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A Look at Altenative Medicines

Aired February 26, 2005 - 08:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news, police in Wichita, Kansas, have questioned someone they call a person of interest in the BTK serial killings. Eight deaths in Wichita in the 1970s and '80s are blamed on the BTK killer. BTK stands for bind, torture, and kill. The officers plan to meet with reporters this morning at 11:00 Eastern. And CNN plans live coverage.
Police and volunteers are expected to resume their search today for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. She's been missing since Wednesday from her home in Citrus County, Florida. The girl's family appealed Friday for her safe return. A nationwide alert is in effect for Jessica. And we'll continue to bring you updates throughout the day.

Pope John Paul II will follow along from his Rome hospital room tomorrow as an aide reads his Angelus message and blesses the crowd at the Vatican. The pope is recovering from throat surgery. And doctors have asked that he try not to speak.

I'm Tony Harris, HOUSECALL begins right now.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning, and welcome to HOUSECALL. Checking medical headlines first, world health experts met in Vietnam to discuss strategies for eradicating bird flu. A top scientist warns a bird flu pandemic may be imminent and he urged governments to prepare. Bird flu, which originates from infected birds, has killed 45 people so far in Asia. And scientists warn if the virus becomes highly contagious in humans, it will be worse than SARS.

And attention all migraine sufferers. A new report shows people experiencing migraines have a higher risk of heart problems. This is especially true for patients whose headaches involve auras.

And a new study reveals green tea may help fight bladder cancer. Researchers found green tea extract may block the process by which early bladder cancer spreads through the body. This bolsters other studies showing green tea may help in the treatment of other cancers.

And now to our top story. More than one-third of all Americans use some form of alternative medicine. That's our topic from herbs to prayer and acupuncture. We're going to be talking about many of those today.

Almost all of these therapies can be traced back hundreds of years, like the vitamins and herbs that we use today. Just over 100 years ago, the medicines our ancestors took came straight from plants. So the question is can some of those same plants help us today?


GUPTA: The nativity a scene that invokes images of a child in swaddling clothes, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Back then myrrh was a gift, but its use since ancient time has shifted.

MICHAEL BALICK, ETHNOBOTANIST: When peoples wanted to embalm the dead and preserve the body from rotting, would fill it full of myrrh. And in the '90s, scientists looked at this plant myrrh, looked at this resin for its potential anti-cancer activity.

GUPTA: Other studies have suggested myrrh may lower blood sugar levels. Also in biblical times, spices like saffron, turmeric and cinnamon all flourished.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cinnamon, which was referred to in biblical times, has recently been shown to reduce fasting blood sugars. And it's now being entertained as something that can be used for Type II diabetes.

GUPTA: Thousands of years ago, saffron was an expensive and aromatic spice use by ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks as an aphrodisiac. Today, it's being studied as a possible treatment for eczema, a skin disorder and for depression.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's something that's been used for hundreds of years, which we're now looking at again, which may be very useful as an antidepressant.

GUPTA: Turmeric and ginger, also used by the ancients, have been shown to fight inflammation in early studies. And many doctors believe inflammation is at the core of illnesses like arthritis and Alzheimer's.

While these herbs and roots show promise for fighting disease, that doesn't mean dousing your food with them will reap a natural cure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Work with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner about using these natural remedies. Some of these remedies interact very significantly with our prescriptive medications.

GUPTA: Even still, if the studies pan out, herbs and plants could be coupled with more conventional medicine. And some doctors believe they could be a milder alternative to some prescription medications with fewer side effects.

BALICK: Western medicine has a great deal it can learn from the use of these plants.

GUPTA: The secrets to fighting illness may yet be buried in ancient herbs.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: And vitamins and herbs are one of the fastest growing forms of alternative medicines. Listen to this. Sales jumped nearly 400 percent between 1980 and 1997. But supplements are not for everyone. Be especially careful if you're currently taking prescription medications, are pregnant or breast feeding, or if you're having an operation soon. Another concern, if you're younger than 18 or over 65, you may react differently to some of those supplements.

Here to help us sort our way through the pros and cons of alternative therapies is Dr. Russell Greenfield. He's the medical director of Carolina's Integrative Health and one of the first graduates of Dr. Andrew Wild's program on Integrative Medicine.

First of all, thank you.


GUPTA: Appreciate your time. Listen, we've heard all the warnings about supplements and a lot of conversations going on about them, one of our most popular topics. They are not all bad, are they?

