Dr. Maria Ridao Alonso is a Specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Specialist Preventive Medicine at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre
She explains the scope of preventive medicine to Shilpa Jasani of Yoga & Wellness
Preventive care refers to measures taken to prevent diseases or injuries rather than just treating their symptoms.
Our health care system or western medicine as we know it is primarily a ‘disease-care system’, rather than a ‘disease manage system’. We treat the symptoms rather than the cause of diseases, opening up the possibilities of the diseases recurring again and again, like for example - bypass grafts or angioplastied arteries may clog up again or a new set of problems may occur due to the side effects from medicines. Research has shown that the body has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself, and much more quickly than had once been realized, when the underlying causes of illness are addressed
Preventive medicine or preventive care refers to measures taken to prevent diseases or injuries rather than just treating their symptoms. The goal of preventive medicine is to protect, promote and maintain health and well-being, and to prevent disease or its recurrence. Divided into 3 or 4 segments – like primary prevention which begins prior to the occurrence of the disease and aims to prevent any recurrence. It is aimed at healthy people without any symptoms. Examples of primary prevention are school policies on nutrition, exercise and stress management. Secondary prevention is applied in the early stages of an illness. It is used for early detection of diseases and their progression or containment of the disease before it becomes chronic. Tertiary prevention occurs after an acute manifestation of a disease or treatment. Its aim is to prevent consequential effects and relapses. It is addressed to patients with chronic disabilities and rehabilitation.
In an interview on preventive medicine with Managing & Medical Director of Dubai of Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, Dr. Maria Alonso (a specialist in preventive medicine), explains that preventive medicine is able to help patients ‘before’ they actually qualify as having symptoms of a disease. She says: “I have graduated as an allopathic physician from the University of Bonn, Germany in 1992, and went on to study and work in neurology for 3 years and psychiatry for 4 years. From there my journey ended at alternative or preventive medicine. At our center, we combine what we know as modern medicine with alternative treatments which are known to have lesser side effects. So if patients need blood tests, MRI’s, genetic tests – then that is prescribed and acupuncture and herbal medicines are used to treat patients. Ideally we don’t want people to get sick, and that is where preventive medicine comes in. Like for example people consult us for solutions to problems like ‘my mum/ dad have diabetes or high blood pressure or cholesterol, what should I do? I don’t want to end up like that.’ After getting a genetic profile test done, we individualize their treatment as a preventive. We have patients that complain of cold feet, lack of energy, but nothing is showing up in their reports yet, since it cannot be called a disease. With Chinese medicine, when we check the pulse, we are able to diagnose what is not balanced, or where the energy or blood flow has been blocked. We proceed to prescribe supplements which has helps them feel better and the symptoms may not manifest into a disease. In Chinese medicine, sometimes you can diagnose a symptom that will not qualify into a disease if the patient were to go to a general practitioner (GP).”
When questioned about the benefits of preventive medicine in the tertiary stages of a disease, Dr. Maria replied: “For these conditions, we can reduce the dependence on medication and improve quality of life with alternative therapies. For example, we have cancer patients which of course we cannot heal, but can improve the quality of their lives. They may be having severe nausea and vomiting and fatigue due to the chemotherapy. We can help them feel better so that they can live their daily lives, meet people and not stay in bed most of the time. In this way, their pain can be made more bearable.”
Fluent in English, German and Spanish, Dr. Maria has a Master’s Degree in Preventive Medicine from Dresden International University and extensive experience in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (acupuncture & herbal prescriptions).
An important part of prevention is monitoring an individual’s health condition and intervening early enough to make a difference in the course of a disease. When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise and meditate, not only is one expected to live longer but also live better. Highlighting the importance of making healthy food choices, Dr. Maria says: “On a scale of 100, food occupies 80% importance in the health of an individual. You know the saying, ‘you are what you eat’, well this precisely sums up the significance of food. Not only quantity, which means the portion sizes, but even the quality of food is the decisive factor. We must choose to remove processed food and sugars from our dining table. So food, exercise, adequate sleep during the night will all contribute to increased wellbeing.”
It is sometimes alleged that the placebo effect looms large in alternative medicine and it is difficult to distinguish from the actual effects. Researcher Daniel Moerman describes the placebo effect as a "meaning response" – the mind consciously or unconsciously makes positive associations with a treatment that then creates healing. When questioned about this, Dr. Maria replied: “Placebo effect is not as bad as people make it out to be. When an individual thinks he is healing, it does actually contribute to his healing since there is a mind-body connect in wellness and disease. Having said that, I believe that alternative treatments are more effective than actually given credit for and there is evidence-based research on the health benefits of complementary and preventive treatments.”
Acupuncture promotes healing power through stimulation of ‘acupoints (energy points that circulate along the body’s meridian channels)’ by placing fine and sterile needles at specific acupoints. It is proclaimed to be effective in medical conditions such as: