Complementary Therapy Articles

By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the National Center for Health Statistics released the most complete and reliable findings to date on Americans' use of CAM in May 2004. This study explores how many Americans are using CAM and what therapies they are using for various health problems and concerns. Read about this new study in the Summer 2004 issue of "Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH," available at
By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016

Foot soldiers in AIDS fight; African hospices ease pain, chip away at stigma Donors begin to realize value of palliative care
The Toronto Star
Sun 18 Jul 2004
Page: F2
Section: Business
Byline: Reed Lindsay
Source: Special to the Star
The white pickup truck rattles to a halt at a round mud and thatch hut cemented with cow dung.

Princess Cele, a stout woman wearing sunglasses, a dark blue beret and a mint green uniform adorned with epaulets, motions her head to a mound of dirt outside the hut.

"She's dead," says Cele, who is making her daily rounds as a nurse for South Coast Hospice.

A young woman confirms that indeed her 34-year-old cousin died three days ago. A baby now sleeps on the thin, worn mattress where the cousin spent her final days.

In these winter months, when the temperature drops at night and the wind blows dust over the steep, grassy hills that rise above the sugarcane plantations and beach resorts of South Africa's Indian Ocean coastline, the death toll mounts.

Pneumonia and tuberculosis often deal the final blow, but only after HIV/AIDS has ravaged the body's immune system.

Ten minutes' drive away, down a rutted dirt road that cuts through Elim's expanse of ridge-top huts, Cele visits a second patient.

Sizakele Ntuli, a gaunt woman with large eyes and a beatific face, grimaces in pain as she struggles to sit up in bed in her small, dimly lit room. Her throat burns from oral thrush and her body aches. She has lost nearly all feeling in her feet and cannot stand on her own.

Ntuli says she felt fine two weeks ago, but the disease appears to be advancing rapidly.

"The numbness in the feet shows that her immune system is going down," says Cele, sighing deeply. "Until now, she's been up and moving about. But today, I can see that she's sick. It looks like she's getting worse."

Cele massages Ntuli's feet with a topical analgesic and replenishes her supply of vitamins, painkillers and antibiotics.

Like most people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, Ntuli cannot afford antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which could prolong her life and keep her healthy. Without the ARVs, Cele limits herself to mitigating Ntuli's pain and making her feel more comfortable as her body wastes away.

According to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, an estimated 2.3 million people died from HIV/AIDS last year in sub-Saharan Africa - many of them malnourished, under-medicated and in unremitting pain.

In South Africa, more than 400,000 infected people are likely to die this year.

But increasingly, people with HIV/AIDS are suffering less and facing their deaths with a degree of dignity, helped by a burgeoning network of grassroots hospices and community caregivers operating with threadbare resources and little or no government support.

While some experts argue that the only long-term solution to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the prevention of future infections or the discovery of a vaccine, health-care professionals in sub-Saharan Africa's poor rural areas and slums are trying to answer the more starkly immediate question of what to do about the dying.

"With 7,000 people a day dying from AIDS in Africa, and under horrible circumstances for most people, it's an intolerable holocaust," says Peter Sarver, of the New York-based Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa. "There is a critical mass of people who decided to face this head on."

In sub-Saharan Africa - where UNAIDS says 28.5 million people (or 71 per cent of the world's total) are living with HIV/AIDS - most hospitals have neither the resources nor the expertise to care for dying AIDS patients. Hospices and the volunteers with whom they work are often the only source of support for those who are dying.

In the last decade, dozens of hospices have formed to provide what is called palliative care - helping people cope with pain and with the trauma of facing death.

Nowhere has the hospice movement been stronger than in South Africa, where an estimated 5.3 million people were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2002, more people than in any other nation in the world.

Ten years of democracy in South Africa have resulted in little economic improvement in places like Elim, where there is no industry and only meagre subsistence farming. Just as they did under apartheid, many men leave their families to work odd jobs in cities or as migrant labourers.