GREENFIELD: No, they really aren't. You know, there's actually much more data available on some of the benefits of specific supplements than we might imagine. Now we have to apply a careful microscope to the use of vitamins and supplements much as we would for the use of drugs and pharmaceutical agents.

So as was stated earlier in the program, makes sense to work with a well-versed practitioner who can help distinguish between those that are beneficial, those that are worthless, and even worse, those that might be harmful.

GUPTA: And a lot of doctors starting to learn more about alternative therapies. A lot of patients very curious about it for sure. Let's get to some e-mail questions, real specific ones.

Dottie from Georgia writes, "Is there anything one can take for depression and anxiety disorders besides prescription drugs?"

Dr. Greenfield, this is a question we get a lot of. And there are many claims out there, many supplements that sort of make the claim to help.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely. And I think one of the important things for our listeners to understand is that anxiety and depression always run together. They're not necessarily separate entities. And it's kind of dynamic. Things flux between that anxious state and that depressed state.

There are options in this regard from a, let's say, an herbal standpoint. There are things like St. John's Wart, which has been shown to be quite beneficial for people with mild to moderate depression. A recent study actually showed it'd be beneficial for people with severe depression. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that St. John's Wart is something that can be utilized with medication and cause problems. It does interfere with certain medications, especially some of the ones that are used in immune states, where there are issues.

Now there are other kinds of agents that are used like Sam-E. There's another agent which is called 5 HTP. And most of those have some significant data behind them as well. But we don't recommend using these agents together with a more conventional pharmaceutical agent.

GUPTA: Right. And you know the thing is, doctor, as well, I mean, there's obviously lots of good medications out there, but people seem to be looking for natural options to treat everything from depression to menopause. Why do you think there's such an interest and focus on using non-conventional medications?

GREENFIELD: I think all of us are looking for more control in our healthcare. And it's interesting to note the statistics on the use of complementary alternative therapies in America. A simple majority of people are using complementary therapies. And if we as healthcare practitioners believe that our patients are not using these things, we're missing the opportunity to guide people toward safe things and to steer them away from things that might be harmful. We're all looking for greater participation in our healthcare. And I think that's why people are looking to see what can I do on my own, lessen my reliance on the healthcare system, increase my reliance on myself.

GUPTA: Yes, and you know, it's interesting because with the Internet and lots of other sources of information out there, parents are more -- I'm sorry patients are more educated than ever before and asking really specific questions.

Let's get to another one of those. Irene in Canada writes, "I'm on a breast cancer drug Tamoxifen." Dr. Greenfield knows what this is, a therapy for breast cancer. She'd like to try some herbal remedies, though "am unsure of how they would react to Tamoxifen." Are there any herbal supplements that she should avoid?"

This is where it seems to get a little tricky, Dr. Greenfield, because people think it's over the counter, it's natural, it's herbal, it's safe.

GREENFIELD: And Dr. Gupta, you're absolutely right. And one of the things our listeners need to understand is what is natural is not necessarily the same as what is safe. Now black Cohosh is an herb that has been used, for example, with Tamoxifen in a few studies in order to try and help with the hot flashes that sometimes develop when using Tamoxifen. Black Cohosh has been used for hot flashes in menopausal women.

And what the data suggest is that, yes, black Cohosh may indeed be safe in the setting of the use of Tamoxifen, but it hasn't necessarily been shown to be very beneficial. And we don't have a lot of research data in this regard. So we don't want to take significant chances. What we recommend in the instance where someone is using Tamoxifen, who has had breast cancer, by the way Tamoxifen being a very good drug in this instance, we recommend acupuncture, which can be very beneficial for the hot flashes, can be very relaxing. And thereby, we avoid any consideration of interaction with the drug.

GUPTA: Well, that's really interesting. We're going to talk a lot about the research sort of coming up, because there is some research being done on this.

But coming up, they say music soothes the soul, that is. Can it also cure what ales you? Stay tuned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something that we know works. It's something that we know will make people feel better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up, how the rhythm that moves you may help heal you. And later...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It absolutely works the shoulders down to your stomach, down to your legs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A new workout uses rhythms from the past to make you sweat.

First, take today's daily dose quiz. When was modern music therapy first recognized in the United States? That answer coming up?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Checking the daily dose quiz. We asked when was modern music therapy first recognized in the United States? The answer, after World Wars I and II. Doctors noticed veterans responding to music played by traveling musicians.


