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Congratulations, Cleveland Clinic

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I would like to formally congratulate Cleveland Clinic on the opening of a Chinese herbal ward in its Center for Integrative Medicine. As an established academic medical center with an excellent reputation for cardiology, urology, and many other disciplines, the Cleveland Clinic is in a unique position to bring attention to the use and value of herbal therapies as part of a formal treatment plan.

Medical institutions around the world that have been offering  complementary and alternative therapies share in Cleveland Clinic’s excitement about opening its Chinese herbal Ward. Why? Because we recognize that Cleveland Clinic will bring its vast resources and commitment to evidence-based medicine to bear on herbal therapies, something we and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Health support.

The more herbal therapies are offered and studied, the faster we will have better scientific information supporting their effectiveness and be able to answer any lingering questions around the benefit, quality and herb-drug interactions. And most importantly, patients the world over will benefit from this knowledge. Fighting cancer is not a battle that can be won without allies, thus I am thankful for the contributions Cleveland Clinic will surely make to the body of knowledge regarding the use of herbal supplements.

While other centers are ramping up their integrative oncology offerings, we are happy to share our experience from 20 plus years working in this area, including:

  • Naturopathic Medicine – Naturopathic medicine includes a number of therapies that help with symptom management (e.g. dietary supplements, herbal and botanical preparations, hydrotherapy, acupuncture).
  • Pain Management – In addition to using traditional medicines, pain can be effectively managed through a variety of physical therapies and other techniques to improve mobility and trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural defense against pain. Relaxation tools and naturopathic therapy can also be used to reduce anxiety and fatigue related to cancer treatment.
  • Nutrition Therapy – Working with a dietitian to personalize a diet plan can help cancer patients prevent malnutrition, restore digestive health and reduce side effects that may occur during treatment. A dietitian can help identify foods that not only taste good for patients who’ve lost their appetite, but also provide the nutrients they need.
  • Mind-Body Medicine – At CTCA, patients are offered the opportunity to participate in counseling sessions and support groups that use relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, which helps relieve discomfort and stress. Laughter therapy classes that promote positive laughter and humor have also been shown to offer many physical and psychological health benefits.

One of the reasons we believe so strongly in integrative oncology and holistic medicine is because traditional therapies often only treat symptoms and create undesirable side effects. A prime example of this is the malnutrition I often see in cancer patients. At CTCA, we frequently combine traditional oral supplements with more novel and complementary treatments such as medical grade honey to help manage symptoms or side effects that make it difficult to eat.

That said, our examination and experience with these therapies underscores the importance of more research and scrutiny. For instance, we established an internal Dietary Supplement Formulary Committee that found many companies were not compliant with Good Manufacturing Practices. Members of our team presented these startling findings at last year’s Society for Integrative Oncology meeting, and remain committed to sharing this information in the spirit of promoting the safe, effective use of integrative therapies for cancer patients.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) holds tremendous promise. The herbs used in TCM are time-tested with centuries of use, but we know it is equally important to keep patients safe. There are known and well-documented safety risks related to Chinese herbal products, from contamination with other drugs, heavy metals and the use of economic adulterants.

CTCA was an early adopter of integrative oncology in the overall care of people facing cancer, and these offerings will remain core well into the future. We applaud the interest of other hospitals and medical centers to consider expanded care services that address the whole patient. Patients deserve access to proven treatment options, and  I do not believe that Western medicine holds all the answers. I, along with my colleagues at CTCA, am proud to offer each patient a combination of treatment options that will work best for that patient regardless of the origin of the treatment option.

Learn more about integrative cancer treatment.

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