The prevalence of migrant labour combined with crushing poverty has created ripe conditions for spreading HIV/AIDS.

At South Coast Hospice, Cele and three other nurses look after some 800 patients, twice as many as the hospice cared for three years ago. As patients succumb to the disease - on average they last eight months under the hospice's care before they die - they are quickly replaced by an ever-growing number of new ones.

South Coast is based in KwaZulu-Natal province, considered the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa.

A 2002 survey of antenatal clinics in KwaZulu-Natal showed 36.5 per cent of pregnant women to be HIV-positive, the highest of any South African province.

In order to handle its growing caseload with a limited staff, South Coast has teamed with family members and volunteers who often provide day-to-day care for the sick in their homes with guidance from a hospice nurse.

Like most hospices in sub-Saharan Africa, South Coast has only a handful of back-up beds, so it concentrates on visiting patients in their homes. Most patients live far from the hospice and the nearest hospital, and cannot afford the bus fare or are too weak to travel.

Many decide to die at home, in order to be close to loved ones and in familiar settings, or because the family cannot afford to transport the corpse back home for burial.

Thousands more in the area are in need of the hospice's services, but they do not seek help due to denial or fear. Those who contact the hospice usually do so only in the later stages of the illness, after their pain has become unbearable.

"There are so many out there, but they don't want to see the hospice truck coming to their homes because everybody knows it is associated with HIV/AIDS," says Thandi, a resident of Elim who began volunteering at South Coast and now is paid a small salary to work full-time as a caregiver and assistant to Cele.

HIV/AIDS continues to carry a potent stigma in Africa, where strict taboos on talking about sexual promiscuity and death are common, and those living with the condition are often ostracized.

Thandi tested HIV-positive last year. She is in good health and is taking ARVs, which the hospice provides gratis for those HIV-positive employees willing to declare their status.

Thandi says she was infected by her husband, who returned home from his job at a mine near Johannesburg when he became sick three years ago.

He had refused to be tested, and it was not until last month that he admitted that he had known his status years ago, but had said nothing, fearing his wife would abandon him.

She has not told her patients that she is HIV-positive. Nor has she told her two sons, ages 20 and 17, although she says she often speaks to them about HIV/AIDS and the importance of abstinence or safe sex.

Little by little, hospices like South Coast have begun chipping away at the stigma, organizing support groups and using palliative care as a beachhead to initiate broader discussions about HIV/AIDS and sex.

"Almost 100 per cent of our patients have divulged their status, and that means breaking the silence, and reducing the stigma and bringing HIV into the open," says Kath Defilippi, CEO of the South Coast Hospice.

"Palliative care is very strongly linked with prevention of HIV .... We have a number of young people who almost on their death bed will tell their friends, their peers, to stop this risky lifestyle, saying 'I'm here because I slept around.' This can be much more powerful than any media campaign."

Until recently, donations to palliative care have been sporadic at best, as money from abroad has instead gravitated toward prevention campaigns, the search for a vaccine or helping AIDS orphans.

"Donors have only just begun realizing that palliative care is an absolutely crucial element in the fight against HIV/AIDS," says Mary Callaway, associate director for the Open Society Institute's International Palliative Care Initiative, which began funding hospices in South Africa in 2002.

"They also are realizing that a little money goes a long way. Palliative care is cheap and these hospices are already out there caring for people largely through volunteer work and on shoestring budgets."


By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
Traditional medicine knowledge slipping away
CanWest News Service
Wed 23 Jun 2004
Byline: Matt Goerzen
Source: CanWest News Service; Saskatoon StarPhoenix

SASKATOON - Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are working with two First Nations communities to bring their traditional medicine into mainstream cardiovascular health practices before the knowledge is lost forever.

``Aboriginal medicine has been highly overlooked,'' said Dr. Rui Wang, head researcher for the Cardiovascular Research Group.

Elders and healers from Lac La Ronge Band and the English River First Nation will work closely with the group to identify traditional herbs. Those with this specialized knowledge are dwindling, said Wang.