GUPTA: And music and other relaxation therapies are starting to be recognized across medicine. From anxiety to chronic pain and even operation recovery time, calming the mind seems to help the body.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's the heartbeat, the lifeblood of nearly every culture, the tie that binds us. Since the dawn of man, music has inspired the spectrum of human emotions. Frenzy, vigor, relaxation. It's also been used medicinally for millennia. Music, voices, and instruments were a frequent complement to healing medicines for cultures across the globe.

And that same principle guides music therapy today, although couched in a less conventional, even unorthodox instrument, something called a vibro acoustic bed.

Vibrations are emitted through speakers built into the chair.

SUSAN SHIELDS, HARRIS METHODIST CANCER CENTER: The chair vibrates in time to the music. The strength of the vibrations varies as the pitch of the music varies.

GUPTA: Forty-six-year-old Connie Puente regularly receives infusions at the Harris Methodist Cancer Center. It's an often uncomfortable process. This time, however, she used the vibro acoustic chair. As the infusion courses into her bloodstream, music courses throughout her body. All of this results in what's called a relaxation response. Studies are finding that eliciting this response has some effect on healing.

HERBERT BENSON, DR., PRES., MIND/BODY MEDICAL INST.: There's decreased blood pressure, heart rate, rate of breathing, metabolism.

GUPTA: That was true for Puente. Her blood pressure went down significantly after spending more than an hour in the chair. And she says she felt an immense sense of relaxation.

CONNIE PUENTE, PATIENT: You can actually feel the relaxing sensation in your fingers all the way to your toes.

GUPTA: A recent National Institutes of Health study of 267 hospitalized cancer patients using vibro acoustic music therapy found that those patients experienced between 49 and 61 percent reduction in pain.

BENSON: All we are doing is putting scientific numbers on what people have known for millennia.

SHIELDS: It's something that we know works. It's something that we know will make people feel better. And when they feel better, have less stress, they heal faster.

GUPTA: It seems music has transcended time to remain a potent healer.


GUPTA: And studies have shown, and as we Connie experience, relaxation can lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. In addition, it can calm anxiety and anger, and even help with moderate depression. Lots of questions about that in answering our questions on alternative therapies is Dr. Russell Greenfield. He's an expert in the field of integrative medicine.

Welcome back, doctor.

GREENFIELD: Thank you.

GUPTA: Listen, music therapy isn't the only way to practice relaxation. Meditation, of course, is something that comes to mind. But the question like any other therapy, who are these therapies best used for?

GREENFIELD: Well, it's interesting. I think anybody could benefit from this. And the idea behind integrative medicine is to use these things preventively, to try and prevent illness. Or if illness has set up shop, how can we optimize our health. And using these therapies is a perfect way.

GUPTA: You know, lots of interesting questions. And one of them has to do with, you know, how well do they really work? And Chris in Chicago asked this, "If alternative medicines are not tested in clinical trials, how do we know if untested treatments aren't actually harmful?" So he's sort of asking it backwards, Dr. Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: It's a great question. And we need to apply the same microscope to complimentary alternative therapies than we do to conventional therapies. We need to find out what's safe and then what's effective, and beyond that, what's cost effective.

But the key here, as was stated earlier, work with a well-trained practitioner who can guide you in this regard with regards to safety first and then effectiveness.

GUPTA: And we found in some of our research that about 40 clinical trials in several different areas current ongoing. We are talking to Dr. Russell Greenfield about all of your questions. And more alternative treatments are coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What ancient cures may help your aches and pains? We'll dive deeper into alternative therapies coming up on HOUSECALL.

But first, more of this week's medical headlines in the pulse.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Need another good reason to get off that couch and get moving? Researchers say exercise can significantly reduce depression about as effectively as antidepressant medications. They studied adults ages 20 to 45 with mild to moderate depression. Those who engaged in intense aerobic exercise, 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week reduced depressive symptoms by almost 50 percent.

And a Harvard study finds that men who exercise strenuously on a regular basis when they're young adults are less likely to develop the brain disorder Parkinson's disease when they get older. Researchers found that men who exercise more often and more vigorously cut their risk of Parkinson's by 50 to 60 percent compared to men who did not exercise. Researchers could not find the same link for women. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. We're getting to the bottom of alternative therapies with Dr. Russell Greenfield. He's medical director of Carolina's Integrative Health and of an Integrative Medicine Specialist. Having a little trouble talking today, doctor. Maybe you have something for that.

Let's jump back in with some viewer questions. Important ones, too. Kimberly in Florida writing, "How do acupuncture and holistic medicine help with injuries commonly only cured by Western medicine or surgery -- like muscle atrophy or poor circulation?"

