East Meets West
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) comprises a broad and diverse group of healthcare practices, and some are as old as time itself. Early practitioners used what was available to them – plants and herbs with medicinal qualities for skin and digestive issues; hot springs and natural whirlpools for aching joints and muscles; human touch to draw out fever or improve circulation.
Many of these practices can be helpful, and a growing number of physicians are comfortable recommending alternative health approaches to their patients as a complement to traditional care.
Curious about the different types of alternative medicine and therapies that are available and how they’re used? This post may provide the information you need to start a conversation with your own doctor about adding a complementary therapy to your healthcare regimen. Always check with your doctor before taking any type of supplement or beginning a new treatment.
Traditional Forms of Alternative Medicine
Many of the most familiar and commonly accepted complementary medicine practices originated in Eastern countries like China and India. Acupuncture relies on strategically placed sterile needles inserted in “acupoints” throughout the body, and is most commonly prescribed to relieve chronic pain. Ayurveda focuses on energy and keeping the mind, body, and consciousness in balance by alleviating stress, moving more, and eating a healthy diet. There are three different energy types at the center of ayurveda called vata, pitta, and kapha. Each aligns with a specific human body type and personality.
Homeopathy originated in Germany in the 1700s and is based on the belief that a person can be protected from a health condition by ingesting a small amount of a substance that causes illness or a reaction in a healthy person. The concept is similar to modern-day vaccines but relies on natural substances. Homeopathy is more popular in Europe than in the U.S.
Finally, naturopathy, which also originated in Germany, encompasses dozens of different practices and products, including many of those discussed above, and relies on natural and non-invasive treatments to help practitioners get relief. Naturopathic physicians must attend an accredited four-year graduate program to become licensed to practice, while other naturopaths have training that varies widely.
The most commonly prescribed forms of alternative medicine involve some form of touch or manual manipulation of a body part. Massage therapy, chiropractic care and osteopathic medicine are complementary therapies that are most frequently prescribed by physicians. Massage therapy may promote relaxation and loosen tight muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders, to help with headaches and other painful conditions. Chiropractic and osteopathic medicine use manipulation of a specific body part to promote flexibility, strength, and healing. In addition to receiving treatment, chiropractic patients typically learn to do exercises that will aid in healing and are expected to be done at home as prescribed.
Moving Toward Better Health
Yoga has been a mainstream practice in the U.S. for decades and is generally accepted as beneficial for all kinds of physical and mental health issues. In 2016, more than 36 million Americans were practicing yoga, and that number has undoubtedly increased as more people have discovered yoga’s positive impact on their health. Tai chi is another Eastern practice that’s taken hold in the US, though it’s less popular than yoga with an estimated 3.76 million practitioners in 2018. Tai chi deepens concentration and focus, and is especially helpful in promoting balance and protection against falls.
Eating to Live vs. Living to Eat
It’s common knowledge that the American diet has deteriorated over time, moving from the building blocks of nutrition like proteins, vegetables, fruit, and grains to more fatty, salty, and sugary foods and snacks. The majority of Americans are eating too much of the wrong things, overdoing it on calories while lacking in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Nutritionists and dieticians are trained and licensed to dispense helpful, and sometimes lifesaving, recommendations about dietary changes and additions. Most of these professionals will recommend changes to meals rather than trying to promote better health with herbs or supplements.
Of course, there are some foods and beverages that have been shown to provide health benefits. Peppermint is frequently recommended for digestive issues. Turmeric is gaining traction as an anti-inflammatory, and the preventive health benefits associated with drinking green tea just keep piling up. Honey, ginger, garlic – even chicken soup – have all been shown to make us feel better depending on what ails us.
But when herbs and supplements are taken as pills or any form that’s not their natural state, it is wise to be cautious. If you take prescription medication, you’ll need to be even more careful about mixing your meds with any type of herb, supplement or home remedy, so always check with your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, no matter how tempting it may be to get the relief it promises.
Mind Over Matter
Meditation and guided visualization have grown in popularity over the past year with many people trying to find healthy ways to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. Both offer ways for people to focus on positive thoughts, feel calmer, and stay grounded in the present or imagine themselves in a happy place, rather than worrying about the future.
Sense-ible Alternative Therapies
Also useful for promoting relaxation and calm, sensory treatments and activities like music, art, and dance therapy can provide a diversion from negative thoughts and situations and provide ways for people to express their feelings in a healthy, creative way. Sensory therapies have proven value for memory care patients, too. Music therapy can help people reconnect with the past through familiar melodies and lyrics, and dance therapy can help patients enjoy the simple act of moving to a rhythmic beat.
Complementary medicine has come a long way in the past few decades. As researchers learn more about combining alternative products and treatments with traditional medicine, treatment of many different health issues can be more effective. If you’re curious about how a complementary health approach might help whatever ails you, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new health and wellness regimen.