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Annals Series Examines Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Experts Classify Hundreds of Alternative Therapies, Including Chicken Soup

PHILADELPHIA -- (August 7, 2001) Digitalis, nitroglycerin and graham crackers were once considered alternative medicine. Bleeding, mercury and antimony were once used as medical therapies by elite, educated physicians but are not part of the modern physician's arsenal. Alternative medicine has a long, well-established history in the United States. But then and now, alternative medicine has fluid boundaries and often changing definitions of what is considered conventional or alternative.

"The alternative medicine 'boom' is not new," says Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD, one of the guest editors of a new series in Annals of Internal Medicine. "What's new is that orthodox medicine has abandoned its crusade against alternative medicine and is trying to accommodate widespread patient belief and acceptance of these practices."

The new Annals series on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) begins in its August 7 issue with articles exploring the rich history of medical pluralism in the United States and classifying the hundreds of current CAM therapies into a new taxonomy.

"Our patients are using and seeking professional advice about a wide spectrum of healing practices," says David M. Eisenberg, MD, the other guest editor of the series. "The series summarizes the state of science involving complementary and alternative medicine and helps put this field into a useful context for practicing clinicians."

Drs. Eisenberg and Kaptchuk have developed a new classification system to organize the porous, flexible field of complementary and alternative medicine. They suggest eight categories:

  • professional systems, such as chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy
  • popular health reform, such as taking vitamins, food supplements or eating special diets
  • New-Age healing, such as crystals, magnets, spirits, mediums, Reiki, and qigong
  • mind-body cures, such as biofeedback, hypnosis and guided imagery
  • "non-normative scientific enterprises," such as chelation therapy, iridology and hair analysis
  • ethno-medicine, such as Haitian vodun, Puerto-Rican spiritism and Hmong practices
  • religious healing, such as Christian Science and charismatic renewal
  • folk medicine, such copper bracelets and chicken soup.

The Annals series will examine CAM modalities such as herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic and homeopathy; the social context of CAM (credentialing practitioners, malpractice issues); therapies in defined clinical areas, such as cancer; the effectiveness of CAM therapies, and other topics such as placebos, pharmacology of herbal products and the rules of scientific evidence.

Note to Editors:

David M. Eisenberg, MD, is Director for the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Director for the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He can be reached at 617-632-7748.

Ted J. Kaptchuk, OMD (Doctor of Oriental Medicine), is the Associate Director of the Center for Alternative Medicine Research and Education at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is a member of the Division for Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He can be reached at 617-632-7770.

Annals editors Christine Laine, MD, MPH, and Harold Sox, MD, can be reached through Susan Anderson at the ACP-ASIM Communications Dept., 1-800-523-1546, ext. 2653 or 1-215-351-2653.

Embargoed copies of articles, "Varieties of Healing. 1: Medical Pluralism in the United States" and "Varieties of Healing. 2: A Taxonomy of Unconventional Healing Practices" and an editorial can be obtained by calling the ACP-ASIM Communications Department 1-800-523-1546, ext. 2656.

ACP-ASIM is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to enhance the quality and effectiveness of health care by fostering excellence and professionalism in the practice of medicine. ACP-ASIM publishes Annals of Internal Medicine, one of the top three peer-reviewed medical journals in the United States and the leading journal for physicians practicing internal medicine and its subspecialties.

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