So what is Alternative Medicine?
The term “Alternative medicine” is often seen as ambiguous and vague. Alternative medicine is often also referred to as holistic medicine since holistic health is a concept in medical practice upholding that all aspects of people’s needs, psychological, physical and social should be taken into account and seen as a whole. As defined above, the holistic view on treatment is widely accepted in medicine. A different definition, claiming that disease is a result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance, is used in alternative medicine. Western medicine, or allopathic medicine, is the most prevalent used medical system in the United states. Western Medicine is built on treatment or suppression of symptoms by shots, pills, and drugs. While this approach has proven to be effective in acute conditions, emergencies, and trauma, it does not take into account the importance of unique responses and the constitution of the individual patient. Alternative medicine is not cookie cutter treatment and is individualized for each patient depending on the treatment and the individual characteristics of the person.
A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call alternative medicine
That’s been proved to work?
—Tim Minchin, Storm
The above quote depicts the attitude many western medical doctors still feel about “alternative medicine” since often in randomized clinical trials there has been limited successes. This type of clinical trial, while seen as the gold standard for proving medical efficacy here in the Western world, often falls short when testing alternative therapies since by design these therapies must be based on an individuals unique constitution and will not be as effective if the individual constitution is not taken into account.
My interest in alternative therapies started after I began to get recurrent kidney infections that the doctors couldn’t explain. When I began to have an allergic reaction to every antibiotic the doctors gave me, I knew I had to do something different. Since adopting holistic practices into my life I am thankful to say I haven’t had a kidney infection for almost five years. I whole-heartedly believe in the body’s ability to heal itself. The following is an except from the NCCAM website which gives an in-depth explanation of what is alternative medicine…
Complementary & Alternative Medicine Defined
Many Americans use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in pursuit of health and well-being.
Defining CAM is difficult, because the field is very broad and constantly changing. NCCAM defines CAM as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine (also called Western or allopathic medicine) is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) and D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine) degrees and by allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. The boundaries between CAM and conventional medicine are not absolute, and specific CAM practices may, over time, become widely accepted.
“Complementary medicine” refers to use of CAM together with conventional medicine, such as using acupuncture in addition to usual care to help lessen pain. Most use of CAM by Americans is complementary. “Alternative medicine” refers to use of CAM in place of conventional medicine. “Integrative medicine” combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality evidence of safety and effectiveness. It is also called integrated medicine.
CAM practices are often grouped into broad categories, such as natural products, mind and body medicine, and manipulative and body-based practices. Although these categories are not formally defined, they are useful for discussing CAM practices. Some CAM practices may fit into more than one category.
This area of CAM includes use of a variety of herbal medicines (also known as botanicals), vitamins, minerals, and other “natural products.” Many are sold over the counter as dietary supplements. (Some uses of dietary supplements—e.g., taking a multivitamin to meet minimum daily nutritional requirements or taking calcium to promote bone health—are not thought of as CAM.)
CAM “natural products” also include probiotics—live microorganisms (usually bacteria) that are similar to microorganisms normally found in the human digestive tract and that may have beneficial effects. Probiotics are available in foods (e.g., yogurts) or as dietary supplements. They are not the same thing as prebiotics—non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of microorganisms already present in the body.
Historical note: Herbal or botanical medicines reflect some of the first attempts to improve the human condition. The personal effects of the mummified prehistoric “ice man” found in the Italian Alps in 1991 included medicinal herbs. By the Middle Ages, thousands of botanical products had been inventoried for their medicinal effects.
Current use: Interest in and use of CAM natural products have grown considerably in the past few decades. The 2007 NHIS found that 17.7 percent of American adults had used a non-vitamin/non-mineral natural product. These products were the most popular form of CAM among both adults and children. The most commonly used product among adults was fish oil/omega 3s (reported by 37.4 percent of all adults who said they used natural products); popular products for children included Echinacea (37.2 percent) and fish oil/omega 3s (30.5 percent).
Mind and Body Medicine
Mind and body practices focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health. Many CAM practices embody this concept—in different ways.
- Meditation techniques include specific postures, focused attention, or an open attitude toward distractions. People use meditation to increase calmness and relaxation, improve psychological balance, cope with illness, or enhance overall health and well-being.
- The various styles of yoga used for health purposes typically combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. People use yoga as part of a general health regimen, and also for a variety of health conditions.
- Acupuncture1 is a family of procedures involving the stimulation of specific points on the body using a variety of techniques, such as penetrating the skin with needles that are then manipulated by hand or by electrical stimulation. It is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine, and is among the oldest healing practices in the world.
Historical note: The concept that the mind is important in the treatment of illness is integral to the healing approaches of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, dating back more than 2,000 years. Hippocrates also noted the moral and spiritual aspects of healing and believed that treatment could occur only with consideration of attitude, environmental influences, and natural remedies.
Current use: Several mind and body approaches ranked among the top 10 CAM practices reported by adults in the 2007 NHIS. For example, the survey found that 12.7 percent of adults had used deep-breathing exercises, 9.4 percent had practiced meditation, and 6.1 percent had practiced yoga; use of these three CAM practices had increased significantly since the previous (2002) NHIS. Progressive relaxation and guided imagery were also among the top 10 CAM therapies for adults; deep breathing and yoga ranked high among children. Acupuncture had been used by 1.4 percent of adults and 0.2 percent of children.
