a history of the clash between conventional and alternative medicine in the united states

Throughout the nineteenth century, a variety of medical sects competed for professional supremacy in the United States. Allopaths used methods like bleeding, blistering or purging.  Homeopaths prescribed “infinitesimal” amounts of substances to provoke symptoms of illness and stimulate the body’s natural defenses. Naturopaths employed botanical remedies. Osteopaths favored bodily manipulation. Other schools of thought, e.g. mesmerism, hydrotherapy, and chiropractic, were established in the later part of the century.

Of the different sects, allopathic medicine claimed to be the most scientific of the group, although at the time each subgroup was equally scientific. As the self-proclaimed winner, allopathic practitioners leveraged their “scientific supremacy” to dominate the medical field in the United States by eliminating the competition and aligning themselves with government organizations which then enacted restrictive legislation to remove licensing opportunities and funding for “irregular” practices.

With the competition removed, allopathic medicine bolstered its forces and built medical schools and hospitals, and established The American Medical Association [AMA] with the financial support of the US government.  During this period, heavy promotion, legislative support, and industry alliances aiming to repurpose wartime technology into technology usable in civilian life provided allopaths with unparalleled influence that enabled them to practically eliminate their competition. They achieved this by either forcing the “alternatives” either join forces, as is the case with osteopaths and homeopaths or legislating them out of existence, as in the case of midwives and hydropaths.

However, complementary and alternative medicines [CAM] remained resilient, even in the most unfavorable of times. Chiropractic sought to offer patients an alternative to allopathic medicine and encouraged those dissatisfied with regular medicine to seek out its services. As their base grew, chiropractic sought licensing rights, a chance to set up its own educational programs and inclusion in government-funded health insurance programs. As chiropractic gained recognition and respect, other CAM groups, such as massage therapy, acupuncturists, naturopaths and homeopaths followed suit. However, allopathic medical groups remain reluctant to concede power and have only recently begun to acknowledge its usefulness.

The gradual acceptance of alternative medicine by the scientific medicinal community began in the 1970s after a period of introspection and the realization that several unaddressed were affecting the medical field. Such issues included poor patient satisfaction, limitations in conventional medicine, and a mounting crisis in health. Likewise, America’s economy shifted towards a more diverse, consumer-centered medical marketplace. These changes were eye-opening to medical professionals because patient satisfaction had previously been an afterthought to the industry which left those in the medical field with unchecked power and influence that often resulted in apathy and disinterest in the patient. Following this enlightenment, the medical community began incorporating journal articles about CAM into prestigious medical journals and began acknowledging the possibility that some alternative medical practices were valid treatment methods.

As CAM’s influence disseminated, demand rapidly accelerated, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support claims made by the practitioners. However, a lack of cohesion, regulation, and structure continues to limit its ability to gain credibility in the scientific medical community. To date, there are issues of credibility with the rise of unregulated supplement and quasi-medical procedures that cloud the more grounded aims of the classic alternatives. For example, after the illness of several people who took unregulated medical supplements, an editorial was posted in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“We have seen see a reversion to irrational approaches to medical practice, even while scientific medicine is making some of its most dramatic advances…Since these products have flooded the market, subject only to the scruples of their manufacturers. They may contain the substances listed on the label in the amounts claimed, but they need not…labeling has risen to an art form of double-speak…It is time for the scientific community to stop giving alternative medicine a free ride. There cannot be two kinds of medicine-conventional and alternative. There is only one medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work.”

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler also commented on the lack of regulation for the supplement market:

“The marketplace is awash with unsubstantiated claims….[W]e are literally back at the turn of the century when snake-oil salesman made claims for their products that could not be substantiated.”

However, such broad-stroke statements undermine the strides that CAM medicines have made, especially in terms of treating patients holistically. At present, there are still stigmas surrounding the use of non-conventional medical practices, limiting patient options. Some reason for a lack of collaboration include:

  • Allopaths are not well disposed to co-operation with practitioners of CAM. Their approach has been the “Gold Standard” for decades and conceding power and control is an uninviting prospect.
  • Many CAM modalities have not gone through the same clinical and scientific testing to meet the rigorous standards of bio-medicine so they are implemented based more on patient demand than practitioner recommendation.
  • Many doctors do not believe in the efficacy of CAM on its own, rather they see it as a form of relief that can be used in conjunction with scientific medicine.

