health section, "The Obesity-Asthma Connection" (Bodyworks), quotes an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School as saying that "in the lab we've shown that if you take really shallow breaths your airways can close down. When kids sit and watch TV for hours on end, their breathing tends to become shallow, which may increase bronchial reactivity and airway irritation."

Kay Halpern

Silver Spring

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