These are two very different modus operandi in approaching the goal of physical wellness and it is worth taking a look at the differences between the two.
I would argue that each has a valid role and we only get into trouble with them when one or the other tries to perform a role to which it is not suited.
For example, if you are in an automobile accident and your leg is partially severed and your artery is pumping blood, taking vitamins or drinking green tea are quite frankly not going to help very much. If that ever happens to me my first stop I can tell you is going to be neither a nutritionist nor a chiropractor but the nearest casualty department where (I hope) I will be pumped full of anesthetics and stitched back together again pronto. Having survived the immediate life-threatening situation thanks to the good offices of conventional medicine, which excels at that sort of thing, I will then set about a nutritional handling so as to optimize the efficiency with which the body achieves its long-term repair and recovery - and alternative medicine excels at THAT sort of thing.
So let's have a quick layman's look at the two modus operandi so one can decide which is the most appropriate for whatever it is one seeks to handle.
Conventional medicine excels in emergency/casualty type care and in dealing with life-threatening situations. To those scenarios it brings a fantastic amount of expertise and wisdom: just watching, for example, some paramedic team bring back to life a drowned child whose heart had stopped beating borders on the witnessing of miracles.
There are times when a quick fix is necessary. If your arteries are so clogged with cholesterol, for example, that if you move too suddenly you could drop dead, then it's time to take the statins and get the cholesterol out of one's tubing a.s.a.p. Eating a bowl of salad or a tin of sardines just ain't gonna cut it. It is a life-threatening situation, so you do whatever you can to fix the guy up and keep him breathing.
Then, when the immediate emergency is over, you can look to your long term handling: a Mediterranean diet and so forth to sort out both the cholesterol problem and the damage done elsewhere in the body by the statins.
Where a necessary quick-fix is concerned there is often a trade-off in which death is averted but at the cost of some damage done to the body by the intervention. Most of us would consider this a fair trade.
The Conventional approach to the treatment of most illnesses, mild or serious, is routinely to hit the condition with drugs or surgery. Here again is a quick-fix even though immanent death is not being averted and drugs in particular that are designed to attack one set of symptoms invariably cause problems and malfunctions in other areas of the body.
Conventional medicine's approach is to treat symptoms, not the underlying causes. For example, if one's cholesterol is too high, your doctor will routinely prescribe statin drugs to remove it from the arteries. Very little is done to investigate and discover and understand the reason WHY, for that individual, cholesterol is rising. For example, the reason might be excessive homocysteine levels prompting the body to coat the arteries with a protective layer of cholesterol and homoscysteine - the actual CAUSE of the high cholesterol in this example - could be controlled with B vitamins with no price to pay in terms of side effects. In fact, an overall improvement in health is often achieved because adequate levels of B vitamins will have a whole spectrum of benefits.
Drugs are chemicals that are not part of the body's evolution and operate on the body essentially as foreign matter. Using again the example of statins to treat cholesterol, these drugs work by blocking the production of cholesterol in the liver. This handles the symptom of excessive cholesterol production but at the price of also blocking the production of a vital enzyme - CoQ10 - that is key to energy production in the muscles.
Their financial value to the manufacturers lies in the very fact that drugs are not naturally occurring substances but invented: being invented they can be patented. The owner of the patent can then market the drug at a high price. Substances such as vitamins on the other hand, occurring in nature, cannot be patented and thus anyone can produce and market them, and that means their pricing must be competitive.
Conventional medicine treats the human body in parts, not as a whole: the departments in medical schools and hospitals tend to be organ-specific and produce doctors highly specialized in one organ or bodily function. This compartmentalization does not reflect how the body and its components function because the body is a highly integrated system of complex interrelations.
The training of conventional medical doctors is based upon "rescue medicine," thinking. It is perhaps an understandable over-emphasis considering how well conventional medicine has won at that particular game. However, we run into trouble when the quick-fix/rescue type of intervention is extended into long-term treatments. For example, a tranquillizer taken to calm down a person so violently and dangerously agitated they are likely to kill someone in their vicinity, if not themselves, can alleviate the immediate crisis without the side-effects doing too much damage if treatment is of short duration.