However, the varying sectors of the scientific medical community view CAM differently. Senior physicians are less likely to use, accept, or recommend CAM because their work tends to deal with the acute and bio-medical manifestations of a problem more than their community-based counterparts. Senior physicians also spend less time with patients, so they are not as in-tune with the psycho-social aspects of medical problems. This can be a problem because senior physicians are often involved in policy-making decisions.

Primary-care physicians, however, are more likely to treat patients on an ongoing basis.  Therefore, they are more in-tune with the psycho-social needs of their patients which makes them more likely/willing to refer their patients to CAM practitioners. This is often a result of their wish to offer their patients with long-term coping strategies.  This is especially true for sufferers of chronic ailments. Unfortunately, there has been limited research into the views of non-senior hospital physicians.

At present, the following approaches to CAM have established nationally accredited organizations accepted by the United States Department of Education:

Congress has also established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM] to conduct rigorous research into the efficacy of various CAM treatments to ultimately remove ineffective/unsafe treatment methods from the market and/or encourage the integration of effective CAM practices into the healthcare system. However, the NCCAM is not currently responsible for credentialing CAM practitioners and there are no federal policies in place to regulate CAM practitioners. Instead, regulation varies greatly from state to state.


header image credit: foodmatters.com

question: how do allopathic and complementary & alternative medicine (CAM) differ?

Allopathic medicine is defined as a system of medicine that aims to combat disease by using remedies which produce effects that are different from or incompatible with those of the disease being treated. The medical community practicing this form of medicine includes medical doctors and others types of health professionals, e.g. nurses, pharmacists, and therapists. Common treatments within the scope of allopathic medicine include the use of drugs, surgery, or radiation and tend to focus on specific areas of the body, rather than an assessment of an overall condition. Allopathic medicine is also referred to as biomedicine, orthodox medicine, Western medicine, or conventional medicine.

Courtesy of lnpaccidentlawyers

Complementary and alternative medicines are, respectively, forms of treatment that are in addition to or a substitute for standard treatments. CAM medicines are typically outside the realm of allopathic medicine and therefore not subject to the testing procedures prescribed by the American Medical Association that are intended to prove the efficacy and safety of allopathic medicines and procedures. However,  many of these practices have been employed with success by other cultures throughout the world. There are five subcategories of CAM:

  1. Alternative Medicine Systems: embody complete theories of health and practice
  2. Mind-Body Therapies: use the power of the mind to influence bodily and somatic processes
  3. Biologically-Based Therapies: involve the use of substances found in nature for health purposes
  4. Manipulative and Body-Based: emphasize the physical manipulation or movement of the body to promote healing
  5. Energy Therapy: emphasize the use of energy fields to maintain or restore health.

The aforementioned modalities include, but are not limited to, chiropractics, naturopathy, homeopathy, crystal therapy, megadose vitamins, dietary supplements, meditation, aromatherapy, massage therapy, folk healing, acupuncture, dietary supplements/nutraceuticals, tinctures, biofeedback, Ayurveda, Shiatsu, probiotics and spirituality/prayer.

Courtesy of HLWIKI

Accordingly, the most relevant difference between allopathic medicine and CAM can be understood as differing views about how the body works. Ergo each employs a different approach to treatment. Such differences often result in incompatibilities between the different practices – something that can cause frustrations for patients seeking holistic treatment. Likewise, CAM is often disregarded by the allopathic medical community making collaboration between different practitioners difficult.


Grzywacz, Joseph G., et al. (2007) Age, Ethnicity, and Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Health Self-management’ Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 48(1):84–98.

biological control via entomophatogenic viruses: baculovirus

Entomopathogenic viruses are those that infect and kill insects.  They are superior to regular pesticides in that they are not harmful to humans or other vertebrates. Furthermore, each viral strain attacks only a limited number of insect species which helps to mitigate unpredicted damage.

