on myself and get to the heart of the matter, rather than just focus
ing on eating,” he says. “Now I’m not saying that if you just get acupuncture you will lose weight, because it’s not going to work that way. It’s a piece of the holistic puzzle that when used in conjunction with everything else is good.”
Like Banks, millions in search of alternative therapy visit holistic practitioners for everything from allergies and irritable bowel syndrome to depression, infertility, and cancer. But how safe or effective are holistic practices compared to traditional medical applications? And how does one find and choose an appropriate holistic practitioner?
Holistic medicine is an ancient healing approach that emphasizes the connection between mind, body, and spirit. Treatment isn’t isolated to one area of the body. Aspects such as diet, emotions, environment, and even relationships must be considered for true healing to occur.
Holistic therapies, which break in theory and practice from traditional medical treatments, are often referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and are typically divided into five categories: biologically-based, which focuses on herbs, vitamins, or special diets; body-based, which includes methods such as massage or osteopathy (a system where the relationship between the body’s nerves, muscles, bones, and organs is emphasized); mind–body healing, which involves prayer, meditation, and music therapy; alternative medical systems such as Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of preventive healthcare such as acupuncture, naturopathy (using food and exercise as treatment), and homeopathy (all-natural plant, animal, or mineral treatments); and energy medicine that taps into the body’s energy fields, such as therapeutic touch and Reiki (the Japanese technique involving the laying on of hands to channel energy).
Unlike allopathic, or traditional, medicine — which typically uses drugs to control, mask, or eliminate the symptoms of an ailment — alternative therapies target the symptoms at the root of a problem.
A Growing Market
According to a 2002 health survey developed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, 36% of U.S. adults use some form of holistic medicine. When prayer, specifically for health reasons, is included, that number jumps to 62%.
“There are a lot of people who can’t tolerate prescription drugs,” says Suzan Walter, president of the American Holistic Health Association, a consumer education nonprofit that offers resources and information about the industry. “They get side effects or the drugs just don’t work, so they look for other options.”
Those options have created a billion-dollar industry. According to Pennington, alternative medicine is the largest growing sector of the healthcare industry, “because people will and are going into their wallets to buy this stuff.”
Nutrition Business Journal reports that in 2003, consumers spent nearly $54 billion on alternative therapies and dietary supplements. Of that figure, $34 billion (an increase from $25.5 billion in 1999) went to services such as naturopathy, chiropractics, osteopathy, and massage therapy. That same year, the U.S. market for dietary supplements generated sales of $19.8 billion, accounting for a growth rate of 3.5% to 6.5% annually