``Mostly they're gone,'' agreed Henry Beaudry, an elder from North Battleford, about the people who used to make the remedies. ``It's a special kind to take, you have to remember what colour, what kind (and) what way. It's a good idea to research all these things for young people.''

The research group, formed in January, brings together 23 experts from the university's departments of medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and nutrition.

They were inspired by the high mortality rate from diabetes and hypertension in aboriginal communities, Wang explained.

The group will use scanners to identify the active physical components of 26 herbs at a molecular level. They can then synthesize the medicinal components and determine the most effective delivery methods.

Intellectual property rights will be shared with First Nations peoples and they want native scientists to join their team, he said.

``We are hoping someday Canada will have the speciality to train people to practise aboriginal herbal medicine,'' Wang said, noting that similar research in China has resulted in specialized hospitals and universities.

The researchers have identified 39 other bands for future work and eventually want to research how aboriginal medicine can benefit fields other than cardiovascular health.
By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
A woman's touch
The Spectator  
Tue 21 Oct 2003  
Page: G10  
Section: Journal  
Byline: Jeremy Laurance  
Source: The Independent, London  

Allowing men into the delivery room has been one of the great social transformations of our time. Four out of five births are now attended   by the baby's father but nobody has thought to ask whether their presence is helpful to the women.  

Now, mothers are discovering the secret of a good birth is having another woman present.  

The loss of female support in childbirth and its replacement by men could lie behind the soaring caesarean rate, which has doubled in 20 years.  

A review of 15 research trials involving almost 13,000 women published in the Cochrane Library, the biggest source of evidence-based health care in the world, has demonstrated a female supporter is the best guarantee of a natural birth.  

Mothers who had continuous support throughout labour from a woman trained to give that support needed less pain relief, had fewer "operative" births -- caesareans or forceps deliveries -- and had a more positive experience than those who received the normal attention of an often overworked midwife.  

Professor Elaine Hodnett, of the University of Toronto, who carried out the review, said the presence of a trained supporter who was not employed by the hospital and whose only loyalty was to the woman in her care was a "very powerful" element.  

"My bottom line is that women need and deserve close and continuous support in labour in an environment that is supportive. Many midwives will tell you they don't have the time to provide that, " Hodnett said.  

"The key is the relationship the caregiver has to the woman. The evidence showed if continuous support was provided by a nurse or midwife it was less effective."  

The idea is hardly new. Until 50 years ago, women typically gave birth supported by other women throughout their labour, and had done so since the dawn of time.  

A mother, sister or neighbour would provide comfort and advice to assist the labouring woman through one of the most emotionally and physically demanding experiences of her life.  

But from the middle of the 20th century, as doctors assumed control of childbirth and it moved from home to hospital, the tradition of providing continuous support to women in labour was lost. Birth became technology driven.  

In place of the soothing presence of mother, sister or neighbour came the fetal monitor (to check the baby's heartbeat) with its blinking lights and nervy alarms.  

The dehumanization of birth in the past half century has provoked one of the biggest protest movements in medicine.  

Women have sought to wrest control back from the doctors and ensure labour and childbirth follow a natural trajectory rather than one determined by technical requirements.  

But it has been a losing battle. The rate of interventions in childbirth -- involving induction of labour, anesthesia, forceps delivery, or caesarean -- has risen inexorably.  

In Great Britain, figures published by the Department of Health in May showed that "normal" childbirth --without any intervention -- has for the first time become a minority activity.  

Fewer than half of all new mothers -- 45 per cent -- now have a spontaneous labour and delivery. (Despite the World Health Organization's assertion that C-sections should account for no more than 15 per cent of births worldwide, in some major Canadian centres, the rate has soared to 30 per cent of births, or almost one in three babies.)  

The trend has not curbed the demand for natural childbirth and now women are learning that hiring a female supporter may be the most effective way of obtaining it.  

The idea of providing expectant mothers with a woman trained to support seemed to begin in the United States.  

