Type the phrase Holistic Medicine Northern California into Google and a virtual laundry list of alternative practitioners appears.
From upscale spas catering to the karmically hip to free clinics offering holistic services to those in need, you can find hundreds of Yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation classes in the Bay area as well as herbalists, acupuncturists, and even holistic veterinarians, catering to the spiritually sophisticated spaniel.
Holistic medicine, referred to commonly in Western medicine as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), has become an umbrella term used to describe an alternative treatment modality which promotes the wellness of the whole person, body, mind, emotion, and spirit. Its roots are in Eastern mysticism, which focuses on organic solutions to well-being.
According to a policy report by the White House Commission Study on CAM, it is estimated up to 43 percent of Americans have turned to alternative medicine for treatment. It is especially growing in popularity amongst patients who cannot afford or have grown weary of Western medicine’s ‘one-pill-fits-all’ approach to healthcare.
While some professionals in the hard sciences have dismissed CAM as magical thinking, it has gradually gained acceptance, largely due to its focus on prevention.
Jenelle Mazaris, a Yoga instructor and proponent of alternative health care, turned to CAM 11 years ago to manage her chronic asthma.
“Yoga and holistic practices in general take the whole person into account. Once I started doing yoga, my asthma got better and really no pill can do for my body what yoga can. For a long time I didn’t have [health] insurance and that was scary. Learning about Holistic medicine allowed me to take care of myself and I lived with a little less fear,”
With the rising costs of insurance and the current economic downturn, affordable health care is a major concern.
Allison Bruzel, who works at the Woman’s Building in San Francisco’s Mission District, a community center that often hosts low cost and free classes in yoga, bodywork, stress management and women’s health care, she said she has noticed a growing demand for such services.
“A lot of women that show up here don’t have health insurance; most of them are dealing with some sort of chronic issue. as more people lose their jobs, the demand for referrals and services will likely go up. People in San Francisco are always looking for alternatives,” said Bruzel.
It is this growing popularity in alternative and natural herbal remedies that the White House Commission on CAM was created to address. According to the report’s findings, many of these remedies have not been evaluated thoroughly for effectiveness.
There is real concern that people are already using these alternative treatments lacking “valid scientific information to guide them in making informed and intelligent choices.” said the report. For example, Kava Kava, once a popular herbal treatment made from the root of a Kava plant and prescribed to treat anxiety, is being studied by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after it was linked to several cases of liver toxicity.
A good tip, offered by the Elephant Pharmacy, a holistic health food store in Berkeley which recently closed its doors due to the struggling economy, suggests when trying herbal remedies look for products made in countries that hold them to the same regulatory standards as conventional drugs such as Japan, France, and Canada.
For those living in the Bay Area, the Rainbow Grocery Co-op also offers a wide selection of natural remedies and they have several helpful “vitaminists” – their term – as well as current studies and FDA warnings posted for safety and convenience.