Alternative Medicine Therapies
Alternative medicine therapies are still not well accepted among all mainstream doctors, but in the past few years a growing number of conventional medicine physicians were open to alternative treatments than ever before. This is because it has been proven that holistic therapies have a sound basis in science.
Some mainstream doctors even refer patients to non-conventional medicine practitioners. These physicians promote the integrative approach, which means the combination of conventional and alternative therapies. They have also substituted “complementary” for “alternative”, since often these natural treatments complete or complement conventional medicine.
Mainstream medicine is excellent at diagnosing and treating serious injuries, as well as trauma and infections, however it devalues the link between body and mind so it is not very effective at treating chronic disease and pain. Conventional medicine only treats symptoms, not the cause of symptoms.
The following is an overview of some of the most popular alternative medicine therapies that have been proving effective through medical observation and research.
Naturopathy combines a wide range of therapies such as homeopathy, exercise, vitamin supplements, stress management, hot and cold baths, herbal medicine, hydrotherapy, osteopathy, and acupuncture. Its goal is to use nature’s healing power through a drug-free approach.
While medical doctors who are somewhat open to complementary treatments use surgery and pharmaceutical drugs as first choice and alternative treatments as second option, naturopathic physicians treat diseases with natural therapies first and use drugs and surgery as a last resort. Generally naturopaths use the same diagnostic methods and tests that mainstream physicians use.
Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient healing system that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda’s basic premise is to treat and prevent disease by keeping a well balanced body, mind and consciousness through diet, meditation, exercise, herbal medicine, and massage.
According to Ayurvedic belief, life energy or “prana” is the spark of life and cosmic consciousness that is contained in the human body as well as in the earth, fire, water, space, and air. Each of these elements control specific body functions.
There are two types of Ayurvedic practices, the traditional and Maharishi. The latter was created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi nearly 30 years ago. Nevertheless, both are very similar and follow the same diagnostic protocol. The main difference is that the Maharishi philosophy heavily promotes transcendental meditation.
The diagnosis procedures Ayurvedic doctors use are dramatically different from those used in main stream medicine. Determining the patient’s particular personality and body type are crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
For this reason an Ayurvedic physician will use the following evaluation procedures to determine your specific constitution, which is called “dosha” in Ayurveda lingo.
- Questionnaire completed by the patient.
- Urine Analysis. The doctor examines the patient’s urine by observing the color and the chemical reactions by using certain techniques to determine dosha imbalance.
- Pulse Examination. A very delicate art that takes years to gain mastery.
- Physical Evaluation. The Ayurvedic physician focuses on the patient’s tongue,skin, nails and other features.
Like Ayurveda, Chinese medicine promotes the belief that all living organisms have and are animated by an invisible energy called qi (chee). When qi is out of balance disease occurs. Additionally, Chinese medicine teaches that everything in the universe, inanimate things and living organisms, are linked to each other.
Although the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning this holistic healing system is acupuncture, but Chinese medicine is much more extensive and besides acupuncture, it includes different therapies such as acupressure, thai chi, qi gong, herbal medicine and nutrition.
Chinese doctors believe in two opposite, yet complementary rare occurrences called ying and yang. In the human body ying and yang are manifested as moisture, blood and qi. Chinese medicine considers the state of these three forces very important in the diagnosis of illness and in the creation of treatments. They believe moisture governs the body’s internal conditions, qi is life energy, and blood regulates metabolism and tissues.
They also believe that moisture, blood and qi are affected by climate, the seasons, and the five basic elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Water and Metal).
While Western medicine physicians use the same treatments for patients with the same illness, Chinese medicine believes each person is uniquely different so a patient’s physical and emotional personality should match the treatment he/she gets.
Some Chinese herbs are also used in Western medicine, but many are strictly Chinese and there is no way to identify them since they lack English names.
Most Chinese herbs are only available through Chinese doctors, they’re not widely available at health stores, but the ones that are available may not be of good quality. However, you should consult a physician to ensure you are getting the right herbal potency, prescription and detailed instruction on how to prepare it.
Many studies confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture for a variety of ailments including migraine, menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis and even alcoholism and depression.
Qi (chee) is a key factor in acupuncture. It is believed this energy circulates throughout the body around certain areas called meridians, and although they cannot be seen, each meridian is connected to a particular organ. There are twelve meridians located near the skin surface at certain spots called acupuncture points, where acupuncture needles are inserted.