The female supporters are called "doulas" -- from the Greek for "servant" -- and it is estimated there are 40,000 doulas assisting women in the United States and Canada to challenge the technological tyranny of the medical birth.  

In Europe, there are only a few doulas practising today, but demand is rising.  

Doulas are not medically qualified but they have training ranging from a few days to nine months, depending on their previous experience.  

Importantly, they are hired by the woman, not the hospital, to support her through labour, provide encouragement and praise as well as coping techniques and to represent the mother's wishes to medical staff.  

They bring the voice of experience to a situation which, for new mothers in particular, may seem frightening or threatening. And, rather than threatening the role of husbands and partners, they may turn out to support them, too.  

Anecdotal evidence suggests men welcome the presence of someone with experience who relieves them of responsibility, eases their anxiety and helps them play their part in the birth experience.  

Doulas charge from about $600 Cdn to attend a birth which may last from a few hours to more than once round the clock.  

Almost 30 doulas are working in the Hamilton area and they charge up to $600 -- but they may charge nothing at all.  

Burlington doula Michelle Marion said the profession's code of ethics stresses that every woman who wants a doula should have one, despite her social or economic status. "Some doulas volunteer."  

Marion said there is a growing interest in doulas, largely because women know they can't count on their own doctor being present for their child's birth and nurses change with each shift.  

"A doula will stay with you throughout the labour," she said. "You meet her probably three months before the due date, if not earlier; you get to build a relationship and that person is guaranteed to stay by your side -- through shift changes and everything else."  

At the final visit, most doulas present the mother and her partner with a birth story which consists of pictures and a written account of the birth as a memento, Marion said.  

Mary Newburn, the policy director at Britain's National Childbirth Trust, said the Cochrane Review was "an absolute gem" and its findings "very important." (For more information, go to )  

She said: "It shows very clearly that one of the most effective things you can do to improve outcomes is provide women with continuous support during labour.  

"It is extraordinarily effective in reducing caesareans, the need for pain relief and even how mothers relate to their babies after birth. It is one of the few interventions with hard evidence to show its benefit."  

That view was backed by obstetricians who carried out a study at a hospital in the south of England in which 20 women were filmed throughout the course of their pregnancies and labours to record how many staff attended them and what they did.  

The number of staff who cared for the women ranged from three to 11 and the midwives were seen to be spending more time filling in forms than sitting with mothers and talking to them.  

The study, led by Keith Greene, consultant gynecologist and director of perinatal research at the hospital, concluded the demands on midwives to provide technically exemplary care, record it meticulously and give emotional support all at the same time were incompatible.  

Loss of confidence in the care that is provided by current methods may have contributed to the rise in caesareans, it said.  

The researchers ended with an appeal for greater recognition for the doula, whose role in promoting a good birth seems to now be beyond doubt.  

By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
Laughing the pain away
Being mentally ill is the only prerequisite for taking the Comedy Courage course, which teaches people how to be standup comics. Who says the talking cure is dead? ALEXANDRA GILL asks
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, May 5, 2004 - Page R1

VANCOUVER -- Imran Ali suffers from schizophrenia.

"That's a problem," the standup comedian cracks, "because I used to enjoy it."

Ali also has gender dysphoria. "That's when you like to dress in women's clothes," he explains, smoothing down a flowing auburn wig as the rest of the class eggs him on.

"Having schizophrenia and gender dysphoria is great," he continues. "If I don't like the dress I have on, I can just hallucinate a new one."

If you thought most standup comedians were nuts, welcome to Comedy Courage -- a course where some sort of mental-health issue is a mandatory requirement. And that's no joke.

"This is the best form of therapy I've ever had," says Darcy James Goral, one of the two co-founders of this free 12-week course, sponsored by the Burnaby Mental Wealth Society, which culminates with a fundraising showcase tonight at the Sandman Hotel in downtown Vancouver.

