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The Growing Influence of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Is the Media Paying Attention?

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Perhaps it’s not surprising that the San Francisco Bay Area, long considered a bastion for progressive thinkers, has become quite the hotbed of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) research and education. What is surprising, however, is how little attention this is getting in the media.

Granted, my assessment is anything but scientific. But as someone who lives in the Bay Area and makes it his regular practice to watch what the major media outlets are reporting about healthcare in general and medicine in particular, there is a noticeable lack of coverage. These days the focus seems to be more on what conventional medical researchers are saying or what health insurers are charging than what medicine’s avant-garde is discovering about other effective means of healthcare.

This, then, leads us to one of two specious conclusions: Either the research is not credible or the public is not interested.

Although credibility is often in the eye of the beholder, the discoveries being made, particularly within the area of mind-body medicine, are worth noting. Take, for instance, the so-called “Love Study” conducted by researchers at the Petaluma-based Institute of Noetic Sciences.

In this experiment, subjects were placed in an electromagnetically shielded chamber. Meanwhile, their romantic partner was placed in another similarly shielded chamber with a closed-circuit television that would go on and off at random intervals. Whenever an image of their partner would appear, they were asked to think of them in a loving and compassionate manner.

Researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the blood flow and perspiration of that individual began to change within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance are 1 in 11,000. Dozens of double blind, randomized studies conducted by institutions like the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh reported similar results.

Now, as for the public not being interested, the latest figures hardly bear this out. According the National Institutes of Health, 40% of us are spending upwards of $34 billion on complementary or alternative medicine. To me, this shows not only interest but a considerable financial commitment as well.

So why is it that this kind of news rarely makes headlines, especially here in the Bay Area? Perhaps it’s because the media, like so many of us, have been educated to believe that healthcare is largely if not exclusively the domain of drug-based medicine. I find this ironic, especially when you consider that three out of every four healthcare workers themselves use some form of complementary or alternative medicine to help stay healthy.

Fortunately, personal healthcare decisions are not always based on what one reads – or doesn’t read – in the local paper, or what one sees or hears on TV and radio. Many, including myself, tend to gravitate instead towards what works best for them. Even if the media aren’t paying as close attention to this fact as perhaps they should, my hope is that this trend will eventually lead to a greater degree of health and wholeness for us all.

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About Eric Nelson