Photo Credit: aibn.uq.edu.au

There are two types of entomopathogenic viruses:

  1. Baculoviridae (ds DNA)
    1. Nucleopolyhedrovirus
    2. Granulovirus
  2. Reoviridae (ds RNA)
    1. Cypovirus

However, the Baculoviridae viruses are the ones that are most commonly used.  They are found only in invertebrates and despite rigorous testing have not been shown to negatively affect vertebrates and plants.  They also have a narrow host insect range which is typically restricted to the original host genus.  

The mode of action for Baculoviridae is as followed:

Baculovirus is sprayed onto foliage –>  Caterpillar consumes the virus  –> The protein encapsulating the Baculovirus DNA dissolves and the DNA enters the stomach cells –> Baculovirus DNA is replicated by the stomach cells until the stomach cells rupture –> The caterpillar stops eating  –> Baculovirus is spread throughout the caterpillar causing a general systemic infection    –> The caterpillar dies within days

Leo turk 3 leo
Photo Credit: Leo Graves, Oxford Brookes University via oetltd.wordpress.com


The biggest issue related to the use of this method is the amount of time required before the pest dies.  This is noted as being the number one reason why this method is not used on a more wide scale basis.

Baculoviruses are created in vivo and production is often automated which makes it predictable and inexpensive because of the use of inexpensive growing mediums and the natural process of fermentation.  It is estimated that application in the USA costs $6-10/acre which is competitive with prices for industrialized chemical pest control options.

In order for the use of Baculovirus to expand the following improvements must be made:

  1. Genetic engineering must result in a 50% increase in the speed of the kill time
  2. Residual activity of the virus must be increased from 2 – 4 days to >7
  3. The role of Baculoviruses must be strengthened within successful IPM programs
  4. More cost-effective cell culture for the mass production of wild type and genetically modified Baculoviruses must be developed

A major example of success using a Baculovirus is the control of the Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) using the entomopathogenic virus LdMNPV.







food deserts defined and examined

What exactly is a food desert?

The term food desert was first coined in the 1990s in Scotland.  It is used to describe locations where there is little or no access to healthy foods. This is often due to a lack of “normal” and “safe” food sources (i.e. supermarkets). When residents do not have regular access to healthy foods, they become classified as food insecure.

food mart

The term food desert has come to be the embodiment of urban decay. In America, approximately 10% of the population lives in a food desert. For an area to be considered a food desert, at least 20% of inhabitants must be below the poverty line and 33% of the population must live more than a mile from a supermarket in urban areas or 10 miles in rural locations. In food deserts, individuals must expend greater resources to reach normal food sources and these are the areas that often have the fewest resources to use.  The most significant limitations include financial restraints, physical ailments and a lack of transportation.

Who is affected by food deserts?

The negative effects of food deserts disproportionately affect locations primarily populated by the elderly and the poor with age, income and educational levels being the factors that are most strongly related to food insecurity levels.  It is theorized that this has been caused by the consolidation of food retailers which has driven smaller retailers from these locations at a greater rate.This trend can be seen in both urban and rural locations.

no car no supermarket

Why are some areas more dramatically affected?

This is a difficult question to answer, but it can likely be attributed to the cycle of poverty that restricts the quality of life in many poor areas. However, there are other factors that need to be more thoroughly examined and the question, “Is the issue of food deserts a problem of supply or demand?” needs to be addressed.

There may be in fact little or no demand for healthier options which stems from varying sociocultural views on food, rather than food access. Additionally, simply providing healthy food options does not change consumer behavior. Some people just do not care about their dietary health. These factors are typically influenced by age and gender.

cost difference
source: keepfoodaffordable.com

Furthermore, it may not be that there is a lack of access, but the lack of necessary funds needed to purchase healthy foods (it is estimated that fruits and vegetables cost up to 36% more than the national average in food deserts). There is also the issue of not having the necessary skills or knowledge to prepare many fruits and vegetables after several generations of dependency on fast and convenience foods.

Are there other food sources that can help alleviate problems caused by food deserts?

There are three major categories of food sources:

  1. Normal sources: retailers
  2. Government food assistance: WIC, school lunch programs, nutrition assistance for the elderly
  3. Alternative food sources: gifts, private charity

What are some possible solutions for addressing the issue of food deserts?

