Herbals are mainstream - change needed, says WSJ opinion

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Related tags: Medicine

Health academics from leading US universities have published an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal maintaining that alternative medicine, including herbals, must be part of President-elect Barack Obama’s health plan.

The authors argue that changes in lifestyle and diet would save lives and dollars in a nation increasingly affected by chronic diseases and crippling healthcare costs.

“Heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and obesity account for 75 percent of health-care costs, and yet these are largely preventable and even reversible by changing diet and lifestyle,” ​write the academics from Harvard Medical School, the University of California, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona Center for Integrative medicine.

Published on Friday, the piece maintains that Obama understands that any affordable health care system for the 45 million Americans without health insurance needs to start by addressing the fundamental causes of health and illness. It must also provide incentives for healthy ways of living rather than reimbursing only drugs and surgery.

“Our ‘health-care system’ is primarily a disease-care system. Last year, $2.1 trillion was spent in the US on medical care, or 16.5 percent of the gross national product. Of these trillions, 95 cents of every dollar was spent to treat disease after it had already occurred. At least 75 percent of these costs were spent on treating chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, that are preventable or even reversible,” ​write Deepak Chopra, Dean Ornish, Rustum Roy and Andrew Weil.

“Many [alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal remedies] are now scientifically documented to be not only medically effective but also cost effective.”

Supplements and healthcare

According to Loren Israelsen, executive director of dietary supplement trade group United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), supplements are a “critical part of this equation.”

However, he added that it still remains unclear what the new Congress and administration will do with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the regulations that govern dietary supplements (DS) in the US.

Also unclear, he said, is whether the industry will be able to ensure product quality, ingredient traceability and label claims to a standard where they will be taken seriously as part of the national healthcare reform debate.

“This, I believe, should be a centerpiece of the 2009 agenda for the DS industry which is demonstrating that alternative medicine is indeed mainstream and that dietary supplements are an important component of alternative medicine,”​ he said.

To read the Wall Street Journal article, click here​.

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