In lecturing to many different groups of health professionals, I find that there is a new, attitude on the horizon. Most traditionally trained health professionals are trained to understand the disease and the pharmacological approach to treating disease. We could call this “prescription pad medicine.”
However, the trend of consumers who use alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, vitamins and minerals has been steadily rising. In turn, many traditional physicians find that they must keep up with this trend, so that they may understand how these non-traditional therapies may impact their patients.
Health professionals accept the idea of “nutritional medicine” and the diet-disease connection in a peripheral sort of way. We know that increased fruit and vegetable intake lowers the risk of cancer. The new attitude I am finding is that there is more of a trend to learn and accept alternative therapies.
When I teach medical students in my office, I tell them that those we are willing to learn and accept certain non-traditional treatments, will be sought after by patients and offer a great service to their patients. Those that choose to remain close-minded will be left behind in this rapidly changing world.
It is not to say that non-traditional therapies are not without risks and certainly we know that they are not the cure for many diseases. Our role as a traditional physician or nurse is to understand a little more than our patients and be able to support or redirect them when we feel a non-traditional therapy is not worthwhile. However, to throw out the possibility of ever using alternative or complementary medicine, would be throwing away the possibility of helping certain diseases or maybe just making the patient feel better.
Remember, our first job is “to do no harm” and if we live by that standard, we should be able to “do more good.”
In speaking to my fellow pediatricians, we must recognize where we have been and where we may be going. Where we have been includes:
- Folate was first recognized in the medical literature as preventing neural tube defects in infants when given to pregnant mothers in the 1960’s. It was not until 1992 that the U.S. Public Health Department recommended that folate be given to all women who may become pregnant and who are pregnant.
- In the 1950’s, pediatricians took to the baby formulas as the best nutrition for infants. We certainly now all understand the tremendous health benefits of breast milk and support the American Academy of Pediatrics position on strongly urging women to breastfeed.
And where we may be going?
- The fatty acid, DHA (docosahexanoic acid) was recognized as being important for infant brain development and the Food and Agriculture Organization and The World Health Organization Joint Expert Committee in 1994. At that time, they recommended that all infant formulas include DHA. DHA was added to infant formulas around the world (over 60 countries by 2001).
In 2001, the FDA completed a favorable review of Martek’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notification regarding the use of its DHA and AA (arachidonic acid) oil blend in infant formulas for the U.S. Now in 2002, companies have now launched infant formulas supplemented with DHA and AA (Mead-Johnson, Lipil®) http://www.enfamil.com/lipil/ and Beech-Nut has introduced the first baby food line, First Advantage®, supplemented with these important fats. To learn more about these fats, see my essential fatty acids page.
- Mercury may be the next lurking toxin that will receive more attention in the pediatric literature. Mercury clearly affects the nervous system and public awareness of sources of mercury needs to be raised. I still find that many pregnant women have not heard the FDA recommendations to limit fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding to protect their developing infant from the possible devastating effects of this toxin.
Issues in the area of environmental toxins and its affect on our pediatric population and simple nutritional strategies and supplementation to decrease risks of disease need to continue to be researched and brought to the attention of those taking care of our young children. I challenge you to think of “nutritional pharmacology” and prescribe dietary interventions and lifestyle changes as freely as we prescribe antibiotics. The proper balance of “prescription pad medicine” and “nutritional medicine” in the right doses could do a world of difference.