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When Did Diet And Exercise Become “Alternative Medicine?”

The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece written by Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish, and Rustum Roy. Together they argue that Americans need to focus on healthy diet and exercise to prevent and reverse some of their diseases and conditions. This is obviously good advice – and an approach that mainstream medicine has been promoting for decades (well, technically millennia). What irks me is that they seem to suggest that this is “alternative medicine” that they (without help from the medical establishment) are fighting hard to have it included (or integrated) into general practice.

There is nothing “alternative” about healthy diet and exercise. This is mainstream, science-based medicine. The problem with Chopra and Weil is that they argue for obviously healthy behaviors and then integrate them with placebos (acupuncture and meditation have not been demonstrated to have value beyond their placebo effects) in some kind of guru’s proprietary recipe for good health.

Why not promote what has been shown to work – healthy diet and regular exercise – and leave out the placebo treatments? Why must “good health” be inexorably linked to specific culture-based practices? Why should people feel pressured to practice yoga, distract themselves with needles in their ears, or participate in Eastern meditation to be well? And why should Obama heed Chopra et al.’s call to: “make [alternative medicine practices] an integral part of his health plan as soon as possible.”

In this economy where budgets are stretched thin and healthcare service shortages are bound to worsen, the last thing we need to do is fund and promote placebo medicine. Rational people want to figure out which medical treatments and lifestyle behaviors are effective for preventive health and disease management – and focus exclusively on those interventions. It’s time to stop wasting money on scientifically-debunked therapies. We don’t have the luxury of paying for placebos like energy medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture – let’s focus on the basics, beginning with eating healthy, portion-controlled food and getting regular exercise. That’s not alternative medicine. It’s just common sense.


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