In the past, many of the solutions have been solely focused on the number of calories that receivers of assistance consume, rather than the quality of food they are consuming.  In order for solutions to be long-term and “worth” the investment this perspective must change.

Among the variety of options, the most viable solution that will be the most broadly beneficial is strengthening the social infrastructure of a given area.  This is accomplished by encouraging social connections between families, friends and neighbors as studies have shown that increases in social capital decrease the likelihood that members of the community will have hunger issues.

The most common methods for developing social infrastructures are traditional options which include opening low-cost/free food pantries (often associated with religious institutions), visiting farmers markets and offering senior meal programs.

Other options include:

  • Building up support for local retailers: shopping at Wal-Mart may seem like it is cheaper, but the real cost of dependency on businesses with little empathy for the community is more often than not detrimental in the long-run.
  • Developing transportation networks: beneficial not only to those using the service but to the environmental, too.
  • Encouraging the retail sale of locally produced food: the revenue stays in the community where it is really needed
  • Establishing gardens to plant enough food to share: produces local (and often organic) food and provides an opportunity for social interaction.
  • Expanding civic organizations (ex. VFW, churches, rotary club): these types of organizations were once pillars of communities and provided opportunities for social networking.
  • Investing in living wage industries: should anyone really be working full-time and not have the ability to buy food?
  • Volunteering time at local farms in exchange for access to meat or other goods produced: the average age of farmers is increasing while interest in farming wanes.  Renewing the connection between communities and their food sources may help to reduce the centralization of the food system and redistribute consumer power.

Those solutions sound great, but what type of problems might be encountered when applying them to real-life situations?

The very definition of food deserts can cause problems when working towards long-term, positive solutions. This is due to the fact that the USDA excludes farmers markets, small farms, smaller retailers and road stands from its definition of a food desert. This means that solutions are being developed without access to all of the pertinent information which can spur resentment from the existing infrastructure. Such an issue is particularly pertinent when attempting to develop decentralized and locally beneficial options (why couldn’t small corner store serve as viable replacements for traditional grocery stores?).

Then the fact that only about 15% of people shop for food in their census area.  It is hard to estimate whether consumers will change their habits if new infrastructure is developed. The type of infrastructure also plays a role as many individuals in food deserts resent alternative food systems as they represent the idea that where they live is not good enough for a conventional supermarket. This issue is often amplified by the romanticized “if they only knew” logic which does not typically reflect the values of those being affected. Often organic, farm-fresh or vegetarian is considered less than palatable and even dirty or disgusting.

When discussing social factors that could hinder efforts, the racial and cultural relationship between various groups throughout the country need to be considered. For example, in areas primarily populated by minorities (in this case Blacks), there is the notion that the efforts being made are an attempt to inject white food values into the community and are the embodiment of white privilege (alternative food options tend to be perpetuated by Whites). Issues of former land stewardship make the idea of growing their own food unpleasant and does not appeal to this demographic. This group also seems to prefer the anonymity of grocery stores and resents the eugenic nature of “knowing where your food comes from”. Furthermore, the mere definition of a food desert can also be considered disrespectful as it invokes images of a location beyond repair (see: Bringing Good Food to Others).

Finally, there is the issue of governmental priorities.  Should people be fed or should tax breaks be given? Is a new truck for the sheriff or a community garden more important? Voter apathy allows a very small percentage of residents to make that decision.

If there are so many problems and people resent the type of help offered, why bother caring?

The simplest answer is because we are all humans in a time of great uncertainty and inequality.  If thoughtful measures are not made now, problems with food access will only continue to grow. As the insecurity grows, it will affect more and more people. It will also balloon into problems in other areas of life (ex. riots in the Middle East).

Moreover, there are economic incentives. It is estimated that a $1 of investment in grocery stores equals $1.50 in returns which means that such an investment has the potential to benefit several different groups simultaneously. As an added bonus, it creates a way to bridge private and public interests.


Barker, ME., Campell, MJ., Pearson, T., Russel J., Oct 2005. Do food deserts influence fruit and vegetable consumption? — a cross-sectional study. Appetite. 45(2) 195-197.

