I was introduced to the concepts of ‘well-being’, and ‘wellness’ after my cancer was diagnosed 10 years ago.
Have these terms, intended to guide patients back to good health, been high-jacked by the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) industry to exploit us?
A definition of ‘well-being’ is “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy“.
It is not surprising that, over the past decade, I have completed a number of questionnaires as my medical team checked on how I was coping.
‘Wellness‘ is the opposite of illness and relates to achieving a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity“. Maintaining well-being is an important part of cancer patients’ recovery. Some major hospitals are introducing wellness programs. My own hospital has a Health & Wellness Centre, employing a team of evidence-base allied health professionals, including exercise physiologists, dieticians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.
Following robust quitting campaigns, Australian smoking rates have dramatically decreased over the past 25 years, with significant gains in health. However, Australia is one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled in the past 20 years. With it come the complications of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Overweight patients are placing an enormous burden on the health system, with the total annual direct cost estimated, in 2005, at $21 billion. Sadly, today’s generation might die younger than their parents.
Responsible organisations are introducing initiatives, including medical screening, smoking cessation and weight loss programs, gyms, meditation classes, volunteering opportunities, team building and healthy lifestyle education. To attract more students, universities are reinventing ‘Public Health‘ as ‘Wellness’ ,with a focus on illness prevention and improving population and individual wellbeing.
Complementary medicines (CMs) are drugs with risks. With the exception of massage therapists, CAM practitioners, particularly those promoting and profiting from CMs, have no place in Cancer Wellness centres. Vitamins might be dangerous – they can increase the risk of cancer, increase mortality rates and compromise chemotherapy. When tested, many CMs fail to deliver.
CAM practitioners are quick to find new and innovate ways to market themselves. Previously called ‘natural’, ‘holistic’, ‘alternative’, ‘traditional’ or ‘integrative’ practitioners, they are now jumping on the bandwagon, setting up ‘wellness’ centres in pharmacies, medical and dental surgeries and naturopathic clinics. Located in our communities, they routinely offer unproven diagnostics such as live blood analysis, electrodermal screening,iridology, tooth meridian analysis,hair analysis, tongue analysis, nail analysis, zinc taste test, kinesiology, functional pathology,heavy metal analysis, stool and urine tests; all to persuade people that they have nutritional deficiencies, viruses, bacteria or other problems. As treatments, patients will be encouraged to take unproven CMs and to return for an unlimited number of consultations for ‘monitoring’ – all good for business!
Cancer patients can seldom critically evaluate the conflicting and often unsubstantiated claims for CAM Interventions. These ‘wellness centres’ have little in common with those associated with hospitals. With no legal protection over the term, anyone can call themselves a ‘wellness’ expert, no matter how little their training. As there is also no way to effectively challenging the false and misleading claims made for CAM services, it remains a case of ‘buyer beware’.
The CAM industry, now worth $4billion annually, is more focused on marketing than on health. Using its wealth and influence, it effectively targets vulnerable consumers by relentless media campaigns and maintains poor regulation through persistent Government lobbying. The industry avoids undertaking independent research and ignores negative studies which challenge their profits and beliefs. It seeks, with threats, intimidation and ad hominem attacks, to silence those who speak out.
If you are a cancer patient thinking about attending your local ‘Wellness’ Centre, it is in your best interests to discuss this with your medical team. After all, they have no vested interest and are up-to-date with research. The health of their patients is their number one priority and that includes you.