But the agitation is a SYMPTOM of some underlying problem. If the tranquilizer is used as a long-term suppressor of symptoms in place of finding and treating the underlying causes, then the damage it does to the body's delicately interrelated systems will start to become evident. That damage can be serious and can become life threatening in itself.
Meanwhile, the cause of the problem remains in place and unaddressed and prevention of disease receives far less than the emphasis it by rights should receive. Alternative medicine on the other hand approaches medical treatment by placing its focus primarily on finding the CAUSE of a condition or symptom and treating that on the one hand and overall wellness that PREVENTS disease on the other.
In that its treatment of a malady targets restoring optimum function to the interrelated system as a whole, alternative medicine can rarely achieve the quick fix but it also rarely causes the complications engendered by the quick-fix approach.
On the contrary, the overall wellness approach tends to produce a spectrum of benefits broader than the resolution of the particular malfunction that first red-flagged the need for a handling. Again, the use of the Mediterranean diet is an example: its benefits extend beyond the reduction of cholesterol in the arteries to overall liver, kidney and heart health, weight loss, restored energy levels and so on.
Conventional medicine, particularly its drugs with their tendency to set in train further complications requiring treatment, tend to be costly both to the individual pocket and government. The health services of many nations are creaking under the financial burden occasioned by declining health and escalating drugs costs. Alternative medicine on the other hand, by reason of its whole approach, tends to be a far less costly option.
Our societies are at this moment undergoing something of a seismic shift at grass roots levels in their approach to healing as the number of people turning to alternative therapies grows year by year. Nutrition as a science has advanced by leaps and bounds, practices such as chiropractics and kinesiology are increasingly recognized as bona fide therapies and confidence in conventional medicine is in decline, while the drugs manufacturers must work ever harder and more ruthlessly to maintain their market share. Even giant food manufacturing corporations, not hitherto particularly noted for their concern for our physical well being, have jumped on the bandwagon with sometimes hilariously overblown claims for the nutritional content of their products.
This grass roots change has not been reflected yet in the orientation of most general practitioners. So many of them are still slow to direct their patients to alternative therapies and optimum nutrition. They still reach for the prescription pad and send the patient quickly on his way with some drug to nullify a symptom.
Alternative medicine is also notably more accessible to the layman, who can relatively easily learn many of its tenets and therapies for himself or become quite adept on the subject of nutrition. Thus in large measure the layman can gain control over his own destiny so far as his health is concerned. Many a layman, becoming interested in the subject of nutrition, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and so on, is soon dismayed by the realization that he apparently knows more about the subject than his GP!
Why is this culture-lag on the part of doctors happening?
The answer may lie at least in part in the fact that the driving force behind conventional medicine has for a long time been the pharmaceutical industry.
Most medical schools receive considerable funding from an industry that has a vested interest in marketing its medicines. Through this financial influence over the medical schools, plus relentless marketing of their products to doctors in general practice, the pharmaceutical industry has achieved overwhelming influence over conventional medicine ( what is called in the trade, "full spectrum dominance"), creating an ethos that is embraced by both modern doctors and pharmacists, many of whom think of their worth in terms knowing which drug to prescribe for a particular set of symptoms.
There are other factors at play too:
Funding of medical research favours conventional medicine over alternative medicine by a huge margin. For example just 0.08 percent (!) of the British National Health Service research budget is allocated to alternative research and out of $12 billion allocated every year by Congress to the National Institute of Health, a mere $5.4 million (an even smaller 0.054% percent by my reckoning) goes to the Office of Alternative Medicine to investigate the claims of approximately 50 therapies.
This neglect by government of alternative medicine research in favor of conventional drug-based medicine naturally constricts the speed at which the safe and cost effective alternatives can advance in research and the accumulation of expertise. How might nutrition and its allied sciences have flourished had it had the psycho-pharmacy's funding? As such it is a grave disservice to the citizenry who have every right to expect that government will protect and serve so far as their health is concerned.
Despite this, the field of nutrition for one has still managed to make considerable advances and evolve a level of understanding in many respects in advance of that of conventional medicine.