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Say 'Aaah' | Your Health Online

A Credible Voice on the Alternatives

March 20, 2000|Marla Bolotsky

It's no secret that alternative medicine, from acupuncture to meditation, is highly popular in this country. Roughly two out of three HMOs now provide some health insurance coverage for alternative therapies. While many Internet health sites provide some information about alternative health, until recently there hasn't been one that I consider comprehensive and credible enough to recommend.

Now the founder and publisher of two well-known health newsletters has started WholeHealthMD.com (http://www.wholehealthmd.com). The company bills itself as the first medical Web site to focus exclusively on "integrative medicine," a term commonly used to refer to health care providers who use both alternative and conventional therapies in their practices.

The president of WholeHealthMD.com is Rodney Friedman, the founder of the Berkeley Wellness Letter and the Johns Hopkins Health Letter. The site has lined up several prominent physicians to serve on its board of advisors, including Dr. Susan Love, the well-known women's health advocate, author and breast cancer specialist, and Kenneth R. Pelletier, a professor of medicine at Stanford University.

The Look. The site is attractive and the writing and information is conversational in tone.

Getting Around. The focus of the site is "healing centers," or information modules on about 100 chronic conditions, ranging from acne to weight loss. You can get a feel for the site's philosophy by reading a blurb on the healing center's main page: "Rather than prescribing powerful antibiotics or surgery to treat chronic conditions, we prefer to combine the best of conventional medicine with alternative therapies to help the body strengthen and then heal itself." Each of the chronic-condition sections opens with a message from a physician (including a brief biography) and includes basic information about the ailment and its symptoms, causes and treatments. It also includes recommendations for self-care remedies and supplements, including potential adverse interactions between supplements and prescription drugs and nutrients.

What You Get. The site is comprehensive and user-friendly. It includes information on more than 200 supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutrients), as well as on hundreds of prescription drugs, food products and alternative therapies. A "reference library" includes a glossary of terms. I would have liked a pronunciation guide for some of the entries.

One interesting feature is the "healing kitchen," which includes recipes designed to help you manage your ailments. In the mood for a cryptoxanthin smoothie? (Beta-cryptoxanthin is a carotenoid with cancer-fighting properties, the site explains.) This difficult-to-pronounce, easy-to-make beverage includes a mango, low-fat plain yogurt, maple syrup, vanilla and tangerine juice concentrate. Each recipe provides information on calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, cholesterol and vitamins and minerals. You can save your favorite pages--recipes, supplement information or news stories--in the "My WholeHealth" section of the site.

Ads and Sponsors. The site currently has no ads or sponsors. Friedman says the company is proceeding cautiously in this area because it doesn't want to jeopardize the integrity of the site. He notes that many people remain skeptical of alternative treatments because many therapies have not been subjected to the type of scientific scrutiny that are commonplace in conventional medicine.

WholeHealthMD hopes to make money from its commercial relationship with partner Whole Foods Markets (http://www.wholefoods.com), the natural-foods grocery chain. WholeHealthMD has links to the Whole Foods Web site, which sells food products, vitamins and supplements. WholeHealthMD gets a portion of each sale when someone comes directly to their site.

Who's Behind It. Besides Whole Foods Markets, other partners include Rebus Publishing, a health information publisher, and American Whole Health, a network of board-certified physicians who incorporate alternative therapies into their practices.

Rebus has a team of editors, researchers and writers who review medical journals, interview experts and contribute articles for the site.

Unlike some health sites, which may purchase medical news or informational databases from other sources, WholeHealthMD uses mostly original content. Some of the news content comes from the WholeHealthMD monthly newsletter. The site isn't as concerned with regularly updated news blurbs as it is with providing more comprehensive, highly readable information.

We'll likely see more Web sites promoting this "integrated" approach to health care soon. But if you believe that "you are what you eat," you may want to bookmark this site for the long term.

* Marla Bolotsky is managing editor and director of online information for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She can be reached at marla.bolotsky@latimes.com.

* Your Health Online runs every other Monday.

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