Two years ago, Goral was in the midst of a breakdown. "I was angry, depressed, my mind was out in left field," explains the graphic art designer, who still takes medication for post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition triggered when he was sexually assaulted.

One day, a friend invited Goral to The Lighter Side of Mental Health, a standup show at Peace Arch Hospital featuring David Granirer, a local comedian and counsellor. When Goral arrived, Granirer presented him with a button that read "I'm OK but you need professional help!" (the title of Granirer's forthcoming book). The next day, Goral signed up for Granirer's standup comedy clinic at Langara College.

"The clinic was never intended to be therapeutic," explains Granirer, who first discovered his knack for delivering comedy while teaching training sessions for volunteers at the Vancouver Crisis Centre. But after teaching the college course for eight years, he couldn't help noticing how making fun of their problems had helped many students overcome long-standing depressions and phobias. One woman who was deathly afraid of flying, he explains, hopped on a plane for the first time after the course was finished.

"She said if she could do standup comedy, she could do anything," Granirer explains. "There's something incredibly healing about telling a roomful of people exactly who you are and having them cheer."

Goral says the $300 clinic, which taught him how to write and deliver his own standup routine, certainly worked for him. "Being able to tell my story through comedy knocked out the shame I'd been carrying around for 10 years."

It also gave him the courage to approach the board of the Burnaby Mental Wealth Society with an idea that many thought was, well, a little crazy.

"I wanted to make the course available to other people who couldn't afford it, but might benefit from it," Goral says. This year's inaugural course was completely funded by corporate sponsorship, which Goral solicited. Tonight's showcase and auction is intended to raise money for next year's course.

The program is not meant to be a substitute for therapy or medication, Granirer stresses. But for some people, like the 14 extroverts in this class, it can boost confidence and self-esteem.

"It's kind of like a supercharged support group," says Granirer, who himself is diagnosed with depression. "But unlike AA or other AA-type groups, where you're expected to listen in respectful silence, everyone here is expected to laugh out loud.

"The idea is that by laughing at our setbacks, we rise above them. It makes people go from despair to hope, and hope is crucial to anyone struggling with adversity."

Back in the basement of West Burnaby United Church, where the class is in their final dress rehearsal, the only thing "Wacky Jacky" Johnston is struggling with is an uncontrolled case of hysterics.

When Ali starts sashaying around to a warbly rendition of Tip Toe Through the Psych Ward, his fellow classmate can't stop shrieking with laughter.

"Oh, what has my life come to," she cries, banging her feet on the floor. "All of a sudden I'm beginning to relate to you, Imran. You're really funny today."

Granirer shoots her a look of amused concern. "Wow, it looks like someone isn't taking their meds today."

"I'm self-medicating," Johnston explains, still laughing her head off.

"Okay," says Granirer. "But next time you decide to go off your medication, try not to do it the day before the gala."

For the next hour, each class member gets up and presents their four-minute monologue. Some are funnier than others. Some stumble with their lines. Some express nervousness about the upcoming showcase. No one seems overly concerned about flopping.

Some might consider it kind of risky to have schizophrenics get up on stage to joke about the voices in their heads. Granirer, however, says such biased preconceptions about mental-health patients as fragile wallflowers is just one of the myths the program is trying to address.

"There is a belief that people with mental illnesses are not capable of functioning in society, or holding down jobs or living a full life or getting up on stage to do comedy. People think 'Oh, my God. They're so vulnerable. If they fail, they might commit suicide.' The truth is, these people have survived all sorts of abuse and neglect. They're incredible survivors. And they choose to do this. Not a lot of people out there are capable of doing standup comedy. If they have a tough night, they'll be able to handle it."

Indeed, Roseanne Gervais, a self-described control freak, says she doesn't want to get rid of her butterflies. "I just want them to fly in formation," she jokes.

This self-proclaimed "queen-sized queer" says Comedy Courage has given her a voice and helped her find a punch line to her problems.

"I've made more progress in the last six months than I did in 16 years," says Gervais, who jokes about lesbianism, the trials of Prozac and the controlling mother in her act.

