Evidence for alternative medicine

by Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer

I donâÄôt particularly like bugs. But I know enough about my biases that I would not attempt to render an opinion on which bugs are good and which are bad. I would leave that to an expert in entomology who has an informed perspective. We know there are people around the world who eat bugs. While that would not be my preference, I certainly would not judge them. As a scientist and nurse, I read with great interest an article that appeared in the medical journal Chest (Frass et al., 2005). This is a peer-reviewed scientific journal read by many physicians and surgeons. It is published by the American College of Chest Surgeons (no slouch of a group). The article describes a study (a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial) comparing critically-ill patients on mechanical ventilators in Intensive Care Units who received a substance called potassium dichromate with those who did not. It was found that the patients who received potassium dichromate had less thick, stringy tracheal secretions and were able to get off the ventilator more quickly and out of the ICU. Clinical outcomes like that are important. Potassium dichromate is a homeopathic remedy. A recent letter to the editor harshly criticized a student group for bringing in an extracurricular speaker on the topic of homeopathy for a Saturday afternoon workshop. In the Academic Health Center of the University of Minnesota, student organizations like the Center for Health Interprofessional Programs often invite speakers to discuss a topic they are curious about. I have found students to be excellent critical thinkers able to sort out evidence and ask tough questions. Inviting speakers to the University does not constitute promotion or endorsement as the headline of your letter, âÄúHomeopathy promoted at the University,âÄù suggested. The U.S. National Institutes of Health established a center over a decade ago, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which supports research in a field today called integrative health or integrative medicine. The goal of this organization is to determine what is safe and effective âÄî in other words, evidence-based. Currently, 44 medical schools in the United States have programs in integrative medicine, and there are many hospitals and clinics âÄî such as the Allina Health System in this community âÄî that have integrative medicine clinics and offer integrative care to patients in the hospital. It is very easy to judge what we donâÄôt know or understand, and that can get us into a lot of trouble. Many advances in medicine and health care were initially rejected and ridiculed and only later found to be life-saving. This was actually the case with hand washing. So I applaud students who are motivated enough to be actively engaged in their learning, who seek out information and demonstrate an ability to be open-minded, curious and informed. Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer, University faculty