World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by the US Mission, used under Creative Commons.

The World Health Organization has recognized the potential of complementary medicine, and more patients are seeking access.

As a policy maker, what do you need to know?

Several critical challenges threaten pubilc health globally: the high and rising cost of medical treatments; an increase in anti-microbial resistent bacteria; a rising prevelance in non-communicable diseases, including cancers; and an uncertain pipeline of needed new medicines. Policy makers must act quickly to face these challenges lest they overwhelm already burdened national health systems. 

Anthroposophic approaches to medical treatment have demonstrable positive benefits that could help policy makers in this task. But – while public desire to access and use these therapies is growing – they are often not well integrated into medical policy and in many places their legal status can be uncertain. And problematically, without proper integration there is inadequate regulation to differentiate qualified complementarty medical practitioners and medicine providers. 

What do policy makers need to know about the potential of anthroposophic and other complementary medicine to improve the health of their citizens, and the legal and regulatory frameworks that must be in place to ensure that potential is met?

How anthroposophic medicine can improve health outcomes

Anthroposophic medicine offers a safe, practical, and complementary approach that can help improve patient outcomes in the following ways:

  • Holistic approach can ease NCD burden:

    For the last 15 years, heart disease and stroke have been the leading causes of death worldwide, killing 15 million in 2015. Lifestyle factors – such as diet, exercise, stress, loneliness, or mental health – can be significant in determining the likelihood of morbidity or mortality from these diseases. Anthroposophic doctors and nurses are specifically trained to understand and include in treatment programmes an analysis of a patient's life, social situation and general morale, and to use the spectrum of anthroposophic treatments (including medications, body and movement therapies and art therapy). This approach has the potential to lower risk factors or to lower suffering from these and other lifestyle diseases, while in some cases lowering the need for conventional pharmaceutical treatments.

  • Anthroposophic medical approaches can lower use of antibiotics:

    Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing threat the ability to treat infections and to conduct successful surgery and cancer chemotherapy treatments. Overprescription of antibiotics has contributed to this problem. There is promising evidence that medical practitioners trained in anthroposophic and other complementary treatments prescribe fewer antibiotics,  according to a recent study in the BMJ Open. For more information on anthroposophic medicine and AMR, see here.

  • Anthroposophic medical approaches improve cancer care:

    According to the latest global cancer statistics, there were 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million deaths due to cancer in 2018. Cancer care remains an arduous and exhausting process, even for those whose cancers an be treated. Viscum album (European mistletoe) is a well known anthroposophic therapy that is used in combination with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or surgery. It has been shown to improve both quality of life, ability to retain weight, and ability to tolerate treatments. More information on cancer care is available here.

  • Empathetic treatment improves overall patient health:

    An important part of the anthroposophic therapeutic approach is the importance of developing an empathetic relationship between doctor and patient. A 2014 review from the Public Library of Science (PLOS) found that the patient-clinician relationship had a statistically significant impact on health outcomes, and called for more research in this area.