Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine covers a broad range of philosophies, approaches, and therapies for healing. It is usually defined as treatments and practices outside of traditional Western medicine that are not taught widely in medical schools, not used in hospitals, and not usually reimbursed by insurance companies.The National Institutes of Heath's National Center for Complementary &Alternative Medicine divides alternative medicine into seven major categories:alternative systems of medical practice; bioelectromagnetic applications; diet, nutrition, lifestyle changes; herbal medicine; manual healing; mind-body control; and pharmacological and biological treatments. Alternative medicine is used to treat conditions ranging from colds to skin cancer.

Alternative medicine considers health a balancing of mind, body, and spirit.This is a holistic approach that considers the whole person, including his orher physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Many alternative practices are designed to prevent health problems rather than treat symptoms later. Some alternative medicine approaches are consistent with Western medicalprincipals and some are not. Some are far outside of accepted Western medicalpractice and theory, while others are becoming part of mainstream medicine.

Worldwide, only about 10% to 30% of all health care is delivered by conventional medical practitioners. The remainder use alternative medicine. Accordingto the World Health Organization, interest in traditional and alternative systems of medicine has grown in many developed countries during the last decade. One-third of American adults have used an alternative treatment. As Americans take more control over their own health care, and seek to avoid drugs andsurgery, or supplement conventional medical treatments, interest continues togrow. Disenchantment with the cost, complexity and perceived limitations ofmodern medicine has also contributed to the rise of alternative medicine. Medical doctors are also becoming more interested in alternative medicine and some have incorporated alternative therapies into their practices. Health insurance companies cover some alternative methods.

With its growing popularity among consumers and professionals worldwide, however, alternative medicine is becoming less "alternative" with each passing year. In the 1990s an increasing number of medical schools began offering courses in alternative medicine, and some hospitals began creating departments ofalternative medicine. According to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, the estimated number of annual visits to providers of alternative medicine (425 million) in the United States in 1990 exceeded the number of visits to all primary care physicians (388 million).

People use alternative medicine alone (often as an alternative to a conventional medical treatment), in combination with other alternative therapies, or along with conventional medical therapies (sometimes called complementary). Alternative medicine is also referred to as complementary and alternative medicine. The use of the word "complementary" instead of or along with "alternative" reflects a shift in public and professional attitudes. While "alternative"has been used to suggest a substitution for conventional medicine, "complementary" medicine suggests therapies used along with conventional medicine.

Alternative medicine can be delivered popularly, community-based, or professionalized. Most people who use alternative medicine do so at home; this is called popular health care. An example of this is giving someone who has a coldherbal tea. Community-based health care is specialized health care practicedby many rural and urban people that reflects their health needs, beliefs, andenvironments. Professionalized alternative health care is delivered by practitioners with standardized training who work in established locations. Professionalized health care systems include traditional oriental medicine, acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, anthroposophy, naturopathy, and environmental medicine. Each of these systems has a theory of health and disease, aneducational method to teach its concepts, a delivery system that involves practitioners, a support system to produce medicines and therapeutic devices, alegal and economic mandate to regulate its practice, cultural expectations about the medical system's role, and a way to give approved providers professional status.

Alternative systems of medical practice include traditional oriental medicine(which includes acupuncture, acupressure, herbal medicine, qu gong, and oriental massage), ayurveda, homeopathic medicine, and naturopathic medicine, Native American medicine, and Latin Americanmedicine. These are all professionalized health care systems. Traditional oriental medicine emphasizes diagnosing disturbances in a person's vital energy(called qi or chi). To diagnose these disturbances, the practitioner listens,questions, and touches the person. In China, practitioners are trained in schools of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupressure is similar to acupuncturebut it uses deep finger pressure instead of needles.