Gordon, S. 2011. Urbanites cry foul on USDA definition of food deserts. Earth Eats.

Guthman, J. 2008. Bringing good food to others: investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geographies, 4, 431-447.

If you build it, they may not come. 2011. Economist. http://www.economist.com/node/18929190

Wright, M. L., Bitto, E. A., Oakland, M. J., Sand, M. 2005. Solving the problems of Iowa food deserts: food Insecurity and civic structure. Rural Sociology, 70, 94-112.

Medical Model vs. Population Health Model

Medical Model

Population Health Model

Geared toward clinically oriented system

Studies the effects any given health ailment

Changes the way society and the individual interact

Individuals engage in guided self-managed care

Places the fault with the individual

Assumes that there is something wrong with people who consume too much sodium and does not account for societal influences

Emphasizes public education

Individuals are provided with the information needed to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare

Maintains social hierarchy

Medical professionals are assumed to always know what is right and best

Studies a range of influencing factors

The reason(s) why a given health ailment exists are examined


Care is based on measurable and objective inputs. For example, how much sodium an individual is consuming and what the cure will be for hypertension which discourages “out of the box” thinking.


Reduces the need for treatments by encouraging proactive health-oriented decision-making, as well as emphasizes long-term planning as a key to lasting success and cost reduction

“Mechanically” oriented

Humans are machines that can be fixed if a component is defective


Social factors influencing health, such as poverty and education, are incorporated into healthcare

A sickness care system

Symptoms continue to be treated, but underlying causes are never addressed

Encourages community participation

Individuals are empowered to make positive health choices

Uses public policy to make changes

Encourages regulations for food labeling, distribution and content limits, especially for young children






community gardens discussed and analyzed

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.”

– Abraham Lincoln

Agriculture is defined as the science, art, and business of cultivating soil, producing crops and raising cattle. It is more commonly referred to as farming. Without it, society as we know it would not exist. It has enabled people to put down roots which provided the means for the world’s population to expand. Unfortunately, it has also been transformed by industrialization into a widely abused system that is dependent on government subsidies and environmentally unsound practices in order to produce food products with less nutritional value and poorer taste. Furthermore, the existing agriculture system is controlled by an increasingly small number of international firms.

However, grassroots efforts and individuals are choosing to look at food in a different way, a way that seems to be able to co-exist with ecosystems. A viable option that has been employed in the past, but since forgotten, is the community garden.

A community garden is any vacant land that is used for growing food and is accessible to community members. Not only do these gardens provide healthy food to demographics that many not otherwise have access, but it improves the overall quality of life in the community by reducing crime, encouraging exercise, and encourages people to have pride in their neighborhood. However, the benefits of community gardens are not limited to the community. Instead, the effects impact the whole ecosystem.

Many community gardens have strict rules about the methods members can employ, and choose to model organic farming methods. Those rules include limiting or banning synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Some community gardens also ban certain species of plants that have been proven to attract pests or have no predators to limit spreading.

Community gardens limit non-organic pesticides and fertilizers, because of the effects that they can have on human, animal, and environmental health which allows for the natural qualities of soil and the ecosystem to shine.


Soil is an essential part of the growing environment and without healthy soil, one would not be able to produce healthy plants. Ideal soil for plants is composed of 25% air, 45% minerals, 25% water and 5% organic material. This mix allows for plant roots to efficiently breathe and absorb nutrients and water. However, different plants prefer different mixes of minerals and will tolerate varying degrees of acidity and moisture.

To create ideal soil that is rich in nutrients, well-aerated, and free from disease, many community gardens employ composting methods. Compost is the process of breaking down organic material. The result is a very dark, rich addition to any garden.

Compost is created by putting Nitrogen rich items (greens-vegetable scraps, lawn cuttings, and coffee grounds) and Carbon-rich items (browns-shredded cardboard, sawdust, and leaves) together into a well-ventilated space and mixing with water. The ideal ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen is 25-30:1. This mixture can heat up to 150 degrees from the work of macro and micro-organisms. The increased heat speeds up the breakdown process, and when coupled with Red Wiggler Worms, can reduce the decomposition time to only a few weeks.

