Christians and Alternative Medicine
By Mitzy Lancaster
There seems to be a lot of controversy regarding the use of “alternative medicine” by Christians. Many publications by well known ministries attempt to restrain Christians through fear or association. I am referring to the fact that many people who are not of the faith are using and promoting the use of alternative medicine. Most tend to be involved in Eastern or occult based theology. So the underlying current would impose the thought that if a Christian uses herbs then he is a pagan because pagans use herbs. I’m disheartened by the lack of research both statistical and Biblical. While the articles tried to be unbiased, Christian’s reading them who are using herbs and supplements might begin to question their walk as well as their intelligence. Just because a Buddhist priest brushes his teeth, should we as Christian’s refrain from brushing ours?
When I first made Jesus Christ the Lord of my life I could not get enough of the Word of God. I spent hours daily in the study of the scriptures, apologetics has been the ministry of my heart for sixteen years.
I originally began my research in alternative medicine when I noticed a pattern of illnesses in my five year old daughter. The pattern had begun early in her life and by the time she was five she was on antibiotics every other month because of different upper respiratory infections. She began to suffer asthmatic bouts with these infections. Conventional medical services were not successful in helping my daughter so I decided to research my alternatives to better her health. My studies began and have been ongoing for fifteen years.
Because of the information I found coupled with the grace of God, my family (now ten of us) experiences very few instances that call for the aid of antibiotics and they generally recover very quickly from whatever illnesses they acquire.
The Bible admonishes us to “Put all things to the test. Hold fast to that which is good.” (1Thess. 5:21) So in an attempt to avoid “throwing the baby out with the bath water” I would like to review the good, the bad and the ugly of alternative health by the standards we hold dear. The standards set forth by the Word of God along with some historical and cultural research. I would also examine some of the comments in these articles. We should attempt to do this in the light of the information afforded us regarding the use of alternative medicine along with that of conventional medical treatments.
Before going any further let me state that I am in agreement with the cautions set forth in the articles I read. Nothing gets my blood racing more than false and heretical teachings that draw undiscerning Christians into deception. However, I do believe the articles showed a bit of extremism in that some of the conclusions drawn were unsubstantiated and based on overall condemnation. Because I would rather people make good informed decisions I would like to attempt to explain which alternative health measures Christians would do well to avoid, which alternatives are ok, and why.
Ayurvedic medicine would be one for Christians to steer away from. It is very religious in origin and can not be utilized without the philosophy behind it. Ayurveda, meaning “The Science of Life” is based on the belief that the human being is a microcosm of the universe. This would lower God to the position of an impersonal active force in the universe, being thus we would then be part of that force, making us little gods. Christians cannot take part in that type of theology.
Others practices that fall into the same category of healing would be, Oriental Acupuncture, Tibetan medicine, Arabic medicine, Yoga, T’ai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung and Reiki. All of these would direct the believer in activity that could cause confusion in regards to their faith.
Shamanism is occultic in nature as it requires the Shaman to enter into a trance to contact the spirit world and many times to bring the patient into that same trance. Psychic healing follows the same principles as Shamanism. The Bible tells us that we are not to consult those who consult spirits. (Dt. 18:10-11)
Other therapies that Christians would be advised not to become involved in would be, Vacuflux and the Metamorphic Technique, Polarity Therapy, Hellerwork and various other physical therapies that are obviously far fetched. Energy Therapies such as Crystal and Gem therapy and Sound Therapy would not be healthy for the Christian. They could lead a person toward worshipping the creation rather than the creator. This is just a brief summary of very common and popular holistic health therapies.
The reason Christians should avoid these is because of the spiritual influence they incorporate into their healing methods. Not because there is something wrong with the herbs or supplements they prescribe. Sadly there are not many Christian holistic practitioners available to the Christian community. The concept of holistic health in and of itself is not bad. Holistic health would address the person as a whole; mind, body and spirit. The author of one of the articles I read pointed out that a large number of studies show that regular churchgoers are more likely to have a reduced risk of certain stress related illnesses. This would address how the spiritual well being affects the physical well being of a believer.
Scripture tells us “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8) Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt. 23:37) Most Christians experience a peace and joy that passes all understanding upon making Jesus Lord of their lives. Our spiritual health has a great deal to do with how we address our physical well being.
There was much condemnation that seemed to emerge from these articles toward believers using alternative health measures. This would confuse the Christian of the freedom that our Lord died to establish. “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, “ (Col. 2:15-16) Our true attitude is outlined in scripture; “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” (Rom. 14:1-3)
There is nothing in scripture that instructs us medicinally. The only reference in scripture against certain drugs would be the admonition against sorcery. This is because people involved in sorcery would use mind altering substances to take themselves into a trance. The word sorcery in the Greek is pharmakia which is where we get our English word pharmacy. There are many natural healing substances used during Biblical times that are still noted as effective today. These, for instance, were listed in “Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Dictionary”.