"I've found a way to talk to my family about these issues. Before it was impossible, they just brushed it off. Now, they listen because it's a joke, but they still hear the message."

Prozac and the psych ward

Norm Conrad: My doctor told me I could never take Prozac as I might go off and kill someone. Is that really what I'd do if I cheered up?

Ron McIntyre: I've run into a few of my old counsellors and therapists in different places. That's why I'm not allowed to drive any more.

Phyllis Parsons: My family doesn't understand mental illness. They don't understand why it can't be cured by alcohol.

Branwen Willow: I was in the psych ward a while ago. They keep the doors locked. People think it's so the patients can't get out. Actually, it's to keep the staff in.

David Granirer: When I was single, my therapist said that to build my self-esteem, I should be my own date. So I tried it. I made myself pay for everything, wouldn't return my phone calls, and then decided I only liked me as a friend.

David Granirer: When my psychiatrist told me to go on anti-depressants, I said, "No, they'll change my personality." She said, "David, isn't that the whole point?"

John Johnston: Before I was a mental-health consumer, I served in the army reserve. I've had lots of experience with insanity.

John Johnston: When I left the psych ward, I thought my self-esteem was as low as it could go. Then I got a job at 7-Eleven.

For more information about Comedy Courage:

Back to Top <#Top>
By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
Doula duty: Doulas provide physical, emotional and informational support to women
The Barrie Examiner  
Sat 06 Mar 2004  
Page: C1 / Front  
Section: Celebrations  
Byline: Susan Doolan  
Source: The Barrie Examiner  

When Clara Nagy-Walline became pregnant with her first child, she went in search of a doula.  

The term doula, a Greek word pronounced 'doo-la,' is given to an experienced woman who assists during the childbirth process.  

Today, a doula's role is to provide physical, emotional and informational support to women, beginning prior to the birth, through the delivery as well as after the baby is born. They differ from midwives in that a doula provides no clinical support.  

In layman's terms, Clara's husband Keven summed it up this way: a doula looks after everything from the waist up, while a midwife handles everything from the waist down.  

"For me it was twofold because I didn't really have any family here and the other reason was for confidence in the birthing process," said Nagy-Walline. "I've known since I can remember that this was the way it was going to be."  

Today, five months after a difficult birth to a healthy five-month old son named Sebastian, Keven is grateful for their doula's help.  

"Adrenalin flowing - someone who's trained to give you support - it was huge," he said.  

"Never thought I'd say (it) but after he was born, there was no way we could have done it without her."  

Clara began the search for a doula on the Internet ( and scrolled down to Barrie. After speaking to two or three local doulas, she settled on Yvonne McKenzie of Birth and Beyond, one of two branches. The other is located in Alliston.  

Clara and Yvonne met three times prior to the hospital birth to discuss a birth plan and comfort measures. The doula also provided helpful suggestions and acted as a sounding board for any preconceived ideas.  

One of Clara's natural concerns was pain management.  

"I think it definitely made a difference to ease the contraction pain - also emotionally," she said.  

As it turned out Clara had a difficult time when her son's shoulders became stuck - a potentially serious problem which could necessitate a Caesarean if the young mother decides to have another child.  

Yvonne was on hand for the full 16.5 hour labour.  

Three days later, she returned to help Clara with nursing questions. Six weeks later, Yvonne brought Clara a keepsake - the story of Sebastian's birth, complete with photos and text timelines.  

Melissa Cowl founded Birth and Beyond in Alliston eight years ago, along with Wendy Topping, after a personal experience. The last two of her five children were born with the assistance of a doula (she didn't know about doulas for the first three births).  

An obstetric nurse at Stevenson Memorial Hospital, Lynne Hart brought the doula program to Alliston. Currently, Hart is retired from nursing and is a doula as well as a doula trainer.  

