Complementary Medicine: A Bonus for Conventional Medicine

A method of healthcare that combines the therapies and philosophies of conventional medicine with those of alternative medicines such as acupuncture, herbal medicines, and biofeedback.

The treatment, alleviation, or prevention of disease by such techniques as osteopathy, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and acupuncture, allied with attention to such factors as diet and emotional stability which can affect a person’s well-being.

These are several definitions of complementary medicine, and close to 40 percent of all adults in the U.S. have reported using some form of complementary or alternative medicines. Many doctors have also come to see the sense of combining conventional medicine (as they were trained to practice) along with some alternative therapies. Not all physicians and healthcare providers are comfortable with this form of therapy; however, as not all methods have had the extensive research and testing to be deemed safe .

In fact one of the reasons for lack of research in these complementary medicine and alternative  forms of therapy is the lack of money for costly research. Drug companies often provide funds for conventional therapies to support their own drugs. Fewer resources to test alternative therapies limits such trials for public use.

What Are the Alternative Therapies?

  1. Acupuncture – involves inserting very fine needles at strategic points in the body to a variety of depths. This was originally a Chinese therapy based on body points that lie on meridians through which energy flows. Even though some people may not agree with Chinese philosophy, acupuncture has been shown to demonstrate pain relief from conditions such as headaches, migraines, severe dry mouth, nausea, and other symptoms caused by cancer treatment radiation. It is becoming used more by doctors in North America and Western Europe in combination treatment to reduce pain and the amount of narcotics needed following surgery. Acupuncture has also been found to be helpful for lower back pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis as well as painful menstrual cramps and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
  2. Aromatherapy – this is using essential oils extracted from plants in a therapeutic manner to improve life quality in those with chronic health ailments and also to relieve depression and anxiety. The distilled oils are highly concentrated and may either be applied directly to the skin as combined in lotions or for massage, or inhaled through the nose to invoke stimulation to the brain’s nervous system. Medical professionals agree that while some aromas may have beneficial effects on mood and relaxation, the research on aromatherapy has been very limited to this point. Some of the oils seems to have antibacterial and antiviral effects and have been used in dental mouthwash rinses. Many of the oils are used for massage and relaxation therapy with pleasant aromas beneficial for that purpose. Overall, aromatherapy tends to be regarded as complementary medicine without actual research to substantiate medical effects.
  3. Probiotics and prebiotics – Probiotics as we have seen advertised on television consist of “good” bacteria that may aid digestion and are found in foods such as yogurt. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that are not digestible and are found in foods such as bananas, whole grains, onions, and garlic. The prebiotics serve as food for the probiotics. Again, research has yet to be completed on these two agents, but some evidence has shown that probiotics may be helpful in treating conditions such as vaginal yeast infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and also in preventing colds and flu.
  4. Alternative cancer treatments – used to provide relief from symptoms but cannot cure cancer. These would include alternative therapies such as hypnosis, meditation, music therapy, yoga, relaxation, massage, tai chai, and stretching exercise.
  5. Nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products – reported by the 2012 National Health Interview Survey to be the most popular complementary medicine health therapy used in the U.S. These products include fish oil, probiotics, prebiotics, and melatonin as those that are most used. Natural products that were once used more widely including glucosamine/chondroitin, Echinacea, and garlic have decreased in popularity in the past few years.
  6. Mind and body practices – among Americans ages 45 to 64, the most popular mind/body practices today include yoga, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, and meditation.

Further resources: Use of Complementary Health Approaches in the U.S. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012

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