* Hyssop; used for internal cleansing. Psalms 51:7
* Myrrh; used in purification rites. Ester 2:12
* Fig; used as poultice Isaiah 38:21
There are many more. But for the sake of space and because I am not
directing the use of any particular herbs, I will not go any further.
In many Christian articles, herbs and nutritional supplements are classified as un-proven, bizarre, illogical, antiquated science and spiritually neutral. They are then lumped together with other therapies like those cautioned against. One was written by a doctor who throughout his article never provided scientific support for his claims against the use of herbs or supplements. His arguments did not give a balanced view but rather seemed based on a loss of revenue for conventional medical practitioners.
Christians were made to look foolish for accepting anything other than that which modern science had to offer. Comments like:
* “The word alternative implies that there is a choice to be made regarding health care, as opposed to simply following the doctors’ orders.”1
* “The scientific method and all it entails-rational hypotheses, logical deductions, controlled studies, and revising one’s opinions based on this arduous process- are seen as no more valid a way of understanding the world than any individual’s mystical experiences or intuitive hunches.”2
* “Christians understand that the physical world is a creation of God. This physical world and its components operate in systematic, orderly ways which can be discovered. Practically speaking, a basic system of how to discover things about the physical world and the laws that govern it has been developed over many years. This is called the scientific method.”3
* “In contrast, “conventional” medicine is based on scientific standards established by objective evidence for effectiveness, safety, and benefit.”4
Interestingly enough, we are also told it is the scientific method that has determined human beings evolved from apes.
Just because something is scientific and approved by the FDA doesn’t make it automatically foolproof. Here are some of the things that science along with the FDA has given to mankind:
* DES, diethylstilbestrol, “is a drug that was given to millions of pregnant women, primarily from 1938 to 1971. This synthetic hormone was touted as a "wonder drug" and widely prescribed in the mistaken belief that it could prevent miscarriage. In addition to having no effect on miscarriage, it has resulted in health problems for the women who took the drug as well as their daughters and sons.”5
* Fen Phen-“It was the hottest diet craze of the nineties. Between 1994 and 1997 millions of Americans took the drug combination fen-phen hoping to get thin. However, something went terribly wrong. Not only did Mary Linnen, Shirley Spector, Susan Cruxon and nearly 100 others loose weight, they lost their lives. “Combined cardiac valvular disease and pulmonary hypertension appear to occur frequently in patients receiving fen-phen, and more autopsy cases of patients with a history of fen-phen usage are warranted to document the frequency of combined cardiac valvular disease and pulmonary hypertension in the United States.” 6
* Birth Control Pills-“Working with the French International Agency for Research on Cancer, the British epidemiologists reviewed data from 28 studies that included more than 12,500 women with cervical cancer. They found that the risk was increased 10 percent in a woman who used the pill for less than five years (compared to women who never used it), 60 percent for someone who used it for five to nine years, and was doubled for 10 years use or more.”7
This means that if a young teenage girl began using birth control at the age of sixteen and remained on it until she was twenty six, she doubled her chances of developing cervical cancer!
* Acetaminophen- An overdose of acetaminophen can cause depletion of glutathione and land a person in the hospital. "Acetaminophen toxicity is the number one cause of hospital admission for liver failure in the United States,"8
This is just a sample of how science has contributed to the health care industry. Now, I’m not saying that all science is bad. Of course there are just as many wonderful life saving stories that can be attributed to modern medical technology. However, there must be a balance in our understanding of what is or isn’t good. To make all natural health alternatives out to be bad and claim that only science is to be trusted is neither true nor rational.
For example, regarding the comment that “alternative implies that there is a choice to be made regarding health care, as opposed to simply following the doctors’ orders” . Most American families will visit their doctors at the first sign of a cold coming on. Most American families will receive antibiotics for these conditions. Did you know that there is a widespread practice of over prescribing antibiotics?
* Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have released a new study in the journal Nature Medicine. They say:
> penicillin resistance rose from 21.7 per cent in 1996 to 26.6 per cent in 1999
> erythromycin (the other popular antibiotic) resistance rose from 10.8 per cent to 20.2 per cent in the same period
They blame overuse of antibiotics. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced plans to require a new warning on antibiotics regarding overuse.
The FDA says half of the antibiotic prescriptions written each year are needless.”9
* “ATLANTA (CNN) -- In an effort to fight drug-resistant bacteria, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding its campaign to reduce the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.