Acupuncture involves restoring the qi, which ebbs when a person's mental, physical, or spiritual well-being are disturbed, to a state of balance. This isdone by inserting hair thin needles into qi gateways called acupoints which are located just below the skin. Acupuncture has been practiced in China for nearly 4,500 years. It is one of the most widely researched alternative medical practices. Studies show that acupuncture is effective in treating many conditions, including osteoarthritis, nausea due to chemotherapy, asthma, back pain, painful menstruation, bladder instability, migraine headaches, chronic pain, and drug addition. In the United States, it has been used primarily to relieve pain but it is also used to treat addiction, control weight, and boostrecuperation after surgery or a stroke.

Ayurveda, which means longevity and knowledge, is India's traditional, natural medical system; it has been used for more than 2,500 years. Ayurveda is based on the belief that maintaining a balance between the body and the world isthe key to health. Practitioners use an integrated approach to help people restore and maintain health through diet, lifestyle, and natural therapies. InIndia, ayurveda practitioners are trained in institutions with the same status as their medical schools. Studies of different ayuverda therapies have shown potentially good effects in preventing and treating certain cancers, treating infectious diseases, promoting health, and treating aging.

Homeopathic medicine is used worldwide, especially in Europe, Latin America,and Asia. It is based on the principle that like cures like. This means thatthe same substances that cause symptoms in someone who is healthy can cure these symptoms in someone who is sick. Homeopathic remedies are made from natural plant, animal, or mineral substances. In the United States, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Homeopathic medicine is used to treat acute and chronic health problems and to prevent diseases and promote health. Recent research suggests that it helps people who have allergic rhinitis,fibrositis, and flu. Naturopathic medicine draws from many traditional healing systems, including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional oriental medicine, hydrotherapy, and naturopathic manipulation therapy. It combines these natural therapeutics with modern diagnosisand standards of care.

Native American and Latin American medicine are community-based health care systems. Native American medicine includes rituals and practices like sweatingand purging, herbal remedies, and healing by medicine men. Some tribes alsouse healing ceremonies. Latin American medicine includes curanderismo, basedon a model for classifying activity, food, drugs, and illness; and a series of folk illnesses. In the model, things are hot or cold, dry or moist. Maintaining a balance of hot and good keeps people healthy.

Bioelectromagnetic applications in medicine (BEM) is an emerging science which studies how living organisms interact with electromagnetic fields. The mostimportant BEM is the use of non-thermal, non-ionizing radiation, such as that emitted by power lines. BEM is used to repair bones, stimulate nerves, healwounds, treat osteoarthritis, regenerate tissues, stimulate theimmune system, and for electroacupuncture.

With research showing that diet and nutrition are related to many chronic illnesses, dietary supplements, orthomolecular medicine, and alternative diets have become popular. It is difficult, however, to design effective diet and nutritional interventions. Dietary supplements are based on the idea that people cannot make enough changes to their diet on their own to achieve the best health and prevent chronic illnesses. These approaches range from supplementing the recommended daily allowances of vitamins or nutrients to adding or eliminating certain foods to treat specific conditions. Orthomolecular medicine uses high-dose vitamins to treat chronic disease. Alternative diets are dietsgeared toward treating specific diseases like cancer or heart disease.

People have used plants for medicine since the pre-historic days, and every culture has a long history of using herbal medicines, made from a variety of plant materials. The World Health Organization estimates that four billion people, 80% of the world's population, use herbal medicine in primary health care. Herbal medicine has been a mainstay of medicine in Europe and Asia for many years and is now becoming popular in the United States. Herbal remedies areusually used to treat chronic or mild conditions, although they are occasionally used as complementary therapy for acute or severe diseases. They shouldnever be used alone as remedies for serious illnesses. Herbal remedies can beused for ailments affecting any body system. They can also be used to prevent illness. Most Americans use herbs as dietary supplements. Herbal remedies are available in many forms, including teas, infusions, pills, powders, capsules, extracts, and syryps. Many can be bought over the counter. It is usuallysafer to buy herbal remedies than to harvest plants. In the United States, herbal remedies can be marketed only as food supplements. While complete safetyand efficacy data for all herbal remedies are not available, many have beenwell established through historic use. However, variations in the purity, potency, and quality of herbal medicines does affect safety and efficacy. Many common drugs today are made from plants; about one fourth of prescription drugs dispensed by pharmacists in the United States today contain at least one active ingredient from plants. Herbal medicine is part of many other types of alternative medicine, including Ayurvedic, homeopathic, naturopathic, traditional oriental, and Native American medicine.