And doctor, recent studies have shown, for example, acupuncture, we did some research on this, acupuncture can help with arthritis of the knee. Can it help other conditions, as well?

GREENFIELD: It really can. There's very good data for acupuncture for many painful conditions, including migraine headaches, back pain, Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome or TMJ Syndrome, things of that nature.

It's very beneficial. But rarely can acupuncture be used in place of surgery. Where there's a surgical reason to get going, you really need to look at conventional medicine.

GUPTA: Have you had acupuncture ever?

GREENFIELD: I have actually.

GUPTA: Does it hurt?

GREENFIELD: You know, it really doesn't hurt very much. It's very relaxing. You would think needles might be discomforting, but there's really -- these are very thin needles. They're almost a hair in width. And it's actually very, very relaxing therapy.

GUPTA: Very interesting. I haven't had it done, but that was a rousing endorsement there. Listen, lots of different views on these topics from our viewers. People's worries may be summed up by a couple of e-mails that we have received from Edmund and Jerry.

Edmund in Kansas writes, "Despite advancements in modern medicine, it cannot guarantee to cure every sickness or to be safely taken without dangerous side effects. If alternative medicine can provide time-proven solutions, should it be put aside?"

And that e-mail, doctor, was immediately followed by Jerry's from Maryland when he wrote, "Alternative medicine is just expensive snake oil. Almost all of it has been proven not to work or been proven to do nothing at all. People avoid real medical treatments and get sicker."

Doctor, how do you reconcile Edmund and Jerry here? GREENFIELD: Well, the idea here is to utilize the best of conventional and/or complimentary therapies and to do something very different with that. That being to optimize which -- that which we're all born with, our innate capacity to heal. And what could be more conservative than utilizing things to prevent illness and then to utilize conventional medical care if it's clearly warranted.

GUPTA: We're talking with Dr. Russell Greenfield. A contentious, but important topic, alternative medicine. We'll talk more about that.

Also coming up, exercise you have to see to believe. And help finding answers to more of your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grab a pen. When we come back, Web sites that give you the ABC's of alternative medicine.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sweating it up big time. And you can burn over 500 calories with my workout.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A folk dance turns aerobic. Stay tuned for a spicy workout.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. We've been talking ancient cures. And this week, our bod squad checked out an age old dance that's gone aerobic.


HOLLY FIRFIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take an age old folk dance from Punja, add the spicy touch of a spirited fitness guru, and you've got the Masala Bangra workout. An elaborate blend of hand twirling, torso turning and shoulder shrugging that's gaining fitness fans from Bollywood to Hollywood.

SARINA JANE, FITNESS INSTRUCTOR: Your arms go up and down of course. Shoulders move down and down and down. It's all about your shoulders, right?

Lean into it. Lean.

FIRFIR: Some people call Sarina Jane the Indian Jane Fonda. She says she combines her love of fitness with her Indian heritage to create a unique calorie burning cultural dance experience.

JANE: It actually works the shoulders down to your stomach, down to your legs. I mean, you have to squeeze your entire body tight to move, because you sweat it up big time. And you can burn over 500 calories with my workout.

FIRFIR: Dance inspired workouts are among the latest trends in popular gyms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually love the music. It's kind of fun for them, a new dance and learn moves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just try it. It's a great workout. And you have a lot of fun doing it.

FIRFIR: Holly Firfir, CNN.


GUPTA: Holly, thanks. Seems everyone's doing the Bangra.

Listen, we found some great Web sites this week when researching our show. The National Institutes of Health has tons of information on a variety of alternative therapies. That's at And click on And under the healthy living section, you're going to find easy to follow advice on picking therapies that might work for you.

We've been talking with Dr. Russell Greenfield.

Listen, doctor, one final question. A lot of people interested in this, but concerned about the doctors that are prescribing these therapies or talking about these therapies. How can you find a reputable alternative therapy doc?

GREENFIELD: Well, first of all, more and more academic medical centers are training physicians. So it will become easier. But in the meantime, places -- Web sites like Dr. Wile's Web site, askdrwile, an association called the American Holistic Medical Association, these places will refer you to well credentialed physicians.

Or otherwise, come to Charlotte. We'd love to meet and try and help.

GUPTA: Come to Charlotte. Well, listen, we're out of time. But I want to thank you very much, Dr. Greenfield, for your time in answering all of our questions.

GREENFIELD: It's been my honor.

GUPTA: Thank you. And thanks to you at home as well for all the great e-mails. Don't forget to watch next weekend at 8:30 Eastern for another addition of HOUSECALL. Remember, this is the place to the answers for your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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