Patients expectation for medicine and physicians willingness to prescribe it have contributed to the problem. One-third of the 150 million outpatient prescriptions for antibiotics written each year in the United States are unnecessary, according to CDC estimates.
One of the results has been a chemical counterattack by bacteria -- the growth of strains that have become tougher than the drugs being used against them.
"We have patients in the United States dying from infections that are untreatable. This is unthinkable," said Dr. Stuart Levy of Tufts University.”10
Adverse reactions to prescription and over the counter drugs are one of the leading causes of death in the United States:
* Prescription Drugs-A study published in the March/April 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association estimates that prescription drug misuse costs the health care system $177.4 billion and results in 218,000 deaths each year; a significant increase over the findings of a 1995 study conducted by Jeffrey A. Johnson, PhD, and J. Lyle Bootman, PhD, of the College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, which estimated such costs to be $76 billion and the number of deaths approximately 198,000.11
* “Fatal Adverse Drug Reactions rank from the Fourth to the Sixth Leading Cause of Death in the United States after Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke, and similar to Pulmonary Disease and Accidents. Costs associated with Adverse Drug Reactions were estimated at up to $4 billion a year.”12
Are we to understand from the opponents of alternative medicine that we, as Christians, are committing spiritual treason if we chose to use alternative measures to better our health? Is there truly something wrong with Christians using herbs and vitamins to help stave off viral infections or other adverse health conditions? The opposition would have us believe that all these other remedies are unproven and antiquated science. They tell us good science would not support these forms of medicine. Let’s see if this is true:
* “BOSTON (CNN) -- Taking beta carotene supplements may lower the risk of prostate cancer in some men,” "Those assigned to beta carotene supplements over the course of the trial had 36 percent fewer prostate cancers develop," said Dr. Charles H. Hennekens of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.”13
* “A recent study shows that people who supplement with more than 700 mg/day of vitamin C have a 62 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease than do people with a daily intake of 60 mg/day or less”14
* “Large doses (1-2 g/day) of vitamin C have been found to reduce asthma symptoms significantly.”15
* “It is now firmly established that women can reduce their risk of giving birth to a baby with neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) by supplementing with folic acid prior to conception and during pregnancy.” “These findings are particularly important in view of the fact that oral contraceptives reduce folate levels significantly. Women who have been "on the pill" need to boost their folate status if they are planning a pregnancy.”16
* “CoQ10 is now approved in Japan for the treatment of congestive heart failure.”17
* Supplementation with CoQ10 has also been found beneficial in patients with chronic stable angina, mitral valve prolapse and irregular heart beat (arrhythmias)”18
This would be a minor testimony of all the (scientific) research that would support the benefits of vitamin supplementation. There is ongoing research that has given as much support in the use of certain herbs. Herbal remedies have been in use for thousands of years, including the days that our Lord Jesus walked the earth. Many of the drugs we have today are derived from plant sources. Aspirin, for instance, originated from white willow bark.
In the articles that oppose Christians from using alternative health measures the use of homeopathy was ridiculed. It was lowered to a type of medicine stemming from the occult because of insufficient research about the origins of the medical practice. I would like to clear up the misunderstanding by giving some history of homeopathy.
The name homeopathy comes from the greek word “homios” meaning “like” and “pathos” meaning “suffering”. Homeopathy is based on the principle that “like can cure like”. In other words, an illness can be treated with a minute amount of a substance capable of producing similar symptoms in large amounts. The principle dates back to the 5th century BC with the Greek physician Hippocrates. Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine because he was the first person to think that disease is the result of natural forces, not divine influences. Hippocrates had several hundred homeopathic remedies. One of the best that he proved was the use of white hellebore in the treatment of cholera. This highly poisonous root, when given in large doses, causes violent purging which results in severe dehydration, just like cholera. When given in very small doses it was effective in treating cholera.
Samuel Christian Hahnemann (1755-1843) was a German doctor who became the founder of homeopathy. Hahnemann was a chemist who was disillusioned by the harsh medical practices of his time. He argued that better public hygiene, sensible eating, fresh air and exercise were necessary for preventing disease. Hahnemann began to carry out experiments testing a wide range of natural sources. Through his rediscovery of “like can cure like” he brought about the establishment of a new system of medicine.
Hahnemann found that the most effective way to dilute a substance while still retaining its healing properties was to vigorously shake it in an alcohol solution. It was believed that the shaking left images of the organic materials “vital force” imprinted in the solution.