As a result of her experience, Cowl became a doula and doula trainer. Training can take as little as six months, or a long as four years. Doulas are certified and governed by the Doulas of North America. The local association, Doula Care Simcoe County, has 30 active practitioners. It will also provide referrals to local doulas.  

Fees appear to be highly individual. The four doulas of Birth and Beyond prefer not to set a fee but rather base it on what the parents feel they can afford. And if the parents can't afford it, these four will do it for free.  

"We leave the decision to them," said Cowl, explaining their vision statement is 'a doula for every mother that wants one.'  

Back to Top <#Top>  

By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
New treatments born in ancient tradition: Annie Smith St-Georges owns the first aboriginal complementary health centre in the Outaouais, but her treatments are not new. As she tells Dave Rogers , 'they're as old as my ancestors.'
The Ottawa Citizen  
Fri 05 Mar 2004  
Page: F5  
Section: City  
Byline: Dave Rogers  
Source: The Ottawa Citizen  

On the surface, the Wage Centre looks like dozens of other medical or chiropractic clinics in Gatineau.  

But people who walk through the doors of the first aboriginal complementary health centre in the Outaouais won't just find the usual trappings of such clinics. Instead, the mostly non-aboriginal patients are also being treated using eagle feathers, sweetgrass, cedar, sage, and tobacco -- as well as through chiropractic and massage therapy.  

Clinic owner Annie Smith St-Georges helps stressed and grieving clients in a small room in the back using an aboriginal medicine wheel. The wheel -- a circle drawn on a deer skin on a table -- is divided into four quadrants that represent the four elements of the human body: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  

"The use of traditional medicines is new to alternative medicine, but it is as old as my ancestors," said Ms. Smith St-Georges said.  

The 51-year-old says the Wage Centre (pronounced wagay, which means calm in Algonquin) is the result of ancient Algonquin knowledge about how to help people achieve better health. She eventually hopes to convince a medical doctor to join the clinic.  

Devastated by the suicide of her 16-year-old son in 1990, Ms. Smith St-Georges used every form of counselling and therapy she could find to help her cope with the loss. But she still feels as if the tragedy happened yesterday.  

"After my son died, I was brought right down to the ground," she said. "It affected me mentally and physically because I was in a state of shock. Spiritually, I found it difficult to believe in the Creator after this happened.  

"The eagle feather was offered to me at a conference on suicide. I use it now as a healing feather to pass over the person's body."  

An Algonquin from the Kitigan Zibi Reserve near Maniwaki, Ms. Smith St-Georges believed she could help others cope with grief, stress and a variety of physical ailments.  

She quit her job as a native employment equity officer with the federal Indian Affairs Department in 1997 and opened the centre on Ste-Bernadette Street in the basement of a medical clinic a year ago.  

Besides Ms. Smith St-Georges, the centre staff includes a chiropractor, masso-therapist, orthotherapist, naturotherapist and a nurse.  

Patients who experience physical pain may visit the centre's chiropractor, Dr. Pierre Couture, one of the centre's massage therapists, receive a posture analysis or be fitted with foot orthotics.  

But Ms. Smith St-Georges says the centre offers treatment for more than physical pain.  

Patients who visit for "aboriginal relaxation" immediately notice the aroma of burning sweetgrass in the room. A stuffed panda sits on the floor while a moosehide drum and braided sweetgrass hang on the wall.  

Part of the treatment there includes teaching about herbs and the cycle of life.  

"With the medicine wheel, we start in the physical section where the child is born, proceed to the teenage years, adulthood and then to the elderly who are getting ready to go home to Mother Earth," said Ms. Smith St-Georges.  

"This corresponds to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual in the tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass parts of the medicine wheel."  

She said Algonquins believe that burning sage in a seashell "smudge bowl" increases mental powers and is a medicine for women.  

Sweetgrass is regarded as a male medicine. Fresh cedar branches are used to brew a tea that is said to calm emotional distress.  

More than than 90 per cent of the clinic's clients are not aboriginals. Ms. Smith St-Georges said most patients are covered by private medical insurance, but she seldom treats aboriginal people because Health Canada's aboriginal health insurance provides enough coverage for only one or two chiropractic treatments.  