Since the beginning of medical care, touch and manipulation--manual healing-has been used in healing. These methods, which include osteopathic medicine, chiropractic science, massage therapy, and biofield therapeutics, are based upon the understanding that a problem with one part of the body affects others.Osteopathic medicine improves the overall functioning of the body by focusing on the musculoskeletal system. The doctor manipulates the patient's jointsand tissues and teaches him/her about proper posture, body mechanics, and exercise. Research shows that osteopathic techniques are effective for treatingmusculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal problems. Most osteopathic doctors work in primary care. Chiropractic science is based on the idea that the body can heal itself and seeks balance. Chiropractors manipulate the bones, muscles, and joints, especially the spine, to correct misalignments, improve the waythe neuromusculoskeletal system works, and restore and preserve health. Massage therapy is the manipulation of soft tissues to relieve sore muscles and promote relaxation. Techniques include: Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage,sports massage, neuromuscular massage, and manual lymph drainage. Massage therapy is used to reduce tension, help soft-tissue injuries heal, promote overall well-being, help lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve breathing. Other physical healing methods include reflexology, zone therapy, tuina, acupressure, Rolfing, Trager, Feldenkrais method, and the Alexander technique.Biofield therapeutics is the laying on of hands. It is based on the idea that the healing fource comes from God, the cosmos, or a supernatural entity, which directs the practitioner to heal. The practitioner places his/her hands on or near the person to improve general health or treat a problem.

Mind-body medicine explores the connection between the mind and the body, which have been viewed as separate by Western medicine. Mind-body medicine is processes, rather than treatments, which people use to improve their physical and mental health. Mind-body medicine includes psychotherapy, support groups,meditation, imagery, hypnosis, biofeedback, yoga, dance therapy, music therapy, art therapy, and prayer and mental healing. Psychotherapy uses psychological methods like suggestion, persuasion, psychoanalysis, and re-education. Itcan be done individually or in groups. Psychotherapy appears to work well intreating illnesses for which the physical symptoms have no physical cause. Support groups associated with a variety of illnesses, ranging from heart disease to asthma, have been shown to provide members with positive benefits. Theyhelp members bond with each other, and may help them feel empowered, at lowor no cost.

Meditation is the practice of relaxing the body and claming the mind. Worldwide, many cultures have recognized the benefits of meditation. Most types of meditation today come from ancient Eastern or other religious practices. Meditation involves sitting quietly, usually with the eyes closed, and focusing the mind on one thought. Some types of medication are more complicated and might, for example, involve meditating while walking or chanting. Until recently,meditation was used for religious purposes. Now, it is also used to reduce stress of body mind and body. It is often recommended to reduce high blood pressure. Some studies have found many benefits of regular meditation, including: reductions in use of other health care, chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress syndromein Vietnam veterans, and blood cortisol levels; and increases in length and quality of life, intelligence-related measures. Imagery is a mental process ofimagining accompanied by a variety of procedures used in therapy to encourage people to change their attitudes or behavior. It makes use of all of the senses. Imagery is best known in the treatment of cancer. In tests, it has beenshown to alleviate nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, reduce stress, and help cancer patients gain weight. It has also been used to control pain, build immunity, and in combination with other therapies for diseases like diabetes. Imagery is usually combined with other approaches. Hypnosis has been ahealing technique since ancient times. Hypnotists put patients in a trance-like state that focuses their concentration and makes them open and responsiveto suggestion. Only willing subjects can be hypnotized. Hypnosis is widely used today to treat addictions like smoking and drug abuse, to control pain, and for phobias like the fear of flying. It is used most frequently to treat common ailments like pain management, to reduce bleeding in hemophiliacs, stabilize blood sugar in diabetics, reduce the severity of attacks of hay fever and asthma, increase breast size, cure warts, produce ski blisters and bruises,control reactions to allergies. Hypnosis is used either alone or along withother treatments. In biofeedback, sensors that pick up electrical signals from the muscles and brain are placed on the body. These signals are translatedinto images or sounds that the patient watches. With the help of a therapist,the patient learns how to affect the rate and intensity of the signals, thereby changing his/her thinking and other mental processes to control body processes such as blood pressure, temperature, gastrointestinal functioning, andbrain wave activity. Biofeedback is used to treat many conditions and diseases, ranging from stress to addictions.