1 Acupuncture is considered to be a part of mind and body medicine, but it is also a component of energy medicine, manipulative and body-based practices, and traditional Chinese medicine.
Manipulative and Body-Based Practices
Manipulative and body-based practices focus primarily on the structures and systems of the body, including the bones and joints, soft tissues, and circulatory and lymphatic systems. Two commonly used therapies fall within this category:
- Spinal manipulation is practiced by health care professionals such as chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, and some medical doctors. Practitioners perform spinal manipulation by using their hands or a device to apply a controlled force to a joint of the spine. The amount of force applied depends on the form of manipulation used. The goal of the treatment is to relieve pain and improve physical functioning. Spinal manipulation is among the treatment options used by people with low-back pain—a very common condition that can be difficult to treat.
- The term massage therapy encompasses many different techniques. In general, therapists press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body. People use massage for a variety of health-related purposes, including to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation, address anxiety and depression, and aid general well-being.
Historical note: Spinal manipulation has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks and was incorporated into chiropractic and osteopathic medicine in the late 19th century. Massage therapy dates back thousands of years. References to massage appear in writings from ancient China, Japan, India, Arabic nations, Egypt, Greece (Hippocrates defined medicine as “the art of rubbing”), and Rome.
Current use: According to the 2007 NHIS, chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation and massage ranked in the top 10 CAM therapies among both adults and children. The survey found that 8.6 percent of adults and 2.8 percent of children had used chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and 8.3 percent of adults and 1 percent of children had used massage.
Other CAM Practices
CAM also encompasses movement therapies—a broad range of Eastern and Western movement-based approaches used to promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Examples include Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Pilates, Rolfing Structural Integration, and Trager psychophysical integration. According to the 2007 NHIS, 1.5 percent of adults and 0.4 percent of children used movement therapies.
Practices of traditional healers can also be considered a form of CAM. Traditional healers use methods based on indigenous theories, beliefs, and experiences handed down from generation to generation. A familiar example in the United States is the Native American healer/medicine man. The 2007 NHIS found that 0.4 percent of adults and 1.1 percent of children had used a traditional healer (usage varied for the seven specific types of healers identified in the survey).
Some CAM practices involve manipulation of various energy fields to affect health. Such fields may be characterized as veritable (measurable) or putative (yet to be measured). Practices based on veritable forms of energy include those involving electromagnetic fields (e.g., magnet therapy and light therapy). Practices based on putative energy fields (also called biofields) generally reflect the concept that human beings are infused with subtle forms of energy; qi gong, Reiki, and healing touch are examples of such practices. The 2007 NHIS found relatively low use of putative energy therapies. Only 0.5 percent of adults and 0.2 percent of children had used energy healing/Reiki (the survey defined energy healing as the channeling of healing energy through the hands of a practitioner into the client’s body).
Finally, whole medical systems, which are complete systems of theory and practice that have evolved over time in different cultures and apart from conventional or Western medicine, may be considered CAM. Examples of ancient whole medical systems include Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. More modern systems that have developed in the past few centuries include homeopathy and naturopathy. The 2007 NHIS asked about the use of Ayurveda, homeopathy, and naturopathy. Although relatively few respondents said they had used Ayurveda or naturopathy, homeopathy ranked 10th in usage among adults (1.8 percent) and 5th among children (1.3 percent).
A Note About Safety and Effectiveness
Rigorous, well-designed clinical trials for many CAM therapies are often lacking; therefore, the safety and effectiveness of many CAM therapies are uncertain. NCCAM is sponsoring research designed to fill this knowledge gap by building a scientific evidence base about CAM therapies—whether they are safe; and whether they work for the conditions for which people use them and, if so, how they work.
As with any medical treatment, there can be risks with CAM therapies. These general precautions can help to minimize risks:
- Select CAM practitioners with care. Find out about the practitioner’s training and experience.
- Be aware that some dietary supplements may interact with medications or other supplements, may have side effects of their own, or may contain potentially harmful ingredients not listed on the label. Also keep in mind that most supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about CAM, see NCCAM’s Time to Talk campaign.
NCCAM’s mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and alternative medicine interventions and their roles in improving health and health care. NCCAM achieves its mission through basic, translational (“bench-to-bedside”), and clinical research; research capacity building and training; and education and outreach programs.
A Note About Government Regulation
The Federal Government regulates dietary supplements primarily through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The regulations for dietary supplements are not the same as those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. In general, the regulations for dietary supplements are less strict; for example, a manufacturer does not have to prove the safety and effectiveness of a dietary supplement before it is marketed. Once a dietary supplement is on the market, the FDA monitors safety and product information (label claims and package inserts), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) monitors advertising.
There is no standardized, national system for credentialing CAM practitioners. The extent and type of credentialing vary widely from state to state and from one CAM profession to another. For example, some CAM professions (e.g., chiropractic) are licensed in all or most states, although specific requirements for training, testing, and continuing education vary; other CAM professions are licensed in only a few states or not at all.
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Be Well!! -Ellice
What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine? http://nccam.nih.gov/health/whatiscam
Alternative Medicine http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Alternative_medicine
Holistic Health http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holistic_health
- Western Doctors & Alternative Medicine (2011) (holistichealthliving.wordpress.com)
- Court forces chemo on eight-year-old Minnesota girl despite family’s desire to use alternative medicine (theaveragejoenewsblogg.com)
- CAM And The Language Problem (randi.org)
- Alternative Medicine (beyondchaosmagick.wordpress.com)