Fla. — Kim Ricci is lying on her back on a table with
hair-thin needles stuck in the hollows of her ears, five on
each side. Several more puncture her wrists.
50, says she was surprised when her doctor suggested she get
acupuncture to relieve the pain and discomfort she was
experiencing after her breast-cancer surgery.
even more surprised when the therapy worked.
I can’t say I thought of it as voodoo, I never thought it
was a solution for me," the Orlando woman said.
acupuncture, meditation, massage and yoga are not typically
what the doctor orders, that’s changing as more mainstream
medical practitioners incorporate therapies once considered
alternative into their conventional practices.
Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health started an
integrative-medicine program last year, and at the University
of Florida’s medical school, a course in alternative
medicine is about to become part of the curriculum. At the
University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine,
students are learning how to make unconventional therapies
part of conventional treatment plans.
heartens me to see more doctors starting to treat the whole
person rather than just cutting them and giving them
medicine," said Diane Robinson, a neuropsychologist and
the program director of integrative medicine at the cancer
for alternative medicine reach far beyond cancer treatment.
from many fields who just a few years ago would have balked at
the idea of incorporating therapies once considered
"mystic" into their treatment plans are now
recommending them to treat a range of ailments, including
headaches, pain, arthritis, stress and depression, said Dr.
Irene Estores, an integrative-medicine physician who started
UF Health’s Integrative Medicine Program a year ago.
Paula Duffy of Groveland, Fla., developed low thyroid, and her
doctor put her on prescription thyroid medication, "the
side effects were violent," she said.
her dose was low, the 75-year-old woman had the shakes and her
heart raced. About a month ago, she went to Estores, who
prescribed botanical supplements, including selenium and
seaweed containing iodine. Duffy tolerates the combination
was so lucky to find a doctor like her. I want to try
everything first that’s not invasive, but regular doctors do
not understand about supplements, and few believe in
meditation and yoga," said Duffy, a Brazilian native who
has practiced yoga, meditation and tai chi for decades.
acceptance will likely increase as, across Florida, more
medical students are being trained in the emerging field of
integrative medicine. This fall, Estores will teach a course
on the subject to fourth-year UF medical students.
College of Medicine, Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for
diversity and inclusion, said, "We teach our medical
students to incorporate complementary methods into their care
plans along with more traditional approaches. It’s important
they understand other perspectives, alternatives and
grateful for the philosophical shift. After her double
mastectomy in December 2011, the business analyst and mother
of three grown daughters experienced painful muscle spasms and
skin tightening around her chest and back.
pain medication and muscle relaxants but didn’t want to
become dependent on pills.
was pretty miserable," she said. "The muscles were
so tight through my breast and back it was a struggle to
breathe or move or just get through the day."
began getting treatments in March at the Gynecologic Cancer
Center, part of the UF Health Cancer Center in Orlando.
"I feel completely different. Now I can take a deep
breath," she said. "My muscle pain is 95 percent
exactly how Orlando Health’s Robinson wants doctors and
patients to use alternative therapies, she said, adding that
good scientific evidence is emerging to support many
for instance, has been shown to bring pain relief in animal
studies, which would rule out a placebo effect.
yoga and mindfulness are also "very well supported by
science for relieving pain, tension and stress," she
said. However, other areas, including light, energy or magnet
therapies, are "very questionable."
treatments are not studied and not tested," said UCF’s
Barkley, who cautions medical students to note the line
between evidence-based treatments and quackery.
proponents of the integrative trend argue that adding
alternative treatments to traditional medicine could reduce
health-care costs overall by lessening pain and increasing
compliance, insurance companies approve few treatments. Most
patients, including Ricci, pay out of pocket.
pays $50 for each one-hour acupuncture session.
Frank Stone, an internist and pediatrician at Florida
Hospital, understands the resistance among some of his
colleagues. "We like to think we’re scientists and can
prove what works, but not everything in life lends itself to
it makes sense scientifically isn’t really relevant if it
helps, said Stone, who doesn’t prescribe alternative
medicine often ignores the connection between mind and
body," Stone said. "If the brain thinks it’s
helping, then the body has a related response. If people
believe it will make a difference, it makes a
FIND A SAFE ALTERNATIVE
a good practitioner. Ask what medical facilities they are
affiliated with. Those providers linked to well-established
medical institutions or practices likely have the proper
training and credentials.
doctor’s recommendation. Don’t just go for a therapy
because "it worked well for your neighbor," said
Diane Robinson, program director of integrative medicine at UF
Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health.
seek treatments online. "Almost every week on the
Internet some mushroom is being touted as a cure for
something," said Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for
diversity and inclusion at the UCF College of Medicine.
"But who knows what you’re putting in your body?"
of interactions. The area where most harm can happen is when
patients combine herbal supplements, which haven’t been
studied, and prescription drugs. The interactions are unknown
and can be dangerous.
use them to replace traditional medicine. "My concern
with alternative therapies is when patients turn to them to
relieve symptoms for problems that need mainstream medical
treatment," said Dr. Frank Stone, an internist at Florida
Hospital. Pain, for instance, can be a sign of a problem that
needs traditional medical attention.