The term “vital force” was commonly used among chemists of his time:
* At one time, chemists believed that organic compounds were fundamentally different from those that were inorganic because organic compounds contained a vital force that was only found in living systems.19
* The name organic chemistry came from the word organism. Prior to 1828, all organic compounds had been obtained from organisms or their remains. The belief then was that the synthesis of organic compounds from inorganic compounds in the laboratory was impossible. All efforts had failed, and scientists became convinced that some "vital force" that living organisms had was necessary to make an organic compound. The synthesis of urea from inorganic substances in 1828 led to the disappearance of this vital force theory.20
This phrase has been taken over and is used more widely in eastern and occultic theology so it has become a “catch phrase” that sounds alarms among apologists. There is no evidence that Samuel Hahnemann was involved in occult activity. While it is true we do not fully understand why homeopathy works, we also do not understand why aspirin works, but we still use it.
There are alternative sources of health maintenance and healing that are not dangerous for Christians to be involved in. To include them with others such as those mentioned in the beginning is to deny the body of Christ very beneficial methods of self help.
Western herbalism is not harmful in the basic sense when, as all things, used appropriately. When feeling like a cold is coming on, drinking an herbal tea and taking some extra vitamins during that time is certainly not going to harm someone. As a matter of fact, it has helped many people lessen the severity as well as duration of their virus. It is a lot more common to overdose on over the counter and prescription drugs than herbs and supplements.
I believe that Christian holistic health would be the most beneficial health measure. Christians have spiritual truth on their side coupled with excellent preventive health alternatives. God designed the plants that are used medicinally, He put the components in them that can be used for good. God also designed our bodies to require the vitamins and minerals that come from natural composition. Is there really a problem in this? No, the real problem is that Satan has tried to rob the body of Christ of this wonderful gift of God by perverting it and attaching spiritual falsehood to it.
In my research I have found that the use of vitamins, herbs and homeopathy to be within the realm of acceptable alternative health measures for Christians. It is also possible to find chiropractors and massage therapists who incorporate acupressure that do not subject their patients to any spiritual concepts. These physical therapies are relatively safe for Christians to seek.
Still again, I would warn Christians against seeking alternative health treatment from questionable sources. Investigate to determine if the practitioner is involved in any of the beliefs previously mentioned. Get books on the subject; there are plenty of books available, nutrition desk references and herb guides that do not bring religion into any of their recommendations. Above all seek Gods wisdom, pray and He will direct your ways. What wonderful freedom we have in Christ Jesus our Lord!
I hope the information supplied here can help my brothers and sisters in the Lord to make healthy informed decisions regarding natural health alternatives. My goal would be to remove the guilt, fear and condemnation that trouble some within the body of Christ regarding alternative health. Jesus said His yoke is easy, His burden is light. He came to free us from bondage, not bind us up.
1 Alternative Medicine: The Mainstreaming of the Holistic Health Movement” by Paul C. Reisser, M.D. page 7 http://www.equip.org/free/DN395.htm
2 Alternative Medicine: The Mainstreaming of the Holistic Health Movement” by Paul C. Reisser, M.D. page 9 http://www.equip.org/free/DN395.htm
3 “Alternative Medicine in the Church” by Janice Lyons page 2 http://www.watchman.org/na/altmed2.htm
4 “Alternative Medicine in the Church” by Janice Lyons page 2 http://www.watchman.org/na/altmed2.htm
6 Fen-Phen Controversy Tuesday June 5, 2001 http://extratv.warnerbros.com/reframe.html?http://extratv.warnerbros.com/dailynews/rxtra/06_01/06_05c
.html Autopsy findings of heart and lungs in a patient with primary pulmonary hypertension associated with use of fenfluramine and phentermine.Tomita T, Zhao Q. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11834685&dopt=Abstract
7 By Ed Edelson HealthScoutNews Reporter Thu Apr 3,11:46 PM ET
11 North Carolina Board of Pharmacy Newsletter On the Web July 2001 http://www.ncbop.org/July01-1.asp
12 J Lazarou, BM Pomeranz, PN Corey. Incidence of Adverse Drug Reactions in hospitalized patients: A Meta-Analysis of prospective studies. JAMA 1998 279: 1200-5.
14 Sahyoun, Nadine R., et al. Carotenoids, vitamins C and E, and mortality in an elderly population. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 144, No. 5, September 1, 1996, pp. 501-11
15 Hatch, Gary E. Asthma, inhaled oxidants, and dietary antioxidants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 61, No. 3, March 1995, pp. 625S-30S
16 Shojania, A.M. Oral contraceptives: effect of folate and vitamin B12 metabolism. Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 126, No. 3, February 1, 1982, pp. 244-47
17 Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Vol. 30, 1990, pp. 596-608
18 Greenberg, Steven and Frishman, William H. Co-enzyme Q10: A new drug for cardiovascular disease. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Vol. 30, 1990, pp. 596-608