“Time Is Shifting to an Age in Which Integrative Medicine Is Sought and Required."

  head of the Japanese Association for Alternative, Complimentary and Traditional Medicine (JACT)
Dr. Kazuhiko Atsumi

In recent years, there has been a growing tendency in Japanese medical circles to turn attention to alternative medicine other than Western medicine. In 1992, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. set up a new research division, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). From the time it was established, relevant studies have been carried out actively and extensively, with the expectation that it could be a relief measure for reduction of medical expenses. We carried out an interview with Dr. Kazuhiko Atsumi, head of the Japanese Association for Alternative, Complimentary and Traditional Medicine (JACT), asking about the circumstances and reasons why alternative medicine is attracting attention in America.
――There is an increasing concern over medical treatments other than Western medicine (or alternative medicine) in many countries including the U.S. Could you tell us why that is?

In order to halt the escalating cost of health care, America began to turn her eyes to medical treatments other than Western medicine.

Atsumi: There are several reasons and circumstances why the U.S. is taking up alternative medicine enthusiastically. First of all, ideas about medical treatment are changing. In America and Europe, as well as in Japan, Occidental medicine has been the core of medicine so far. But, it appears that we are approaching a turning point. I think that to a certain extent this could be attributed to advances in Western medicine. As a result, there has emerged the thought that if there was a limitation of the medicine, let's look at it again, while attention was paid to another one that was totally different from the one prevailing.

In the case of America, there is a more serious circumstance. That is, US medical costs have increased seriously, reaching as much as 14% of GNP. She wants to decrease it somehow. But the development of state of the art medical equipment is continuous, and that leads to a further increase in medical costs. This is her real position. In this situation, there emergedd the view that if alternative medicine that did not use such high-tech equipment was practised, medical costs could decrease. Let's think of alleviation of pain by acupuncture, not by a drug, for instance. The medical cost can be lowered in this case. Or, if meditation by Ayurveda medicine was performed, various effects such as lowering of blood pressure could be expected. It became clear that medical expenses could be cut substantially if such treatments were performed. So studies of the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of alternative medicine were initiated with the lead taken by the NIH. During such movements, American life insurance companies started to study the cost effectiveness of the use of alternative medicine, and began to show an interest in supporting the medicine.

A treatment being performed in the Oriental area in which mind and body are treated totally is needed.

Atsumi: Mind and body are closely related. How you look at things is important in treating illness. And Western society has started to realise this. It is rather easy for Oriental people to perceive so instinctively. But, it is a dramatic shifting of priorities for Westerners. This type of treatment includes psychotherapy, biofeedback therapy, imagination control therapy and Qigong. It is considered that these therapies stimulate our bodies to enhance immune power so as to recover from illness, although they do not cure diseases per se. Actually, if you look at things in a positive way, cell components and hormones in the blood work positively and effectively, increasing immunological effectiveness within our bodies. This has been proven scientifically in the field of psychoneuro-immunology.

――Could you tell us about specifc future plans and activities of JACT?

Food that can empower natural healing power will be important in the future.

Atsumi: A living body has an ability to heal disease naturally. The basis of alternative medicine is to enhance such natural healing powers. Taking an example, if you have a cut, it will close and heal naturally. In the future, studies of food and nutritional elements that increase natural healing power will be more significant than now.

In addition, it will be necessary to provide a situation in which the good use of alternative medicine is actually put into practice. If a hospital that can act as a pilot location for the study is designated or set up, and treatments such as Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, cooking using Chinese traditional medicines, health food, Qigong or yoga can be carried out, it would be very desirable. Moreover, there is another plan to set up a university to study complementary and alternative medicine. In the plan, those who have pursued their goals of medicine will again study other treatments such as acupuncture, moxibustion treatment, Ayurveda. On the other hand, an educational activity to enlighten people is also needed. Alternative medicine has to be understood by administrators, citizens and those who are engaged in medical care, and its popularization has to be promoted.

――Is there any plan that JACT will have a tie-up with NIH in the future?

Medical treatments in Japan cannot help but change along with NIH's developments.

Atsumi: I believe there is a move in that direction. NCCAM at the NIH was set up in 1992, and studies into alternative medicine have been carried out on a fully fledged scale since then. This year, $50 million will be appropriated to 12 first-rate universities including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Minnesota, for research into cancer, allergy, the aging process and AIDS. NIH is an institute on a worldwide level studying medical treatments and the biosciences. Medical technologies studied and developed in America will be brought to Japan, becoming popular there in a time-frame of 5 to 10 years. In that event, many Japanese patients will seek and demand alternative medicine, so medical treatment in Japan will have no choice but to change.

In December 1998, we held a Symposium, where we realized just how unsatisfactory people feel in relation to current medical treatments. I discerned a sense of suffocation which would not be cleared unless some new treatment was introduced. Forty percent of the members of JACT are doctors. They include many university emeritus Professors. Among many such participants, I found that there was a notion that Japanese medical treatment had to make a change.

――Could you tell us what is the ideal way for medical treatment in the future?

Medical treatment in the future will be one that is based on analysis of individual physical conditions, not on medical- and health-related statistics, moving for the direction of the third medicine or integrative medicine.

Atsumi: In future, medical treatment has to take natural healing power or enhancement of immune power into consideration. Western medicine so far adopted the method that if a patient had cancer, the lesion was removed, or, if a patient had AIDS, the virus was attacked thoroughly. But, AIDS cannot be cured by such a treatment process. Rather, the immune power of a patient has to be raised, so that the disease would not become manifest. In the future, such treatment could be practised.

Meanwhile, it will be necessary to give medical treatment with the conditions of each patient viewed holistically. Occidental medicine so far practised statistical medicine. However, with alternative medicine, the aim will be to treat individual patients with each of their conditions considered in detail in the future. Taking an example, Ayurveda and the Chinese medicine are concerned with the physical conditions of each patient. In alternative medicine, as well as Western medicine, what is best suited for a patient is done with the patient viewed integratively, and this process is referred to as the third medicine. When performing it, it is necessary to identify what is the best way to treat patients on a one-by-one basis. It is expected that patients can have treatments that are most suited to their individual constitutions as research into genes advance in the future. Analyze individual physical conditions of patients adequately, and pick up a treatment which is best suited for the patient, and that is the third medicine or integrative medicine.

◆Profile Dr. Atsumi

Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, and took a medical degree in 1954. Since then, he has been engaged in studies of state-of-the-art medicine such as artificial internal organs and laser medicine. Successively he assumed several responsibilities, including Professor of the Institute of Medical Electronics and Director of the Institute. Then, he served as the chief of the 7th division of the 16th Term of the Science Council of Japan, and president of Suzuka University of Medical Science. Currently, he holds the office of Head of JACT. In December 1998, he convened the first session of JACT, delivering the inaugural lecture of its establishment, and proposing third medicine or integrative medicine in which Western and Oriental medicines are fused and integrated.

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