Finished compost helps to reduce water use because it is will hold 6X’s more water than traditional soil. It also provides nutrients that would not otherwise be available to plants. This reduces and/or eliminates the need for any non-organic fertilizers, reducing cost and environmental impact while gardeners enjoy similar, if not better results.

Another benefit of compost is that it creates stronger plants, and can help to eliminate the need for pesticides. Pesticides include anything designed to destroy fungus, weed, insect or disease. These synthetic killers are non-discriminatory in their effects, and could just as easily kill family pets as insects. This harm could come from direct consumption, water-run off or from residual traces of chemicals in the soil.

compost 101

To further reduce the needs for pesticides, community gardens encourage and use “beneficial” pests. These are insects that are carnivorous and indigenous to the area. The most popular versions of these bugs are Praying Mantises, spiders, Ladybugs and Lacewings. It must also be noted that one should not introduce too many of one species or too many in general in order to maintain a balance.

When gardens choose not to introduce beneficial pests into the garden, they often choose to use other methods to protect their plants. Covering plants in light-weight netting can deter all insects but does not allow for pollination.

Another option is companion planting, such as putting onions or garlic with almost any plant, or celery with plants in the cabbage family. By planting certain plants together, the smells naturally detract invasive species. Marigolds, nasturtiums, and rosemary are also very pungent smelling and deter many pests.

As in any scenario, some problems arise with community gardens, including issues with existing soil, cultural sensitivities, unfavorable weather and the question of sustainability.

Since community gardens use whatever space is available, and the modern version originated in urban areas where the environmental impact of humans is greater than in rural areas. One of the biggest problems community gardens find is the presence of lead in the soil. Lead is devastating to life and is not easy to remove from soil.

Cultural sensitivities are also difficult to deal with, as they are generally historically rooted. In cities such as Chicago and Detroit, some groups are associating community gardening with slavery. This is difficult to deal with because community gardens are dependent on community involvement.

Weather can also impact the effectiveness of community gardens, especially in cooler climates. To deal with weather problems, community gardens use cold frames and wind tunnels. These structures help to regulate temperature and keep out harsh winds and snows. Sometimes, community gardens will couple these methods with cold hardy plants to lengthen the growing season.

The biggest concern that surrounds community gardens is their capacity to feed a large number of people since the population is not getting smaller and everyone needs to eat. There is a large amount of unused space in cities throughout America, but it is unclear if people are willing to utilize it for food production and put forth the effort needed to transform dilapidated neighborhoods.

While the concept of community gardens is not a new idea, society is in a unique situation that could revitalize their presence in towns and city throughout the country. This revival could help improve ecosystems everywhere, redistribute wealth and resources, encourage and the American agricultural system as a whole, or at least I think so!

For more information, check out this website about the steps needed to start a community garden:



Environmental Working Group. (n.d.) Farming: Farm Subsidies. Retrieved from https://farm.ewg.org/

Pidwirny, Michael. (2013). Soil. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/article/Soil

Runk, David. (2010). Lead, other chemicals taint some urban gardens. Times Union

Smith, Edward C. The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible. North Adams: Storey, 2010.

air pollution by concentrated animal feeding operations

The article Air Pollution by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations by P. Patel and T.J. Centner is justification for the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). Reasons include the health and environmental implications of CAFOS, a current lack of regulation and measurable standards and the currently unsuccessful legislation and guidelines. Two major points of the article are that there are too many exceptions and the current efforts are not addressing the root cause of the problems.

Chemicals emitted byCAFOs include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter and other hazardous air pollutants. CAFOs are not required to report hazardous air pollutants and are exempt from the Clean Air Act and The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (ERLA) and the federal Emergency Planning and Right to Know Act (EPCRA).

A serious limitation to regulation is the lack of clear definitions for the health effects of CAFOS, such as headaches, nausea, anger, depression and other psychological ailments. This also prevents the EPA from imposing the already subjective levies to many delinquents. Other problems include too many exemptions and a lack of legislation/efforts to address the cause of the issues.  Pork producers are identified as the biggest environmental offenders.

Patel, P., Centner, T. J. (2010) Air pollution by concentrated animal feeding operations. Desalination & Water Treatment. 19(1-3) 12-16.