Yoga, which means union, is an ancient philosophy developed over thousands ofyears in India. Yoga is a way of life that combines ethical principles, dietary restrictions, and physical exercise to unite the mind, body, and spirit.Yoga has the capacity to alter mental and physical responses normally thoughtto be beyond the control of people. There are many forms of yoga. Hatha-yoga, widely practiced in the West, uses a series of body positions and movementsand breathing exercises. Over the last 80 years, the therapeutic potential of yoga has been investigated by health professionals in India and in the West. Studies show that people who practice yoga can learn to control blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory function, metabolic rate, skin resistance, brainwaves, body temperature, and other bodily functions. Yoga has been shown toreduce anxiety, make the heart work more efficiently, decrease the respiratory rate, lower blood pressure, alter brain waves, increase communication between the left and right sides of the brain, reduce cholesterol levels (when used in combination with diet and exercise), help people quit smoking, and treatarthritis. Dance/movement therapy has been shown to be effective in developing self image, improving self-concept and increasing self-esteem, building attention, reducing depression, decreasing fears and anxiety, decreasing isolation, increasing communication skills, decreasing physical tension, reducing chronic pain, reducing thoughts of suicide, increasing feelings of well-being,and promoting health. Music therapy has been shown to reduce pain, and relaxinfants and children and reduce their anxiety. It is also used as an adjunctive treatment with brain injury, burn, cancer, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, and stroke patients in psychiatric and general hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, day-care treatment centers, residences for people with developmental disabilities, senior centers, nursing homes, and more. Art therapy helps patients reconcile their emotional conflicts, become moreself-aware, and express concerns that are often unconscious about their disease. It can also be used to assess people individually, couples, families, and groups; it is especially helpful with children. Throughout history, nearlyevery culture has recognized the power of prayer and mental healing. Religious belief and prayer bring comfort, hope, and relaxation to people. Studies have shown that regular spiritual observation, prayer, and religious ritual have positive benefits on overall health. There are also two main types of healers: those who heal by entering a prayerful, altered state of consciousness and become one with the universe, God, or cosmos and those who heal by laying hands on the patient and passing a flow of energy through their hands to the patient. Some healers use both. Published reports of experiments have shown that healers can influence a variety of cellular and other biological systems mentally, including eye and muscle movements, breathing, and brain rhythms.

Pharmacological and biological treatments include a variety of drugs and term="vaccines" project="woh" type="bookxref">vaccines which are not accepted bymainstream medicine. These include things like cartilage products and chelation therapy.

People who want to see an alternative practitioner may want to start by asking their doctor for a recommendation. Self-help groups for diseases and conditions, and books on alternative medicine are also good places to find names. Sometimes, family members and friends can make recommendations. The backgroundand experience of any alternative practitioner should be investigated. People should be wary of any alternative practitioner who is hostile toward mainstream medicine or promises cures that sound too good to be true.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

The Content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of Content found on the Website.