What is alternative medicine? You can receive several answers when asking this question. The definition of alternative medicine, according to Meriam Webster is “any of various systems of healing or treating disease (as chiropractic, homeopathy, or faith healing) not included in the traditional medical curricula of the United States and Britain”.
There are those who define it differently indicating what is considered alternative today, was considered mainstream one hundred years ago. There are curatives that work that have been around for ages but many doctors eschew this method of healing and opt for modern medicine exclusively. However, there are Doctors who see the benefit of using complimentary medicine, as well as alternative medicine when treating patients.
The Approach of Complementary Alternative Medicine to Wellness
Often used interchangeably, complementary and alternative medicines are not quite the same. The use of non-mainstream approach along with conventional medicine defines complementary medicine. Combining the use of alternative, non-standard methods of patient treatment, with mainstream medicine, the health care practitioner treats the patient based on their needs. Non-pharmaceutical techniques are used to supplement more common medical techniques when needed.
The alternative medicine definition references the use of non-mainstream methods of medicine that are not known or accepted by most “conventional” or “allopathic” medical practitioners, usually Medical Doctors.
Instead of using a standard medical approach, practitioners of alternative medicine use non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical medical techniques for their patients. These include Acupuncture, Medical Herbalism, Homeopathy and Reiki (a massage therapy technique) as well as others.
However, these attitudes are changing so techniques that are now considered part of Alternative Medicine are becoming more acceptable in mainstream medicine. The use of the term Holistic Healing or Holistic Medicine are a better term for alternative medicine, is more acceptable, and has more respectability.
Integrative Medicine Approach
Integrative medicine and integrative health care is considered a non-mainstream approach to healthcare. By combining the benefits of modern medicine with those of complimentary or alternative medicine, patients receive the best care for their illness. The best example of integrative medicine is displayed in cancer treatment centers, where patients are treated with modern medicine, as well as acupuncture, and meditation to help patients deal with the side effects of their condition.
Holistic Approach to Medicine
Holistic medicine is the term that describes therapies that attempt to treat the patient as a whole person. The practitioner of Holistic medicine looks at a person’s overall physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing before recommending treatment. Holistic Med, calls it “a system of health care which fosters a cooperative relationship among all those involved, leading towards optimal attainment of the physical, mental emotional, social and spiritual aspects of health.” In other words, it is a partnership between the Doctor, or medical practitioner and the patient.
With roots that go back 5,000 years to China and India, ancient healing traditions stressed a healthy lifestyle that was in harmony with nature. The Holistic approach to medicine embraces this philosophy and practitioners treat the entire body. Mind, soul and spirit of the patient are taken into consideration. However, when the boundaries of this method of care are reached the use of conventional methods of medicine is not shunned by practitioners of Holistic Medicine.
Natural remedies are as numerous as the wise among us who dole them out. Many natural remedies are time tested and effective. Simple maladies such as insect bites, headache remedies, weight loss, cough and cold relief, arthritis and just about every other malady known to man has be treated with a natural remedy at some point. While some natural remedies are effective, others are not much more than snake oil that is being pedaled to the unsuspecting.
Herbal supplements, and dietary supplements use ingredients found in nature, such as ginkgo, ginseng, Echinacea, and rose hips are some curatives that are used in biologically based practices and are used as natural remedies for their patients.
The Farmer’s Almanac has posted a very extensive list of natural remedies for everything from a bee stings to sunburn treatments. Many of these remedies may be effective, but the Dirt Cure for a severe winter cough, should be highly suspect before using.
This cure asks that you find a piece of land covered with bushes and small stones, when it is covered by a foot of snow, but not yet frozen, shovel off the snow. You then cut down the bushes, dig out the stones and dig up a shovel full of fresh soil. After taking a deep smell of the fresh earth and clearing the entire half an acre, you will find yourself to be strong, hardy and rid of your cough!
This is the kind of natural remedy that gives alternative medicine a bad name, if it is told as fact. Fortunately, the writers at Farmer’s Almanac include these remedies as a piece of history with a comedic tone, instead a cure that would really work. Nevertheless, disseminating fact from fiction is important when learning about natural remedies.
Is Alternative Medicine for You?
Whether you embrace alternative medicine wholly or in part will depend on your comfort level with, and knowledge of the options that are available to you. The use of complimentary approaches to medicine are becoming more widely recognized by the medical community and some Doctors are adding ancient techniques with modern medicine to better care for their patients.
The Mayo Clinic, a renowned medical facility with some of the finest Doctors in the world, has embraced the use of alternative medicine when treating patients. The combination of modern and ancient treatments, such as meditation, prayer, art and relaxation therapies for stress reduction and strengthening communication between your mind and body are still questioned by the modern medical community even though there is evidence that this type of medicine has helped many patients have shorter hospital stays and faster recoveries from their illnesses and surgeries.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classifies alternative methods of medicine as:
- Biologically based practices – Include Diet therapy, Herbal Medicine, Orthomolecular medicine, Chelation Therapy
- Manipulative and body based practices – Include Chiropractic medicine, therapeutic massage, and reflexology
- Energy Medicine – Practitioners of this medical practice ascribe to the belief the concepts of energy: light, electro magnetism, sound, and body mind and spirit. They believe that our body can have energy blockages that must be released to provide improved health.
- Mind-Body Medicine- This is the concept that we can heal our body with our mind through meditation, and hypnosis. Medical research has found that lower psychological stress can have a healing effect on the body.
- Whole Medical Systems – Include Homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncture, Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India and Naturopathy, which draws on the practices of numerous cultures and began a formal health care in the early 1900’s in the United States
As you can see, there a many more methods of medical treatment than what is viewed as mainstream. Many of these medical practices are as ancient as the tombs of Egypt, yet many are still used today. Even the use of leeches, which was a common practice in 19th Century Europe for bloodletting, a practice believed to release the body of toxins.
However, practitioners of modern medicine have found that the use of leeches, an alternative type of medicine, is useful today to help heal skin grafts in burn patients, as well as in the use of reattachments of fingers and other body parts. So, although alternative medicine is often questioned, time tends to find new ways for it to be used alongside modern medicine in a very effective way.
Alternative Medicine is for Real
Alternative medicine is for real, but as you see, defining it requires more than Meriam’s definition. A review from the American Council on Science and Health gives a better definition. They describe alternative medicine in two categories, fake medicine and real medicine. Although many natural remedies, homoeopathic remedies and alternative medical treatments are real, others are fake and can be dangerous to your health. Knowing the difference can lead you to proper medical care, but if you are not careful, it can lead you to a purveyor of snake oil.