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Beyond the Doctor's Office

Are we becoming a nation of do-it-yourself doctors? A medical writer checks out the scene in Vero Beach and discovrs that "alternative medicine" is big business. But how do you tell what helps and what's hype?

Once upon a time, people in Vero Beach went to the doctor’s office when they got sick. Today - according to an informal survey of residents at breakfast meetings, dinner parties and church socials - folks in our area are often as likely to turn to herbs, supplements or “functional foods” as they are to regular physicians. In the effort to treat or prevent illness, word-of-mouth reports on “miraculous” supplements and herbal remedies is frequently replacing the prescription slip.  

This local trend reflects a broader phenomenon that some experts now say amounts to a health revolution. A national poll conducted by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and published in November 1998 by the American Medical Association, revealed that 40 percent of all Americans use alternative-medicine therapies. According to the study, visits to alternative-medicine practitioners have increased by almost 50 percent since 1990.

So what exactly is alternative medicine? The term is commonly used to include an ever-growing grab bag of therapies that often are practiced away from the watchful eyes of physicians. Alternative medicine tends to be a do-it-yourself affair, featuring over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbs.

Read the entire article in the September 2000 issue