"It is sad that I cannot treat my own people," she said.  

"They want to come to the clinic, but they do not have enough insurance coverage. They are covered by medical insurance like everyone else, but they don't have enough benefits for other forms of treatment."  

Complementary medicine is a catch-all phrase that includes naturopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, aromatherapy and more.  

According to Statistics Canada, at least 3.3 million Canadians sought treatment outside the medical establishment in 1995, spending at least $1 billion out of their own pockets for treatments not reimbursed by provincial health plans.  

Surveys have shown that four out of 10 Canadians regularly use alternative medicines, and the amount spent on vitamins and herbal supplements is rising 20 per cent a year.  

Cathy Rouleau, a spokeswoman for the Quebec Ministry of Health said the government doesn't pay for alternative treatments -- including the kind of care Wage Centre provides -- because they aren't medically recognized.  

But Dr. Couture said Health Canada is interested in aboriginal medicine because it may help people recover more quickly.  

He said he joined the clinic to help provide patients -- especially aboriginals -- with a variety of different types of complementary medicine.  

"The difference about our clinic is the patient decides which services to use and they can control their own health," Dr. Couture said.  

"Traditional aboriginal relaxation is something that everybody should experience because it gives you well-being and peace in (your) mind and heart.  

"I was curious to see how traditional aboriginal medicine would work. I was surprised to find out how well this medicine works compared to the treatments we know.  

"It gives a better result than the regular medicine we take every day."  

By Kim Watson 19 Jan, 2016
When herbal remedies have the opposite effect
The Globe and Mail
Monday, January 5, 2004 - Page A12  

Herbal remedies fly off the shelf at this time of year, as people seek any available weapons to combat the distressing symptoms of colds, flu, tiredness and overindulgence during the festive season.  

More than half of all Canadians consume such products in one form or another. Some of the offerings actually provide relief. Others may not be worth much. Still others may be downright harmful, particularly in higher doses or in the presence of underlying health problems. It has been hard for consumers to know, because of the lack of standards and regulations.  

This point has been brought home through numerous health calamities linked to dietary supplements containing ephedra, which acts as a stimulant. Citing 155 U.S. deaths and more than 16,000 "adverse events," including heart attacks and strokes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently banned all such products. Tommy Thompson, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, bluntly called them "simply too risky to be used."  

Yet before the ban, such products, typically peddled as aids in weight loss and muscle-building and extremely popular among young athletes, did not even have to carry labels warning of the risks. That's because, unlike the makers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, producers of food supplements and herbal remedies have not been required to prove their products are safe.  

In Canada, federal authorities issued a warning in January, 2002, not to use certain products containing ephedra, particularly if they also contain caffeine and other stimulants and carry stated or implied claims related to weight loss, body-building or increased energy. Ottawa also recalled those that contained more than the maximum allowable dosage, which makes their further sale illegal. A synthesized version continues to be used legally in both Canada and the United States in cold, allergy and asthma remedies.  

Soon after its voluntary recall order, Health Canada discovered that some retail workers were showing consumers how to obtain the same effects from the legal products that they had gained from the prohibited ones. Yet there has been no need for consumers to go that far, because the illegal stuff remains routinely available over the Internet, under the counter, in gyms and through various other means.  

Last June, Health Canada's natural health products directorate issued an important set of regulations to govern the manufacturing, packaging, distribution and sale of herbal supplements, vitamins and homeopathic remedies. The regulations went into effect last Thursday, but the rules will be phased in over the next two to six years. The measures include licensing to produce specific herbal products, clinical trials and much more informative and standardized labelling.  

This is a good start toward better supervision of a burgeoning part of the health business. But as officials learned from the ephedra experience, it isn't enough to warn people of the risks or to remove products from the shelves. They need to shut down the black-market sources that crop up like mushrooms whenever one of these miracle cures is banned.

Share by: