Allopathy versus Alternative medicine

Let us start with one basic premise first. No “pathy” is bad. Any comparison is an ‘apples to oranges’ matter. This article is not an attempt to prove the superiority (or inferiority) of a school but is rather an objective discussion. Let us address certain myths that surround the treatment of Rheumatic diseases.

Here is what you need to understand about medicine specialties in general.

Myth # 1: Alternative therapies promise a permanent cure for Rheumatic diseases v/s There is no permanent cure in Allopathy.

The tragic misconception is that Allopathy has no permanent answer for Rheumatic diseases whereas Ayurveda or Homeopathy will provide a permanent cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis and other Rheumatic diseases. The fact is, the basic approach to any disease differs greatly in all these branches of medicine. In Ayurveda you have the three tenets called Vata, Kapha and Pitta, on the basis of which the principles of Ayurveda are based. Similarly, in Homeopathy, again, the system of practice is completely different and is often planned on the basis of a constellation of various symptoms and signs. In Allopathy, we attempt to go down to the causal relationship between the disease mechanism and the disease manifestation and then plan the treatment accordingly. While medicine now knows that the basic cause is ‘altered immunity’, science is nowhere near an explanation of why the immunity becomes dysfunctional in the first place. Research is ongoing.

Alternative medicine does NOT have classifications like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Ankylosing Spondylitis or Reactive arthritis or Wegener’s granulomatosis. One thing is clear. None of the available systems of medicine are in a position to provide a permanent cure for a simple reason:  to remove this disease from your body, your immunity itself would have to be removed, which is dysfunctional. Without immunity, how will you live? However, in general, the rule of the thumb is that these diseases can be well-controlled, allowing you to lead a good quality of life. Medication will need to continue for many years and sometimes, all through life.

Having said the above, there are certain illnesses like ‘Reactive Arthritis’ which stems from the body’s response to an infection, which can sometimes occur once and then not recur if appropriate treatment is initiated on time. Obviously the credit for this will go to the system of medicine followed by the patient at that time.

Some people get upset when they hear or read all this. Ironically, the same people do not get upset if they have to take lifelong treatment for Hypertension (high blood pressure), Diabetes, Heart disease, kidney ailments etc. If they can accept the treatment for these diseases willingly, why not for rheumatic disease?

So, in essence, you can choose what you feel is appropriate for you but please don’t subscribe to the belief that a permanent cure is possible. You will be disappointed.

Myth # 2: Allopathy has only painkillers and steroids!!

Not True! Treatment of Arthritis and various Rheumatic drugs is carried out with Anti Rheumatic drugs called DMARDS (Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs). These are neither pain killers nor steroids. In fact, in the early stages, patient will see no benefit for at least 6-8 weeks and because of this some patients may even feel that the drugs are not working. Hence in the early stages of starting treatment the patient is put on analgesics and even NSAIDS (non- steroidal Anti inflammatory drugs) to buy time till the DMARDs take effect after which they are weaned off the analgesics and/or NSAIDS . Sometimes the patient presents themselves to us in a significantly disabled state and is unable to accomplish daily activities like bathing and going to the toilet etc. In such circumstances, sometimes, a small dose of steroids are added to enable the patient to be independent. In such cases however the patient is always informed about the same and the dose clearly given in writing. Once the patient is better, the pain killers and the steroids are weaned off.

In fact, what should alarm you is the fact that many of the so-called Ayurvedic preparations and “Pudi” are laced with liberal amounts of steroids. Patients keep taking them because they feel remarkably better with these so called “Ayurvedic powders”. The moment the effect of these powders wears off, the patient again feels very weak and obtains almost instantaneous relief on taking these powders again. Soon the poor unsuspecting patient develops a craving for these powders. Even after developing swelling over the body and face, some patients do not even realize that they may be taking steroids.

Beware especially of the quacks who are masquerading as Ayurvedic practitioners.

Myth #3: Allopathy has lot of “Side effects” v/s No side effects in Alternative Medicine

A side effect is that “effect” of the medicine which is not suited to our body. A side effect is purely an individual response to a medication and hence varies from person to person since no two humans are alike. What suits me may not suit you and what suits you may not suit a member of your own family. For that matter you will come across people who are allergic to some kinds of foods as well. You may have heard of people having allergy to certain kinds of fish. Additionally some people will tell you that they have allergy to Chana- dal or even milk at times. When such people consume these foods they also get side effects, don’t they? Don’t we accept this phenomenon? Of course there are some general assumptions based on population studies and on the basis of these appropriate advice is given. For e.g. NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs commonly addressed as pain killers) can cause acidity and hence should only be consumed after meals and an Antacid should be prescribed along with the same. Side effects can occur in a small percentage of people, not the majority. Medicines are called medicines precisely because they cause more good than harm. Any drug which causes more side effects than benefits will not be called a medicine. It would then be called a “poison”. The truth of the matter is this: There is a small chance of side effects with any form of medicine.

It is a myth to think that alternative therapies have no side effects at all. We also have patients who could not tolerate alternative therapies and then have come to Allopathy. Let us take one example from Ayurveda. In Ayurveda we know that various “Bhasmas” and “Kaadhas” are used. Some of these even contain heavy metals . For e.g. “Swarna Bhasma” is one of the “Bhasmas” used for treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis since a long time. Now catch this: Even in Allopathy we were using Gold Injections with good results, but these can have a lot of side effects such as kidney failure and muscle inflammation. Hence Allopathy stopped using these medicines almost 20 years ago. Yet these are being used in Ayurveda. Now what do you have to say ??

One patient who took Ayurvedic treatment had to be admitted in the ICU with arsenic poisoning. She is currently following up with us. This does not mean that Alternative medicines are bad or Allopathy is good or one is inferior and the other is superior etc. All we are saying is that side effects can occur in any branch of medicine in a small number of people. Even though side effects can occur in a few patients we do not know who these will be and hence we teach all our patients on the possible side effects of drugs and instruct them that if they occour theya re to stop the drug immediately and inform us simultaneously. That is why periodic follow up visits to the clinic are necessary to monitor disease activity along with regular blood tests, to ensure that no side effects occur with the medications. Good allopathic practice will change medications at the first sign of intolerance. The idea is to try and minimize the chances of you experiencing a side effect. Ironically, patients want to avoid any possibility of even the smallest side effect, but will not follow up regularly even after being advised to do so in writing in the prescription. While you cross the road, if you look on both sides of the road and cross then the chances of an accident are very low. However, if a drunken driver loses control of his vehicle and crashes into you but that’s pure simple bad luck. One important point that all patients forget is this: The disease is always much worse than the drug. Not all drugs will cause side effects. Not many patients will get side effects but one thing is certain, if timely treatment is not taken then the disease will certainly cause permanent damaging effects on your body. If a student appears in an exam after studying for the subject then there are good chances that they will do well and a very small chance that they may fail despite his preparation. But if he does not appear for the examination itself because of a fear of failure then they has failed anyway.

Myth #4: Ayurveda is natural and Allopathy is chemical!!!

That is really a naïve belief! Where do the ingredients for the so called chemicals come from? Obviously natural sources… On the other hand if the above is true then all your natural plants and herbs contain chemicals isn’t it??

Myth #5: I will go with short term Allopathy for acute pain and take Alternative treatment for the long-term.

Never Mix “pathies”. The principles of all the systems of medicines are different and the mechanism of each drug is different. Allopathy does not have the knowledge of alternative drugs and they do not have any knowledge of our drugs. Hence, a mixing could well result in significant drug interactions, resulting in unexpected and extremely unpleasant side effects.

Myth #6: If I am patient and I wait long enough I will be cured with Alternative Treatment?

If you wait too long you will most likely become disabled! Harsh as it may sound, this is the truth. Joint erosions start as early as 6 months into the illness. 80% of patients with arthritis develop irreversible damage at the end of 2 years. At this late point, Allopathy can only help you to try and prevent further damage, but what has already occurred cannot be reversed. Sadly, patients first try all kinds of experiments and then, after all the joints are damaged, approach Allopathy in the hope of a miracle.

Myth #7: Yoga and Acupuncture will cure my Rheumatic disease/Arthritis!

Acupuncture can result in transient pain relief but will not modify the disease process in anyway. It does help in modifying the response to pain and sometimes may help to raise the patients threshold to pain. Yoga is exercise and we recommend that all patients of Arthritis and other Rheumatic diseases exercise daily. In fact we send them to physiotherapists to learn to do exercises in a systematic manner without straining the joints. However Yoga or any exercise is not a substitute for medication. At the end of all this: You can take whatever treatment you wish but PLEEEAASE take some form of medication because the disease will not spare you. It is not how long you live that is important but rather how well you live. However long you live, you need to be independent and capable of taking care of yourself and your needs. Our Teacher used to say that these diseases are worse than cancer because in cancer at least there is a definitive end. Either you will be cured of the cancer or you will lose the battle and close your eyes forever. BUT these diseases will make every day feel as if you don’t want to live further and yet you will have to carry on in pain disability and dependence on others. We don’t wish that on anyone EVER. We want “Kennisha” for you. So take the right treatment, in time, and on time.