Acupuncture needles are quite fine and rarely hurt, according to expert researches. Nevertheless, the way people feel after a session varies widely. For example, some people report feeling drowsy, others feel full of energy and some feel their symptoms increase temporarily. Chinese physicians say these are all signs the body is gathering energy to overcome the ailment
Is acupuncture safe? The consensus among acupuncturists and researchers is that as long as the needles are sterilized, acupuncture is very safe.
Incidentally, there are certain alternative medicine therapies that are spin-offs of acupuncture:
Shiatsu, a Japanese massage.
Acupressure. Finger pressure, as a substitution for needles.
Reflexology. Acupressure massage applied to feet or hands
Homeopathy is an alternative medicine therapy which is based on the premise that the same substance that causes the ailment can be used in extremely diluted form to treat the patient. This is believed to activate the body’s natural healing system.
Homeopathy Origins And History
Although homeopathy dates back to the time of Hippocrates, it didn’t develop until the eighteen century when a German doctor-Samuel Hahnemann-appalled by the harsh medical practices of the time, began looking for gentler medical treatments.
This was a time where cures and causes of disease were not known and some very powerful laxatives and substances that made the patient bleed or vomit were routinely used as medical treatments. Oftentimes the symptoms the patient suffered were a lot worse than the actual illness the treatments were supposed to cure.
Dr. Hahnemann began experimenting and testing natural substances on himself. He took a dosis of cinchona bark, which became the first effective remedy for malaria and he soon experienced the malaria symptoms. Subsequently cinchona bark became the source of quinine, a powerful anti-malaria drug.
He continued experimenting with natural materials from onions and salt to copper and calendula flowers. Eventually, he started seeing patients and prescribing homeopathic medicines.
Does Homeopathy Work?
While some studies have shown homeopathic treatments have no benefits, many others conclude the treatments rarely cause any side effects and offer significant benefits.
In early 20th century a team of Dutch doctors analyzed the conclusion of 21 selected studies and found that 15 of those studies showed that the use of homeopathic remedies offer substantial health benefits.
However, over the years homeopathy investigative research has been almost non-existent, and beginning in the 1980’s a very slow but steady stream of independent studies supporting homeopathy have been published by main stream medicine. Research concludes homeopathic remedies may be helpful in the treatment of many ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, hay fever and others.
Most Controversial Alternative Medical Therapy
Homeopathy has been the source of heated controversy since it was introduced in the United States in the 1800’s. At that time, the therapy gained many prominent supporters like Mark Twain and others. But in spite of this and numerous studies that showed this holistic treatment works, conventional medicine still rejects it and labels it as fraud.
Part of what makes conventional doctors dismiss homeopathy is the premise called Law of Potentization, proposed by Hahnemann, which is the belief that when mixed with water and shaken vigorously, a homeopathic substance becomes more diluted and as a result it grows more powerful. The belief among main stream medicine is the opposite; the larger the dose, the stronger the effect.
Another reason for the rejection is that even homeopathic physicians don’t know why and how homeopathy works. Homeopathic remedies are so diluted that the actual formulas prescribed to patients hardly have any of the active substances left. However, homeopaths believe that the process of shaking the mixture is what makes the homeopathic remedies work.
Chiropractic is the complementary therapy that deals with the treatment of back, neck, headaches and joint problems as well as muscle aches. Among all alternative medicine therapies, Chiropractic is the second most popular after relaxation therapies.
Most chiropractors deal only with musculoskeletal ailments (back,neck problems, joint, bone and muscle aches), but a few treat the same wide range of ailments as main stream doctors. In other words, doctors in chiropractic are able to compete with regular MDs, except that they use drug-free hands-on treatments.
Most chiropractors blend other complementary therapies such as Chinese herbal medicine, nutrition and relaxation therapies with spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulation is the most used therapeutic procedure by chiropractors. This procedure entails the manual application of force to heal joints that have restricted mobility due to tissue injury. Many mainstream doctors recognize chiropractic as an effective alternative therapy and they often refer patients with back pain complaints to chiropractors.
The alternative medical therapies described above are the most well known and widely used, however there are many more complementary therapeutic treatments that are not as popular, such as many different types of massage, aromatherapy, biofeedback, music therapy and many more.